Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Barrier by Rex Beach

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"You've had a killing in your place, eh?"

"No, I've just made a discovery. I found it all out by accident,
too--pure accident. By Heaven! You can't tell me there isn't a
beneficent Providence overlooking our affairs. Why, this felon has
lived here among us all this time, and only for the merest chance I
never would have recognized him."

"Well, well! Go on!" snapped Burrell, impatiently.

"He's a friend of yours, and a highly respected party. He's a
glorious example to this whole river."

The officer started. Could it be? he wondered. Could knowledge of
this affair have reached this man? He was uncomfortably aware of
that presence in the back room, but he had to know the truth.

"Who is the man?"

"He's your friend. He's--" Stark paused, gloating over his enemy's

"Go on." "He's everybody's friend. He's the shining mark of this
whole country. He's the benevolent renegade, Squaw-man Gale."

"John Gale?"

"Gaylord is his name, and I was a fool not to know it sooner."

"How did you discover this?" inquired Burrell, lamely. "What proof
have you?"

The disclosure had not affected the soldier as Stark expected, and
his anger began to lift itself.

"That's neither here nor there; the man's a murderer; he's wanted in
California, where I came from; he's been indicted, and there's a
price on his head. He's hidden for fifteen years, but he'll hang as
sure as I stand here."

Disclosures of a complex nature had so crowded on Burrell in the
last few hours that he saw himself the centre of a most unfortunate
and amazing tangle. Things were difficult enough as it was, but to
have this man appear and cry for justice--this man above all
others!--it was a complication quite unlocked for--a hideous
mockery. He must gain time for thought. One false step might ruin
all. He could not face this on the spur of the moment, so, shrugging
his shoulders with an air of polite scepticism, he assumed a tone of
good-natured raillery.

"Fifteen years? Murder? John Gale a murderer? Why, that's almost--
pardon me if I smile--I'm getting sleepy. What proof have you?"

"Proof!" blazed the gambler. "Proof! Ask Gaylord! Proof! Why, the
woman he murdered was my wife!"

It was Burrell's turn now to fall incoherent, and not only did his
speech forsake him, but his thoughts went madly veering off into a
wilderness where there was no trail, no light, no hope. What kind of
a coil was this? What frightful bones were these he bared? This man
was Bennett! This was Necia's father! This man he hated, this man
who was bad, whose name was a curse throughout the length and
breadth of the West, was the father of the girl he loved! His head
began to whirl, then the story of the trader came back to him, and
he remembered who and what the bearer of these later tidings was. He
raised a pair of eyes that had become furious and bloodshot, and
suddenly realized that the man before him, who persisted in saddling
upon Gale this heinous crime, was the slayer of Necia's mother; for
he did not doubt Gale's story for an instant. He found his fingers
writhing to feel the creature's throat.

"Proof!" Stark was growling. "How much proof do you need? I've
followed him for fifteen years. I've tracked him with men and dogs
through woods and deserts and mining-camps. I've slept on his trail
for five thousand miles, and now do you think I'm mistaken? He
killed my wife, I say, and robbed me of my little girl! That's her
in his house. That's her he calls Necia. She's my girl--MY GIRL, do
you understand?--and I'll have his life."

It was hate that animated him, and nothing more. He had no joy in
the finding of his offspring, no uplifted thought of justice. The
thirst for revenge, personal, violent, utter, was all that prompted
this man; but Burrell had no inkling yet of the father's well-shaped
plans, nor how far-reaching they were, and could barely stammer:

"So! You--you know?"

"Yes! She wears the evidence around her neck, and if that isn't
enough I can furnish more--evidence enough to smother you. My name
isn't Stark at all; I changed it years ago for certain reasons. I've
changed it more than once, but that's my privilege and my own
affair. Her name is Merridy Bennett."

"I don't suppose you know I'm going to marry her," said the
Kentuckian, irrelevantly.

"No," replied the other, "I wasn't aware of the fact."

"Well, I am. I'll be your son-in-law." He said this as if it were
the statement of an astonishing truth, whereat Stark grinned, a
mirthless, disquieting sort of grimace, and said:

"There's a lot of things for you and me to settle up first. For one
thing, I want those mines of hers."


"Well, I'm her father, and she's not of age."

"I'll think it over."

"I'll take them, anyway, as her next of kin."

Burrell did not follow up this statement, for its truth was
incontrovertible, and showed that the father's ill-will was too
tangible a thing to be concealed; so he continued:

"We'll adjust that after Gale is attended to; but, meanwhile, what
do you want me to do?"

"I want you to arrest the man who killed my wife. If you don't take
him the miners will. I've got a following in this camp, and I'll
raise a crowd in fifteen minutes--enough to hang this squaw-man, or
batter down your barracks to get him. But I don't want to do that; I
want to go by the law you've talked so much about; I want you to do
the trick."

At last Burrell saw the gambler's deviltry. He knew Stark's
reputation too well to think that he feared a meeting with Gale, for
the man had lived in hope of that these fifteen years, and had
shaped his life around such a meeting; but this indirect method--the
Kentuckian felt a flash of reluctant admiration for a man who could
mould a vengeance with such cruel hands, and, even though he came
from a land of feuds, where hate is a precious thing, the cunning
strength of this man's enmity dwarfed any he had ever known. Stark
had planned his settlement coldly and with deliberate malice;
moreover he was strong enough to stand aside and let another take
his place, and thus deny to Gale the final recourse of a hunted
beast, the desperate satisfaction that the trader craved. He tied
his enemy's hands and delivered him up with his thirst unsatisfied--
to whom? He thrust a weapon into the hand of his other enemy, and
bade this other enemy use it; worse than that, forced him to strike
the man he honored--the man he loved. Burrell never doubted that
Stark had carefully weighed the effect of this upon Necia, and had
reasoned that a girl like her could not understand a soldier's duty
if it meant the blood of a parent. If he refused to act, the gambler
could break him, while every effort he made to protect Gale would
but increase the other's satisfaction. There was no chance of the
trader's escape. Stark held him in his hand. His followers would do
his bidding. It was a desperate affair. Was it impossible, the
Lieutenant wondered, to move this man from his purpose?

"Have you thought of Necia? She loves Gale. What effect will this
have on her?"

"Damn her! She's more his brat than mine. I want John Gaylord!"

At this a vicious frenzy overtook Burrell, and he thought of the man
behind yonder door, whom he had forgotten until these words woke
something savage in him. Well! Why not? These two men had stalked
each other clear into the farthest places, driven by forces that
were older than the hills. Who was he to stand between such
passions? This was ordained, it was the course of nature, the clash
of elements, and this was a fair battle-ground, so why should he
undertake to stop a thing decreed?

The gambler's words rang in his ears--"I want John Gaylord"--and
before he knew what he was doing he had answered: "Very well. I'll
give him to you," and crossed quickly to the door of his bedroom and
flung it open. On the threshold he paused stock-still. The place was
empty; a draught sucked through the open window, flirting with the
curtain and telling the story of the trader's exit.

"If you're looking for your coat, it's here," he heard Stark say.
"Get into it, and we'll go for him."

The Lieutenant's mind was working fast enough now, in all
conscience, and he saw with clear and fateful eyes whither he was
being led, at which a sudden reckless disregard for consequences
seized him. He felt a blind fury at being pulled and hauled and
driven by this creature, and also an unreasoning anger at Gale's
defection. But it was the thought of Necia and the horrible net of
evil in which this man had ensnared them both that galled him most.
It was all a terrible tangle, in which the truth was hopelessly
hidden, and nothing but harm could come from attempting to unravel
it. There was but one solution, and that, though fundamental and
effective, was not to be expected from an officer of the law.
Nevertheless, he chose it, for Ben Stark was too potent a force for
evil to be at large, and needed extermination as truly as if he were
some dangerous beast. He determined to finish this thing here and

Meade went to his bureau, took his revolver from the belt where he
had hung it, and came out into the other room. Stark, seeing the
weapon, exclaimed:

"You don't need that; he won't resist you."

"I've decided not to take him," said Burrell.

"Decided not to take him?" shouted the other. "Have you weakened?
Don't you intend to arrest that man?"

"No!" cried the soldier. "I've listened to your lies long enough;
now I'm going to stop them, once for all. You're too dangerous to
have around."

They faced each other silently a moment; then Stark spoke in a very
quiet voice, though his eyes were glittering:

"What's the meaning of this? Are you crazy?"

"Gale was here just before you came, and told me who killed your
wife. I know."

"You do?"

"I do."


"It's pretty late. This place is lonely. This is the simplest way."

The gambler fell to studying his antagonist, and when he did not
speak Burrell continued:

"Come, brace up! I'm giving you a chance."

But Stark shook his head.

"Don't be afraid," insisted the Lieutenant. "There are no witnesses.
If you get me, nobody will know, and your word is good. If not--it's
much simpler than the other." Then, when the gambler still made no
move, he insisted, "You wouldn't have me kill you like a

"You couldn't," said the older man. "You're not that kind--and I'm
not the kind to be cheated, either. Listen! I've lived over forty
years, and I never took less than was coming to me. I won't begin

"You'll get your share--"

"Bah! You don't know what I mean. I don't want you; it's him I'm
after, and when I'm done with him I'll take care of you; but I won't
run any risk right now. I won't take a chance on losing what I've
risked so much to gain, what I've lived these fifteen years to get.
You might put me away--there's the possibility--and I won't let you
or any other man--or woman either, not even my girl--cheat me out of
Gale. Put up your gun."

The soldier hesitated, then did as he was bidden, for this man knew
him better than he knew himself.

"I ought to treat you like a mad dog, but I can't do it while your
hands are up. I'm going to fight for John Gale, however, and you
can't take him."

"I'll have his carcass hung to my ridge-pole before daylight."


"I say yes!" Stark turned to go, but paused at the door. "And you
think you'll marry Necia, do you?"

"I know it."

"Like hell you will! Suppose you find her first."

"What do you mean? Wait--"

But his visitor was gone, leaving behind him a lover already sorely
vexed, and now harassed by a new and sudden apprehension. What venom
the man distilled! Could it be that he had sent Necia away? Burrell
scouted the idea. She wasn't the kind to go at Stark's mere behest;
and as for his forcing her, why, this was not an age of abductions!
He might aim to take her, but it would require some time to
establish his rights, and even then there were Gale and himself to
be reckoned with. Still, this was no time for idling, and he might
as well make certain, so the young man put on his coat hurriedly,
knowing there was work to do There was no telling what this night
would bring forth, but first he must warn his friend, after which
they would fight this thing together, not as soldier and civilian,
but as man and man, not for the law, but against it. He smiled as he
realized the situation. Well, he was through with the army, anyhow;
his path was strange and new from this time henceforth, and led him
away from all he had known, taking him among other peoples; but he
did not flinch, for it led to her. Behind him was that former life;
to-night he began anew.

Stark traced his way back to his cabin in a ten times fiercer mood
than he had come, reviling, cursing, hating; back past the dark
trading-post he went, pausing to shake his clenched fist and grind
out an oath between his teeth; past the door of his own saloon,
which was a-light, and whence came the sound of revelry, through the
scattered houses, where he went more by feel than by sight, up to
the door of his own shack. He fitted his key in the lock, but the
door swung open without his aid, at which he remembered that he had
only pulled it after him when he came away with Necia. He closed it
behind him now, and locked it, for he had some thinking to do; then
felt through his pockets for a match, and, striking it, bent over
his lamp to adjust the wick. It flared up steady and strong at last,
flooding the narrow place with its illumination; then he
straightened up and turned towards the bed to throw off his coat,
when suddenly every muscle of his body leaped with an uncontrollable
spasm, as if he had uncovered a deadly serpent coiled and ready to
spring. In spite of himself his lungs contracted as if with the grip
of giant hands, and his breath came forth in a startled cry.

John Gale was sitting at his table, barely an arm's-length away, his
gray-blue eyes fixed upon him, and the deep seams of his heavy face
set as if graven in stone. His huge, knotted hands were upon the
table, and between them lay a naked knife.



It was a heathenish time of night to arouse the girl, thought
Burrell, as he left the barracks, but he must allay these fears that
were besetting him, he must see Necia at once. The low, drifting
clouds obscured what star-glow there was in the heavens, and he
stepped back to light a lantern. By its light he looked at his watch
and exclaimed, then held it to his ear. Five hours had passed since
he left Gale's house. Well, the call was urgent, and Necia would
understand his anxiety.

A few moments later he stood above the squaw, who crouched on the
trader's doorstep, wailing her death song into the night. He could
not check her; she paid no heed to him, but only rocked and moaned
and chanted that strange, weird song which somehow gave strength to
his fears.

"What's wrong; where is Necia? Where is she?" he demanded, and at
last seized her roughly, facing her to the light, but Alluna only
blinked owlishly at his lantern and shook her head.

"Gone away," she finally informed him, and began to weave again in
her despair, but he held her fiercely.

"Where has she gone? When did she go?" He shook her to quicken her

"I don' know. I don' know. Long time she's gone now." She trailed
off into Indian words he could not comprehend, so he pushed past her
into the house to see for himself, and without knocking flung
Necia's door open and stepped into her chamber. Before he had swept
the unfamiliar room with his eyes he knew that she had indeed gone,
and gone hurriedly, for the signs of disorder betrayed a reckless
haste. Hanging across the back of a chair was what had once been the
wondrous dress, Poleon's gift, now a damp and draggled ruin, and on
the floor were two sodden satin slippers and a pair of wet silk
stockings. He picked up the lace gown and saw that it was torn from
shoulder to waist. What insanity had possessed the girl to rip her
garment thus?

"She take her 'nother dress; the one I make las' summer," said
Alluna, who had followed him in and stood staring as he stared.

"When did she go, Alluna? For God's sake, what does this mean?"

"I don' know! She come and she go, and I don' see her; mebbe three,
four hour ago."

"Where's Gale? He'll know. He's gone after her, eh?"

The upward glow of the lantern heightened the young man's pallor,
and again the squaw broke into her sad lament.

"John Gale--he's gone away with the knife of my father. I am afraid-
-I am afraid."

Burrell forced himself to speak calmly; this was no time to let his
wits stampede.

"How long ago?"

"Long time."

"Did he come back here just now?"

"No; he went to the jail-house, and he would not let me follow. He
don' come back no more."

This was confusing, and Meade cried, angrily:

"Why didn't you give the alarm? Why didn't you come to me instead of
yelling your lungs out around the house?"

"He told me to wait," she said, simply.

"Go find Poleon, quick."

"He told me to wait," she repeated, stoically, and Burrell knew he
was powerless to move her. He saw the image of a great terror in the
woman's face. The night suddenly became heavy with the hint of
unspeakable things, and he grew fearful, suspecting now that Gale
had told him but a part of his story, that all the time he knew
Stark's identity, and that his quarry was at hand, ready for the
kill; or, if not, he had learned enough while standing behind that
partition. Where was he now? Where was Necia? What part did she play
in this? Stark's parting words struck Burrell again like a blow.
This life-long feud was drawing swiftly to some tragic culmination,
and somewhere out in the darkness those two strong, hate-filled men
were settling their scores. All at once a fear for the trader's life
came upon the young man, and he realized that a great bond held them
together. He could not think clearly, because of the dread thing
that gripped him at thought of Necia. Was he to lose her, after all?
He gave up trying to think, and fled for Stark's saloon, reasoning
that where one was the other must be near, and there would surely be
some word of Necia. He burst through the door; a quick glance over
the place showed it empty of those he sought, but, spying Poleon
Doret, he dragged him outside, inquiring breathlessly:

"Have you seen Gale?"

"Have you seen Stark? Has he been about?"

"Yes, wan hour, mebbe two hour ago. W'y? Wat for you ask?"

"There's the devil to pay. Those two have come together, and Necia
is gone."

"Necia gone?" the Canadian jerked out. "Wat you mean by dat? Were
she's gone to?"

"I don't know--nobody knows. God! I'm shaking like a leaf."

"Bah! She's feel purty bad! She's go out by herse'f. Dat's all

"I tell you something has happened to her; there's hell to pay. I
found her clothes at the house torn to ribbons and all muddy and

Poleon cried out at this.

"We've got to find her and Gale, and we haven't a minute to lose.
I'm afraid we're too late as it is. I wish it was daylight. Damn the
darkness, anyhow! It makes it ten times harder."

His incoherence alarmed his listener more than his words.

"Were have you look?"

"I've been to the house, but Alluna is crazy, and says Gale has gone
to kill Stark, as near as I can make out. Both of them were at my
quarters to-night, and I'm afraid the squaw is right."

"But w'ere is Necia?"

"We don't know; maybe Stark has got her."

The Frenchman cursed horribly. "Have you try hees cabane?"


Without answer the Frenchman darted away, and the Lieutenant sped
after him through the deserted rows of log-houses.

"Ha! Dere's light," snarled Doret, over his shoulder, as they neared
their goal.

"Be careful," panted Burrell. "Wait! Don't knock." He forced Poleon
to pause. "Let's find out who's inside. Remember, we're working

He gripped his companion's arm with fingers of steel, and together
they crept up to the door, but even before they had gained it they
heard a voice within. It was Stark's. The walls of the house were of
moss-chinked logs that deadened every sound, but the door itself was
of thin, whip-sawed pine boards with ample cracks at top and bottom,
and, the room being of small dimensions, they heard plainly. The
Lieutenant leaned forward, then with difficulty smothered an
exclamation, for he heard another voice now--the voice of John Gale.
The words came to him muffled but distinct, and he raised his hand
to knock, when, suddenly arrested, he seized Poleon and forced him
to his knees, hissing into his ear:

"Listen! Listen! For God's sake, listen!"

For the first time in his tempestuous life Ben Stark lost the iron
composure that had made his name a by-word in the West, and at sight
of his bitterest enemy seated in the dark of his own house waiting
for him he became an ordinary, nervous, frightened man faced by a
great peril. It was the utter unexpectedness of the thing that shook
him, and before he could regain his balance Gale spoke:

"I've come to settle, Bennett."

"What are you doing here?" the gambler stammered.

"I was up at the soldier's place just now and heard you. I didn't
want any interruptions, so I came here where we can be alone." He
paused, and, when Stark made no answer, continued, "Well, let's get
at it." But still the other made no move. "You've had all the best
of it for twenty years," Gale went on, in his level voice, "but to-
night I get even. By God! I've lived for this."

"That shot in Lee's cabin?" recalled Stark, with the light of a new
understanding. "You knew me then?"


Stark took a deep breath. "What a damned fool I've been!"

"Your devil's magic saved you that time, but it won't stop this."
The trader rose slowly with the knife in his hand.

"You'll hang for this!" said the gambler, unsteadily, at which
Gale's face blazed.

"Ha!" exclaimed the trader, exultingly; "you can feel it in your
guts already, eh?"

With an effort Stark began to assemble his wits as the trader

"You saddled your dirty work on me, Ben Stark, and I've carried it
for fifteen years; but to-night I put you out the way you put her
out. An eye for an eye!"

"I didn't kill her," said the man.

"Don't lie. This isn't a grand jury. We're all alone."

"I didn't kill her."

"So? The yellow is showing up at last. I knew you were a coward, but
I didn't think you'd be afraid to own it to yourself. That thing
must have lived with you."

"Look here," said Stark, curiously, "do you really think I killed

"I know it. A man who would strike a woman would kill her--if he had
the nerve."

Stark had now mastered himself, and smiled.

"My hate worked better than I thought. Well, well, that made it hard
for you, didn't it?" he chuckled. "I supposed, of course, you knew--

"Knew?" Gale's face showed emotion for the first time. "Knew what--?"
His hands were quivering slightly.

"She killed herself."

"So help you God?"

"So help me God!"

There was a long pause.


"Say, it's kind of funny our standing here talking about that thing,
isn't it? Well, if you want to know, I came home early that night--I
guess you hadn't been gone two hours--and the surprise did it, more
than anything else, I suppose--she hadn't prepared a story. I got
suspicious, named you at random, and hit the nail on the head. She
broke down, thought I knew more than I did, and--and then there was
hell to pay."

"Go on."

"I suppose I talked bad and made threats--I was crazy over you--till
she must have thought I meant to kill her, but I didn't. No. I never
was quite that bad. Anyhow, she did it herself."

Gale's face was like chalk, and his voice sounded thin and dry as he

"You beat her, that's why she did it."

Stark made no answer.

"The papers said the room showed a struggle."

When the other still kept silent, Gale insisted:

"Didn't you?"

At this Stark flamed up defiantly.

"Well, I guess I had cause enough. No woman except her was ever
untrue to me--wife or sweetheart."

"You didn't really think--?"

"Think hell! I thought so then, and I think so now. She denied it,

"And you knew her so well, too. I guess you've had some bad nights
yourself, Bennett, with that always on your mind--"

"I swore I'd have you--"

"--and so you put her blood on my head, and made me an outlaw."
After an instant: "Why did you tell me this, anyhow?"

"It's our last talk, and I wanted you to know how well my hate

"Well, I guess that's all," said Gale. So far they had watched each
other with unwavering, unblinking eyes, straining at the leash and
taut in every nerve. Now, however, the trader's fingers tightened on
the knife-handle, and his knuckles whitened with the grip, at which
Stark's right hand swept to his waist, and simultaneously Gale
lunged across the table. His blade nickered in the light, and a gun
spoke, once--twice--again and again. A cry arose outside the cabin,
then some heavy thing crashed in through the door, bringing light
with it, for with his first leap Gale had carried the lamp and the
table with him, and the two had clenched in the dark,

Burrell had waited an instant too long, for the men's voices had
held so steady, their words had been so vital, that the finish found
him unprepared, but, thrusting the lantern into Poleon's hand, he
had backed off a pace and hurled himself at the door. He had learned
the knack of bunching his weight in football days, and the barrier
burst and splintered before him. He fell to his knees inside, and an
instant later found himself wrestling for his life between two
raging beasts. The Lieutenant knew Doret must have entered too,
though he could not see him, for the lantern shed a sickly gloom
over the chaos. He was locked desperately with John Gale, who flung
him about and handled him like a child, fighting like an old gray
wolf, hoary with years and terrible in his rage. Burrell had never
been so battered and harried and torn; only for the lantern's light
Gale would doubtless have sheathed his weapon in his new assailant,
but the more fiercely the trader struggled, the more tenaciously the
soldier clung. As it was, Gale carried the Lieutenant with him and
struck over his head at Stark.

Poleon had leaped into the room at Burrell's heels, to receive the
impact of a heavy body hurled backward into his arms as if by some
irresistible force. He seized it and tore it away from the thing
that pressed after and bore down upon it with the ferocity of a wild
beast. He saw Gale reach over the Lieutenant's head and swing his
arm, saw the knife-blade bury itself in what he held, then saw it
rip away, and felt a hot stream spurt into his face. So closely was
the Canadian entangled with Stark that he fancied for an instant the
weapon had wounded both of them for the trader had aimed at his
enemy's neck where it joined the shoulder, but, hampered by the
soldier, his blow went astray about four inches. Doret glimpsed
Burrell rising from his knees, his arms about the trader's waist,
and the next instant the combatants were dragged apart.

The Lieutenant wrenched the dripping blade from Gale's hand; it no
longer gleamed, but was warm and slippery in his fingers. Poleon
held Stark's gun, which was empty and smoking.

The fight had not lasted a minute, and yet what terrible havoc had
been wrought! The gambler was drenched with his own blood, which
gushed from him, black in the yellow flicker, and so plentifully
that the Frenchman was befouled with it, while Gale, too, was
horribly stained, but whether from his own or his enemy's veins it
was hard to tell. The trader paid no heed to himself nor to the
intruders, allowing Burrell to push him back against the wall, the
breath wheezing in and out of his lungs, his eyes fastened on Stark.

"I got you, Bennett!" he cried, hoarsely. "Your magic is no good."
His teeth showed through his grizzled muzzle like the fangs of some
wild animal.

Bennett, or Stark, as the others knew him, lunged about with his
captor, trying to get at his enemy, and crying curses on them all,
but he was like a child in Poleon's arms. Gradually he weakened, and
suddenly resistance died out of him.

"Come away from here," the Lieutenant ordered Gale.

But the old man did not hear, and gathered himself as if to resume
the battle with his bare hands, whereupon the soldier, finding
himself shaking like a frightened child, and growing physically weak
at what he saw, doubted his ability to prevent the encounter, and
repeated his command.

"Come away!" he shouted, but the words sounded foolishly flat and

Then Stark spoke intelligibly for the first time.

"Arrest him! You've got to believe what I told you now, Burrell." He
poured forth a stream of unspeakable profanity, smitten by the
bitter knowledge of his first and only defeat. "You'll hang,
Gaylord! I'll see your neck stretched, damn your heart!" To Poleon
he panted, excitedly: "I followed him for fifteen years, Doret. He
killed my wife."

"Dat's damn lie!" said the Frenchman.

"No, it isn't. He's under indictment for it back in California. He
shot her down in cold blood, then ran off with my kid. That's her he
calls Necia. She's mine. Ain't I right, Lieutenant?"

At this final desperate effort to fix the crime upon his rival,
Burrell turned on him with loathing.

"It's no use, Stark. We heard you say she killed herself. We were
standing outside the door, both of us, and got it from your own

Until this moment the man had stood on his own feet, but now he
began to sag, seeing which, Poleon supported him to the bed, where
he sank weakly, collapsing in every joint and muscle.

"It's a job," he snarled. "You put this up, you three, and came here
to gang me." An unnatural shudder convulsed him as his wounds bit at
him, and then he flared up viciously. "But I'll beat you all. I've
got the girl! I've got her!"

"Necia!" cried Burrell, suddenly remembering, for this affray had
driven all else from his mind.

Stark crouched on the edge of his bunk--a ghastly, gray, grinning
thing! One weapon still remained to him, and he used it.

"Yes, I've got my daughter!"

"Where is she?" demanded the trader, hoarsely. "Where's my girl?"

The gambler chuckled; an agony seized him till he hiccoughed and
strangled; then, as the spell passed, he laughed again.

"She's got you in her head, like the mother had, but I'll drive it
out; I'll treat her like I did her--"

Gale uttered a terrible cry and moved upon him, but Burrell
shouldered the trader aside, himself possessed by a cold fury that
intensified his strength tenfold.

"Stop it, Gale! Let me attend to this. I'll make him tell!"

"Oh, will you?" mocked the girl's father.

"Where is she?"

"None of your damned business." Again he was seized with a paroxysm
that left him shivering and his lips colorless. The blankets were
soaked and soggy with blood, and his feet rested in a red pool.

"Ben Stark," said the tortured lover, "you're a sick man, and you'll
be gone in half an hour at this rate. Won't you do one decent thing
before you die?"

"Bah! I'm all right."

"I'll get you a doctor if you'll tell us where she is. If you don't-
-I'll--let you die. For God's sake, man, speak up!"

The wounded man strove to rise, but could not, then considered for a
moment before he said:

"I sent her away."


"Up-river, on that freighter that left last night. She'll go out by
Skagway, and I'll join her later, where I can have her to myself.
She's forty miles up-river now, and getting farther every minute--
oh, you can't catch her!"

The three men stared at one another blankly.

"Why did she go?" said Gale, dully.

"Because I told her who she was, and who you are; because she thinks
you killed her mother; because she was glad to get away." Now that
he was grown too weak to inflict violent pain, the man lied
malevolently, gloating over what he saw in the trader's face.

"Never mind, old man, I'll bring her back," said Burrell, and laid a
comforting hand on Gale's shoulder, for the fact that she was safe,
the fact of knowing something relieved him immensely; but Stark's
next words plunged him into even blacker horror than the trader

"You won't want her if you catch her. Runnion will see to that."


"Yes, I sent him with her."

The lover cried out in anguish, and hid his face in his hands.

"He's wanted her for a long time, so I told him to go ahead--"

None of them noticed Poleon Doret, who, upon this unnatural
confession, alone seemed to retain sufficient control to doubt and
to reason. He was thinking hard, straightening out certain facts,
and trying to square this horrible statement with things he had seen
and heard to-night. All of a sudden he uttered a great cry, and
bolted out into the darkness unheeded by Gale and Burrell, who stood
dazed and distraught with a fear greater than that which was growing
in Stark at sight of his wounds.

The gambler looked down at his injuries, opened and closed the
fingers of his hand as if to see whether he still maintained control
of them, then cried out at the two helpless men:

"Well, are you going to let me bleed to death?"

It brought the soldier out of his trance.

"Why--no, no! We'll get a doctor."

But Gale touched him on the shoulder and said:

"He's too weak to get out. Lock him in, and let him die in the

Stark cursed affrightedly, for it is a terrible thing to bleed to
death in the dark, and in spite of himself the Lieutenant wavered.

"I can't do that. I promised."

"He told that lie to my girl. He gave her to that hound," said the
trader, but Burrell shoved him through the door.

"No! I can't do that." And then to the wounded man he said, "I'll
get a doctor, but God have mercy on your soul." He could not trust
himself to talk further with this creature, nor be near him any
longer, for though he had a slight knowledge of surgery, he would
sooner have touched a loathsome serpent than the flesh of this
monstrous man.

He pushed Gale ahead of him, and the old man went like a driven
beast, for his violence had wasted itself, and he was like a person
under the spell of a strong drug. At the doctor's door Burrell

"I never thought to ask you," he said, wearily; "but you must be
hurt? He must have wounded you?"

"I reckon he did--I don't know." Then the man's listless voice
throbbed out achingly, as he cried in despair: "She believed him,
boy! She believed his lies! That's what hurts." Something like a sob
caught in his throat, and he staggered away under the weight of his
great bereavement.



To the girl crouching at the stern of Runnion's boat it seemed as if
this day and night would never end. It seemed as if the procession
of natural events must have ceased, that there was no longer any
time, for she had been suffering steadily for hours and hours
without end, and began to wonder dreamily whether she had not
skipped a day in her reckoning between the time when she first heard
of the strike on her claim and this present moment. It occurred to
her that she was a rich girl now in her own right, and she smiled
her crooked smile, as she reflected that the thing she had longed
for without hope of attainment had come with confusing swiftness,
and had left her unhappier than ever....

Would the day never come? She pulled the rugs up closer about her as
the morning chill made her shiver. She found herself keeping
mechanical count with the sound of the sweeps--they must be making
good speed, she thought, and the camp must be miles behind now. Had
it been earlier in the season, when the river ran full of drift,
they never could have gone thus in the dark, but the water was low
and the chances of collision so remote as to render blind travel
safe. Even yet she could not distinguish her oarsman, except as a
black bulk, for it had been a lowering night and the approaching
dawn failed to break through the blanket of cloud that hung above
the great valley. He was a good boatman, however, as she gathered
from the tireless regularity of his strokes. He was a silent man,
too, and she was grateful for that. She snuggled down into her
blanket and tried to sleep, but she only dozed for a minute, it
seemed, to find her eyes fly wide open again. So, restless and tired
of her lonely vigil, she gave a premonitory cough, and said to her

"You must be tired rowing so steadily?"

"Oh, I don't mind it," he replied.

At the sound of his voice she sat bolt upright. It couldn't be--if
this were Runnion he would have spoken before! She ventured again,

"Have you any idea what time it is?"

"About three o'clock. I fancy."

"Who are you?" The question came like a shot.

"Don't you know?"

"What are YOU doing here, Mr. Runnion?"

"I'm rowing," he answered, carelessly.

"Why didn't you speak?" A vague feeling of uneasiness came over her,
a suspicion that all was not right, so she waited for him to
explain, and when he did not, she repeated her question. "What made
you keep still so long? You knew who _I_ was?"

"Well, it's the first time I ever took you on a midnight row, and I
wanted to enjoy it."

The mockery in his voice quickened her apprehension. Of a sudden the
fear of being misjudged impelled her to end this flight that had
become so distasteful in a moment, preferring to face the people at
the post rather than continue her journey with this man.

"I've changed my mind, Mr. Runnion," she said. "I don't want to go
down to the Mission. I want you to take me back."

"Can't do it," he said; "the current is too swift."

"Then set me ashore and I'll walk back. It can't be far to town."

"Twenty-five miles. We've been out about three hours." He kept on
rowing steadily, and although the distance they had gone frightened
her, she summoned her courage to say:

"We can make that easily enough. Come, run in to the bank."

He ceased rowing and let the boat drift with dragging sweeps, filled
his pipe and lighted it, then took up his oars again and resumed his

"Please do as I ask you, Mr. Runnion. I've decided I don't want to
go any farther." He laughed, and the sound aroused her. "Put me
ashore this minute!" she cried, indignantly. "What do you mean?"

"You've got a fierce temper, haven't you?"

"Will you do it or not?"

When he made no answer, except to continue the maddening monotony of
his movements, she was seized with a rash resolve to wrench the oars
out of his hands, and made a quick motion towards him, at which he

"Sit down! Do you want to upset us?"

The unstable craft lurched and dipped dangerously, and, realizing
the futility of her mad impulse, she sank back on her knees.

"Put me ashore!"

"No," he said, "not till I'm ready. Now, keep your seat or we'll
both drown; this ain't a ferry-boat." After a few strokes, he added,
"We'll never get along together unless you tame that temper."

"We're not going to get along together, Mr. Runnion--only as far as
the Mission. I dare say you can tolerate me until then, can you
not?" She said this bitingly.

"Stark told me to board the first boat for St. Michael's," he said,
disregarding her sarcasm, "but I've made a few plans of my own the
last hour or so."

"St. Michael's! Mr. Stark told you--why, that's impossible! You
misunderstood him. He told you to row me to the Mission. I'm going
to Father Barnum's house."

"No, you're not, and I didn't misunderstand him. He wants to get you
outside, all right, but I reckon you'd rather go as Mrs. Runnion
than as the sweetheart of Ben Stark."

"Are you crazy?" the girl cried. "Mr. Stark kindly offered to help
me reach the Father at his Mission. I'm nothing to him, and I'm
certainly not going to be anything to you. If I'd known you were
going to row the boat, I should have stayed at home, because I
detest you."

"You'll get over that."

"I'm not in the humor for jokes."

He rested again on his oars, and said, with deliberation:

"Stark 'kindly offered' did he? Well, whenever Ben Stark 'kindly'
offers anything, I'm in on the play. He's had his eye on you for the
last three months, and he wants you, but he slipped a cog when he
gave me the oars. You needn't be afraid, though, I'm going to do the
square thing by you. We'll stop in at the Mission and be married,
and then we'll see whether we want to go to St. Michael's or not,
though personally I'm for going back to Flambeau."

During the hours while he had waited for Necia to discover his
identity, the man's mind had not been idle; he had determined to
take what fortune tossed into his lap. Had she been the unknown,
unnoticed half-breed of a month or two before, he would not have
wasted thought upon priests or vows, but now that a strange fate had
worked a change in her before the world, he accepted it.

The girl's beauty, her indifference, the mistaken attitude of Stark
urged him, and, strongest of all, he was drawn by his cupidity, for
she would be very rich, so the knowing ones said. Doubtless that was
why Stark wanted her, and, being a man who acknowledged no fidelity
to his kind or his Creator, Runnion determined to outwit his
principal, Doret, Burrell, and all the rest. It was a chance to win
much at the risk of nothing, and he was too good a gambler to let it

With his brusque declaration Necia realized her position--that she
was a weak, lonely girl, just come into womanhood, so cursed by good
looks that men wanted her, so stained by birth that they would not
take her honestly; realized that she was alone with a dissolute
creature and beyond help, and for the first time in her life she
felt the meaning of fear.

She saw what a frail and helpless thing she was; nothing about her
was great save her soul, and that was immeasurably vexed and
worried. She had just lived through a grief that had made her
generous, and now she gained her first knowledge of the man-animal's
gross selfishness.

"You are absolutely daft," she said. "You can't force me to marry

"I ain't going to force you; you'll do it willingly."

"I'll die first. I'll call the first man we see--I'll tell Father
Barnum, and he'll have you run out of the country--it would only
take a word from me."

"If you haven't changed your mind when we get to his place, I'll run
through without stopping; but there isn't another priest between
there and St. Mike's, and by the time we get to the mouth of the
river, I guess you'll say yes to most anything. However, I'd rather
marry you at Holy Cross if you'll consent, and I'm pretty sure you
will--when you think it over."

"We won't discuss it."

"You don't understand yet," he continued, slowly. "What will people
say when they know you ran away with me."

"I'll tell them the truth."

"Huh! I'm too well known. No man on the river would ever have you
after that."

"You--you--" Her voice was a-quiver with indignation and loathing,
but her lips could not frame an epithet fit for him. He continued
rowing for some time, then said:

"Will you marry me?"

"No! If this thing is ever known, Poleon will kill you--or father."

For a third time he rested on his oars.

"Now that we've come to threats, let me talk. I offered to marry you
and do the square thing, but if you don't want to, I'll pass up the
formality and take you for my squaw, the same as your father took
Alluna. I guess you're no better than your mother, so your old man
can't say much under the circumstances, and if he don't object,
Poleon can't. Just remember, you're alone with me in the heart of a
wilderness, and you've got to make a choice quick, because I'm going
ashore and make some breakfast as soon as it's light enough to
choose a landing-place. If you agree to come quietly and go through
with this thing like a sensible girl, I'll do what's right, but if
you don't--then I'll do what's wrong, and maybe you won't be so
damned anxious to tell your friends about this trip, or spread your
story up and down the river. Make up your mind before I land."

The water gurgled at the bow again, and the row-locks squeaked.
Another hour and then another passed in silence before the girl
noted that she no longer seemed to float through abysmal darkness,
but that the river showed in muddy grayness just over the gunwale.
She saw Runnion more clearly, too, and made out his hateful
outlines, though for all else she beheld they might have been miles
out upon a placid sea, and so imperceptible was the laggard day's
approach that she could not measure the growing light. It was a
desolate dawn, and showed no glorious gleams of color. There was no
rose-pink glow, no merging of a thousand tints, no final burst of
gleaming gold; the night merely faded away, changing to a sickly
pallor that grew to ashen gray, and then dissolved the low-hung,
distorted shadows a quarter of a mile inland on either hand into a
forbidding row of unbroken forest backed by plain, morass, and
distant hills untipped by slanting rays. Overhead a bleak ruin of
clouds drifted; underneath the river ran, a bilious yellow. The
whole country so far as the eye could range was unmarred by the hand
of man, untracked save by the feet of the crafty forest people.

She saw Runnion gazing over his shoulder in search of a shelving
beach or bar, his profile showing more debased and mean than she had
ever noticed it before. They rounded a bend where the left bank
crumbled before the untiring teeth of the river, forming a bristling
chevaux-de-frise of leaning, fallen firs awash in the current. The
short side of the curve, the one nearest them, protected a gravel
bar that made down-stream to a dagger-like point, and towards this
Runnion propelled the skiff. The girl's heart sank and she felt her
limbs grow cold.

The mind of Poleon Doret worked in straight lines. Moreover, his
memory was good. Stark's statement, which so upset Gale and the
Lieutenant, had a somewhat different effect upon the Frenchman, for
certain facts had been impressed upon his subconsciousness which did
not entirely gibe with the gambler's remarks, and yet they were too
dimly engraved to afford foundation for a definite theory. What he
did know was this, that he doubted. Why? Because certain scraps of a
disjointed conversation recurred to him, a few words which he had
overheard in Stark's saloon, something about a Peterborough canoe
and a woman. He knew every skiff that lay along the waterfront, and
of a sudden he decided to see if this one was where it had been at
dusk; for there were but two modes of egress from Flambeau, and
there was but one canoe of this type. If Necia had gone up-river on
the freighter, pursuit was hopeless, for no boatman could make
headway against the current; but if, on the other hand, that cedar
craft was gone--He ran out of Stark's house and down to the river-
bank, then leaped to the shingle beneath. It was just one chance,
and if he was wrong, no matter; the others would leave on the next
up-river steamer; whereas, if his suspicion proved a certainty, if
Stark had lied to throw them off the track, and Runnion had taken
her down-stream--well, Poleon wished no one to hinder him, for he
would travel light.

The boat WAS gone! He searched the line backward, but it was not
there, and his excitement grew now, likewise his haste. Still on the
run, he stumbled up to the trading-post and around to the rear,
where, bottom up, lay his own craft, the one he guarded jealously, a
birch canoe, frail and treacherous for any but a man schooled in the
ways of swift water and Indian tricks. He was very glad now that he
had not told the others of his suspicions; they might have claimed
the right to go, and of that he would not be cheated. He swung the
shell over his shoulders, then hurried to the bank and down the
steep trail like some great, misshapen turtle. He laid it carefully
in the whispering current, then stripped himself with feverish
haste, for the driving call of a hot pursuit was on him, and
although it was the cold, raw hours of late night, he whipped off
his garments until he was bare to the middle. He seized his paddle,
stepped in, then knelt amidships and pushed away. The birch-bark
answered him like a living thing, leaping and dancing beneath the
strokes which sprung the spruce blade and boiled the water to a
foam, while rippling, rising ridges stood out upon his back and arms
as they rose and fell, stretched and bent and straightened.

A half-luminous, opaque glow was over the waters, but the banks
quickly dropped away, until there was nothing to guide him but the
suck of the current and the sight of the dim-set stars. His haste
now became something crying that lashed him fiercely, for he seemed
to be standing still, and so began to mutter at the crawling stream
and to complain of his thews, which did not drive him fast enough,
only the sound he made was more like the whine of a hound in leash
or a wolf that runs with hot nostrils close to the earth.

Runnion drove his Peterborough towards the shore with powerful
strokes, and ran its nose up on the gravel, rose, stretched himself,
and dragged it farther out, then looked down at Necia.

"Well, what is it, yes or no? Do you want me for a husband or for a
master?" She cowered in the stern, a pale, fearful creature, finally

"You--you must give me time."

"Not another hour. Here's where you declare yourself; and remember,
I don't care which you choose, only you'd better be sensible."

She cast her despairing eyes up and down the river, then at the
wilderness on either shore; but it was as silent and unpeopled as if
it had been created that morning. She must have time; she would
temporize, pretending to yield, and then betray him to the first
comer; a promise exacted under duress would not be binding.

"I'll go quietly," she said, in a faint voice.

"I knew you'd see that I'm acting square. Come! Get the cramp out of
yourself while I make a pot of coffee." He held out his hand to
assist her, and she accepted it, but stumbled as she rose, for she
had been crouched in one position for several hours, and her limbs
were stiff. He caught her and swung her ashore; then, instead of
putting her feet to the ground, he pressed her to himself roughly
and kissed her. She gave a stifled cry and fought him off, but he
laughed and held her the closer.

"Ain't I good for one kiss? Say, this is the deuce of an engagement.
Come, now--"

"No, no, no!" she gasped, writhing like a wild thing; but he crushed
his lips to hers again and then let her go, whereupon she drew away
from him panting, dishevelled, her eyes wide and filled with horror.
She scrubbed her lips with the back of her hand, as if to erase his
mark, while he reached into the canoe and brought forth an axe, a
bundle of food, and a coffee-pot; then, still chuckling, he gathered
a few sticks of driftwood and built a fire. She had a blind instinct
to flee, and sought for a means of escape, but they were well out
upon the bar that stretched a distance of three hundred feet to the
wooded bank; on one side of the narrow spit was the scarcely moving,
half-stagnant water of a tiny bay or eddy, on the other, the swift,
gliding current tugging at the beached canoe, while the outer end of
the gravelled ridge dwindled down to nothing and disappeared into
the river. At sight of the canoe a thought struck her, but her face
must have shown some sign of it, for the man chanced to look at the
moment, and, seeing her expression, straightened himself, then gazed
about searchingly. Without a word he stepped to the boat, and,
seizing it, dragged it entirely out upon the bar, where her strength
would not be equal to shoving it off quickly, and, not content with
this, he made the painter fast, then went back to his fire. The
eagerness died out of her face, but an instant later, when he turned
to the clearer water of the eddy to fill the coffee-pot, she seized
her chance and sped up the bar towards the bank. The shingle under
foot and her noisy skirts betrayed her, and with an oath he
followed. It was an unequal race, and he handled her with rough,
strong hands when he overtook her.

"So! You lied to me! Well, I'm through with this foolishness. If
you'll go back on your word like this you'll 'bawl me out' before
the priest, so I'll forget my promise, too, and you'll be glad of
the chance to marry me."

"Let me go!" she panted. "I'll marry you. Yes, yes, I'll do it, only
don't touch me now!"

He led her back to the fire, which had begun to crackle. She was so
weak now that she sank upon the stones shivering.

"That's right! Sit down and behave while I make you something hot to
drink. You're all in." After a time he continued, as he busied
himself about his task: "Say, you ought to be glad to get me; I've
got a lot of money, or I will have, and once you're Mrs. Runnion,
nobody'll ever know about this or think of you as a squaw." He
talked to her while he waited for the water to boil, his assurance
robbing her of hope, for she saw he was stubborn and reckless,
determined to override her will as well as to conquer her body,
while under his creed, the creed of his kind, a woman was made from
the rib of man and for his service. He conveyed it to her plainly.
He ruled horses with a hard hand, he drove his dog teams with a
biting lash, and he mastered women with a similar lack of feeling or

He was still talking when the girl sprang to her feet and sent a
shrill cry out over the river, but instantly he was up and upon her,
his hand over her mouth, while she tore at it, screaming the name of
Poleon Doret. He silenced her to a smothered, sobbing mumble, and
turned to see, far out on the bosom of the great soiled river, a man
in a bark canoe. The craft had just swung past the bend above, and
was still a long way off--so far away, in fact, that Necia's signal
had not reached it, for its occupant held unwaveringly to the
swiftest channel, his body rising and falling in the smooth,
unending rhythm of a master-boatman tinder great haste, his arms up-
flung now and then, as the paddle glinted and flashed across to the
opposite side.

Runnion glanced about hurriedly, then cursed as he saw no place of
concealment. The Peterborough stood out upon the bar conspicuously,
as did he and the girl; but the chance remained that this man,
whoever he was, would pass by, for his speed was great, the river a
mile in width, and the bend sharp. Necia had cried Poleon's name,
but her companion saw no resemblance to the Frenchman in this
strange-looking voyager; in fact, he could not quite make out what
was peculiar about the man--perhaps his eyes were not as sharp as
hers--and then he saw that the boatman was naked to the waist. By
now he was drawing opposite them with the speed of a hound. The
girl, gagged and held by her captor's hands, struggled and moaned
despairingly, and, crouching back of the boat, they might have
escaped discovery in the gray morning light had it not been for the
telltale fire--a tiny, crackling blaze no larger than a man's hat.
It betrayed them. The dancing craft upon which their eyes were fixed
whipped about, almost leaping from the water at one stroke, then
came towards them, now nothing but a narrow thing, half again the
width of a man's body. The current carried it down abreast of them,
then past, and Runnion rose, releasing the girl, who cried out with
all her might to the boatman. He made no sound in reply, but drove
his canoe shoreward with quicker strokes. It was evident he would
effect his landing near the lower end of the spit, for now he was
within hearing distance, and driving closer every instant.

Necia heard the gambler call:

"Sheer off, Doret! You can't land here!"

She saw a gun in Runnion's hand, and a terrible, sickening fear
swept over her, for he was slowly walking down the spit, keeping
abreast of the canoe as it drifted. She could see exactly what would
happen: no man could disembark against the will of an armed
marksman, and if Poleon slackened his stroke, or stopped it to
exchange his paddle for a weapon, the current would carry him past;
in addition, he would have to fire from a rocking paper shell
harried by a boiling current, whereas the other man stood flat upon
his feet.

"Keep away or I'll fire!" threatened Runnion again; and she
screamed, "Don't try it, Poleon, he'll kill you!"

At her words Runnion raised his weapon and fired. She heard the
woods behind reverberate with the echoes like a sounding-board, saw
the white spurt of smoke and the skitter of the bullet as it went
wide. It was a long shot, and had been fired as a final warning; but
Doret made no outcry, nor did he cease coming; instead, his paddle
clove the water with the same steady strokes that took every ounce
of effort in his body. Runnion threw open his gun and replaced the
spent shell. On came the careening, crazy craft in a sidewise drift,
and with it the girl saw coming a terrible tragedy. She started to
run down the gravelled ridge behind her enemy, not realizing the
value or moment of her action, nor knowing clearly what she would
do; but as she drew near she saw Runnion raise his gun again, and,
without thought of her own safety, threw herself upon him Again his
shot went wide as he strove to hurl her off, but his former taste of
her strength was nothing to this, now that she fought for Poleon's
life. Runnion snarled angrily and thrust her away, for he had waited
till the canoe was close.

"Let me go, you devil!" he cried, and aimed again; but again she ran
at him. This time, however, she did not pit her strength against
his, but paused, and as he undertook to fire she thrust at his
elbow, then dodged out of his way. Her blow was crafty and well-
timed, and his shot went wild. Again he took aim, and again she
destroyed it with a touch and danced out of his reach. She was
nimble and light, and quickened now by a cold calculation of all
that depended upon her.

Three times in all she thwarted Runnion, while the canoe drove
closer every instant. On the fourth, as she dashed at him, he struck
to be rid of her, cursing wickedly--struck as he would have struck
at a man. Silently she crumpled up and fell, a pitiful, draggled,
awkward little figure sprawled upon the rocks; but the delay proved
fatal to him, for, though the canoe was close against the bank, and
the huge man in it seemed to offer a mark too plain to be missed, he
was too close to permit careful aim. Runnion heard him giving
utterance to a strange, feral, whining sound, as if he were crying
like a fighting boy; then, as the gambler raised his arm, the
Canadian lifted himself up on the bottom of the canoe until he stood
stretched to his full height, and leaped. As Runnion fired he sprang
out and was into the water to his knees, his backward kick whirling
the craft from underneath him out into the current, where the river
seized it. He had risen and jumped all in one moment, launching
himself at the shore like a panther. The gun roared again, but
Poleon came up and on with the rush of the great, brown grizzly that
no missile can stop. Runnion's weapon blazed in his face, but he
neither felt nor heeded it, for his bare hands were upon his quarry,
the impact of his body hurling the other from his feet, and neither
of them knew whether any or all of the last bullets had taken
effect. Poleon had come like an arrow, straight for his mark the
instant he glimpsed it, an insensate, unreasoning, raging thing that
no weight of lead nor length of blade could stop. In his haste he
had left Flambeau without weapon of any kind, for in his mind such
things were superfluous, and he had never fought with any but those
God gave him, nor found any living thing that his hands could not
master. Therefore, he had rushed headlong against this armed and
waiting man, reaching for him ever closer and closer till the
burning powder stung his eyes. They grappled and fought, alone and
unseen, and yet it was no fight, for Runnion, though a vigorous,
heavy-muscled man, was beaten down, smothered, and crushed beneath
the onslaught of this great naked fellow, who all the time sobbed
and whined and mewed in a panting fury.

They swung half across the spit to the farther side, where they fell
in a fantastic convulsion, slipping and sliding and rolling among
the rocks that smote and gouged and bruised them. The gambler fought
for his life against the naked flesh of the other, against the
distorted face that snapped and bit like the muzzle of a wolf, while
all the time he heard that fearful, inarticulate note of blood-
hunger at his ear. The Canadian's clenched hands crushed whatever
they fell upon as if mailed with metal; the fingers were like
tearing tongs that could not be loosed. It was a frightful combat,
hideous from its inequality, like the battle of a man against a
maddened beast whose teeth tore and whose claws ripped, whose every
move was irresistible. And so it was over shortly.

Poleon rose and ran to the fallen girl, leaving behind him a huddled
and twisted likeness of a man. He picked her up tenderly, moaning
and crooning; but as her limp head lolled back, throwing her pale,
blind features up to the heavens, he began to cry, this time like a
woman. Tears fell from his eyes, burning tears, the agony of which
seared his soul. He laid her carefully beside the water's edge, and,
holding her head and shoulders in the crook of his left arm, he wet
his right hand and bathed her face, crouching over her, half nude,
dripping with the sweat of his great labors, a tender, palpitating
figure of bronzed muscle and sinew, with all his fury and hate
replaced by apprehension and pity. The short moments that he worked
with her were ages to him, but she revived beneath his
ministrations, and her first frightened look of consciousness was
changed to a melting smile.

"W-what happened, Poleon?" she said. "I was afraid!"

He stood up to his full height, shaking, and weak as the water that
dripped from him, the very bones in him dissolved. For the first
time he uttered words.

"T'ank God, ba gosh!" and ran his hand up over his wet face.

"Where is he?" She started to her knees affrightedly; then, seeing
the twisted, sprawling figure beyond, began to shudder. "He--he's

"I don' know," said Poleon, carelessly. "You feel it purty good now,
eh, w'at?"

"Yes--I--he struck me!" The remembrance of what had occurred surged
over her, and she buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Poleon! Poleon!
He was a dreadful man."

"He don' trouble you no more."

"He tried--he--Ugh! I--I'm glad you did it!" She broke down,
trembling at her escape, until her selfishness smote her, and she
was up and beside him on the instant. "Are you hurt? Oh, I never
thought of that. You must be wounded!"

The Frenchman felt himself over, and looked down at his limbs for
the first time, "No! I guess not," he said, at which Necia noticed
his meagre attire, and simultaneously he became conscious of it. He
fell away a pace, casting his eyes over the river for his canoe,
which was now a speck in the distance.

"Ba gosh! I'm hell of a t'ing for lookin' at," he said. "I'm paddle
hard--dat's w'y. Sacre! how I sweat!" He hitched nervously at the
band of his overalls, while Necia answered:

"That's all right, Poleon." Then, without warning, her face froze
with mingled repulsion and wonder. "Look! Look!" she whispered,
pointing past him.

Runnion was moving slowly, crawling painfully into a sitting
posture, uplifting a terribly mutilated face, dazed and half
conscious, groping for possession of his wits. He saw them, and
grimaced frightfully, cowering and cringing.

Poleon felt the girl's hand upon his arm, and heard her crying in a
hard, sharp voice:

"He needs killing! Put him away!"

He stared down at his gentle Necia, and saw the loathing in her face
and the look of strange ferocity as she met his eyes boldly.

"You don't know what he--what he did," she said, through her shut
teeth. "He--" But the man waited to hear no more.

Runnion saw him coming, and scrambled frantically to all-fours, then
got on his feet and staggered down the bar. As Poleon overtook him,
he cried out piteously, a shrill scream of terror, and, falling to
his knees, grovelled and debased himself like a foul cripple at fear
of the lash. His agony dispelled the savage taint of Alluna's
aboriginal training in Necia, and the pure white blood of her
ancestors cried out:

"Poleon, Poleon! Not that!" She hurried after him to where he paused
above the wretch waiting for her. "You mustn't!" she said. "That
would be murder, and--and--it's all over now."

The Frenchman looked at her wonderingly, not comprehending this
sudden leniency.

"Let him alone; you've nearly killed him; that's enough." Whereat
Runnion, broken in body and spirit, began to beg for his life.

"Wat's dat you say jus' now?" Doret asked the girl. "Was dat de
truth for sure w'at you speak?"

"Yes, but you've done your work. Don't touch him again."

He hesitated, and Runnion, quick to observe it, added his entreaty
to hers.

"I'm beaten, Doret. You broke me to pieces. I need help--I--I'm

"W'at you 'spec' I do wit' 'im?" the Canadian asked, and she

"I suppose we'll have to take him where he can get assistance."

"Dat skiff ain' carry all free of us."

"I'll stay here," groaned the frightened man. "I'll wait for a
steamer to pick me up, but for God's sake don't touch me again!"

Poleon looked him over carefully, and made up his mind that the man
was more injured in spirit than in body, for, outside of his
battered muscles, he showed no fatal symptoms. Although the voyageur
was slower to anger than a child, a grudge never died in him, and
his simple, self-taught creed knew no forgiveness for such men as
Runnion, cherished no mercy for preying men or beasts. He glanced
towards the wooded shores a stone's-throw above, then back at the
coward he had beaten and whose life was forfeit under the code.
There was a queer light in his eyes.

"Leave him here, Poleon. We'll go away, you and I, in the canoe, and
the first boat will pick him up. Come." Necia tugged at his wrist
for fear she might not prevail; but he was bent on brushing away a
handful of hungry mosquitoes which, warmed by the growing day, had
ventured out on the river. His face became wrinkled and set.

"Bien!" he grunted. "We lef 'im here, biccause dere ain't 'nough
room in de batteau, eh? All right! Dat's good t'ing; but he's seeck
man, so mebbe I feex it him nice place for stop till dem boats

"Yes, yes! Leave me here. I'll make it through all right," begged

"Better you camp yonder on de point, w'ere you can see dose
steamboat w'en she comes 'roun' de ben'. Dis is bad place." He
indicated the thicket, a quarter of a mile above which ran out
almost to the cut bank. "Come! I help you get feex."

Runnion shrank from his proffered assistance half fearfully, but,
reassured, allowed the Frenchman to help him towards the shore.

"We tell it de first boat 'bout you, an' dey pick you up. You wait
here, Necia."

The girl watched her rescuer guide Runnion up to the level of the
woods, then disappear with him in the firs, and was relieved to see
the two emerge upon the river-bank again farther on, for she had
feared for an instant that Poleon might forget. There seemed to be
no danger, however, for he was crashing through the brush in advance
of the other, who followed laboriously. Once Runnion gained the high
point, he would be able to command a view of both reaches of the
river, and could make signals to attract the first steamboat that
chanced to come along. Without doubt a craft of some sort would pass
from one direction or the other by to-morrow at latest, or, if not,
she and Poleon could send back succor to him from the first
habitation they encountered. The two men disappeared again, and her
fears had begun to prey on her a second time when she beheld the big
Canadian returning. He was hurrying a bit, apparently to be rid of
the mosquitoes that swarmed about him; and she marked that, in
addition to whipping himself with a handful of blueberry bushes, he
wore Runnion's coat to protect his shoulders.

"Woof! Dose skeeter bug is hongry," he cried. "Let's we pass on de
river queeck."

"You didn't touch him again?"

"No, no. I'm t'rough wit' 'im."

She was only too eager to be away from the spot, and an instant
later they were afloat in the Peterborough.

"Dis nice batteau," Poleon remarked, critically. "I mak' it go
fas'," and began to row swiftly, seeking the breeze of the open
river in which to shake off the horde of stinging pests that had
risen with the sun. "I come 'way queeck wit'out t'inkin' 'bout gun
or skeeter net or not'in'. Runnion she's len' me dis coat, so mebbe
I don' look so worse lak' I do jus' now, eh?"

"How did you leave him? Is he badly injured?"

"No, I bus' it up on de face an' de rib, but she's feelin' good now.
Yes. I'm leave 'im nice place for stop an' wait on de steamboat--
plaintee spruce bough for set on."

She began to shudder again, and, sensitive to her every motion, he
asked, solicitously, if she were sick, but she shook her head.

"I--I--was thinking what--supposing you hadn't come? Oh, Poleon! you
don't know what you saved me from." She leaned forward and laid a
tiny, grateful hand on the huge brown paw that rested on his oar. "I
wonder if I can ever forget?"

She noted that they were running with the current, and inquired:

"Where are we going?"

"Wal, I can't pull dis boat 'gainst dat current, so I guess we pass
on till I fin' my shirt, den bimebye we pick it up some steamboat
an' go home."

Five miles below his quick eye detected his half-submerged "bark"
lodged beneath some overhanging firs which, from the water's action,
had fallen forward into the stream, and by rare good-fortune it was
still upright, although awash. He towed it to the next sand-bar,
where he wrung out and donned his shirt, then tipped the water from
the smaller craft, and, making it fast astern of the Peterborough,
set out again. Towards noon they came in sight of a little stern-
wheeled craft that puffed and pattered manfully against the sweeping
current, hiding behind the points and bars and following the
slackest water.

"It's the Mission, boat!" cried Necia. "It's the Mission boat!
Father Barnum will be aboard."

She waved her arms madly and mingled her voice with Poleon's until a
black-robed figure appeared beside the pilot-house.

"Father Barnum!" she screamed, and, recognizing her, he signalled

Soon they were alongside, and a pair of Siwash deckhands lifted
Necia aboard, Doret following after, the painter of the Peterborough
in his teeth. He dragged both canoes out of the boiling tide, and
laid them bottom up on the forward deck, then climbed the narrow
little stairs to find Necia in the arms of a benignant, white-haired
priest, the best-beloved man on the Yukon, who broke away from the
girl to greet the Frenchman, his kind face alight with astonishment.

"What is all this I hear? Slowly, Doret, slowly! My little girl is
talking too furiously for these poor old wits to follow. I can't
understand; I am amazed. What is this tale?"

Together they told him, while his blue eyes now opened wide with
wonder, now grew soft with pity, then blazed with indignation. When
they had finished he laid his hand upon Doret's shoulder.

"My son, I thank God for your good body and your clean heart. You
saved our Necia, and you will be rewarded. As to this--this--man
Runnion, we must find him, and he must be sent out of the country;
this new, clean land of ours is no place for such as he. You will be
our pilot, Poleon, and guide us to the spot."

It required some pressure to persuade the Frenchman, but at last he
consented; and as the afternoon drew to a close the little steamboat
came squattering and wheezing up to the bar where Runnion had built
his fire that morning, and a long, shrill blast summoned him from
the point above. When he did not appear the priest took Poleon and
his round-faced, silent crew of two and went up the bank, but they
found no sign of the crippled man, only a few rags, a trampled patch
of brush at the forest's edge, and--that was all. The springy moss
showed no trail; the thicket gave no answer to their cries, although
they spent an hour in a scattered search and sounded the steamboat's
whistle again and again.

"He's try for walk it back to camp," said Doret. "Mebbe he ain' hurt
so much, after all."

"You must be right," said Father Barnum. "We will keep the steamer
close to this shore, so that he can hail us when we overtake him."

And so they resumed their toilsome trip; but mile after mile fell
behind them, and still no voice came from the woods, no figure
hailed them. Doret, inscrutable and silent, lounged against the
pilot-house smoking innumerable cigarettes, which he rolled from
squares of newspaper, his keen eyes apparently scanning every foot
of their slow way; but when night fell, at last, and the bank faded
from sight, he tossed the last butt overboard, smiled grimly into
the darkness, and went below.



"No Creek" Lee came into the trading-post on the following morning,
and found Gale attending store as if nothing unusual had occurred.

"Say! What's this about you and Stark? I hear you had a horrible
run-in, and that you split him up the back like a quail."

"We had a row," admitted the trader. "It's been a long time working
out, and last night it came to a head."

"Lord-ee! And to think of Ben Stark's bein' licked! Why, the whole
camp's talkin' about it! They say he emptied two six-shooters at
you, but you kept a-comin', and when you did get to him you just
carved your initials on him like he was a bass-wood tree. Say, John,
he's a goner, sure."

"Do you mean he's--passing out?"

"Oh no! I reckon he'll get well, from what I hear, though he won't
let nobody come near him except old Doc; but he's lost a battle, and
that ends him. Don't you savvy? Whenever a killer quits second best,
it breaks his hoodoo. Why, there's been men laying for him these
twenty years, from here to the Rio Grande, and every feller he ever
bested will hear of this and begin to grease his holster; then the
first shave-tail desperado that meets him will spit in his eye, just
to make a name for himself. No, sir! He's a spent shell. He's got to
fight all his battles over again, and this time the other feller
will open the ball. Oh, I've seen it happen before. You killed him
last night, just as sure as if you'd hung up his hide to dry, and he
knows it."

"I'm a peaceable man," said Gale, on the defensive. "I had to do

"I know! I know! There was witnesses--this dress-maker at the fort
seen it, so I hear."

The other acquiesced silently.

"Well! Well! Ben Stark licked! I can't get over that. It must 'a'
been somethin' powerful strong to make you do it, John." It was as
close to a question as the miner dared come, although he was avid
with curiosity, and, like the entire town, was in a fret to know
what lay back of this midnight encounter, concerning which the most
exaggerated rumors were rife. These stories grew the more grotesque
and ridiculous the longer the truth remained hidden, for Stark could
not be seen, and neither Gale nor Burrell would speak. All that the
people knew was that one lay wounded to death behind the dumb walls
of his cabin, and that the other had brought him down. When the old
man vouchsafed no more than a nod to his question, the prospector

"Where's Poleon? I've got news for him from the creek."

"I don't know; he's gone."

"Back soon?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"His laymen have give up. They've cross-cut his ground and the pay
ain't there, so they've quit work for good."

"He drew a blank, eh?"

"Worse'n that--three of them. The creek is spotteder than a leopard.
Runnion's men, for instance, are into it bigger than a house, while
Poleon's people can't raise a color. I call it tough luck--yes,
worse'n tough: it's hard-biled and pickled. To them as has shall it
be given, and to them as hasn't shall be took even what they 'ain't
got, as the poet says. Look at Necia! She'll be richer than a cream
puff. Guess I'll step around and see her."

"She's gone," said the trader, wearily, turning his haggard face
from the prospector.

"Gone! Where?"

"Up-river with Runnion. They got her away from me last night."

"Sufferin' snakes!" ejaculated Lee. "So that's why!" Then he added,
simply, "Let's go and git her, John."

The trader looked at him queerly.

"Maybe I won't--on the first boat! I'm eating my heart out hour by
hour waiting--waiting--waiting for some kind of a craft to come, and
so is Burrell."

"What's he got to do with it?" said the one-eyed miner, jealously.
"Can't you and me bring her back?"

"He'll marry her! God, won't there never be a boat!"

For the hundredth time that morning he went to the door of the post
and strained his eyes down-stream.

"Well, well! Them two goin' to be married," said Lee. "Stark licked,
and Necia goin' to be married--all at once. I hate to see it, John;
he ain't good enough; she could 'a' done a heap better. There's a
lot of reg'lar men around here, and she could 'a' had her pick. Of
course, always bein' broke like a dog myself, I 'ain't kept up my
personal appearance like I'd ought, but I've got some new clothes
now, and you wouldn't know me. I bought 'em off a tenderfoot with
cold feet, but they're the goods, and you'd see a big improvement in

"He's a good man," said Gale. "Better than you or me, and he's all
torn up over this. I never saw a man act so. When he learned about
it I thought he'd go mad--he's haunted the river-bank ever since,
raging about for some means of following her, and if I hadn't fairly
held him he'd have set out single-handed."

"I'm still strong in the belief that Necia could have bettered her
hand by stayin' out awhile longer," declared Lee, stubbornly; "but
if she wants a soldier, why, we'll get one for her, only I'd rather
have got her somethin' real good and pronounced in the military
line--like an agitant-gen'ral or a walkin' delegate."

While they were talking Burrell came in, and "No Creek" saw that the
night had affected the youth even more than it had Gale, or at least
he showed the marks more plainly, for his face was drawn, his eyes
were sunken as if from hunger, and his whole body seemed to have
fallen away till his uniform hung upon him loose, unkempt, and
careless. It was as if hope had been a thing of avoirdupois, and
when taken away had caused a shrinkage. He had interrogated Stark
again after getting the doctor, but the man had only cursed at him,
declaring that his daughter was out of reach, where he would take
care to keep her, and torturing the lover anew by linking Runnion's
name with the girl's till the young man fled from the sound of the
monster's voice back to his own quarters. He strove to keep the
image of Runnion out of his mind, for his reason could not endure
it. At such times he cried aloud, cursing in a way that was utterly
strange to a God-fearing man, only to break off and rush to the
other extreme, praying blindly, beseechingly, for the girl's safe-
keeping. At intervals an unholy impulse almost drove him to Stark's
cabin to finish the work Gale had begun, to do it coldly as a matter
of justice, for was he not the one who had put Necia into the hands
of that ruffian? Greeting Lee mechanically, he said to Gale:

"I can't wait much longer," and sank wearily into a seat. Almost the
next instant he was on his feet again, saying to the trader, as he
had said it a score of times already: "Runnion comes to me, Gale!
You understand he's mine, don't you?"

The old man nodded. "Yes! You can take him."

"Well, who do _I_ git?" asked Lee.

"You can't come along," the trader said. "We may have to follow the
hound clean to the States. Think of your mine--"

"To hell with the mine!" exploded the shaggy prospector. "I reckon
I'm kind of a daddy to your gal, and I'm goin' to be in at the

Back and forth paced the Lieutenant restlessly, pausing every now
and then to peer down the river. Suddenly he uttered a cry, and with
a bound Gale was beside him, Lee at his shoulder.

"Look! Over the point! Down yonder! I saw smoke!"

The three stared at the distant forest fringe that masked the bend
of the river until their eyes ached, and the dark-green grew black
and wavered indistinctly.

"You're tired, my boy," said Gale.


They obeyed, and finally over the tree-tops saw a faint streamer of

"It is! It is!" cried the soldier. "I'm going for my war bag." And
before the steamboat had hove into sight he was back with his scanty
bundle of baggage, behaving like one daft, talking and laughing and
running here and there. Lee watched him closely, then went behind
the bar and poured out a stiff glass of whiskey, which he made
Burrell drink. To Gale he whispered, a moment later:

"Keep your eye on him, John--he'll go mad at this rate."

They waited, it seemed interminably, until at last a white hull
slowly rounded the point, then shaped a course across the current
towards the other bank, where the water was less swift. As it came
fully into sight, Gale swore aloud in despair:

"It's the Mission boat!"

"Well, what of that?" said Burrell. "We'll hire it--buy it--take

"It's no use; she ain't got but three dog-power to her engines," Lee
explained. "She's a down-river boat--has to run with the current to

"We can't use her," Gale gave in, reluctantly. "She'd only lose time
for us. We've got to wait for one of the A. C. boats."

"Wait!" cried Burrell. "Good God! we've done nothing but wait, WAIT,
_WAIT_! Let's do something!"

"You go back yonder and set down," commanded Lee. "We'll have a boat
before long."

The arrival of the tiny Mission steamer was never of sufficient
importance to draw a crowd to the riverbank, so the impatient men at
the post relaxed interest in her as she came creeping up abreast of
the town. It was little Johnny Gale who first saw Necia and Poleon
on board, for he had recognized Father Barnum's craft at a distance,
and stationed himself at the bank hand-in-hand with Molly to bid the
good, kind old man welcome.

The men inside the house did not hear the boy crying Necia's name,
for his voice was small, and they had gone to the rear of the store.

"Understand! You leave Runnion to me," Burrell was saying. "No man
shall lay hands on him except me--" His voice trailed away; he rose
slowly to his feet, a strange light on his face. The others turned
to see what sight had drawn his eyes. In the opening, all splendid
with the golden sunlight, stood Necia and Poleon Doret, who had her
by the hand--and she was smiling!

Gale uttered a great cry and went to meet them, but the soldier
could move nothing save his lips, and stood dazed and disbelieving.
He saw them dimly coming towards him, and heard Poleon's voice as if
at a great distance, saw that the Frenchman's eyes were upon him,
and that his words were directed to him.

"I bring her back to you, M'sieu'!"

Doret laid Necia's hand in that of her lover, and Burrell saw her
smiling shyly up at him. Something gripped him chokingly, and he
could utter no sound. There was nothing to say-she was here, safe,
smiling, that was all. And the girl, beholding the glory in his
eyes, understood.

Gale caught her away from him then, and buried her in his arms.

A woman came running into the store, and, seeing the group, paused
at the door--a shapeless, silent, shawled figure in silhouette
against the day. The trader brought the girl to her foster-mother,
who began to talk in her own tongue with a rapidity none of them had
ever heard before, her voice as tender as some wild bird's song;
then the two women went away together around the store into the
house. Poleon had told Necia all the amazing story that had come to
him that direful night, all that he had overheard, all that he knew,
and much that he guessed.

The priest came into the store shortly, and the men fell upon him
for information, for nothing was to be gained from Poleon, who
seemed strangely fagged and weary, and who had said but little.

"Yes, yes, yes!" laughed Father Barnum. "I'll tell you all I know,
of course, but first I must meet Lieutenant Burrell and take him by
the hand."

The story did not lose in his telling, particularly when he came to
describe the fight on the gravel bar which no man had seen, and of
which Poleon had told him little; but the good priest was of a
militant turn, and his blue eyes glittered and flashed like an old

"It was a wondrous combat," he declared, with all the spirit of a
spectator, "for Poleon advanced bare-handed and beat him down even
as the man fired into his face. It is due to the goodness and mercy
of God that he was spared a single wound from this desperado--a
miracle vouchsafed because of his clean heart and his righteous

"But where is Runnion?" broke in Burrell.

"Nursing his injuries at some wood-cutter's camp, no doubt; but God
be praised for that double spirit of generosity and forgiveness
which prompted our Poleon to spare the wretch. No finer thing have I
known in all my life, Doret, even though you have ever been an
ungodly fellow."

The Frenchman moved uneasily.

"Wal, I don' know; he ain' fight so dam' hard."

"You couldn't find no trace of him?" said Lee.

"No trace whatever," Father Barnum replied; "but he will surely
reach some place of refuge where we can pick him up, for the days
are still mild and the woods full of berries, and, as you know, the
streams overflow with salmon, which he can kill with a stick. Why, a
man might live a fortnight without inconvenience!"

"I'll be on the lookout for him," said the Lieutenant, grimly. "To-
night I'll send Thomas and a couple of men down the river."

When the voluble old priest had at last exhausted his narrative he
requested of Burrell the privilege of a few words, and drew him
apart from the others. His face was shrewdly wrinkled and warm with

"I had a long conversation with my little girl, for she is like a
daughter to me, and I discovered the depth of her love for you. Do
you think you are worthy of her?"


"Do you love her as much as you should?"

"As much as I can. They don't make words or numbers big enough to
tell you how dear she is to me."

"Then why delay? To-morrow I leave again, and one never knows what a
day may bring forth."

"But Stark?" the young man cried. "He's her father, you know; he's
like a madman, and she's still under age."

"I know very little of law outside of the Church," the Father
observed, "but, as I understand it, if she marries before he forbids
her, the law will hold him powerless. Now, he has never made himself
known to her, he has never forbidden her anything; and although my
conclusion may not be correct, I believe it is, and you have a
chance if you make haste. At your age, my boy, I never needed a

"A spur? Good Lord! I'm from Kentucky."

"Once she is yours before God, your hold will be stronger in the
eyes of men. If I am wrong, and he takes her from you--well, may
some other priest re-wed you two--I sha'n't!"

"Don't worry," laughed Burrell, ablaze at the thought. "You're the
only preacher who'll kiss my bride, for I'm a jealous man, and all
the Starks and all the fathers in the world won't get her away from
me. Do you think she'll do it?"

"A woman in love will do anything."

Burrell seized the little man by the hand. "If I had known more law
you needn't have given me this hint."

"I must go now to this Stark," said the Father; "he may need me. But
first I shall talk with Necia. Poor child, she is in a difficult
position, standing between the love of John Gale and the loyalty she
owes her father. I--I fear I cannot counsel her as well as I ought,
for I am very weak and human. You had better come with me; perhaps
the plea of a lover may have more weight than the voice of reason."
As they started towards the house, he continued, energetically:
"Young man, I'm beginning to live once more. Do you know, sometimes
I think I was not designed for this vocation, and, just between you
and me, there was a day when--" He paused and coughed a trifle, then
said, sharply, "Well, what are you waiting for?"

Together they went into the trader's house.

Back in the store there was silence after the priest and the soldier
went out, which Gale broke at last:

Book of the day: