Part 2 out of 3
She brightened instantly. "Yes," she said.
They passed through the door, closing it carefully behind them, and the
woman led the way to a dark, windowless building a hundred yards from
the dead chief's headquarters.
"This is the camp prison," she whispered.
A man clad in a great bear-skin coat was on guard at the door. In the
moonlight he recognized Philip's uniform.
"Here are orders from the inspector," said Philip, holding out
MacGregor's letter. "I am to have charge of the prisoner. Mrs. Thorpe is
to spend the night with him."
A moment later the door was opened and the woman passed in. As he turned
away Philip heard a low sobbing cry, a man's startled voice. Then the
door swung heavily on its hinges and there was silence.
Five minutes later Philip was bending again over the dead man. A
surprising transformation had come over him now. His face was flushed
and his strong teeth shone in sneering hatred as he covered the body
with a blanket. On the wall hung a pair of overalls and a working-man's
heavy coat. These and Hodges' hat he quickly put on in place of his own
uniform. Once more he went out into the night.
This time he came up back of the prison. The guard was pacing back and
forth in his beaten path, so thickly muffled about the ears that he did
not hear Philip's cautious footsteps behind him. When he turned he found
the muzzle of a revolver within arm's length of his face.
"Hands up!" commanded Philip.
The astonished man obeyed without a word.
"If you make a move or the slightest sound I'll kill you!" continued
Philip threateningly. "Drop your hands behind you--there, like that!"
With the quickness and skill which he had acquired under Sergeant Moody
he secured the guard's wrists with one of the coffin box straps, and
gagged him with the same cloth that had been used upon himself. He had
observed that his prisoner carried the key to the padlocked cabin in one
of his coat pockets, and after possessing himself of this he made him
seat himself in the deep shadow, strapped his ankles, and then unlocked
the prison door.
There was a light inside, and from beyond this the white faces of the
man and the woman stared at him as he entered. The man was leaning back
in his cot, and Philip knew that the wife had risen suddenly, for one
arm was still encircling his shoulders, and a hand was resting on his
cheek as if she had been stroking it caressingly when he interrupted
them. Her beautiful, startled eyes gazed at him half defiantly now.
He advanced into the light, took off his hat, and smiled.
With a cry Thorpe's wife sprang to her feet.
"Sh-h-h-h-h!" warned Philip, raising a hand and pointing to the door
Thorpe had risen. Without a word Philip advanced and held out his hand.
Only half understanding, the prisoner reached forth his own. As, for an
instant, the two men stood in this position, one smiling, the other
transfixed with wonder, there came a stifled, sobbing cry from behind.
Philip turned. The woman stood in the lamp glow, her arms reaching out
to him--to both--and never, not even at Lac Bain, had he seen a woman
more beautiful than Thorpe's wife at that moment.
As if nothing had happened, he went to the table, where there was a pen
and ink and a pad of paper.
"Perhaps your wife hasn't told you everything that has happened
to-night, Thorpe," he said. "If she hasn't, she will--soon. Now,
He had pulled a small book from an inner pocket and was writing.
"My name is Steele, Philip Steele, of the Royal Mounted. Down in Chicago
I've got a father, Philip Egbert Steele, a banker, who's worth half a
dozen millions or so. You're going down to him as fast as dog-sledge and
train can carry you, and you'll give him this note. It says that your
name is Johnson, and that for my sake he's going to put you on your
feet, so that it is going to be pretty blamed comfortable for
yourself--and the noblest little woman I've ever met. Do you understand,
He looked up. Thorpe's wife had gone to her husband. She stood now, half
in his arms, and looking at him; as they were, they reminded him of a
couple who had played the finale in a drama which he had seen a year
"There is one favor which you must do me, Thorpe," he went on. "At home
I am rich. Up here I'm only Phil Steele, of the Royal Mounted. I'm
telling you so that you won't think that I'm stripping myself when I
make you take this. It's a little ready cash, and a check for a thousand
dollars. Some day, if you want to, you can pay it back. Now hustle up
and get on your clothes. I imagine that your friends are somewhere
near--with the sledge that brought me up from Le Pas. Tomorrow, of
course, I shall be compelled to take up the pursuit. But if you hurry I
don't believe that I shall catch you."
He rose and put on his hat, leaving the money and the check on the
table. The woman staggered toward him, the man following in a dazed,
stunned sort of way. He saw the woman's arms reaching out to him again,
a look in her beautiful face that he would never forget.
In another moment he had opened the door and was gone.
Chapter VIII. Another Letter For Philip
From beside his prisoner in the deep gloom Philip saw Thorpe and his
wife come out of the cabin a minute later and hurry away through the
night. Then he dragged the guard into the prison, relocked the door,
left the key in the lock, and returned to Hodges' office to replace the
old clothes for his uniform. Not until he stood looking down upon the
dead body again did the enormity of his own offense begin to crowd upon
him. But he was not frightened nor did he regret what he had done. He
turned out the light, sat down, coolly filled his pipe, and began
turning the affair over, detail by detail, in his mind. He had, at
least, followed Inspector MacGregor's injunction--he had followed his
conscience. Hodges had got what he deserved, and he had saved a man and
But in spite of his first argument, he knew that MacGregor had not
foreseen a tragedy of this sort, and that, in the eyes of the law, he
was guilty of actively assisting in the flight of two people who could
not possibly escape the penalty of justice--if caught. But they would
not be caught. He assured himself of that, smiling grimly in the
darkness. No one at Wekusko could explain what had happened.
He was positive that the guard had not recognized him, and that he would
think one of Thorpe's friends had effected the rescue. And
MacGregor--Philip chuckled as he thought of the condemning evidence in
his possession, the strange orders which would mean dismissal for the
inspector, and perhaps a greater punishment, if he divulged them. He
would be safe in telling MacGregor something of what had occurred in the
little cabin. And then, as he sat in this grim atmosphere of death, a
thought came to him of M'sieur Janette's skull, of Bucky Nome, and of
the beautiful young wife at Lac Bain.
If Mrs. Becker could know of this, too--if Bucky Nome, buried somewhere
deep in the northern wilderness, could only see Hodges as he lay there,
dead on the cabin floor! To the one it would be a still greater
punishment, to the other a warning. And yet, even as he thought of the
colonel's wife and of her flirtation with Nome, a vision of her face
came to him again, filled with the marvelous sweetness, the purity, and
the love which had enthralled him beside the campfire. In these moments
it was almost impossible for him to convince himself that she had
forgotten her dignity as a wife even for an hour. Could he have been
mistaken? Had he looked at her with eyes heated by his own love, fired
by jealousy? If she had smiled upon him instead of upon Bucky Nome, if
her cheeks had flushed at his words, would he have thought that she had
done wrong? As if in answer to his own questions, he saw again the
white, tense face of the colonel, her husband, and he laughed harshly.
For several hours Philip remained in the shelter of Hodges' office. With
early dawn he stole out into the forest, and a little later made his
appearance in camp, saying that he had spent the night at Le Pas. Not
until an hour later was it discovered that Hodges had been killed, the
guard made a prisoner, and that Thorpe and his wife were gone. Philip at
once took charge of affairs and put a strain on his professional
knowledge by declaring that Thorpe had undoubtedly fled into the North.
Early in the afternoon he started in pursuit.
A dozen miles north of the Wekusko camp he swung at right angles to the
west, traveled fifteen miles, then cut a straight course south. It was
three days later before he showed up at Le Pas, and learned that no one
had seen or heard of Thorpe and his wife. Two days later he walked into
MacGregor's office. The inspector fairly leaped from his chair to greet
"You got them, Steele!" he cried. "You got them after the mur--the
killing of Hodges?"
Philip handed him a crumpled bit of paper.
"Those were your latest instructions, sir," he replied quietly. "I
followed them to the letter."
MacGregor read, and his face turned as white as the paper he held. "Good
God!" he gasped.
He reeled rather than walked back to his desk, dropped into a chair and
buried his face in his arms, his shoulders shaking like those of a
sobbing boy. It was a long time before he looked up, and during these
minutes Philip, with his head bowed low to the other, told him of all
that had happened in the little room at Wekusko. But he did not say that
it was he who had surprised the guard and released Thorpe and his wife.
At last MacGregor raised his head.
"Philip," he said, taking the young man's hand in both his own, "since
she was a little girl and I a big, strapping playmate of nineteen, I
have loved her. She is the only girl--the only woman--I have ever loved.
You understand? I am almost old enough to be her father. She was never
intended for me. But things like this happen--sometimes, and when she
came to plead with me the other day I almost yielded. That is why I
chose you, warned you--"
He stopped, and a sob rose in his breast.
"And at last you did yield," said Philip.
The inspector gazed at him for a moment in silence. Then he said: "It
was ten years ago, on her seventeenth birthday, that I made her a
present of a little silver-bound autograph book, and on the first page
of that book I wrote the words which saved her husband--and her. Do you
understand now, Philip? It was her last card, and she played it well."
He smiled faintly, and then said, as if to no one but himself, "God
He looked down on the big, tawny head that was bowed again upon the
desk, and placed his hands on the other's shoulders.
"God bless her!" echoed Philip.
"You are not alone in your sorrows, Felix MacGregor," he said softly.
"You asked me if I was beauty-proof. Yes, I am. And it is because of
something like this, because of a face and a soul that have filled my
heart, because of a woman that is not mine, and never can be mine,
because of a love which ever burns, and must never be known--it is
because of this that I am beauty-proof. God bless this little woman,
MacGregor--and you--and I--will never ask where she has gone."
MacGregor's hand reached out and gripped his own in silence. In that
hand-clasp there was sealed a pact between them, and Philip returned to
his barracks room to write a letter, in care of his father, to the man
and woman whom he had helped to escape into the south. He spent the
greater part of that day writing. It was late in the afternoon that
Moody came in with the mail.
"One for you, Phil," he said, tossing a letter on Philip's table. "Looks
as though it had been through a war."
Philip picked up the letter as the sergeant left him. He dropped his pen
with a low whistle. He could see at a glance that the letter had come an
unusual journey. It was dirty, and crumpled, and ragged at the ends--and
then, on the back of it, he found written in ink, "Lac Bain." His
fingers trembled as he tore open the envelope. Swiftly he read. His
breath came in a gasping cry from between his lips, his face turned as
white as the crumpled paper, and then, as suddenly, a flush of
excitement leaped into his cheeks, replacing the pallor. His eyes seemed
blinded before he had half finished the letter, and his heart was
pounding with suffocating force.
This was what he read:
My Dear Philip Steele:
Your letter, and the skull, came to us to-day. I thank God that chance
brought me into my Isobel's room in time, or I fear for what might have
happened. It was a terrible punishment, my dear Steele, for her--and for
me. But I deserved it more than she. That very night--after Isobel left
the table--she insisted that I explain. When I returned to the room
below, you were gone. I waited, and then went to your cabin. You know
why I did not find you. Steele, Isobel is not my wife. She is my
Mrs. Becker had planned to come with me to Lac Bain from Fort Churchill,
and we wrote the factor to that effect. But we changed our plans. Mrs.
Becker returned on the London ship, and Isobel came with me. In a spirit
of fun she suggested that for the first few hours she be allowed to pass
as--well, you understand. The joke was carried too far. When she met
you--and Bucky Nome--it ceased to be a joke, and almost became a
tragedy. For those few minutes before the fire Isobel used her disguise
as a test. She came to me, before you joined us, and whispered to me
that Nome was a scoundrel, and that she would punish him before the
evening was over. In the short space of that evening she knew that she
had met one of the most despicable of blackguards in Nome, and one of
the noblest of men in you. And not until she saw on you the effect of
what she was doing did everything dawn fully upon her.
You know what happened. She left the table suddenly, overcome by shame
and terror. When I returned later, and told her that I could not find
you, it was impossible to comfort her. She lay in her bed crying all
that night. I am telling you all this, because to me my daughter is one
of the two most precious things on earth, the sweetest and purest little
girl that ever breathed. I can not describe to you the effect upon her
of the skull and the letter. Forgive us--forgive me. Some day we may
Like one in a dream Philip picked up the torn envelope. Something
dropped from it upon the table--a tiny cluster of violets that had been
pressed and dried between the pages of a book, and when he took them in
his fingers, he found that their stems were tied with a single thread of
Chapter IX. Philip Takes Up The Trail
The letter--the flowers--that one shining golden hair, wound in a
glistening thread about their shriveled stems, seemed for a short space
to lift Philip Steele from out of the world he was in, to another in
which his mind was only vaguely conscious, stunned by this letter that
had come with the unexpectedness of a thunderbolt to change, in a single
instant, every current of life in his body. For a few moments he made no
effort to grasp the individual significance of the letter, the flowers,
the golden hair. One thought filled his brain--one great, overpowering
truth, which excluded everything else--and this was the realization that
the woman he loved was not Colonel Becker's wife. She was free. And for
him--Philip Steele--there was hope--hope--Suddenly it dawned upon him
what the flowers meant. The colonel had written the letter, and Isobel
had sent the faded violets, with their golden thread. It was her message
to him--a message without words, and yet with a deeper meaning for him
than words could have expressed. In a flood there rushed back upon him
all the old visions which he had fought against, and he saw her again in
the glow of the campfire, and on the trail, glorious in her beauty, his
ideal of all that a woman should be.
He rose to his feet and locked his door, fearing that some one might
enter. He wanted to be alone, to realize fully what had happened, to
regain control of his emotions. If Isobel Becker had merely written him
a line or two, a note exculpating herself of what her father had already
explained away, he would still have thought that a world lay between
them. But, in place of that, she had sent him the faded flowers, with
their golden thread!
For many minutes he paced back and forth across his narrow room, and
never had a room looked more like a prison cell to him than this one did
now. He was filled with but one impulse, and that was to return to Lac
Bain, to humble himself at the feet of the woman he loved, and ask her
forgiveness for the heinous thing he had done. He wanted to tell her
that he had driven Bucky Nome into outlawry, that he had fought for her,
and run away himself--because he loved her. It was Sergeant Moody's
voice, vibrant with the rasping unpleasantness of a file, that jarred
him back into his practical self. He thrust the letter and the flowers
into his breast pocket, and opened the door.
Moody came in.
"What in blazes are you locked up for?" he demanded, his keen little
eyes scrutinizing Philip's feverish face. "Afraid somebody'll walk in
and steal you, Phil?"
"Headache," said Philip, patting a hand to his head. "One of the kind
that makes you think your brain must be a hard ball bumping around
inside your skull."
The sergeant laid his hand on Philip's arm.
"Go take a walk, Phil," he said, in a softer voice. "It will do you
good. I just came in to tell you the news. They've got track of DeBar
again, up near Lac la Biche. But we can talk about that later. Go take a
"Thanks for the suggestion," said Philip. "I believe I'll do it."
He passed beyond the barracks, and hit the sleigh-worn road that led out
of town, walking faster and faster, as his brain began working. He would
return to Lac Bain. That was settled in his mind without argument.
Nothing could hold him back after what he had received that afternoon.
If the letter and the violet message had come to him from the end of the
earth it would have made no difference; his determination would have
been the same. He would return to Lac Bain--but how? That was the
question which puzzled him. He still had thirteen months of service
ahead of him. He was not in line for a furlough. It would take at least
three months of official red tape to purchase his discharge. These facts
rose like barriers in his way. It occurred to him that he might confide
in MacGregor, and that the inspector would make an opportunity for him
to return into the north immediately. MacGregor had the power to do
that, and he believed that he would do it. But he hesitated to accept
this last alternative.
And then, all at once. Sergeant Moody's words came back to him--"They've
got track of DeBar again, up near Lac la Biche." The idea that burst
upon him with the recalling of those words stopped Philip suddenly, and
he turned back toward the barracks. He had heard a great deal about
DeBar, the cleverest criminal in all the northland, and whom no man or
combination of men had been clever enough to catch. And now this man was
near Lac la Biche, in the Churchill and Lac Bain country. It he could
get permission from MacGregor to go after DeBar his own difficulty would
be settled in the easiest possible way. The assignment would take him
for a long and indefinite time into the north. It would take him back to
He went immediately to his room upon reaching the barracks, and wrote
out his request to MacGregor. He sent it over to headquarters by a
rookie. After that he waited.
Not until the following morning did Moody bring him a summons to appear
in MacGregor's office. Five minutes later the inspector greeted him with
outstretched hand, gave him a grip that made his fingers snap, and
locked the office door. He was holding Philip's communication when the
young man entered.
"I don't know what to say to this, Steele," he began, seating himself at
his desk and motioning Philip to a chair. "To be frank with you, this
proposition of yours is entirely against my best judgment."
"In other words, you haven't sufficient confidence in me," added Philip.
"No, I don't mean that. There isn't a man on the force in whom I have
greater confidence than you. But, if I was to gamble, I'd wager ten to
one that you'd lose out if I sent you up to take this man DeBar."
"I'll accept that wager--only reverse the odds," said Philip daringly.
The inspector twisted one of his long red mustaches and smiled a little
grimly at the other.
"If I were to follow my own judgment I'd not send one man, but two," he
went on. "I don't mean to underestimate the value of my men when I say
that our friend DeBar, who has evaded us for years, is equal to any two
men I've got. I wouldn't care to go after him myself--alone. I'd want
another hand with me, and a mighty good one--a man who was cool,
cautious, and who knew all of the ins and outs of the game as well as
myself. And here--" He interrupted himself, and chuckled audibly, "here
you are asking permission to go after him alone! Why, man, it's the very
next thing to inviting yourself to commit suicide! Now, if I were to
send you, and along with you a good, level-headed man like Moody--"
"I have had enough of double-harness work, unless I am commanded to go,
Mr. MacGregor," interrupted Philip. "I realize that DeBar is a dangerous
man, but I believe that I can bring him down. Will you give me the
MacGregor laid his cigar on the edge of the desk and leaned across
toward his companion, the long white fingers of his big hands clasped in
front of him. He always took this position, with a cigar smoldering
beside him, when about to say those things which he wished to be
indelibly impressed on the memory of his listener.
"Yes, I'm going to give you the opportunity," he said slowly, "and I am
also going to give you permission to change your mind after I have told
you something about DeBar, whom we know as the Seventh Brother. I repeat
that, if you go alone, it's just ten to one that you don't get him.
Since '99 four men have gone out after him, and none has come back.
There was Forbes, who went in that year; Bannock, who took up the trial
in 1902; Fleisham in 1904, and Gresham in 1907. Since the time of
Gresham's disappearance we have lost sight of DeBar, and only recently,
as you know, have we got trace of him again. He is somewhere up on the
edge of the Barren Lands. I have private information which leads me to
believe that the factor at Fond du Lac can take you directly to him."
MacGregor unclasped his hands to pick up a worn paper from a small pile
on the desk.
"He is the last of seven brothers," he added. "His father was hanged."
"A good beginning," interjected Philip.
"There's just the trouble," said the inspector quickly. "It wasn't a
good beginning. This is one of those peculiar cases of outlawry for
which the law itself is largely responsible, and I don't know of any one
I would say this to but you. The father was hanged, as I have said. Six
months later it was discovered, beyond a doubt, that the law had taken
the life of an innocent man, and that DeBar had been sent to the gallows
by a combination of evidence fabricated entirely by the perjury of
enemies. The law should have vindicated itself. But it didn't. Two of
those who had plotted against DeBar were arrested, tried--and acquitted,
a fact which goes to prove the statement of a certain great man that
half of the time law is not justice. There is no need of going into
greater detail about the trials and the plled the three men chiefly
instrumental in sending their father to his death, and fled into the
"Good!" exclaimed Philip.
The word shot from him before he had thought. At first he flushed, then
sat bolt upright and smiled frankly into the inspector's face as he
watched the effect of his indiscretion.
"So many people thought at the time," said MacGregor, eying him with
curious sharpness. "Especially the women. For that reason the first
three who were caught were merely convicted of manslaughter instead of
murder. They served their sentences, were given two years each for good
behavior, and are somewhere in South America. The fourth killed himself
when he was taken near Moose Factory, and the other three went what the
law calls 'bad.' Henry, the oldest of them all, killed the officer who
was bringing him down from Prince Albert in '99, and was afterward
executed. Paul, the sixth, returned to his native town seven years after
the hanging of his father and was captured after wounding two of the
officers who went in pursuit of him. He is now in an insane asylum."
The inspector paused, and ran his eyes over a fresh slip of paper.
"And all this," said Philip in a low voice, "because of a crime
committed by the law itself. Five men hung, one a suicide, three in
prison and one in an insane asylum--because of a blunder of the law!"
"The king can do no wrong," said MacGregor with gentle irony, "and
neither can the law. Remember that, Philip, as long as you are in the
service. The law may break up homes, ruin states, set itself a Nemesis
on innocent men's heels--but it can do no wrong. It is the Juggernaut
before which we all must bow our heads, even you and I, and when by any
chance it makes a mistake, it is still law, and unassailable. It is the
greatest weapon of the clever and the rich, so it bears a moral. Be
clever, or be rich."
"And William DeBar, the seventh brother--" began Philip.
"Is tremendously clever, but not rich," finished the inspector. "He has
caused us more trouble than any other man in Canada. He is the youngest
of the seven brothers, and you know there are curious superstitions
about seventh brothers. In the first pursuit after the private hanging
he shot two men. He killed a third in an attempt to save his brother at
Moose Factory. Since then, Forbes, Bannock, Fleisham and Gresham have
disappeared, and they all went out after him. They were all good men,
powerful physically, skilled in the ways of the wilderness, and as brave
as tigers. Yet they all failed. And not only that, they lost their
lives. Whether DeBar killed them, or led them on to a death for which
his hands were not directly responsible, we have never known. The fact
remains that they went out after De Bar--and died. I am not
superstitious, but I am beginning to think that DeBar is more than a
match for any one man. What do you say? Will you go with Moody, or--"
"I'll go alone, with your permission," said Philip.
The inspector's voice at once fell into its formal tone of command.
"Then you may prepare to leave at once," he said. "The factor at Fond du
Lac will put you next to your man. Whatever else you require I will give
you in writing some time to-day."
Philip accepted this as signifying that the interview was at an end, and
rose from his seat.
That night he added a postscript to the letter which he had written
home, saying that for a long time he would not be heard from again. The
midnight train was bearing him toward Le Pas.
Chapter X. Isobel's Disappearance
Four hundred miles as an arrow might fly, five hundred by snowshoes and
dog-sledge; up the Pelican Lake waterway, straight north along the edge
of the Geikie Barrens, and from Wollaston westward, Philip hurried--not
toward the hiding place of William DeBar, but toward Lac Bain.
A sledge and six dogs with a half-breed driver took him from Le Pas as
far as the Churchill; with two Crees, on snow-shoes, he struck into the
Reindeer country, and two weeks later bought a sledge and three dogs at
an Indian camp on the Waterfound. On the second day, in the barrens to
the west, one of the dogs slit his foot on a piece of ice; on the third
day the two remaining dogs went lame, and Philip and his guide struck
camp at the headwater of the Gray Beaver, sixty miles from Lac Bain. It
was impossible for the dogs to move the following day, so Philip left
his Indian to bring them in later and struck out alone.
That day he traveled nearly thirty miles, over a country broken by
timbered ridges, and toward evening came to the beginning of the open
country that lay between him and the forests about Lac Bain. It had been
a hard day's travel, but he did not feel exhausted. The full moon was
rising at nine o'clock, and Philip rested for two hours, cooking and
eating his supper, and then resumed his journey, determined to make
sufficient progress before camping to enable him to reach the post by
the following noon. It was midnight when he put up his light tent, built
a fire, and went to sleep. He was up again at dawn. At two o'clock he
came into the clearing about Lac Bain. As he hurried to Breed's quarters
he wondered if Colonel Becker or Isobel had seen him from their window.
He had noticed that the curtain was up, and that a thin spiral of smoke
was rising from the clay chimney that descended to the fireplace in
He found Breed, the factor, poring over one of the ledgers which he and
Colonel Becker had examined. He started to his feet when he saw Philip.
"Where in the name of blazes have you been?" were his first words, as he
held out a hand. "I've been hunting the country over for you, and had
about come to the conclusion that you and Bucky Nome were dead."
"Hunting for me," said Philip. "What for?"
Breed shrugged his shoulders.
"The colonel an'--Miss Isobel," he said. "They wanted to see you so bad
that I had men out for three days after you'd gone looking for you.
Couldn't even find your trail. I'm curious to know what was up."
Philip laughed. He felt a tingling joy running through every vein in his
body. It was difficult for him to repress the trembling eagerness in his
voice, as he said: "Well, I'm here. I wonder if they want to see
"Suppose they do," replied Breed, slowly lighting his pipe. "But you've
hung off too long. They're gone."
"Gone?" Philip stared at the factor.
"Gone?" he demanded again.
"Left this morning--for Churchill," affirmed Breed. "Two sledges, two
Indians, the colonel and Miss Isobel."
For a few moments Philip stood in silence, staring straight out through
the one window of the room with his back to the factor.
"Did they leave any word for me?" he asked.
"Then--I must follow them!" He spoke the words more to himself than to
Breed. The factor regarded him in undisguised astonishment and Philip,
turning toward him, hastened to add: "I can't tell you why. Breed--but
it's necessary that I overtake them as soon as possible. I don't want to
lose a day--not an hour. Can you lend me a team and a driver?"
"I've got a scrub team," said Breed, "but there isn't another man that I
can spare from the post. There's LeCroix, ten miles to the west. If you
can wait until to-morrow--"
"I must follow this afternoon--now," interrupted Philip. "They will have
left a clean trail behind, and I can overtake them some time to-morrow.
Will you have the team made ready for me--a light sledge, it you've got
By three o'clock he was on the trail again. Breed had spoken truthfully
when he said that his dogs were scrubs. There were four of them, two
mongrels, one blind huskie, and a mamelute that ran lame. And besides
this handicap, Philip found that his own endurance was fast reaching the
ebbing point. He had traveled sixty miles in a day and a half, and his
legs and back began to show signs of the strain. In spite of this fact,
his spirits rose with every mile he placed behind him. He knew that it
would be impossible for Isobel and her father to stand the hardship of
fast and continued travel. At the most they would not make more than
twenty miles in a day, and even with his scrub team he could make
thirty, and would probably overtake them at the end of the next day. And
then it occurred to him, with a pleasurable thrill, that to find Isobel
again on the trail, as he had first seen her, would be a hundred times
better than finding her at Lac Bain. He would accompany her and the
colonel to Churchill. They would be together for days, and at the end of
He laughed low and joyously, and for a spell he urged the dogs into a
swifter pace. That he had correctly estimated the speed of those ahead
of him he was convinced, when, two hours later, he came upon the remains
of their mid-day camp-fire, nine or ten miles from Lac Bain. It was dark
when he reached this point. There were glowing embers still in the fire,
and these he stirred into life, adding armfuls of dry wood to the
flames. About him in the snow he found the prints of Isobel's little
feet, and in the flood of joy and hope that was sweeping more and more
into his life he sang and whistled, and forgot that he was alone in a
desolation of blackness that made even the dogs slink nearer to the
fire. He would camp here--where Isobel had been only a few hours before.
If he traveled hard he would overtake them by the next noon.
But he had underestimated his own exhaustion. After he had put up his
tent before the fire he made himself a bed of balsam boughs and tell
into a deep sleep, from which neither dawn nor the restless movements of
the dogs could awaken him. When at last he opened his eyes it was broad
day. He jumped to his feet and looked at his watch. It was nine o'clock,
and after ten before he again took up the pursuit of the two sledges.
Not until several hours later did he give up hope of overtaking Isobel
and her father as he had planned, and he reproved himself roundly for
having overslept. The afternoon was half gone before he struck their
camp of the preceding evening, and he knew that, because of his own loss
of time, Isobel was still as far ahead of him as when he had left Lac
He made up some of this time by following the trail for an hour when the
moon was at its highest, and then pitched his tent. He was up again the
next morning and breaking camp before it was light. Scarcely had he
traveled an hour over the clear-cut trail ahead of him when he suddenly
halted his dogs with a loud cry of command and astonishment. In a small
open the trails of the two sledges separated. One continued straight
east, toward Churchill, while the other turned almost at right angles
into the south. For a few moments he could find no explanation for this
occurrence. Then he decided that one of the Indians had struck
southward, either to hunt, or on some short mission, and that he would
join the other sledge farther on. Convinced that this was the right
solution, Philip continued over the Churchill trail. A little later, to
his despair, it began to snow so heavily that the trail which he was
following was quickly obliterated. There was but one thing for him to do
now, and that was to hasten on to Fort Churchill, giving up all hope of
finding Isobel and the colonel before he met them there.
Four days later he came into the post. The news that awaited him struck
him dumb. Isobel and her father, with one Indian, had gone with the
sledge into the South. The Indian who had driven on to Churchill could
give no further information, except that he knew the colonel and his
daughter had suddenly changed their minds about coming to Churchill.
Perhaps they had gone to Nelson House, or York Factory--or even to Le
Pas. He did not know.
It was with a heavy heart that Philip turned his face once more toward
Lac Bain. He could not repress a laugh, bitter and filled with
disappointment, as he thought how fate was playing against him. If he
had not overslept he would have caught up with the sledges before they
separated, if he had not forced himself into this assignment it was
possible that Isobel and her father would have come to him. They knew
that his detachment was at Prince Albert--and they were going south. He
had little doubt but that they were striking for Nelson House, and from
Nelson House to civilization there was but one trail, that which led to
Le Pas and Etomami. And Etomami was but two hours by rail from Prince
He carried in his breast pocket a bit of written information which he
had obtained from the Churchill factor--that helped to soften, in a way,
the sting of his disappointment. It was Colonel Becker's London
address--and Isobel's, and he quickly laid out for himself new plans of
action. He would write to MacGregor from Lac Bain, asking him to put in
at once the necessary application for the purchase of his release from
the service. As soon as he was free he would go to London. He would call
on Isobel like a gentleman, he told himself. Perhaps, after all, it
would be the better way.
But first, there was DeBar.
As he had been feverishly anxious to return into the North, so, now, he
was anxious to have this affair with DeBar over with. He lost no time at
Lac Bain, writing his letter to Inspector MacGregor on the same day that
he arrived. Only two of the dogs which the Indian had brought into the
post were fit to travel, and with these, and a light sledge on which he
packed his equipment he set off alone for Fond du Lac. A week later he
reached the post. He found Hutt, the factor, abed with a sprained knee,
and the only other men at the post were three Chippewayans, who could
neither talk nor understand English.
"DeBar is gone," groaned Hutt, after Philip had made himself known. "A
rascal of a Frenchman came in last night on his way to the Grand Rapid,
and this morning DeBar was missing. I had the Chippewayans in, and they
say he left early in the night with his sledge and one big bull of a
hound that he hangs to like grim death. I'd kill that damned Indian you
came up with. I believe it was he that told the Frenchman there was an
officer on the way."
"Is the Frenchman here?" asked Philip.
"Gone!" groaned Hutt again, turning his twisted knee. "He left for the
Grand Rapid this morning, and there isn't another dog or sledge at the
post. This winter has been death on the dogs, and what few are left are
out on the trap-lines. DeBar knows you're after him, sure as fate, and
he's taken a trail toward the Athabasca. The best I can do is to let you
have a Chippewayan who'll go with you as far as the Chariot. That's the
end of his territory, and what you'll do after that God only knows."
"I'll take the chance," said Philip. "We'll start after dinner. I've got
two dogs, a little lame, but even at that they'll have DeBar's outfit
It was less than two hours later when Philip and the Chippewayan set off
into the western forests, the Indian ahead and Philip behind, with the
dogs and sledge between them. Both men were traveling light. Philip had
even strapped his carbine and small emergency bag to the toboggan, and
carried only his service revolver at his belt. It was one o'clock and
the last slanting beams of the winter sun, heatless and only cheering to
the eye, were fast dying away before the first dull gray approach of
desolate gloom which precedes for a few hours the northern night. As the
black forest grew more and more somber about them, he looked over the
grayish yellow back of the tugging huskies at the silent Indian striding
over the outlaw's trail, and a slight shiver passed through him, a
shiver that was neither of cold nor fear, yet which was accompanied by
an oppression which it was hard for him to shake off. Deep down in his
heart Philip had painted a picture of William DeBar--of the man--and it
was a picture to his liking. Such men he would like to know and to call
his friends. But now the deepening gloom, the darkening of the sky
above, the gray picture ahead of him--the Chippewayan, as silent as the
trees, the dogs pulling noiselessly in their traces like slinking
shadows, the ghost-like desolation about him, all recalled him to that
other factor in the game, who was DeBar the outlaw, and not DeBar the
man. In this same way, he imagined, Forbes, Bannock, Fleisham and
Gresham had begun the game, and they had lost. Perhaps they, too, had
gone out weakened by visions of the equity of things, for the sympathy
of man for man is strong when they meet above the sixtieth.
DeBar was ahead of him--DeBar the outlaw, watching and scheming as he
had watched and schemed when the other four had played against him. The
game had grown old to him. It had brought him victim after victim, and
each victim had made of him a more deadly enemy of the next. Perhaps at
this moment he was not very far ahead, waiting to send him the way of
the others. The thought urged new fire into Philip's blood. He spurted
past the dogs and stopped the Chippewayan, and then examined the trail.
It was old. The frost had hardened in the huge footprints of DeBar's big
hound; it had built a webby film over the square impressions of his
snow-shoe thongs. But what of that? Might not the trail still be old,
and DeBar a few hundred yards ahead of him, waiting--watching?
He went back to the sledge and unstrapped his carbine. In a moment the
first picture, the first sympathy, was gone. It was not the law which
DeBar was fighting now. It was himself. He walked ahead of the Indian,
alert, listening and prepared. The crackling of a frost-bitten tree
startled him into stopping; the snapping of a twig under its weight of
ice and snow sent strange thrills through him which left him almost
sweating. The sounds were repeated again and again as they advanced,
until he became accustomed to them. Yet at each new sound his fingers
gripped tighter about his carbine and his heart beat a little faster.
Once or twice he spoke to the Indian, who understood no word he said and
remained silent. They built a fire and cooked their supper when it grew
too dark to travel.
Later, when it became lighter, they went on hour after hour, through the
night. At dawn the trail was still old. There were the same cobwebs of
frost, the same signs to show that DeBar and his Mackenzie hound had
preceded them a long time before. During the next day and night they
spent sixteen hours on their snow-shoes and the lacework of frost in
DeBar's trail grew thinner. The next day they traveled fourteen and the
next twelve, and there was no lacework of frost at all. There were hot
coals under the ashes of DeBar's fires. The crumbs of his bannock were
soft. The toes of his Mackenzie hound left warm, sharp imprints. It was
then that they came to the frozen water of the Chariot. The Chippewayan
turned back to Fond du Lac, and Philip went on alone, the two dogs
limping behind him with his outfit.
It was still early in the day when Philip crossed the river into the
barrens and with each step now his pulse beat faster. DeBar could not be
far ahead of him. He was sure of that. Very soon he must overtake him.
And then--there would be a fight. In the tense minutes that followed,
the vision of Isobel's beautiful face grew less and less distinct in his
mind. It was filled with something more grim, something that tightened
his muscles, kept him ceaselessly alert. He would come on DeBar--and
there would be a fight. DeBar would not be taken by surprise.
At noon he halted and built a small fire between two rocks, over which
he boiled some tea and warmed his meat. Each day he had built three
fires, but at the end of this day, when darkness stopped him again, it
occurred to him that since that morning DeBar had built but one. Gray
dawn had scarcely broken when he again took up the pursuit. It was
bitterly cold, and a biting wind swept down across the barrens from the
Arctic icebergs. His pocket thermometer registered sixty degrees below
zero when he left it open on the sledge, and six times between dawn and
dusk he built himself fires. Again DeBar built but one, and this time he
found no bannock crumbs.
For the last twenty miles DeBar had gone straight into the North. He
continued straight into the North the next day and several times Philip
scrutinized his map, which told him in that direction there lay nothing
but peopleless barrens as far as the Great Slave.
There was growing in him now a fear--a fear that DeBar would beat him
out in the race. His limbs began to ache with a strange pain and his
progress was becoming slower. At intervals he stopped to rest, and after
each of these intervals the pain seemed to gnaw deeper at his bones,
forcing him to limp, as the dogs were limping behind him. He had felt it
once before, beyond Lac Bain, and knew what it meant. His legs were
giving out--and DeBar would beat him yet! The thought stirred him on,
and before he stopped again he came to the edge of a little lake. DeBar
had started to cross the lake, and then, changing his mind, had turned
back and skirted the edge of it. Philip followed the outlaw's trail with
his eyes and saw that he could strike it again and save distance by
crossing the snow-covered ice.
He went on, with dogs and sledge at his heels, unconscious of the
warning underfoot that had turned DeBar back. In midlake he turned to
urge the dogs into a faster pace, and it was then that he heard under
him a hollow, trembling sound, growing in volume even as he hesitated,
until it surged in under his feet from every shore, like the rolling
thunder of a ten-pin ball. With a loud cry to the dogs he darted
forward, but it was too late. Behind him the ice crashed like brittle
glass, and he saw sledge and dogs disappear as if into an abyss. In an
instant he had begun a mad race to the shore a hundred feet ahead of
him. Ten paces more and he would have reached it, when the toe of his
snow-shoe caught in a hummock of snow and ice. For a flash it stopped
him, and the moment's pause was fatal. Before he could throw himself
forward on his face in a last effort to save himself, the ice gave way
and he plunged through. In his extremity he thought of DeBar, of
possible help even from the outlaw, and a terrible cry for that help
burst from his lips as he felt himself going. The next instant he was
sorry that he had shouted. He was to his waist in water, but his feet
were on bottom. He saw now what had happened, that the surface of the
water was a foot below the shell of ice, which was scarcely more than an
inch in thickness. It was not difficult for him to kick off his
snow-shoes under the water, and he began breaking his way ashore.
Five minutes later he dragged himself out, stiff with the cold, his
drenched clothing freezing as it came into contact with the air. His
first thought was of fire, and he ran up the shore, his teeth
chattering, and began tearing off handfuls of bark from a birch. Not
until he was done and the bark was piled in a heap beside the tree did
the full horror of his situation dawn upon him. His emergency pouch was
on the sledge, and in that pouch was his waterproof box of matches!
He ran back to the edge of broken ice, unconscious that he was almost
sobbing in his despair. There was no sign of the sledge, no sound of the
dogs, who might still be struggling in their traces. They were
gone--everything--food, fire, life itself. He dug out his flint and
steel from the bottom of a stiffening pocket and knelt beside the bark,
striking them again and again, yet knowing that his efforts were futile.
He continued to strike until his hands were purple and numb and his
freezing clothes almost shackled him to the ground.
"Good God!" he breathed.
He rose slowly, with a long, shuddering breath and turned his eyes to
where the outlaw's trail swung from the lake into the North. Even in
that moment, as the blood in his veins seemed congealing with the icy
chill of death, the irony of the situation was not lost upon Philip.
"It's the law versus God, Billy," he chattered, as if DeBar stood before
him. "The law wouldn't vindicate itself back there--ten years ago--but I
guess it's doing it now."
He dropped into DeBar's trail and began to trot.
"At least it looks as if you're on the side of the Mighty," he
continued. "But we'll see--very soon--Billy--"
Ahead of him the trail ran up a ridge, broken and scattered with rocks
and stunted scrub, and the sight of it gave him a little hope. Hope died
when he reached the top and stared out over a mile of lifeless barren.
"You're my only chance. Billy," he shivered. "Mebby, if you knew what
had happened, you'd turn back and give me the loan of a match."
He tried to laugh at his own little joke, but it was a ghastly attempt
and his purpling lips closed tightly as he stumbled down the ridge. As
his legs grew weaker and his blood more sluggish, his mind seemed to
work faster, and the multitude of thoughts that surged through his brain
made him oblivious of the first gnawing of a strange dull pain. He was
freezing. He knew that without feeling pain. He had before him, not
hours, but minutes of life, and he knew that, too. His arms might have
been cut off at the shoulders for all feeling that was left in them; he
noticed, as he stumbled along in a half run, that he could not bend his
fingers. At every step his legs grew heavier and his feet were now
leaden weights. Yet he was surprised to find that the first horror of
his situation had left him. It did not seem that death was only a few
hundred yards away, and he found himself thinking of MacGregor, of home,
and then only of Isobel. He wondered, after that, if some one of the
other four had played the game, and lost, in this same way, and he
wondered, too, if his bones would never be found, as theirs had never
He stopped again on a snow ridge. He had come a quarter of a mile,
though it seemed that he had traveled ten times that distance.
"Sixty degrees below zero--and it's the vindication of the law!"
His voice scarcely broke between his purple lips now, and the bitter
sweep of wind swayed him as he stood.
Chapter XI. The Law Versus The Man
Suddenly a great thrill shot through Philip, and for an instant he stood
rigid. What was that he saw out in the gray gloom of Arctic desolation,
creeping up, up, up, almost black at its beginning, and dying away like
a ghostly winding-sheet? A gurgling cry rose in his throat, and he went
on, panting now like a broken-winded beast in his excitement. It grew
near, blacker, warmer. He fancied that he could feel its heat, which was
the new fire of life blazing within him.
He went down between two great drifts into a pit which seemed
bottomless. He crawled to the top of the second, using his pulseless
hands like sticks in the snow, and at the top something rose from the
other side of the drift to meet him.
It was a face, a fierce, bearded face, the gaunt starvation in it hidden
by his own blindness. It seemed like the face of an ogre, terrible,
threatening, and he knew that it was the face of William DeBar, the
He launched himself forward, and the other launched himself forward, and
they met in a struggle which was pathetic in its weakness, and rolled
together to the bottom of the drift. Yet the struggle was no less
terrible because of that weakness. It was a struggle between two
lingering sparks of human life and when these two sparks had flickered
and blazed and died down, the two men lay gasping, an arm's reach from
Philip's eyes went to the fire. It was a small fire, burning more
brightly as he looked, and he longed to throw himself upon it so that
the flames might eat into his flesh. He had mumbled something about
police, arrest and murder during the struggle, but DeBar spoke for the
first time now.
"You're cold," he said.
"I'm freezing to death," said Philip.
DeBar rose to his feet. Philip drew himself together, as if expecting an
attack, but in place of it DeBar held out a warmly mittened hand.
"You've got to get those clothes off--quick--or you'll die," he said.
Mechanically Philip reached up his hand, and DeBar took him to his
sledge behind the fire and wrapped about him a thick blanket. Then he
drew out a sheath knife and ripped the frozen legs of his trousers up
and the sleeves of his coat down, cut the string of his shoe-packs and
slit his heavy German socks, and after that he rubbed his feet and legs
and arms until Philip began to feel a sting like the prickly bite of
"Ten minutes more and you'd been gone," said DeBar.
He wrapped a second blanket around Philip, and dragged the sledge on
which he was lying still nearer to the fire. Then he threw on a fresh
armful of dry sticks and from a pocket of his coat drew forth something
small and red and frozen, which was the carcass of a bird about the size
of a robin. DeBar held it up between his forefinger and thumb, and
looking at Philip, the flash of a smile passed for an instant over his
"Dinner," he said, and Philip could not fail to catch the low chuckling
note of humor in his voice. "It's a Whisky Jack, man, an' he's the first
and last living thing I've seen in the way of fowl between here and Fond
du Lac. He weighs four ounces if he weighs an ounce, and we'll feast on
him shortly. I haven't had a full mouth of grub since day before
yesterday morning, but you're welcome to a half of him, if you're hungry
"Where'd your chuck go?" asked Philip.
He was conscious of a new warmth and comfort in his veins, but it was
not this that sent a heat into his face at the outlaw's offer. DeBar had
saved his life, and now, when DeBar might have killed him, he was
offering him food. The man was spitting the bird on the sharpened end of
a stick, and when he had done this he pointed to the big Mackenzie
hound, tied to the broken stub of a dead sapling.
"I brought enough bannock to carry me to Chippewayan, but he got into it
the first night, and what he left was crumbs. You lost yours in the
"Dogs and everything," said Philip. "Even matches."
"Those ice-traps are bad," said DeBar companionably, slowly turning the
bird. "You always want to test the lakes in this country. Most of 'em
come from bog springs, and after they freeze, the water drops. Guess
you'd had me pretty soon if it hadn't been for the lake, wouldn't you?"
He grinned, and to his own astonishment Philip grinned.
"I was tight after you, Bill."
"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed the outlaw. "That sounds good! I've gone by
another name, of course, and that's the first time I've heard my own
He stopped suddenly, and the laugh left his voice and face.
"It sounds--homelike," he added more gently. "What's yours, pardner?"
"Steele--Philip Steele, of the R.N.W.M.P.," said Philip.
"Used to know a Steele once," went on DeBar. "That was back--where it
happened. He was one of my friends."
For a moment he turned his eyes on Philip. They were deep gray eyes, set
well apart in a face that among a hundred others Philip would have
picked out for its frankness and courage. He knew that the man before
him was not much more than his own age, yet he appeared ten years older.
He sat up on his sledge as DeBar left his bird to thrust sticks into the
snow, on the ends of which he hung Philip's frozen garments close to the
fire. From the man Philip's eyes traveled to the dog. The hound yawned
in the heat and he saw that one of his fangs was gone.
"If you're starving, why don't you kill the dog?" he asked.
DeBar turned quickly, his white teeth gleaming through his beard.
"Because he's the best friend I've got on earth, or next to the best,"
he said warmly. "He's stuck to me through thick and thin for ten years.
He starved with me, and fought with me, and half died with me, and he's
going to live with me as long as I live. Would you eat the flesh of your
brother, Steele? He's my brother--the last that your glorious law has
left to me. Would you kill him if you were me?"
Something stuck hard and fast in Philip's throat, and he made no reply.
DeBar came toward him with the hot bird on the end of his stick. With
his knife the outlaw cut the bird into two equal parts, and one of these
parts he cut into quarters. One of the smaller pieces he tossed to the
hound, who devoured it at a gulp. The half he stuck on the end of his
knife and offered to his companion.
"No," said Philip. "I can't."
The eyes of the two men met, and DeBar, on his knees, slowly settled
back, still gazing at the," said DeBar, after a moment, "don't be a
fool, Steele. Let's forget, for a little while. God knows what's going
to happen to both of us to-morrow or next day, and it'll be easier to
die with company than alone, won't it? Let's forget that you're the Law
and I'm the Man, and that I've killed one or two. We're both in the same
boat, and we might as well be a little bit friendly for a few hours, and
shake hands, and be at peace when the last minute comes. If we get out
of this, and find grub, we'll fight fair and square, and the best man
wins. Be square with me, old man, and I'll be square with you, s'elp me
He reached out a hand, gnarled, knotted, covered with callouses and
scars, and with a strange sound in his throat Philip caught it tightly
in his own.
"I'll be square. Bill!" he cried. "I swear that I'll be square--on those
conditions. If we find grub, and live, we'll fight it out--alone--and
the best man wins. But I've had food today, and you're starving. Eat
that and I'll still be in better condition than you. Eat it, and we'll
smoke. Praise God I've got my pipe and tobacco!"
They settled back close in the lee of the drift, and the wind swirled
white clouds of snow-mist over their heads, while DeBar ate his bird and
Philip smoked. The food that went down DeBar's throat was only a morsel,
but it put new life into him, and he gathered fresh armfuls of sticks
and sapling boughs until the fire burned Philip's face and his drying
clothes sent up clouds of steam. Once, a hundred yards out in the plain,
Philip heard the outlaw burst into a snatch of wild forest song as he
pulled down a dead stub.
"Seems good to have comp'ny," he said, when he came back with his load.
"My God, do you know I've never felt quite like this--so easy and happy
like, since years and years? I wonder if it is because I know the end is
"There's still hope," replied Philip.
"Hope!" cried DeBar. "It's more than hope, man. It's a certainty for
me--the end, I mean. Don't you see, Phil--" He came and sat down close
to the other on the sledge, and spoke as if he had known him for years.
"It's got to be the end for me, and I guess that's what makes me
cheerful like. I'm going to tell you about it, if you don't mind."
"I don't mind; I want to hear," said Philip, and he edged a little
nearer, until they sat shoulder to shoulder.
"It's got to be the end," repeated DeBar, in a low voice. "If we get out
of this, and fight, and you win, it'll be because I'm dead, Phil. D'ye
understand? I'll be dead when the fight ends, if you win. That'll be one
"But if you win, Bill."
A flash of joy shot into DeBar's eyes.
"Then that'll be the other end," he said more softly still. He pointed
to the big Mackenzie hound. "I said he was next to my best friend an
earth, Phil. The other--is a girl--who lived back there--when it
happened, years and years ago. She's thirty now, and she's stuck to me,
and prayed for me, and believed in me for--a'most since we were kids
together, an' she's written to me--'Frank Symmonds'--once a month for
ten years. God bless her heart! That is what's kept me alive, and in
every letter she's begged me to let her come to me, wherever I was.
But--I guess the devil didn't get quite all of me, for I couldn't, 'n'
wouldn't. But I've give in now, and we've fixed it up between us. By
this time she's on her way to my brothers in South America, and if I
win--when we fight--I'm going where she is. And that's the other end,
Phil, so you see why I'm happy. There's sure to be an end of it for
He bowed his wild, unshorn head in his mittened hands, and for a time
there was silence between them.
Philip broke it, almost in a whisper.
"Why don't you kill me--here--now-while I'm sitting helpless beside you,
and you've a knife in your belt?"
DeBar lifted his head slowly and looked with astonishment into his
"I'm not a murderer!" he said.
"But you've killed other men," persisted Philip.
"Three, besides those we hung," replied DeBar calmly. "One at Moose
Factory, when I tried to help John, and the other two up here. They were
like you--hunting me down, and I killed 'em in fair fight. Was that
murder? Should I stand by and be shot like an animal just because it's
the law that's doing it? Would you?"
He rose without waiting for an answer and felt of the clothes beside the
"Dry enough," he said. "Put 'em on and we'll be hiking."
Philip dressed, and looked at his compass.
"Still north?" he asked. "Chippewayan is south and west."
"North," said DeBar. "I know of a breed who lives on Red Porcupine
Creek, which runs into the Slave. If we can find him we'll get grub, and
if we don't--"
He laughed openly into the other's face.
"We won't fight," said Philip, understanding him.
"No, we won't fight, but we'll wrap up in the same blankets, and die,
with Woonga, there, keeping our backs warm until the last. Eh, Woonga,
will you do that?"
He turned cheerily to the dog, and Woonga rose slowly and with
unmistakable stiffness of limb, and was fastened in the sledge traces.
They went on through the desolate gloom of afternoon, which in late
winter is, above the sixtieth, all but night. Ahead of them there seemed
to rise billow upon billow of snow-mountains, which dwarfed themselves
into drifted dunes when they approached, and the heaven above them, and
the horizon on all sides of them were shut out from their vision by a
white mist which was intangible and without substance and yet which rose
like a wall before their eyes. It was one chaos of white mingling with
another chaos of white, a chaos of white earth smothered and torn by the
Arctic wind under a chaos of white sky; and through it all, saplings
that one might have twisted and broken over his knee were magnified into
giants at a distance of half a hundred paces, and men and dog looked
like huge specters moving with bowed heads through a world that was no
longer a world of life, but of dead and silent things. And up out of
this, after a time, rose DeBar's voice, chanting in tones filled with
the savagery of the North, a wild song that was half breed and half
French, which the forest men sing in their joy when coming very near to
They went on, hour after hour, until day gloom thickened into night, and
night drifted upward to give place to gray dawn, plodding steadily
north, resting now and then, fighting each mile of the way to the Red
Porcupine against the stinging lashes of the Arctic wind. And through it
all it was DeBar's voice that rose in encouragement to the dog limping
behind him and to the man limping behind the dog--now in song, now in
the wild shouting of the sledge-driver, his face thin and gaunt in its
starved whiteness, but his eyes alive with a strange fire. And it was
DeBar who lifted his mittened hands to the leaden chaos of sky when they
came to the frozen streak that was the Red Porcupine, and said, in a
voice through which there ran a strange thrill of something deep and
mighty, "God in Heaven be praised, this is the end!"
He started into a trot now, and the dog trotted behind him, and behind
the dog trotted Philip, wondering, as he had wondered a dozen times
before that night, if DeBar were going mad. Five hundred yards down the
stream DeBar stopped in his tracks, stared for a moment into the
breaking gloom of the shore, and turned to Philip. He spoke in a voice
low and trembling, as if overcome for the moment by some strong emotion.
"See--see there!" he whispered. "I've hit it, Philip Steele, and what
does it mean? I've come over seventy miles of barren, through night an'
storm, an' I've hit Pierre Thoreau's cabin as fair as a shot! Oh, man,
man, I couldn't do it once in ten thousand times!" He gripped Philip's
arm, and his voice rose in excited triumph. "I tell 'ee, it means
that--that God--'r something--must be with me!"
"With us," said Philip, staring hard.
"With me," replied DeBar so fiercely that the other started
involuntarily. "It's a miracle, an omen, and it means that I'm going to
win!" His fingers gripped deeper, and he said more gently, "Phil, I've
grown to like you, and if you believe in God as we believe in Him up
here--if you believe He tells things in the stars, the winds and things
like this, if you're afraid of death--take some grub and go back! I mean
it, Phil, for if you stay, an' fight, there is going to be but one end.
I will kill you!"
Chapter XII. The Fight--And A Strange Visitor
At DeBar's words the blood leaped swiftly through Philip's veins, and he
laughed as he flung the outlaw's hand from his arm.
"I'm not afraid of death," he cried angrily. "Don't take me for a child,
William DeBar. How long since you found this God of yours?"
He spoke the words half tauntingly, and as soon regretted them, for in a
voice that betrayed no anger at the slur DeBar said: "Ever since my
mother taught me the first prayer, Phil. I've killed three men and I've
helped to hang three others, and still I believe in a God, and I've halt
a notion He believes a little bit in me, in spite of the laws made down
The cabin loomed up amid a shelter of spruce like a black shadow, and
when they climbed up the bank to it they found the snow drifted high
under the window and against the door.
"He's gone--Pierre, I mean," said DeBar over his shoulder as he kicked
the snow away. "He hasn't come back from New Year's at Fort Smith."
The door had no lock or bolt, and they entered. It was yet too dark for
them to see distinctly, and DeBar struck a match. On the table was a tin
oil lamp, which he lighted. It revealed a neatly kept interior about a
dozen feet square, with two bunks, several chairs, a table, and a sheet
iron stove behind which was piled a supply of wood. DeBar pointed to a
shelf on which were a number of tin boxes, their covers weighted down by
chunks of wood.
"Grub!" he said.
And Philip, pointing to the wood, added, "Fire--fire and grub."
There was something in his voice which the other could not fail to
understand, and there was an uncomfortable silence as Philip put fuel
into the stove and DeBar searched among the food cans.
"Here's bannock and cooked meat--frozen," he said, "and beans."
He placed tins of each on the stove and then sat down beside the roaring
fire, which was already beginning to diffuse a heat. He held out his
twisted and knotted hands, blue and shaking with cold, and looked up at
Philip, who stood opposite him.
He spoke no words, and yet there was something in his eyes which made
the latter cry out softly, and with a feeling which he tried to hide:
"DeBar, I wish to God it was over!"
"So do I," said DeBar.
He rubbed his hands and twisted them until the knuckles cracked.
"I'm not afraid and I know that you're not, Phil," he went on, with his
eyes on the top of the stove, "but I wish it was over, just the same.
Somehow I'd a'most rather stay up here another year or two than--kill
"Kill me!" exclaimed Philip, the old fire leaping back into his veins.
DeBar's quiet voice, his extraordinary self-confidence, sent a flush of
anger into Philip's face.
"You're talking to me again as if I were a child, DeBar. My instructions
were to bring you back, dead or alive--and I'm going to!"
"We won't quarrel about it, Phil," replied the outlaw as quietly as
before. "Only I wish it wasn't you I'm going to fight. I'd rather kill
half-a-dozen like the others than you."
"I see," said Philip, with a perceptible sneer in his voice. "You're
trying to work upon my sympathy so that I will follow your
suggestion--and go back. Eh?"
"You'd be a coward if you did that," retorted DeBar quickly. "How are we
going to settle it, Phil?"
Philip drew his frozen revolver from its holster and held it over the
"If I wasn't a crack shot, and couldn't center a two-inch bull's-eye
three times out of four at thirty paces, I'd say pistols."
"I can't do that," said DeBar unhesitatingly, "but I have hit a wolf
twice out of five shots. It'll be a quick, easy way, and we'll settle it
with our revolvers. Going to shoot to kill?"
"No, if I can help it. In the excitement a shot may kill, but I want to
take you back alive, so I'll wing you once or twice first."
"I always shoot to kill," replied DeBar, without lifting his head. "Any
word you'd like to have sent home, Phil?"
In the other's silence DeBar looked up.
"I mean it," he said, in a low earnest voice. "Even from your point of
view it might happen, Phil, and you've got friends somewhere. It
anything should happen to me you'll find a letter in my pocket. I want
you to write to--to her--an' tell her I died in--an accident. Will you?"
"Yes," replied Philip. "As for me, you'll find addresses in my pocket,
too. Let's shake!"
Over the stove they gripped hands.
"My eyes hurt," said DeBar. "It's the snow and wind, I guess. Do you
mind a little sleep--after we eat? I haven't slept a wink in three days
"Sleep until you're ready," urged Philip. "I don't want to fight bad
They ate, mostly in silence, and when the meal was done Philip carefully
cleaned his revolver and oiled it with bear grease, which he found in a
bottle on the shelf.
DeBar watched him as he wiped his weapon and saw that Philip lubricated
each of the five cartridges which he put in the chamber.
Afterward they smoked.
Then DeBar stretched himself out in one of the two bunks, and his heavy
breathing soon gave evidence that he was sleeping.
For a time Philip sat beside the stove, his eyes upon the inanimate form
of the outlaw. Drowsiness overcame him then, and he rolled into the
other bunk. He was awakened several hours later by DeBar, who was
filling the stove with wood.
"How's the eyes?" he asked, sitting up.
"Good," said the other. "Glad you're awake. The light will be bad inside
of an hour."
He was rubbing and warming his hands, and Philip came to the opposite
side of the stove and rubbed and warmed his hands. For some reason he
found it difficult to look at DeBar, and he knew that DeBar was not
looking at him.
It was the outlaw who broke the suspense.
"I've been outside," he said in a low voice. "There's an open in front
of the cabin, just a hundred paces across. It wouldn't be a bad idea for
us to stand at opposite sides of the open and at a given signal
approach, firing as we want to."
"Couldn't be better," exclaimed Philip briskly, turning to pull his
revolver from its holster.
DeBar watched him with tensely anxious eyes as he broke the breech,
looked at the shining circle of cartridges, and closed it again.
Without a word he went to the door, opened it, and with his pistol arm
trailing at his side, strode off to the right. For a moment Philip stood
looking after him, a queer lump in his throat. He would have liked to
shake hands, and yet at the same time he was glad that DeBar had gone in
this way. He turned to the left--and saw at a glance that the outlaw had
given him the best light. DeBar was facing him when he reached his
"Are you ready?" he shouted.
"Ready!" cried Philip.
DeBar ran forward, shoulders hunched low, his pistol arm half extended,
and Philip advanced to meet him. At seventy paces, without stopping in
his half trot, the outlaw fired, and his bullet passed in a hissing
warning three feet over Philip's head. The latter had planned to hold
his fire until he was sure of hitting the outlaw in the arm or shoulder,
but a second shot from him, which seemed to Philip almost to nip him in
the face, stopped him short, and at fifty paces he returned the fire.
DeBar ducked low and Philip thought that he was hit.
Then with a fierce yell he darted forward, firing as he came.
Again, and still a third time Philip fired, and as DeBar advanced,
unhurt, after each shot, a cry of amazement rose to his lips. At forty
paces he could nip a four-inch bull's-eye three times out of five, and
here he missed a man! At thirty he held an unbeaten record--and at
thirty, here in the broad open, he still missed his man!
He had felt the breath of DeBar's fourth shot, and now with one
cartridge each the men advanced foot by foot, until DeBar stopped and
deliberately aimed at twenty paces. Their pistols rang out in one
report, and, standing unhurt, a feeling of horror swept over Philip as
he looked at the other. The outlaw's arms fell to his side. His empty
pistol dropped to the snow, and for a moment he stood rigid, with his
face half turned to the gloomy sky, while a low cry of grief burst from
In that momentary posture of DeBar he saw, not the effect of a wound
only, but the grim, terrible rigidity of death. He dropped his own
weapon and ran forward, and in that instant DeBar leaped to meet him
with the fierceness of a beast!
It was a terrible bit of play on DeBar's part, and for a moment took
Philip off his guard. He stepped aside, and, with the cleverness of a
trained boxer, he sent a straight cut to the outlaw's face as he closed
in. But the blow lacked force, and he staggered back under the other's
weight, boiling with rage at the advantage which DeBar had taken of him.
The outlaw's hands gripped at his throat and his fingers sank into his
neck like cords of steel. With a choking gasp he clutched at DeBar's
wrists, knowing that another minute--a half-minute of that death clutch
would throttle him. He saw the triumph in DeBar's eyes, and with a last
supreme effort drew back his arm and sent a terrific short-arm punch
into the other's stomach.
The grip at his throat relaxed. A second, a third, and a fourth blow,
his arm traveling swiftly in and out, like a piston-rod, and the triumph
in DeBar's eyes was replaced by a look of agony. The fingers at his
throat loosened still more, and with a sudden movement Philip freed
himself and sprang back a step to gather force for the final blow.
The move was fatal. Behind him his heel caught in a snow-smothered log
and he pitched backward with DeBar on top of him.
Again the iron fingers burned at his throat. But this time he made no
resistance, and after a moment the outlaw rose to his feet and stared
down into the white, still face half buried in the snow. Then he gently
lifted Philip's head in his arms. There was a crimson blotch in the snow
and close to it the black edge of a hidden rock.
As quickly as possible DeBar carried Philip into the cabin and placed
him on one of the cots. Then he gathered certain articles of food from
Pierre's stock and put them in his pack. He had carried the pack half
way to the door when he stopped, dropped his load gently to the floor,
and thrust a hand inside his coat pocket. From it he drew forth a
letter. It was a woman's letter--and he read it now with bowed lead, a
letter of infinite faith, and hope, and love, and when once more he
turned toward Philip his face was filled with the flush of a great
"Mebby you don't just understand, Phil," he whispered, as if the other
were listening to him. "I'm going to leave this."
With the stub of a pencil he scribbled a few words at the bottom of the
He wrote in a crude, awkward hand:
You'd won if it hadn't been for the rock. But I guess mebby that it was
God who put the rock there, Phil. While you was asleep I took the
bullets out of your cartridges and put in damp-paper, for I didn't want
to see any harm done with the guns. I didn't shoot to hit you, and after
all, I'm glad it was the rock that hurt you instead of me.
He leaned over the cot to assure himself that Philip's breath was coming
steadier and stronger, and then laid the letter on the young man's
Five minutes later he was plodding steadily ahead of his big Mackenzie
hound into the peopleless barrens to the south and west.
And still later Philip opened his eyes and saw what DeBar had left for
him. He struggled into a sitting posture and read the few lines which
the outlaw had written.
"Here's to you, Mr. Felix MacGregor," he chuckled feebly, balancing
himself on the edge of the bunk. "You're right. It'll take two men to
lay out Mr. William DeBar--if you ever get him at all!"
Three days later, still in the cabin, he raised a hand to his bandaged
head with an odd grimace, half of pain, half of laughter.
"You're a good one, you are!" he said to himself, limping back and forth
across the narrow space of the cabin. "You've got them all beaten to a
rag when it comes to playing the chump, Phil Steele. Here you go up to
Big Chief MacGregor, throw out your chest, and say to him, 'I can get
that man,' and when the big chief says you can't, you call him a
four-ply ignoramus in your mind, and get permission to go after him
anyway--just because you're in love. You follow your man up here--four
hundred miles or so--and what's the consequence? You lose all hope of
finding her, and your 'man' does just what the big chief said he would
do, and lays you out--though it wasn't your fault after all. Then you
take possession of another man's shack when he isn't at home, eat his
grub, nurse a broken head, and wonder why the devil you ever joined the
glorious Royal Mounted when you've got money to burn. You're a wise one,
you are, Phil Steele--but you've learned something new. You've learned
there's never a man so good but there's a better one somewhere--even if
he is a man-killer like Mr. William DeBar."
He lighted his pipe and went to the door. For the first time in days the
sun was shining in a cold blaze of fire over the southeastern edge of
the barrens, which swept away in a limitless waste of snow-dune and rock
and stunted scrub among which occasional Indian and half-breed trappers
set their dead-falls and poison baits for the northern fox. Sixty miles
to the west was Fort Smith. A hundred miles to the south lay the
Hudson's Bay Company's post at Chippewayan; a hundred and fifty miles to
the south and east was the post at Fond du Lac, and to the
north--nothing. A thousand miles or so up there one would have struck
the polar sea and the Eskimo, and it was with this thought of the
lifelessness and mystery of a dead and empty world that Philip turned
his eyes from the sun into the gray desolation that reached from Pierre
Thoreau's door to the end of the earth. Far off to the north he saw a
black speck moving in the chaos of white. It might have been a fox
coming over a snow-dune a rifle-shot away, for distances are elusive
where the sky and the earth seem to meet in a cold gray rim about one;
or it might have been a musk-ox or a caribou at a greater distance, but
the longer he looked the more convinced he became that it was none of
these--but a man. It moved slowly, disappeared for a few minutes in one
of the dips of the plain, and came into view again much nearer. This
time he made out a man, and behind, a sledge and dogs.
"It's Pierre," he shivered, closing the door and coming back to the
stove. "I wonder what the deuce the breed will say when he finds a
stranger here and his grub half gone."
After a little he heard the shrill creaking of a sledge on the crust
outside and then a man's voice. The sounds stopped close to the cabin
and were followed by a knock at the door.
"Come in!" cried Philip, and in the same breath it flashed upon him that
it could not be the breed, and that it must be a mighty particular and
unusual personage to knock at all.
The door opened and a man came in. He was a little man, and was bundled
in a great beaver overcoat and a huge beaver cap that concealed all of
his face but his eyes, the tip of his nose, and the frozen end of a
beard which stuck out between the laps of his turned-up collar like a
horn. For all the world he looked like a diminutive drum-major, and
Philip rose speechless, his pipe still in his mouth, as his strange
visitor closed the door behind him and approached.
"Beg pardon," said the stranger in a smothered voice, walking as though
he were ice to the marrow and afraid of breaking himself. "It's so
beastly cold that I have taken the liberty of dropping in to get warm."
"It is cold--beastly cold," replied Philip, emphasizing the word. "It
was down to sixty last night. Take off your things."
"Devil of a country--this," shivered the man, unbuttoning his coat. "I'd
rather roast of the fever than freeze to death." Philip limped forward
to assist him, and the stranger eyed him sharply for a moment.
"Limp not natural," he said quickly, his voice freeing itself at last
from the depths of his coat collar. "Bandage a little red, eyes
feverish, lips too pale. Sick, or hurt?"
Philip laughed as the little man hopped to the stove and began rubbing
"Hurt," he said. "If you weren't four hundred miles from nowhere I'd say
that you were a doctor."
"So I am," said the other. "Edward Wallace Boffin, M.D., 900 North
Wabash Avenue, Chicago."
Chapter XIII. The Great Love Experiment
For a full half minute after the other's words Philip stared in
astonishment. Then, with a joyful shout, he suddenly reached out his
hand across the stove.
"By thunder," he cried, "you're from home!"
"Home!" exclaimed the other. There was a startled note in his voice.
"You're--you're a Chicago man?" he asked, staring strangely at Philip
and gripping his hand at the same time.
"Ever hear of Steele--Philip Egbert Steele? I'm his son."
"Good Heavens!" drawled the doctor, gazing still harder at him and
pinching the ice from his beard, "what are you doing up here?"
"Prodigal son," grinned Philip. "Waiting for the calf to get good and
fat. What are you doing?"
"Making a fool of myself," replied the doctor, looking at the top of the
stove and rubbing his hands until his fingers snapped.
At the North Pole, if they had met there, Philip would have known him
for a professional man. His heavy woolen suit was tailor made. He wore a
collar and a fashionable tie. A lodge signet dangled at his watch chain.
He was clean-shaven and his blond Van Dyke beard was immaculately
trimmed. Everything about him, from the top of his head to the bottom of
his laced boots, shouted profession, even in the Arctic snow. He might
have gone farther and guessed that he was a physician--a surgeon,
perhaps--from his hands, and from the supple manner in which he twisted
his long white fingers about one another over the stove. He was a man of
about forty, with a thin sensitive face, strong rather than handsome,
and remarkable eyes. They were not large, nor far apart, but were like
twin dynamos, reflecting the life of the man within. They were the sort
of eyes which Philip had always associated with great mental power.
The doctor had now finished rubbing his hands, and, unbuttoning his
under coat, he drew a small silver cigarette case from his waistcoat
"They're not poison," he smiled, opening it and offering the cigarettes
to Philip. "I have them made especially for myself." A sound outside the
door made him pause with a lighted match between his fingers. "How about
dogs and Indian?" he asked. "May they come in?"
Philip began hobbling toward the door.
"So exciting to meet a man from home that I forgot all about 'em," he
With three or four quick steps the doctor overtook him and caught him by
"Just a moment," he said quickly. "How far is Fort Smith from here?"
"About sixty miles."
"Do you suppose I could get there without--his assistance?"
"If you're willing to bunk here for a few days--yes," said Philip. "I'm
going on to Fort Smith myself as soon as I am able to walk."
An expression of deep relief came into the doctor's eyes.
"That's just what I want, Steele," he exclaimed, unfeignedly delighted
at Philip's suggestion. "I'm not well, and I require a little rest. Call
No sooner had the Indian entered than to Philip's astonishment the
little doctor began talking rapidly to him in Cree. The guide's eyes
lighted up intelligently, and at the end he replied with a single word,
nodded, and grinned. Philip noticed that as he talked a slight flush
gathered in the doctor's smooth cheeks, and that not only by his voice
but by the use of his hands as well he seemed anxious to impress upon
his listener the importance of what he was saying.
"He'll start back for Chippewayan this afternoon," he explained to
Philip a moment later. "The dogs and sledge are mine, and he says that
he can make it easily on snow-shoes." Then he lighted his cigarette and
added suggestively, "He can't understand English."
The Indian had caught a glimpse of Philip's belt and holster, and now
muttered a few low words, as though he were grumbling at the stove. The
doctor poised his cigarette midway to his lips and looked quickly across
"Possibly you belong to the Northwest Mounted Police," he suggested.
"Heavens," drawled the doctor again, "and you the son of a millionaire
banker! What you doing it for?"
"Fun," answered Philip, half laughing. "And I'm not getting it in
sugar-coated pellet form either. Doctor. I came up here to get a man,
found him, and was gloriously walloped for my trouble. I'm not
particularly sorry, either. Rather glad he got away."
"Why?" asked the doctor.
In spite of their short acquaintance Philip began to feel a sort of
comradeship for the man opposite him.
"Well," he said hesitatingly, "you see, he was one of those criminals
who are made criminals. Some one else was responsible--a case of one man
suffering because of another man's sins."
If the doctor had received the thrust of a pin he could not have jumped
from his chair with more startling suddenness than he did at Philip's
"That's it!" he cried excitedly, beginning to pace back and forth across
the cabin floor. "It's more than a theory--it's a truth--that people
suffer more because of other people than on account of themselves. We're
born to it and we keep it up, inflicting a thousand pricks and a
thousand sorrows to gain one selfish end and it isn't once in a hundred
times that the boomerang comes home and strikes the right one down. But
when it does--when it does, sir--"
As suddenly as he had begun, the doctor stopped, and he laughed a little
unnaturally. "Bosh!" he exclaimed. "Let's see that head of yours,
Steele. Speaking of pains and pricks reminds me that, being a surgeon, I
may be of some assistance to you."
Philip knew that he had checked himself with an effort, and as his new
acquaintance began to loosen the bandage he found himself wondering what
mysterious mission could have sent a Chicago surgeon up to Fort Smith.
The doctor interrupted his thoughts.
"Queer place for a blow," he said briskly. "Nothing serious--slight
abrasion--trifle feverish. We'll set you to rights immediately." He
bustled to his greatcoat and from one of the deep pockets drew forth a
leather medicine case. "Queer place, queer place," he chuckled,
returning with a vial in his hand. "Were you running when it happened?"
Philip laughed with him, and by the time the doctor had finished he had
given him an account of his affair with DeBar. Not until hours later,
when the Cree had left on his return trip and they sat smoking before a
roaring fire after supper, did it occur to him how confidential he had
become. Seldom had Philip met a man who impressed him as did the little
surgeon. He liked him immensely. He felt that he had known him for years
instead of hours, and chatted freely of his adventures and asked a
thousand questions about home. He found that the doctor was even better
acquainted with his home city than himself, and that he knew many people
whom he knew, and lived in a fashionable quarter. He was puzzled even as
they talked and laughed and smoked their cigarettes and pipes. The
doctor said nothing about himself or his personal affairs, and cleverly
changed the conversation whenever it threatened to drift in that
It was late when Philip rose from his chair, suggesting that they go to
bed. He laughed frankly across into the other's face.
"Boffin--Boffin--Boffin," he mused.
"Strange I've never heard of you down south, Doctor. Now what the deuce
can you be doing up here?"
There was a point-blank challenge in his eyes. The doctor leaned a
little toward him, as if about to speak, but caught himself. For several
moments his keen eyes gazed squarely into Philip's, and when he broke
the silence the same nervous flush that Philip had noticed before rose
into his cheeks.
to go roughing it down in South America. I believe you're honest--on
Philip stared at him in amazement.
"If I didn't," he went on, rubbing his hands again over the stove, "I'd
follow your suggestion, and go to bed. As it is, I'm going to tell you
why I'm up here, on your word of honor to maintain secrecy. I've got a
selfish end in view, for you may be able to assist me. But nothing must
go beyond yourself. What do you say to the condition?"
"I will not break your confidence--unless you have murdered some one,"
laughed Philip, stooping to light a fresh pipe. "In that event you'd
better keep quiet, as I'd have to haul you back to headquarters."
He did not see the deepening of the flush in the other's face.
"Good," said the doctor. "Sit down, Steele. I take it for granted that
you will help me--if you can. First I suppose I ought to confess that my
name is not Boffin, but McGill--Dudley McGill, professor of neurology
and diseases of the brain--"
Philip almost dropped his pipe. "Great Scott, and it was you who
wrote--" He stopped, staring in amazement.
"Yes, it was I who wrote Freda, if that's what you refer to," finished
the doctor. "It caused a little sensation, as you may know, and nearly
got me ousted from the college. But it sold up to two hundred thousand
copies, so it wasn't a bad turn," he added.
"It was published while I was away," said Philip. "I got a copy in Rio
Janeiro, and it haunted me for weeks after I read it. Great Heaven, you
"I did," interrupted the doctor sharply. "I believed everything that I
wrote--and more. It was my theory of life." He sprang from his chair and
began walking back and forth in his quick, excited way. The flush had
gone from his face now and was replaced by a strange paleness. His lips
were tense, the fingers of his hands tightly clenched, his voice was
quick, sharp, incisive when he spoke.
"It was my theory of life," he repeated almost fiercely, "and that is
the beginning of why I am up here. My theory was that there existed no
such thing as 'the divine spark of love' between men and women not
related by blood, no reaching out of one soul for another--no faith, no
purity, no union between man and woman but that could be broken by low
passions. My theory was that man and woman were but machines, and that
passion, and not the love which we dream and read of, united these
machines; and that every machine, whether it was a man or a woman, could
be broken and destroyed in a moral sense by some other machine of the
opposite sex--if conditions were right. Do you understand me? My theory
was destructive of homes, of happiness, of moral purity. It was bad. I
argued my point in medical journals, and I wrote a book based on it. But
I lacked proof, the actual proof of experience. So I set out to
He seemed to have forgotten now that Philip was in the room, and went on
bitterly, as if arraigning himself for something which he had not yet
"It made me a--a--almost a criminal," he continued. "I had no good
thoughts for humanity, beyond my small endeavors in my little field of
science. I was a machine myself, cold, passionless, caring little for
women--thus proving, if I had stopped to consider myself, the
unreasonableness of my own theory. Coolly and without a thought of the
consequences, I set out to prove myself right. When I think of it now my
action appalls me. It was heinous, for the mere proving of my theory
meant misery and unhappiness for those who were to prove it to me. I was
not cramped for money. So I determined to experiment with six
machines--three young men and three young women. I planned that each
person should be unconscious of the part he or she was playing, and that
each pair should be thrown constantly together--not in society, mind
you, for my theory was that conditions must be right. Through a trusted
and highly paid agent I hired my people--the men. Through another, who
was a woman, I hired those of the opposite sex. One of the young women
was sent to an obscure little place a hundred miles back from the
Brazilian coast, ostensibly to act as governess for the children of an
American family which did not exist. To this same place, through the
other agent, was sent a man, whose duty was to get information about the
country for a party of capitalists. Do you begin to understand?"
"Yes, I begin to understand," said Philip.
"This place to which they went was made up of a dozen or so hovels,"
continued the doctor, resuming his nervous walk. "There was no one there
who could talk or understand their language but these two. The
consequence--conditions were right. They would be constantly together.
They would either prove or disprove my theory that men and women were
but machines of passion. I knew that they would stay at this place
during the three months I had allotted for my experiment, for I paid
them a high price. The girl, when she found no American family, was told
to wait until they arrived. The man, of course, had plenty of supposed
work to keep him there."
"I understand," repeated Philip.
"The second couple," continued the doctor, forcing himself into a chair
opposite Philip, "were in a similar way sent up here--to an obscure
northern post which I have reason for not naming. And the third couple
went to a feverish district down in Central America."
He rose from his chair again, and Philip was silent while the doctor
went to his great-coat and from somewhere within its depths brought out
fresh cigarettes. His hand trembled slightly as he lighted one and the
flare of the match, playing for an instant on his face, emphasized the
nervous tension which he was under.
"I suppose you think it all very strange--and idiotic," he said, after a
few moments. "But we frequently do strange things, and apparently
senseless ones, in scientific work. Madmen have made the world's
greatness. Our most wonderful inventors, our greatest men of all ages,
have in a way been insane--for they have been abnormal, and what is that
but a certain form of insanity?"
He looked at Philip through his cigarette smoke as if expecting a reply,
but Philip only wet his lips, and remained silent.
"I got six months' leave of absence," he resumed, "and set out to see
the results of my experiments. First I went to Rio, and from there to
the place where the first couple had gone. As a consequence, five weeks
passed between the date of the last letters of my experimenters and the
day I joined them. Heavens, man! When I made it known that I wanted
them, where do you think they took me?"
He dropped his half-burned cigarette and his voice was husky as he
turned on Philip. "Where--where do you think they took me?" he demanded.
"God knows!" exclaimed Philip, tremulously. "Where?"
"To two freshly made graves just outside the village," groaned the
doctor. "I learned their story after a little. The girl, finding herself
useless there, had begun to teach the little children. I'm--I'm--going
to skip quickly over this." His voice broke to a whisper. "She was an
angel. The poor half-naked women told me that through my interpreter.
The children cried for her when she died. The men had brought flowering
trees from miles away to shade her grave--and the other. They had met,
as I had planned--the man and the girl, but it didn't turn out--my way.
It was a beautiful love, I believe, as pure and sweet as any in the
whole world. They say that they made the whole village happy, and that
each Sunday the girl and the man would sing to them beautiful songs
which they could not understand, but which made even the sick smile with
happiness. It was a low, villainous place for a village, half encircled
by a swampy river, and the terrible heat of the summer sun brought with
it a strange sickness. It was a deadly, fatal sickness, and many died,
and always there were the man and the girl, working and singing and
striving to do good through all the hours of day and night. What need is
there of saying more?" the doctor cried, his voice choking him. "What
need to say more--except that the man went first, and that the girl died
a week later, and that they were buried side by side under the mangum
trees? What need--unless it is to say that I am their murderer?"
"There have been many mistakes made in the name of science," said
Philip, clearing his throat. "This was one. Your theory was wrong."
"Yes, it was wrong," said the doctor, more gently. "I saved myself by
killing them. My theory died with them, and as fast as I could travel I
hurried to that other place in Central America."
A soft glow entered into his eyes now, and he came around the stove and
took one of Philip's hands between his own, and looked steadily down
into his face, while there came a curious twitching about the muscles of
"Nothing had happened," he said, barely above a whisper. "I found her,
and I thank God for that I loved her, and my theory was doubly
shattered, a thousand times cursed. She is my wife, and I am the
happiest of men--except for these haunting memories. Before I married
her I told her all, and together we have tried to make restitution for
my crime, for I shall always deem it such. I found that the man who died
was supporting a mother, and that the girl's parents lived on a little
mortgaged farm in Michigan. We sent the mother ten thousand dollars, and
the parents the same. We have built a little church in the village where
they died. The third couple," finished the doctor, dropping Philip's
hand, "came up here. When I got back from the south I found that several
of my checks had been returned. I wrote letter after letter, but could
find no trace of these last of my experimenters. I sent an agent into
the North and he returned without news of them. They had never appeared
at Fort Smith. And now--I have come up to hunt for them myself. Perhaps,
in your future wanderings, you may be of some assistance to me. That is
why I have told you this--with the hope that you will help me, if you
With a flash of his old, quick coolness the doctor turned to one of
Pierre Thoreau's bunks.
"Now," he said, with a strained laugh, "I'll follow your suggestion and
go to bed. Goodnight."
Chapter XIV. What Came Of The Great Love Experiment
For an hour after he had gone to bed Philip lay awake thinking of the
doctor's story. He dreamed of it when he fell asleep. In a way for which
he could not account, the story had a peculiar effect upon him, and
developed in him a desire to know the end. He awoke in the morning
anxious to resume the subject with McGill, but the doctor disappointed
him. During the whole of the day he made no direct reference to his
mission in the North, and when Philip once or twice brought him back to
the matter he evaded any discussion of it, giving him to understand,
without saying so, that the matter was a closed incident between them,
only to be reopened when he was able to give some help in the search.
The doctor talked freely of his home, of the beauty and the goodness of
his wife, and of a third member whom they expected in their little
family circle in the spring. They discussed home topics--politics, clubs
and sport. The doctor disliked society, though for professional reasons
he was compelled to play a small part in it, and in this dislike the two
men found themselves on common ground. They became more and more
confidential in all ways but one. They passed hours in playing cribbage
with a worn pack of Pierre's cards, and the third night sang old college
songs which both had nearly forgotten. It was on this evening that they
planned to remain one more day in Pierre's cabin and then leave for Fort
"You have hope--there," said Philip in a casual way, as they were
"Little hope, but the search will begin from there," replied the doctor.
"I have more hope at Chippewayan, where we struck a clew. I sent back my
Indian to follow it up."
They went to bed. How long he had slept Philip had no idea, when he was
awakened by a slight noise. In a sub-conscious sort of way, with his
eyes still closed, he lay without moving and listened. The sound came
again, like the soft, cautious tread of feet near him. Still without
moving he opened his eyes. The oil lamp which he had put out on retiring
was burning low. In its dim light stood the doctor, half dressed, in a
tense attitude of listening.
"What's the matter?" asked Philip.
The professor started, and turned toward the stove.
"Nervousness, I guess," he said gloomily. "I was afraid I would awaken
you. I've been up three times during the last hour--listening for a
"Yes, back there in the bunk I could have sworn that I heard it calling