Part 3 out of 6
Seeing that the game had gone against him, Stark got his feelings
under control quickly, and shrugged his shoulders as he turned away.
"You're in the wrong, Lieutenant," he remarked; "but I don't want
any trouble. You've got the law with you." Then to Runnion and the
others he said, "Well, I'm ready to hit the trail."
When they had shouldered their packs and disappeared down the
valley, Gale held out his hand to the soldier. "Young man, I reckon
you and I will be friends."
"Thank you," said Burrell, taking the offer of friendship which he
knew was genuine at last.
"I'm in on that!" said "No Creek" Lee; "you're all right!"
Poleon had been watching Stark's party disappear, but now he turned
and addressed the young soldier.
"You mak' some enemies to-day, M'sieu."
"That's right," agreed Lee. "Ben Stark will never let up on you
"Very well, that is his privilege."
"You don't savvy what it means to get him down on you," insisted
Lee. "He'll frame things up to suit himself, then pick a row with
you. He's the quickest man on a trigger in the West, but he won't
never make no open play, only just devil the life out of you with
little things till you flare up, then he'll down you. That's how he
killed the gold commissioner back in British Columbia."
Necia had said little so far, but the look in her eyes repaid the
soldier for his undertaking in her behalf, and for any mischief that
might ensue from it. She came forward and laid her hands upon his.
"Promise that you won't have trouble with him," she begged,
anxiously, "for it's all my fault, and I'd--I'd always blame myself
if any hurt came to you. Promise! Won't you?"
"Don't worry, daughter," reassured Gale. "There's nothing Stark can
do, and whatever happens we're with the Lieutenant. He's our kind of
Burrell liked this grizzled old fellow with the watchful eyes, and
was glad now that he could grip his hand and face him squarely with
no guilt upon his conscience.
By this time Doret had finished with their blankets, and the four
set out for town, but instead of following the others they accepted
Necia as guide and chose the trail to Black Bear Creek. They had not
gone far before she took occasion to lag behind with the Lieutenant.
"I couldn't thank you before all those people--they would have read
our secret--but you know how I feel, don't you, Meade?"
"Why! It was a simple thing--"
"It was splendid when you defied them. My, what a fierce you are!
Oh, boy! What if something should happen to you over this!"
"But there's no chance. It's all done, and you'll have your fine
dresses and be able to hold your nose just as high as you want."
"Whatever I get I will owe to you. I--I've been thinking. Suppose--
well, suppose you keep two of those claims; they are sure to be
"Why, Necia!" he exclaimed.
"They're yours, and I have no right to them under the law. Of course
it would be very handsome of you to give me one--the poorest."
"You ought to have your ears boxed," he laughed at her.
"I don't see why. You--you--may be very poor, for all I know."
"I am," he declared, "but not poor enough to take payment for a
"Well, then, if they are really mine to do with as I please, I'll
sell one to you--"
"Thanks. I couldn't avail myself of the offer," he said, with mock
"If you were a business man instead of a fighting person you would
listen to my proposition before you declined it. I'll make the price
right, and you may pay me when we get behind yonder clump of
bushes." She pouted her lips invitingly, but he declared she was a
minor and as such her bargain would not hold.
It was evidently her mood to re-enter the land of whims and travel
again, as they had on the way from town, but he knew that for him
such a thing could not be, for his eyes had cleared since then. He
knew that he could never again wander through the happy valley, for
he vowed this maid should be no plaything for him or for any other
man, and as there could be no honorable end to this affair, it must
terminate at once. Just how this was to be consummated he had not
determined as yet, nor did he like to set about its solution, it
hurt him so to think of losing her. However, she was very young,
only a child, and in time would come to count him but a memory, no
doubt; while as for him--well, it would be hard to forget her, but
he could and would. He reasoned glibly that this was the only honest
course, and his reasoning convinced him; then, all of a sudden, the
pressure of her warm lips came upon him and the remembrance upset
every premise and process of his logic. Nevertheless, he was honest
in his stubborn determination to conclude the affair, and finally
decided to let time show him the way.
She seemed to be very happy, her mood being in marked contrast to
that of Poleon and the trader, both of whom had fallen silent and
gloomy, and in whom the hours wrought no change. The latter had
tacitly acknowledged his treachery towards Stark on the previous
night, but beyond that he would not go, offering no motive, excuse,
or explanation, choosing to stand in the eyes of his friend as an
intended murderer, notwithstanding which Poleon let the matter drop-
-for was not his friend a good man? Had he not been tried in a
hundred ways? The young Frenchman knew there must have been strong
reason for Gale's outburst, and was content to trust him without
puzzling his mind to discover the cause of it.
Now, a secret must either grow or die--there is no fallow age for
it--and this one had lived with Gale for fifteen years, until it had
made an old man of him. It weighed him down until the desire to be
rid of it almost became overpowering at times; but his caution was
ingrained and powerful, and so it was that he resisted the
temptation to confide in his partner, although the effort left him
tired and inert. The only one to whom he could talk was Alluna--she
understood, and though she might not help, the sound of his own
voice at least always afforded him some relief.
As to Poleon, no one had ever seen him thus. Never in all his life
of dream and song and romance had he known a heavy heart until now,
for if at times he had wept like a girl, it was at the hurts of
others. He had loved a bit and gambled much, with equal misfortune,
and the next day he had forgotten. He had lived the free, clean life
of a man who wins joyously or goes down with defiance in his throat,
but this venomous thing that Runnion had planted in him had seeped
and circulated through his being until every fibre was penetrated
with a bitter poison. Most of his troubles could be grappled with
bare hands, but here was one against which force would not avail,
hence he was unhappy.
The party reached Flambeau on the following day, sufficiently ahead
of Stark and his men for Lee to make known his find to his friends,
and by sunset the place was depopulated, while a line of men could
be seen creeping slowly up the valleys.
Gale found Alluna in charge of the store, but no opportunity of
talking alone with her occurred until late in the evening, after
Necia had put the two little ones to bed and had followed them
wearily. Then he told his squaw. She took the news better than he
expected, and showed no emotion such as other women would have
displayed, even when he told her of the gunshot. Instead, she
"Why did you try it there before all those others?"
"Well, when I heard him talking, the wish to kill him was more than
I could stand, and it came on me all at once, so that I was mad, I
suppose. I never did the like before." He half shuddered at the
"I am sorry," she said.
"Yes! So am I."
"Sorry that you failed, for you will never have as good a chance
again. What was the matter with your aim? I have seen you hit a
knot-hole, shooting from the hip."
"The man is charmed," declared Gale. "He's bullet-proof."
"There are people," she agreed, "that a gunshot will not injure.
There was a man like that among my people--my father's enemy--but he
was not proof against steel."
"Your old man knifed him, eh?"
"Ugh!" the man shivered. "I couldn't do that. A gun is a straight
man's friend, but a knife is the weapon of traitors. I couldn't
drive it home."
"Does this man suspect?"
"Then it is child's play. We will lay a trap."
"No, by God!" Gale interrupted her hotly. "I tried that kind of
work, and it won't do. I'm no murderer."
"Those are only words," said the woman, quietly. "To kill your enemy
is the law."
The only light in the room came from the stove, a great iron
cylinder made from a coal-oil tank that lay on a rectangular bed of
sand held inside of four timbers, with a door in one end to take
whole lengths of cord-wood, and which, being open, lit the space in
front, throwing the sides and corners of the place into blacker
When he made no answer the squaw slipped out into the shadows,
leaving him staring into the flames, to return a moment later
bearing something in her hands, which she placed in his. It was a
knife in a scabbard, old and worn.
"There is no magic that can turn bright steel," she said, then
squatted again in the dimness outside of the firelight. Gale slid
the case from the long blade and held it in his palm, letting the
firelight flicker on it. He balanced it and tested the feel of its
handle against his palm, then tried the edge of it with his thumb-
nail, and found it honed like a razor.
"A child could kill with it," said Alluna. "Both edges of the blade
are so thin that a finger's weight will bury it. One should hold the
wrist firmly till it pierces through the coat, that is all--after
that the flesh takes it easily, like butter."
The glancing, glinting light flashing from the deadly thing seemed
to fascinate the man, for he held it a long while silently. Then he
"For fifteen years I've been a haunted man, with a soul like a dark
and dismal garret peopled with bats and varmints that flap and
flutter all the time. I used to figger that if I killed this man I'd
kill that memory, too, and those flitting, noiseless things would
leave me, but the thought of doing it made me afraid every time, so
I ran away, which never did no good--you can't outfoot a memory--and
I knew all the while that we'd meet sooner or later. Now that the
day is here at last, I'm not ready for it. I'd like to run away
again if there was any place to run to, but I've followed frontiers
till I've seen them disappear one by one; I've retreated till my
back is against the Circle, and there isn't any further land to go
to. All the time I've prayed and planned for this meeting, and yet--
"Kill him!" said Alluna.
"God knows I've always hated trouble, whereas it's what he lives on.
I've always wanted to die in bed, while he's been a killer all his
life and the smoke hangs forever in his eyes. Only for an accident
we might have lived here all our days and never had a 'run-in,'
which makes me wonder if I hadn't better let things go on as they
"Kill him! It is the law," repeated Alluna, stubbornly, but he put
her aside with a slow shake of the head and arose as if very tired.
"No! I don't think I can do it--not in cold blood, anyhow. Good-
night! I'm going to sleep on it." He crossed to the door of his
room, but as he went she noted that he slipped the knife and
scabbard inside the bosom of his shirt.
Early the next morning Corporal Thomas came into the store and found
Necia tending it while Gale was out. Ever since the day she had
questioned him about Burrell, this old man had taken every occasion
to talk with the girl, and when he asked her this morning about the
reports concerning Lee's strike, she told him of her trip, and all
that had occurred.
"You see, I'm a mine-owner now," she concluded. "If it hadn't been a
secret I would have told you before I went so you could have been
one of the first."
"I'm goin', anyhow," he said, "if the Lieutenant will let me and if
it's not too late."
Then she told him of the trail by Black Bear Creek which would save
him several hours.
"So that's how you and he made it?" he observed, gazing at her
shrewdly. "I supposed you went with your father?"
"Oh, no! We beat him in," she said, and fell to musing at the memory
of those hours passed alone with Meade, while her eyes shone and her
cheeks glowed. The Corporal saw the look, and it bore out a theory
he had formed during the past month, so, as he lingered, he set
about a task that had lain in his mind for some time. As a rule he
was not a careful man in his speech, and the delicacy of this
manoeuvre taxed his ingenuity to the utmost, for he loved the girl
and feared to say too much.
"The Lieutenant is a smart young fellow," he began; "and it was
slick work jumpin' all those claims. It's just like him to befriend
a girl like you--I've seen him do it before--"
"What!" exclaimed Necia, "befriend other girls?"
"Or things just like it. He's always doing favors that get him into
"This couldn't cause him trouble, could it, outside of Stark's and
"No, I reckon not," assented the Corporal, groping blindly for some
way of expressing what he wished to say. "Except, of course, it
might cause a lot of talk at headquarters when it's known what he's
done for you and how he done it. I heard something about it down the
street this morning, so I'm afraid it will get to St. Michael's, and
then to his folks." He realized that he was not getting on well, for
the task was harder than he had imagined.
"I don't understand," said Necia. "He hasn't done anything that any
man wouldn't do under the same circumstances."
"No man's got a right to make folks talk about a nice girl," said
the Corporal; "and the feller that told me about it said he reckoned
you two was in love." He hurried along now without offering her a
chance to speak. "Of course, that had to be caught up quick; you're
too fine a girl for that."
"Too fine?" Necia laughed.
"I mean you're too fine and good to let him put you in wrong, just
as he's too fine a fellow and got too much ahead of him to make what
his people would call a messy alliance."
"Would his people object to--to such a thing?" questioned the girl.
They were alone in the store, and so they could talk freely. "I'm
just supposing, you know."
"Oh, Lord! Would they object?" Corporal Thomas laughed in a highly
artificial manner that made Necia bridle and draw herself up
"Why should they, I'd like to know? I'm just as pretty as other
girls, and I'm just as good. I know just as much as they do, too,
except--about certain things."
"You sure are all of that and more, too," the Corporal declared,
heartily, "but if you knowed more about things outside you'd
understand why it ain't possible. I can't tell you without hurtin'
your feelin's, and I like you too much for that, Miss Necia. Seems
as if I'm almost a daddy to you, and I've only knowed you for a few
"Go ahead and tell me; I won't be offended," insisted the girl. "You
must. I don't know much about such things, for I've lived all my
life with men like father and Poleon, and the priests at the
Mission, who treat me just like one of themselves. But somebody will
want to marry me some day, I suppose, so I ought to know what is
wrong with me." She flushed up darkly under her brown cheeks.
The feeling came over Corporal Thomas that he had hurt a helpless
animal of some gentle kind; that he was bungling his work, and that
he was not of the calibre to go into the social amenities. He began
to perspire uncomfortably, but went on, doggedly:
"I'm goin' to tell you a story, not because it applies to Lieutenant
Burrell, or because he's in love with you, which of course he ain't
any more than you be with him--"
"Of course," said the girl.
"--but just to show you what I mean. It was a good long spell ago,
when I was at Fort Supply, which was the frontier in them days like
this is now. We freighted in from Dodge City with bull teams, and it
was sure the fringe of the frontier; no women--no society--nothin'
much except a fort, a lot of Injuns, and a few officials with their
wives and families. Now them kind of places is all right for married
men, but they're tough sleddin' for single ones, and after a while a
feller gets awful careless about himself; he seems to go backward
and run down mighty quick when he gets away from civilization and
his people and restaurants and such things; he gets plumb reckless
and forgetful of what's what. Well, there was a captain with us, a
young feller that looked like the Lieutenant here, and a good deal
the same sort--high-tempered and chivalrious and all that sort of
thing; a West Pointer, too, good family and all that, and, what's
more, a captain at twenty-five. Now, our head freighter was married
to a squaw, or leastways he had been, but in them days nobody
thought much of it any more than they do up here now, and
particularly because he'd had a government contract for a long
while, ran a big gang of men and critters, and had made a lot of
money. Likewise he had a girl, who lived at the fort, and was mighty
nice to look at, and restful to the eye after a year or so of
cactus-trees and mesquite and buffalo-grass. She was twice as nice
and twice as pretty as the women at the post, and as for money--
well, her dad could have bought and sold all the officers in a lump;
but they and their wives looked down on her, and she didn't mix with
them none whatever. To make it short, the captain married her.
Seemed like he got disregardful of everything, and the hunger to
have a woman just overpowered him. She'd been courted by every
single man for four hundred miles around. She was pretty and full of
fire, and they was both of an age to love hard, so Jefferson swore
he'd make the other women take her; but soldierin' is a heap
different from any other profession, and the army has got its own
traditions. The plan wouldn't work. By-and-by the captain got tired
of trying, and gave up the attempt--just devoted himself to her--and
then we was transferred, all but him. We shifted to a better post,
but Captain Jefferson was changed to another company and had to stay
at Supply. Gee! it was a rotten hole! Influence had been used, and
there he stuck, while the new officers cut him out completely, just
like the others had done, so I was told, and it drifted on that way
for a long time, him forever makin' an uphill fight to get his wife
reco'nized and always quittin' loser. His folks back East was
scandalized and froze him cold, callin' him a squaw-man; and the
story went all through the army, till his brother officers had to
treat him cold in order to keep enough warmth at home to live by,
one thing leading to another till he finally resented it openly.
After that he didn't last long. They made it so unpleasant that he
quit the service--crowded him out, that's all. He was a born
soldier, too, and didn't know nothing else nor care for nothing
else; as fine a man as I ever served under, but it soured him so
that a rattlesnake couldn't have lived with him. He tried to go into
some kind of business after he quit the army, but he wasn't cut out
for it, and never made good as long as I knew of him. The last time
I seen him was down on the border, and he had sure grown cultus. He
had quit the squaw, who was livin' with a greaser in Tucson--"
"And do you think I'm like that woman?" said Necia, in a queer,
strained voice. She had listened intently to the Corporal's story,
but he had purposely avoided her eyes and could not tell how she was
"No! You're different, but the army is just the same. I told you
this to show you how it is out in the States. It don't apply to you,
"Of course!" agreed Necia again. "But what would happen to
Lieutenant Burrell if--if--well, if he should do something like
that? There are many half-breed girls, I dare say, like this other
girl, or--like me."
She did not flush now as before; instead, her cheeks were pale.
"It would go a heap worse with him than it did with Captain
Jefferson," said the Corporal, "for he's got more ahead of him and
he comes from better stock. Why, his family is way up! They're all
soldiers, and they're strong at headquarters; they're mighty proud,
too, and they wouldn't stand for his doing such a thing, even if he
wanted to. But he wouldn't try; he's got too much sense, and loves
the army too well for that. No, sir! He'll go a long ways, that boy
will, if he's let alone."
"I never thought of myself as an Indian," said Necia, dully. "In
this country it's a person's heart that counts."
"That's how it ought to be," said the Corporal, heartily; "and I'm
mighty sorry if I've hurt you, little girl. I'm a rough old rooster,
and I never thought but what you understood all this. Up here folks
look at it right, but outside it's mighty different; even yet you
don't half understand."
"I'm glad I'm what I am!" cried the girl. "There's nothing in my
blood to be ashamed of, and I'm white in here!" She struck her bosom
fiercely. "If a man loves me he'll take me no matter what it means
"Right for you," assented the other; "and if I was younger myself,
I'd sure have a lot of nice things to say to you. If I'd 'a' had
somebody like you I'd 'a' let liquor alone, maybe, and amounted to
something, but all I'm good for now is to give advice and draw my
pay." He slid down from the counter where he had been sitting. "I'm
goin' to hunt up the Lieutenant and get him to let me off. Mebbe I
can stake a claim and sell it."
The moment he was gone the girl's composure vanished and she gave
vent to her feelings.
"It's a lie! It's a lie!" she cried, aloud, and with her fists she
beat the boards in front of her. "He loves me! I know he does!" Then
she began, to tremble, and sobbed: "I'm just like other girls."
She was still wrestling with herself when Gale returned, and he
started at the look in her face as she approached him.
"Why did you marry my mother?" she asked. "Why? Why did you do it?"
He saw that she was in a rage, and answered, bluntly, "I didn't."
She shrank at this. "Then why didn't you? Shame! Shame! That makes
me worse than I thought I was. Oh, why did you ever turn squaw-man?
Why did you make me a breed?"
"Look here! What ails you?" said the trader.
"What ails me?" she mocked. "Why, I'm neither white nor red; I'm not
even a decent Indian. I'm a--a--" She shuddered. "You made me what I
am. You didn't do me the justice even to marry my mother."
"Somebody's been saying things about you," said Gale, quietly,
taking her by the shoulders. "Who is it? Tell me who it is."
"No, no! It's not that! Nobody has said anything to my face; they're
afraid of you, I suppose, but God knows what they think and say to
"I'll--" began the trader, but she interrupted him.
"I've just begun to realize what I am. I'm not respectable. I'm not
like other women, and never can be. I'm a squaw--a squaw!"
"You're not!" he cried.
"It's a nice word, isn't it?"
"What's wrong with it?"
"No honest man can marry me. I'm a vagabond! The best I can get is
my bed and board, like my mother."
"By God! Who offered you that?" Gale's face was whiter than hers
now, but she disregarded him and abandoned herself to the tempest of
emotion that swept her along.
"He can play with me, but nothing more, and when he is gone another
one can have me, and then another and another and another--as long
as I can cook and wash and work. In time my man will beat me, just
like any other squaw, I suppose, but I can't marry; I can't be a
wife to a decent man."
She was in the clutch of an hysteria that made her writhe beneath
Gale's hand, choking and sobbing, until he loosed her; then she
leaned exhausted against a post and wiped her eyes, for the tears
were coming now.
"That's all damned rot," he said. "There's fifty good men in this
camp would marry you to-morrow."
"Bah! I mean real men, not miners. I want to be a lady. I don't want
to pull a hand-sled and wear moccasins all my life, and raise
children for men with whiskers. I want to be loved--I want to be
loved! I want to marry a gentleman."
"Burrell!" said Gale.
"No!" she flared up. "Not him nor anybody in particular, but
somebody like him, some man with clean finger-nails."
He found nothing humorous or grotesque in her measure of a
gentleman, for he realized that she was strung to a pitch of
unreason and unnatural excitement, and that she was in terrible
"Daughter," he said, "I'm mighty sorry this knowledge has come to
you, and I see it's my fault, but things are different now to what
they were when I met Alluna. It wasn't the style to marry squaws
where we came from, and neither of us ever thought about it much. We
were happy with each other, and we've been man and wife to each
other just as truly as if a priest had mumbled over us."
"But why didn't you marry her when I came? Surely you must have
known what it would mean to me. It was bad enough without that."
The old man hesitated. "I'll own I was wrong," he said, finally,
staring out into the sunshine with an odd expression. "It was
thoughtless and wrong, dead wrong; but I've loved you better than
any daughter was ever loved in this wide world, and I've worked and
starved and froze and saved, and so has Alluna, so that you might
have something to live on when I'm gone, and be different to us. It
won't be long now, I guess. I've given you the best schooling of any
girl on the river, and I'd have sent you out to a convent in the
States, but I couldn't let you go so far away--God! I loved you too
much for that--I couldn't do it, girl. I've tried, but you're all
I've got, and I'm a selfish man, I reckon."
"No, no! You're not," his daughter cried, impulsively. "You're
everything that's good and dear, but you've lived a different life
from other men and you see things differently. It was mean of me to
talk as I did." She put her arms around his neck and hugged him.
"But I'm very unhappy, dad."
"Don't you aim to tell what started this?" he said, gently,
caressing her with his great, hard hand as softly as a mother. But
she shook her head, and he continued, "I'll take the first boat down
to the Mission and marry your ma, if you want me to."
"That wouldn't do any good," said she. "We'd better leave things as
they are." Then she drew away and smiled at him bravely from the
door. "I'm a very bad to act this way. S'cuses?"
He nodded and she went out, but he gazed after her for a long
minute, then sighed.
"Poor little girl!"
Necia was in a restless mood, and, remembering that Alluna and the
children had gone berrying on the slopes behind the Indian village,
she turned her way thither. All at once a fear of seeing Meade
Burrell came upon her. She wanted to think this out, to find where
she stood, before he had word with her. She had been led to observe
herself from a strange angle, and must verify her vision, as it
were. As yet she could not fully understand. What if he had changed,
now that he was alone, and had had time to think? It would kill her
if she saw any difference in him, and she knew she would be able to
read it in his eyes.
As she went through the main street of the camp she saw Stark
occupied near the water-front, where he had bought a building lot.
He spoke to her as she was about to pass.
"Good-morning, Miss. Are you rested from your trip?"
She answered that she was, and would have continued on her way, but
he stopped her.
"I don't want you to think that mining matter was my doing," he
said. "I've got nothing against you. Your old man hasn't wasted any
affection on me, and I can get along without him, all right, but I
don't make trouble for girls if I can help it."
The girl believed that he meant what he said; his words rang true,
and he spoke seriously. Moreover, Stark was known already in the
camp as a man who did not go out of his way to make friends or to
render an accounting of his deeds, so it was natural that when he
made her a show of kindness Necia should treat him with less
coldness than might have been expected. The man had exercised an
occult influence upon her from the time she first saw him at Lee's
cabin, but it was too vague for definite feeling, and she had been
too strongly swayed by Poleon and her father in their attitude
towards him to be conscious of it. Finding him now, however, in a
gentle humor, she was drawn to him unwittingly, and felt an
overweening desire to talk with him, even at the hazard of offending
her own people. The encounter fitted in with her rebellious mood,
for there were things she wished to know, things she must find out
from some one who knew the world and would not be afraid to answer
her questions candidly.
"I'm going to build a big dance-hall and saloon here," said Stark,
showing her the stakes that he had driven. "As soon as the rush to
the creek is over I'll hire a gang of men to get out a lot of house
logs. I'll finish it in a week and be open for the stampede."
"Do you think this will be a big town?" she asked.
"Nobody can tell, but I'll take a chance. If it proves to be a false
alarm I'll move on--I've done it before."
"You've been in a great many camps, I suppose."
He said that he had, that for twenty years he had been on the
frontier, and knew it from West Texas to the Circle.
"And are they all alike?"
"Very much. The land lies different but the people are the same."
"I've never known anything except this." She swept the points of the
compass with her arm. "And there is so much beyond that I want to
know about--oh, I feel so ignorant! There is something now that
perhaps you could tell me, you have travelled so much."
"Let's have it," said he, smiling at her seriousness.
She hesitated, at a loss for words, finally blurting out what was in
"My father is a squaw-man, Mr. Stark, and I've been raised to think
that such things are customary."
"They are, in all new countries," he assured her.
"But how are they regarded when civilization comes along?"
"Well, they aren't regarded, as a rule. Squaw-men are pretty
shiftless, and people don't pay much attention to them. I guess if
they weren't they wouldn't be squaw-men."
"My father isn't shiftless," she challenged, at which he remained
silent, refusing to go on record. "Isn't a half-breed just as good
as a white?"
"Look here," said he. "What are you driving at?"
"I'm a 'blood,'" she declared, recklessly, "and I want to know what
people think of me. The men around here have never made me feel
conscious of it, but--"
"You're afraid of these new people who are coming, eh? Well, don't
worry about that, Miss. It wouldn't make any difference to me or to
any of your friends whether you were red, white, black, or yellow."
"But it would make a difference with some people?" insisted the
"Oh, I reckon it would with Eastern people. They look at things kind
of funny, but we're not in the East."
"That's what I wanted to know. Nice people back there wouldn't
tolerate a girl like me for a moment, would they? They wouldn't
consider me good enough to associate with them?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "I guess you'd have a hard time breaking
in among the 'bon-tonners.' But what's the use of thinking about it.
This is your country and these are your people."
A morbid desire was upon her to track down this intangible racial
distinction, but she saw Runnion, whom she could not bear, coming
towards them, so thanked Stark hurriedly and went on her way.
"Been making friends with that squaw, eh?" remarked Runnion,
"Yes," replied Stark. "She's a nice little girl, and I like her. I
told her I didn't have any part in that miners' meeting affair."
"Huh! What's the matter with you? It was all your doing."
"I know it was, but I didn't aim it at her. I wanted that ground
next to Lee's, and I wanted to throw a jolt into Old Man Gale. I
couldn't let the girl stand in my way; but now that it's over, I'm
willing to be friends with her."
"Me, too," said Runnion, looking after Necia as her figure
diminished up the street. "By Heaven! She's as graceful as a fawn;
she's white, too. Nobody would ever know she was a breed."
"She's a good girl," said Stark, musingly, in a gentle tone that
Runnion had never heard before.
"Getting kind of mushy, ain't you? I thought you had passed that
stage, old man."
"No, I don't like her in that way."
"Well, I do, and I'm dead sore on that soldier."
"She's not your kind," said Stark. "A bad man can't hold a good
woman; he can win one easy enough, but he can't keep her. I know!"
"Nobody but a fool would want to keep one," Runnion replied,
"specially a squaw."
"She's just woke up to the fact that she is a squaw and isn't as
good as white. She's worried."
"I'll lay you a little eight to five that Burrell has thrown her
down," chuckled Runnion.
"I never thought of that. You may be right."
"If it's true I'll shuffle up a hand for that soldier."
"If I were you I wouldn't deal it to him," said the gambler, dryly.
"He may not cut to your break."
Meanwhile, Necia had passed on out of the town and through the
Indian village at the mouth of the creek, until high up on the
slopes she saw Alluna and the little ones. She climbed up to them
and seated herself where she could look far out over the westward
valley, with the great stream flowing half a mile beneath her. She
stayed there all the morning, and although the day was bright and
the bushes bending with their burden of blue, she picked no berries,
but fought resolutely through a dozen varying moods that mirrored
themselves in her delicate face. It was her first soul struggle, but
in time the buoyancy of youth and the almighty optimism of early
love prevailed; she comforted herself with the fond illusion that
this man was different from all others, that his regard was equal to
her own, and that his love would rise above such accidental things
as blood or breed or birth. And so she was in a happier frame of
mind when the little company made their descent at mid-day.
As they approached the town they heard the familiar cry of "Steam-
bo-o-o-at," and by the time they had reached home the little camp
was noisy with the plaint of wolf-dogs. There were few men to join
in the welcome to-day, every able-bodied inhabitant having
disappeared into the hills, but the animals came trooping lazily to
the bank, and sat down on their haunches watching the approaching
steamer, in their soft eyes the sadness of a canine race of slaves.
Behind them limped a sick man or two, a soldier from the barracks,
and in the rear a fellow who had drifted in the week before with
scurvy. It was a pitiful review that lined up to greet the tide of
tenderfeet crowding towards their El Dorado, and unusual also, for
as yet the sight of new faces was strange in the North.
The deserted aspect of the town puzzled the captain of the steamer,
and upon landing he made his way at once to John Gale's store, where
he learned from the trader of the strike and of the stampede that
had resulted. Before the recital was finished a man approached and
"Captain, my ticket reads to Dawson, but I'm getting off here. Won't
you have my outfit put ashore?" He was followed by a group of
fellow-passengers who made a similar request.
"This place is good enough for me," one of them said.
"Me, too," another volunteered. "This strike is new, and we've hit
her just in time."
Outside a dozen men had crowded "No Creek" Lee against the wall of
the store and were clamoring to hear about his find. Before the
tardy ones had cleared the gang-plank the news had flashed from
shore to ship, and a swarm came up the bank and into the post,
firing questions and answers at each other eagerly, elbowing and
fighting for a place within ear-shot of the trader or the ragged man
The frenzy of a gold stampede is like the rush from a burning
building, and equally easy to arouse. No statement is too wild to
lack believers, no rumor too exaggerated to find takers. Within an
hour the crew of the steamer was busy unloading countless tons of
merchandise and baggage billed to Dawson, and tents began to show
their snowy whiteness here and there. As a man saw his outfit appear
he would pounce upon it, a bundle at a time, and pile it by itself,
which resulted in endless disputes and much confusion; but a spirit
of youth and expectancy permeated all and prevented more than angry
words. Every hour the heaps of baggage grew larger and the tents
Stark wasted no time. With money in his hands he secured a dozen men
who were willing to work for hire, for there are always those who
prefer the surety of ten coined dollars to the hope of a hundred. He
swooped down with these helpers on his pile of merchandise that had
lain beneath tarpaulins on the river-bank since the day he and
Runnion landed, and by mid-afternoon a great tent had been stretched
over a framework of peeled poles built on the lot where he and Necia
had stood earlier in the day. Before dark his saloon was running. To
be sure, there was no floor, and his polished fixtures looked
strangely new and incongruous, but the town at large had assumed a
similar air of incompleteness and crude immaturity, and little
wonder, for it had grown threefold in half a day. Stark swiftly
unpacked his gambling implements, keen to scent every advantage, and
out of the handful of pale-faced jackals who follow at the heels of
a healthy herd, he hired men to run them and to deal. By night
Flambeau was a mining-camp.
Late in the evening the boat swung out into the river, and disclosed
a strange scene of transformation to the puzzled captain of a few
hours ago. The riverbank was lined with canvas shelters, illumined
dully by the tent-lights within till they looked like a nest of
glowworms in deep grass. A long, hoarse blast of good wishes rose
from the steamer, then she sighed her way around the point above
bearing forth the message that a new camp had been born.
MEADE BURRELL FINDS A PATH IN THE MOONLIGHT
"No Creek" Lee had come into his own at last, and was a hero, for
the story of his long ill-luck was common gossip now, and men
praised him for his courage. He had never been praised for anything
before and was uncertain just how to take it.
"Say, are these people kiddin' me?" he inquired, confidentially, of
"W'y? Wat you mean?"
"Well, there's a feller makin' a speech about me down by the
"Wat he say?"
"It ain't nothin' to fight over. He says I'm another Dan'l Boom,
leadin' the march of empire westward."
"Dat's nice, for sure."
"Certainly sounds good, but is it on the level?"
"Wal, I guess so," admitted Poleon.
The prospector swelled with indignation. "Then, why in hell didn't
you fellers tell me long ago?"
The scanty ounce or two of gold from his claim lay in the scales at
the post, where every new-comer might examine it, and, realizing
that he was a never-ending source of information, they fawned on him
for his tips, bribing him with newspapers, worth a dollar each, or
with cigars, which he wrapped up carefully and placed in his
mackinaw till every pocket of the rusty garment bulged so that he
could not sit without losing them. They dwelt upon his lightest
word, and stood him up beside the bar where they filled him with
proofs of friendliness until he shed tears from his one good eye.
He had formed a habit of parsimony born of his years of poverty, and
was so widely known as a tight man by the hundreds who had lent to
him that his creditors never at any time hoped for a reckoning. And
he never offered one; on the contrary, he had invariably flown into
a rage when dunned, and exhibited such resentment as to discourage
the practice. Now, however, the surly humor of the man began to
mellow, and in gradual stages he unloosened, the process being
attended by a disproportionate growth of the trader's cash receipts.
Cautiously, at first he let out his wit, which was logy from long
disuse, and as heavy on its feet as the Jumping Frog of Calaveras,
but when they laughed at its labored leaps and sallies his
confidence grew. With the regularity of a clock he planted cigars
and ordered "a little more hard stuff," while his roving eye
rejoiced in lachrymose profusion, its over-burden losing itself in
the tangle of his careless beard. By-and-by he wandered through the
town, trailed by a troop of tenderfeet, till the women marked him,
whereupon he fled back to the post and hugged the bar, for he was a
bashful man. When Stark's new place opened it offered him another
retreat of which he availed himself for some time. But late in the
evening he reappeared at Old Man Gale's store, walking a bit
unsteadily, and as he mounted the flight of logs to the door he
stepped once too often.
"What's become of that fourth step?" he demanded, sharply, of
"Dere she is," said the Frenchman.
"I'm'damned if it is. You moved it since I was here."
"I'll have 'im put back," laughed the other.
"Say! It's a grand thing to be rich, ain't it?"
"I don' know, I ain' never try it."
"Well, it is; and now that I've arrived, I'm goin' to change my ways
complete. No more extravagance in mine--I'll never lend another
"Wat's dat?" ejaculated Doret, in amazement.
"No more hard-luck stories and 'hurry-ups' for mine. I'm the stony-
hearted jailer, I am, from now, henceforth, world 'thout end, amen!
No busted miners need apply. I've been a good thing, but to-night I
turn on the time-lock."
"Ba gosh! You're fonny feller," laughed Poleon, who had lent the
one-eyed man much money in the past and, like others, regarded him
not merely as a bad risk but as a total loss. "Mebbe you t'ink
you've been a spen't'rif all dese year."
"I've certainly blowed a lot of money on my friends," Lee
acknowledged, "and they're welcome to what they've got so far, but
I'm goin' to chop all them prodigal habits and put on the tin vest.
I'll run the solderin'-iron up my seams so they can't get to me
without a can-opener. I'm air-tight for life, I am." He fumbled in
his pockets and unwrapped a gift cigar, then felt for a match.
Poleon tossed one on the bar, and he reached for it twice, missing
it each time.
"I guess dose new frien' of yours is mak' you purty full, M'sieu'
"Nothin" of the sort. I've got a bad dose of indigestion."
"Dat's 'orrible disease! Dere's plaintee riche man die on dat
seecknesse. You better lie down."
Doret took the hero of the day by the arm and led him to the rear of
the store, where he bedded him on a pile of flour sacks, but he had
hardly returned to the bar when Lee came veering out of the dimness,
making for the light like a ship tacking towards a beacon.
"What kind of flour is that?" he spluttered.
"Dat's just plain w'eat flour."
"Not on your life," said the miner, with the firmness of a great
conviction. "It's full of yeast powders. Why, it's r'arin' and
risin' like a buckin' hoss. I'm plumb sea-sick." He laid a zigzag
course for the door.
"W'ere you goin'?" asked Poleon.
"I'm goin' to get somethin' for this stomach trouble. It's fierce."
He descended into the darkness boldly, and stepped off with
confidence--this time too soon. Poleon heard him floundering about,
his indignant voice raised irascibly, albeit with a note of triumph.
"Wha'd I tell you? You put it back while I was ashleep." Then
whistling blithely, if somewhat out of tune, he steered for the new
saloon to get something for his "stomach trouble."
At Stark's he found a large crowd of the new men who welcomed him
heartily, plying him with countless questions, and harking to his
maudlin tales of this new country which to him was old. He had
followed the muddy river from Crater Lake to the Delta, searching
the bars and creek-beds in a tireless quest, till he knew each
stream and tributary, for he had been one of the hardy band that
used to venture forth from Juneau on the spring snows, disappearing
into the uncharted valley of the Yukon, to return when the river
clogged and grew sluggish, and, like Gale, he had lived these many
years ahead of the law where each man was his own court of appeals
and where crime was unknown. He had helped to build camps like Forty
Mile and Circle; he knew by heart the by-laws and rules that
governed every town and mining district in the country; he knew
every man and child by name, but, while many of his friends had
prospered, unceasing ill-luck had dogged him. Yet he had held to
honesty and hard work, measuring a man by his ability to swing an
axe or a shovel, and, despite his impecuniosity, regarding theft as
the one crime deserving capital punishment.
"Oh, there's lots of countries worse'n this," he declared. "We may
not be very han'some to the naked eye, and we may not wear our
handk'chiefs in our shirt cuffs, but there ain't no widders and
orphans doin' our washin', and a man can walk away from his house,
stay a month, and find it there when he comes back."
"Those days are past," said Stark, who had joined in the discussion.
"There's too many new people coming in for all of them to be
"They'd better be," said Lee, aggressively. "We ain't got no room
for stealers. Why, I had a hand in makin' the by-laws of this camp
myself, 'long with John Gale, and they stip'lates that any person
caught robbin' a cache is to be publicly whipped in front of the
tradin'-post, then, if it's winter time, he's to be turned loose on
the ice barefooted, or, if it's summer, he's to be set adrift on a
log with his shirt off."
"Either one would mean certain death," said a stranger. "Frost in
winter, mosquitoes in summer!"
"That's all right," another bystander declared. "A man's life
depends on his grub up here, and I'd be in favor of enforcing that
punishment to the letter if we caught any one thieving."
"All the same, I take no chances," said Stark. "There's too many
strangers here. Just to show you how I stand, I've put Runnion on
guard over my pile of stuff, and I'll be glad when it's under cover.
It isn't the severity of punishment that keeps a man from going
wrong, it's the certainty of it."
"Well, he'd sure get it, and get it proper in this camp," declared
Lee; and at that moment, as if his words had been a challenge, the
flaps of the great tent were thrust aside, and Runnion half led,
half threw a man into the open space before the bar.
"Let's have a look at you," he panted. "Well, if it ain't a nigger!"
"What's up?" cried the men, crowding about the prisoner, who
crouched, terror-stricken, in the trampled mud and moss, while those
playing roulette and "bank" left the tables, followed by the
"He's a thief," said Runnion, mopping the sweat from his brow. "I
caught him after your grub pile, Stark."
"In my cache?"
"Yes. He dropped a crate of hams when I came up on him, and tried to
run, but I dropped him." He held his Colt in his right hand, and a
trickle of blood from the negro's head showed how he had been
"Why didn't you shoot?" growled Stark, angrily, at which the negro
half arose and broke into excited denials of his guilt. Runnion
kicked him savagely, and cursed him, while the crowd murmured
"Le' me see him," said Lee, elbowing his way through the others.
Fixing his one eye upon the wretch, he spoke impressively.
"You're the first downright thief I ever seen. Was you hungry?"
"No, he's got plenty," answered one of the tenderfeet, who had
evidently arrived on the boat with the darky. "He's got a bigger
outfit than I have."
The prisoner drew himself up against the bar, facing his enemies
"Then I reckon it's a divine manifestation," said "No Creek" Lee,
tearfully. "This black party is goin' to furnish an example as will
elevate the moral tone of our community for a year."
"Let me take him outside," cried Stark, reaching under the bar for a
weapon. His eyes were cruel, and he had the angry pallor of a
dangerous man. "I'll save you a lot of trouble."
"Why not do it legal?" expostulated Lee. "It's just as certain."
"Yes! Lee is right," echoed the crowd, bent on a Roman holiday.
"What y'all aim to do?" whined the thief.
"We're goin' to try you," announced the one-eyed miner, "and if
you're found guilty, as you certainly are goin' to be, you'll be
flogged. After which perdicament you'll have a nice ride down-stream
on a saw-log without your laundry."
"But the mosquitoes--"
"Too bad you didn't think of them before. Let's get at this, boys,
and have it over with."
In far countries, where men's lives depend upon the safety of their
food supply, a side of bacon may mean more than a bag of gold;
therefore, protection is a strenuous necessity. And though any one
of those present would have gladly fed the negro had he been needy,
each of them likewise knew that unless an example were made of him
no tent or cabin would be safe. The North being a gameless,
forbidding country, has ever been cruel to thieves, and now it was
heedless of the black man's growing terror as it set about to try
him. A miners' meeting was called on the spot, and a messenger sent
hurrying to the post for the book in which was recorded the laws of
the men who had made the camp. The crowd was determined that this
should be done legally and as prescribed by ancient custom up and
down the river. So, to make itself doubly sure, it gave Runnion's
evidence a hearing; then, taking lanterns, went down to the big
tarpaulin-covered pile beside the river, where it found the crate of
hams and the negro's tracks. There was no defence for the culprit
and he offered none, being too scared by now to do more than plead.
The proceedings were simple and quiet and grim, and were wellnigh
over when Lieutenant Burrell walked into the tent saloon. He had
been in his quarters all day, fighting a fight with himself, and in
the late evening, rebelling against his cramped conditions and the
war with his conscience, he had sallied out, and, drawn by the crowd
in Stark's place, had entered.
A man replied to his whispered question, giving him the story, for
the meeting was under Lee's domination, and the miners maintained an
orderly and business-like procedure. The chairman's indigestion had
vanished with his sudden assumption of responsibility, and he showed
no trace of drink in his bearing. Beneath a lamp one was binding
four-foot lengths of cotton tent-rope to a broomstick for a knout,
while others, whom Lee had appointed, were drawing lots to see upon
whom would devolve the unpleasant duty of flogging the captive. The
matter-of-fact, relentless expedition of the affair shocked Burrell
inexpressibly, and seeing Poleon and Gale near by, he edged towards
them, thinking that they surely could not be in sympathy with this
"You don't understand, Lieutenant," said Gale, in a low voice. "This
nigger is a THIEF!"
"You can't kill a man for stealing a few hams."
"It ain't so much WHAT he stole; it's the idea, and it's the custom
of the country."
"Whipping is enough, without the other."
"Dis stealin' she's bad biznesse," declared Poleon. "Mebbe dose ham
is save some poor feller's life."
"It's mob law," said the Lieutenant, indignantly, "and I won't stand
Gale turned a look of curiosity upon the officer. "How are you going
to help yourself?" said he; but the young man did not wait to reply.
Quickly he elbowed his way towards the centre of the scene with that
air of authority and determination before which a crowd melts and
men stand aside. Gale whispered to his companion:
"Keep your eye open, lad. There's going to be trouble." They stood
on tiptoe, and watched eagerly.
"Gentlemen," announced Burrell, standing near the ashen-gray wretch,
and facing the tentful of men, "this man is a thief, but you can't
Stark leaned across the bar, his eyes blazing, and touched the
Lieutenant on the shoulder.
"Do you mean to take a hand in all of my affairs?"
"This isn't your affair; it's mine," said the officer. "This is what
I was sent here for, and it's my particular business. You seem to
have overlooked that important fact."
"He stole my stuff, and he'll take his medicine."
"I say he won't!"
For the second time in their brief acquaintance these two men looked
fair into each other's eyes. Few men had dared to look at Stark thus
and live; for when a man has once shed the blood of his fellow, a
mania obsesses him, a disease obtains that is incurable. There is an
excitation of every sense when a hunter stands up before big game;
it causes a thrill and flutter of undiscovered nerves, which nothing
else can conjure up, and which once lived leaves an incessant
hunger. But the biggest game of all is man, and the fiercest
sensation is hate. Stark had been a killer, and his brain had been
seared with the flame till the scar was ineradicable. He had lived
those lurid seconds when a man gambles his life against his enemy's,
and, having felt the great sensation, it could never die; yet with
it all he was a cautious man, given more to brooding on his injuries
and building up a quarrel than to reckless paroxysms of passion, and
experience had taught him the value of a well-handled temper as well
as the wisdom of knowing when to use it and put it in action. He
knew intuitively that his hour with Burrell had not yet come.
The two men battled with their eyes for an opening. Lee and the
others mastered their surprise at the interruption, and then began
to babble until Burrell turned from the gambler and threw up his arm
"There's no use arguing," he told the mob. "You can't do it. I'll
hold him till the next boat comes, then I'll send him down-river to
He laid his hand upon the negro and made for the door, with face set
and eyes watchful and alert, knowing that a hair's weight might
shift the balance and cause these men to rive him like wolves.
Lee's indignation at this miscarriage of justice had him so by the
throat as to strangle expostulation for a moment, till he saw the
soldier actually bearing off his quarry. Then he broke into a flood
"Stop that!" he bellowed. "To hell with YOUR law--we're goin'
accordin' to our own." An ominous echo arose, and in the midst of it
the miner, in his blind fury forgetting his exalted position, took a
step too near the edge of the bar, and fell off into the body of the
meeting. With him fell the dignity of the assemblage. Some one
laughed; another took it up; the nervous tension broke, and a man
"The soldier is right. You can't blame a dinge for stealing," and
another: "Sure! Hogs and chickens are legitimate prey."
Lee was helped back to his stand, and called for order; but the
crowd poked fun at him, and began moving about restlessly till some
one shouted a motion to adjourn, and there arose a chorus of
seconders. A few dissenting voices opposed them, but in the meantime
Burrell was gone, and with him the cause of the tumult; so the
meeting broke up of its own weight a moment later.
As Poleon and Gale walked home, the Frenchman said, "Dat was nervy
t'ing to do."
The trader made no answer, and the other continued, "Stark is goin'
for kill 'im, sure."
"It's a cinch," agreed Gale, "unless somebody gets Stark first."
When they were come to his door the trader paused, and, looking back
over the glowing tents and up at the star-sprinkled heavens,
remarked, as if concluding some train of thought, "If that boy has
got the nerve to take a nigger thief out of a miners' meeting and
hold him against this whole town, he wouldn't hesitate much at
taking a white man, would he?"
"Wal," hesitated the other, "mebbe dat would depen' on de crime."
"Suppose it was--murder?"
"Ha! We ain' got no men lak' dat in Flambeau."
They said good-night, and the old man entered his house to find
Alluna waiting for him, a look of worry on her stolid face.
"What's wrong?" he inquired.
"All night Necia has been weeping."
"Is she sick?" He started for the girl's door, but Alluna stopped
"No! It is not that kind of weeping; this comes from the heart. It
is there she is sick. I went to her, but she grew angry, and said I
had a black skin and could not understand; then she went out-doors
and has not returned."
Gale sat down dejectedly. "Yes, she's sick in her heart, all right,
and so am I, Alluna. When did she go out?"
"An hour ago."
"Where is she?"
"Out by the river-bank--I followed her in the shadows. It is best
for her to stay there till she is calm."
"I know what ails her," said the father. "She's found that she's not
like other girls. She's found that a white soul doesn't count with
white people; they never go below the skin." Then he told her of the
scene that morning in the store, adding that he believed she loved
"Did she say so?"
"No, she denied it, now that she knows she hasn't got his kind of
blood in her."
"Blood makes no difference," said the woman, stubbornly. "If he
loves her, he will take her; if he does not--that is all."
Gale looked up at her, and was about to explain, when the utter
impossibility of her comprehending him made him desist, and he fell
moody again. At last he said, "I've got to tell her, Alluna."
"No, no!" cried the woman, aghast. "Don't tell her the truth!
Nothing could be worse than that!"
But he continued, deliberately: "Love is the biggest thing in the
world; it's the only thing worth while, and she has got to have a
fair show at it. This has been on my mind for weeks, and I've put it
away, hoping I wouldn't have to do it; but to-day I came face to
face with it again, and it's up to me. She'll have to know some
time, so the sooner the better."
"She would not believe you," said the woman, at which he started.
"I never thought of that. I wonder if she would doubt! I couldn't
"There is no proof, and it would mean your life. A good man's life
is a great price to pay for the happiness of one girl--"
"I gave it once before," said Gale, a trifle bitterly, "and now that
the game is started I've got to play the string out; but--I wonder
if she would doubt--" He paused for a long moment. "Well, I'll have
to risk it. However, I've got a lot of things to do first--you and
the youngsters must be taken care of."
"And Stark?" said Alluna.
"Yes, and Stark."
Burrell took his prisoner to the barracks, where he placed him under
guard, giving instructions to hold him at any cost, not knowing what
wild and reckless humor the new citizens of Flambeau might develop
during the night, for it is men who have always lived with the
halter of the law tight upon their necks who run wildest when it is
removed. Men grown old on the frontier adhere more closely to a
rigid code than do tenderfeet who feel for the first time the
liberty and license of utter unrestraint, and it was these strangers
whom the soldier feared rather than men like Gale and "No Creek"
Lee, who would recognize the mercy of his intervention and let the
After he had taken every precaution he went out into the night
again, and fought with himself as he had fought all that day and all
the night before; in fact, ever since old Thomas had come to him
after leaving Necia, and had so cunningly shaped his talk that
Burrell never suspected his object until he perceived his position
in such a clear light that the young man looked back upon his work
with startled eyes. The Corporal had spoken garrulously of his
officer's family; of their pride, and of their love for his
profession; had dwelt enthusiastically upon the Lieutenant's future
and the length he was sure to go, and finally drifted into the same
story he had told Necia. Burrell at last sensed the meaning of the
crafty old soldier's strategy and dismissed him, but not before his
work had been accomplished. If a coarse-fibred, calloused old
campaigner like Corporal Thomas could recognize the impossibility of
a union between Necia and himself, then the young man must have been
blind indeed not to have seen it for himself. The Kentuckian was a
man of strong and virile passions, but he was also well balanced,
and had ever followed his head rather than his heart, holding, as he
did, a deep-seated contempt for weak men who laid their courses
otherwise. The generations of discipline back of him spoke to his
conscience. He had allowed himself to become attached to this girl
until--yes, he knew now he loved her. If only he had not awakened
her and himself with that first hot kiss; if only--But there was no
going back now, no use for regrets, only the greater necessity of
mapping out a course that would cause her least unhappiness. If he
could have run away he would have done so gladly, but he was bound
here to this camp, with no possibility of avoiding her.
When he drove his reason with firm hands he saw but one course to
follow; but, when his mind went slack for a moment, the old desire
to have her returned more strongly than ever, and he heard voices
arguing, pleading, persuading--she was the equal of any woman in the
world, they said, in mind, in purity, and in innocence. He hated
himself for hesitating; he railed at his own indecision; and then,
when he had justified his love and persuaded himself that he was
right in seeking this union, there would rise again the picture of
his people, their chagrin, and what would result from such a
marriage. He knew how they would take it; he knew what his friends
would say, and how he would be treated as the husband of a half-
breed Indian; for in his country one drop of colored blood made a
negro, and his people saw but little difference between the red and
the black. It would mean his social ostracism; he would be shunned
by his brother officers, and his career would be at an end. He swore
aloud in the darkness that this was too great a price to pay for
love, that he owed it to himself and to his dear ones at home to
give up this dark-eyed maid who had bewitched him.
He had wandered far during this debate, clear past the town, and out
through the Indian village; but now that he believed he had come to
an understanding with himself, he turned back towards his quarters.
He knew it would be hard to give her up; but he had irrevocably
decided, and his path began to unfold itself so clear and straight
that he marvelled how he could have failed to see it. He was glad he
had conquered, although the pain was still sharp. He felt a better
man for it, and, wrapped in this complacent optimism, he passed
close by the front of the trader's store, where Necia had crept to
be alone with her misery.
The high moon cast a deep, wide shadow upon the store steps where
the girl sat huddled, staring out into the unreal world, waiting for
the night wind to blow away the fears and forebodings that would not
let her sleep. It was late, and the hush of a summer midnight lay
upon the distant hills. Burrell had almost passed her when he was
startled by the sound of his name breathed softly; then, to his
amazement, he saw her come forth like a spirit into the silver
"Necia!" he cried, "what are you doing here at this hour?" She
looked up at him sadly; he saw that her cheeks were wet, and
something inside him snapped and broke. Without a word he took her
in his arms, meeting her lips in a long kiss, while she, trembling
with the joy of his strong embrace, drew closer and closer and
rested her body wearily against his.
"Little girl! little girl!" he whispered, over and over, his tone
conveying every shade of sympathy, love, and understanding she had
craved. He knew what had made her sad, and she knew that he knew.
There was no need for words; the anguish of this long day had
whetted the edge of their desire, and they were too deeply, too
utterly lost in the ecstasy of meeting to care for speech.
As she lay cradled in his arms, which alternately held her with the
soft tenderness of a mother and crushed her with the fierce ardor of
a lover, she lost herself in the bliss of a woman's surrender, and
forgot all her terrifying doubts and fears. What were questions of
breed or birth or color now, when she knew he loved her? Mere vapors
that vanished with the first flutter of warm wings.
Nor did Meade Burrell recall his recent self-conquest or pause to
reason why he should not love this little wisp of the wilderness.
The barriers he had built went down in the sight and touch of his
love and disappeared; his hesitation and infirmity seemed childish
now--yes, more than that, cowardly. He realized all in a moment that
he had been supremely selfish, that his love was a covenant, a
compact, which he had entered into with her and had no right to
dissolve without her consent, and, strangely enough, now that he
acknowledged the bond to himself, it became very sweet and
"Your lips cling so that I can't get free," sighed the girl, at
"You never shall," he whispered. But when she smiled up at him
piteously, her eyes swimming, and said, "I must," he wrenched
himself away and let her go.
As he went lightly towards the barracks through the far-stretching
shadows, for the moon was yellow now, Meade Burrell sighed gladly to
himself. Again his course ran clear and straight before him though
wholly at variance with the one he had decided upon so recently. But
he knew not that his vision was obscured and that the moon-madness
was upon him.
WHERE THE PATH LED
By daylight next morning every man and most of the women among the
new arrivals had disappeared into the hills--the women in spite of
the by-laws of Lee's Creek, which discriminated against their sex.
When a stampede starts it does not end with the location of one
stream-bed, nor of two; every foot of valley ground for miles on
every hand is pre-empted, in the hope that more gold will be found;
each creek forms a new district, and its discoverers adopt laws to
suit their whims. The women, therefore, hastened to participate in
the discovery of new territory and in the shaping of its government,
leaving but few of either sex to guard the tents and piles of
provisions standing by the river-bank. In two days they began to
return, and straggled in at intervals for a week thereafter, for
many had gone far.
And now began a new era for Flambeau--an era of industry such as the
frontier town had never known. The woods behind rang with the
resounding discords of axes and saws and crashing timber, and new
cabins appeared on every hand, rising in a day. The sluggish air was
noisy with voices, and the edge of the forest receded gradually
before the busy pioneers, replacing the tall timbers with little,
high-banked homes of spruce and white-papered birch. From dawn till
dark arose the rhythmic rasp of men whip-sawing floor lumber to the
tune of two hundred dollars per thousand; and with the second
steamer came a little steam sawmill, which raised its shrill
complaint within a week, punctuating the busy day with its piping
The trail along the Flambeau, was dotted continuously with toiling
human beasts of burden, that floundered laboriously beneath great
packs of provisions and tools and other baggage, winding like an
endless stream of ants through the hills to "No Creek" Lee Creek,
where they re-enacted the scenes that were occurring in the town.
Tents and cabins were scattered throughout the length of the valley,
lumber was sawed for sluice-boxes, and the virginal breezes that had
sucked through this seam in the mountains since days primeval came
to smell of spruce fires and echo with the sounds of life.
A dozen tents were pitched on Lee's discovery claim, for the owner
had been besieged by men who clamored to lease a part of his ground,
and, yielding finally, he had allotted to each of them a hundred
feet. Forth-with they set about opening their portions, for the
ground was shallow, and the gold so near the surface that winter
would interfere with its extraction; wherefore, they made haste. The
owner oversaw them all, complacent in the certainty of a steady
royalty accruing from the working of his allotments.
Every day there came into Flambeau exaggerated reports of new
strikes in other spots, of strong indications and of rich prospects
elsewhere. Stories grew out of nothing, until the camp took an
hysterical pleasure in exciting itself and deceiving every stranger
who came from north or south, for the wine of discovery was in them
all, and it pleased them to distort and enlarge upon every rumor
that came their way, such being the temper of new gold-fields. They
knew they were lying, and that all other men were lying also, and
yet they hearkened to each tale and almost deceived themselves.
Burrell sought Necia at an early day and, in presence of her father,
told her that he had been approached by men who wished to lease the
claims he held for her. It would prove an inexpensive way to develop
her holdings, he said, and she would run no risk; moreover, it would
be rapid, and insure a quick return, for a lease so near to proven
territory was in great demand. After some discussion this was
arranged, and Meade, as trustee, allotted her ground in tracts, as
Lee had done. Poleon followed suit; but the trader chose to prospect
his own claims, and to that end called in a train of stiff-backed
Indian packers, moved a substantial outfit to the creek, and
thereafter spent much of his time in the hills, leaving the store to
Doret. He seemed anxious to get away from the camp and hide himself
in the woods. Stark was almost constantly occupied at his saloon,
for it was a mint, and ran day and night. Runnion was busy with the
erection of a substantial structure of squared logs, larger than the
trading-post, destined as a dance-hall, theatre, and gambling-house.
Flambeau, the slumbrous, had indeed aroused itself, stretched its
limbs, and sprung into vigorous, virile, feverish being, and the
wise prophets were predicting another Dawson for it, notwithstanding
that many blank spots had been found as the creek of Lee's finding
bared its bedrock to the miners. These but enhanced the value of the
rich finds, however, for a single stroke of good-fortune will more
than offset a dozen disappointments. The truth is, the stream was
very spotted, and Leo had by chance hit upon one of the bars where
the metal had lodged, while others above and below uncovered a bed-
rock as barren as a clean-swept floor. In places they cross-cut from
rim to rim, drove tunnels and drains and drifts, sunk shafts and
opened trenches without finding a color that would ring when dropped
in the pan; but that was an old, old story, and they were used to
During these stirring weeks of unsleeping activity Burrell saw
little of Necia, for he had many things to occupy him, and she was
detained much in the store, now that her father was away. When they
met for a moment they were sure to be interrupted, while in and
around the house Alluna seemed to be always near her. Even so, she
was very happy; for she was sustained by the constant hectic
excitement that was in the air and by her brief moments with Meade,
which served to gladden her and make of the days one long,
delicious, hopeful procession of undisturbed dreams and fancies. He
was the same fond lover as on that adventurous journey up Black Bear
Creek, and wooed her with a reckless fire that set her aglow. And so
she hummed and laughed and dreamed the days away, her happiness
matching the peace and gladness of the season.
With Burrell, on the contrary, it was a season of penance and
flagellations of spirit, lightened only by the moments when he was
with her, and when she made him forget all else. This damnable
indecision goaded him to self-contempt; he despised himself for his
weakness; his social instincts and training, his sense of duty, and
the amenities of life that proud men hold dear tugged steadily,
untiringly at his reason, while the little imp of impulse sat
grinning wickedly, ready to pop out and upset all his high
resolutions. It raised such a tumult in his ears that he could not
hear the other voices; it stirred his blood till it leaped and
pounded, and then ran off with him to find this tiny brown and
beaming witch who was at the bottom of it all.
No months in any clime can compare with an Arctic summer when Nature
is kind, for she crowds into this short epoch all the warmth and
brightness and splendor that is spread over longer periods in other
lands, and every growing thing rejoices riotously in scent and color
and profusion. It was on one of these heavenly days, spiced with the
faintest hint of autumn, that Necia received the news of her good-
fortune. One of her leasers came into the post to show her and
Poleon a bag of dust. He and his partner had found the pay-streak
finally, and he had come to notify her that it gave promise of being
very rich, and now that its location was demonstrated, no doubt the
other "laymen" would have it within a fortnight. As all of them were
ready to begin sluicing as soon as the ground could be stripped,
undoubtedly they would be able to take out a substantial stake
before winter settled and the first frost closed them down.
She took the news quietly but with shining eyes, though her pleasure
was no greater or more genuine than Poleon's, who grasped both her
hands in his and shouted, gleefully:
"Bien! I'm glad! You'll be riche gal for sure now, an' wear plaintee
fine dress lak' I fetch you. Jus' t'ink, you fin' gol' on your place
more queecker dan your fader, an' he's good miner, too. Ha! Dat's
"Oh, Poleon! I'll be a fine lady, after all," she cried--"just as
I've dreamed about! Wasn't it beautiful, that pile of yellow grains
and nuggets? Dear, dear! And part of it is mine! You know I've never
had money. I wonder what it is like to be rich!"
"How I'm goin' tell you dat?"
"Oh, well, they will find it on your claims very soon."
He shook his head. "You better knock wood w'en you say dat. Mebbe I
draw de blank again; nobody can't tell. I've do de sam' t'ing
before, an' dose men w'at been workin' my groun' dey're gettin'
"It's impossible. You're sure to strike it, or if you don't, you can
have half of what I make--I'll be too wealthy, anyhow, so you might
He laughed again, at which she suddenly remembered that he had not
laughed very much of late, or else she had been too deeply absorbed
in her own happiness to mark the lack of his songs and merriment.
"When you do become a Flambeau king," she continued, "what will you
do with yourself? Surely you won't continue that search for your far
country. It could never be so beautiful as this." She pointed to the
river that never changed, and yet was never the same, and to the
forests, slightly tinged with the signs of the coming season. "Just
look at the mountains," she mused, in a hushed voice; "see the haze
that hangs over them--the veil that God uses to cover up his
treasures." She drew a deep breath. "The breeze fairly tastes with
clean things, doesn't it? Do you know, I've often wanted to be an
animal, to have my senses sharpened--one of those wild things with a
funny, sharp, cold nose. I'd like to live in the trees and run along
the branches like a squirrel, and drink in the perfume that comes on
the wind, and eat the tender, growing things. The sun is bright
enough and the world is good enough, but I can't feel enough. I'm
'It's very fine," agreed the Canadian. "I don' see w'y anybody would
care for livin' on dem cities w'en dere's so much nice place
"Oh, but the cities must be fine also," said she, "though, of
course, they can't be as lovely as this. Won't I be glad to see
"Are you goin' away?" he inquired, quickly.
"Of course." Then glimpsing his downcast face, she hastened to add,
"That is, when my claims turn out rich enough to afford it."
"Oh," he said, with relief. "Dat's different. I s'pose it mus' be
purty dull on dem beeg town; now'ere to go, not'in' to see 'cept lot
"Yes," said Necia, "I've no doubt one would get tired of it soon,
and long for something to do and something really worth while, but I
should like to try it once, and I shall as soon as I'm rich enough.
Won't you come along?"
"I don' know," he said, thoughtfully; "mebbe so I stay here, mebbe
so I tak' my canoe an' go away. For long tam' I t'ink dis Flambeau
she's de promis' lan' I hear callin' to me, but I don' know yet for
"What kind of place is that land of yours, Poleon?"
"Ha! I never see 'im, but she's been cryin' to me ever since I'm
little boy. It's a place w'ere I don' get too hot on de summer an'
too col' on de winter; it's place w'ere birds sing an' flowers
blossom an' de sun shine, an' w'ere I can sleep widout dreamin'
'bout it all de tam'."
"Why, it's the land of content--you'll never discover it by travel.
I'll tell you a secret, Poleon. I've found it--yes, I have. It lies
here." She laid her hand on her breast. "Father Barnum told me the
story of your people, and how it lives in your blood--that hunger to
find the far places; it's what drove the voyageurs and coureur du
bois from Quebec to Vancouver, and from the Mississippi to Hudson's
Bay. The wanderlust was their heritage, and they pushed on and on
without rest, like the salmon in the spring, but they were different
in this: that they never came back to die."
"Dat's me! I never see no place yet w'at I care for die on, an' I
never see no place yet w'at I care for see again 'cept dis Flambeau.
I lak' it, dis one, purty good so far, but I ain' know w'en I'm
goin' get tire'. Dat depen's." There was a look of great tenderness
in his eyes as he bent towards her and searched her face, but she
was not thinking of him, and at length he continued:
"Fader Barnum, he's goin' be here nex' Sonday for cheer up dem
Injun. Constantine she's got de letter."
"Why, that's the day after to-morrow!" cried Necia. "Oh, won't I be
glad to see him!"
"You don' get dem kin' of mans on de beeg cities," said Poleon. "I
ain' never care for preachin' much, an' dese feller w'at all de tam'
pray an' sing t'rough de nose, dey mak' me seeck. But Fader Barnum--
Ba Gar! She's the swell man."
"Do you know," said Necia, wistfully, "I've always wanted him to
"You t'inkin' 'bout marry on some feller, eh?" said the other, with
an odd grin. "Wal! w'y not? He'll be here all day an' night. S'pose
you do it. Mos' anybody w'at ain' got some wife already will be glad
for marry on you--an' mebbe some feller w'at has got wife, too! If
you don' lak' dem, an' if you're goin' marry on SOMEBODY, you can be
wife to me."
Necia laughed lightly. "I believe you WOULD marry me if I wanted you
to; you've done everything else I've ever asked. But you needn't be
afraid; I won't take you up." In all her life this man had never
spoken of love to her, and she had no hint of the dream he
cherished. He had sung his songs to her and told her stories till
his frank and boyish mind was like an open page to her; she knew the
romance that was the very fibre of him, and loved his exaggerated
chivalry, for it minded her of old tales she had read; but that he
could care for her save as a friend, as a brother--such a thought
had never dawned upon her.
While they were talking a boat had drawn inshore and made fast to
the bank in front of them. An Indian landed and, approaching,
entered into talk with the Frenchman.
By-and-by Poleon turned to the girl, and said:
"Dere's'hondred marten-skin come in; you min' de store w'ile I mak'
trade wit' dis man."
Together the two went down to the boat, leaving Necia behind, and
not long after Runnion sauntered up to the store and addressed her
"Hello, Necia! I just heard about the strike on your claim. That's
fine and dandy."
She acknowledged his congratulations curtly, for although it was
customary for most of the old-timers to call her by her Christian
name, she resented it from this man. She chose to let it pass,
"I had some good news last night myself," he continued. "One of my
men has hit some good dirt, and we'll know what it means in a day or
so. I'll gamble we're into the money big, though, for I always was a
lucky cuss. Say, where's your father?"
"He's out at the mine."
"We've used up all of our bar sugar at the saloon, and I want to buy
what you've got."
"Very well, I'll get it for you."
He followed her inside, watching her graceful movements, and
attempting, with his free-and-easy insolence, to make friendly
advances, but, seeing that she refused to notice him, he became
piqued, and grew bolder.
"Look here, Necia, you're a mighty pretty girl. I've had my eye on
you ever since I landed, and the more I see of you the better I like
"It isn't necessary to tell me that," she replied. "The price of the
sugar will be just the same."
"Yes, and you're bright, too," he declared. "That's what I like in a
woman--good looks and brains. I believe in strong methods and
straight talk, too; none of this serenading and moonlight mush for
me. When I see a girl I like, I go and get her. That's me. I make
love like a man ought to--"
"Are you making love to me?" she inquired, curiously.
"It's a little bit sudden, I know, but a man has to begin some time.
I think you'd just about suit me. We'll both have money before long,
and I'll be good to you."
The girl laughed derisively in his face.
"Now don't get sore. I mean business. I don't wear a blue coat and
use a lot of fancy words, and then throw you down when I've had my
fun, and I don't hang around and spoil your chances with other men
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm no soft-talking Southerner with gold buttons and
highfalutin' ways. I don't care if you are a squaw, I'll take you--"
"Don't talk to me!" she cried, in disgust, her voice hot with anger
But he continued, unheeding: "Now, cut out these airs and get down
to cases. I mean what I say. I know you've been casting sheep's eyes
at Burrell, but, Lord! he wouldn't have you, no matter how rich you
get. Of course, you acted careless in going off alone with him, but
I don't mind what they're saying around camp, for I've made little
slips like that myself, and we'd get along--"
"I'll have you killed!" she hissed, through her clinched teeth,
while her whole body vibrated with passion. "I'll call Poleon and
have him shoot you!" She pointed to the river-bank a hundred yards
away, where the Canadian was busy assorting skins.
But he only laughed at her show of temper, and shrugged his
shoulders as he answered her, roughly:
"Understand me, I'm on the square. So think it over, and don't go up
in the air like a sky-rocket."
She cried out at him to "Go--go--go!" and finally he took up his
bundle, saying, as he stepped out slowly:
"All right! But I'm coming back, and you'll have to listen to me. I
don't mind being called a squaw-man. You're pretty near white, and
you're good enough for me. I'll treat you right--why, I'll even
marry you if you're dead set on it. Sure!"
She could scarcely breathe, but checked her first inclination to
call Poleon, knowing that it needed only a word from her to set that
nut-brown savage at Runnion's throat. Other thoughts began to crowd
her brain and to stifle her. The fellow's words had stabbed her
consciousness, and done something for her that gentler means would
not have accomplished; they had opened her eyes to a thing that she
had forgotten--a hideous thing that had reared its fangs once before
to strike, but which her dreams of happiness had driven out of her
Eden. All at once she saw the wrong that had been done her, and
realized from this brute's insult that those early fears had been
well grounded. It suddenly occurred to her that in all the hours she
had spent with her lover, in all those unspeakably sweet and
intimate hours, there had never been one word of marriage. He had
looked into her eyes and vowed he could not live without her, and
yet he had never said the words he should have said, the words that
would bind her to him. His arms and his lips had comforted her and
stilled her fears, but after all he had merely made love. A cold
fear crept over the girl. She recalled the old Corporal's words of a
few weeks ago, and her conversation with Stark came back to her.
What if it were true--that which Runnion implied? What if he did not
intend to ask her, after all? What if he had only been amusing
himself? She cried out sharply at this, and when Doret staggered in
beneath a great load of skins he found her in a strange excitement.
When he had finished his accounting with the Indian and dismissed
him, she turned an agitated face to the Frenchman.
"Poleon," she said, "I'm in trouble. Oh, I'm in such awful trouble!"
"It's dat Runnion! I seen 'im pass on de store w'ile I'm down
below." His brows knit in a black scowl, and his voice slid off a
pitch in tone. "Wat he say, eh?"
"No, no, it's not that. He paid me a great compliment." She laughed
harshly. "Why, he asked me to marry him." The man beside her cursed
at this, but she continued: "Don't blame him for liking me--I'm the
only woman for five hundred miles around--or I was until this crowd
came--so how could he help himself? No, he merely showed me what a
fool I've been."
"I guess you better tell me all 'bout dis t'ing," said Poleon,
gravely. "You know I'm all tam' ready for help you, Necia. Wen you
was little feller an' got bust your finger you run to me queeck, an'
I feex it."
"Yes, I know, dear Poleon," she assented, gratefully. "You've been a
brother to me, and I need you now more than I ever needed you
before. I can't go to father; he wouldn't understand, or else he
would understand too much, and spoil it all, his temper is so
"I'm not w'at you call easy-goin' mese'f," the Canadian said,
darkly, and it was plain that he was deeply agitated, which added to
the girl's distress; but she began to speak rapidly, incoherently,
her impulsiveness giving significance to her words, so that the man
had no difficulty in following her drift. With quick insight he
caught her meaning, and punctuated her broken sentences with a
series of grave nods, assuring her that he knew and understood. He
had always known, he had always understood, it seemed.
"Don't think I'm unwomanly, Poleon, for I'm not. I may be foolish
and faithful and too trusting, but I'm not--unmaidenly. You see,
I've never been like other girls--and he was so fine, so different,
he made me love him--it's part of a soldier's training, I suppose.
It was so sweet to be near him, and to hear him tell of himself and
all the world he knows--I just let myself drift. I'm afraid--I'm
afraid I listened too well, and my ears heard more than he said--my
head is so full of books, you know."
"He should have know' dat, too," said Poleon.
"Yes," she flared up. "He knew I was only an Indian girl."
The only color in Doret's face lay now in his cheeks, where the sun
had put it; but he smiled at her--his warm, engaging smile--and laid
his great brown hand upon her shoulder softly.
"I've look' in hees eye an' I'm always t'ink he's good man. I don'
never t'ink he'll mak' fun of poor little gal."
"But he has, Poleon; that's just what he has done." She came near to
breaking down, and finished, pathetically, "They're telling the
story on the street, so Runnion says."
"Dat's easy t'ing for feex," he said. "Runnion, she don' spread no
more story lak' dat."
"I don't care what they say. I want the truth. I want to know what
he means, what his intentions are. He swears he loves me, and yet he
has never asked me to marry him. He has gone too far; he has made a
fool of me to amuse himself, and--and I couldn't see it until to-
day. He's laughing at me, Poleon, he's laughing at me now! Oh, I
can't bear it!"
The Frenchman took up his wide hat from the counter and placed it
carefully upon his head, but she stopped him as he moved towards the
door, for she read the meaning of the glare in his eyes.
"Wait till you understand--wait, I say! He hasn't done anything
"Dat's de trouble. I'm goin' mak' 'im do somet'ing."
"No, no! It isn't that; it's these doubts that are killing me--I'm
"I hear plaintee," he said. "Dere's no tam' for monkey roun'."
"I tell you he may be honest," she declared. "He may mean to marry
me, but I've got to know. That's why I came to you; that's what you
must find out for me."
"I'm good trader, Necia," said the Canadian, after a moment. "I'll
mak' bargain wit' you now. If he say yes, he'll marry you, I don'
ask no more; but if he say no, you geeve 'im to me. Is it go?"
She hesitated, while he continued, musingly, "I don' see how no man
on all dis worl' could lef' you go." Then to her, "Wal, is it
"Yes," she said, the Indian blood speaking now; "but you must learn
the truth, there must be no mistake--that would be terrible."
"Dere ain' goin' be no mistak'."
"If he should refuse, I--I'll marry SOME one, quick. I won't be
laughed at by this camp; I won't be a joke. Oh, Poleon! I've given
myself to him just as truly as if--well, he--he has taken my first
Doret smote his hands together at this and began to roll his head
backward from side to side, as if in some great pain, but his lips
were dry and silent. After a moment the spell left him, the fire
died down, leaving only a dumb agony in its place. She came closer
"I'll never let them point at me and say, 'There goes the squaw
that--he threw away.'"
"You mak' dis very hard t'ing for me," he said, wearily.
"Listen," she went on, lashing herself with pity and scorn. "You say
Father Barnum will be here on Sunday. Well--I'll marry some one, I
don't care who!" Then, with a sudden inspiration, she cried, "I'll
marry you--you said I could be a wife to you."
He uttered a sharp cry. "You mean dat, Necia?"
"Yes," she declared. "Why not? You'll do it for my sake, won't you?"
"Would you stan' up wit' me 'longside of de pries', lovin' dat oder
feller all de tam'?" he asked, queerly.
"Yes, YES! I'd rather it was you than anybody, but married I'll be
on Sunday. I'll never let them laugh at me."
Doret held his silence for a moment, then he looked up and said, in
"It's easy t'ing for go an' ask 'im, but you mus' hear hees answer
wit' your own ears--den you can't t'ink I'm lyin'. I'll fetch 'im
'ere on dis place if you feex it for hide you'se'f behin' dose
post." He indicated a bundle of furs that were suspended against a
pillar, and which offered ample room for concealment. "Dere's goin'
be no lies to-day."
He pulled himself together and went out, with the tired gait of an
old man, his great shock head bowed low. A few moments later he
"I've sent li'l' Jean for 'im. You get in dere out of sight--an'
A TANGLED SKEIN
When Burrell entered he wasted no time in greetings.
"I know why you sent for me, Poleon. I've heard the news, and I
would have been up anyhow to congratulate her very soon. I call it
"Yes, dere's been beeg strike all right, an' Necia is goin' be riche
"I'm as pleased as if the claim were mine, and you feel the same
way, of course."
The Frenchman nodded. "I love Necia very much, lak'--well, lak' I'm