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The Barrier by Rex Beach

Part 6 out of 6

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"This forgiveness talk is all right, I suppose--but _I_ WANT

"We'll git him, too," growled Lee, at which Poleon uttered a curt


"Why not?" said the miner.

"Wal," the Canadian drawled, slowly, then paused to light the
cigarette he had rolled in a bit of wrapping-paper, inhaled the
smoke deeply to the bottom of his lungs, held it there a moment, and
blew it out through mouth and nostrils before adding, "you'll jus'
be wastin' tam'!"

Gale looked up from beneath his thatch of brow, and asked, quietly:


"You 'member--story I tol' you wan day, two, t'ree mont' ago,"
Poleon remarked, with apparent evasion, "'bout Johnny Platt w'at I
ketch on de Porcupine all et up by skeeter-bugs?"

"I do," answered Gale.

"Wal,"--he met their eyes squarely, then drew another long breath
from his cigarette--"I'm jus' hopin' nobody don' pick it up dis
Runnion feller de same way. Mebbe dey fin' hees han's tie' behin'
'im wit' piece of hees shirt-"

"Good God!" cried the trader, starting to his feet. "You--you--"

"--of course, I'm jus' s'posin'. He was feel purty good w'en I lef'.
He was feel so good I tak' hees coat for keepin' off dem bugs from
me, biccause I lef it my own shirt on de canoe. He's nice feller dat
way; he give up easy. Ba gosh! I never see worse place for

Gale fell silent, and "No Creek" Lee began to swear in little,
useless, ineffective oaths, which were but two ways of showing
similar emotions. Then the former stepped up and laid a big hand
upon Poleon's shoulder.

"That saves us quite a trip," he said, but "No Creek" Lee continued
to swear softly.

It seemed that Poleon's wish was to be gratified, for no news of the
missing man came through in the days that followed. Only at a
fishing village far down the river, where a few native families had
staked their nets and weirs for salmon, a hunter told a strange tale
to his brothers--a tale of the white man's idiosyncrasies. In sooth,
they were a strange people, he observed, surpassing wise in many
things, yet ignorant and childish in all others, else why should a
half-naked man go wandering idly through the thickets holding a
knotted rag behind his back, and that when the glades were dense and
the moss-chinks filled with the singing people who lived for blood?
The elders of the village nodded their heads sagely, and commended
the hunter for holding aloof from the inert body, for the
foolishness of this man was past belief, and--well, his people were
swift and cruel in their vengeance, and sometimes doubted an
Indian's word, wherefore it were best to pay no heed to their ways
and say nothing. But they continued to wonder why.

Father Barnum found the three still talking in the store when he had
finished an hour's counsel with Necia, so came straight to the
point. It was work that delighted his soul, for he loved the girl,
and had formed a strong admiration for Burrell. Two of them took his
announcement quietly, the other cried out strenuous objections. It
was the one-eyed miner.

"Right away! Not on your life! It's too onexpected. You've got to
hold 'em apart for an hour, anyhow, till I get dressed." He slid
down from his seat upon the counter. "What do you reckon I got all
them clothes for?"

"Come as you are," urged the Father, but Lee fought his point

"I'll bust it up if you don't gimme time. What's an hour or two when
they've got a life sentence comin' to 'em. Dammit, you jest ought to
see them clothes!" And by very force of his vociferations he
succeeded in exacting the promise of a brief stay in the proceedings
before he bolted out, the rags of his yellow mackinaw flapping

The priest returned to Necia, leaving the trader and Poleon alone.

"I s'pose it's best," said the former.


"Beats the deuce, though, how things work out, don't it?"

"I'm glad for see dis day," said the Frenchman. "He's good man, an'
he ain' never goin' to hurt her none." He paused. "Dere's jus' wan
t'ing I want for ask it of you, John--you 'member dat day we stop on
de birch grove, an' you spik 'bout her an' tol' me dose story 'bout
her moder? Wal, I was dreamin' dat tam', so I'm goin' ask it you now
don' never tell her w'at I said."

"Doesn't she know, my boy?"

"No; I ain' never spoke 'bout love. She t'inks I'm broder wit' her,
an'--dat's w'at I am, ba Gar!" He could not hold his voice even--it
broke with him; but he avoided the old man's gaze. Gale took him by
the shoulders.

"There ain't nothing so cruel in the world as a gentle woman," said
he; "but she wouldn't hurt you for all the world, Poleon; only the
blaze of this other thing has blinded her. She can't see nothing for
the light of this new love of hers."

"I know! Dat's w'y--nobody onderstan's but you an' me--"

Gale looked out through the open door, past the sun-lit river which
came from a land of mystery and vanished into a valley of
forgetfulness, past the forest and the hills, in his deep-set eyes
the light of a wondrous love that had lived with him these many
weary years, and said:

"Nobody else CAN understand but me--I know how it is. I had even a
harder thing to bear, for you'll know she's happy at least, while I-
-" His voice trembled, but, after a pause, he continued: "They
neither of them understand what you've done for them, for it was you
that brought her back; but some time they'll learn how great their
debt is and thank you. It'll take them years and years, however, and
when they do they'll tell their babes of you, Poleon, so that your
name will never die. I loved her mother, but I don't think I could
have done what you did."

"She's purty hard t'ing, for sure, but I ain' t'ink 'bout Poleon
Doret none w'en I'm doin' it. No, I'm t'ink 'bout her all de tarn'.
She's li'l' gal, an' I'm beeg, strong feller w'at don' matter much
an' w'at ain' know much--'cept singin', an' lovin' her. I'm see for
sure now dat I ain' fit for her--I'm beeg, rough, fightin' feller
w'at can't read, an' she's de beam of sunlight w'at blin' my eyes."

"If I was a fool I'd say you'd forget in time, but I've lived my
life in the open, and I know you won't. I didn't."

"I don' want to forget," the brown man cried, hurriedly. "Le bon
Dieu would not let me forget--it's all I've got to keep wit' me w'en
I'm lookin' for my 'New Countree.'"

"You're not goin' to look for that 'New Country' any more," Gale

"To-day," said the other, quietly.


"To-day! Dis affernoon! De blood in me is callin' for travel, John.
I'm livin' here on dis place five year dis fall, an' dat's long
tarn' for voyageur. I'm hongry for hear de axe in de woods an' de
moose blow at sundown. I want for see the camp-fire t'rough de brush
w'en I come from trap de fox an' dem little wild fellers. I want to
smell smoke in de dusk. My work she's finish here, so I'm paddle
away to-day, an' I'll fin' dat place dis tam', for sure--she's over
dere." He raised his long arm and pointed to the dim mountains that
hid the valley of the Koyukuk, the valley that called good men and
strong, year after year, and took them to itself, while in his face
the trader saw the hunger of his race, the unslaked longing for the
wilderness, the driving desire that led them ever North and West,
and, seeing it, he knew the man would go.

"Have you heard the news from the creeks?"


"Your claims are blanks; your men have quit."

The Frenchman shook his head sadly, then smiled--a wistful little

"Wal, it's better I lose dan you--or Necia; I ain' de lucky kin',
dat's all; an', affer all, w'at good to me is riche gol'-mine? I
ain' got no use for money--any more."

They stood in the doorway together, two rugged, stalwart figures,
different in blood and birth and every other thing, yet brothers
withal, whom the ebb and flow of the far places had thrown together
and now drew apart again. And they were sad, these two, for their
love was deeper than comes to other people, and they knew this was
farewell; so they remained thus side by side, two dumb, sorrowful
men, until they were addressed by a person who hurried from the

He came as an apparition bearing the voice of "No Creek" Lee, the
mining king, but in no other way showing sign or symbol of their old
friend. Its style of face and curious outfit were utterly foreign to
the miner, for he had been bearded with the robust, unkempt growth
of many years, tanned to a leathery hue, and garbed perennially in
the habit of a scarecrow, while this creature was shaved and clipped
and curried, and the clothes it stood up in were of many startling
hues. Its face was scraped so clean of whiskers as to be a pallid
white, but lack of adornment ended at this point and the rest was
overladen wondrously, while from the centre of the half-brown, half-
white face the long, red nose of Lee ran out. Beside it rolled his
lonesome eye, alive with excitement.

He came up with a strut, illumining the landscape, and inquired:

"Well, how do I look?"

"I'm darned if I know," said Gale. "But it's plumb unusual."

"These here shoes leak," said the spectacle, pulling up his baggy
trousers to display his tan footgear, "because they was made for dry
goin'--that's why they left the tops off; but they've got a nice,
healthy color, ain't they? As a whole, it seems to me I'm sort of
nifty." He revolved slowly before their admiring gaze, and while to
one versed in the manners of the Far East it would have been evident
that the original owner of these clothes had come from somewhere
beyond the Susquehanna, and had either been a football player or had
travelled with a glee club, to these three Northmen it seemed merely
that here was the modish echo of a distant civilization.

"Wat's de matter on your face?" said Poleon. "You been fightin'?"

"I ain't shaved in a long time, and this here excitement has kind of
shattered my nerves. I didn't have no lookin'-glass, neither, in my
shack, so I had to use a lard-can cover. Does it look bad?"

"Not to my way of thinkin'," said Gale, allaying "No Creek's"
anxiety. "It's more desp'rate than bad, but it sort of adds
expression." At which the miner's pride burst bounds.

"I'll kindly ask you to note the shirt--ten dollars a copy, that's
all! I got it from the little Jew down yon. der. See them red spear-
heads on the boosum? 'Flower dee Lizzies,' which means 'calla
lilies' in French. Every one of 'em cost me four bits. On the level-
-how am I?"

"I never see no harness jus' lak it mese'f!" exclaimed Doret. "You
look good 'nough for tin-horn gambler. Say, don' you wear no necktie
wit' dem kin' of clothes?"

"No, sir! Not me. I'm a rude, rough miner, and I dress the part.
Low-cut, blushin' shoes and straw hats I can stand for, likewise
collars--they go hand-in-hand with pay-streaks; but a necktie ain't
neither wore for warmth nor protection; it's a pomp and a vanity,
and I'm a plain man without conceit. Now, let's proceed with the

It was a very simple, unpretentious ceremony that took place inside
the long, low house of logs, and yet it was a wonderful thing to the
dark, shy maid who hearkened so breathlessly beside the man she had
singled out--the clean-cut man in uniform, who stood so straight and
tall, making response in a voice that had neither fear nor weakness
in it. When they had done he turned and took her reverently in his
arms and kissed her before them all; then she went and stood beside
Gale and the red wife who was no wife, and said, simply:

"I am very happy."

The old man stooped, and for the first time in her memory pressed
his lips to hers, then went out into the sunlight, where he might be
alone with himself and the memory of that other Merridy, the woman
who, to him, was more than all the women of the world; the woman
who, each day and night, came to him, and with whom he had kept
faith. The burden she had laid upon him had been heavy, but he had
borne it long and uncomplainingly; and now he was very glad, for he
had kept his covenant.

The first word of the wedding was borne by Father Barnum, who went
alone to the cabin where the girl's father lay, entering with
trepidation; for, in spite of the pleas of justice and humanity,
this stony-hearted, amply hated man had certain rights which he
might choose to enforce; hence, the good priest feared for the peace
of his little charge, and approached the stricken man with
apprehension. He was there a long time alone with Stark, and when he
returned to Gale's house he would answer no questions.

"He is a strange man--a wonderfully strange man: unrepentant and
wicked; but I can't tell you what he said. Have a little patience
and you will soon know."

The mail boat, which had arrived an hour after the Mission boat, was
ready to continue its run when, just as it blew a warning blast,
down the street of the camp came a procession so strange for this
land that men stopped, eyed it curiously, and whispered among
themselves. It was a blanketed man upon a stretcher, carried by a
doctor and a priest. The face was muffled so that the idlers could
not make it out; and when they inquired, they received no answer
from the carriers, who pursued their course impassively down the
runway to the water's edge and up the gang-plank to the deck. When
the boat had gone, and the last faint cough of its towering stacks
had died away, Father Barnum turned to his friends:

"He has gone away, not for a day, but for all time. He is a strange
man, and some things he said I could not understand. At first I
feared greatly, for when I told him what had occurred--of Necia's
return and of her marriage--he became so enraged I thought he would
burst open his wounds and die from his very fury; but I talked a
long, long time with him, and gradually I came to know somewhat of
his queer, disordered soul. He could not bring himself to face
defeat in the eyes of men, or to see the knowledge of it in their
bearing; therefore, he fled. He told me that he would be a hunted
animal all his life; that the news of his whipping would travel
ahead of him; and that his enemies would search him out to take
advantage of him. This I could not grasp, but it seemed a big thing
in his eyes--so big that he wept. He said the only decent thing he
could or would do was to leave the daughter he had never known to
that happiness he had never experienced, and wished me to tell her
that she was very much like her mother, who was the best woman in
the world."



There was mingled rejoicing and lamentation in the household of John
Gale this afternoon. Molly and Johnny were in the throes of an
overwhelming sorrow, the noise of which might be heard from the
barracks to the Indian village. They were sparing of tears as a
rule, but when they did give way to woe they published it abroad,
yelling with utter abandon, their black eyes puckered up, their
mouths distended into squares, from which came such a measure of
sound as to rack the ears and burden the air heavily with sadness.
Poleon was going away! Their own particular Poleon! Something was
badly askew in the general scheme of affairs to permit of such a
thing, and they manifested their grief so loudly that Burrell, who
knew nothing of Doret's intention, sought them out and tried to
ascertain the cause of it. They had found the French-Canadian at the
river with their father, loading his canoe, and they had asked him
whither he fared. When the meaning of his words struck home they
looked at each other in dismay, then, bred as they were to mask
emotion, they joined hands and trudged silently back up the bank
with filling eyes and chins a-quiver until they gained the rear of
the house. Here they sat down all forlorn, and began to weep
bitterly and in an ascending crescendo.

"What's the matter with you tikes, anyhow?" inquired the Lieutenant.
He had always filled them with a speechless awe, and at his
unexpected appearance they began the slow and painful process of
swallowing their grief. He was a nice man, they had both agreed long
ago, and very splendid to the eye, but he was nothing like Poleon,
who was one of them, only somewhat bigger.

"Come, now! Tell me all about it," the soldier insisted. "Has
something happened to the three-legged puppy?"

Molly denied the occurrence of any such catastrophe.

"Then you've lost the little shiny rifle that shoots with air?" But
Johnny dispelled this horrible suspicion by drawing the formidable
weapon out of the grass behind him.

"Well, there isn't anything else bad enough to cause all this outlay
of anguish. Can't I help you out?"

"Poleon!" they wailed, in unison.

"Exactly! What about him?"

"He's goin' away!" said Johnny.

"He's goin' away!" echoed Molly.

"Now, that's too bad, of course," the young man assented; "but think
what nice things he'll bring you when he comes back."

"He ain't comin' back!" announced the heir, with the tone that
conveys a sorrow unspeakable.

"He ain't comin' back!" wailed the little girl, and, being a woman,
yielded again to her weakness, unashamed.

Burrell tried to extract a more detailed explanation, but this was
as far as their knowledge ran. So he sought out the Canadian, and
found him with Gale in the store, a scanty pile of food and
ammunition on the counter between them.

"Poleon," said he, "you're not going away?"

"Yes," said Doret. "I'm takin' li'l' trip."

"But when are you coming back?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Dat's hard t'ing for tellin'. I'm res'less in my heart, so I'm
goin' travel some. I ain' never pass on de back trail yet, so I
'spect I keep goin'."

"Oh, but you can't!" cried Burrell. "I--I--" He paused awkwardly,
while down the breeze came the lament of the two little Gales.
"Well, I feel just as they do." He motioned in the direction of the
sound. "I wanted you for a friend, Doret; I hate to lose you."

"I ain' never got my satisfy yet, so I'm pass on--all de tam' pass
on. Mebbe dis trip I fin' de place."

"I'm sorry--because--well, I'm a selfish sort of cuss--and--"
Burrell pulled up blushingly, with a strong man's display of shame
at his own emotion. "I owe all my happiness to you, old man. I can't
thank you--neither of us can--we shall never live long enough for
that, but you mustn't go without knowing that I feel more than I'll
ever have words to say."

He was making it very hard for the Frenchman, whose heart was aching
already with a dull, unending pain. Poleon had hoped to get away
quietly; his heart was too heavy to let him face Necia or this man,
and run the risk of their reading his secret, so a plaintive wrinkle
gathered between his eyes that grew into a smile. And then, as if he
were not tried sufficiently, the girl herself came flying in.

"What's this I hear?" she cried. "Alluna tells me--" She saw the
telltale pile on the counter, and her face grew white. "Then it's
true! Oh, Poleon!"

He smiled, and spoke cheerily. "Yes, I been t'inkin' 'bout dis trip
long tam'."

"When are you coming back?"

"Wal, if I fin' dat new place w'at I'm lookin' for I don' never come
back. You people was good frien' to me, but I'm kin' of shif'less
feller, you know. Mebbe I forget all 'bout Flambeau, an' stop on my
'New Countree'--you never can tol' w'at dose Franchemans goin' do."

"It's the wander-lust," murmured Burrell to himself; "he'll never

"What a child you are!" cried Necia, half angrily. "Can't you
conquer that roving spirit and settle down like a man?" She laid her
hand on his arm appealingly. "Haven't I told you there isn't any
'far country'? Haven't I told you that this path leads only to
hardship and suffering and danger? The land you are looking for is
there"--she touched his breast--"so why don't you stay in Flambeau
and let us help you to find it?"

He was deeply grateful for her blindness, and yet it hurt him so
that his great heart was nigh to bursting. Why couldn't she see the
endless, hopeless yearning that consumed him, and know that if he
stayed in sight and touch of her it would be like a living death?
Perhaps, then, she would have given over urging him to do what he
longed to do, and let him go on that search he knew was hopeless,
and in which he had no joy. But she did not see; she would never
see. He laughed aloud, for all the world as if the sun were bright
and the fret for adventure were still keen in him, then, picking up
his bundle, said:

"Dere's no use argue wit' Canayen man. Mebbe some day I come paddle
back roun' de ben' down yonder, an' you hear me singin' dose
chanson; but now de day she's too fine, de river she's laugh too
loud, an' de birds she's sing too purty for Francheman to stop on
shore. Ba gosh, I'm glad!" He began to hum, and they heard him
singing all the way down to the river-bank, as if the spirit of
Youth and Hope and Gladness were not dead within him.

"Chante, rossignal, chante!
Toi qui a le coeur gai;
Tu as le coeur a rire
Mai j' l' ai-ta pleurer,
Il y a longtemps que j' t'aime
Jamais je ne t'oublierai."

[Footnote: "Sing, little bird, oh, sing away!
You with the voice so light and gay!
Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,
Mine is a heart that's full of tears.
Long have I loved, I love her yet;
Leave her I can, but not forget."]

A moment later they heard him expostulating with some one at the
water's edge, and then a child's treble rose on high.

"No, no! I'm goin', too! I'm goin', too-o-o-o--"

"Hey! John Gale!" called Poleon. "Come 'ere! Ba gosh! You better
horry, too! I can't hol' dis feller long."

When they appeared on the bank above him, he continued, "Look 'ere
w'at I fin' on my batteau," and held up the wriggling form of Johnny
Gale. "He's stow hisse'f away onder dem blanket. Sacre"! He's bad
feller, dis man--don' pay for hees ticket at all; he's reg'lar toff

"I want to go 'long!" yelled the incorrigible stow-away. He had
brought his gun with him, and this weapon, peeping forth from under
Poleon's blanket, had betrayed him. "I want to go 'long!" shrieked
the little man "I like you best of all!" At which Doret took him in
his arms and hugged him fiercely.

"Wal, I guess you don' t'ink 'bout dem beeg black bear at night,
eh?" But this only awoke a keener distress in the junior Gale.

"Oh, maybe de bear will get you, Poleon! Let me go long, and I'll
keep dem off. Two men is better dan one--please, Poleon!"

It took the efforts of Necia and the trader combined to tear the lad
from the Frenchman, and even then the foul deed was accomplished
only at the cost of such wild acclaim and evidence of undying sorrow
that little Molly came hurrying from the house, her round face
stained and tearful, her mouth an inverted crescent. She had gone to
the lame puppy for comfort, and now strangled him absent-mindedly in
her arms, clutching him to her breast so tightly that his tongue
lolled out and his three legs protruded stiffly, pawing an aimless
pantomime. When Johnny found that no hope remained, he quelled his
demonstrations of emotion and, as befitted a stout-hearted gentleman
of the woods, bore a final present to his friend. He took the little
air-gun and gave it into Poleon's hands against that black night
when the bears would come, and no man ever made a greater sacrifice.
Doret picked him up by the elbows and kissed him again and again,
then set him down gently, at which Molly scrambled forward, and
without word or presentation speech gave him her heart's first
treasure. She held out the three-legged puppy, for a gun and a dog
should ever go together; then, being of the womankind aforesaid, she
began to cry as she kissed her pet good-bye on its cold, wet nose.

"Wat's dis?" said Poleon, and his voice quavered, for these childish
fingers tore at his heart-strings terribly.

"He's a very brave doggie," said the little girl. "He will scare de
bears away!" And then she became dissolved in tears at the anguish
her offering cost her.

Doret caressed her as he had her brother, then placed the puppy
carefully upon the blankets in the canoe, where it wagged a grateful
and amiable stump at him and regained its breath. It was the highest
proof of Molly's affection for her Poleon that she kept her tear-
dimmed eyes fixed upon the dog as long as it was visible.

The time had come for the last good-bye--that awkward moment when
human hearts are full and spoken words are empty. Burrell gripped
the Frenchman's hand. He was grateful, but he did not know.

"Good-luck and better hunting!" he said. "A heavy purse and a light
heart for you always, Poleon. I have learned to love you."

"I want you to be good husban', M'sieu'. Dat's de bes' t'ing I can
wish for you."

Gale spoke to him in patois, and all he said was:

"May you not forget, my son."

They did not look into each other's eyes; there was no need. The old
man stooped, and, taking both his children by the hand, walked
slowly towards the house.

"Dis tam' I'll fin' it for sure," smiled Poleon to Necia.

Her eyes were shining through the tears, and she whispered,

"I hope so, brother. God love you--always."

It was grief at losing a playmate, a dear and well-beloved
companion. He knew it well, and he was glad now that he had never
said a word of love to her. It added to his pain, but it lightened
hers, and that had ever been his wish. He gazed on her for a long
moment, taking in that blessed image which would ever live with him-
-in his eyes was the light of a love as pure and clean as ever any
maid had seen, and in his heart a sorrow that would never cease.

"Good-bye, li'l' gal," he said, then dropped her hand and entered
his canoe. With one great stroke he drove it out and into the flood,
then headed away towards the mists and colors of the distant hills,
where the Oreads were calling to him. He turned for one last look,
and flung his paddle high; then, fearing lest they might see the
tears that came at last unhindered, he began to sing:

"Chante, rossignol, chante!
Toi qui a le coeur gai;
Tu as le coeur a rire
Mai j' l' ai-t-a pleurer."

He sang long and lustily, keeping time to the dip of his flashing
paddle and defying his bursting heart. After all, was he not a
voyageur, and life but a song and a tear, and then a dream or two?

"I wish I might have known him better," sighed Meade Burrell, as he
watched the receding form of the boatman.

"You would have loved him as we do," said Necia, "and you would have
missed him as we will."

"I hope some time he will be happy."

"As happy as you, my soldier?"

"Yes; but that he can never be," said her husband; "for no man could
love as I love you."

"Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,
Mine is a heart that's full of tears.
Long have I loved, I love her yet;
Leave her I can, but not forget--"

came the voice of the singer far down the stream. And thus Poleon of
the Great Heart went away.


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