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Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police
by James Oliver Curwood
New York 1911
Chapter I. The Hyacinth Letter
Philip Steele's pencil drove steadily over the paper, as if the mere
writing of a letter he might never mail in some way lessened the
The wind is blowing a furious gale outside. From off the lake come
volleys of sleet, like shot from guns, and all the wild demons of this
black night in the wilderness seem bent on tearing apart the huge
end-locked logs that form my cabin home. In truth, it is a terrible
night to be afar from human companionship, with naught but this roaring
desolation about and the air above filled with screeching terrors. Even
through thick log walls I can hear the surf roaring among the rocks and
beating the white driftwood like a thousand battering-rams, almost at my
door. It is a night to make one shiver, and in the lulls of the storm
the tall pines above me whistle and wail mournfully as they straighten
their twisted heads after the blasts.
To-morrow this will be a desolation of snow. There will be snow from
here to Hudson's Bay, from the Bay to the Arctic, and where now there is
all this fury and strife of wind and sleet there will be unending
quiet--the stillness which breeds our tongueless people of the North.
But this is small comfort for tonight. Yesterday I caught a little mouse
in my flour and killed him. I am sorry now, for surely all this trouble
and thunder in the night would have driven him out from his home in the
wall to keep me company.
It would not be so bad if it were not for the skull. Three times in the
last half-hour I have started to take it down from its shelf over my
crude stone fireplace, where pine logs are blazing. But each time I have
fallen back, shivering, into the bed-like chair I have made for myself
out of saplings and caribou skin. It is a human skull. Only a short time
ago it was a living man, with a voice, and eyes, and brain--and that is
what makes me uncomfortable. If it were an old skull, it would be
different. But it is a new skull. Almost I fancy at times that there is
life lurking in the eyeless sockets, where the red firelight from the
pitch-weighted logs plays in grewsome flashes; and I fancy, too, that in
the brainless cavities of the skull there must still be some of the old
passion, stirred into spirit life by the very madness of this night. A
hundred times I have been sorry that I kept the thing, but never more so
How the wind howls and the pines screech above me! A pailful of snow,
plunging down my chimney, sends the chills up my spine as if it were the
very devil himself, and the steam of it surges out and upward and hides
the skull. It is absurd to go to bed, to make an effort to sleep, for I
know what my dreams would be. To-night they would be filled with this
skull--and with visions of a face, a woman's face--
Thus far had Steele written, when with a nervous laugh he sprang from
his chair, and with something that sounded very near to an oath, in the
wild tumult of the storm, crumpled the paper in his hand and flung it
among the blazing logs he had described but a few moments before.
"Confound it, this will never do!" he exclaimed, falling into his own
peculiar habit of communing with himself. "I say it won't do, Phil
Steele; deuce take it if it will! You're getting nervous, sentimental,
almost homesick. Ugh, what a beast of a night!"
He turned to the rude stone fireplace again as another blast of snow
plunged down the chimney.
"Wish I'd built a fire in the stove instead of there," he went on,
filling his pipe. "Thought it would be a little more cheerful, you know.
Lord preserve us, listen to that!"
He began walking up and down the hewn log floor of the cabin, his hands
deep in his pockets, puffing out voluminous clouds of smoke. It was not
often that Philip Steele's face was unpleasant to look upon, but
to-night it wore anything but its natural good humor. It was a strong,
thin face, set off by a square jaw, and with clear, steel-gray eyes in
which just now there shone a strange glitter, as they rested for a
moment upon the white skull over the fire. From his scrutiny of the
skull Steele turned to a rough board table, lighted by a twisted bit of
cotton cloth, three-quarters submerged in a shallow tin of caribou
grease. In the dim light of this improvised lamp there were two letters,
opened and soiled, which an Indian had brought up to him from Nelson
House the day before. One of them was short and to the point. It was an
official note from headquarters ordering him to join a certain Buck Nome
at Lac Bain, a hundred miles farther north.
It was the second letter which Steele took in his hands for the
twentieth time since it had come to him here, three hundred miles into
the wilderness. There were half-a-dozen pages of it, written in a
woman's hand, and from it there rose to his nostrils the faint, sweet
perfume of hyacinth. It was this odor that troubled him--that had
troubled him since yesterday, and that made him restless and almost
homesick to-night. It took him back to things--to the days of not so
very long ago when he had been a part of the life from which the letter
came, and when the world had seemed to hold for him all that one could
wish. In a retrospective flash there passed before him a vision of those
days, when he, Mr. Philip Steele, son of a multimillionaire banker, was
one of the favored few in the social life of a great city; when
fashionable clubs opened their doors to him, and beautiful women smiled
upon him, and when, among others, this girl of the hyacinth letter held
out to him the tempting lure of her heart. Her heart? Or was it the
tempting of his own wealth? Steele laughed, and his strong white teeth
gleamed in a half-contemptuous smile as he turned again toward the fire.
He sat down, with the letter still in his hands, and thought of some of
those others whom he had known. What had become of Jack Moody, he
wondered--the good old Jack of his college days, who had loved this girl
of the hyacinth with the whole of his big, honest heart, but who hadn't
been given half a show because of his poverty? And where was Whittemore,
the young broker whose hopes had fallen with his own financial ruin; and
Fordney, who would have cut off ten years of his life for her--and
half-a-dozen others he might name?
Her heart! Steele laughed softly as he lifted the letter so that the
sweet perfume of it came to him more strongly. How she had tempted him
for a time! Almost--that night of the Hawkins' ball--he had surrendered
to her. He half-closed his eyes, and as the logs crackled in the
fireplace and the wind roared outside, he saw her again as he had seen
her that night--gloriously beautiful; memory of the witchery of her
voice, her hair, her eyes firing his blood like strong wine. And this
beauty might have been for him, was still his, if he chose. A word from
out of the wilderness, a few lines that he might write to-night--
With a sudden jerk Steele sat bolt upright. One after another he
crumpled the sheets of paper in his hand and tossed all but the
signature page into the fire. The last sheet he kept, studied it for a
little--as if her name were the answer to a problem--then laid it aside.
For a few moments there remained still the haunting sweetness of the
hyacinth. When it was gone, he gave a last searching sniff, rose to his
feet with a laugh in which there was some return of his old spirit, hid
that final page of her letter in his traveling kit and proceeded to
refill his pipe.
More than once Philip Steele had told himself that he was born a century
or two after his time. He had admitted this much to a few of his
friends, and they had laughed at him. One evening he had opened his
heart a little to the girl of the hyacinth letter, and after that she
had called him eccentric. Within himself he knew that he was unlike
other men, that the blood in him was calling back to almost forgotten
generations, when strong hearts and steady hands counted for manhood
rather than stocks and bonds, and when romance and adventure were not
quite dead. At college he took civil engineering, because it seemed to
him to breathe the spirit of outdoors; and when he had finished he
incurred the wrath of those at home by burying himself for a whole year
with a surveying expedition in Central America.
It was this expedition that put the finishing touch to Philip Steele. He
came back a big hearted, clear minded young fellow, as bronzed as an
Aztec--a hater of cities and the hothouse varieties of pleasure to which
he had been born, and as far removed from anticipation of his father's
millions as though they had never been. He possessed a fortune in his
own right, but as yet he had found no use for the income that was piling
up. A second expedition, this time to Brazil, and then he came back--to
meet the girl of the hyacinth letter. And after that, after he had
broken from the bondage which held Moody, and Fordney, and Whittemore,
he went back to his many adventures.
It was the North that held him. In the unending desolations of snow and
forest and plain, between Hudson's Bay and the wild country of the
Athabasca, he found the few people and the mystery and romance which
carried him back, and linked him to the dust-covered generations he had
lost. One day a slender, athletically built young man enlisted at Regina
for service in the Northwest Mounted Police. Within six months he had
made several records for himself, and succeeded in having himself
detailed to service in the extreme North, where man-hunting became the
thrilling game of One against One in an empty and voiceless world. And
no one, not even the girl of the hyacinth letter, would have dreamed
that the man who was officially listed as "Private Phil Steele, of the
N.W.M.P.," was Philip Steele, millionaire and gentleman adventurer.
None appreciated the humor of this fact more than Steele himself, and he
fell again into his wholesome laugh as he placed a fresh pine log on the
fire, wondering what his aristocratic friends--and especially the girl
of the hyacinth letter--would say if they could see him and his
environment just at the present moment. In a slow, chuckling survey he
took in the heavy German socks which he had hung to dry close to the
fire; his worn shoe-packs, shining in a thick coat of caribou grease,
and his single suit of steaming underwear that he had washed after
supper, and which hung suspended from the ceiling, looking for all the
world, in the half dusk of the cabin, like a very thin and headless man.
In this gloom, indeed, but one thing shone out white and distinct--the
skull on the little shelf above the fire. As his eyes rested on it,
Steele's lips tightened and his face grew dark. With a sudden movement
he reached up and took it in his hands, holding it for a moment so that
the light from the fire flashed full upon it. In the left side, on a
line with the eyeless socket and above the ear, was a hole as large as a
"So I'm ordered up to join Nome, the man who did this, eh?" he muttered,
fingering the ragged edge. "I could kill him for what happened down
there at Nelson House, M'sieur Janette. Some day--I may."
He balanced the skull on his finger tips, level with his chin.
"Nice sort of a chap for a Hamlet, I am," he went on, whimsically. "I
believe I'll chuck you into the fire, M'sieur Janette. You're getting on
He stopped suddenly and lowered the skull to the table.
"No, I won't burn you," he continued, "I've brought you this far and
I'll pack you up to Lac Bain with me. Some morning I'll give you to
Bucky Nome for breakfast. And then, M'sieur--then we shall see what we
Later that night he wrote a few words on a slip of paper and tacked the
paper to the inside of his door. To any who might follow in his
footsteps it conveyed this information and advice:
This cabin and what's in it are quasheed by me. Fill your gizzard but
not your pockets.
Steele, Northwest Mounted.
Chapter II. A Face Out Of The Night
Steele came up to the Hudson's Bay Company's post at Lac Bain on the
seventh day after the big storm, and Breed, the factor, confided two
important bits of information to him while he was thawing out before the
big box-stove in the company's deserted and supply-stripped store. The
first was that a certain Colonel Becker and his wife had left Fort
Churchill, on Hudson's Bay, to make a visit at Lac Bain; the second,
that Buck Nome had gone westward a week before and had not returned.
Breed was worried, not over Nome's prolonged absence, but over the
anticipated arrival of the other two. According to the letter which had
come to him from the Churchill factor. Colonel Becker and his wife had
come over on the last supply ship from London, and the colonel was a
high official in the company's service. Also, he was an old gentleman.
Ostensibly he had no business at Lac Bain, but was merely on a vacation,
and wished to see a bit of real life in the wilderness.
Breed's grizzled face was miserable.
"Why don't they send 'em down to York Factory or Nelson House?" he
demanded of Steele. "They've got duck feathers, three women, and a
civilized factor at the Nelson, and there ain't any of 'em here--not
even a woman!"
Steele shrugged his shoulders as Breed mentioned the three women at
"There are only two women there now," he replied. "Since a certain Bucky
Nome passed that way, one of them has gone into the South."
"Well, two, then," said Breed, who had not caught the flash of fire in
the other's eyes. "But I tell you there ain't a one here, Steele, not
even an Indian--and that dirty Cree, Jack, is doing the cooking. Blessed
Saints, I caught him mixing biscuit dough in the wash basin the other
day, and I've been eating those biscuits ever since our people went out
to their traplines! There's you, and Nome, two Crees, a 'half' and
myself--and that's every soul there'll be at Lac Bain until the
mid-winter run of fur. Now, what in Heaven's name is the poor old Mrs.
Colonel going to do?"
"Got a bed for her?"
"A bunk--hard as nails!"
"Rotten!" groaned the factor. "Every trapper's son of them took out big
supplies this fall and we're stripped. Beans, flour, sugar'n'prunes--and
caribou until I feel like turning inside out every time I smell it. I'd
give a month's commission for a pound of pork. Look here! If this letter
ain't 'quality' you can cut me into jiggers. Bet the Mrs. Colonel wrote
it for her hubby."
From an inside pocket Breed drew forth a square white envelope with a
broken seal of red wax, and from it extracted a folded sheet of
cream-tinted paper. Scarcely had Steele taken the note in his hands when
a quick thrill passed through him. Before he had read the first line he
was conscious again of that haunting sweetness in the air he
breathed--the perfume of hyacinth. There was not only this perfume, but
the same paper, the same delicately pretty writing of the letter he had
burned more than a week before. He made no effort to suppress the
exclamation of astonishment that broke from his lips. Breed was staring
at him when he lifted his eyes.
"This is a mighty strange coincidence, Breed," he said, regaining his
composure. "I could almost swear that I know this writing, and yet of
course such a thing is impossible. Still, it's mighty queer. Will you
let me keep the letter until to-night? I'd like to take it over to the
cabin and compare it--"
"Needn't return it at all," interrupted the factor. "Hope you find
something interesting to tell me at supper--five sharp. It will be a
blessing if you know 'em."
Ten minutes later Steele was in the little cabin which he and Nome
occupied while at Lac Bain. Jack, the Cree, had built a rousing fire in
the long sheet-iron stove, and as Steele opened its furnace-like door, a
flood of light poured out into the gathering gloom of early evening.
Drawing a chair full into the light, he again opened the letter. Line
for line and word for word he scrutinized the writing, and with each
breath that he drew he found himself more deeply thrilled by a curious
mental excitement which it was impossible for him to explain. According
to the letter. Colonel and Mrs. Becker had arrived at Churchill aboard
the London ship a little over a month previously. He remembered that the
date on the letter from the girl was six weeks old. At the time it was
written, Colonel Becker and his wife were either in London or Liverpool,
or crossing the Atlantic. No matter how similar the two letters appeared
to him, he realized that, under the circumstances, the same person could
not have written them both. For many minutes he sat back in his chair,
with his eyes half-closed, absorbing the comforting heat of the fire.
Again the old vision returned to him. In a subconscious sort of way he
found himself fighting against it, as he had struggled a score of times
to throw off its presence, since the girl's letter had come to him. And
this time, as before, his effort was futile. He saw her again--and
always as on that night of the Hawkins' ball, eyes and lips smiling at
him, the light shining gloriously in the deep red gold of her hair.
With an effort Steele aroused himself and looked at his watch. It was a
quarter of five. He stooped to close the stove door, and stopped
suddenly, his hand reaching out, head and shoulders hunched over. Across
his knee, shining in the firelight, like a thread of spun gold, lay a
single filament of a woman's hair.
He rose slowly, holding the hair between him and the light. His fingers
trembled, his breath came quickly. The hair had fallen upon his knee
from the letter--or the envelope, and it was wonderfully like HER hair!
From the direction of the factor's quarters came the deep bellowing of
Breed's moose-horn, calling him to supper. Before he responded to it,
Steele wound the silken thread of gold about his ringer, then placed it
carefully among the papers and cards which he carried in his leather
wallet. His face was flushed when he joined the factor. Not since the
night at the Hawkins' ball, when he had felt the touch of a beautiful
woman's hands, the warmth of her breath, the soft sweep of her hair
against his lips as he had leaned over her in his half-surrender, had
thought of woman stirred him as he felt himself stirred now. He was glad
that Breed was too much absorbed in his own troubles to observe any
possible change in himself or to ask questions about the letter.
"I tell you, it may mean the short birch for me, Steele," said the
factor gloomily. "Lac Bain is just now the emptiest, most
fallen-to-pieces, unbusiness-like post between the Athabasca and the
Bay. We've had two bad seasons running, and everything has gone wrong.
Colonel Becker is a big one with the company. Ain't no doubt about that,
and ten to one he'll think it's a new man that's wanted here."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Steele. A sudden flash shot into his face as he
looked hard at Breed. "See here, how would you like to have me go out to
meet them?" he asked. "Sort of a welcoming committee of one, you know.
Before they got here I could casually give 'em to understand what Lac
Bain has been up against during the last two seasons."
Breed's face brightened in an instant.
"That might save us, Steele. Will you do it?"
Philip was conscious of an increasing warmth in his face as he bent over
his plate. "You're sure--they're elderly people?" he asked.
"That is what MacVeigh wrote me from Churchill; at least he said the
colonel was an old man."
"And his wife?"
"Has got her nerve," growled Breed irreverently. "It wouldn't be so bad
if it was only the colonel. But an old woman--ugh! What he doesn't think
of she'll remind him of, you can depend on that."
Steele thought of his mother, who looked at things through a magnifying
lorgnette, and laughed a little cheerlessly.
"I'll go out and meet them, anyway," he comforted. "Have Jack fix me up
for the hike in the morning, Breed. I'll start after breakfast."
He was glad when supper was over and he was back in his own cabin
smoking his pipe. It was almost with a feeling of shame that he took the
golden hair from his wallet and held it once more so that it shone
before his eyes in the firelight.
"You're crazy, Phil Steele," he assured himself. "You're an unalloyed
idiot. What the deuce has Colonel Becker's wife got to do with you--even
if she has golden hair and uses cream-tinted paper soaked in hyacinth?
Confound it--there!" and he released the shining hair from his fingers
so that the air currents sent it floating back into the deeper gloom of
It was midnight before he went to bed. He was up with the first cold
gray of dawn. All that day he strode steadily eastward on snowshoes,
over the company's trail to the bay. Two hours before dusk he put up his
light tent, gathered balsam for a bed, and built a fire of dry spruce
against the face of a huge rock in front of his shelter. It was still
light when he wrapped himself in his blanket and lay down on the balsam,
with his feet stretched out to the reflected heat of the big rock. It
seemed to Steele that there was an unnatural stillness in the air, as
the night thickened beyond the rim of firelight, and, as the gloom grew
still deeper, blotting out his vision in inky blackness, there crept
over him slowly a feeling of loneliness. It was a new sensation to
Steele, and he shivered as he sat up and faced the fire. It was this
same quiet, this same unending mystery of voiceless desolation that had
won him to the North. Until to-night he had loved it. But now there was
something oppressive about it, something that made him strain his eyes
to see beyond the rock and the fire, and set his ears in tense listening
for sounds which did not exist. He knew that in this hour he was longing
for companionship--not that of Breed, nor of men with whom he hunted
men, but of men and women whom he had once known and in whose lives he
had played a part--ages ago, it seemed to him. He knew, as he sat with
clenched hands and staring eyes, that chiefly he was longing for a
woman--a woman whose eyes and lips and sunny hair haunted him after
months of forgetfulness, and whose face smiled at him luringly, now,
from out the leaping flashes of fire--tempting him, calling him over a
thousand miles of space. And if he yielded--
The thought sent his nails biting into the flesh of his palms and he
sank back with a curse that held more of misery than blasphemy. Physical
exhaustion rather than desire for sleep closed his eyes, at last, in
half-slumber, and after that the face seemed nearer and more real to
him, until it was close at his side, and was speaking to him. He heard
again the soft, rippling laugh, girlishly sweet, that had fascinated him
at Hawkins' ball; he heard the distant hum and chatter of other voices,
and then one loud and close--that of Chesbro, who had unwittingly
interrupted them, and saved him, just in the nick of time.
Steele moved restlessly; after a moment wriggled to his elbow and looked
toward the fire. He seemed to hear Chesbro's voice again as he awoke,
and a thrill as keen as an electric shock set his nerves tingling when
he heard once more the laughing voice of his dream, hushed and low. In
amazement he sat bolt upright and stared. Was he still dreaming? The
fire was burning brightly and he was aware that he had scarce fallen
A movement--a sound of feet crunching softly in the snow, and a figure
came between him and the fire.
It was a woman.
He choked back the cry that rose to his lips and sat motionless and
without sound. The figure approached a step nearer, peering into the
deep gloom of the tent. He caught the silver glint in the firelight on
heavy fur, the whiteness of a hand touching lightly the flap of his
tent, and then for an instant he saw a face. In that instant he sat as
rigid as if he had stopped the beat of his own life. A pair of dark eyes
laughing in at him, a flash of laughing teeth, a low titter that was
scarce more than a rippling throat-note, and the face was gone, leaving
him still staring into the blank space where it had been.
With a cough to give warning of his wakefulness, Steele flung off his
blanket and drew himself through the low opening of the tent. On the
extreme right of the fire stood a man and woman, warming themselves over
the coals. They straightened from their leaning posture as he appeared.
"This is too bad, too bad, Mr. Steele," exclaimed the man, advancing
quickly. "I was afraid we'd make a blunder and awaken you. We were about
to camp on a mountain back there when we saw your fire and drove on to
it. I'm sorry--"
"Wouldn't have had you miss me for anything," interrupted Steele,
gripping the other's proffered hand. "You see, I'm out from Lac Bain to
meet Colonel and Mrs. Becker, and--" He hesitated purposely, his white
teeth gleaming in the frank smile which made people like him immensely,
from the first.
"You've met them," completed the laughing voice from across the fire.
"Please, Mr. Steele, will you forgive me for looking in at you and
waking you up? But your feet looked so terribly funny, and I assure you
that was all I could see, though I tried awfully hard. Anyway, I saw
your name printed on the flap of your tent."
Steele felt a slow fire burning in his cheeks as he encountered the
beautiful eyes glowing at him from behind the colonel. The woman was
smiling at him. In the heat of the fire she had pushed back her fur
turban, and he saw that her hair was the same shining red gold that had
come to him in the letter, and that her lips and eyes and the glorious
color in her face were remarkably like those of which he had dreamed,
and of which waking visions had come with the hyacinth letter to fill
him with unrest and homesickness. In spite of himself he had reasoned
that she would be young and that she would have golden hair, but these
other things, the laughing beauty of her face, the luring depth of her
He caught himself staring.
"I--I was dreaming," he almost stammered. He pulled himself together
quickly. "I was dreaming of a face, Mrs. Becker, It seems strange that
this should happen--away up here, in this way. The face that I dreamed
of is a thousand miles from here, and it is wonderfully like yours."
The colonel was laughing at him when he turned. He was a little man, as
straight as a gun rod, pale of face except for his nose, which was
nipped red by the cold, and with a pointed beard as white as the snow
under his feet. That part of his countenance which exposed itself above
the top of his great fur coat and below his thick beaver cap was alive
with good cheer, notwithstanding its pallor.
"Glad you're good humored about it, Steele," he cried with an immediate
tone of comradeship. "We wouldn't have ventured into your camp if it
hadn't been for Isobel. She was positively insistent, sir. Wanted to see
who was here and what it looked like. Eh, Isobel, my dear, are you
"I surely didn't expect to find 'It' asleep at this time of the day,"
said Mrs. Becker. She laughed straight into Philip's face, and so
roguishly sweet was the curve of her red lips and the light in her eyes
that his heart quickened its beating, and the flush deepened in his
"It's only six," he said, looking at his watch. "I don't usually turn in
this early. I was tired to-night--though I am not, now," he added
quickly. "I could sit up until morning--and talk. We don't often meet
people from outside, you know. Where are the others?"
"Back there," said the colonel, waving an arm into the gloom. "Isobel
made 'em sit down and be quiet, dogs and all, sir, while we came on
alone. There are Indians, two sledges, and a ton of duff."
"Call them," said Steele. "There's room for your tent beside mine,
Colonel, close against the face of this rock. It's as good as a
The colonel moved a little out into the gloom and shouted to those
behind. Philip turned to find Mrs. Becker looking at him in a timid,
questioning sort of way, the laughter gone from her eyes. For a moment
she seemed to be on the point of speaking to him, then picked up a short
stick and began toying with the coals.
"You must be tired, Mrs. Becker," he said. "Now that you are near a
fire, I would suggest that you throw off your heavy coat. You will be
more comfortable, and I will bring you a blanket to sit on."
He dived into his tent and a moment later reappeared with a blanket,
which he spread close against the butt of a big spruce within half a
dozen feet of the fire. When he turned toward her, the colonel's wife
had thrown off her coat and turban and stood before him, a slim and
girlish figure, bewitchingly pretty as she smiled her gratitude and
nestled down into the place he had prepared for her. For a moment he
bent over her, tucking the thick fur about her feet and knees, and in
that moment he breathed from the heavy coils of her shining hair the
flower-like sweetness which had already stirred him to the depths of his
Colonel Becker was smiling down upon them when he straightened up, and
at the humorous twinkle in his eyes, as he gazed from one to the other,
Steele felt that the guilt of his own thoughts was blazing in his face.
He was glad that the Indians came up with the sledges just at this
moment, and as he went back to help them with the dogs and packs he
swore softly at himself for the heat that was in his blood and the
strange madness that was firing his brain. And inwardly he cursed
himself still more when he returned to the fire. From out the deep gloom
he saw the colonel sitting with his back against the spruce and Mrs.
Becker nestling against him, her head resting upon his shoulder, talking
and laughing up into his face. Even as he hesitated for an instant,
scarce daring to break upon the scene, he saw her pull the gray-bearded
face down to hers and kiss it, and in the ineffable contentment and
happiness shining in the two faces in the firelight Philip Steele knew
that he was looking upon that which had broken for ever the haunting
image of another woman in his heart. In its place would remain this
picture of love--love as he had dreamed of it, as he had hoped for it,
and which he had found at last--but not for himself--in the heart of a
He saw now something childishly sweet and pure in the face that smiled
welcome to him as he came noisily through the snow-crust; and something,
too, in the colonel's face, which reached out and gripped at his very
heartstrings, and filled him with a warm glow that was new and strange
to him, and which was almost the happiness of these two. It swept from
him the sense of loneliness which had oppressed him a short time before,
and when at last, after they had talked for a long time beside the fire,
the colonel's wife lifted her pretty head drowsily and asked if she
might go to bed, he laughed in sheer joy at the pouting tenderness with
which she rubbed her pink cheek against the grizzled face above her, and
at the gentle light in the colonel's eyes as he half carried her into
For a long time after he had rolled himself in his own blanket Philip
lay awake, wondering at the strangeness of this thing that had happened
to him. It was Her hair that he had seen shining this night under the
old spruce, lustrous and soft, and coiled in its simple glory, as he had
seen it last on the night when Chesbro had broken in on them at the
ball. It was very easy for him to imagine that it had been Her face,
with soul and heart and love added to its beauty. More than ever he knew
what had been missing for him now, and blessed Chesbro for his
blundering, and fell asleep to dream of the new face, and to awaken
hours later to the unpleasant realization that his visions were but
dream-fabric after all, and that the woman was the wife of Colonel
Chapter III. A Skull And A Flirtation
It was late afternoon when they came into Lac Bain, and as soon as
Philip had turned over the colonel and his wife to Breed, he hurried to
his own cabin. At the door he encountered Buck Nome. The two men had not
met since a month before at Nelson House, and there was but little
cordiality in Sng to say howdy to 'em," explained Nome, pausing for a
moment. "Deuce of a good joke on you, Steele! How do you like the job of
bringing in an old colonel's frozen wife, or a frozen colonel's old
Every fiber in Steele's body grew tense at the banter in the other's
voice. He whirled upon Nome, who had partly turned away.
"You remember--you lied down there at Nelson to get just such a 'job' as
this," he reminded. "Have you forgotten what happened--after that?"
"Don't get miffed about it, man," returned Nome with an irritating
laugh. "All's fair in love and war. That was love down there, 'pon my
word of honor it was, and this is about as near the other thing as I
want to come."
There was something in his laugh that drew Steele's lips in a tight line
as he entered the cabin. It was not the first time that he had listened
to Nome's gloating chuckle at the mention of certain women. It was this
more than anything else that made him hate the man.
Physically, Nome was a magnificent specimen, beyond doubt the handsomest
man in the service north of Winnipeg; so that while other men despised
him for what they knew, women admired and loved him--until, now and then
too late for their own salvation, they discovered that his moral code
was rotten to the core.
Such a thing had happened at Nelson House, and Philip felt himself
burning with a desire to choke the life out of Nome as he recalled the
tragedy there. And what would happen--now? The thought came to him like
a dash of cold water, and yet, after a moment, his teeth gleamed in a
smile as a vision rose before him of the love and purity which he had
seen in the sweet face of the colonel's wife. He chuckled softly to
himself as he dragged out a pack from under his bunk; but there was no
humor in the chuckle. From it he took a bundle wrapped in soft
birch-bark, and from this produced the skull that he had brought up with
him from the South. There was a tremble of excitement in his low laugh
as he glanced about the gloomy interior of the cabin.
From the log ceiling hung a big oil lamp with a tin reflector, and under
this he hung the skull.
"You'll make a pretty ornament, M'sieur Janette," he exclaimed, standing
off to contemplate the white thing leering and bobbing at him from the
end of its string. "Mon Dieu, I tell you that when the lamp is lighted
Bucky Nome must be blind if he doesn't recognize you, even though you're
He lighted a smaller lamp, shaved himself, and changed his clothes. It
was dark when he was ready for supper, and Nome had not returned. He
waited a quarter of an hour longer, then put on his cap and coat and
lighted the big oil lamp. At the door he turned to look back. The
cavernous sockets of the skull stared at him. From where he stood he
could see the ragged hole above the ear.
"It's your game to-night, M'sieur Janette," he cried back softly, and
closed the door behind him.
They were gathered before a huge fire of logs in the factor's big
living-room when Philip joined the others. A glance told him why Nome
had not returned to the cabin. Breed and the colonel were smoking cigars
over a ragged ledger of stupendous size, which the factor had spread out
upon a small table, and both were deeply absorbed. Mrs. Becker was
facing the fire, and close beside her sat Nome, leaning toward her and
talking in a voice so low that only a murmur of it came to Steele's
ears. The man's face was flushed when he looked up, and his eyes shone
with the old fire which made Philip hate him.
As the woman turned to greet him Steele felt a suddenly sickening
sensation grip at his heart. Her cheeks, too, were flushed, and the
color in them deepened still more when he bowed to her and joined the
two men at the table. The colonel shook hands with him, and Philip
noticed that once or twice after that his eyes shifted uneasily in the
direction of the two before the fire, and that whenever the low laughter
of Mrs. Becker and Nome came to them he paid less attention to the
columns of figures which Breed was pointing out to him. When they rose
to go into supper, Philip's blood boiled as Nome offered his arm to Mrs.
Becker, who accepted it with a swift, laughing glance at the colonel.
There was no response in the older man's pale face, and Philip's fingers
dug hard into the palms of his hands. At the table Nome's attentions to
Mrs. Becker were even more marked. Once, under pretext of helping her to
a dish, he whispered words which brought a deeper flush to her cheeks,
and when she looked at the colonel his eyes were fixed upon her in stern
reproof. It was abominable! Was Nome mad? Was the woman--
Steele did not finish the thought in his own mind. His eyes encountered
those of the colonel's wife across the table. He saw a sudden, quick
catch of breath in her throat; even as he looked the flush faded from
her face, and she rose from her seat, her gaze still upon him.
"I--I am not feeling well," she said. "Will you please excuse me?"
In an instant Nome was at her side, but she turned quickly from him to
the colonel, who had risen from his chair.
"Please take me to my room," she begged. "Then--then you can come back."
Once more her face turned to Steele. There was a pallor in it now that
startled him. For a few moments he stood alone, as Breed and Nome left
the table. He listened, and heard the opening and closing of a second
Then a footstep, and Nome reappeared.
"By Heaven, but she's a beauty!" he exclaimed. "I tell you, Steele--"
Something in his companion's eyes stopped him. Two red spots burned in
Steele's cheeks as he advanced and gripped the other fiercely by the
"Yes, she is pretty--very pretty," he said quietly, his fingers sinking
deeper into Nome's arm. "Get your hat and coat, Nome. I want to see you
in the cabin."
Behind them the door opened and closed again, and Steele shoved past his
associate to meet Breed.
"Buck and I have a little matter to attend to over at the cabin," he
explained. "When they--when the colonel returns tell him we'll be over
to smoke an after-supper pipe with him a little later, will you? And
give our compliments to--her." With a half-sneer on his lips he rejoined
Nome, who stared hard at him, and followed him through the outer door.
"Now, what the devil does this mean?" Nome demanded when they were
outside. "If you have anything on your mind, Steele--"
"I have," interrupted Philip, "and I'm going to relieve myself of it.
Pretty? She's as beautiful as an angel, Buck--the colonel's wife, I
mean. And you--" He laughed harshly. "You're always the lucky dog, Buck
Nome. You think she's half in love with you now. Too bad she was taken
ill just at the psychological moment, as you might say, Buck. Wonder
what was the matter?"
"Don't know," growled Nome, conscious of something in the other's voice
which darkness concealed in his face.
"Of course, you don't," replied Steele.
"That's why I am bringing you over to the cabin. I am going to tell you
just what happened when Mrs. Becker was taken ill, and when she turned a
trifle pale, if you noticed sharply. Buck. It's a good joke, a mighty
good joke, and I know you will thoroughly appreciate it."
He drew a step back when they came near the cabin, and Nome entered
first. Very coolly Philip turned and bolted the door. Then, throwing off
his coat, he pointed to the white skull dangling under the lamp.
"Allow me to introduce an old friend of mine, Buck--M'sieur Janette, of
With a sudden curse Nome leaped toward his companion, his face flaming,
his hands clenched to strike--only to look into the shining muzzle of
Steele's revolver, with Steele's cold gray eyes glittering dangerously
"Sit down, Nome--right there, under the man you killed!" he commanded.
"Sit down, or by the gods I'll blow your head off where you stand!
There--and I'll sit here, like this, so that the cur's heart within you
is a bull's-eye for this gun. It's M'sieur Janette's turn tonight," he
went on, leaning over the little table, the red spots in his cheeks
growing redder and brighter as Nome cringed before his revolver.
"M'sieur Janette's--and the colonel's; but mostly Janette's. Remember
that, Nome. It's for Janette. I'm not thinking much about Mrs.
Steele's breath came quickly and his lips were almost snarling in his
hatred of the man before him.
"It's a lie!" gasped Nome chokingly, his face ashen white. "You lie when
you say I killed--Janette."
The fingers of Steele's pistol hand twitched.
"How I'd like to kill you!" he breathed. "You won his wife, Nome; you
broke his heart--and after that he killed himself. You sent a report
into headquarters that he killed himself by accident. You lied. It was
you who killed him--by taking his wife. I got his skull because I
thought I might need it against you to show that it was a pistol instead
of a rifle that killed him. And this isn't the first man you've sent to
hell, Nome, and is isn't the first woman. But your next won't be Mrs.
He thrust his revolver almost into the other man's face as Nome opened
his lips to speak.
"Shut up!" he cried. "If you open your dirty mouth again I'll be tempted
to kill you where you sit! Don't you know what happened to-night? Don't
you know that Mrs. Becker forgot herself, and remembered again, just in
time, and that you've taken a little blood from the colonel's heart as
you took all of it from--his?" He reached up and broke the string that
held the skull, turning the empty face of the thing toward Nome. "Look
at it, you scoundrel! That's the man you killed, as you would kill the
colonel if you could. That's Janette!"
His voice fell to a hissing whisper as he shoved the skull slowly across
the table, so close that a sudden movement would have sent it against
the other's breast.
"We've been fixing this thing up between us, Bucky--M'sieur Janette and
I," he went on, "and we've come to the conclusion that we won't kill
you, but that you don't belong to the service. Understand?"
"You mean--to drive me out--" One of Nome's hands had stolen to his
side, and Steele's pistol arm grew tense.
"On the table with your hands, Bucky! There, that's better," he laughed
"Yes, we're going to drive you out. You're going to pack up a few things
right away, Bucky, and you're going to run like the devil away from this
place. I'd advise you to go straight back to headquarters and resign
from the Northwest Mounted. MacGregor knows you pretty well, Bucky, and
knows one or two things you've done, even though your whole record is
not an open book to him. I don't believe he'll put any obstacles in the
way of your discharge although your enlistment hasn't expired.
Disability is an easy plea, you know. But if the inspector should think
so much of you that he is loath to let you go, then M'sieur Janette and
I will have to fix up the story for headquarters, and I don't mind
telling you we'll add just a little for interest, and that the woman and
the people at Nelson House will swear to it. You've the making of a good
outlaw, Bucky," he smiled tauntingly, "and if you follow your natural
bent you'll have some of your old friends after you, good and hard.
You'd better steer clear of that though, and try your hand at being
honest for once. M'sieur Janette wants to give you this chance, and
you'd better make good time. So get a move on, Bucky. You'll need a
blanket and a little grub, that's all."
"Steele, you don't mean this! Good God, man--" Nome had half risen to
his feet. "You don't mean this!"
With his free hand Philip took out his watch.
"I mean that if you are not gone within fifteen minutes I'll march you
over to Breed and the colonel, tell them the story of M'sieur Janette,
here, and hold you until we hear from headquarters," he said quickly.
"Which will it be, Nome?"
Like one stunned by a blow Nome rose slowly to his feet. He spoke no
word as he carefully filled his pack with the necessities of a long
journey. At the door, as he opened it to go, he turned for just an
instant upon Steele, who was still holding the revolver in his hand.
"Remember, Bucky," admonished Philip in a quiet voice, "it's all for the
good of yourself and the service."
Fear had gone from Nome's face. It was filled now with a hatred so
intense that his teeth shone like the fangs of a snarling animal.
"To hell with you," he said, "and to hell with the service; but
remember, Philip Steele, remember that some day we'll meet again."
"Some day," laughed Philip. "Good-by, Bucky Nome--deserter!"
The door closed and Nome was gone.
"Now, M'sieur Janette, it's our turn," cried Steele, smiling
companionably upon the skull and loading his pipe. "It's our turn."
He laughed aloud, and for some time puffed out luxurious clouds of smoke
"It's the best day's work I've done in my life," he continued, with his
eyes still upon the skull. "The very best, and it would be complete,
M'sieur, if I could send you down to the woman who helped to kill you."
He stopped, and his eyes leaped with a sudden fire. "By George!" he
exclaimed, under his breath. His pipe went out; for many minutes he
stared with set face at the skull, as if it had spoken to him and its
voice had transfixed him where he stood. Then he tossed his pipe upon
the table, collected his service equipment and strapped it in his pack.
After that he returned to the table with a pad of paper and a pencil and
sat down. His face was strangely white as he took the skull in his
"I'll do it, so help me all the gods, I'll do it!" he breathed
excitedly. "M'sieur, a woman killed you---as much as Bucky Nome, a woman
did it. You couldn't do her any good--but you might--another. I'm going
to send you to her, M'sieur. You're a terrible lesson, and I may be a
beast; but you're preaching a powerful sermon, and I guess--perhaps--you
may do her good. I'll tell her your story, old man, and the story of the
woman who made you so nice and white and clean. Perhaps she'll see the
moral, M'sieur. Eh? Perhaps!"
For a long time he wrote, and when he had done he sealed the writing,
put the envelope and the skull together in a box, and tied the whole
with babiche string. On the outside he fastened another note to Breed,
the factor, in which he explained that he and Bucky Nome had found it
necessary to leave that very night for the West. And he heavily
underscored the lines in which he directed the factor to see that the
box was delivered to Mrs. Colonel Becker, and that, as he valued the
honor and the friendship of the service, and especially of Philip
Steele, all knowledge of it should be kept from the colonel himself.
It was eight o'clock when he went out into the night with his pack upon
his back. He grunted approval when he found it was snowing, for the
track of himself and Nome would be covered. Through the thickening gloom
the two or three lights in the factor's home gleamed like distant stars.
One of them was brighter than the others, and he knew that it came from
the rooms which Breed had fitted up for the colonel and his wife. As
Philip halted for a moment, his eyes drawn by a haunting fascination to
that window, the light grew clearer and brighter, and he fancied that he
saw a face looking out into the night--toward his cabin. A moment later
he knew that it was the woman's face. Then a door opened, and a figure
hurried across the open. He stepped back into the gloom of his own cabin
and waited. It was the colonel. Three times he knocked loudly at the
"I'd like to go out and shake his hand," muttered Steele. "I'd like to
tell him that he isn't the only man who's had an idol broken, and that
Mrs. B.'s little flirtation isn't a circumstance--to what might have
Instead, he moved silently away, and turned his face into the thin trail
that buried itself in the black forests of the West.
Chapter IV. The Silken Scarf
A loneliness deeper than he had ever known--a yearning that was almost
pain, oppressed Philip as he left Lac Bain behind him. Half a mile from
the post he stopped under a shelter of dense spruce, and stood listening
as there came to him faintly the distant howling of a dog. After all,
had he done right? He laughed harshly and his hands clenched as he
thought of Bucky Nome. He had done right by him. But the skull--Mrs.
Becker--was that right? Like a flash there came to him out of the
darkness a picture of the scene beside the fire--of Mrs. Becker and the
colonel, of the woman's golden head resting on her husband's shoulder,
her sweet blue eyes filled with all the truth and glory of womanhood as
she had looked up into his grizzled face. And then there took its place
the scene beside the fire in the factor's room. He saw the woman's
flushed cheeks as she listened to the low voice of Bucky Nome, he saw
again what looked like yielding softness in her eyes--the grayish pallor
in the colonel's face as he had looked upon the flirtation. Yes, he had
done right. She had recovered herself in time, but she had taken a
little bit of life from the colonel, and from him. She had broken his
ideal--the ideal he had always hoped for, and had sought for, but had
never found, and he told himself that now she was no better than the
girl of the hyacinth letter, whose golden beauty and eyes as clear as an
angel's had concealed this same deceit that wrecked men's lives. M'sieur
Janette's clean, white skull and the story of how and why M'sieur
Janette had died would not be too great a punishment for her.
He resumed his journey, striving to concentrate his mind on other
things. Seven or eight miles to the south and west was the cabin of
Jacques Pierrot, a half-breed, who had a sledge and dogs. He would hire
Jacques to accompany him on his patrol in place of Bucky Nome. Then he
would return to Nelson House and send in his report of Bucky Nome's
desertion, since he knew well enough after the final remarks of that
gentleman that he did not intend to sever his connection with the
Northwest Mounted in the regular way. After that--He shrugged his
shoulders as he thought of the fourteen months' of service still ahead
of him. Until now his adventure as a member of the Royal Mounted had not
grown monotonous for an hour. Excitement, action, fighting against odds,
had been the spice of life to him, and he struggled to throw off the
change that had taken hold of him the moment he had opened the
hyacinth-scented letter of Mrs. Becker. "You're a fool," he argued.
"You're as big a fool as Bucky Nome. My God--you--Phil Steele--letting a
married woman upset you like this!"
It was near midnight when he came to Pierrot's cabin, but a light was
still burning in the half-breed's log home. Philip kicked off his snow
shoes and knocked at the door. In a moment Pierrot opened it, stepped
back, and stared at the white figure that came in out of the storm.
"Mon Dieu--it ees you--Mee-sair Philip!"
Philip held out his hand to Jacques, and shot a quick glance about him.
There had been a change in the cabin since he had visited it last. One
of Pierrot's hands was done up in a sling, his face was thin and pale,
and his dark eyes were sunken and lusterless. In the little wilderness
home there was an air of desertion and neglect, and Philip wondered
where Pierrot's rosy-cheeked, black-haired wife and his half dozen
children had gone.
"Mon Dieu--it ees you, Mee-sair Philip," cried Pierrot again, his face
lighting up with pleasure. "You come late. You are hongree?"
"I've had supper," replied Philip. "I've just come from Lac Bain. But
what's up, old man--?" He pointed to Pierrot's hand, and looked
questionably about the cabin again.
"Eh--Iowla--my wife--she is at Churchill, over on the bay," groaned
Jacques. "And so are the children. What! You did not hear at Lac Bain?
Iowla is taken seek--ver' seek--with a strange thing which--ugh!--has to
be fixed with a knife, Mee-sair Philip. An' so I take her to the doctor
over at Churchill, an' he fix her--an' she is growing well now, an' will
soon come home. She keep the children with her. She say they mak' her
think of Jacques, on his trap-line. Eh--it ees lonely--dam'--dam'
lonely, and I have been gone from my Iowla but two weeks to-morrow."
"You have been with her at Fort Churchill?" asked Philip, taking off his
pack and coat.
"Oui, M'sieur," said Jacques, falling into his French. "I have been
there since November. What! They did not tell you at Lac Bain?"
"No--they did not tell me. But I was there but a few hours, Jacques.
Listen--" He pulled out his pipe and began filling it, with his back to
the stove. "You saw people--strangers--at Fort Churchill, Jacques? They
came over on the London ship, and among them there was a woman--"
Pierrot's pale face flashed up with sudden animation.
"Ah--zee angel!" he cried. "That is what my Iowla called her, M'sieur.
See!" He pointed to his bandaged hand. "Wan day that bete--the Indian
dog of mine--did that, an' w'en I jumped up from the snow in front of
the company's store, the blood running from me, I see her standing
there, white an' scared. An' then she run to me with a little scream,
an' tear something from her neck, an' tie it round my hand. Then she go
with me to my cabin, and every day after that she come to see my Iowla
an' the children. She wash little Pierre, an' cut his hair. She wash
Jean an' Mabelle. She laugh an' sing an' hol' the baby, an' my Iowla
laugh an' sing; an' she takes down my Iowla's hair, which is so long
that it falls to her knees, an' does it up in a wonderful way an' says
she would give everything she got if she could have that hair. An' my
Iowla laugh at her, because her hair is like an angel's--like fire w'en
the sun is on it; an' my Iowla tak' hers down, all red an' gold, an' do
it up in the Cree way. And w'en she brings the man with her--he laughs
an' plays with the kids, an' says he knows the doctor and that there
will be nothing to pay for all that he is done. Ah--she ees wan
be-e-eautiful-l-l angel! An' this--this is w'at she tied around my
With new life Pierrot went to a covered box nailed against one of the
log walls and a moment later placed in Philip's hands a long, white,
silken neck-scarf. Once more there rose to his nostrils the sweet, faint
scent of hyacinth, and with a sudden low cry Philip crushed the dainty
fabric in a mass to his face. In that moment it seemed as though the
sweetness of the woman herself was with him, stirring him at last to
confess the truth--the thing which he had fought against so fiercely in
those few hours at Lac Bain; and the knowledge that he had surrendered
to himself, that in going from Lac Bain he was leaving all that the
world held for him in the way of woman and love, drew his breath from
him in another broken, stifled cry.
When he lowered the scarf his face was white. Pierrot was staring at
"It makes me think--of home," he explained lamely. "Sometimes I get
lonely, too. There's a girl--down there--who wears a scarf like this,
and what she wears smells like a flower, just as this does--"
"Oui, I understand," said Pierrot softly. "It is the way I feel when my
Iowla is gone."
He replaced the scarf in the box, and when he returned to the stove
Philip explained why he had come to his cabin. With Pierrot's promise to
accompany him with dogs and sledge on his patrol the next day he
prepared to go to bed. Pierrot also was undressing, and Philip said to
"This woman--at Churchill--Jacques--what if some one should tell you
that she is not so much of an angel after all--that she is, perhaps,
something like--like the woman over at Lac la Biche, who ran away with
Pierrot straightened as though Philip had thrust a knife-point into his
back. He broke forth suddenly into French.
"I would call him a liar, M'sieur," he cried fiercely. "I would call him
a liar, once-twice--three times, and then if he said it again I would
fight him. Mon Dieu, but it would be no sin to kill one with a mouth
Philip was conscious of the hot blood rushing to his face as he bent
over his bunk. The depths of Pierrot's faith shamed him, and he crawled
silently between the blankets and turned his face to the wall. Pierrot
extinguished the light, and a little later Philip could hear his deep
breathing. But sleep refused to close his own eyes, and he lay on his
back, painfully awake. In spite of the resolution he had made to think
no more of the woman at Lac Bain, his mind swept him back to her
irresistibly. He recalled every incident that had occurred, every word
that she had spoken, since he had first looked upon her beautiful face
out on the Churchill trail. He could find nothing but purity and
sweetness until he came with her for that fatal hour or two into the
company of Bucky Nome. And then, again, his blood grew hot. But--after
all--was there not some little excuse for her? He thought of the
hundreds of women he had known, and wondered if there was one among them
all who had not at some time fallen into this same little error as Mrs.
Becker. For the first time he began to look at himself. Mrs. Becker had
laughed with Bucky Nome, her cheeks had grown a little flushed, her eyes
had shone radiantly--but were those things a sin? Had those same eyes
not looked up into his own, filled with a sweetness that thrilled him,
when he bent over her beside the fire out on the Churchill trail? Was
there not that same lovely flush in her face when his lips had almost
touched her hair? And had not the colonel's sudden return brought a
flush into both their faces? He smiled to himself, and for a moment he
thrilled ecstatically. The reaction came like a shock. In an instant
other scenes--other faces--flashed upon him, and again he saw the
luring, beautiful face of Eileen Hawkins, who smiled on men as Mrs.
Becker had smiled on Bucky Nome and on him.
He closed his eyes and tried to force himself into sleep, but failed. At
last he rose silently from his bunk, filled his pipe, and sat down in
the darkness beside the stove. The storm had increased to a gale,
wailing and moaning over the cabin outside, and the sound carried him
back to the last night in the cabin far to the south, when he had
destroyed the hyacinth-scented letter. The thought of the letter moved
him restlessly. He listened to Pierrot's breathing, and knew that the
half-breed was asleep. Then he rose to his feet and laid his pipe on the
table. A curious feeling of guilt came over him as he moved toward the
box in which Jacques had placed the silken scarf. His breath came
quickly; in the dark his eyes shone; a tingling thrill of strange
pleasure shot through him as his fingers touched the thing for which
they were searching. He drew the scarf out, and returned to the stove
with it, crushing it in both his hands. The sweetness of it came to him
again like the woman's breath. It was the sweetness of her hair, of the
golden coils massed in the firelight; a part of the woman herself, of
her glorious eyes, her lips, her face--and suddenly he crushed the
fabric to his own face, and stood there, trembling in the darkness,
while Jacques Pierrot slept and the storm wailed and moaned over his
head. For he knew--now--that he would do more for this woman than
Jacques Pierrot could ever do; more, perhaps, than even the colonel, her
husband, would do. His heart seemed bursting with a new and terrible
pain, and the truth at last seemed to rise and choke him. He loved her.
He loved this woman, the wife of another man. He loved her as he had
never dreamed that he could love a woman, and with the scarf still
smothering his lips and face he stood for many minutes, silent and
motionless, gathering himself slowly from out of the appalling depths
into which he had allowed himself to plunge.
Then he folded the scarf, and instead of returning it to the box, put it
in one of the pockets of his coat.
"Pierrot won't care," he excused himself. "And it's the only thing,
little girl--the only thing--I'll ever have--of you."
Chapter V. Beauty-Proof
It was Pierrot who aroused Philip in the morning.
"Mon, Dieu, but you have slept like a bear," he exclaimed. "The storm
has cleared and it will be fine traveling. Eh--you have not heard? I
wonder why they are firing guns off toward Lac Bain!"
Philip jumped from his bed, and his first look was in the direction of
the box. He was criminal enough to hope that Jacques would not discover
that the scarf was missing.
"A moose--probably," he said. "There were tracks close up to the post a
day or two ago."
He was anxious to begin their journey, and assisted Pierrot in preparing
breakfast. The sound of guns impressed upon him the possibility of some
one from Lac Bain calling at the half-breed's cabin, and he wished to
avoid further association with people from the post--at least for a
time. At nine o'clock Pierrot bolted the door and the two set off into
the south and west. On the third day they swung to the eastward to
strike the Indians living along Reindeer Lake, and on the sixth cut a
trail by compass straight for Nelson House. A week later they arrived at
the post, and Philip found a letter awaiting him calling him to Prince
Albert. In a way the summons was a relief to him. He bade Pierrot
good-by, and set out for Le Pas in company with two Indians. From that
point he took the work train to Etomami, and three hours later was in
"Rest up for a time, Steele," Inspector MacGregor told him, after he had
made a personal report on Bucky Nome.
During the week that followed Philip had plenty of leisure in which to
tell himself that he was a fool, and that he was deliberately throwing
away what a munificent fortune had placed in his hands. MacGregor's
announcement that he was in line for promotion in the near future did
not stir him as it would have done a few weeks before. In his little
barracks room he laughed ironically as he recalled MacGregor's words,
"We're going to make a corporal or a sergeant of you." He--Philip
Steele--millionaire, club man, son of a western king of finance--a
corporal or a sergeant! For the first time the thought amused him, and
then it maddened him. He had played the part of an idiot, and all
because there had been born within him a love of adventure and the big,
free life of the open. No wonder some of his old club friends regarded
him as a scapegrace and a ne'er-do-well. He had thrown away position,
power, friends and home as carelessly as he might have tossed away the
end of a cigar. And all--for this! He looked about his cramped quarters,
a half sneer on his lips. He had tied himself to this! To his ears there
came faintly the thunder of galloping hoofs. Sergeant Moody was training
his rookies to ride. The sneer left his lips, and was replaced by a
quick, alert smile as he heard a rattle of revolver shots and the
cheering of voices. After all, it was not so bad. It was a service that
made men, and he thought of the English remittance-man, whose father was
a lord of something-or-other, and who was learning to ride and shoot out
there with red-headed, raucous-voiced Moody. There began to stir in him
again the old desire for action, and he was glad when word was sent to
him that Inspector MacGregor wished to see him in his office.
The big inspector was pacing back and forth when Philip came in.
"Sit down, Steele, sit down," he said. "Take it easy, man--and have a
If MacGregor had suddenly gone into a fit Philip could not have been
more surprised than at these words, as he stood with his cap in his hand
before the desk of the fiery-mustached inspector, who was passing his
box of choice Havanas. There are tightly drawn lines of distinction in
the Royal Mounted. As Philip had once heard the commissioner say, "Every
man in the service is a king--but there are different degrees of kings,"
and for a barracks man to be asked to sit in the inspector's office and
smoke was a sensational breach of the usual code. But as he had
distinctly heard the invitation to sit, and to smoke, Philip proceeded
to do both, and waited in silence for the next mine to explode under his
feet. And there was a certain ease in his manner of doing these things
which would have assured most men that he was not unaccustomed to
sitting in the presence of greatness.
The inspector seemed to notice this. For a moment he stood squarely in
front of Steele, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, a twinkle in
the cold, almost colorless eyechuckling, companionable laugh, such as
finds its vent in the fellowship of equals, but which is seldom indulged
in by a superior before an inferior in the R.N.W.M. Police.
"Mighty good cigars, eh, Steele?" he asked, turning slowly toward the
window. "The commissioner sent 'em up to me from Regina. Nothing like a
good cigar on a dreary day like this. Whew, listen to the wind--straight
from Medicine Hat!"
For a few moments he looked out upon the cheerless drab roofs of the
barracks, with their wisps of pale smoke swirling upward into the leaden
sky; counted the dozen gnarled and scrubby trees, as had become a habit
with him; rested his eyes upon the black and shriveled remnants of
summer flower-beds thrusting their frost-shrunken stalks through the
snow, and then, almost as if he were speaking to himself, he said,
"Steele, are you beautyproof?"
There was no banter in his voice. It was low, so low that it had in it
the ring of something more than mere desire for answer, and when the
inspector turned, Philip observed a thing that he had never seen
before--a flush in MacGregor's face. His pale eyes gleamed. His voice
was filled with an intense earnestness as he repeated the question. "I
want to know, Steele. Are you beauty-proof?"
In spite of himself Philip felt the fire rising in his own face. In that
moment the inspector could have hit on no words that would have thrilled
him more deeply than those which he had spoken. Beauty-proof! Did
MacGregor know? Was it possible-- He took a step forward, words came to
his lips, but he caught himself before he had given voice to them.
He laughed, softly, as the inspector had laughed a few moments before.
But there was a strange tenseness in his face--something which MacGregor
saw, but could not understand.
"Beauty-proof?" He repeated the words, looking keenly at the other.
"Yes, I think I am, sir."
"You think you are?"
"I am quite sure that I am. Inspector. That is as far as I can go."
The inspector seated himself at his desk and opened a drawer. From it he
took a photograph. For some time he gazed at it in silence, puffing out
clouds of smoke from his cigar. Then, without lifting his eyes from the
picture, he said: "I am going to put you up against a queer case,
Steele, and the strangest thing about it is its very simplicity. It's a
job for the greenest rookie in the service, and yet I swear that there
isn't another man in Saskatchewan to whom I would talk as I am about to
talk to you. Rather paradoxical, isn't it?"
"Rather," agreed Philip.
"And yet not when you come to understand the circumstances," continued
the inspector, placing the photograph face down on the table and looking
at the other through a purple cloud of tobacco smoke. "You see, Steele,
I know who you are. I know that your father is Philip Steele, the big
Chicago banker. I know that you are up here for romance and adventure
rather than for any other thing there is in the service. I know, too,
that you are no prairie chicken, and that most of your life has been
spent where you see beautiful women every hour of the day, and where
soft voices and tender smiles aren't the most wonderful things in the
world, as they sometimes are up here. Fact is, we have a way of our own
of running down records--"
"And a confounded clever one it must be," interrupted Philip
irreverently. "Had you any--any particular reason for supposing me to be
'beauty-proof,' as you call it?" he added coldly.
"I've told you my only reason," said the inspector, leaning over his
desk. "You've seen so many pretty faces, Steele, and you've associated
with them so long that one up here isn't going to turn your head. Now--"
MacGregor hesitated, and laughed. The flush grew deeper in his cheeks,
and he looked again at the photograph.
"I'm going to be frank with you," he went on. "This young woman called
on me yesterday, and within a quarter of an hour--fifteen minutes, mind
you!--she had me going like a fool! Understand? I'm not proof--against
her--and yet I'm growing old in the service and haven't had a love
affair since--a long time ago. I'm going to send you up to the Wekusko
camp, above Le Pas, to bring down a prisoner. The man is her husband,
and he almost killed Hodges, who is chief of construction up there. The
minimum he'll get is ten years, and this woman is moving heaven and
earth to save him. So help me God, Steele, if I was one of the
youngsters, and she came to me as she did yesterday, I believe I'd let
him give me the slip! But it mustn't happen. Understand? It mustn't
happen. We've got to bring that man down, and we've got to give him the
law. Simple thing, isn't it--this bringing a prisoner down from Wekusko!
Any rookie could do it, couldn't he? And yet--"
The inspector paused to light his cigar, which had gone out. Then he
added: "If you'll do this, Steele--and care for it--I'll see that you
get your promotion."
As he finished, he tossed the photograph across the desk. "That's she.
Don't ask me how I got the picture."
A curious thrill shot through Philip as he picked up the bit of
cardboard. It was a wondrously sweet face that looked squarely out of it
into his eyes, a face so youthful, so filled with childish prettiness
that an exclamation of surprise rose to his lips. Under other
circumstances he would have sworn that it was the picture of a
school-girl. He looked up, about to speak, but MacGregor had turned
again to the window, clouds of smoke about his head. He spoke without
turning his head.
"That was taken nearly ten years ago," he said, and Philip knew that he
was making an effort to keep an unnatural break out of his voice. "But
there has been little change--almost none. His name is Thorpe. I will
send you a written order this afternoon and you can start to-night."
Philip rose, and waited.
"Is there nothing more?" he asked, after a moment. "This woman--"
"There is nothing more," interrupted the inspector, still looking out
through the window.
"Only this, Steele--you must bring him back. Whatever happens, bring
back your prisoner."
As he turned to leave, Philip fancied that he caught something else--a
stifled, choking breath, a sound that made him turn his head again as he
went through the door. The inspector had not moved.
"Now what the deuce does this mean?" he asked himself, closing the door
softly behind him. "You're up against something queer this time, Philip
Steele, I'll wager dollars to doughnuts. Promotion for bringing in a
prisoner! What in thunder--"
He stopped for a moment in one of the cleared paths. From the big low
roofed drill enclosure a hundred yards away came the dull thud of
galloping hoofs and the voice of Sergeant Moody thundering instructions
to the rookies. Moody had a heart like flint and would have faced
blazing cannon to perform his duty. He had grown old and ugly in the
service and was as beauty-proof as an ogre of stone. Why hadn't
MacGregor sent him?
Beauty-proof! The words sent a swift rush of thought, of regret, of the
old homesickness and longing through Philip as he returned to his
quarters. He wondered just how much MacGregor knew, and he sat down to
bring up before him for the thousandth time a vision of the two faces
that had played their part in his life--the face of the girl at home, as
beautiful as a Diane de Poitiers, as soulless as a sphinx, who had
offered herself to him in return for his name and millions, and of that
other which he had met away up in the frozen barrens of Lac Bain.
Beauty-proof! He laughed and loaded his pipe. MacGregor had made a good
guess, even though he did not know what had passed that winter before he
came north to seek adventure, or of the fight he had made for another
woman, with Mr. Bucky Nome--deserter!
Chapter VI. Philip Follows A Pretty Face
It was late in the afternoon when Philip's instructions came from the
inspector. They were tersely official in form, gave him all necessary
authority, and ordered him to leave for Le Pas that night. Pinned to the
order was a small slip of paper, and on this MacGregor had repeated in
writing his words of a few hours before: "Whatever happens, bring back
There was no signature to this slip, and the first two words were
heavily underscored. What did this double caution mean? Coming from a
man like MacGregor, who was as choice as a king of his advice, Philip
knew that it was of unusual significance. If it was intended as a
warning, why had not the inspector given him more detail? During the
hour in which he was preparing for his journey he racked his brain for
some clew to the situation. The task which he was about to perform
seemed simple enough. A man named Thorpe had attempted murder at
Wekusko. He was already a prisoner, and he was to bring him down. The
biggest coward in Saskatchewan, or a man from a hospital bed, could do
this much, and yet--
He read the inspector's words over and over again. "Whatever happens!"
In spite of himself a little stir of excitement crept into his blood.
Since that thrilling hour in which he had seen Bucky Nome desert from
the service he had not felt himself moved as now, and in a moment of
mental excitement he found himself asking a question which a few minutes
before he would have regarded as a mark of insanity. Was it possible
that in the whole of the Northland there could be another woman as
beautiful as Colonel Becker's wife--a woman so beautiful that she had
turned even Inspector MacGregor's head, as Mrs. Becker had turned Bucky
Nome's--and his? Was it possible that between these two women--between
this wife of an attempted murderer and Mrs. Becker there was some
connecting link--some association--
He cut his thoughts short with a low exclamation of disgust. The
absurdity of the questions he had asked himself brought a flush into his
face. But he could not destroy the undercurrent of emotions they had
aroused. Anyway, something was going to happen. He was sure of that. The
inspector's actions, his words, his mysterious nervousness, the strange
catch in his voice as they parted, all assured him that there was a good
reason for the repeated warning. And whatever did happen was to be
brought about by the woman whose girlish beauty he had looked upon in
the picture. That MacGregor was aware of the nature of his peril, if he
was to run into danger at all, he was sure, and he was equally certain
that some strong motive restrained the inspector from saying more than
he had. Already he began to scent in the adventure ahead of him those
elements of mystery, of excitement, even of romance, the craving for
which was an inherited part of his being. And with these things there
came another sensation, one that surprised and disquieted him. A few
days before his one desire had been to get out of the north country, to
place as much distance as possible between himself and Lac Bain. And now
he found himself visibly affected by the thought that his duty was to
take him once more in the direction of the woman whose sweet face had
become an indissoluble part of his existence. He would not see her. Even
at Wekusko he would be many days' journey from Lac Bain. But she would
be nearer to him, and it was this that quickened his pulse.
He was ten minutes early for his train, and employed that interval in
mingling among the people at the station. MacGregor had as much as told
him that whatever unusual thing might develop depended entirely upon the
appearance of the woman and he began to look for her. She was not at the
station. Twice he walked through the coaches of his train without
discovering a face that resembled that in the photograph.
It was late when he arrived at Etomami, where the sixty mile line of the
Hudson's Bay Railroad branches off to the north. At dawn he entered the
caboose of the work train, which was to take him up through the
wilderness to Le Pas. He was the only passenger.
"There ain't even a hand-car gone up ahead of us," informed the brakeman
in response to his inquiry. "This is the only train in five days."
After all, it was to be a tame affair, in spite of the inspector's
uneasiness and warnings, thought Philip. The woman was not ahead of him.
Two days before she had been in MacGregor's office, and under the
circumstances it was impossible for her to be at Le Pas or at Wekusko,
unless she had traveled steadily on dog sledge. Philip swore softly to
himself in his disappointment, ate breakfast with the train gang, went
to sleep, and awoke when they plowed their way into the snow-smothered
outpost on the Saskatchewan.
The brakeman handed him a letter.
"This came on the Le Pas mail," he explained. "I kept it out for you
instead of sending it to the office."
"Thank you," said Philip. "A special--from headquarters. Why in thunder
didn't they send me a messenger instead of a letter, Braky? They could
have caught me on the train."
He tore open the departmental envelope as he spoke and drew forth a bit
of folded paper. It was not the official letter-head, but at a glance
Philip recognized the inspector's scrawling writing and his signature.
It was one of MacGregor's quiet boasts that the man did not live who
could forge his name. An astonished whistle broke from his lips as he
read these few lines:
Follow your conscience, whatever you do. Both God and man will reward
you in the end.
And this was all. There was no date, no word of explanation; even his
own name had been omitted from this second order. He picked up the
envelope which had fallen to the floor and looked at the postmark. It
had been stamped four-thirty. It was after five, an hour later, that he
had received his verbal instructions from MacGregor! The inspector must
have written the note before their interview of the preceding
afternoon--before his repeated injunction of "Whatever happens, bring
back your prisoner!" But this letter was evidently intended as final
instructions since it had been sent so as to reach him at this time.
What did it mean? The question buzzed in Philip's brain, repeated itself
twenty times, fifty times, as he hurried through the gathering darkness
of the semi-polar night toward the log hotel of the place. He was
convinced that there was some hidden motive in the inspector's actions.
What was he to understand?
Suddenly he stopped, a hundred yards from the glimmering lights of the
Little Saskatchewan hotel, and chuckled audibly as he stuffed his pipe.
It flashed upon him now why MacGregor had chosen him instead of an
ordinary service man to bring down the prisoner from Wekusko. MacGregor
knew that he, Philip Steele, college man and man of the world, would
reason out the key to this little puzzle, whereas Sergeant Moody and
others of his type would turn back for explanations. And Inspector
MacGregor, twenty years in the service, and recognized as the shrewdest
man-hunter between the coasts, wished to give no explanation. Philip's
blood tingled with fresh excitement as the tremendous risk which the
inspector himself was running, dawned upon him. Publicity of the note
which he held in his hand would mean the disgrace and retirement even of
He thrust the letter in his pocket and hurried on. The lights of the
settlement were already agleam. From the edge of the frozen river there
came the sound of a wheezy accordion in a Chinese cafe, and the howling
of a dog, either struck by man or worsted in a fight. Where the more
numerous lights of the one street shone red against the black background
of forest, a drunken half-breed was chanting in half-Cree, half-French,
the chorus of the caribou song. He heard the distant snapping of a whip,
the yelping response of huskies, and a moment later a sledge and six
dogs passed him so close that he was compelled to leap from their path.
This was Le Pas--the wilderness! Beyond it, just over the frozen river
which lay white and silent before him, stretched that endless desolation
of romance and mystery which he had grown to love, a world of deep
snows, of silent-tongued men, of hardship and battle for life where the
law of nature was the survival of the fittest, and that of man, "Do unto
others as ye would that they should do unto you." Never did Philip
Steele's heart throb with the wild, free pulse of life and joy as in
such moments as these, when his fortune, his clubs, and his friends were
a thousand miles away, and he stood on the edge of the big northern
As he had slept through the trainmen's dinner hour, he was as hungry as
a wolf, and he lost no time in seating himself in a warm corner of the
low, log-ceilinged dining-room of the Little Saskatchewan. Although a
quarter of an hour early, he had hardly placed himself at his table when
another person entered the room. Casually he glanced up from the two
letters which he had spread out before him. The one who had followed him
was a woman. She had turned sharply upon seeing him and seated herself
at the next table, her back so toward him that he caught only her half
It was enough to assure him that she was young and pretty. On her head
she wore a turban of silver lynx fur, and about this she had drawn her
glossy brown hair, which shone like burnished copper in the lamp-glow,
and had gathered it in a bewitchingly coquettish knot low on her neck,
where it shone with a new richness and a new warmth with every turn of
her head. But not once did she turn so that Philip could see more than
the tantalizing pink of her cheek and the prettiness of her chin, which
at times was partly concealed in a collarette of the same silver gray
He ate his supper almost mechanically, in spite of his hunger, for his
mind was deep in the mysterious problem which confronted him. Half a
dozen times he broke in upon his thoughts to glance at the girl at the
opposite table. Once he was sure that she had been looking at him and
that she had turned just in time to keep her face from him. Philip
admired pretty women, and of all beauty in woman he loved beautiful
hair, so that more and more frequently his eyes traveled to the shining
wealth of copper-colored tresses near him. He had almost finished his
supper when a movement at the other table drew his eyes up squarely, and
his heart gave a sudden jump. The girl had risen. She was facing him,
and as for an instant their eyes met she hesitated, as if she were on
the point of speaking. In that moment he recognized her.
It was the girl in the photograph, older, more beautiful--the same soft,
sweet contour of face, the same dark eyes that had looked at him in
MacGregor's office, filled with an indescribable sadness now, instead of
the laughing joy of girlhood. In another moment he would have responded
to her hesitation, to the pathetic tremble of her lips, but before words
could form themselves she had turned and was gone. And yet at the door,
even as she disappeared, he saw her face turned to him again,
pleadingly, entreatingly, as if she knew his mission and sent to him a
silent prayer for mercy.
Thrusting back his chair, he caught up his hat from a rack and followed.
He was in time to see her pass through the low door out into the night.
Without hesitation his mind had leaped to a definite purpose. He would
overtake her outside, introduce himself, and then perhaps he would
understand the conflicting orders of Inspector MacGregor.
The girl was passing swiftly down the main street when he took up the
pursuit. Suddenly she turned into a path dug through the snow that led
riverward. Ahead of her there was only the starlit gloom of night and
the distant blackness of the wilderness edge. Philip's blood ran a
little faster. She had expected that he would follow, knew that he was
close behind her, and had turned down into this deserted place that they
might not be observed! He made no effort now to overtake her, but kept
the same distance between them, whistling carelessly and knowing that
she would stop to wait for him. Ahead of them there loomed up out of the
darkness a clump of sapling spruce, and into their shadow the girl
A dozen paces more and Philip himself was buried in the thick gloom. He
heard quick, light footsteps in the snow-crust ahead of him. Then there
came another sound--a step close behind him, a noise of disturbed brush,
a low voice which was not that of a woman, and before his hand could
slip, to the holster at his belt a human form launched itself upon him
from the side, and a second form from behind, and under their weight he
fell a helpless heap into the snow. Powerful hands wrenched his arms
behind his back and other hands drew a cloth about his mouth. A stout
cord was twisted around his wrists, his legs were tied, and then his
captors relieved him of their weight.
Not a word had been spoken during the brief struggle. Not a word was
spoken now as his mysterious assailants hoisted him between them and
followed in the footsteps of the woman. Scarcely a hundred paces beyond
the spruce the dark shadow of a cabin came into view. Into this he was
carried and placed on something which he took to be a box. Then a light
For the first time Philip's astonished eyes had a view of his captors.
One of them was an old man, a giant in physique, with a long gray beard
and grayish yellow hair that fell to his shoulders. His companion was
scarcely more than a boy, yet in his supple body, as he moved about,
Philip recognized the animal-like strength of the forest breed. A word
spoken in a whisper by the boy revealed the fact that the two were
father and son. From that side of the room which was at Philip's back
they dragged forth a long pine box, and were engaged in this occupation
when the door opened and a third man entered. Never had Philip looked on
a more unprepossessing face than that of the newcomer, in whose little
black eyes there seemed to be a gloating triumph as he leered at the
prisoner. He was short, with a huge breadth of shoulders. His eyes and
mouth and nose were all but engulfed in superfluous flesh, and as he
turned from Philip to the man and boy over the box he snapped the joints
of his fingers in a startling manner.
"Howdy, howdy!" he wheezed, like one afflicted with asthma. "Good!
good!" With these four words he lapsed into the silence of the older man
and the boy.
As the box was dragged full into the light, a look of horror shot into
Philip's eyes. It was the rough-box of a coffin! Without a word, and
apparently without a signal, the three surrounded him and lifted him
bodily into it. To his surprise he found himself lying upon something
soft, as if the interior of his strange prison had been padded with
cushions. Then, with extreme caution, his arms were freed from under his
back and strapped to his side, and other straps, broad and firm, were
fastened from side to side of the box across his limbs and body, as if
there were danger of his flying up and out through the top. Another
moment and a shadow fell above him, pitch gloom engulfed him.
They were dragging on the cover to the box! He heard the rapid beating
of a hammer, the biting of nails into wood, and he writhed and struggled
to free his hands, to cry out, to gain the use of his legs, but not the
fraction of an inch could he relieve himself of his fetters. After a
time his straining muscles relaxed, and he stopped to get his breath and
listen. Faintly there came to him the sound of subdued voices, and he
caught a glimmer of light, then another, and still a third. He saw now
that half a dozen holes had been bored into the cover and sides of the
box. The discovery brought with it a sense of relief. At least he was
not to be suffocated. He found, after an interval, that he was even
comfortable, and that his captors had not only given him a bed to lie
upon, but had placed a pillow under his head.
Chapter VII. The Tragedy In The Cabin
A few moments later Philip heard the movement of heavy feet, the opening
and closing of a door, and for a time after that there was silence. Had
MacGregor anticipated this, he wondered? Was this a part of the program
which the inspector had foreseen that he would play? His blood warmed at
the thought and he clenched his fists. Then he began to think more
calmly. His captors had not relieved him of his weapons. They had placed
his service cap in the box with him and had unbuckled his cartridge belt
so that he would rest more comfortably. What did all this mean? For the
hundredth time he asked himself the question.
Returning footsteps interrupted his thoughts. The cabin door opened,
people entered, again he heard whispering voices.
He strained his ears. At first he could have sworn that he heard the
soft, low tones of a woman's voice, but they were not repeated. Hands
caught hold of the box, dragged it across the floor, and then he felt
himself lifted bodily, and, after a dozen steps, placed carefully upon
some object in the snow. His amazement increased when he understood what
He was on a sledge. Through the air-holes in his prison he heard the
scraping of strap-thongs as they were laced through the runner-slits and
over the box, the restless movement of dogs, a gaping whine, the angry
snap of a pair of jaws. Then, slowly, the sledge began to move. A whip
cracked loudly above him, a voice rose in a loud shout, and the dogs
were urged to a trot. Again there came to Philip's ears the wheezing
notes of the accordion. By a slight effort he found that he could turn
his head sufficiently to look through a hole on a level with his eyes in
the side of the box. The sledge had turned from the dark trail into the
lighted street, and stopped at last before a brilliantly lighted front
from which there issued the sound of coarse voices, of laughter and
One of his captors went into the bar while the other seated himself on
the box, with one leg shutting out Philip's vision by dangling it over
the hole through which he was looking.
"What's up, Fingy?" inquired a voice.
"Wekusko," replied the man on the box, in the husky, flesh-smothered
tones of the person who had entered last into the cabin.
"Another dead one up there, eh?" persisted the same voice.
"No. Maps 'n' things f'r Hodges, up at the camp. Devil of a hurry, ain't
he, to order us up at night? Tell ---- to hustle out with the bottle,
The speaker sent the lash of his whip snapping through the air in place
of supplying a name.
"Maps and things--for Hodges--Wekusko!" gasped Philip inwardly.
He listened for further information. None came, and soon the man called
Fingy jumped from the box, cracked his whip with a wheezing command to
the dogs, and the sledge moved on.
And so his captors were taking him to Wekusko?--and more than that, to
Hodges, chief of construction, whose life had been attempted by the
prisoner whom Inspector MacGregor had ordered him to bring down! Had
Fingy spoken the truth? And, if so, was this another part of the
mysterious plot foreseen by the inspector?
During the next half hour, in which the sledge traveled steadily over
the smooth, hard trail into the north, Philip asked himself these and a
score of other questions equally perplexing. He was certain that the
beautiful young woman whom he had followed had purposely lured him into
the ambush. He considered himself her prisoner. Then why should he be
consigned, like a parcel of freight, to Hodges, her husband's accuser,
and the man who demanded the full penalty of the law for his assailant?
The more he added to the questions that leaped into his mind the more
mystified he became. The conflicting orders, the strange demeanor of his
chief, the pathetic appeal that he had seen in the young woman's eyes,
the ambush, and now this unaccountable ride to Wekusko, strapped in a
coffin box, all combined to plunge him into a chaos of wonder from which
it was impossible for him to struggle forth. However, he assured himself
of two things; he was comparatively comfortable, and within two hours at
the most they would reach Hodges' headquarters, if the Wekusko camp were
really to be their destination. Something must develop then.
It had ceased to occur to him that there was peril in his strange
position. If that were so, would his captors have left him in possession
of his weapons, even imprisoned as he was? If they had intended him
harm, would they have cushioned his box and placed a pillow under his
head so that the cloth about his mouth would not cause him discomfort?
It struck him as peculiarly significant, now that he had suffered no
injury in the short struggle on the trail, that no threats or
intimidation had been offered after his capture. This was a part of the
game which he was to play! He became more and more certain of it as the
minutes passed, and there occurred to him again and again the
inspector's significant words, "Whatever happens!" MacGregor had spoken
the words with particular emphasis, had repeated them more than once.
Were they intended to give him a warning of this, to put him on his,
guard, as well as at his ease?
And with these thoughts, many, conflicting and mystifying, he found it
impossible to keep from associating other thoughts of Bucky Nome, and of
the woman whom he now frankly confessed to himself that he loved. If
conditions had been a little different, if the incidents had not
occurred just as they had, he have suspected the hand of Bucky Nome in
what was transpiring now. But he discarded that suspicion the instant
that it came to him. That which remained with him more and more deeply
as the minutes passed was a mental picture of the two women--of this
woman who was fighting to save her husband, and of the other, whom he
loved, and for whom he had fought to save her for her husband. It was
with a dull feeling of pain that he compared the love, the faith, and
the honor of this woman whose husband had committed a crime with that
one night's indiscretion of Mrs. Becker. It was in her eyes and face
that he had seen a purity like that of an angel, and the pain seemed to
stab him deeper when he thought that, after all, it was the criminal's
wife who was proving herself, not Mrs. Becker.
He strove to unburden his mind for a time, and turned his head so that
he could peer through the hole in the side of the box. The moon had
risen, and now and then he caught flashes of the white snow in the
opens, but more frequently only the black shadows of the forest through
which they were passing. They had not left Le Pas more than two hours
behind when the sledge stopped again and Philip saw a few scattered
lights a short distance away.
"Must be Wekusko," he thought. "Hello, what's that?"
A voice came sharply from the opposite side of the box.
"Is that you, Fingy?" it demanded. "What the devil have you got there?"
"Your maps and things, sir," replied Fingy hoarsely. "Couldn't come up
to-morrow, so thought we'd do it to-night."
Philip heard the closing of a door, and footsteps crunched in the snow
close to his ears.
"Love o' God!" came the voice again. "What's this you've brought them up
"Coffin box, sir. Only thing the maps'd fit into, and it's been layin'
around useless since MacVee kem down in it Mebby you can find use for
it, later," he chuckled grewsomely. "Ho-ho-ho! mebby you can!"
A moment later the box was lifted and Philip knew that he was being
carried up a step and through a door, then with a suddenness that
startled him he found himself standing upright. His prison had been set
"Not that way, man," objected Hodges, for Philip was now certain that he
was in the presence of the chief of construction. "Put it down--over
there in the corner."
"Not on your life," retorted Fingy, cracking his finger bones fiercely.
"See here. Mister Hodges, I ain't a coward, but I b'lieve in bein' to
the dead, 'n' to a box that's held one. It says on that red card,
'Head--This end up,' an', s'elp me, it's going to be up, unless you put
it down. I ain't goin' to be ha'nted by no ghosts! Ho, ho, ho--" He
approached close to the box. "I'll take this red card off, Mister
Hodges. It ain't nat'ral when there ain't nothing but maps 'n' things in
If the cloth had not been about his mouth, it is possible that Philip
would not have restrained audible expression of his astonishment at what
happened an instant later. The card was torn off, and a ray of light
shot into his eyes. Through a narrow slit not more than a quarter of an
inch wide, and six inches long, he found himself staring out into the
room. The. Fingy was close behind him. And in the rear of these two, as
if eager for their departure, was Hodges, chief of construction. No
sooner had the men gone than Hodges turned back to the table in the
center of the office. It was not difficult for Philip to see that the
man's face was flushed and that he was laboring under some excitement.
He sat down, fumbled over some papers, rose quickly to his feet, looked
at his watch, and began pacing back and forth across the room.
"So she's coming," he chuckled gleefully.
"She's coming, at last!" He looked at his watch again, straightened his
cravat before a mirror, and rubbed his hands with a low laugh. "The
little beauty has surrendered," he went on, his face turning for an
instant toward the coffin box. "And it's time--past time."
A light knock sounded at the door, and the chief sprang to open it. A
figure darted past him, and for but a breath a white, beautiful face was
turned toward Philip and his prison--the face of the young woman whom he
had seen but two hours before in Le Pas, the face that had pleaded with
him that night, that had smiled upon him from the photograph, and that
seemed to be masked now in a cold marble-like horror, as its glorious
eyes, like pools of glowing fire, seemed searching him out through that
narrow slit in the coffin box.
Hodges had advanced, with arms reaching out, and the woman turned with a
low, sobbing breath breaking from her lips.
Another step and Hodges would have taken her in his arms, but she evaded
him with a quick movement, and pointed to a chair at one side of the
"Sit down!" she cried softly. "Sit down, and listen!"
Was it fancy, or did her eyes turn with almost a prayer in them to the
box against the wall? Philip's heart was beating like a drum. That one
word he knew was intended for him.
"Sit down," she repeated, as Hodges hesitated. "Sit down--there--and I
will sit here. Before--before you touch me, I want an understanding. You
will let me talk, and listen--listen!"
Again that one word--"listen!"-Philip knew was intended for him.
The chief had dropped into his chair, and his visitor seated herself
opposite him, with her face toward Philip. She flung back the fur from
about her shoulders, and took off her fur turban, so that the light of
the big hanging lamp fell full upon the glory of her hair, and set off
more vividly the ivory pallor of her cheeks, in which a short time
before Philip had seen the rich crimson glow of life, and something that
was not fear.
"We must come to an understanding," she repeated, fixing her eyes
steadily upon the man before her. "I would sacrifice my life for
him--for my husband--and you are demanding that I do more than that. I
must be sure of the reward!"
Hodges leaned forward eagerly, as if about to speak, but she interrupted
"Listen!" she cried, a fire beginning to burn through the whiteness of
her cheeks. "It was you who urged him to come up here when, through
misfortune, we lost our little home down in Marion. You offered him
work, and he accepted it, believing you a friend. He still thought you a
friend when I knew that you were a traitor, planning and scheming to
wreck his life, and mine. He would not listen when I spoke to him,
without arousing his suspicions, of my abhorrence of you. He trusted
you. He was ready to fight for you. And you--you--"
In her excitement the young woman's hands gripped the edges of the
table. For a few moments her breath seemed to choke her, and then she
continued, her voice trembling with passion.
"And you--you followed me about like a serpent, making every hour of my
life one of misery, because he believed in you, and I dared not tell
him. So I kept it from him--until that night you came to our cabin when
he was away, and dared to take me in your arms, to kiss me, and I--I
told him then, and he hunted you down and would have killed you if there
hadn't been others near to give you help. My God, I love him more
because of that! But I was wrong. I should have killed you!"
She stopped, her breath breaking in a sob.
With a sudden movement Hodges sprang from his chair and came toward her,
his face flushed, his lips smiling; but, quicker than he, Thorpe's wife
was upon her feet, and from his prison Philip saw the rapid rising and
falling of her bosom, the threatening fire in her beautiful eyes as she
"Ah, but you are beautiful!" he heard the man say.
With a cry, in which there was mingled all the passion and gloating joy
of triumph, Hodges caught her in his arms. In that moment every vein in
Philip's body seemed flooded with fire. He saw the woman's face again,
now tense and white in an agony of terror, saw her struggle to free
herself, heard the smothered cry that fell from her lips. For the first
time he strained to free himself, to cry out through the thick bandage
that gagged him. The box trembled. His mightiest effort almost sent it
crashing to the floor. Sweating, powerless, he looked again through the
narrow slit. In the struggle the woman's hair had loosened, and tumbled
now in shining masses down her back. Her hands were gripping at Hodges'
throat. Then one of them crept down to her bosom, and with that movement
there came a terrible, muffled report. With a groan the chief staggered
back and sank to the floor.
For a moment, stupefied by what she had done, Thorpe's wife stood with
smoking pistol in her hand, gazing upon the still form at her feet.
Then, slowly, like one facing a terrible accuser, she turned straight to
the coffin box. The weapon that she held fell to the floor. Without a
tremor in her beautiful face she went to one side of the room, picked up
a small belt-ax, and began prying off the cover to Philip's prison.
There was still no hesitation, no tremble of fear in her face or hands
when the cover gave way and Philip stood revealed, his face as white as
her own and bathed in a perspiration of excitement and horror. Calmly
she took away the cloth about his mouth, loosened the straps about his
legs and arms and body, and then she stood back, still speechless, her
hands clutching at her bosom while she waited for him to step forth.
His first movement was to fall upon his knees beside Hodges. He bowed
his head, listened, and held his hand under the man's waistcoat. Then he
looked up. The woman was bending over him, her eyes meeting his own
"He is dead!" he said quietly.
"Yes, my brother, he is dead!"
The sweet, low tones of the woman's voice rose scarcely above a whisper.
The meaning of her words sank into his very soul.
"My sister--" he repeated, hardly knowing that the words were on his
"Or--your wife," she interrupted, and her hand rested gently for a
moment upon his shoulder. "Or your wife--what would you have had her
Her voice--the gentleness of her touch, sent his mind flashing back to
that other tragic moment in a little cabin far north, when he had almost
killed a man, and for less than this that he had heard and seen. It
seemed, for an instant, as though the voice so near to him was coming,
faintly, pleadingly, from that other woman at Lac Bain--the woman who
had almost caused a tragedy similar to this, only with the sexes
changed. He would have excused Colonel Becker for killing Bucky Nome,
for defending his own honor and his wife's. And here--now--was a woman
who had fought and killed for her own honor, and to save her husband.
His sister--his wife-- Would he have had them do this? Would he have
Mrs. Becker, the woman he loved, defend her honor as this woman had
defended hers? Would he not have loved her ten times--a hundred
times--more for doing so?
He rose to his feet, making an effort to steel himself against the
justice of what he had seen--against the glory of love, of womanhood, of
triumph which he saw shining in her eyes.
"I understand now," he said. "You had me brought here--in this way--that
I might hear what was said, and use it as evidence. But--"
"Oh, my God, I did not mean to do this," she cried, as if knowing what
he was about to say. "I thought that if he betrayed his vileness to
you--if he knew that the world would know, through you, how he had
attempted to destroy a home, and how he offered my husband's freedom in
exchange for--but you saw, you heard, you must understand! He would not
dare to go on when he knew that all this would become public. My husband
would have been free. But now--"
"You have killed him," said Philip.
There was no sympathy in his voice. It was the cold, passionless
accusation of a man of the law, and the woman bowed her face in her
hands. He put on his service cap, tightened his belt, and touched her
gently on the arm.
"Do you know where your husband is confined?" he asked. "I will take you
there, and you may remain with him to-night."