Part 4 out of 6
broder to her." The knowledge that she was listening made him very
uncomfortable--in fact, this whole affair savored more of double-
dealing and treachery than anything he had ever attempted, and it
went sorely against his grain, but it had presented itself as the
only way to help her, and he proceeded, groping haltingly for fit
expression, "Dere's t'ing I want for talk 'bout wit' you, but I'm
scare' you'll t'ink I'm butt in."
"Nonsense," said Burrell. "I know you too well for that."
"You know me for good man, eh? An' you know I ain' try for bre'k up
oder fellers' biznesse, never! Wal, I'm come to you now lak' wan
good man to 'noder biccause I'm got bad trouble on de min', an' you
mus'n't get sore."
"There's no danger, Poleon. Let's have it. If there is anything I
can do, you may count on me."
"Wal," he began, nervously, clearing his throat, "it's lak' dis.
Dere's feller been talk some 'bout Necia, an' it ain' nice talk
"Who is he?" exclaimed the soldier, in a tone that made the girl's
"Wait! Lemme tol' you w'at he say, den we'll talk 'bout feex 'im
plaintee. He say dere's joke down on Stark's saloon dat Necia Gale
is mak' fool of herse'f on you, an' dat you ain' care for marry
"Runnion!" cried Burrell, and started for the door. "I'll settle
with him now for fair!" But Poleon blocked his way, and, observing
him gravely, continued, in a tone that the other could not disregard
"No, M'sieu', before you pass on dat place you'll tol' me if it's
"True!" the Lieutenant retorted, angrily. "What business is it of
yours? This concerns me."
"An' me, too! I'm w'at you call gardeen for Necia till John Gale
come back, an' I'm broder of her, too. You promis' jus' now you don'
get mad, an' I don' say she's Runnion neider w'at spik dose t'ing;
dere's more dan 'im been talkin'. Is it true?"
His sternness offended Burrell, for the soldier was not the kind to
discuss his affairs in this way, therefore he drew back scowling.
"Poleon Doret," he said, "it's not one's enemies who do him injury,
it's his damned fool friends. I have learned to regard you highly
because you are a brave man and an honest one, but it seems that you
are a sentimental idiot."
"Dem is tough word," Doret replied. "But dere's reason w'y I can't
tak' on no madnesse. You say I'm hones'. Wal, I'm hones' now, an' I
come to you wit' fair words an' I show my han' to you--I don' hoi'
out no cards, M'sieu'--but I don' t'ink it is you who have play
square, altogeder. I'm Necia's frien', an' I'll fight for her jus'
so queecker lak' you, but I mus' know dis t'ing for sure, so if you
have de good heart an' de courage of good man you'll tell me de
truth. Do you have the feelin' for marry on her?"
The pause that followed was awkward for both of them, while the
girl, who stood concealed near by, held her breath and buried her
nails in her palms. Why did he hesitate? Would he never speak? It
seemed not, for he swung between diverse emotions--anger that this
outsider should question him on so intimate a matter, chagrin at the
knowledge of having injured Necia, and rage, blind rage, at the
thought of its becoming a bar-room topic. Gradually the conviction
grew that it was not a question of idle curiosity with Doret, and
the man's history recurred to him. No wonder he was interested in
the girl, no wonder he wished to guard her; he had been a brother
indeed, even as he said, and he could have no motive save an
honorable one. It never occurred to the soldier that this Frenchman
could harbor feelings akin to his own. The man was rough and
foreign; his thoughts had been couched in harsher language, perhaps,
than he intended; moreover, the fellow's high sense of honor was a
byword--and of a sudden the desire to set himself right in this
man's eyes dictated his answer.
"I am amazed at myself for listening to you," he said, at last, "and
quite shocked, in fact, at my answering your questions, but perhaps
I'd better, after all. First, however, let me say that the little
girl is just as pure now as she was before she knew me--"
Poleon threw up his hand. "M'sieu', dat's more closer to de insult
dan w'at you call me jus' now. You don' need for spoke it."
"You're right! There's no need to tell you that. As for showing her
certain attentions--well, I admit that I have, as you know, but,
thank God, I can say I've been a gentleman and addressed her as I
would the fairest lady I've known."
"An' you mean for marry, eh?" probed the other.
Now, no man could have answered such a direct question easily, and
in this case it was especially hard for the Kentuckian, who was torn
between his ungovernable desire and that decision which cold reason
had thrust upon him. He wanted to say, "Yes, I'll marry her to-
morrow," but something bade him pause before he sacrificed upon this
altar of a youthful love his life, his hopes, his ambitions. Had he
not wrestled with himself for months in thinking it all out, until
his mind was weary and listless with the effort? For the great test
that tries a man's soul and compels him to know himself had not yet
come to Meade Burrell; wherefore, he hesitated long.
"I did not say so," he declared, at last. "It's a thing I can't well
discuss, because I doubt if you could understand what I would say.
This life of yours is different from mine, and it would be useless
for me to explain the reason why I cannot marry her. Leaving out all
question of my sentiment, there are insurmountable obstacles to such
a union; but as to this talk, I think that can be stopped without
annoyance to her, and as for the rest, we must trust to time to
bring about a proper adjustment--"
A low, discordant sound of laughter arrested his words, and,
turning, he beheld Necia standing revealed in the dimness.
"What an amusing person you are!" she said. "I've had hard work
holding in all this time while you were torturing your mind and
twisting the honest English language out of shape and meaning. I
knew I should have to laugh sooner or later."
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Is it a joke?"
"Indeed it is," she declared, laughing afresh, "and the best I've
ever enjoyed. Wasn't it funny, Poleon"--she turned gayly to the
Frenchman, but he stood like one petrified--"to see him debating
coolly whether he cared for me enough to face the world with me, and
trying to explain to you that he was too good to marry a squaw? Oh,
you were very gentlemanly about it, sir, and you wouldn't have hurt
my feelings for the world!"
"That's your Dixie chivalry, I suppose. Well, I've played with you
long enough, Lieutenant Burrell, I'm tired of the game, and you
interest me no longer."
"You--you--say you've been playing with me!" stammered the man. The
bottom of things seemed suddenly to slide from under him; he was
like one sinking in some hideous quagmire. He felt as if he were
"Why, of course," she cried, scornfully, "just as you took me up for
amusement. You were such a fine, well-dressed, immaculate mound of
conceit that I couldn't resist the temptation, and you hid your
condescension so poorly that I thought you ought to be taken down a
peg. I knew I was a squaw, but I wanted to see if I were not like
other women, after all, and if you were not like other men." She was
talking rapidly now, almost shrilly, for she had never attempted to
act before, while he stood dazed and speechless, fumbling at his
throat while she railed at him. "You needn't waste time debating
whether I'm good enough for you, because I'm not--decidedly, I'm not
your kind, and you are a joke to me."
He uttered an inarticulate cry, but she ran on unheeding, her eyes
wide and glowing like coals, her lips chalk-white. "You see, it's
time I stopped such foolishness, anyhow, for I'm to be married on
"You are going to be married?" he muttered, laboriously.
"Yes, to Poleon. Why, that's been understood for years."
He whirled upon the Canadian in a fury, and his words came hot and
"So you're in this, Doret. You're a part of this little farce. You
trapped me here to make a fool of me, did you? Well, I can settle
"D-don't blame him!" cried the girl, hysterically. "It is all my
doing. He had no part in it."
Burrell wheeled back to the Frenchman again. "Is this true?"
"Yes," said Doret, in a restrained voice. "Dis ain' no work of
"You're a liar!" breathed the Kentuckian, now fairly wild with
anger; but the other looked him squarely between the eyes and made
"M'sieu'," he cried, "I'm livin' t'orty year, an' never took no nam'
lak' dat before, but dere's reason here w'y I can't mak' no answer."
He inclined his head towards the girl, and before Burrell could
break out again he checked him.
"It's no good mak' fight wit' lesser dan two people. You've tol' me
dat you are gentleman. Wal, I ain' nobody but trapper an' trader,
but I don' spoil de name of no good girl, an' I don' quarrel in
presence of lady, so mebbe, affer all, dere's mistak' somew'ere, an'
I'm gentleman mese'f 'stead of you."
"Why, you aren't really angry, Lieutenant?" mocked Necia. "It's only
the joke of an ignorant half-breed girl whose sense of humor is all
out of gear. You mustn't quarrel over a SQUAW!"
She taunted him like a baited badger, for this thing was getting
beyond her control and the savage instincts of the wilderness were
"You are quite right," he replied. "I am very foolish, and the laugh
is with you." His lips tried to frame a smile, but failed, and he
added: "Your wit is not my kind, that is all. I beg you both to
accept my congratulations on your nuptials. Undoubtedly, you will be
happy together; two people with such similar ideas of humor must
have much to enjoy in common." He bowed low and, turning, walked
The moment he was gone she cried, breathlessly:
"You must marry me, Poleon. You've got to do it now."
"Do you mean dat for sure?" he said.
"Can't you see there's nothing else for it, after this? I'll show
him that he can't make me a toy to suit his convenience. I've told
him I would marry you on Sunday, and I'll do it or die. Of course
you don't love me, for you don't know what love is, I suppose; how--
could you?" She broke down and began to catch her breath amid
coughing sobs that shook her slender body, though they left her eyes
dry and feverish.
"I--I'm very unhappy, b-but I'll be a good--wife to you. Oh, Poleon,
if you only knew--"
He drew a long breath. When he spoke his voice had the timbre of
some softly played instrument, and a tremor ran through his words.
"No! I don' know w'at kin' of love is dis, for sure. De kin' of love
I know is de kin' I sing 'bout in my songs; I s'pose it's different
breed to yours, an' I'm begin to see it don' live nowhere but on dem
songs of mine. Dere's long tarn' I waste here now--five year--but
to-morrow I go again lookin' for my own countree."
"Poleon!" she cried, looking up with startled eyes. "Not to-morrow,
but Sunday--we will go together."
He shook his head. "To-morrow, Necia! An' I go alone."
"Then you won't--marry me?" she asked, in a hushed and frightened
"No! Dere's wan t'ing I can't do even for you, Necia, dere's wan
t'ing I can't geeve, dat's all--jus' wan on all de worl'. I can't
kill de li'l' god wit' de bow an' arrer. He's all dat mak' de sun
shine, de birds sing, an' de leaves w'isper to me; he's de wan li'l'
feller w'at mak' my life wort' livin' an' keep music in my soul. If
I keel 'im dere ain' no more lef lak' it, an' I'm never goin' fin'
my lan' of content, nor sing nor laugh no more. I'm t'inkin' I would
rader sing songs to 'im all alone onderneat' de stars beside my
campfire, an' talk wit' 'im in my bark canoe, dan go livin' wit' you
in fine house an' let 'im get col' an' die."
"But I told him I'd marry you--that I had always intended to. He'll
believe I was lying," she moaned, in distress.
"Dat's too bad--but dis t'ing ain' no doin's wit' me. Dere's wan
t'ing in dis worl' mus' live forever, an' dat's love--if we kill 'im
den it's purty poor place for stoppin' in. I'm cut off my han' for
help you, Necia, but I can't be husban' to no woman in fun."
"Your foolish head is full of romance," she burst out. "You think
you're doing me a favor, but you're not. Why, there's Runnion--he
wants me so much that he'd 'even marry me'!" Her wild laughter
stabbed the man. "Was ever a girl in such a fix! I've been made love
to ever since I was half a woman, but at thought of a priest men
seem to turn pale and run like whipped dogs. I'm only good enough
for a bad man and a gambler, I suppose." She sank to a seat, flung
out her arms hopelessly, and, bowing her head, began to weep
uncontrollably. "If--if--I only had a woman to talk to--but they are
all men--all men."
Poleon waited patiently until her paroxysm of sobbing had passed,
then gently raised her and led her out through the back door into
the summer day, which an hour ago had been so bright and promising
and was now so gray and dismal. He followed her with his eyes until
she disappeared inside the log-house.
"An' dat's de end of it all," he mused. "Five year I've wait--an'
jus' for dis."
Meade Burrell never knew how he gained his quarters, but when he had
done so he locked his door behind him, then loosed his hold on
things material. He raged about the room like a wild animal, and
vented his spite on every inanimate thing that lay within reach. His
voice was strange in his own ears, as was the destructive frenzy
that possessed him. In time he grew quieter, as the physical energy
of this brutal impulse spent itself; but there came no surcease of
his mental disquiet. As yet his mind grasped but dully the fact that
she was to marry another, but gradually this thought in turn took
possession of him. She would be a wife in two days. That great,
roistering, brown man would fold her to himself--she would yield to
him every inch of her palpitant, passionate body. The thought drove
the lover frantic, and he felt that madness lay that way if he dwelt
on such fancies for long. Of a sudden he realized all that she meant
to him, and cursed himself anew. While he had the power to possess
her he had dallied and hesitated, but now that he had no voice in
it, now that she was irretrievably beyond his reach, he vowed to
snatch her and hold her against the world.
As he grew calmer his reason began to dissect the scene that had
taken place in the store, and he wondered whether she had been lying
to him, after all. No doubt she had been engaged to the Frenchman,
and had always planned to wed Poleon, for that was not out of
reason; she might even have set out mischievously to amuse herself
with him, but at the recollection of those rapturous hours they had
spent together, he declared aloud that she had loved him, and him
only. Every instinct in him shouted that she loved him, in spite of
her cruel protestations.
All that afternoon he stayed locked in his room, and during those
solitary hours he came to know his own soul. He saw what life meant:
what part love plays in it, how dwarfed and withered all things are
when pitted against it.
A man came with his supper, but he called to him to be gone. The
night settled slowly, and with the darkness came such a feeling of
despair and lonesomeness that Burrell lighted every lamp and candle
in the place to dispel, in some measure, the gloom that had fallen
upon him. There are those who believe that in passing from daylight
to darkness a subtle transition occurs akin to the change from
positive to negative in an electrical current, and that this
intangible, untraceable atmospheric influence exerts a definite,
psychical effect upon men and their modes of thought. Be this as it
may, it is certain that as the night grew darker the Lieutenant's
mood changed. He lost his fierce anger at the girl, and reasoned
that he owed it to her to set himself right in her eyes; that in all
justice to her he ought to prove his own sincerity, and assure her
that whatever her own state of mind had been, she wronged him when
she said he had made sport of her for his own pleasure. She might
then dismiss him and proceed with her marriage, but first she must
know this much of the truth at least. So he argued, insensible to
the sophistry of his reasoning, which was in reality impelled by the
hunger to see her and hear her voice again. He snatched his hat and
bolted out, almost running in his eagerness.
An up-river steamboat was just landing as he neared the trading-
post--a freighter, as he noted by her lights. In the glare at the
river-bank he saw Poleon and the trader, who had evidently returned
from Lee's Creek, and without accosting them he hurried on to the
store. Peering in from the darkness, he saw Alluna; no doubt Necia
was alone in the house behind. So he stumbled around to the back to
find the window of her room aglow behind its curtain, and, receiving
no answer to his knock, he entered, for it was customary at Gale's
to waive ceremony. Inside the big room he paused, then stepped
swiftly across and rapped at her door, falling back a pace as she
Instead of speaking at once, as he had planned, to prevent her
escaping, he was struck speechless, for the vision that met his eyes
was that which he had seen one blithe spring morning three months
before; but to-night there was no shawl to conceal her sweetly
rounded neck and shoulders, whose whiteness was startling against
the black of the ball-room gown. The slim gold chain hung around her
neck and her hair was piled high, as before. He noted every smallest
detail as she stood there waiting for him to speak, forgetful of
She had put on the gown again to see if, perchance, there might be
some mark of her blood or breed that had escaped her previous
scrutiny, and, as there was no one to observe her, she had attired
herself slowly, absorbed in her whimsy. Her wistful beauty dazed the
young man and robbed him of the words he had rehearsed; but as she
made to flee from him, with a pitiful gesture, towards her room, the
fear of losing her aroused him and spurred his wit.
"Don't go away! I have something I must tell you. I've thought it
over, and you've got to listen, Necia."
"I am listening," she answered, very quietly.
"Understand me, I'm not whining, and I'm willing to take my
medicine. I couldn't talk or think very straight this afternoon, but
you were wrong."
"Yes, I know now, I was wrong. It was most unlady-like, wasn't it?
But you see, I am only a little savage."
"I don't mean that; I mean you were wrong when you said I had played
with you. In the sight of God, I swear you were mistaken. You have
made me love you, Necia. Can't you see?"
She made no sign.
"If you can't, I owe it to you and to myself to set you right. I am
not ashamed to acknowledge my love, and even when you are married to
Poleon I want you to know that I shall love you always."
Even yet she made no sign. Was he not merely repeating the same
empty words with which he had so often beguiled her? There was no
word of marriage: he still considered her unworthy, beneath him. The
pain of it caused the girl to wince suddenly, and her sensitive face
flinched, seeing which he broke out:
"You do love me, Necia--you do; I see it in your eyes!" And he
started towards her with open arms, but she shrank away from him.
"No, no! Don't touch me!" she almost screamed.
"My dear one," he breathed, "you must listen to me. You have nothing
to fear, for I love you--love you--love you! You were made for me!
You'll be my wife. Yes; you'll be married on Sunday, but to me, not
to Poleon or any other man!"
Did she hear aright? Was he, her soldier lover, asking her, the
"You do love me, don't you?" he pleaded. But still she could not
speak, and he tried to read the answer in her swimming eyes.
"You mean--you want to--marry me?" she murmured, at last, hesitating
shyly at the word that had come to play so momentous a part in her
"Indeed I do!" he declared, with emphasis. "In spite of everything,
anything. Nothing else matters."
"Nothing! I'll quit the army. I'll give up the Service, and my
people, too. I'll put everything back of me, and we'll start out
anew--just you and I."
"Wait a moment," she said, retreating a little from his eager, out-
stretched arms. "Why do you need to do all that?"
"Never mind why; it's as good as done. You wouldn't understand--"
"But I think I do understand now. Do I really mean all that to you?"
"Yes, and more!"
"Listen to me," said the girl, quietly. "I want you to talk slowly
so I may not misunderstand. If you--marry me, must you forego all
those great things you speak of--your profession, your family, your
"Don't let's talk about it, Necia; I've got you, and--"
"Please answer me," she urged. "I thought I understood, but I'm
afraid I don't. I thought it was my being a breed that stood in the
"There's nothing in the way--"
"--that I wasn't good enough. I knew I could overcome that; I knew I
could make myself grow to your level, but I didn't think my blood
would fetter you and make this difference. I suppose I am putting it
awkwardly, because I'm not sure that I quite understand it myself
yet. Things seem different now, somehow, than they did before."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the soldier. "If they don't bother me, Necia,
why should you worry?"
"Would you really have to give up your family--your sister? Would
those people you are so proud of and who are so proud of you--would
they cut you off?"
"There is no question of cutting off. I have no inheritance coming;
I don't want any. I don't want anything except you, dear."
"Won't you tell me?" she persisted. "You see, I am dull at these
"Well, what if they do?" he conceded. "You more than make it up to
me--you outweigh a thousand families."
"And would your marriage to a--a--to me destroy your army career?"
"Well, it will really be much easier for both of us if I resign from
the Service," he finally admitted. "In fact, I've decided to do so
"No, no! You mustn't do that. To-night you think I am worth the
price, but a day will come--"
He leaned forward and caught her hands in his.
"--Meade, I can't let you do it."
"I'd like to see you help yourself," he said, banteringly.
"I can and I will. You must not marry me, Meade--it's not right--it
can't be." She suddenly realized what this renunciation would mean,
and began to shiver. To think of losing him now, after he had come
to her freely--it would be very hard! But to her, too, there had
come the revelation that love means sacrifice, and she knew now that
she loved her soldier too well to let her shadow darken his bright
future, too well to ruin him.
"It will be over before you know it," she heard him saying, in a
lame attempt at levity. "Father Barnum is an expert, and the
operation won't occupy him ten minutes."
"Meade, you must listen to me now," she said, so earnestly that it
sobered him. "Do you think a girl could be happy if she knew a good
man had spoiled his life for her? I would rather die now than let
you do such a thing. I couldn't bear to see myself a drag on you.
Oh, I know it would be wonderful, this happiness of ours, for a
time, and then--" She was finding it more and more difficult to
continue. "A prisoner grows to hate the chains that bind him; when
that day came for you, I should hate myself. No, no! Believe me, it
can't be. You're not of my people, and I'm not of yours."
At that moment they heard the voices of the trader and his squaw
outside, approaching the house. The girl's breath caught in her
throat, she flung herself recklessly upon her lover's breast and
threw her arms around his neck in an agony of farewell.
"Meade! Meade! my soldier!" she sobbed, "kiss me good-bye for the
"No," he said roughly.
But she dragged his face down to her burning lips.
"Now you must go," she said, tearing herself away, "and, for my
sake, don't see me again."
"I will! I will! I'll ask your father for you to-night."
"No, no! Don't; please don't! Wait till--till to-morrow--till I say
the word! Promise me! On your love, promise!"
Her eyes held such a painful entreaty that he nodded acquiescence as
the door opened and her father and Alluna entered.
STARK TAKES A HAND IN THE GAME
The old man greeted the Lieutenant affably, but as his glance fell
on his daughter he stopped stock-still on the threshold.
"I told you never to wear that dress again," he said, in a dry,
The girl made no answer, for her heart was breaking, but turned and
went into her room. Burrell had an irresistible desire to tell Gale
that he wanted his daughter for his wife; it would be an unwonted
pleasure to startle this iron-gray old man and the shawled and
shambling mummy of red, with the unwinking eyes that always reminded
him of two ox-heart cherries; but he had given Necia his promise. So
he descended to the exchange of ordinary topics, and inquired for
news of the creek.
"Necia's ground is getting better every hour," the trader said.
"Yesterday they found a sixty-dollar pan."
"Have you struck pay on yours?"
"No; Poleon and I seem to hold bad hands. Some of his laymen are
quitting work. They've cross-cut in half a dozen places and can't
find a color."
"But surely they haven't fully prospected his claims yet; there must
be plenty of room for a pay-streak somewhere, mustn't there?"
"It looks like he had drawn three blanks," said Gale, "although we
can't tell for sure. They're breaking most as bad for me, too; but
I've got a new hunch, and I'm running up a dreen to catch bed-rock
along the left rim. I've got twenty men at work, and I'll know
before long. You heard about Runnion, of course?"
"Yes; the usual story--the bad men get the good mines, and the good
ones get the hungry spots. Well, I might have been one of the
unfortunates if I had staked for myself; but I hardly think so, I'm
pretty lucky." He laughingly bade them good-night, content with
himself and at peace with the world.
Gale went to Necia's door and called her, but when she appeared he
was unprepared for the tragic face with which she greeted him.
"Daughter," he said, "don't feel bad over what I said; I didn't mean
to be cross with you, but--I don't like that dress."
"Were you cross with me, daddy?" she said, dully. "I didn't hear.
What did you say?"
He looked at her in amazement. "Necia, little girl, what is the
She was staring past him, and her fingers were fumbling helplessly
with the lace of her gown, but she began to show signs of collapse.
"I sent him away--I--gave him up, when he wanted me--wanted me--Oh,
daddy! he wants to marry me--and I sent him away."
Alluna uttered a short, satisfied exclamation, and, looking at Gale
"It is good. It is good. He is a stranger."
But the man disregarded her interruption.
"He asked you to marry him in--in--in spite of who you are and what
"Yes; he is ready to give up his ambition, his army, his future, his
family, everything, for me--to sacrifice it all; and so, of course,
I couldn't let him." She spoke simply, as if her father would surely
understand and approve her action, while in her voice was a note of
inevitable resignation. "You see, I never understood what my blood
would mean to him until to-night. I've been selfish and thoughtless,
I guess. I just wanted him, and wanted him to take me; but now that
he is mine, I love him more than I thought. He is so dear to me that
I can't drag him down--I can't--I can't!" She went to the open door
and stood leaning against the casing, facing the cool outer
darkness, her face hidden from them, her form sagging wearily, as if
the struggle had sapped her whole strength.
Alluna crept to the trader and looked up at him eagerly, whispering:
"This will end in a little while, John. She is young. She can go
back to the Mission to-morrow. She will soon forget."
"Forget! Do you think she can forget?"
"Any woman can forget. Only men remember."
"It is the red blood in you--lying. You know you lie."
"It is to save your life," she said.
"I know; but it's no use." To Necia he said; "You needn't worry,
little daughter." But her ears were deaf. "You needn't give him up,
I say--this will end all right."
Seeing that she gave no sign of heeding, he stepped closer, and
swung her about till she faced him.
"Can't you trust me this one time? You always have before, Necia. I
say he'll marry you, and it will all come out right."
She raised her hopeless eyes and strove gamely to meet his, then,
failing, broke away, and turned back to the door. "I knew you
couldn't understand. I--I--oh, God, I love him so!" With a cry like
that of a wounded animal she fled out into the night, where she
could give vent to her anguish unseen; for she had never wept before
her father, but always crept away and hid herself until her grief
was spent. Gale would have started after her, but Alluna dragged him
"No, no! It means your life, John. Let the secret die, and she will
forget. She is so young. Time will cure her--time cures everything.
Don't tell her--don't tell any one--and, above all, don't tell that
soldier! He would not believe, nor would she. Even I have doubted!"
"Yes, John. And if I don't believe, what is a stranger to say? No
man knowing you would believe the tale--without proof. Suppose she
doubted--have you ever thought of that? Would you not rather have
her die still loving you than live and disbelieve?"
"Yes, yes! Of course, I--I've thought of that, but--Woman, you're
worse than a rattlesnake!"
"Even if he knew, he might not marry her. You at least are clean,
and that other man was a devil. A brave man's life is too great a
price to pay for a grief that will die in a year." Alluna was
speaking swiftly in her own language, her body tense, her face
ablaze, and no man seeing her could ever again have called her
"You think time will cure a love like that?" he said.
"That's all you know about it. Time may act that way perhaps in
cities and such places, but out in the hills it is different. When
you've got the breath of the forest in you, I say it is different.
Time--why, I've lived fifteen years in the open with a living
memory. Every night I've dreamed it over, every day I've lived it
through; in every camp-fire I see a face, and every wind from the
south brings a voice to me. Every stormy night a girl with eyes like
Necia's calls to me, and I have to follow. Every patch of moonlight
shows her smiling at me, just beyond, just in the shadow's edge.
Love! Time! Why, Alluna, love is the only thing in the world that
never dies, and time only makes it the more enduring."
He took up the white slouch hat he had thrown down when he came in,
and stepped to the door.
"Where are you going?" inquired the squaw, fearfully.
"To the barracks to give myself up!"
She flung herself at him with a great cry, and seized him about the
"You never loved me, John, but I have been a good woman to you,
although I knew you were always thinking of her--and had no thought
of me. I have loved this girl because you loved her. I have hated
your enemies because you hated them, and now I remember while you
"Forget! What do you mean?"
The man paused. "I did almost forget him--and after fifteen years!"
"Let us kill him to-night; then we will go to the soldier together,
side by side--I am your woman. Necia will look after the little
Gale stared at her, and as he gazed the red pigment underneath her
skin, the straight-hanging, mane-like hair, the gaudy shawl she
never went without, the shapeless, skin-shod feet, the slovenly,
ill-fitting garb of a mis-cast woman vanished, and he saw her as she
was on a day long past, a slim, shy, silent creature, with great,
watchful, trusting eyes and a soul unspoiled. No woman had ever been
so loyal, so uncomplaining. He had robbed her of her people and her
gods. He had shifted hither and yon at the call of his uncertain
fortune, or at a sign of that lurking fear that always dogged him,
and she had never left his side, never questioned, never doubted,
but always served him like a slave, without asking for a part in
that other love, without sharing in the caresses he had consecrated
to a woman she had never seen.
"By Heaven! You're game, Alluna, but there's a limit even to what I
can take from you," he said, at last. "I don't ever seem to have
noticed it before, but there is. No! I've got to do this thing alone
to-night, all of it, for you have no place in it, and I can't let
the little girl go on like this. The sooner that soldier knows the
better." He leaned down and touched her brown mouth with his
grizzled lips. "Thank you, Alluna, for making a man of me when I'd
nearly forgotten. Now you stay here." He knew he could count on her
obedience, and so he left her. When he had gone she drew the shawl
up over her face and crouched in the doorway, straining her eyes
after him through the dark. In time she began to rock and sway, and
then to chant, until the night moaned with the death-song of her
Necia had no idea whither she went; her only thought was to flee
from her kin, who could not understand, to hide under cover in some
solitary place, to let the darkness swallow her up, so that she
might give way to her grief and be just a poor, weak woman. So, with
a dull and aching heart, she wandered, bareheaded, bare-necked,
half-demented, and wholly oblivious to her surroundings, without
sense of her incongruous attire or of the water that squeezed up
through the soggy moss at her tread and soaked her frail slippers.
On she stumbled blindly through the murk like some fair creature of
light cast out and banished.
The night was cloudy and a wind came sighing from the north, tossing
the girl's hair and tugging at the careless folds of her dress, but
she heard nothing save the devil's tattoo that rang in her head, and
felt nothing beyond the pain at throat and breast, which in time
became so bitter that the tears were wrung from her dry eyes, and
she began to weep in a pitiful woman fashion, as if her heart would
burst. The first drops cleared a way for others, and soon she was
sobbing freely, alone and without solace, lost in the night.
She had not succeeded in thoroughly isolating herself, however, for
a man who was steering his course by the sense of feel and the
wind's direction heard her and paused. His steps were muffled in the
soft footing, so that she had no warning of his presence until he
was near enough to distinguish her dimly where she leaned against
the log wall of a half-completed cabin.
To his question, "What's the trouble here?" she made no answer, but
moved away, whereupon he detained her. "There's something wrong. Who
are you, anyhow?"
"It's only Necia, Mr. Stark," said the girl, at which be advanced
and took her by the arm.
"What ails you, child? What in the world are you doing here? Come!
It's only a step to my cabin; you must come in and rest awhile, and
you'll soon be all right. Why, you'll break your neck in this
She hung back, but he compelled her to go with him in spite of her
"Now, now," he admonished, with unusual kindliness for him; "you
know you're my little friend, and I can't let you go on this way;
it's scandalous. I won't stand for it. I like you too much."
In truth he had done things during these last few weeks to make her
think so, having never missed an opportunity to stop and pass a word
with her, at the same time showing her a queer courtesy and
consideration quite foreign to his saturnine habits. She had never
mentioned the fact to her father or the others, for she had
developed a sort of sympathy for the man, and felt that she
understood him better than they did.
He led her inside his cabin, and closed the door in the face of the
night wind before he struck a light.
"I can't stand to see you cry," he repeated, as he adjusted the
wick. "Now, as soon as--" He stopped in astonishment, for he had
turned to behold, instead of the little half-breed girl, this
slender, sorrowful stranger in her amazingly wonderful raiment.
"By--" He checked himself insensibly, and stood motionless for a
long time, while she wiped her eyes and, woman-like, straightened
out her gown and smoothed her hair with little feminine touches.
"I--I--hope you'll excuse me for acting this way," she smiled at
him, piteously; then, observing his strange features, "Why, what is
the matter, Mr. Stark; are you angry?"
His hawklike face was strained and colorless, his black eyes fierce
and eager, his body bent as if to pounce upon a victim. In truth he
was now the predatory animal.
"No," he replied, as if her question carried no meaning; then,
coming to himself, "No--no! of course not, but--you gave me a start.
You reminded me of some one. How do you come to be dressed like
that? I never knew you had such clothes?"
"Poleon brought them from Dawson; they are the first I ever had."
He shook his head in a slow, puzzled fashion.
"You look just like a white girl--I mean--I don't know what I mean."
This time he roused himself fully, the effort being more like a
"So I have always thought," she said, and her eyes filled again.
"Your skin is like milk beneath your tan, and--I don't mean any
disrespect, but--Well, I'm just so damned surprised! Come over here
and sit down while I mix you something to put the heart back into
He shoved forward a big chair with a wolf-skin flung over it, into
which she sank dejectedly, while he stepped to the shelves beside
the Yukon stove and took down a bottle and some glasses. She glanced
about with faint curiosity, but the interior of the cabin showed
nothing out of the ordinary, consisting as it did of one room with a
cot in the corner, upon which were tumbled blankets, and above which
was a row of pegs. Opposite was a sheet-iron box-stove supported
knee-high on a tin-capped framework of wood, and in the centre a
table with oil-cloth cover. Around the walls were some cooking
utensils, a few cases of canned goods, and clothes hanging in a row.
"I'm not fixed up very well yet," he apologized; "I've been too busy
at the saloon to waste time on living quarters. But it's comfortable
enough for an old roadster like me, for I've bruised around the
frontier so long that I've learned there's only three things
necessary to a man's comfort--warm clothes, a full stomach, and a
dry place to sleep. All the rest that goes to make a man content he
has inside him, and I'm not the kind to be satisfied, no matter
where I am or what I have. I never was that kind, so I just don't
make the attempt."
He was talking to give her leeway, and when he had concocted a weak
toddy, insisted that she must drink it, which she did listlessly,
while he rambled on.
"I've noticed a few things in my life, Miss Necia, and one of them
is that it often does a heap of good to let out and talk things
over; not that a fellow gains any real advantage from disseminating
his troubles, but it serves to sort of ease his mind. Folks don't
often come to me for advice or sympathy. I don't have it to give,
but maybe it will help you to tell me what caused this night-
marauding expedition of yours." Seeing that she hesitated, he went
on: "I suppose there's a lot of reasons why you shouldn't confide in
me--I don't like that old man of yours, nor any of your friends; but
maybe that's why I'm interested. If any of them has upset you, I'll
take particular pleasure in helping you get even."
"I don't want to get even, and there is nothing to tell," said
Necia, "except a girl's troubles, and I can't talk about them." She
smiled a painful, crooked smile at him.
"Your old man has been rough to you?"
"No, no! Nothing of that sort."
"Then it's that soldier?" he quizzed, shrewdly. "I knew you cared a
heap for him. Don't he love you?"
"Yes! That's the trouble; and he wants to many me; he swears he will
in spite of everything."
"See here! I don't quite follow. I thought you liked him--he's the
kind most women go daffy over."
"Like him!" The girl trembled with emotion. "Like him! Why--why, I
would do anything to make him happy."
"I guess I must be kind of dull," Stark said, perplexedly.
"Don't you see? I've got to give him up--I'm a squaw."
"Squaw hell! With those shoulders?"
Stark checked himself, for he found he was rejoicing in his enemy's
defeat, and was in danger of betraying himself to the girl. In every
encounter the young man had bested him, and these petty defeats had
crystallized his antipathy to Burrell into a hatred so strong that
he had begun to lie awake nights planning a systematic quarrel. For
he was the kind of man who throve upon contentions: so warped in
soul that when no man offered him offence he brooded over fancied
wrongs and conjured up a cause for enmity, goading himself into that
sour, sullen habit of mind that made him a dread and a menace to all
who lacked his favor. His path was strewn from the border North with
the husks of fierce brawls, and he bore the ineradicable mark of the
killer, carrying always in his brain those scars that hate had
seared. In his eyes forever slumbered a flame waiting to be blown to
life, and when embroiled in feuds or bickerings a custom had grown
upon him to fight these fights in secret many times, until of nights
he would lie in solitary darkness writhing in spirit as he hounded
his man to desperation, or forced him into a corner where he might
slake his thirsty vengeance. After such black, sleepless hours he
dragged himself from his battle-grounds of fancy, worn and weary,
and the daylight discovered him more saturnine and moody, more
menacing than ever.
He had brooded over his quarrel with Gale and the Lieutenant ever
since their first clash, for in this place they furnished the only
objects upon which his mania could work--and it was a mania, the
derangement of a diseased, distorted mind. His regard for Necia was
a careless whim, a rather aimless, satisfying hobby, not at all
serious, entirely extraneous to his every-day life, and interesting
only from its aimlessness, being as near to an unselfish and decent
motive as the man had ever come. But it was not of sufficient
consequence to stand out against or swerve the course of a quarrel;
wherefore, he was gladdened by the news of Burrell's discomfiture.
"So you like him too much to stand in his way," he said,
meditatively. "How does your father look at it?"
"He wants the Lieutenant to marry me. He says he will fix it up all
right; but he doesn't understand. How could he?"
"You are doing just right," concurred the man, hypocritically, "and
you'll live to be glad you stood out." Now that both his enemies
desired this thing, he was set on preventing it, regardless of the
girl. "How did the Lieutenant take it when you refused him?"
"He wouldn't take it at all. He only laughed and declared he would
marry me, anyhow." The very thought thrilled her.
"Does he knew you love him?"
The tender, sobbing laugh she gave was ample answer.
"Well, what's your plan?"
"I--I--I don't know. I am so torn and twisted with it all that I
can't plan, but I have thought I--ought--to go--away."
"Good!" he said, quickly, but his acquiescence, instead of soothing
her, had the contrary effect, and she burst out impulsively:
"Oh--I can't--I can't! I can't go away and never see him! I can't do
it! I want to stay where he is!" She had been holding herself in
stubbornly, but at last gave way with reckless abandon. "Why wasn't
I born white like other girls? I've never felt like an Indian. I've
always dreamed and fancied I was different, and I am, in my soul--I
know I am! The white is so strong in me that it has killed the red,
and I'm one of father's people. I'm not like the other two; they are
brown and silent, and as cold as little toads; but I'm white and
full of life, all over. They never see the men and women that I see
in my dreams. They never have my visions of the beautiful snow-white
mother, with the tender mouth and the sad eyes that always smile at
"You have visions of such things, eh?"
"Yes, but I came a generation late, that's all, and I've got that
other woman's soul. I'm not a half-breed--I'm not me at all. I'm
Merridy--Merridy! That's who I am."
Her face was turned away from him, so that she did not notice the
frightful effect her words had upon Stark.
"Where did you get--that name?" His voice was pitched in a different
key now. Then, after a moment, he added, "From the story I told you
at the mine that night, I suppose?"
"Oh no," she answered. "I've always had it, though they call me
Necia. Merridy was my father's mother. I guess I'm like her in many
ways, for I often imagine she is a part of me, that her spirit is
mine. It's the only way I can account for the sights I see."
"Your father's mother?" he said, mechanically. "That's queer." He
seemed to be trying to shake himself free from something. "It's
heredity, I suppose. You have visions of a white woman, a woman
named Merridy, eh?" Suddenly his manner changed, and he spoke so
roughly that she looked at him in vague alarm.
"How do you know? How do you know she was his mother?"
"He told me so--"
Stark snarled. "He lied!"
"I can show you her wedding-ring--I've always worn it." She fumbled
for the chain about her neck, but it eluded her trembling fingers.
"It has her name in it--'From Dan to Merridy.'"
Stark's hand darted forward and tore the thing from her shoulders,
then he thrust it under the lamp and glared at the inscription,
while his fingers shook so that he could barely distinguish the
words. His eyes were blazing and his face livid.
Necia cried out, but he dropped the ornament and seized her
fiercely, lifting her from the chair to her feet; then, with one
swift, downward clutch, he laid hold of her dress at the left
shoulder and ripped it half to her waist. A hoarse sound came from
his throat, a cry half of amazement, half of triumph.
"Let me go! Let me go!" She struggled to free herself, but he held
her in a viselike grip, while he peered closely at a blemish well
down upon her back. Then he let her slip from his grasp, and, seized
with terror, she staggered away from him. He was leaning heavily
with both hands upon the table, his face working, his head drawn
down between his shoulders, his thin lips grinning, his whole manner
so terrifying that she shrank back till she brought up against the
bark walls. She turned and made for the door, whereupon he
straightened up and said, in a queer, commanding voice:
"Wait--don't go! I--I--you--" He licked his lips as if they were
dust dry, passed an uncertain hand across his beaded brow, and,
raising the water-pail beside the door to his mouth, drank heavily
in great, noisy gulps.
"Let me out of here!" the girl demanded, imperiously.
"Don't be scared," he said, more quietly now. "You must excuse me.
You--you gave me an awful fright. Yes--that was it. Don't worry. I
didn't mean any harm."
"You hurt my shoulder," she said, almost ready to cry. "And you tore
my dress," she added, angrily--"my fine dress. Are you crazy?"
"You see, it's like this, that name of Merridy and that ring--well,
the whole thing was so startling, I--I went off my head. It came
sudden, and I thought--I thought--it don't matter what I thought,
but I'm sorry. I'll apologize--and I'll get you a new dress, a whole
lot of dresses, if you like." This seemed to amuse him, and he began
to laugh silently.
His first impulse had been to tell her everything, but his amazement
had rendered him speechless, and now he was thankful for it.
Following his discovery of her identity, he had been stricken dumb,
staring at her like one demented; then, as he was about to explain,
his mind suddenly grasped the significance of this revelation and
the advantage it gave him over his enemies; a plan began to unfold,
vague at first, its details not worked out, but a plan whereby he
could by keeping silent use this knowledge to serve his vengeful
ends. In an instant his vision cleared and his brain became active
and alert, like that of a man brought suddenly under the stimulus of
strong liquor. Care must be exercised--she must not learn too much--
for if she suspected the truth she would go to her soldier lover at
once, and no power on earth could hold her back. That would block
the vengeance that he saw shaping in the dank recesses of his
First, and above all, he must get the girl away from Flambeau.
"I went clear off my head," he heard himself saying, "at that name
of Merridy, that ring, and all. Why--why, I thought you might be the
missing girl I told you of--you remember, that day up on Lee's
Creek--so I had to see; but, dear me, I should have been more
considerate--I should have explained. The trouble is I'm a nervous
man, and I get impulsive streaks on me sometimes that I can't
control. I'm sorry I spoiled your dress, but I'll get you another--
you bet I will."
This explanation of his strange behavior seemed plausible enough to
banish all personal fears from Necia's mind. Indeed, Stark had now
become so gentle and apologetic in his demeanor that her woman's
curiosity overcame her instinct to flee, and she ventured the
"So you really thought I was that other girl?"
"I did for a minute. The mother was a--a--friend of mine, and so--I
lost my head. But I'm all right now, and if you'll overlook my
roughness we'll go back to your troubles."
These last few moments had driven her own worries from her mind, but
he was bent on recalling them, and so continued, cautiously:
"You were saying that you thought you'd go away. I think that's a
good plan, and you'd be wise to do it for more reasons than one. It
will give you time to think it all over and know your own mind--"
"I know my mind now, and yet--I don't want to go away."
"--and it will give Burrell a chance to prove himself. He'll either
show that he has got to have you at any cost, or that you are right
in your decision. If the first should happen, you can come back to
him; if the last--why, it will be better for you, anyhow. As long as
you stay here neither one of you can see clearly."
She was touched by his interest, and realized the force of his
argument, which, strange to say, seemed to second her own thoughts;
yet she hesitated.
"I want to help you--I'm going to help you--because I've got an
interest in you like you were mine." Again he betrayed that strange,
"There is no place for me to go," said Necia, blankly, "except the
Mission, and I have no way of getting there."
"Don't you worry. I'll furnish the means, and you'd better go to-
night"--she flinched--"yes, to-night; there's no use prolonging your
agony. I'll get a boat ready and send a trusty man with you. The
current is swift, and if he rows well you can make it by to-morrow
evening. That's only one night out, and I'll put some blankets
aboard so you can wrap up and have a sleep."
"I feel as if I'd never sleep again," she sighed.
"Now, now, this will come out all right yet. I'd take you down there
myself, but I've got to stay here. I've got work to do. Yes, I've
sure got work of importance ahead of me."
"I must go back and get some clothes," she said, At which he would
have demurred had he not seen that she could not travel in her
"Very well. But don't let anybody see you."
"Of course not."
"It's getting late, and your folks will be abed." He looked at his
watch. "Midnight! Be here in an hour, and I'll have the skiff
The light of sacrifice was in Necia's eyes, and her cheeks were
blanched with the pallor of a great resolution. She did not stop to
reason why or how she had been led to this disposal of her future,
but clutched desperately at Stark's plan of rescue from her
"I'll be here in an hour," she said, simply.
He let her out, closed the door after her, and locked it; then,
drawing a deep breath, he raised his clenched hands above his head,
and gave a great sigh of exultation. Next he took out his six-
shooter and examined it carefully. The shells did not suit him, so
he filled the gun with new ones, loosened the three lower buttons of
his vest, and slid the weapon inside his trousers band; then, facing
the direction of Gale's trading-post, he spoke aloud.
"I was a long time coming, Gaylord, but I'm here, and I've got you
where I've wanted you these fifteen years--yes, and I've got you,
too, Burrell! By God, this is my night!"
His lithe body became panther-like in poise, his bearing that of the
meat-eating animal, and his face set in a fierce, exultant cruelty
as he blew out his light and left the cabin.
A MYSTERY IS UNRAVELLED
Lieutenant Burrell was considerably taken aback when, a quarter of
an hour after the young lover's ecstatic return to his quarters,
Gale knocked at his door, for the trader's visit, coupled with the
late hour and his sombre countenance, forecast new complications.
"He's here to object, but it won't go," thought the Lieutenant, as
he made his visitor welcome.
It was the trader's first glimpse of the officer's quarters, and he
cast a roving eye over the room, as if measuring the owner's
character by his surroundings.
"I've got to have a long talk with you, Burrell," he began, with an
effort. "It's liable to take me an hour or two."
"Then take this chair and be comfortable."
Meade swung his big reading-chair out beneath the hanging-lamp, and,
going to the sideboard, brought back a bottle, some glasses, and a
pouch of tobacco. Noting the old man's sigh of fatigue as he sat
himself down heavily, he remarked, sympathetically:
"Mr. Gale, you've made a long trip to-day, and you must be tired. If
this talk is to be as lengthy as you say, why not have a drink with
me now, and postpone it until to-morrow?"
"I've been tired for eighteen years," the other replied; "to-
night I hope to get rested." He lapsed into silence, watching his
host pour out two glasses of liquor, fill his pipe, and then stretch
himself out contentedly, his feet resting on another chair--a
picture of youthful strength, vitality, and determination. Beneath
the Lieutenant's flannel shirt the long, slim muscles showed free
and full, and the firm set of jaw and lip denoted a mind at rest and
confident of itself. Gale found himself for a moment jealously
regarding the youth and his enviable state of contentment and
"Well, let's get at it," the younger man finally said.
"I suppose you'll want to interrupt and question me a heap, but I'll
ask you to let me tell this story the way it comes to me, till I get
it out, then we can go back and take up the queer stuff. It runs
back eighteen or twenty years, and, being as it's part of a hidden
life, it isn't easy to tell. You'll be the first one to hear it, and
I reckon you're enough like other men to disbelieve--you're not old
enough, and you haven't knocked around enough to learn that nothing
is impossible, that nothing is strange enough to be unreasonable.
Likewise, you'll want to know what, all this has to do with you and
Necia--yes, she told me about you and her, and that's why I'm here."
He paused. "You really think you love her, do you?"
Burrell removed his pipe and gazed at its coal impersonally.
"I love her so well, Mr. Gale, that nothing you can say will affect
me. I--I hesitated at first about asking her to be my wife, because-
-you'll appreciate the unusual--well, her unusual history. You see,
I come from a country where mixed blood is about the only thing that
can't be lived down or overlooked, and I've been raised with notions
of family honor and pride of race and birth, and so forth, that
might seem preposterous and absurd to you. But a heap of conceits
like that have been bred into me from generations back; they run in
the blood of every old family in my country, and so, I'm ashamed to
say, I hesitated and tried to reason myself into giving her up, but
I've had my eyes opened, and I see how little those things amount
to, after all. I'm going to marry Necia, Mr. Gale. I'd like to do it
the day after to-morrow, Sunday, but she isn't of age yet, and if
you object, we'll have to wait until November, when she turns
eighteen. We'd both like your consent, of course; I'd be sorry to
marry her without it; but if you refuse, we'll be forced to
displease you." He looked up and met the father's gaze steadily.
"Now, I'll be glad to listen as long as you care to talk, but I
don't think it will do any good."
The other man's lips framed a faint smile.
"We'll see. I wish to God I'd had your decision when I was your age,
this story would be different, and easier to tell." He waited a
moment, then settled to his self-appointed task. "I was mining at
the time up in the Mother Lode country of California, which was the
frontier then, pretty much as this is now, only we had better things
to eat. I came from the East, or my people did, but I was ranch-
raised, and loved the hills and woods and places where you don't
talk much, so I went to prospecting because it took me out where the
sun was bright and I could see the wild things at play. I was one of
the first men into a camp named Chandon--helped to build it, in
fact, and got hold of some ground that looked real good. It was hard
mining, however, and, being poor, I was still gripping my drill and
hammer after the town had grown up.
"A woman came out from the East--Vermont, it was--and school-
teaching was her line of business, only she hadn't been raised to
it, and this was her first clatter at the game; but things had broke
bad for her people, and ended in her pulling stakes and coming West
all alone. Her folks died and left her up against it, I gathered
from what little she told me--sort of an old story, I guess, and
usual too, only for her. She was plumb unusual."
He seemed to ponder this a moment, and then resumed:
"It don't make any difference to you how I first saw her, and how I
began to forget that anything else in the world was worth having but
her. I'd lived in the woods all my life, as I said, and knew more
about birds and bugs and bees than I did about women; I hadn't been
broke proper, and didn't know how to act with them; but I laid out
to get this girl, and I did fairly well. There's something wild in
every woman that needs to be tamed, and it isn't like the wildness
that runs in wood critters; you can win that over by gentleness, but
you have to take it away from a woman. Every live thing that
couldn't talk was my friend; but I made the mistake of courting my
own kind the same way, not knowing that when two of any species mate
the male must rule. I was too gentle. Even so, I reckon I'd have won
out only for another man. Dan Bennett was his name--the kind that
dumb animals hate, and--well, that takes his measure. His range
adjoined mine, and, though I'd never seen him, I heard stories now
and then--the sort of tales you can't tell to a good woman; so it
worried me when I heard of his attentions to this girl. Still, I
thought she'd surely find him out and recognize the kind of fellow
he was; but, Lord! a woman, can't tell a man from a dog, and there
wasn't any one to warn her. There were plenty of women who knew him,
but they were the ones who flew by night, while she lived in the
sunshine; and women of that kind don't make complaint, anyhow.
"This Bennett came from the town below, where he ran a saloon and a
brace game or two; but being as he rode into our camp and out again
in the night, and as I didn't drink nor listen to the music of the
little rolling ball, why, we never met, even after he began coming
to Chandon. Understand, I wasn't too good for those amusements; I
just didn't happen to hanker after them, for I was living with the
image of the little school-ma'am in my mind, and that destroyed what
bad habits I'd formed.
"It was along in the early spring that she began to see I had
notions about her, but my damned backwardness wouldn't let me speak,
and, in addition, I was getting closer to ore every shot at the
mine, and was holding off until I could lay both myself and my
goldmine at her feet, and ask her to take the two of us, so if one
didn't pan out the other might. But it seemed like I'd never get
into pay. The closer I got the harder I worked, and, of course, the
less I saw of her, likewise the oftener Bennett came. I reckon no
man ever worked like I did--two shifts a day, eighteen hours, with
six to sleep. The skin came off of my hands, and I staggered when I
came out into the daylight, for the rock was hard, and I had no
money to hire a helper; but I was young and strong, and the hope of
her was like drink and food and sleep to me. At last I struck it,
and still I waited awhile longer till I could be sure. Then I went
down to my little shack and put on my other clothes. I remember I'd
gone so thin that they hung loose, and my palms were so raw I had
hard work handling the buttons, and got my shirt all bloody, for I'd
been in the drift forty hours, without sleep and breathing powder
smoke, till my knees buckled and wobbled under me. To this day the
smell of stale powder smoke makes a woman of me; but that morning I
sang, for I was going for my bride, and the world was brighter than
it has ever been for eighteen years. The little school-house was
closed, at which I remembered that the term was over. I'd been
living underground for weeks and lost track of the days, so that I
had to count them up on my fingers. It took me a long time, for I
was pretty tired in my head; but when I'd figured it out I went on
to where she was boarding.
"The woman of the place came to the door, a Scotch-woman. She had a
mole on her chin, I remember, a brownish-black mole with three hairs
in it. She wore an apron, too, that was kind of checkered, and three
buttons were open at the neck of her dress. I recall a lot more of
little things about her, though the rest of what happened is rather
"I asked for Merridy, and she told me she'd gone away--gone with
Bennett, the night before, while I was coughing blood from the
powder smoke; that they were married in the front room, and that the
bride looked beautiful. She had cried a bit on leaving Chandon, and-
-and--that was about all. I counted the buttons on the Scotchwoman's
waist eight or ten times, and by-and-by she asked if I was sick. But
I wasn't. She was a kind-hearted woman, and I'd been to her house a
good deal, so she asked me to come in and rest. I wasn't tired, so I
went away, and climbed back up to the little shack and the mine that
I hated now."
The trader paused, and, reaching for the bottle, poured himself out
a glass of brandy, which he spilled into his throat raw, then
"I turned into a kind of hermit after that, and I wasn't good to
associate with. Men got so they shunned me, and I knew they told
strange stories, because I heard them whisper when I went to the
stores for grub once a month. I changed all over, till even my
squirrels and partridges and other friends quit me; once in awhile I
got out a ton or two of rock and sold it, but I never worked the
mine or opened it up--I couldn't bear to go inside the drift. I
tried it time and again, but the smell of its darkness drove me out;
every foot of its ragged walls had left its mark on me, and my heart
was torn and gouged and shivered worse than its seams and ledges. I
could have sold it, but there was no place for me to go, and what
did I want with money? I was shy of the world, like a crippled child
that dreads the daylight, and I shrank from going out where people
might see my scars; so I stayed there by myself nursing the hurt
that never got any better. You see, I'd been raised among the hills
and rocks, and I was like them in a way; I couldn't grow and alter
and heal up.
"From time to time I heard of her, but the news, instead of
gladdening me, as it would have gladdened some men, wrung out what
bits of suffering were left in me, and I fairly ached for her.
Nobody comes to see clearer than a woman deceived, so it didn't take
her long to find out the kind of man Bennett was. He wasn't like her
at all, and the reason he had courted her so hotly was just that he
had had everything that rightly belongs to a man like him, and had
sickened of it, so he wanted her because she was clean and pure and
different; and realizing that he couldn't get her any other way, he
had married her. But she was a treasure no bad man could appreciate,
and so he tired quickly, even before the little one came.
"When I heard that she had borne him a daughter I wrote her a
letter, which took me a month to compose, and which I tore up. One
day a story came to me that made me saddle my horse to ride down and
kill him--and, mind you, I was a man who made pets of little wild,
trusting things. But I knew she would surely send for me when her
pain became too great, so I uncinched my gear and hung it up, and
waited and waited and waited. Three long, endless years I waited,
almost within sound of her voice, without a word from her, without a
glimpse of her, and every hour of that time went by as slowly as if
I had held my breath. Then she called to me, and I went.
"I tell you, I was thankful that day for the fortune that had made
me take good care of my horse, for I rode like Death on a wind-
storm. It grew moonlight as I raced down the valley, and the foam
from the animal's muzzle lodged on my clothes, and made me laugh and
swear that the morning sun would show Dan Bennett's blood in its
place. I rode through the streets of Mesa, where they lived, and
past the lights of his big saloon, where I heard the sound of
devil's revelry and a shrill-voiced woman singing--a woman the like
of which he had tried to make my Merridy. I never skulked or sneaked
in those days, and no man. ever made me take back roads, so I came
up to his house from the front and tied my horse to his gate-post.
She heard me on the steps and opened the door.
"'You sent for me,' said I. 'Where is he?' But he had gone away to a
neighboring camp, and wouldn't be back until morning, at which I
felt the way a thief must feel, for I'd hoped to meet him in his own
house, and I wasn't the kind to go calling when the husband was out.
I couldn't think very clearly, however, because of the change in
her. She was so thin and worn and sad, sadder than any woman I'd
ever seen, and she wasn't the girl I'd known three years before. I
guess I'd changed a heap myself; anyhow, that was the first thing
she spoke about, and the tears came into her eyes as she breathed:
"'Poor boy! poor boy! You took it very hard, didn't you?'"
"'You sent for me,' said I. 'Which road did he take?'"
"'There's nothing you can do to him,' she answered back. 'I sent for
you to make sure that you still love me."
"'Did you ever doubt it?' said I, at which she began to cry, sobbing
like a woman who has worn out all emotion.
"'Can you feel the same after what I've made you suffer?' she said,
and I reckon she must have read the answer in my eyes; for I never
was much good at talking, and the sight of her, so changed, had
taken the speech out of me, leaving nothing but aches and pains and
ashes in its place. When she saw what she wished to know, she told
me the story, the whole miserable story, that I'd heard enough of to
suspect. Why she'd married the other man she couldn't explain
herself, except that it was a woman's whim--I had stayed away and he
had come the oftener--part pique and part the man's dare-devil
fascination, I reckon; but a month had shown her how she really
stood, and had shown him, too. Likewise, she saw the sort of man he
was and the kind of life he lived. At last he got rough and cruel to
her, trying every way to break her spirit; and even the baby didn't
stop him--it made him worse, if anything--till he swore he'd make
them both the kind he was, for her goodness seemed to rile and goad
him; and, having lived with the kind of woman you have to beat, he
tried it on her. Then she knew her fight was hopeless, and she sent
"'He's a fiend,' she told me. 'I've stood all I can. He'll make a
bad woman of me as sure as he will of the little one, if I stay on
here, so I have decided to go and take her with me.'"
"'Where?' said I."
"'Wherever you say,' she answered; and yet I did not understand, not
till I saw the look in her eyes. Then, as it dawned on me, she broke
down, for it was a terrible thing for a good woman to offer."
'"It's all for the little girl!' she cried. 'More than her life
depends upon it. We must get her away from him.'"
"She saw it was her only course, and went where her heart was
The Lieutenant met the look of appeal in the trader's eyes, and
nodded to imply his complete understanding and approval.
"We love some women for their goodness, others we love for their
frailness, but there never was one who combined the two like her,
and, now that I knew she loved me, I began to believe again there
was a God somewhere. I'd never seen the youngster, so she led me in
where it was sleeping, and I remember my boots made such a devil of
a thumping on the floor that she laid her slim white finger on her
lips and smiled at me. All the fingers in the world began to choke
at my throat, and all the blood in me commenced to pound at my
heart, when I looked on that little sleeping kiddie. The tears began
to roll out of my eyes, and, because they had been dry for four
years, they scalded like melted metal. That was the only time I ever
wept--the sight of her baby did it.
"'I love her already,' I whispered, 'and I'll spend my life making
her happy and making a lady of her,' which clinched what wavering
doubt the mother had, and she began to plan quickly, the fear coming
on her of a sudden that our scheme might fail. I was for riding away
with both of them that night, back through the streets of Mesa and
up into the hills, where I'd have held them single-handed against
man or God or devil, but she wouldn't hear of it.
"'We must go away,' she said, 'a long way from here, where the world
won't find us and the little one can grow to womanhood without
knowing. She must never learn who her father was or what her mother
did. We will start all over, you and I and the baby, and forget. Do
you love me well enough to do it?'
"I uttered a cry and took her in my arms, the arms that had ached
for her all those years. Then I kissed her for the first time."
The old man tried to light his pipe, which had gone out, but his
fingers shook so that he dropped the match; whereupon, without
speaking, Burrell struck another and held it for him. The trader
drew a noisy puff or two in silence and shot his host a grateful
"Her plan was for me to take the youngster away that night, and for
her to join us later, because pursuit was certain, and three could
be traced where one might disappear; she would follow when the
opportunity offered. I saw that he had instilled a terror into her,
and that she feared him like death; but, as I thought it over, her
scheme seemed feasible, so I agreed. I was to ride west that hour
with the sleeping babe, and conceal myself at a place we selected,
while she would say that the little one had wandered away and been
lost in the canon, or anything else to throw Bennett off. After a
time she would join us. Well--the little girl never waked when I
took her in my arms, nor when the mother broke down again and talked
to me like a crazy woman. Her collapse showed the terrible strain
she had been living under, and the ragged edge where her reason
stood. She had been brave enough to plan coolly till the hour for
giving up her baby, but when that came she was seized with a
thousand dreads, and made me swear by my love for her, which was and
is the holiest thing in all my life, that if anything happened I
would live for the other Merridy. I begged her again to come with
me, but her fears held her back. She vowed, however, that Bennett
should never touch her again, and I made her swear by her love for
the babe that she would die before he ever laid hands on her. It
woke a savage joy in me to think I had bested him, after all.
"I never thought of what I was giving up, of the clean name I was
soiling, of the mine back there that meant a fortune anytime I cared
to take it, for things like that don't count when a man's blood is
hot, so I rode away in the yellow moonlight with a sleeping baby on
my breast, where no child or woman had ever lain except for that
minute before I left. She stood out from beneath the porch shadow
and smiled her good-bye--the last I ever saw of her....
"I travelled hard that night and swapped horses at daylight; then,
leaving the wild country behind, I came into a region I didn't know,
and found a Mexican woman who tended the child for me, for I was
close by the place where Merridy was to come. Every night I went
into the village in hopes that some word had arrived, and I waited
patiently for a week. Then I got the blow. I heard it from the
loafers around the little post-office first, but it dazed me so I
wouldn't believe it till I borrowed the paper and read the whole
story, with the type dancing and leaping before me. It took some
hours for it to seep in, even after that, and for years I recalled
every word of the damned lie as if it had been branded on me with
hot irons. They called it a shocking crime, the most brutal murder
California had ever known, and in the head-lines was my name in
letters that struck me between the eyes like a hammer. Mrs. Dan
Bennett had been foully murdered by me, in a fit of sudden jealousy,
and I had disappeared with the baby! The husband had returned
unexpectedly to find her dying, so he said, but too far gone to call
for help, and with barely sufficient strength to tell him who did it
and how! Then the paper went on with the tale of my courting her,
and her turning me down for Bennett. It told how I had gone off
alone up into the hills, turning into a bear that nobody, man or
child, could approach. It said I had brooded there all this time
till the mania got uppermost, and so came down to wreak my
vengeance. They never even did me the credit of calling me crazy; I
was a fiend incarnate, a beast without soul, and a lot of things
like that; and, remember, I had never harmed a living thing in all
my life. However, that wasn't what hurt. What turned me into a dull,
dead, suffering thing was the knowledge that she was gone. For hours
I couldn't get beyond that fact. Then came the realization that
Bennett had done it, for I reasoned that he had dragged a hint of
the truth from her by very force of the fear he held her in--and
slain her. God!--the awful rage that came over me! But there was
nothing to do; I had sworn to guard the little one, so I couldn't
take vengeance on him. I couldn't go back and prove my innocence,
for that would give the child to him. What a night I spent! The next
day I saw I had been indicted by the grand jury and was a wanted
man. From a distance I watched myself become an outlaw; watched the
county put a price upon my head, which Bennett doubled; watched
public opinion rise to such a heat that posses began to scour the
mountains. What I noted in particular was a statement in the paper
that 'The sorrowing husband takes his bereavement with the quiet
courage which marks a brave man'! That roused me more than the
knowledge that he had made me a wolf and set my friends on my track,
which I hadn't covered very well, having ridden boldly. It happened
that the Mexican woman couldn't read and talked little; still, I
knew they'd find me soon--it couldn't be otherwise--so I made
another run for it, swearing an oath, however, before I left that
I'd come back and have that gambler's heart.
"It was lucky I went, for they uncovered my sign the next day, and
the country where I'd hidden blazed like a field of dry grass. They
were close on my heels, and they closed in from every quarter, but,
pshaw! I knew the woods like an Indian, and the wild things were my
friends again, which would have made it play if I'd been alone, but
a girl child of three was harder to manage. So I cowered and skulked
day after day like a thief or the murderer they thought me, working
always farther into the hidden places, travelling by night with the
little one asleep on my bosom, by day playing with her in some leafy
glen, with my pursuers so close behind that for weeks I never slept;
and my love for the child increased daily till it became almost an
"She was the only woman thing I had ever possessed, and it seemed
like my love for the mother came back and settled on her. And she
loved me, too, and trusted me. Every little smile, every clasp of
her tiny, dimpled fingers showed it, and tied her to me with another
knot till the fear of losing her became greater than I could bear,
till it kept the chill of death in my bones and filled my veins with
glacier water. I became an animal, a cowardly, quailing coyote, all
through the love of a child.
"We had close squeezes many times, but I finally won, in spite of
the fact that they tracked us clear to the edge of the desert, for I
had hit for the state line, knowing that Nevada was a wilderness,
and feeling that I'd surely lose them there. And I did. But in doing
it I nearly lost Merridy. You see, the constant travel and hardship
was too much for a prattling baby, and she fell sick from the heat
and the dust and the thirst. I'd been going and going till I was a
riding skeleton, till my arms were crooked and dead from holding
her, but this new thing frightened me like those men and dogs had
never done. Here was a thing I couldn't hide from nor outride, so I
doubled back and came boldly into the watered country again,
expecting they would take me, of course, for a runaway man with a
babe in his arms isn't hard to identify, but I didn't care. I was
bound for the nearest ranch or mining-camp where a woman could be
found; but, as luck would have it, I went through without trying. I
had gone farther from men and things, however, than I thought, and
this return pursuit was a million times worse than the other, for I
couldn't go fast enough to shake Death, who ran with his hand on my
cantle or rode on my horse's rump. It was then I found Alluna. She
was with a hunting-party of Pah-Utes, who knew nothing of me nor of
the white man's affairs, and cared less; and when I saw the little
squaw I rode my horse up beside her, laid the sick child in her
arms, then tumbled out of the saddle. They had a harder job to pull
me through than they did to save Merridy, for I'd given the baby all
the water and hadn't slept or rested for many years, so it seemed.
"The little one was playing around several days before I got back my
reason. Meanwhile the party had moved North, taking us with them,
and, as it happened, just missing a posse who were returning from
"When I was able to get about I told Alluna that I must be going,
but as I told her I watched her face, and saw the sign I wanted--the
white girl had clutched at her like she had at me, and she couldn't
give her up, so I made a dicker with her old man. It took all the
money I had to buy that squaw, but I knew the kiddie must have a
woman's care; and the three of us started out soon after, alone, and
broke, and aimless--and we've been going ever since.
"That's the heart of the story, Lieutenant, and that's how I started
to drift. Since then we three have never rested. I left them once in
Idaho and went back to Mesa, riding all the way, mostly by night,
but Bennett was gone. He'd run down mighty fast after Merridy died,
so I heard, growing sullen and uglier day by day--and I reckon I was
the only one who knew why--till he had a killing in his place. It
was unprovoked, and instead of stopping to face it out the yellow in
him rose to the surface and he left before sunup, as I had left,
making a clean getaway, too, for there was no such hullabaloo raised
about killing a man as there was about--the other. So my trip was
all for nothing.
"I was used to disappointment by now, so I took it quiet and went
back to Alluna and the little one, knowing that some day we two men
would meet. You see, I figured that God had framed a cold hand for
me, but He would surely give me a pair before the game closed. Of
course, never having seen Bennett, I was handicapped, and, added to
that, he changed his name, so the search was mighty slow and blind,
but I knew the day would come. And it would have come only for--
"There isn't much more to tell. I did what most men would have done,
I reckon, because I was just average in every way. I took Alluna,
and together we drifted North, along the frontier, until we landed
here. Every year the little girl got more beautiful and more like
her mother, and every year we two loved her more. We changed her
name, of course, for I've always had the dread of the law back of
me, and then the other two kiddies came along; but we were living
pretty easy, the woman contented and me waiting for Bennett, till
you stepped in and Necia fell in love. That's another thing I never
counted on. It seems like I've always overlooked the plainest kind
of facts. I've held off telling you the last few weeks, hoping you
two wouldn't make it necessary, for I reckon I'm sort of a coward;
but she informed me to-night that she couldn't marry you, being what
she thinks she is, and knowing the blood she has in her I knew she
wouldn't. I figured it wouldn't be right to either of you to let you
go it blind, and so I came in to tell you this whole thing and to
give myself up."
Gale stopped, then poured himself another drink.
"To give yourself up?" echoed Burrell, vaguely. "How do you mean?"
He had sat like one in a trance during the long recital, only his
"I'm under indictment for murder," said the trader. "I have been for
fifteen years, and there's no chance in the world for me to prove my
"Have you told Necia?" the young man inquired.
"No, you'll have to do that--I never could--she might--disbelieve.
What's more, you mustn't tell her yet. Wait till I give the word. It
won't be long, perhaps a day. I want to go free a little while yet,
for I've got some work to do."
Burrell rose to his feet and stamped the cramps from his muscles. He
was deeply agitated, and his mind was groping darkly for light to
lay hold of this new thing that confronted him.
"Why, yes, yes--of course--don't come until you're ready," he
muttered, mechanically, as if unaware of the meaning of his words.
"To be sure, I'm a policeman, am I not? I had forgotten I was a
jailer, and--and all that." He said it sneeringly, and with a
measure of contempt for his office; then he turned suddenly to the
trader, and his voice was rich and deep-pitched with feeling.
"John Gale," he said, "you're the bravest man I ever knew, and the
best." He choked a bit. "You sacrificed all that life meant when
this girl was a baby, and now when she has come into womanhood you
give up your blood for her. By God! You are a man! I want your
In spite of himself he could not restrain the moisture that dimmed
his eyes as he gripped the toil-worn palm of this great, gray hulk
of a man, so aged and bent beneath the burden of his life-long,
fadeless love, who, in turn, was powerfully affected by the young
man's impulsive outburst of feeling and his unexpected words of
praise. The old man looked up a trifle shyly.
"Then you don't doubt no part of it?"
"Somehow, I always figured nobody would believe me if ever I told
the whole thing."
The soldier gazed unseeingly into the flame of his lamp, and said:
"I wonder if my love for the daughter is as great and as holy as
your love for the mother. I wonder if I could give what you have
given, if I had nothing but a memory to live with me." Then he
inquired, irrelevantly; "But what about Bennett, Mr. Gale? You say
you never found him?"
The trader answered, after a moment's hesitation, "He's still at
large." At which his companion exclaimed, "I'd love to meet him in
Gale seemed seized with a desire to speak, but, even while he
hesitated, out of the silent night there came the sound of quick
footsteps approaching briskly, as if the owner were in haste and
knew whither he was bound. Up the steps they came lightly; then the
room and the whole silence round about rang and echoed with a
peremptory signal. Evidently this man rapped on the board door to
awaken and alarm, for instead of his knuckles he used some hard and
heavy thing like a gun-butt.
"Lieutenant Burrell! Lieutenant Burrell!" a gruff voice cried.
"Who's there?" called the young man.
"Let me in! Quick! I've got work for you to do! Open up, I say! This
is Ben Stark!"
AND A KNOT TIGHTENED
A day of shattered hopes is a desolate thing, but the night of such
a day is desolate indeed. In all his life Poleon Doret had never
sunk to such depths of despondency, for his optimistic philosophy
and his buoyant faith in the goodness of life forbade it. Therefore,
when darkness came it blotted out what little brightness and light
and hope were left to him after Necia's stormy interview with the
Lieutenant. The arrival of the freight steamer afforded him some
distraction, but there was only a small consignment for the store,
and that was quickly disposed of; so, leaving the other citizens of
Flambeau to wrangle over their private merchandise, he went back to
his solitary vigil, which finally became so unbearable that he
sought to escape his thoughts, or at least to drown them for a
while, amid the lights and life and laughter of Stark's saloon.
Being but a child by nature, his means of distraction were primal
and elementary, and he began to gamble, as usual with hard luck, for
the cards had ever been unkind to him. He did not think of winnings
or losings, however--he merely craved the occupation; and it was
this that induced him to sit at a game in which Runnion played,
although ordinarily he would not have tolerated even tacitly such a
truce to his dislikes. As it was, he crouched in a corner, his hat
pulled down over his brow, his swarthy face a darker hue beneath the
shadow, losing steadily, only now and then showing a flash of white
teeth as he saw his money go. What mattered loss to him? He had no
more need of money now than Necia had of his love. He would spend
the dollars he had eked and scraped and saved for her as she had
spent the treasures of his heart, and now that the one had brought
him no return he wished to be rid of the other, for he was shortly
to go again in search of his "New Country," where no man needs gold
half so much as a clean heart. It would be a long journey, far to
the West and North--a journey that none of his kind had ever fared
back from, and he wished to go light, as all good adventurers go.
Runnion annoyed him with his volubility, for the news of his good-
fortune had fired the man with a reckless disregard for money, and
he turned to gaming as the one natural recourse of his ilk. As the
irony of fate would have it, he won what the Canadian lost, together
with the stakes of various others who played for a time with him and
then gave up, wagging their heads or swearing softly at the cards.
It was shortly after midnight that Stark came into the place. Poleon
was not too absorbed in his own fortunes to fail to notice the
extraordinary ferocity and exhilaration of the saloon-keeper, nor
that his face was keener, his nostrils thinner, his walk more
nervous, and his voice more cutting than usual when he spoke to
"I'll be with you when I finish this hand," said the player, over
"Come here!" Stark snapped his command, and Runnion threw down his
"I'm right in the middle of a winning streak. You'll break my luck,
But the other only frowned impatiently, and, drawing the reluctant
gambler aside, began to talk rapidly to him, almost within ear-shot
of Poleon, who watched them, idly wondering what Stark had to say
that could make Runnion start and act so queerly. Well, it was their
affair. They made a bad pair to draw to. He knew that Runnion was
the saloon-keeper's lieutenant and obeyed implicitly his senior's
commands. He could distinguish nothing they said, nor was he at all
curious until a knot of noisy men crowded up to the bar, and,
forcing the two back nearer to the table where he sat, his sharp
ears caught these words from Runnion's lips:
"Not with me! She'd never go with me!" and Stark's reply:
"She'll go where I send her, and with anybody I tell her to."
The Frenchman lost what followed, for a newly dealt hand required
study. He scanned his cards, and tossed them face up before the
dealer; then he overheard Runnion say:
"It's the only one in camp. He might sell it if you offered him
enough." At this Stark called one of the men at the bar aside, and
the three began to dicker.
"Not a cent less," the third man announced, loudly. "There ain't
another Peterborough in town."
It was Poleon's deal now, and when he had finished both Stark and
Runnion had disappeared, also the man they had accosted, which
pleased the Canadian, for now that Runnion was eliminated from the
game he might win a little. A steady, unvarying run of bad hands is
uninteresting, and does not occupy one's mind as well as an
occasional change of luck.
Outside Runnion was saying again to Stark:
"She won't go with me, Ben; she don't like me. You see, I made love
to her, and she got mad and wanted me killed."
"She'll never know who you are until it's too late to turn back,"
said the other, "and you are the only man I can trust to take her
through. I can trust you--you owe me too much to be crooked."
"Oh, I'll act square with you! But look here, what's all this about,
anyhow? Why do you want that girl? You said you didn't care for her
that way; you told me so yourself. Been having a change of heart, or
is it your second childhood?" He laughed disagreeably.
"It's none of your business," said the gambler. "I want her, and
that's enough. All you have to do is to take her to St. Michael's
and keep her there till you hear from me. She thinks she is going to
the Mission, and you needn't tell her otherwise until you get her
aboard a steamer; then take her, no matter what kind of a fight she
puts up. You've got a light-rowing skiff, and you'd better keep
going till you're overtaken by a down-river boat. I want her as far
away from here as possible. There's going to be some hell in this
camp. Now, hike, and get yourself ready."
"All right! But I ain't the safest kind of a chaperon for a good-
Stark laid a cold hand on Runnion's shoulder, close up to his neck.
"Get that out of your mind. She belongs to me."
"You said just now--"
"Never mind what I said. She's mine, and you've got to promise to be
straight with her. I've trusted you before, and if you're not on the
level now, say so. It will save you a lot of trouble."
"Oh! All right!" exclaimed Runnion, testily. "Only it looks mighty
He melted into the darkness and Stark returned to his cabin, where
he paced back and forth impatiently, smiling evilly now and then,
consulting his watch at frequent intervals. A black look had begun
to settle on his face, but it vanished when Necia came, and he met
her with a smile.
"I was afraid you had weakened," he said. "Everything is ready and
waiting. I've got the only canoe in the place, a Peterborough, and
hired a good oarsman to put you through, instructing him to make as
fast time as he can, and to board the first steamer that overtakes
you. Too bad this freighter that just got in isn't going the other
way. However, there's liable to be another any hour, and if one
doesn't come along you'll find enough blankets and food in the
skiff, so you needn't go ashore. You'll be there before you know
"You are very kind," said the girl. "I can't thank you enough." She
was clothed in her simple everyday dress, and looked again the sun-
colored half-breed girl with the wide, dark eyes and the twin braids
of crow-black hair.
"You didn't run into anybody, eh?"
She shook her head. Then he led her out into the darkness, and they
stumbled down to the river's-bank, descending to the gravelly
water's edge, where rows of clumsy hand-sawed boats and poling-
skiffs were chafing at their painters. The up-river steamer was just
Stark's low whistle was answered a hundred yards below, and they
searched out a darker blot that proved to be a man's figure.
"Is everything ready?" he inquired, at which the shadow grunted
unintelligibly. So, holding Necia by the arm, Stark helped her back
to a seat in the stern.
"This man will take you through," he said. "You can trust him, all
The oarsman clambered in and adjusted his sweeps, then Stark laid a
hand on the prow and shoved the light boat out into the current,
"Good-bye, and good-luck."
"Good-bye, Mr. Stark. Thank you ever so much," the girl replied, too
numb and worn out to say much, or to notice or care whither she was
bound or who was her boatman. She had been swept along too swiftly
to reason or fear for herself any more.
Half an hour later the scattered lights of the little camp winked
and twinkled for the last time. Turning, she set her face forward,
and, adjusting the cushions to her comfort, strained her tired eyes
towards the rising and falling shadow of her boatman. She seemed
borne along on a mystic river of gloom that hissed and gurgled about
her, invisible but all-pervading, irresistible, monstrous, only the
ceaseless, monotonous creak of the rowlocks breaking the silence.
Stark did not return to his cabin, but went back instead to his
saloon, where he saw Poleon Doret still sprawling with elbows on the
table, his hat pulled low above his sullen face. The owner of the
place passed behind the bar and poured himself a full glass of
whiskey, which he tossed off, then, without a look to right or left,
went out and down towards the barracks. A light behind the drawn
curtains of the officer's house told that his man was not abed, but
he waited a long moment after his summons before the door was
opened, during which he heard the occupant moving about and another
door close in the rear. When he was allowed entrance at last he
found the young man alone in a smoke-filled room with a bottle and
two empty glasses on the table.
For at the sound of his voice Gale had whispered to Burrell, "Keep
him out!" and the Lieutenant had decided to refuse his late visitor
admittance when he lighted on the expedient of concealing the trader
in the bedroom at the rear. It was only natural, he reasoned, that
Gale should dislike to face a man like Stark before he had regained
"Go in there and wait till I see what he wants," he had said, and,
shutting the old man in, he had gone forth to admit Stark, resenting
his ill-timed intrusion and inquiring brusquely the cause of it.
Before answering, Stark entered and closed the door behind him.
"I've got some work for you, Lieutenant."
"I guess it can wait till morning," said Meade.
"No, it can't; it's got to be done to-night, right now! You
represent the law, or at least you've taken every occasion to so
declare yourself, and to mix in with little things that don't cut
much figure; so now I've come to you with something big. It's a
serious affair, and being as I'm a peaceful man I want to go by the
law." His eyes mocked the words he uttered. "You're mighty prompt
and determined when it comes to regulating such affairs. You seem to
carry the weight of this whole community on your shoulders, so I'm
here to give you some information."
Burrell ignored the taunt, and said, quietly: "It's a little late
for polite conversation. Come to the point."
"I've got a criminal for you."