Part 2 out of 6
correspondence. Somehow, to-day, the sense of his isolation had come
over him stronger than ever. His rank forbade any intimacy with his
miserable handful of men, who had already fallen into the monotony
of routine, while every friendly overture he made towards the
citizens of Flambeau was met with distrust and coldness, his stripes
of office seeming to erect a barrier and induce an ostracism
stronger and more complete than if they had been emblems of the
penitentiary. He began to resent it keenly. Even Doret and the
trader seemed to share the general feeling, hence the thought of the
long, lonesome winter approaching reduced the Lieutenant to a state
of black despondency, deepened by the knowledge that he now had an
open enemy in camp in the person of Runnion. Then, too, he had taken
a morbid dislike to the new man, Stark. So that, all in all, the
youth felt he had good reason to be in the dumps this afternoon.
There was nothing desirable in this place--everything undesirable--
except Necia. Her presence in Flambeau went far towards making his
humdrum existence bearable, but of late he had found himself
dwelling with growing seriousness on the unhappy circumstances of
her birth, and had almost made up his mind that it would be wise not
to see her any more. The tempting vision of her in the ball-dress
remained vividly in his imagination, causing him hours of sweet
torment. There was a sparkle, a fineness, a gentleness about her
that seemed to make the few women he had known well dull and
commonplace, and even his sister, whom till now he had held as the
perfection of all things feminine, suffered by comparison with this
maiden of the frontier.
He was steeped in this sweet, grave melancholy, when a knock came at
his door, and he arose to find Necia herself there, excited and
radiant. She came in without sign of embarrassment or slightest
consciousness of the possible impropriety of her act.
"The most wonderful thing has happened," she began at once, when she
found they were alone. "You'll faint for joy."
"What is it?"
"Nobody knows except father and Poleon and the two new men--"
"What is it?"
"I teased the news out of mother, and then came right here."
He laughed. "But what--may I ask--"
"Lee has made a strike--a wonderful strike--richer than the
"So? The old man's luck has changed. I'm right glad of that," said
"I came as fast as I could, because to-morrow everybody will know
about it, and it will be too late."
"Too late for what?"
"For us to get in on it, of course. Oh, but won't there be a
stampede! Why, all the people bound for Dawson on the next boat will
pile off here, then the news will go up-river and down-river, and
thousands of others will come pouring in from everywhere, and this
will be a city. Then we will stake our town lots and sell them for
ever so much money, and go around with our noses in the air, and
they will say to each other:
"'Who is that beautiful lady with the fine clothes?' and somebody
"'Why, that is Miss Necia Gale, the mine-owner.' And then you will
come along, and they will say:
"'That is Lieutenant Burrell, the millionaire, and--'"
"Hold on! hold on!" said the soldier, stopping her breathless
patter. "Tell me all about this."
"Well, 'No Creek' came in this morning to tell dad and Poleon. Then
the boat arrived with an old friend of Lee's, a Mr. Stark, so Lee
told him, too, and now they've all gone back to his creek to stake
more claims. They slipped away quietly to prevent suspicion, but I
knew there was something up from the way Poleon acted, so I made
Alluna tell me all about it. They haven't more than two hours start
of us, and we can overtake them easily."
"We! Why, we are not going?"
"Yes, we are," she insisted, impatiently--"you and I. That's why I
came, so you can get a mine for yourself and be a rich man, and so
you can help me get one. I know the way. Hurry up!"
"No," said he, in as firm a tone as he could command. "In the first
place, these men don't like me, and they don't want me to share in
"What do you care?"
"In the second place, I'm not a miner. I don't know how to proceed."
"Nevermind; I do. I've heard nothing but mining all my life."
"In the third place, I don't think I have the right, for I'm a
soldier. I'm working for Uncle Sam, and I don't believe I ought to
take up mining claims. I'm not sure there is anything to prevent it,
but neither am I sure it would be quite the square thing--are you?"
"Why, of course it's all right," said Necia, her eager face clouding
with the look of a hurt child. "If you don't do it, somebody else
But the Lieutenant shook his head. "Maybe I'm foolish, but I can't
see my way clear, much as I would like to."
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, brokenly. "I "do so want to go.
I want you to be rich, and I want to be rich myself. I want to be a
fine lady, and go outside and live like other girls. It's--the only
chance--I ever had--and I'll never have another. Oh, it means so
much to me; it means life, future, everything! Why, it means heaven
to a girl like me!" Her eyes were wet with the sudden dashing of her
hopes, and her chin quivered in a sweet, girlish way that made the
youth almost surrender on the instant. But she turned to the window
and gazed out over the river, continuing, after a moment's pause:
"Please don't--mind me--but you can't understand what a difference
this would make to me."
"We couldn't possibly overtake them if we tried," he said, as if
willing to treat with his conscience.
"No, but we could beat them in. I know where Lee is working, for I
went up last winter with Constantine and his dog-team, over a short
cut by way of Black Bear Creek. We took it coming back, and I could
find it again, but Lee doesn't know that route, so he will follow
the summer trail, which is fifteen miles farther. You see, his creek
makes a great bend to the southward, and heads back towards the
river, so by crossing the divide at the source of Black Bear you
drop into it a few miles above his cabin."
While she made this appeal Burrell fought with himself. There were
reasons why he longed to take this trip, more than he had longed for
anything since boyhood. These men of Flambeau had disregarded him,
and insisted on treating him with contemptuous distrust, despite his
repeated friendly overtures; wherefore he was hungry to beat them at
their own game, hungry to thrust himself ahead of them and compel
them to reckon with him as an equal, preferring a state of open
enmity, if necessary, to this condition of indifferent toleration.
Moreover, he knew that Necia was coveted by half of them, and if he
spent a night in the woods alone with her it would stir them up a
bit, he fancied. By Heaven! That would make them sit up and notice
him! But then--it might work a wrong upon her; and yet, would it? He
was not so sure that it would. She had come to him; she was old
enough to know her mind, and she was but a half-breed girl, after
all, who doubtless was not so simple as she seemed. Other men had no
such scruples in this or any other land, and yet the young man
hesitated until, encouraged by his silence, the girl came forward
and spoke again, impulsively:
"Don't be silly, Mr. Burrell. Come! Please come with me, won't you?"
She took him by the edges of his coat and drew him to her coaxingly.
It may have been partly the spirit of revolt that had been growing
in him all day, or it may have been wholly the sense of her there
beside him, warm and pleading, but something caused a great wave to
surge up through his veins, caused him to take her in his arms,
fiercely kissing her upturned face again and again, crying softly,
deep down in his throat:
"Yes! Yes! Yes! You little witch! I'll go anywhere with you!
Anywhere! Anywhere!" The impulse was blind and ungovernable, and it
grew as his lips met hers, while, strangely enough, she made no
resistance, yielding herself quietly, till he found her arms wound
softly about his neck and her face nestling close to his. Neither of
them knew how long they stood thus blended together, but soon he
grew conscious of the beating of her heart against his breast, as
she lay there like a little fluttering bird, and felt the throbbing
of his own heart swaying him. Her arms, her lips, and her whole body
clung to his in a sweet surrender, and yet there was nothing
immodest or unmaidenly about it, for his strength and ardor had
lifted her and drawn her to him as on the sweep of a great wave.
She drew her face free and hid it against his neck, breathing softly
and with shy timidity, as if the sound of the words she whispered
half frightened her.
"I love you. I love you, Meade."
It may happen that a man will spend months in friendly and charming
intimacy with a woman and never feel the violence or tenderness of
passion till there comes a psychic moment or a physical touch that
suddenly enwraps them like a flame. So it was with Burrell. The
sweet burden of this girl in his arms, the sense of her yielding
lips, the warmth of her caressing hands, momentarily unleashed a
leaping pack of mad desires, and it was she who finally drew herself
away to remind him smilingly that he was wasting time.
"My lips will be here when those mines are worked out," she said.
"No, no!" and she held him off as he came towards her again,
insisting that if they were going they must be off at once, and that
he could have no more kisses for the present. "But, of course, it is
a long trip, and we will have to sit down now and then to rest," she
added, shyly; at which he vowed that he was far from strong, and
could not walk but a little way at a time, yet even so, he declared,
the trail would be too short, even though it led to Canada.
"Then get your pack made up," she ordered, "for we must be well up
towards the head of Black Bear Creek before it grows dark enough to
Swiftly he made his preparations; a madness was upon him now, and he
took no pains to check or analyze the reasons for his decision. The
thought of her loveliness in his arms once more, far up among the
perfumed wooded heights, as the silent darkness stole upon them,
stirred in him such a fret to be gone that it was like a fever. He
slipped away to the barracks with instructions for his corporal, but
was back again in a moment. Finally he took up his burden of blanket
and food, then said to her:
"Well, are you ready, little one?"
"Yes, Meade," she answered, simply.
"And you are sure you won't regret it?"
"Not while you love me."
He kissed her again before they stepped out on the river trail that
wound along the bank. A hundred yards beyond they were hidden by the
groves of birch and fir.
Two hours later they paused where the foaming waters of Black Bear
Creek rioted down across a gravelled bar and into the silent,
sweeping river, standing at the entrance to a wooded, grass-grown
valley, with rolling hills and domes displayed at its head, while
back of them lay the town, six miles away, its low, squat buildings
tiny and toy like, but distinctly silhouetted against the evening
"Is it not time to rest?" said the soldier, laughingly, yet with a
look of yearning in his misty eyes as he took the girlish figure in
his arms. But she only smiled up at him and, releasing his hold, led
the way into the forest.
He turned for a moment and shook his fist at the village and those
in it, laughing loudly as if from the feel of the blood that leaped
within him. Then he joined his companion, and, hand-in-hand, they
left the broad reaches of the greater stream behind them and plunged
into the untrodden valley.
A STORY IS BEGUN
"It's fonny t'ing how two brown eye
Was changin' everything--
De cloud she's no more on de sky,
An' winter's jus' lak' spring
Dey mak' my pack so very light,
De trail, she's not so long--
I'd walk it forty mile to-night
For hear her sing wan song
But now I'm busy mak' fortune
For marry on dat girl,
An' if she's tole me yass, dat's soon,
Bonheur! I'm own de worl'!"
Poleon Doret sang gayly as the trader came towards him through the
open grove of birch, for he was happy this afternoon, and, being
much of a dreamer, this fresh enterprise awoke in him a boyish
pleasure. Then Necia had teased him as he came away, and begged him,
as was always her custom, to take her with him, no matter whence or
whither, so long as there was adventure afoot. Well, it would not be
long now before he could say yes, and he would take her on a journey
far longer than either of them had yet taken--a journey that would
never end. Had not the gods looked with favor, at last, upon his
long novitiate, and been pleased with the faith he had kept? Had not
this discovery of "No Creek" Lee's been providentially arranged for
his own especial benefit? A fool could see that this was a mark of
celestial approbation, and none but a fool would question the wisdom
of the gods. Had he not watched the girl grow from a slip of
thirteen and spoken never a word of his love? Had he not served and
guarded her with all the gentle chivalry of an olden knight? Of
course! And here was his reward, a gift of wealth to crown his
service, all for her. Now that she was a woman, and had seen him
tried, and knew he was a man, he would bring his burden of
prosperity and lay it at her feet, saying:
"Here is another offering, my Necia, and with it go the laughter and
the music and the heart of Poleon Doret."
Sacre! It would not take her long to wake up after that! The world
was very bright indeed this afternoon, and he burst again into song
in company with the voices of the forest people:
"Chante, rossignol, chante!
Toi qui d le coeur gai;
Tu as le coeur a rire
Mai j' l' ai-t-a pleurer,
Il y a longtemps que j' t'aime
Jamais je ne t'oublierai."
"Sing, little bird, oh, sing away!
You with the voice so light and gay!
Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,
Mine is a hearts that's full of tears.
Long have I loved, I love her yet;
Leave her I can, but not forget."]
"Whew!" said Gale, slipping out of his pack-straps, "the skeeters is
"You bet your gum boots," said Poleon. "Dey're mos' so t'ick as de
summer dey kill Johnnie Platt on de Porcupine." Both men wore
gauntleted gloves of caribou-skin and head harnesses of mosquito-
netting stretched over globelike frames of thin steel bands, which
they slipped on over their hats after the manner of divers' helmets,
for without protection of some kind the insects would have made
travel impossible once the Yukon breezes were left behind or once
the trail dipped from the high divides where there was no moss.
"Let's see. It was you that found him, wasn't it?" said Gale.
"Sure t'ing! I'm comin' down for grub in my canoe, w'en I see dis
feller on de bank, walkin' lak' he's in beeg horry. 'Ba Gar!' I say,
'dere's man goin' so fast he'll meet hese'f comin' home!' Den he
turn roun' an' go tearin' back, wavin' hees arms lak' he's callin'
me, till he fall down. Wen I paddle close up, I don' know 'im no
more dan stranger, an' me an' Johnnie Platt is trap togeder wan
winter. Wat you t'ink of dat?"
"I saw a fellow killed that way at Holy Cross," interpolated the
"'Hello,' I say, 'w'at's de matter?' An' den I see somet'ing 'bout
'im dat look familiar. Hees face she's all swell' up an' bleedin'
lak' raw meat." The Frenchman curled his upper lip back from his
teeth and shook his head at the remembrance.
"Jesu, dat's 'orrible sight! Dem fly is drive 'im crazee. Hees nose
an' ears is look lak' holes in beeg red sponge, an' hees eye are
close up tight."
"He died before you got him in, didn't he?"
"Yes. He was good man, too. Some tam' if I ever have bad enemy w'at
I like to see catch hell I'm goin' turn 'im loose 'mong dose
"Holy Mackinaw!" ejaculated Gale. "Who'd ever think of that? Why,
that's worse than dropping water on his skull till he goes crazy,
like them Chinamen do."
The Frenchman nodded. "It's de wors' t'ing I know. Dat's w'y I lak'
to geeve it to my enemy."
"Imagine fightin' the little devils till they stung you crazy and
pizened your eyes shut!"
Gale fell to considering this, while Poleon filled his pipe, and,
raising his veil, undertook to smoke. The pests proved too numerous,
however, and forced him to give it up.
"Bagosh! Dey're hongry!"
"It will be all right when we get out of the woods," said the elder
"I guess you been purty glad for havin' Necia home again, eh?"
ventured the other after a while, unable to avoid any longer the
subject uppermost in his mind.
"Yes, I'm glad she's through with her schooling."
"She's gettin' purty beeg gal now."
"By-an'-by she's goin' marry on some feller--w'at?"
"I suppose so. She ain't the kind to stay single."
"Ha! Dat's right, too. Mebbe you don' care if she does get marry,
"Not if she gets a man that will treat her right."
"Wal! Wal! Dere's no trouble 'bout dat," exclaimed Doret, fervently.
"No man w'at's livin' could treat her bad. She's too good an' too
purty for have bad husban'."
"She is, is she?" Gale turned on him with a strange glare in his
eyes. "Them's the kind that get the he-devils. There's something
about a good girl that attracts a bad man, particularly if she's
pretty; and it goes double, too--the good men get the hellions. A
fellow can't get so tough but what he can catch a good woman, and a
decent man usually draws a critter that looks like a sled and acts
like a timber wolf."
"Necia wouldn't marry on no bad man," said Doret, positively.
"No?" said Gale. "Let me tell you what I saw with my own eyes. I
knew a girl once that was just as good and pure as Necia, and just
as pretty, too--yes, and a thousand times prettier."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Doret, sceptically.
"She was an Eastern girl, and she come West where men were different
to what she'd been used to. Those were early days, and it was a new
country, where a person didn't know much about his neighbor's past
and cared less; and, although there were a heap of girls
thereabouts, they were the kind you'll always find in such
communities, while this one was plumb different. Man! Man! But she
was different. She was a WOMAN! Two fellows fell in love with her.
One of them lived in the same camp as her, and he was a good man,
leastways everybody said he was, but he wasn't wise to all the fancy
tricks that pretty women hanker after; and, it being his first
affair, he was right down buffaloed at the very thought of her, so
he just hung around and slept late so that he might dream about her
and feel like he was her equal or that she loved back at him. You
know! The other fellow came from a neighboring town, and he wasn't
the same kind, for he'd knocked around more, and was a better liar,
but he wasn't right. No, sir! He was sure a wrong guy, as it came
out, but he was handsomer and younger, and the very purity and
innocence of the girl drew him, I reckon, being a change from what
he had ever mixed up with."
"W'y don' dis good man tak' a shot at him?" asked Poleon, hotly.
"First, he didn't realize what was going on, being too tied up with
dreaming, I reckon; and, second, neither man didn't know the other
by sight, living as they did in different parts; third, he was an
ordinary sort of fellow, and hadn't ever had any trouble, man to
man, at that time. Anyhow, the girl up and took the bad one."
"Wat does de good man do, eh?"
"Well, he was all tore up about it, but he went away like a sick
quail hides out."
"Dat's too bad."
"He heard about them now and then, and what he heard tore him up
worse than the other had, for the girl's husband couldn't wear the
harness long, and, having taken away what good there was in her, he
made up in deviltry for the time he had lost. She stood it pretty
well, and never whimpered, even when her eyes were open and she saw
what a prize-package she had drawn. The fact that she was game
enough to stand for him and yet keep herself clean without complaint
made the man worse. He tried to break her spirit in a thousand ways,
tried to make her the same as he was, tried to make her a bad woman,
like the others he had known. It appeared like the one pleasure he
got was to torture her."
"W'y don' she quit 'im?" said Doret. "Dat ain' wrong for quit a man
"She couldn't quit on account of the kid. They had a youngster.
Then, too, she had ideas of her own; so she stood it for three
years, living worse than a dog, till she saw it wasn't any use--till
she saw that he would make a bad woman of her as sure as he would
make one of the kid--till he got rough--"
"No! No! You don' mean dat? No man don' hurt no woman," interjected
"By God! That's just what I mean," the trader answered, while his
face had grown so gray as to match his brows. "He beat her."
Poleon broke into French words that accorded well with the trader's
"The woman sent for the other man after that, for he had been living
lonely, loving her all the time, and you'd better believe he went."
"Ha! Dat's fine! Dat's dam' fine!" said the other. "I'll bet dere's
hell to pay den--w'at?"
"Yes, there was a kind of reckoning." The old man lapsed into moody
silence, the younger one waiting eagerly for him to continue, but
there came the sound of voices down the trail, and they looked up.
"Here comes Lee," said Gale.
"Wat happen' den? I'm got great interes' 'bout dis woman," insisted
"It's a long story, and I just told you this much to show what I
said was true about a good girl and a bad man, and to show why I
want Necia to get a good one. The sooner it happens the better it
will suit me."
Neither man had ever spoken thus openly to the other about Necia
before, and although their language was indirect, each knew the
other's thought. But there was no time for further talk now, for the
others were close upon them. As they came into view, Gale exclaimed:
"Well, if he hasn't brought Runnion along!"
"Humph!" grunted Doret. "I don' t'ink much of dat feller. Wat's de
matter wit' 'No Creek,' anyhow?"
The three new arrivals dropped down upon the moss to rest, for the
up-trail was heavy and the air sultry inside the forest. Lee was the
first to speak.
"Did you get away without bein' seen?" he asked.
"Sure," answered Gale. "Poleon has been here two hours."
"That's good; I don't want nobody taggin' along."
"We came right through the town boldly," announced Stark; "but if
they had seen you two they would have suspected something, sure."
Runnion volunteered nothing except oaths at the mosquitoes and at
his pack-straps, which were new and cut him already. As no
explanation of his presence was offered, neither the trader nor
Doret made any comment then, but it came out later, when the old
miner dropped far enough behind the others to render conversation
"You decided to take in another one, eh?" Gale asked Lee.
"It wasn't exactly my doin's," replied the miner. "Stark asked me to
let Runnion come 'long, bein' as he had grub-staked him, and he
seemed so set on it that I ackeressed. You see, it's the first
chance I ever had to pay him back for a favor he done me in the
Cassiar country. There's plenty of land to go around."
It was Lee's affair, thought the trader, and he might tell whom he
liked, so he said no more, but fell to studying the back of the man
next in front, who happened to be Stark, observing every move and
trick of him, and, during the frequent pauses, making a point of
listening and watching him guardedly.
All through the afternoon the five men wound up the valley,
following one another's footsteps, emerging from sombre thickets of
fir to flounder across wide pastures of "nigger-heads," that wobbled
and wriggled and bowed beneath their feet, until at cost of much
effort and profanity they gained the firmer footing of the forest.
Occasionally they came upon the stream, and found easier going along
its gravel bars, till a bend threw them again into the meadows and
mesas on either hand. Their course led them far up the big valley to
another stream that entered from the right, bearing backward in a
great bow towards the Yukon, and always there were dense clouds of
mosquitoes above their heads. At one point Stark, hot and irritable,
"There must be a shorter cut than this, Lee?"
"I reckon there is," the miner replied, "but I've always had a pack
to carry, so I chose the level ground ruther than climb the
"S'pose dose people at camp hear 'bout dis strike an' beat us in?"
"It wouldn't be easy going for them after they got there," Stark
said, sourly. "I, for one, wouldn't stand for it."
"Nor I," agreed Runnion.
"I don't see how you'd help yourself," the trader remarked. "One
man's got as good a right as another."
"I guess I'd help myself, all right," Stark laughed, significantly,
as did Runnion, who added:
"Lee is entitled to put in anybody he wants on his own discovery,
and if anybody tries to get ahead of us there's liable to be
"I reckon if I don't know no short-cut, nobody else does," Lee
remarked, whereupon Doret spoke up reassuringly:
"Dere's no use gettin' scare' lak' dat, biccause nobody knows w'ere
Lee's creek she's locate' but John an' me, an' dere's nobody w'at
knows he mak' de strike but us four."
"That's right," said Gale; "the only other way across is by Black
Bear Creek, and there ain't a half-dozen men ever been up to the
head of that stream, much less over the divide, so I don't allow
there's any use to fret ourselves."
They went on their way, travelling leisurely until late evening,
when they camped at the mouth of the valley up which the miner's
cabin lay. They chose a long gravel bar, that curved like a
scimitar, and made down upon its outer tip where the breeze tended
to thin the plague of insects. They were all old-stagers in the ways
of camplife, so there was no lost motion or bickering as to their
respective duties. Their preparations were simple. First they built
a circle of smudges out of wet driftwood, and inside this Lee
kindled a camp-fire of dry sticks, upon which he cooked, protected
by the smoke of the others, while Gale went back to the edge of the
forest and felled a dozen small firs, the branches of which he
clipped. These Poleon and Runnion bore down to the end of the spit
for bedding, while Stark chopped a pile of dry wood for the night.
Gale noted that the new man swung an axe with the free dexterity of
one to whom its feel was familiar, also that he never made a slip
nor dulled it on the gravel of the bar, displaying an all-round
completeness and a knack of doing things efficiently that won
reluctant approval from the trader despite the unreasoning dislike
he had taken to him.
Lee was ready for them by the time they had finished their tasks,
and, fanned by the breeze that sucked up the stream and lulled by
the waters, they ate their scanty supper. Their one-eyed guide had
lived so long among mosquitoes and had become so inoculated with
their poison that he was in a measure impervious to their sting,
hence the insects gathered on his wrinkled, hair-grown hide only to
give up in melancholy disgust and fly to other and fuller-blooded
feeding-grounds. Camp had been made early, at Gale's suggestion,
instead of pushing on a few miles farther, as Lee had intended; and
now, when the cool evening fell and the draught quickened, it became
possible to lay off gloves and head-gear; so they sat about the
fire, talking, smoking, and rubbing their tired feet.
It is at such hours and in the smoke of such fires that men hark
backward and bring forth the sacred, time-worn memories they have
treasured, to turn them over fondly by the glow of dying embers. It
is at such times that men's garrulity asserts itself, for the
barriers of caution are let down, as are the gates of remembrance,
and it is then that friends and enemies are made, for there are
those who cannot listen and others who cannot understand.
"No Creek" Lee, the one-eyed miner who had made this lucky strike,
told in simple words of his long and solitary quest, when ill-luck
had risen with him at the dawn and misfortune had stalked beside him
as he drifted and drank from camp to camp, while the gloom of a
settled pessimism soured him, and men began to shun him because of
the evil that seemed to follow in his steps.
"I've been rainbow-chasin' forty years," he said, "and never caught
nothin' but cramps and epidemics and inflammations. I'm the only
miner in Alaska that never made a discovery of gold and never had a
creek named after him."
"Is that how you got your name?" asked Runnion.
"It is. I never was no good to myself nor nobody else. I just
occupied space. I've been the vermifuge appendix of the body
politic; yes, worse'n that--I've been an appendix with a seed in it.
I made myself sore, and everybody around me, but I'm at the bat now,
and don't you never let that fact escape you."
"How are you going to spend your money?" inquired Stark.
"I'm goin' to eat it up! I've fed on dried and desiccated and other
disastrous and dissatisfactory diets till I'm all shrivelled up
inside like a dead puff-ball; now it's me for the big feed and the
long drink. I'm goin' to 'Frisco and get full of wasteful and
exorbitant grub, of one kind and another, like tomatters and French
Poleon Doret laughed with the others; he was bubbling with the
spirits of a boy whose life is clean, for whom there are no eyes in
the black dark that lies beyond a camp-fire, and for whom there are
no unforgettable faces in its smoke. When Lee fell silent the trader
and Stark resumed their talk, which was mainly of California, it
seemed to the Frenchman, who also noted that it was his friend who
subtly shaped the topics. In time their stories revived his memory
of the conversation in the birch grove that morning, and when there
occurred a lapse in the talk he said:
"Say, John, w'at happen' to dat gal we was talkin' 'bout dis
Gale shook his head and turned again to his companion, but the young
man's mind was bent on its quest, and he continued:
"Dat was strange tale, for sure."
"What was it?" questioned Runnion.
"John was tell 'bout a feller he knowed w'at marry a good gal jus'
to mak' her bad lak' hese'f."
"How's that?" inquired Stark, turning curiously upon the old man;
but Gale knocked the ashes from his pipe and replied:
"Oh, it's a long story--happened when I was in Washington State."
Poleon was about to correct him--it was California, he had said--
when Gale arose, remarking sleepily that it was time to turn in if
they wished to get any rest before the mosquitoes got bad again,
then sauntered away from the fire and spread his blanket. The rest
followed and made down their beds; then, drawing on gloves and hat-
nets, and rolling themselves up in their coverings, fell to snoring.
All except the trader, who lay for hours on his back staring up at
the stars, as if trying to solve some riddle that baffled him.
They awoke early, and in half an hour had eaten, remade their packs,
and were ready to resume their march. As they were about to start,
"I reckon we'd better settle right now who has the choice of
locations when we get up yonder. I've been on stampedes where it
saved a heap of hard feeling."
"I'm agreeable," said Stark. "Then there won't be any
The others, being likewise old at the game, acquiesced. They knew
that in such cases grave trouble has often occurred when two men
have cast eyes on the same claim, and have felt the miner's
causeless "hunch" that gold lies here or there, or that the ground
one of them covets is wanted by the other.
"I'll hold the straws," said Lee, "and every feller will have an
even break." Turning his back on the others, he cut four splinters
of varying lengths, and, arranging them so that the ends peeped
evenly from his big hand, he held them out.
"The longest one has the first choice, and so on," he said,
presenting them to Gale, who promptly drew the longest of the four.
He turned to Doret, but the Frenchman waved him courteously to
Stark, and, when both he and Runnion had made their choice, Lee
handed him the remaining one, which was next in length to that of
the trader. Stark and Runnion qualified in the order they drew, the
latter cursing his evil luck.
"Never min', ole man," laughed Poleon, "de las' shot she's de sure
They took up their burdens again, and filed towards the narrow
valley that stretched away into the hazy distances.
THE BURRELL CODE
Not until his dying day will Burrell lose the memory of that march
with Necia through the untrodden valley, and yet its incidents were
never clear-cut nor distinct when he looked back upon them, but
blended into one dreamlike procession, as if he wandered through
some calenture where every image was delightfully distorted and each
act deliriously unreal, yet all the sweeter from its fleeting
unreality. They talked and laughed and sang with a rush of spirits
as untamed as the waters in the course they followed. They wandered,
hand-in-hand, into a land of illusions, where there was nothing real
but love and nothing tangible but joy. The touch of their lips had
waked that delight which comes but once in a lifetime and then to
but few; it was like the moon-madness of the tropics or the dementia
of the forest folk in spring. A gentle frenzy possessed them,
rendering them insensible to fatigue and causing them to hurry the
more breathlessly that they might sooner rest and sit beside each
other. At times they fell into sweet silences where the waters
laughed with them and the trees whispered their secret, bowing and
nodding in joyous surprise at this invasion; or, again, the breezes
romped with them, withdrawing now and then to rush out and greet
them at the bends in boisterous pleasure.
They held to the bed of the stream, for its volume was low and
enabled them to ford it from bar to bar. Necia had been raised in
the open, with the wild places for her playground, and her muscles
were like those of a boy, hence the two swung merrily onward, as if
in playful contest, while the youth had never occasion to wait for
her or to moderate his gait. Indeed, her footing was more sure than
his, as he found when she ventured out unhesitatingly upon felled
logs that lay across swift, brawling depths. The wilderness had no
mystery for her, and no terrors, so she was ever at his side, or in
advance, while her eyes, schooled in the tints of the forest, and
more active than those of a bird, saw every moving thing, from the
flash of a camp-robber's wing through some hidden glade to the
inquisitive nodding of a fool hen where it perched high up against
the bole of a spruce. They surprised a marten fishing in a drift-
wood dam, but she would not let the soldier shoot, and made him pass
it by, where it sat amazed till it realized that these were lovers
and resumed its fishing. Gradually the stream diminished, and its
bowldered bed became more difficult to traverse, until, assuming the
airs of a leader, the girl commanded him to lay off his pack, at
which he pretended to obey mutinously, though thrilling with the
keenest delight at his own submission.
"What are you going to do?" he inquired.
"Mind your own business, sir," she commanded, sternly.
From her belt she drew a little hunting-knife, with which she cut
and trimmed a slender birch the thickness of his thumb, whereupon he
pretended great fright, and said:
"Please! please! What have I done?"
"A great deal! You are a most bold and stubborn creature."
"All pack animals are stubborn," he declared. "It's the only
privilege they have."
"You are much too presumptuous, also, as I discovered in your
"My only presumption is in loving you."
"That was not presumption," she smiled; "it was pre-emption. You
must be punished."
"I shall run away," he threatened. "I shall gallop right off through
the woods and--begin to eat grass. I am very wild."
As she talked she drew from her pocket a spool of line, and took a
fly-hook from her hat; then, in a trice, she had rigged a fishing-
rod, and, creeping out upon a ledge, she whipped the pool below of a
half-dozen rainbow trout, which she thrust into his coat while they
were still wriggling. Then she as quickly put up her gear, and they
resumed their journey, climbing more steeply now, until, when the
sun was low, they quit the stream-bed and made through the forest
towards the shoulder of an untimbered ridge that ran down into the
valley. And there, high up on the edge of the spruce, they selected
a mossy shelf and pitched their camp.
They had become so intimate by now as to fall into a whimsical mode
of speech, and Necia reverted to a childish habit in her talk that
brought many a smile to the youth's face. It had been her fancy as a
little girl to speak in adjectives, ignoring many of her nouns, and
its quaintness had so amused her father that on rare occasions, when
the humor was on him, he also took it up. She now addressed herself
to Burrell in the same manner.
"I think we are very smarts to come so far," she said.
"You travel like a deer," he declared, admiringly. "Why, you have
tired me down." Removing his pack, he stretched his arms and shook
out the ache in his shoulders.
"Which way does our course lie now, Pathfinder?"
"Right up the side of this big, and then along the ridge. In two
hours we come to a gully running so"--she indicated an imaginary
direction--"which we go down till it joins another stream so, and
right there we'll find old 'No Creek's' cabin, so! Won't they be
surprised to see us! I think we're very cunning to beat them in,
don't you?" She laughed a glad little bubbling laugh, and he cried:
"Oh, girl! How wonderful you are!"
"It's getting very dark and fierce," she chided, "and all the
housework must be done."
So he built a fire, then fetched a bucket of water from a rill that
trickled down among the rocks near by. He made as if to prepare
their meal, but she would have none of it.
"Bigs should never cook," she declared. "That work belongs to
littles," then forced him to vacate her domain and turn himself to
the manlier duties of chopping wood and boughs.
First, however, she showed him how to place two green foot-logs upon
which the teapot and the frying-pan would sit without upsetting, and
how long she wished the sticks of cooking-wood. Then she banished
him, as it were, and he built a wickiup of spruce tops, under the
shelter of which he piled thick, fragrant billows of "Yukon
Once while he was busy at his task he paused to revel in the colors
that lay against hill and valley, and to drink in the splendid
isolation of it all. Below lay the bed of Black Bear Creek, silent
and sombre in the creeping twilight; beyond, away beyond, across the
westward brim of the Yukon basin, the peaks were blue and ivory and
gold in the last rays of the sun; while the open slopes behind and
all about wore a carpet of fragrant short-lived flowers, nodding as
if towards sleep, and over all was the hush of the lonely hills. A
gust blew a whiff of the camp smoke towards him, and he turned back
to watch Necia kneeling beside the fire like some graceful virgin at
her altar rites, while the peculiar acrid out-door odor of burning
spruce was like an incense in his nostrils.
He filled his chest deeply and leaned on his axe, for he found
himself shaking as if under the spell of some great expectancy.
"Your supper is getting cold," she called to him.
He took a seat beside her on a pile of boughs where the smoke was
least troublesome; he had chosen a spot that was sheltered by a
lichen-covered ledge, and this low wall behind, with the wickiup
joining it, formed an enclosure that lent them a certain air of
privacy. They ate ravenously, and drank deep cupfuls of the
unflavored tea. By the time they were finished the night had fallen
and the air was just cool enough to make the fire agreeable. Burrell
heaped on more wood and stretched out beside her.
"This day has been so wonderful," said the girl, "that I shall never
go to sleep. I can't bear to end it."
"But you must be weary, little maid," he said, gently; "I am."
"Wait, let me see." She stretched her limbs and moved slightly to
try her muscles. "Yes, I am a very tired, but not the kind of tired
that makes you want to go to bed. I want to talk, talk, talk, and
not about ourselves either, but about sensibles. Tell me about your
He had expected her to ask this, for the subject seemed to have an
inexhaustible charm for her. She would sit rapt and motionless as
long as he cared to talk of his sister, in her wide, meditative eyes
the shadow of a great unvoiced longing. It always seemed to make her
grave and thoughtful, he had noticed, so he had tried lately to
avoid the topic, and to-night in particular he wanted to do so, for
this was no time for melancholy. He had not even allowed himself to
think, as yet, and there were reasons why he did not wish her to do
so; thought and realization and a readjustment of their relations
would come after to-night, but this was the hour of illusion, and it
must not be broken; therefore he began to tell her of other people
and of his youth, making his tales as fanciful as possible, choosing
deliberately to foster the merry humor in which they had been all
day. He told her of his father, the crotchety old soldier, whose
absurd sense of duty and whose elaborate Southern courtesy had
become a byword in the South. He told her household tales that were
prized like pieces of the Burrell plate, beautiful heirlooms of
sentiment that mark the honor of high-blooded houses; following
which there was much to recount of the Meades, from the admiral who
fought as a boy in the Bay of Tripoli down to the cousin who was at
Annapolis; the while his listener hung upon his words hungrily, her
mind so quick in pursuit of his that it spurred him unconsciously,
her great, dark eyes half closed in silent laughter or wide with
wonder, and in them always the warmth of the leaping firelight
blended with the trust of a new-born virginal love.
Without realizing it, the young man drifted further than he had
intended, and further than he had ever allowed himself to go before,
for in him was a clean and honest pride of birth, like his mother's
glory in her forebears, the expression of which he had learned to
repress, inasmuch as it was a Dixie-land conceit and had been
misunderstood when he went North to the Academy. In some this would
have seemed bigoted and feminine, this immoderate admiration for his
own blood, this exaggerated appreciation of his family honor, but in
this Southern youth it was merely the unconscious commendation of an
upright manliness for an upright code. When he had finished, the
girl remarked, with honest approval:
"What a fine you are. Those people of yours have all been good men
and women, haven't they?"
"Most of them," he admitted, "and I think the reason is that we've
been soldiers. The army discipline is good for a man. It narrows a
fellow, I suppose, but it keeps him straight."
Then he began to laugh silently.
"What is it?" she said, curiously.
"Oh, nothing! I was just wondering what my strait-laced ancestors
would say if they could see me now."
"What do you mean?" the girl asked, in open-eyed wonderment.
"I don't care," he went on, unheeding her question. "They did worse
things in their time, from what I hear." He leaned forward to draw
her to him.
"Worse things? But we are doing nothing bad," said Necia, holding
him off. "There's no wrong in loving."
"Of course not," he assured her.
"I am proud of it," she declared. "It is the finest thing, the
greatest thing that has ever come into my life. Why, I simply can't
hold it; I want to sing it to the stars and cry it out to the whole
world. Don't you?"
"I hardly think we'd better advertise," he said, dryly.
"Well, I shouldn't care to publish the tale of this excursion of
ours, would you?"
"I don't see any reason against it. I have often taken trips with
Poleon, and been gone with him for days and days at a time."
"But you were not a woman then," he said, softly.
"No, not until to-day, that's true. Dear, dear! How I did grow all
of a sudden! And yet I'm just the same as I was yesterday, and I'll
always be the same, just a wild little. Please don't ever let me be
a big tame. I don't want to be commonplace and ordinary. I want to
be natural--and good."
"You couldn't be like other women," he declared, and there was more
tenderness than hunger in his tone now, as she looked up at him
trustingly from the shelter of his arms. "It would spoil you to grow
"It is so good to be alive and to love you like this!" she
continued, dreamily, staring into the fire. "I seem to have come out
of a gloomy house into the glory of a warm spring day, for my eyes
are blinded and I can't see half the beautifuls I want to, there are
so many about me."
"Those are my arms," interjected the soldier, lightly, in an effort
to ward off her growing seriousness.
"I've never been afraid of anything, and yet I feel so safe inside
them. Isn't it queer?"
The young man became conscious of a vague discomfort, and realized
dimly that for hours now he had been smothering with words and
caresses a something that had striven with him to be heard, a
something that instead of dying grew stronger the more utterly this
innocent maid yielded to him. It was as if he had ridden impulse
with rough spurs in a fierce desire to distance certain voices, and
in the first mad gallop had lost them, but now far back heard them
calling again more strongly every moment. A man's honor, if old, may
travel feebly, but its pursuit is persistent. It was the talk about
his people that had raised this damned uneasiness and indecision, he
thought. Why had he ever started it?
"The marvellous part of it all," continued the girl, "is that it
will never end. I know I shall love you always. Do you suppose I am
really different from other girls?"
"Everything is different to-night--the whole world," he declared,
impatiently. "I thought I knew myself, but suddenly I seem strange
in my own eyes."
"I've had a big handicap," she said, "but you must help me to
overcome it. I want to be like your sister."
He rose and piled more wood upon the fire. What possessed the girl?
It was as if she knew each cunning joint of his armor, as if she had
realized her peril and had set about the awakening of his
conscience, deliberately and with a cautious wisdom beyond her
years. Well, she had done it--and he swore to himself. Then he
melted at the sight of her, crouched there against the shadows,
following his every movement with her soul in her eyes, the
tenderest trace of a smile upon her lips. He vowed he was a
reprobate to wrong her so; it was her white soul and her woman's
love that spoke.
When she beheld him gazing at her, she tilted her head sidewise
daintily, like a little bird.
"Oh, my! What a fierce you are all at once!"
Her smile flashed up as if illumined by the leaping blaze, and he
crossed quickly, kneeling beside her.
"Dear, wonderful girl," he said, "it is going to be my heart's work
to see that you never change and that you remain just what you are.
You can't understand what this means to me, for I, too, was blinded,
but the darkness of the night has restored my vision. Now you must
go to sleep; the hours are short and we must be going early."
He piled up a great, sweet-scented couch of springy boughs, and
fashioned her a pillow out of a bundle of smaller ones, around which
he wrapped his khaki coat; then he removed her high-laced boots,
and, taking her tiny feet, one in the palm of either hand, bowed his
head over them and kissed them with a sense of her gracious purity
and his own unworthiness. He spread one of the big gray blankets
over her, and tucked her in, while she sighed in delightful languor,
looking up at him all the time.
"I'll sit here beside you for a while," he said. "I want to smoke a
She stole a slim, brown hand out from beneath the cover and snuggled
it in his, and he leaned forward, closing her lids down with his
lips. Her utter weariness was manifest, for she fell asleep almost
instantly, her fingers twined about his in a childlike grip.
At times a great desire to feel her in his arms, to have her on his
breast, surged over him, for he had lived long apart from women, and
the solitude of the night seemed to mock him. He was a strong man,
and in his veins ran the blood of wayward forebears ho were wont to
possess that which they conquered in the lists of love, mingled with
which was the blood of spirited Southern women who had on occasion
loved not wisely, according to Kentucky rumor, but only too well.
Nevertheless, they were honest men and women, if over-sentimental,
and had transmitted to him a heritage of chivalry and a high sense
of honor and courage. Strange to say, this little, simple half-breed
girl had revived this honor and courage, even when he tried most
stubbornly to smother it. If only her love was like her blood, he
might have had no scruples; or if her blood were as pure as her
love--even then it would be easier; but, as it was, he must give her
up to-night, and for all time. Her love had placed a barrier between
them greater and more insurmountable than her blood.
He sat for a long time with the dwindling firelight playing about
him, his manhood and his desires locked in a grim struggle,
wondering at the hold this forest elf had gained upon him, wondering
how it was that she had stolen into his heart and head and taken
such utter possession of him. It would be no easy task to shut her
out of his mind and put her away from him. And she...?
He gently withdrew his fingers from her grasp, and, seeking the
other side of the wickiup, covered himself over without disturbing
her, and fell asleep.
It was early dawn when Necia crept to him.
"I dreamed you had gone away," she said, shivering violently and
drawing close. "Oh, it was a terrible awakening--"
"I was too tired to dream," he said.
"So I had to come and see if you were really here."
He quickly rekindled the fire, and they made a hasty breakfast.
Before the warmth of the rising sun had penetrated the cold air they
had climbed the ridge and obtained a wondrous view of broken
country, the hills alight with the morning rays, the valleys misty
and mystical. They made good progress on the summit, which was paved
with barren rock and sparsely carpeted with short moss, while there
was never a hint of insects to annoy them. Merrily they swung along,
buoyed up by an unnatural exaltation; yet now and then, as they drew
near their destination, the young man had a chilling premonition of
evil to come, and wondered if he had not been foolhardy to undertake
this rash enterprise.
"I wish Stark was not one of Lee's party," he said once. "He may
misunderstand our being together this way."
"But when he learns that we love each other, that will explain
"I'm not so sure. He doesn't know you as Lee and Poleon and your
father do. I think we had better say nothing at all about--you and
me--to any one."
"But why?" questioned the girl, stopping abruptly. "They will know
it, anyhow, when they see us. I can't conceal it."
"I am wiser in this than you are," the soldier insisted, "and we
mustn't act like lovers; trust this to me."
"Oh, I won't play that!" cried Necia, petulantly. "If all this is
going to end when we get to Lee's cabin, we'll stay right here
He was not sure of all the logic he advanced in convincing her, but
she yielded finally, saying:
"Well, I suppose you know best, and, anyhow, littles should always
They clung to the divide for several hours, then descended into the
bed of a stream, which they followed until it joined a larger one a
couple of miles below, and there, sheltered in a grove of whispering
firs, they found Lee's cabin nestling in a narrow, forked valley.
Evidently the miner had selected a point on the main creek just
below the confluence of the feeders as a place in which to prospect,
and Burrell fell to wondering which one of these smaller streams
supplied the run of gold.
"There's no one here," said Necia, gleefully. "We've beat them in!
We've beat them in!"
They had been walking rapidly since dawn, and, although Burrell's
watch showed two o'clock, she refused to halt for lunch, declaring
that the others might arrive at any moment; so down they went to the
lower end of "No Creek" Lee's location, where Burrell blazed a
smooth spot on the down-stream side of a tree and wrote thereon at
Necia's dictation. When he had finished, she signed her name, and he
witnessed it, then paced off four hundred and forty steps, where he
squared a spruce-tree, which she marked: "Lower centre end stake of
No. I below discovery. Necia Gale, locator." She was vastly excited
and immensely elated at her good-fortune in acquiring the claim next
to Lee's, and chattered like a magpie, filling the glades with
resounding echoes and dancing about in the bright sunlight that
filtered through the branches.
"Now you stake the one below mine," she said. "It's just as good,
and maybe better--nobody can tell." But he shook his head.
"I'm not going to stake anything," said he.
"You must!" she cried, quickly, the sparkle dying from her eyes.
"You said you would, or I never would have brought you."
"I merely said I would come with you," he corrected. "I did not
promise to take up a claim, for I don't think I ought to do so. If I
were a civilian, it would be different, but this is government land,
and I am a part of the government, as it were. Then, too, in
addition to the question of my right to do it, there would be the
certainty of making enemies of your people, old "No Creek" and the
rest, and I can't afford that now. With you it is different, for you
are entitled to this ground. After Lee's friends have shared in his
discovery I may change my mind."
All arguments and pleading were in vain; he remained obdurate and
insisted on her locating two other claims for herself, one on each
of the smaller creeks where they came together above the house.
"But nobody ever stakes more than one claim on a gulch," objected
the girl. "It's a custom of the miners."
"Then we'll call each one of these branches a different and separate
creek," he said. "The gold was carried down one of those smaller
streams, and we won't take any chances on which one it was. When a
fellow plays a big game he should play to win, and, as this means
such a great deal to you, we won't overlook any bets."
Necia consented, and when her three claims had been properly located
the couple returned to the cabin to get lunch and to await with some
foreboding the coming of the others and what of good or ill it might
THE MAGIC OF BEN STARK
Before the party came in sight, the sound of their voices reached
the cabin, and Burrell rose nervously and sauntered to the door.
Uncertain how this affair might terminate, he chose to get first
look at his enemies, if they should prove to be such, realizing the
advantage that goes to a man who stands squarely on both feet.
The trail came through the brush at the rear, and he heard Lee say:
"This here's the place, boys--the shack ain't fifty yards away."
"Likely looking gulch," Gale was heard to reply, in his deep tones--
there was a crackle of dead brush, a sound as of a man tripping and
falling heavily, then oaths in a voice that made the Lieutenant
"Ha, ha!" laughed Doret. "You mus' be tired, Meestaire R-r-unnion.
Better you pick up your feet. Dat's free tarn' you've-"
They emerged into the open behind the house to pause in line back of
Lee, who was staring at the stove-pipe of his cabin, from which came
a wisp of smoke. It seemed to Burrell that they held their position
for a long time. Then he heard Lee say:
"Well, I'll be damned! Somebody's here ahead of us."
"We've been beaten," growled Stark, angrily, pushing past him and
coming round the corner, an ugly look in his eyes.
Burrell was standing at ease in the door, smoking, one forearm
resting on the jamb, his wide shoulders nearly filling the entrance.
"Good-afternoon," he nodded, pleasantly.
Lee answered him unintelligibly; Stark said nothing, but Runnion's
exclamation was plain.
"It's that damned blue-belly!"
"When did YOU get here?" said Stark, after a pause.
"A few hours ago."
"How did you come?" asked Lee.
"Black Bear Creek," said the soldier, curtly, at which Runnion broke
"Better hush," Burrell admonished him; "there's a lady inside," and
at that instant Necia showed her laughing face under his arm, while
the trader uttered her name in amazement.
"Lunch is ready," she said. "We've been expecting you for quite a
"Ba Gar! Dat's fonny t'ing for sure," said Poleon. "Who tol' you
'bout dis strike--eh?"
"Mother; I made her," the girl answered.
"Take off your packs and come in," Burrell invited, but Stark strode
"Hold on a minute. This don't look good to me. You say your mother
told you. I suppose you're Old Man Gale's other daughter--eh?"
"What time of day was it when you learned about this?"
"Cut that out," roughly interjected Gale. "Do you think I double-
The other turned upon him.
"It looks that way, and I intend to find out. You said yesterday you
hadn't told anybody--"
"I didn't think about the woman," said the trader, a trifle
disconcerted, whereupon Runnion gave vent to an ironical sneer.
"But here's your girl and this man ahead of us. I suppose there's
others on the way, too."
"Nonsense!" Burrell cut in. "Don't quarrel about this. Miss Gale got
wind of your secret, and beat you at your own game, so that ends it;
but there's plenty of ground left for all of you, and no harm done.
Nobody knows of this strike from us, I can assure you."
"I call it dam' sleeck work," chuckled the Canadian, slipping out of
his straps. "De nex' tam' I go stampedin' I tak' you 'long, Necia."
"Me, too," said Lee. "An' now I'm goin' to tear into some of them
beans I smell a bilin' in yonder."
The others followed, although Stark and Runnion looked black and had
little to say. It was an uncomfortable meal--every one was ill at
ease; Gale, in particular, was quiet, and ate less than any of them.
His eyes sought Stark's face frequently, and once the blood left his
cheeks and his eyes blazed as he observed the gambler eying Necia,
gazing at her with the same boldness he would have used in scanning
"You are a mighty good-looking girl for a 'blood,'" remarked Stark,
"Thank you," she replied, simply, and the soldier's vague dislike of
the man crystallized into hate on the instant. There was a tone back
of his words that seemed aimed at the trader, Meade thought, but
Gale showed no sign of it, so the meal was finished in silence,
after which the five belated prospectors went out to make their
locations, for the fear of interruption was upon them now.
First they went down-stream, and, according to their agreement, the
trader staked first, followed by Poleon and Stark, thus throwing
Runnion's claim more than a mile distant from Lee's discovery. From
here they went up the creek to find the girl's other locations, one
on each branch, at which Stark sneeringly remarked that she had pre-
empted enough ground for a full-grown white woman.
Runnion's displeasure was even more open, and he fell into foul-
mouthed mutterings, addressing himself to Poleon and Stark while the
trader was out of earshot.
"This affair don't smell right, and I still think it's a frame-up."
"Bah!" exclaimed Doret.
"The old man sent the girl on ahead of us to blanket all the good
ground. That's what he did!"
"Dat's fool talk," declared the Frenchman.
"I'm not so sure," Stark broke in. "You remember he hung back and
wanted to go slow from the start; and didn't he ask us to camp early
last night? Looks now as if he did it just to give her time to get
in first. He admitted that he knew the Black Bear trail, and if he
lied about keeping his mouth shut to the squaw, he'd lie about
"Wait wan minnit," interrupted Poleon, his voice as soft as a
woman's. "I tol' you dat _I_ know all 'bout dis Black Bear Creek,
too--you 'member, eh? Wal, mebbe you t'ink I'm traitor, too. Wat?
W'y don' you spik out?"
The three of them were alone, and only the sound of Gale's axe came
to them; but at the light in the Canadian's face Runnion hastily
disclaimed any such thought on his part, and Stark shrugged his
"I don' know you feller' at all," continued Poleon, "but Ole Man
Gale, he's my frien', so I guess you don' better talk no more lak'
"Don't get sore," said Stark. "I simply say it looks bad." But the
other had turned his back and was walking on.
There are men quite devoid of the ability to read the human face,
and Runnion was of this species. Moreover, malice was so bitter in
his mouth that he must have it out, so when they paused to blaze the
next stake he addressed himself to Stark loud enough for Poleon to
"That Lieutenant is more of a man than I thought he was."
"How so?" inquired the older man.
"Well, it takes nerve to steal a girl for one night and then face
the father; but the old man don't seem to mind it any more than she
does. I guess he knows what it means, all right."
Stark laughed raucously. "I thought of that myself," he said.
"That's probably how Gale got his squaw," concluded Runnion, with a
It seemed a full minute before the Frenchman gave sign that he had
heard, then a strange cry broke from his throat and he began to
tremble as if with cold. He was no longer the singer of songs or the
man who was forever a boy; the mocking anger of a moment ago was
gone; in its place was a consuming fury that sucked the blood from
beneath his tan, leaving him the pallor of ashes, while his mouth
twitched and his head rolled slightly from side to side like a
palsied old man's. The red of his lips was blanched, leaving two
white streaks against a faded, muddy background, through which came
strange and frightful oaths in a bastard tongue. Runnion drew back,
fearful, and the older man ceased chopping and let his axe hang
loosely in his hand. But evidently Poleon meant no violence, for he
allowed the passion to run from him freely until it had spent its
vigor, then said to Runnion:
"M'sieu, eider you are brave man or dam' fool."
"What do you mean, Frenchy?" said the man addressed, uneasily.
"Somebody goin' die for w'at you say jus' now. Mebbe it's goin' be
you, m'sieu; mebbe it's goin' be him; I can't tell yet, but I'm hope
an' pray it's goin' be you, biccause I t'ink w'at you say is a lie,
an' nobody can spik dose kin' of lie 'bout Necia Gale."
He went crashing blindly through the underbrush, his head wagging,
his shoulders slumped loosely forward like those of a drunken man,
his lips framing words they could not understand.
When he had disappeared Runnion drew a deep breath.
"I guess I've framed something for Mister Burrell this time."
"You go about it queer," said Stark. "I'd rather tackle a gang-saw
than a man like Poleon Doret. Your frame-up may work double."
"Huh! No chance. The soldier was out all night alone with that half-
breed girl, and anybody can see she's crazy about him. What's the
"Well, she's mighty pretty," agreed the other, "most too pretty for
a mixed blood, but you can't make that Frenchman believe she's
"Why, he believes it now," chuckled Runnion, "or at least he's
jealous, and that's just as good. Those two will have trouble before
dark. I wish they would--then I'd have a chance."
"Have you got your eye on her, too?"
"Sure! Do you blame me?"
"No, but she's too good for you."
"Then she's too good for them. I think I'll enter the running."
"Better stay out," the gambler advised; "you'll have sore feet
before you finish. As a matter of fact, I don't like her father any
better than you like her lovers--"
"Well, it's mutual. I can see Gale hates you like poison."
"--and I don't intend to see him and his tribe hog all the best
"They've already done it. You can't stop them."
Before answering, Stark listened for the trader, but evidently Gale
had finished his task and returned to the shack, for there was
neither sign nor sound of him.
"Yes, I can stop them," said Stark. "I want the ground that girl has
staked, and I'm going to get it. It lies next to Lee's, and it's
sure to be rich; ours is so far away it may not be worth the
recorder's fees. This creek may be as spotted as a coach-dog, so I
don't intend to take any chances."
"She made her locations legally," said Runnion.
"You leave that to me. When will the other boys he here?"
"To-morrow morning. I told them to follow about four hours behind,
and not to run in on us till we had finished. They'll camp a few
miles down the creek, and be in early."
"You couldn't get but three, eh?"
"That's all I could find who would agree to give up half."
"Can we count on them?"
"Huh!" the other grunted. "They worked with me and Soapy on the
"Good. Five against three, not counting the girl and the
Lieutenant," Stark mused. "Well, that will do it." He outlined his
plan, then the two returned to the cabin to find Lee cooking supper.
Poleon was there with the others, but, except for his silence, he
showed no sign of what had taken place that afternoon.
Stark developed a loquacious mood after supper, devoting himself
entirely to Necia, in whom he seemed to take great interest. He was
an engaging talker, with a peculiar knack of suggestion in story-
telling--an unconscious halting and elusiveness that told more than
words could express--and, knowing his West so well, he fascinated
the girl, who hung upon his tales with flattering eagerness.
Poleon had finished several pipes, and now sat in the shadows in the
open doorway, apparently tired and dejected, though his eyes shone
like diamonds and roved from one to the other. Half unconsciously he
heard Stark saying:
"This girl was about your size, but not so dark. However, you remind
me of her in some ways--that's why it puts her in my mind, I
suppose. She was about your age at the time--nineteen."
"Oh, I'm not eighteen yet," said Necia.
"Well, she was a fine woman, anyhow, the best that ever set foot in
Chandon, and there was a great deal of talk when she chose young
Bennett over the Gaylord man, for Bennett had been running second
best from the start, and everybody thought it was settled between
her and the other one. However, they were married quietly."
The story did not interest the Canadian; his mind was in too great
agitation to care for dead tales; his heart burned within him too
fiercely, and he felt too great a desire to put his hands to work.
As he watched Burrell and Runnion bend over the table looking at a
little can of gold-dust that Lee had taken from under his bunk, his
eyes grew red and bloodshot beneath his hat-brim. Which one of the
two would it be, he wondered. From the corner of his eye he saw Gale
rise from Lee's bed, where he had stretched himself to smoke, and
take his six-shooter from his belt, then remove the knotted bandanna
from his neck, and begin to clean the gun, his head bowed over it
earnestly, his face in the shadow. He had ever been a careful and
methodical man, reflected Poleon, and evidently would not go to
sleep with his fire-arm in bad condition.
"Nobody imagined that Gaylord would cause trouble," Stark was
saying, "for he didn't seem to be a jealous sort, just stupid and
kind of heavy-witted; but one night he took advantage of Bennett's
absence and sneaked up to the house." The story-teller paused, and
Necia, who was under the spell of his recital, urged him on:
"Yes, yes. What happened then? Go on." But Stark stared gloomily at
his hands, and held his silence for a full minute, the tale
appearing to have awakened more than a fleeting interest in him.
"It was one of the worst killings that ever happened in those
parts," he continued. "Bennett came back to find his wife murdered
and the kid gone."
"Oh!" said the girl, in a shocked voice.
"Yes, there was the deuce of a time. The town rose up in a body, and
we--you see, I happened to be there--we followed the man for weeks.
We trailed him and the kid clear over into the Nevada desert where
we lost them."
"Poor man?" The story-teller raised his eyes and laughed sinisterly.
"I don't see where that comes in."
"And you never caught him?"
"No. Not yet."
"He died of thirst in the desert, maybe, he and the little one."
"That's what we thought at the time, but I don't believe it now."
"Well, I've crossed his trail since then. No. Gaylord is alive to-
day, and so is the girl. Some time we'll meet--" His voice gave out,
and he stared again at the floor.
"Couldn't the little girl be traced?" said Necia. "What was her
Stark made to speak, but the word was never uttered, for there came
a deafening roar that caused Lee's candle to leap and flicker and
the air inside the cabin to strike the occupants like a blow.
Instantly there was confusion, and each man sprang to his feet
crying out affrightedly, for the noise had come with utter
"My God, I've killed him!" cried Gale, and with one jump he cleared
half the room and was beside Stark, while his revolver lay on the
floor where he had been sitting.
"What is it?" exclaimed Burrell; but there was no need to ask, for
powder-smoke was beginning to fill the room and the trader's face
gave answer. It was whiter than that of his daughter, who had
crouched fearfully against the wall, and he shook like a man with
ague. But Stark stood unhurt, and more composed than any of them;
following the first bound from his chair, he had relapsed into his
customary quiet. There had blazed up one momentary flash of
suspicion and anger, but it died straightway, for no man could have
beheld the trader and not felt contrition. His condition was
pitiable, and the sight of a strong man overcome is not pleasant;
when it was seen that no harm had been done the others strove to
make light of the accident.
"Get together, all of you! It's nothing to be excited over," said
"How did it happen?" Runnion finally asked Gale, who had sunk limply
upon the edge of the bunk; but when the old man undertook to answer
his words were unintelligible, and he shook his head helplessly.
Stark laid his finger on the hole that the bullet had bored in the
log close to where he was sitting, and laughed.
"Never mind, old man, it missed me by six inches. You know there
never was a bullet that could kill me. I'm six-shooter proof."
"Wha'd I tell you?" triumphantly ejaculated Lee, turning his one eye
upon the Lieutenant. "You laughed at me, didn't you?"
"I'm beginning to believe it myself," declared the soldier.
"It's a cinch," said Stark, positively,
Doret, of all in the cabin, had said nothing. Seated apart from the
others, he had seen the affair from a distance, as it were, and now
stepped to the bed to lay his hand on Gale's shoulder.
"Brace up, John! Sacre" bleu! Your face look lak' flour. Come
outside an' get li'l' air."
"It will do you good, father," urged Necia.
The trader silently rose, picked up his hat, and shambled out into
the night behind the Frenchman.
"The old man takes it hard," said Lee, shaking his head, and Burrell
"I've seen things like that in army quarters, and the fellow who
accidentally discharges his gun invariably gets a greater shock than
"I call it damned careless, begging your pardon, Miss Necia," said
Poleon led his friend down the trail for half a mile without
speaking, till Gale had regained a grip of himself and muttered,
"I never did such a thing before, Poleon, never in all my life."
The young man turned squarely and faced him, the starlight
illumining their faces dimly.
"Why?" said Doret.
"Why?" echoed Gale, with a start. "Well, because I'm careful, I
"Why?" insisted the Frenchman.
"I--I--I--What do you mean?"
"Don" lie wit' me, John. I'm happen to be watch you underneat' my
hat w'en you turn roun' for see if anybody lookin'."
"I thought you were asleep," said Gale.
In every community, be it never so small, there are undesirable
citizens; and, while the little party was still at breakfast on the
following morning, three such members of society came around the
cabin and let fall their packs, greeting the occupants boisterously.
"Well, well!" said Lee, coming to the door. "You're travellin' kind
of early, ain't you?"
"Yes--early and late," one of them laughed, while the other two
sprawled about as if to rest.
"How far are you goin'?"
"Not far," the spokesman answered.
Now in the North there is one formality that must be observed with
friend or enemy, and, though Lee knew these men for what they were,
"Better have some breakfast, anyhow."
"We just ate." There was an uncomfortable pause, then the speaker
continued: "Look here. It's no use to flush around. We want a piece
of this creek."
"What are you goin' to do with it?"
"Cut that out, Lee. We're on."
"Who wised you up to this?" inquired the miner, angrily, for he had
other friends besides those present whom he wished to profit by this
strike, and he had hoped to keep out this scum.
"Never mind who put us Jerry. We're here, ain't we?"
Stark spoke up. "You can't keep news of a gold strike when the wind
blows, Lee. It travels on the breeze."
The harm was done, and there was no use in concealment, so Lee
reluctantly told them of his discovery and warned them of the stakes
"And see here, you fellers," he concluded, "I've been forty years at
this game and never had a creek named after me, but this one is
goin' to be called '"No Creek" Lee Creek' or I fight. Does it go?"
"Sure, that's a good name, and we'll vote for it."
"Then go as far as you like," said the miner, dismissing them
"I'll step along with the boys and show them where our upper stakes
are," volunteered Stark, and Runnion offered to do the same, adding
that it were best to make sure of no conflict so early in the game.
The five disappeared into the woods, leaving the others at the cabin
to make preparations for the homeward trip.
"That man who did the talking is a tin-horn gambler who drifted in a
month ago, the same as Runnion, and the others ain't much better,"
said Gale, when they had gone. "Seems like the crooks always beat
the straight men in."
"Never knowed it to fail," Lee agreed. "There's a dozen good men in
camp I'd like to see in on this find, but it'll be too late 'gin we
"Dose bum an' saloon feller got all de bes' claims at Klondike,"
said Poleon. "I guess it's goin' be de same here."
"I don't like the look of this," observed the Lieutenant,
thoughtfully. "I'm afraid there's some kind of a job on foot."
"There's nothing they can do," Gale answered. "We've got our ground
staked out, and it's up to them to choose what's left."
They were nearly ready to set out for Flambeau when the five men
"Before you go," said Stark, "I think we'd better organize our
mining district. There are enough present to do it."
"We can make the kind of laws we want before the gang comes along,"
Runnion chimed in, "and elect a recorder who will give us a square
"I'll agree if we give Lee the job," said Gale. "It's coming to him
as the discoverer, and I reckon the money will be handy, seeing the
hard luck he's played in."
"That's agreeable to me," Stark replied, and proceeded forthwith to
call a miners' meeting, being himself straightway nominated as
chairman by one of the strangers. There was no objection, so he went
in, as did Lee, who was made secretary, with instructions to write
out the business of the meeting, together with the by-laws as they
The group assembled in the cleared space before the cabin to make
rules and regulations governing the district, for it is a custom in
all mining sections removed from authority for the property holders
thus to make local laws governing the size of claims, the amount of
assessment work, the size of the recorder's fees, the character of
those who may hold mines, and such other questions as arise to
affect their personal or property interests. In the days prior to
the establishment of courts and the adoption of a code of laws for
Alaska, the entire country was governed in this way, even to the
adjudication of criminal actions. It was the primitive majority rule
that prevails in every new land, and the courts later recognized and
approved the laws so made and administered, even when they differed
in every district, and even when these statutes were often grotesque
and ridiculous. As a whole, however, they were direct in their
effect and worked no hardship; in fact, government by miners'
meeting is looked upon to this day, by those who lived under it, as
vastly superior to the complicated machinery which later took its
The law permits six or more people to organize a mining district and
adopt articles of government, so this instance was quite ordinary
Lee had come by his learning slowly, and he wrote after the fashion
of a school-boy, who views his characters from every angle and
follows their intricacies with corresponding movements of the
tongue, hence the business of the meeting progressed slowly.
It was of wondrous interest to Necia to be an integral part of such
important matters, and she took pride in voting on every question;
but Burrell, who observed the proceedings from neutral ground, could
not shake off the notion that all was not right. Things moved too
smoothly. It looked as if there had been a rehearsal. Poleon and the
trader, however, seemed not to notice it, and Lee was wallowing to
the waist in his own troubles, so the young man kept his eyes open
The surprise came when they had completed the organization of the
district and had nearly finished adopting by-laws. It was so boldly
attempted and so crude in its working-out that it seemed almost
laughable to the soldier, until he saw these men were in deadly
earnest and animated by the cruelest of motives. Moreover, it showed
the first glimpse of Stark's spite against the trader, which the
Lieutenant had divined.
Runnion moved the adoption of a rule that no women be allowed to
locate mining claims, and one of the strangers seconded it.
"What's that?" said Lee, raising his one eye from the note-book in
which he was transcribing.
"It isn't right to let women in on a man's game," said Runnion.
"That's my idea," echoed the seconder.
"I s'pose this is aimed at my girl," said Gale, springing to his
feet. "I might have known you bums were up to some crooked work."
Poleon likewise rose and ranged himself with the trader.
"Ba Gar! I don' stan' for dat," said he, excitedly. "You want for
jump Necia's claims, eh?"
"As long as I'm chairman we'll have no rough work," declared Stark,
glaring at them. "If you want trouble, you two, I reckon you can
have it, but, whether you do or not, the majority is going to rule,
and we'll make what laws we want to."
He took no pains now to mask his dislike of Gale, who began to move
towards him in his dogged, resolute way. Necia, observing them,
hastened to her father's side, for that which she sensed in the
bearing of both men quite overcame her indignation at this blow
"No, no, don't have any trouble," she pleaded, as she clung to the
trader. "For my sake, daddy, sit down." Then she whispered fiercely
into his ear: "Can't you see he's trying to make you fight? There's
too many of them. Wait! Wait!"
Burrell attempted to speak, but Stark, who was presiding, turned
upon him fiercely:
"Now this is one time when you can't butt in, Mr. Soldier Man. This
is our business. Is that plain?"
The Lieutenant realized that he had no place in this discussion, and
yet their move was so openly brazen that he could restrain himself
with difficulty. A moment later he saw the futility of interference,
when Stark continued, addressing the trader:
"This isn't aimed at you in particular, Gale, nor at your girl, for
a motion to disqualify her isn't necessary. She isn't old enough to
hold mining property."
"She's eighteen," declared the trader.
"Not according to her story."
"Well, I can keep her claims for her till she gets of age."
"We've just fixed it so you can't," grinned Runnion, cunningly. "No
man can hold more than one claim on a creek. You voted for that
Too late, Gale saw the trick by which Stark had used him to rob his
own daughter. If he and his two friends had declined to be a part of
this meeting, the others could not have held it, and before another
assembly could have been called the creek would have been staked
from end to end, from rim to rim, by honest men, over whom no such
action could pass; but, as it was, his own votes had been used to
sew him up in a mesh of motions and resolutions.
"No Creek" Lee had the name of a man slow in speech and action, and
one who roused himself to anger deliberately, much as a serpent
stings itself into a painful fury; but now it was apparent that he
was boiling over, for he stammered and halted and blurted
"You're a bunch of rascals, all of you, tryin' to down a pore girl
and get her ground; but who put ye wise to this thing, in the first
place? Who found this gold? Just because there's enough of you to
vote that motion through, that don't make it legal, not by a damned
sight, and it won't hold, because I won't write it in the book. You-
-you--" He glared at them malevolently, searching his mind for an
epithet sufficiently vile, and, finding it, spat it out--
So this was why both Stark and Runnion had gone up the creek with
the three new men, thought Burrell. No doubt they had deliberately
arranged the whole thing so that the new arrivals could immediately
relocate each of Necia's claims--the pick of all the ground outside
Lee's discovery, and the surest to be valuable--and that Stark would
share in the robbery. He or Runnion, or both of them, had broken
Lee's oath of secrecy even before leaving camp, which accounted for
the presence of these thugs; and now, as he revolved the situation
rapidly in his mind, the soldier looked up at a sudden thought.
Poleon had begun to speak, and from his appearance it seemed
possible that he might not cease with words; moreover, it was
further evident that they were all intent on the excited Frenchman
and had no eyes for the Lieutenant. Carefully slipping around the
corner of the cabin, and keeping the house between him and the
others, Burrell broke into a swift run, making the utmost possible
speed for fear they should miss him and guess his purpose, or, worse
yet, finish their discussion and adjourn before he could complete
his task. He was a light man on his feet, and he dodged through the
forest, running more carelessly the farther he went, visiting first
the upper claims, then, making a wide detour of the cabin, he came
back to the initial stake of Necia's lower claim, staggering from
his exertions, his lungs bursting from the strain. He had covered
nearly a mile, but, even so, he laughed grimly as he walked back
towards the cabin, for it was a game worth playing, and he was glad
to take a hand on the side of the trader and the girl. Coming within
earshot, he heard the meeting vote to adjourn. It could not have
terminated more opportunely had he held a stopwatch on it.
From the look of triumph on Runnion's face, the Lieutenant needed no
glance at Gale or Poleon or Necia to know that the will of the
majority had prevailed, and that the girl's importunities had
restrained her advocates from a resort to violence. She looked very
forlorn, like a little child just robbed and deceived, with the
shock of its first great disillusionment still fresh in its eyes.
Runnion addressed the other conspirators loudly.
"Well, boys, there are three good claims open for relocation. I'm
sorry I can't stake one of them."
"They won't lie open long," said one of the undesirable citizens,
starting to turn down-stream while his two companions made for the
opposite direction. But Burrell stopped them.
"Too late, boys. Your little game went wrong. Now! Now! Don't get
excited. Whew! I had quite a run."
Gale paused in his tracks and looked at the young man queerly.
"What do you mean?"
"I've jumped those claims myself."
"YOU jumped them!" cried Necia.
"Sure! I changed my mind about staking."
"It's a lie!" cried Runnion, at which Burrell whirled on him.
"I've been waiting for this, Runnion--ever since you came back. Now-
"I mean you haven't had time," the other temporized, hurriedly.
"Oh, that sounds better! If you don't believe me take a look for
yourself; you'll find my notice just beneath Miss Gale's." Then to
"No Creek" Lee he continued, "Kindly record them for me so there
will be no question of priority."
"I'll be damned if I do!" said the belligerent recorder. "You're
worse'n these crooks. That ground belongs to Necia Gale."
Up to this time Stark had remained silent, his impassive face
betraying not a shadow of chagrin, for he was a good loser; but now
he spoke at large.
"Anybody who thinks the American army is asleep is crazy." Then to
Burrell, "You certainly are a nice young man to double-cross your
friends like that."
"You're no friend of mine," Meade retorted.
"I? What do you mean?"
"I double-crossed you, Stark, nobody else."
The Kentuckian glared at him with a look like that which Runnion had
seen in his face on that first day at the trading-post. The thought
of these five men banded together to rob this little maid had caused
a giddiness to rise up in him, and his passions were beginning to
whirl and dance.
"There's no use mouthing words about it," said he. "These thugs are
your tools, and you tried to steal that ground because it's sure to
Stark exclaimed angrily, but the other gave him no time to break in.
"Now, don't get rough, because THAT is my game, and I'd be pleased
enough to take you back a prisoner." Then turning to Lee, he said:
"Don't make me force you to record my locations. I staked those
claims for Miss Gale, and I'll deed them to her when she turns
Poleon Doret called to Runnion: "M'sieu, you 'member w'at I tol' you
yestidday? I'm begin for t'ink it's goin' be you."
The man paled in his anger, but said nothing. Necia clapped her