Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Robert Rowe, Dianne Bean, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE COUNTRY BEYOND
A ROMANCE OF THE WILDERNESS
BY JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
AUTHOR OF THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN, THE FLAMING FOREST, ETC.
A glass of wine once lost a kingdom, a nail turned the tide of a
mighty battle, and a woman's smile once upon a time destroyed the
homes of a million people. Thus have trivial things played their
potent parts in the history of human lives; yet these things Peter
did not know.
THE COUNTRY BEYOND
Not far from the rugged and storm-whipped north shore of Lake
Superior, and south of the Kaministiqua, yet not as far south as
the Rainy River waterway, there lay a paradise lost in the heart
of a wilderness world--and in that paradise "a little corner of
That was what the girl had called it once upon a time, when
sobbing out the shame and the agony of it to herself. That was
before Peter had come to leaven the drab of her life. But the hell
was still there.
One would not have guessed its existence, standing at the bald top
of Cragg's Ridge this wonderful thirtieth day of May. In the
whiteness of winter one could look off over a hundred square miles
of freezing forest and swamp and river country, with the gleam of
ice-covered lakes here and there, fringed by their black spruce
and cedar and balsam--a country of storm, of deep snows, and men
and women whose blood ran red with the thrill that the hardship
and the never-ending adventure of the wild.
But this was spring. And such a spring as had not come to the
Canadian north country in many years. Until three days ago there
had been a deluge of warm rains, and since then the sun had
inundated the land with the golden warmth of summer. The last
chill was gone from the air, and the last bit of frozen earth and
muck from the deepest and blackest swamps, North, south, east and
west the wilderness world was a glory of bursting life, of
springtime mellowing into summer. Ridge upon ridge of yellows and
greens and blacks swept away into the unknown distances like the
billows of a vast sea; and between them lay the valleys and
swamps, the lakes and waterways, glad with the rippling song of
running waters, the sweet scents of early flowering time, and the
joyous voice of all mating creatures.
Just under Cragg's Ridge lay the paradise, a meadow-like sweep of
plain that reached down to the edge of Clearwater Lake, with
clumps of poplars and white birch and darker tapestries of spruce
and balsams dotting it like islets in a sea of verdant green. The
flowers were two weeks ahead of their time and the sweet perfumes
of late June, instead of May, rose up out of the plain, and
already there was nesting in the velvety splashes of timber.
In the edge of a clump of this timber, flat on his belly, lay
Peter. The love of adventure was in him, and today he had sallied
forth on his most desperate enterprise. For the first time he had
gone alone to the edge of Clearwater Lake, half a mile away;
boldly he had trotted up and down the white strip of beach where
the girl's footprints still remained in the sand, and defiantly he
had yipped at the shimmering vastness of the water, and at the
white gulls circling near him in quest of dead fish flung ashore.
Peter was three months old. Yesterday he had been a timid pup,
shrinking from the bigness and strangeness of everything about
him; but today he had braved the lake trail on his own nerve, and
nothing had dared to come near him in spite of his yipping, so
that a great courage and a great desire were born in him.
Therefore, in returning, he had paused in the edge of a great
clump of balsams and spruce, and lay flat on his belly, his sharp
little eyes leveled yearningly at the black mystery of its deeper
shadows. The bit of forest filled a cup-like depression in the
plain, and was possibly half a rifle-shot distance from end to
end--but to Peter it was as vast as life itself. And something
urged him to go in.
And as he lay there, desire and indecision struggling for mastery
within him, no power could have told Peter that destinies greater
than his own were working through the soul of the dog that was in
him, and that on his decision to go in or not to go in--on the
triumph of courage or cowardice--there rested the fates of lives
greater than his own, of men, and women, and of little children
still unborn. A glass of wine once lost a kingdom, a nail turned
the tide of a mighty battle, and a woman's smile once upon a time
destroyed the homes of a million people. Thus have trivial things
played their potent parts in the history of human lives, yet these
things Peter did not know--nor that his greatest hour had come.
At last he rose from his squatting posture, and stood upon his
feet. He was not a beautiful pup, this Peter Pied-Bot--or Peter
Club-foot, as Jolly Roger McKay--who lived over in the big cedar
swamp--had named him when he gave Peter to the girl. He was, in a
way, an accident and a homely one at that. His father was a blue-
blooded fighting Airedale who had broken from his kennel long
enough to commit a MESALLIANCE with a huge big footed and peace-
loving Mackenzie hound--and Peter was the result. He wore the
fiercely bristling whiskers of his Airedale father at the age of
three months; his ears were flappy and big, his tail was knotted,
and his legs were ungainly and loose, with huge feet at the end of
them--so big and heavy that he stumbled frequently, and fell on
his nose. One pitied him at first--and then loved him. For Peter,
in spite of his homeliness, had the two best bloods of all dog
creation in his veins. Yet in a way it was like mixing nitro-
glycerin with olive oil, or dynamite and saltpeter with milk and
Peter's heart was thumping rapidly as he took a step toward the
deeper shadows. He swallowed hard, as if to clear a knot out of
his scrawny throat. But he had made up his mind. Something was
compelling him, and he would go in. Slowly the gloom engulfed him,
and once again the whimsical spirit of fatalism had chosen a
trivial thing to work out its ends in the romance and tragedy of
Grim shadows began to surround Peter, and his ears shot up, and a
scraggly brush stood out along his spine. But he did not bark, as
he had barked along the shore of the lake, and in the green opens.
Twice he looked back to the shimmer of sunshine that was growing
more and more indistinct. As long as he could see this, and knew
that his retreat was open, there still remained a bit of that
courage which was swiftly ebbing in the thickening darkness. But
the third time he looked back the light of the sun was utterly
gone! For an instant the knot rose up in his throat and choked
him, and his eyes popped, and grew like little balls of fire in
his intense desire to see through the gloom. Even the girl, who
was afraid of only one thing in the world, would have paused where
Peter stood, with a little quickening of her heart. For all the
light of the day, it seemed to Peter, had suddenly died out. Over
his head the spruce and cedar and balsam tops grew so thick they
were like a canopy of night. Through them the snow never came in
winter, and under them the light of a blazing sun was only a
And now, as he stood there, his whole soul burning with a desire
to see his way out, Peter began to hear strange sounds. Strangest
of all, and most fearsome, was a hissing that came and went,
sometimes very near to him, and always accompanied by a grating
noise that curdled his blood. Twice after that he saw the shadow
of the great owl as it swooped over him, and he flattened himself
down, the knot in his throat growing bigger and more choking. And
then he heard the soft and uncanny movement of huge feathered
bodies in the thick shroud of boughs overhead, and slowly and
cautiously he wormed himself around, determined to get back to
sunshine and day as quickly as he could. It was not until he had
made this movement that the real chill of horror gripped at his
heart. Straight behind him, directly in the path he had traveled,
he saw two little green balls of flame!
It was instinct, and not reason or experience, which told Peter
there was menace and peril in these two tiny spots blazing in the
gloom. He did not know that his own eyes, popping half out of his
head, were equally terrifying in that pit of silence, nor that
from him emanated a still more terrifying thing--the scent of dog.
He trembled on his wobbly legs as the green eyes stared at him,
and his back seemed to break in the middle, so that he sank
helplessly down upon the soft spruce needles, waiting for his
doom. In another flash the twin balls of green fire were gone. In
a moment they appeared again, a little farther away. Then a second
time they were gone, and a third time they flashed back at him--so
distant they appeared like needle-points in the darkness.
Something stupendous rose up in Peter. It was the soul of his
Airedale father, telling him the other thing was running away! And
in the joy of triumph Peter let out a yelp. In that night-infested
place, alive with hiding things, the yelp set loose weird
rustlings in the tangled treetops, strange murmurings of chortling
voices, and the nasty snapping of beaks that held in them the
power to rend Peter's skinny body into a hundred bits. From deeper
in the thicket came the sudden crash of a heavy body, and with it
the chuckling notes of a porcupine, and a HOO-HOO-HOO-EE of
startled inquiry that at first Peter took for a human voice. And
again he lay shivering close to the foot-deep carpet of needles
under him, while his heart thumped against his ribs, and his
whiskers stood out in mortal fear. There followed a weird and
appalling silence, and in that stillness Peter quested vainly for
the sunlight he had lost. And then, indistinctly, but bringing
with it a new thrill, he heard another sound. It was a soft and
distant rippling of running water. He knew that sound. It was
friendly. He had played among the rocks and pebbles and sand where
it was made. His courage came back, and he rose up on his legs,
and made his way toward it. Something inside him told him to go
quietly, but his feet were big and clumsy, and half a dozen times
in the next two minutes he stumbled on his nose. At last he came
to the stream, scarcely wider than a man might have reached
across, rippling and plashing its way through the naked roots of
trees. And ahead of him Peter saw light. He quickened his pace,
until at the last he was running when he came out into the edge of
the meadowy plain, with its sweetness of flowers and green grass
and song of birds, and its glory of blue sky and sun.
If he had ever been afraid, Peter forgot it now. The choking went
out of his throat, his heart fell back in its place, and the
fierce conviction that he had vanquished everything in the world
possessed him. He peered back into the dark cavern of evergreen
out of which the streamlet gurgled, and then trotted straight away
from it, growling back his defiance as he ran. At a safe distance
he stopped, and faced about. Nothing was following him, and the
importance of his achievements grew upon him. He began to swell;
his fore-legs he planted pugnaciously, he hollowed his back, and
began to bark with all the puppyish ferocity that was in him. And
though he continued to yelp, and pounded the earth with his paws,
and tore up the green grass with his sharp little teeth, nothing
dared to come out of the black forest in answer to his challenge!
His head was high and his ears cocked jauntily as he trotted up
the slope, and for the first time in his three months of existence
he yearned to give battle to something that was alive. He was a
changed Peter, no longer satisfied with the thought of gnawing
sticks or stones or mauling a rabbit skin. At the crest of the
slope he stopped, and yelped down, almost determined to go back to
that black patch of forest and chase out everything that was in
it. Then he turned toward Cragg's Ridge, and what he saw seemed
slowly to shrink up the pugnaciousness that was in him, and his
stiffened tail drooped until the knotty end of it touched the
Three or four hundred yards away, out of the heart of that cup-
like paradise which ran back through a break in the ridge, rose a
spiral of white smoke, and with the sight of that smoke Peter
heard also the chopping of axe. It made him shiver, and yet he
made his way toward it. He was not old enough--nor was it in the
gentle blood of his Mackenzie mother--to know the meaning of hate;
but something was growing swiftly in Peter's shrewd little head,
and he sensed impending danger whenever he heard the sound of the
axe. For always there was associated with that sound the cat-like,
thin-faced man with the red bristle on his upper lip, and the one
eye that never opened but was always closed. And Peter had come to
fear this one eyed man more than he feared any of the ghostly
monsters hidden in the black pit of the forest he had braved that
But the owls, and the porcupine, and the fiery-eyed fox that had
run away from him, had put into Peter something which was not in
him yesterday, and he did not slink on his belly when he came to
the edge of the cup between the broken ridge, but stood up boldly
on his crooked legs and looked ahead of him. At the far edge of
the cup, under the western shoulder of the ridge, was a thick
scattering of tall cedars and green poplars and white birch, and
in the shelter of these was a cabin built of logs. A lovelier spot
could not have been chosen for the home of man. The hollow, from
where Peter stood, was a velvety carpet of green, thickly strewn
with flowers and ferns, sweet with the scent of violets and wild
honey-suckle, and filled with the song of birds. Through the
middle of it purled a tiny creek which disappeared between the
ragged shoulders of rock, and close to this creek stood the cabin,
its log walls smothered under a luxuriant growth of wood-vine. But
Peter's quizzical little eyes were not measuring the beauty of the
place, nor were his ears listening to the singing of birds, or the
chattering of a red-squirrel on a stub a few yards away. He was
looking beyond the cabin, to a chalk-white mass of rock that rose
like a giant mushroom in the edge of the trees--and he was
listening to the ringing of the axe, and straining his ears to
catch the sound of a voice.
It was the voice he wanted most of all, and when this did not come
he choked back a whimper in his throat, and went down to the
creek, and waded through it, and came up cautiously behind the
cabin, his eyes and ears alert and his loosely jointed legs ready
for flight at a sign of danger. He wanted to set up his sharp
yipping signal for the girl, but the menace of the axe choked back
his desire. At the very end of the cabin, where the wood-vine grew
thick and dense, Peter had burrowed himself a hiding-place, and
into this he skulked with the quickness of a rat getting away from
its enemies. From this protecting screen he cautiously poked forth
his whiskered face, to make what inventory he could of his chances
for supper and a safe home-coming.
And as he looked forth his heart gave a sudden jump.
It was the girl, and not the man who was using the axe today. At
the big wood-pile half a stone's throw away he saw the shimmer of
her brown curls in the sun, and a glimpse of her white face as it
was turned for an instant toward the cabin. In his gladness he
would have leaped out, but the curse of a voice he had learned to
dread held him back.
A man had come out of the cabin, and close behind the man, a
woman. The man was a long, lean, cadaverous-faced creature, and
Peter knew that the devil was in him as he stood there at the
cabin door. His breath, if one had stood close enough to smell it,
was heavy with whiskey. Tobacco juice stained the corners of his
mouth, and his one eye gleamed with an animal-like exultation as
he nodded toward the girl with the shining curls
"Mooney says he'll pay seven-fifty for her when he gets his tie-
money from the Government, an' he paid me fifty down," he said.
"It'll help pay for the brat's board these last ten years--an'
mebby, when it comes to a show-down, I can stick him for a
The woman made no answer. She was, in a way, past answering with a
mind of her own. The man, as he stood there, was wicked and cruel,
every line in his ugly face and angular body a line of sin. The
woman was bent, broken, a wreck. In her face there was no sign of
a living soul. Her eyes were dull, her heart burned out, her hands
gnarled with toil under the slavedom of a beast. Yet even Peter,
quiet as a mouse where he lay, sensed the difference between them.
He had seen the girl and this woman sobbing in each other's arms.
And often he had crawled to the woman's feet, and occasionally her
hand had touched him, and frequently she had given him things to
eat. But it was seldom he heard her voice when the man was near.
The man was biting off a chunk of black tobacco. Suddenly he
"How old is she, Liz?"
And the woman answered in a strange and husky voice.
"Seventeen the twelfth day of this month."
The man spat.
"Mooney ought to pay a thousand. We've had her better'n ten years
--an' Mooney's crazy as a loon to git her. He'll pay!"
"Jed--" The woman's voice rose above its hoarseness. "Jed--it
The man laughed. He opened his mouth wide, until his yellow fangs
gleamed in the sun, and the girl with the axe paused for a moment
in her work, and flung back her head, staring at the two before
the cabin door.
"Right?" jeered the man. "Right? That's what you been preachin' me
these last ten years 'bout whiskey-runnin,' but it ain't made me
stop sellin' whiskey, has it? An' I guess it ain't a word that'll
come between Mooney and me--not if Mooney gits his thousand."
Suddenly he turned upon her, a hand half raised to strike. "An' if
you whisper a word to her--if y' double-cross me so much as the
length of your little finger--I'll break every bone in your body,
so help me God! You understand? You won't say anything to her?"
The woman's uneven shoulders drooped lower.
"I won't say ennything, Jed. I--promise."
The man dropped his uplifted hand with a harsh grunt.
"I'll kill y' if you do," he warned.
The girl had dropped her axe, and was coming toward them. She was
a slim, bird-like creature, with a poise to her head and an up-
tilt to her chin which warned that the man had not yet beaten her
to the level of the woman. She was dressed in a faded calico,
frayed at the bottom, and with the sleeves bobbed off just above
the elbows of her slim white arms. Her stockings were mottled with
patches and mends, and her shoes were old, and worn out at the
But to Peter, worshipping her from his hiding place, she was the
most beautiful thing in the world. Jolly Roger had said the same
thing, and most men--and women, too--would have agreed that this
slip of a girl possessed a beauty which it would take a long time
for unhappiness and torture to crush entirely out of her. Her eyes
were as blue as the violets Peter had thrust his nose among that
day. And her hair was a glory, loosed by her exertion from its
bondage of faded ribbon, and falling about her shoulders and
nearly to her waist in a mass of curling brown tresses that at
times had made even Jed Hawkins' one eye light of with admiration.
And yet, even in those times, he hated her, and more than once his
bony fingers had closed viciously in that mass of radiant hair,
but seldom could he wring a scream of pain from Nada. Even now,
when she could see the light of the devil in his one gleaming eye,
it was only her flesh--and not her soul--that was afraid.
But the strain had begun to show its mark. In the blue of her eyes
was the look of one who was never free of haunting visions, her
cheeks were pallid, and a little too thin, and the vivid redness
of her lips was not of health and happiness, but a touch of the
color which should have been in her face, and which until now had
refused to die.
She faced the man, a little out of the reach of his arm.
"I told you never again to raise your hand to strike her," she
cried in a fierce, suppressed little voice, her blue eyes flaming
loathing and hatred at him. "If you hit her once more--something
is going to happen. If you want to hit anyone, hit me. I kin stand
it. But--look at her! You've broken her shoulder, you've crippled
her--an' you oughta die!"
The man advanced half a step, his eye ablaze. Deep down in him
Peter felt something he had never felt before. For the first time
in his life he had no desire to run away from the man. Something
rose up from his bony little chest, and grew in his throat, until
it was a babyish snarl so low that no human ears could hear it.
And in his hiding-place his needle-like fangs gleamed under
But the man did not strike, nor did he reach out to grip his
fingers in the silken mass of Nada's hair. He laughed, as if
something was choking him, and turned away with a toss of his
"You ain't seein' me hit her any more, are you, Nady?" he said,
and disappeared around the end of the cabin.
The girl laid a hand on the woman's arm. Her eyes softened, but
she was trembling.
"I've told him what'll happen, an' he won't dare hit you any
more," she comforted. "If he does, I'll end him. I will! I'll
bring the police. I'll show 'em the places where he hides his
whiskey. I'll--I'll put him in jail, if I die for it!"
The woman's bony hands clutched at one of Nada's.
"No, no, you mustn't do that," she pleaded. "He was good to me
once, a long time ago, Nada. It ain't Jed that's bad--it's the
whiskey. You mustn't tell on him, Nada--you mustn't!"
"I've promised you I won't--if he don't hit you any more. He kin
shake me by the hair if he wants to. But if he hits you--"
She drew a deep breath, and also passed around the end of the
For a few moments Peter listened. Then he slipped back through the
tunnel he had made under the wood-vine, and saw Nada walking
swiftly toward the break in the ridge. He followed, so quietly
that she was through the break, and was picking her way among the
tumbled masses of rock along the farther foot of the ridge, before
she discovered his presence. With a glad cry she caught him up in
her arms and hugged him against her breast.
"Peter, Peter, where have you been?" she demanded. "I thought
something had happened to you, and I've been huntin' for you, and
so has Roger--I mean Mister Jolly Roger."
Peter was hugged tighter, and he hung limply until his mistress
came to a thick little clump of dwarf balsams hidden among the
rocks. It was their "secret place," and Peter had come to sense
the fact that its mystery was not to be disclosed. Here Nada had
made her little bower, and she sat down now upon a thick rug of
balsam boughs, and held Peter out in front of her, squatted on his
haunches. A new light had come into her eyes, and they were
shining like stars. There was a flush in her cheeks, her red lips
were parted, and Peter, looking up--and being just dog--could
scarcely measure the beauty of her. But he knew that something had
happened, and he tried hard to understand.
"Peter, he was here ag'in today--Mister Roger--Mister Jolly
Roger," she cried softly, the pink in her cheeks growing brighter.
"And he told me I was pretty!"
She drew a deep breath, and looked out over the rocks to the
valley and the black forest beyond. And her fingers, under Peter's
scrawny armpits, tightened until he grunted.
"And he asked me if he could touch my hair--mind you he asked me
that, Peter!--And when I said 'yes' he just put his hand on it, as
if he was afraid, and he said it was beautiful, and that I must
take wonderful care of it!"
Peter saw a throbbing in her throat.
"Peter--he said he didn't want to do anything wrong to me, that
he'd cut off his hand first. He said that! And then he said--if I
didn't think it was wrong--he'd like to kiss me--"
She hugged Peter up close to her again.
"And--I told him I guessed it wasn't wrong, because I liked him,
and nobody else had ever kissed me, and--Peter--he didn't kiss me!
And when he went away he looked so queer--so white-like--and
somethin' inside me has been singing ever since. I don't know what
it is, Peter. But it's there!"
And then, after a moment.
"Peter," she whispered, "I wish Mister Jolly Roger would take us
The thought drew a tightening to her lips, and the pucker of a
frown between her eyes, and she sat Peter down beside her and
looked over the valley to the black forest, in the heart of which
was Jolly Roger's cabin.
"It's funny he don't want anybody to know he's there, ain't it--I
mean--isn't it, Peter?" she mused. "He's livin' in the old shack
Indian Tom died in last winter, and I've promised not to tell. He
says it's a great secret, and that only you, and I, and the
Missioner over at Sucker Creek know anything about it. I'd like to
go over and clean up the shack for him. I sure would."
Peter, beginning to nose among the rocks, did not see the flash of
fire that came slowly into the blue of the girl's eyes. She was
looking at her ragged shoes, at the patched stockings, at the
poverty of her faded dress, and her fingers clenched in her lap.
"I'd do it--I'd go away--somewhere--and never come back, if it
wasn't for her," she breathed. "She treats me like a witch most of
the time, but Jed Hawkins made her that way. I kin remember--"
Suddenly she jumped up, and flung back her head defiantly, so that
her hair streamed out in a sun-filled cloud in a gust of wind that
came up the valley.
"Some day, I'll kill 'im," she cried to the black forest across
the plain. "Some day--I will!"
She followed Peter. For a long time the storm had been gathering
in her brain, a storm which she had held back, smothered under her
unhappiness, so that only Peter had seen the lightning-flashes of
it. But today the betrayal had forced itself from her lips, and in
a hard little voice she had told Jolly Roger--the stranger who had
come into the black forest--how her mother and father had died of
the same plague more than ten years ago, and how Jed Hawkins and
his woman had promised to keep her for three silver fox skins
which her father had caught before the sickness came. That much
the woman had confided in her, for she was only six when it
happened. And she had not dared to look at Jolly Roger when she
told him of what had passed since then, so she saw little of the
hardening in his face as he listened. But he had blown his nose--
hard. It was a way with Jolly Roger, and she had not known him
long enough to understand what it meant. And a little later he had
asked her if he might touch her hair--and his big hand had lain
for a moment on her head, as gently as a woman's.
Like a warm glow in her heart still remained the touch of that
hand. It had given her a new courage, and a new thrill, just as
Peter's vanquishment of unknown monsters that day had done the
same for him. Peter was no longer afraid, and the girl was no
longer afraid, and together they went along the slope of the
ridge, until they came to a dried-up coulee which was choked with
a wild upheaval of rock. Here Peter suddenly stopped, with his
nose to the ground, and then his legs stiffened, and for the first
time the girl heard the babyish growl in his throat. For a moment
she stood very still, and listened, and faintly there came to her
a sound, as if someone was scraping rock against rock. The girl
drew in a quick breath; she stood straighter, and Peter--looking
up--saw her eyes flashing, and her lips apart. And then she bent
down, and picked up a jagged stick.
"We'll go up, Peter," she whispered. "It's one of his hiding-
There was a wonderful thrill in the knowledge that she was no
longer afraid, and the same thrill was in Peter's swiftly beating
little heart as he followed her. They went very quietly, the girl
on tip-toe, and Peter making no sound with his soft footpads, so
that Jed Hawkins was still on his knees, with his back toward
them, when they came out into a square of pebbles and sand between
two giant masses of rock. Yesterday, or the day before, both Peter
and Nada would have slunk back, for Jed was at his devil's work,
and only evil could come to the one who discovered him at it. He
had scooped out a pile of sand from under the edge of the biggest
rock, and was filling half a dozen grimy leather flasks from a jug
which he had pulled from the hole. And then he paused to drink.
They could hear the liquor gurgling down his throat.
Nada tapped the end of her stick against the rock, and like a shot
the man whirled about to face them. His face turned livid when he
saw who it was, and he drew himself up until he stood on his feet,
his two big fists clenched, his yellow teeth snarling at her.
"You damned--spy!" he cried chokingly. "If you was a man--I'd kill
The girl did not shrink. Her face did not whiten. Two bright spots
flamed in her cheeks, and Hawkins saw the triumph shining in her
eyes. And there was a new thing in the odd twist of her red lips,
as she said tauntingly.
"If I was a man, Jed Hawkins--you'd run!"
He took a step toward her.
"You'd run," she repeated, meeting him squarely, and taking a
tighter grip of her stick. "I ain't ever seen you hit anything but
a woman, an' a girl, or some poor animal that didn't dare bite
back. You're a coward, Jed Hawkins, a low-down, sneakin,' whiskey-
sellin' coward--and you oughta die!"
Even Peter sensed the cataclysmic change that had come in this
moment between the two big rocks. It held something in the air,
like the impending crash of dynamite, or the falling down of the
world. He forgot himself, and looked up at his mistress, a
wonderful, slim little thing standing there at last unafraid
before the future--and in his dog heart and soul a part of the
truth came to him, and he planted his big feet squarely in front
of Jed Hawkins, and snarled at him as he had never snarled before
in his life.
And the bootlegger, for a moment, was stunned, For a while back he
had humored the girl a little, to hold her in peace and without
suspicion until Mooney was able to turn over her body-money. After
that--after he had delivered her to the other's shack--it would
all be up to Mooney, he figured. And this was what had come of his
peace-loving efforts! She was taking advantage of him, defying
him, spying upon him--the brat he had fed and brought up for ten
years! Her beauty as she stood there did not hold him back. It was
punishment she needed, a beating, a hair-pulling, until there was
no breath left in her impudent body. He sprang forward, and Peter
let out a wild yip as he saw Nada raise her stick. But she was a
moment too slow. The man's hand caught it, and his right hand shot
forward and buried itself in the thick, soft mass of her hair.
It was then that something broke loose in Peter. For this day,
this hour, this minute the gods of destiny had given him birth.
All things in the world were blotted out for him except one--the
six inches of naked shank between the bootlegger's trouser-leg and
his shoe. He dove in. His white teeth, sharp as stiletto-points,
sank into it. And a wild and terrible yell came from Jed Hawkins
as he loosed the girl's hair. Peter heard the yell, and his teeth
sank deeper in the flesh of the first thing he had ever hated. It
was the girl, more than Peter, who realized the horror of what
followed. The man bent down and his powerful fingers closed round
Peter's scrawny neck, and Peter felt his wind suddenly shut off,
and his mouth opened. Then Jed Hawkins drew back the arm that held
him, as he would have drawn it back to fling a stone.
With a scream the girl tore at him as his arm straightened out,
and Peter went hurtling through the air. Her stick struck him
fiercely across the face, and in that same moment there was a
sickening, crushing thud as Peter's loosely-jointed little body
struck against the face of the great rock. When Nada turned Peter
was groveling in the sand, his hips and back broken down, but his
bright eyes were on her, and without a whimper or a whine he was
struggling to drag himself toward her. Only Jolly Roger could tell
the story of how Peter's mother had died for a woman, and in this
moment it must have been that her spirit entered into Peter's
soul, for the pain of his terrible hurt was forgotten in his
desire to drag himself back to the feet of the girl, and die
facing her enemy--the man. He did not know that he was dragging
his broken body only an inch at a time through the sand. But the
girl saw the terrible truth, and with a cry of agony which all of
Hawkin's torture could not have wrung from her she ran to him, and
fell upon her knees, and gathered him tenderly in her arms. Then,
in a flash, she was on her feet, facing Jed Hawkins like a little
"For that--I'll kill you!" she panted. "I will. I'll kill you!"
The blow of her stick had half blinded the bootlegger's one eye,
but he was coming toward her. Swift as a bird Nada turned and ran,
and as the man's footsteps crunched in the gravel and rock behind
her a wild fear possessed her--fear for Peter, and not for
herself. Very soon Hawkins was left behind, cursing at the
futility of the pursuit, and at the fate that had robbed him of an
Down the coulee and out into the green meadowland of the plain ran
Nada, her hair streaming brightly in the sun, her arms clutching
Peter to her breast. Peter was whimpering now, crying softly and
piteously, just as once upon a time she had heard a baby cry--a
little baby that was dying. And her soul cried out in agony, for
she knew that Peter, too, was dying. And as she stumbled onward--
on toward the black forest, she put her face down to Peter and
sobbed over and over again his name.
And Peter, joyous and grateful for her love and the sound of her
voice even in these moments, thrust out his tongue and caressed
her cheek, and the girl's breath came in a great sob as she
"It's all right now, Peter," she crooned. "It's all right, baby.
He won't hurt you any more, an' we're goin' across the creek to
Mister Roger's cabin, an' you'll be happy there. You'll be happy--
Her voice choked full, and her mother-heart seemed to break inside
her, just as life had gone out of that other mother's heart when
the baby died. For their grief, in God's reckoning of things, was
the same; and little Peter, sensing the greatness of this thing
that had made them one in flesh and blood, snuggled his wiry face
closer in her neck, crying softly to her, and content to die there
close to the warmth of the creature he loved.
"Don't cry, baby," she soothed. "Don't cry, Peter, dear. It'll
soon be all right--all right--" And the sob came again into her
throat, and clung there like a choking fist, until they came to
the edge of the big forest.
She looked down, and saw that Peter's eyes were closed; and not
until then did the miracle of understanding come upon her fully
that there was no difference at all between the dying baby's face
and dying Peter's, except that one had been white and soft, and
Peter's was different--and covered with hair.
"God'll take care o' you, Peter," she whispered. "He will--God,
'n' me, and Mister Roger--"
She knew there was untruth in what she was saying for no one, not
even God, would ever take care of Peter again--in life. His still
little face and the terrible grief in her own heart told her that.
For Peter's back was broken, and he was going--going even now--as
she ran moaningly with him through the deep aisles of the forest.
But before he died, before his heart stopped beating in her arms,
she wanted to reach Jolly Roger's friendly cabin, in the big swamp
beyond the creek. It was not that he could save Peter, but
something told her that Jolly Roger's presence would make Peter's
dying easier, both for Peter and for her, for in this first glad
spring of her existence the stranger in the forest shack had
brought sunshine and hope and new dreams into her life; and they
had set him up, she and Peter, as they would have set up a god on
So she ran for the fording place on Sucker Creek, which was a good
half mile above the shack in which the stranger was living. She
was staggering, and short of wind, when she came to the ford, and
when she saw the whirl and rush of water ahead of her she
remembered what Jolly Roger had said about the flooding of the
creek, and her eyes widened. Then she looked down at Peter,
piteously limp and still in her arms, and she drew a quick breath
and made up her mind. She knew that at this shallow place the
water could not be more than up to her waist, even at the flood-
tide. But it was running like a mill-race.
She put her lips down to Peter's fuzzy little face, and held them
there for a moment, and kissed him.
"We'll make it, Peter," she whispered. "We ain't afraid, are we,
baby? We'll make it--sure--sure--we'll make it--"
She set out bravely, and the current swished about her ankles, to
her knees, to her hips. And then, suddenly, unseen hands under the
water seemed to rouse themselves, and she felt them pulling and
tugging at her as the water deepened to her waist. In another
moment she was fighting, fighting to hold her feet, struggling to
keep the forces from driving her downstream. And then came the
supreme moment, close to the shore for which she was striving. She
felt herself giving away, and she cried out brokenly for Peter not
to be afraid. And then something drove pitilessly against her
body, and she flung out one arm, holding Peter close with the
other--and caught hold of a bit of stub that protruded like a
handle from the black and slippery log the flood-water had brought
down upon her.
"We're all right, Peter," she cried, even in that moment when she
knew she had lost. "We're all ri--"
And then suddenly the bright glory of her head went down, and with
her went Peter, still held to her breast under the sweeping rush
of the flood.
Even then it was thought of Peter that filled her brain. Somehow
she was not afraid. She was not terrified, as she had often been
of the flood-rush of waters that smashed down the creeks in
springtime. An inundating roar was over her, under her, and all
about her; it beat in a hissing thunder against the drums of her
ears, yet it did not frighten her as she had sometimes been
frightened. Even in that black chaos which was swiftly suffocating
the life from her, unspoken words of cheer for Peter formed in her
heart, and she struggled to hold him to her, while with her other
hand she fought to raise herself by the stub of the log to which
she clung. For she was not thinking of him as Peter, the dog, but
as something greater--something that had fought for her that day,
and because of her had died.
Suddenly she felt a force pulling her from above. It was the big
log, turning again to that point of equilibrium which for a space
her weight had destroyed. In the edge of a quieter pool where the
water swirled but did not rush, her brown head appeared, and then
her white face, and with a last mighty effort she thrust up Peter
so that his dripping body was on the log. Sobbingly she filled her
lungs with air. But the drench of water and her hair blinded her
so that she could not see. And she found all at once that the
strength had gone from her body. Vainly she tried to drag herself
up beside Peter, and in the struggle she raised herself a little,
so that a low-hanging branch of a tree swept her like a mighty arm
from the log.
With a cry she reached out for Peter. But he was gone, the log was
gone, and she felt a vicious pulling at her hair, as Jed Hawkins
himself had often pulled it, and for a few moments the current
pounded against her body and the tree-limb swayed back and forth
as it held her there by her hair.
If there was pain from that tugging, Nada did not feel it. She
could see now, and thirty yards below her was a wide, quiet pool
into which the log was drifting. Peter was gone. And then,
suddenly, her heart seemed to stop its beating, and her eyes
widened, and in that moment of astounding miracle she forgot that
she was hanging by her hair in the ugly lip of the flood, with
slippery hands beating and pulling at her from below. For she saw
Peter--Peter in the edge of the pool--making his way toward the
shore! For a space she could not believe. It must be his dead body
drifting. It could not be Peter--swimming! And yet--his head was
above the water--he was moving shoreward--he was struggling--
Frantically she tore at the detaining clutch above her. Something
gave way. She felt the sharp sting of it, and then she plunged
into the current, and swept down with it, and in the edge of the
pool struck out with all her last strength until her feet touched
bottom, and she could stand. She wiped the water from her eyes,
sobbing in her breathless fear--her mighty hope. Peter had reached
the shore. He had dragged himself out, and had crumpled down in a
broken heap--but he was facing her, his bright eyes wide open and
questing for her. Slowly Nada went to him. Until now, when it was
all over, she had not realized how helplessly weak she was.
Something was turning round and round in her head, and she was so
dizzy that the shore swam before her eyes, and it seemed quite
right to her that Peter should be alive--and not dead. She was
still in a foot of water when she fell on her knees and dragged
herself the rest of the way to him, and gathered him in her arms
again, close up against her wet, choking breast.
And there the sun shone down upon them, without the shade of a
twig overhead; and the water that a little while before had sung
of death rippled with its old musical joy, and about them the
birds sang, and very near to them a pair of mating red-squirrels
chattered and played in a mountain-ash tree. And Nada's hair
brightened in the sun, and began to ripple into curls at the end,
and Peter's bristling whiskers grew dry--so that half an hour
after she had dragged herself out of the water there was a new
light in the girl's eyes, and a color in her cheeks that was like
the first dawning of summer pink in the heart of a rose.
"We're a'most dry enough to go to Mister Jolly Roger, Peter," she
whispered, a little thrill in her voice.
She stood up, and shook out her half dry hair, and then picked up
Peter--and winced when he gave a little moan.
"He'll fix you, Peter," she comforted. "An' it'll be so nice over
Her eyes were looking ahead, down through the glory of the sun-
filled forest, and the song of birds and the beauty of the world
filled her soul, and a new and wonderful freedom seemed to thrill
in the touch of the soft earth under her feet.
"Flowers," she cried softly. "Flowers, an' birds, an' the sun,
Peter--" She paused a moment, as if listening to the throb of
light and life about her. And then, "I guess we'll go to Mister
Jolly Roger now," she said.
She shook her hair again, so that it shone in a soft and
rebellious glory about her, and the violet light grew a little
darker in her eyes, and the color a bit deeper in her cheeks as
she walked on into the forest over the faintly worn foot-trail
that led to the old cabin where Jolly Roger was keeping himself
away from the eyes of men.
From the little old cabin of dead Indian Tom, built in a grassy
glade close to the shore of Sucker Creek, came the sound of a
man's laughter. In this late afternoon the last flooding gold of
the sun filled the open door of the poplar shack. The man's
laughter, like the sun on the mottled tapestry of the poplar-wood,
was a heart-lightening thing there on the edge of the great swamp
that swept back for miles to the north and west. It was the sort
of laughter one seldom hears from a man, not riotous of over-bold,
but a big, clean laughter that came from the soul out. It was an
infectious thing. It drove the gloom out of the blackest night. It
dispelled fear, and if ever there were devils lurking in the edge
of old Indian Tom's swamp they slunk away at the sound of it. And
more than once, as those who lived in tepee and cabin and far-away
shack could testify, that laugh had driven back death itself.
In the shack, this last day of May afternoon, stood leaning over a
rough table the man of the laugh--Roger McKay, known as Jolly
Roger, outlaw extraordinary, and sought by the men of every Royal
Northwest Mounted Police patrol north of the Height of Land.
It was incongruous and inconceivable to think of him as an outlaw,
as he stood there in the last glow of the sun--an outlaw with the
weirdest and strangest record in all the northland hung up against
his name. He was not tall, and neither was he short, and he was as
plump as an apple and as rosy as its ripest side. There was
something cherubic in the smoothness and the fullness of his face,
the clear gray of his eyes, the fine-spun blond of his short-
cropped hair, and the plumpness of his hands and half-bared arms.
He was a priestly, well-fed looking man, was this Jolly Roger,
rotund and convivial in all his proportions, and some in great
error would have called him fat. But it was a strange kind of
fatness, as many a man on the trail could swear to. And as for
sin, or one sign of outlawry, it could not be found in any mark
upon him--unless one closed his eyes to all else and guessed it by
the belt and revolver holster which he wore about his rotund
waist. In every other respect Jolly Roger appeared to be not only
a harmless creature, but one especially designed by the Creator of
things to spread cheer and good-will wherever he went. His age, if
he had seen fit to disclose it, was thirty-four.
There seemed, at first, to be nothing that even a contented man
might laugh at in the cabin, and even less to bring merriment from
one on whose head a price was set--unless it was the delicious
aroma of a supper just about ready to be served. On a little stove
in the farthest corner of the shack the breasts of two spruce
partridges were turning golden brown in a skittle, and from the
broken neck of a coffee pot a rich perfume was rising with the
steam. Piping hot in the open oven half a dozen baked potatoes
were waiting in their crisp brown jackets.
From the table Jolly Roger turned, rubbing his hands and chuckling
as he went for a third time to a low shelf built against the cabin
wall. There he carefully raised a mass of old papers from a box,
and at the movement there came a protesting squeak, and a little
brown mouse popped up to the edge of it and peered at him with a
pair of bright little questioning eyes.
"You little devil!" he exulted. "You nervy little devil!"
He raised the papers higher, and again looked upon his discovery
of half an hour ago. In a soft nest lay four tiny mice, still
naked and blind, and as he lowered the mass of papers the mother
burrowed back to them, and he could hear her squeaking and
chirruping to the little ones, as if she was trying to tell them
not to be afraid of this man, for she knew him very well, and it
wasn't in his mind to hurt them. And Jolly Roger, as he returned
to the setting of his table, laughed again--and the laugh rolled
out into the golden sunset, and from the top of a spruce at the
edge of the creek a big blue-jay answered it in a riotous
But at the bottom of that laugh, if one could have looked a bit
deeper, was something more than the naked little mice in the nest
of torn-up paper. Today happiness had strangely come this gay-
hearted freebooter's way, and he might have reached out, and
seized it, and have kept it for his own. But in the hour of his
opportunity he had refused it--because he was an outlaw--because
strong within him was a peculiar code of honor all his own. There
was nothing of man-made religion in the soul of Roger McKay.
Nature was his god; its manifestations, its life, and the air it
gave him to breathe were the pages which made up the Book that
guided him. And within the last hour, since the sun had begun to
drop behind the tips of the tallest trees, these things had told
him that he was a fool for turning away from the one great thing
in all life--simply because his own humors of existence had made
him an outcast and hunted by the laws of men. So the change had
come, and for a space his soul was filled with the thrill of song
Half an hour ago he believed that he had definitely made up his
mind. He had forced himself into forgetfulness of laws he had
broken, and the scarlet-coated men who were ever on the watch for
his trail. They would never seek him here, in the wilderness
country close to the edge of civilization, and time, he had told
himself in that moment of optimism, would blot out both his
identity and his danger. Tomorrow he would go over to Cragg's
Ridge again, and then--
His mind was crowded with a vision of blue eyes, of brown curls
glowing in the pale sun, of a wistful, wide-eyed little face
turned up to him, and red lips that said falteringly, "I don't
think it's wrong for you to kiss me--if you want to, Mister Jolly
Boldly he had talked about it to the bright-eyed little mother-
mouse who peered at him now and then over the edge of her box.
"You're a little devil of iniquity yourself," he told her. "You're
a regular Mrs. Captain Kidd, and you've eaten my cheese, and
chawed my snowshoe laces, and robbed me of a sock to make your
nest. I ought to catch you in a trap, or blow your head off. But I
don't. I let you live--and have a fam'ly. And it's you who have
given me the Big Idea, Mrs. Captain Kidd. You sure have! You've
told me I've got a right to have a nest of my own, and I'm going
to have it--an' in that nest is going to be the sweetest,
prettiest little angel that God Almighty ever forgot to make into
a flower! Yessir. And if the law comes--"
And then, suddenly, the vision clouded, and there came into Jolly
Roger's face the look of a man who knew--when he stood the truth
out naked--that he was facing a world with his back to the wall.
And now, as the sun went down, and his supper waited--that cloud
which came to blot out his picture grew deeper and more sinister,
and the chill of it entered his heart. He turned from his table to
the open door, and his fingers drew themselves slowly into
clenched fists, and he looked out quietly and steadily into his
world. The darkening depths of the forest reached out before his
eyes, mottled and painted in the fading glory of the sun. It was
his world, his everything--father, mother, God. In it he was born,
and in it he knew that some day he would die. He loved it,
understood it, and night and day, in sunshine and storm, its
mighty spirit was the spirit that kept him company. But it held no
message for him now. And his ears scarcely heard the raucous
scolding of the blue-jay in the fire-tipped crest of the tall
And then that something which was bigger than desire came up
within him, and forced itself in words between his grimly set
"She's only a--a kid," he said, a fierce, low note of defiance in
his voice. "And I--I'm a damned pirate, and there's jails waiting
for me, and they'll get me sooner or later, sure as God lets me
He turned from the sun to his shadowing cabin, and for a moment a
ghost of a smile played in his face as he heard the little mother-
mouse rustling among her papers.
"We can't do it," he said. "We simply can't do it, Mrs. Captain
Kidd. She's had hell enough without me taking her into another.
And it'd be that, sooner or later. It sure would, Mrs. Captain
Kidd. But I'm glad, mighty glad, to think she'd let me kiss her--
if I wanted to. Think of that, Mrs. Captain Kidd!--if I wanted to.
And the humor of it crept in alongside the tragedy in Jolly
Roger's heart, and he chuckled as he bent over his partridge
"If I wanted to," he repeated. "Why, if I had a life to give, I'd
give it--to kiss her just once! But, as it happens, Mrs. Captain
Jolly Roger's breath cut itself suddenly short, and for an instant
he grew tense as he bent over the stove. His philosophy had taught
him one thing above all others, that he was a survival of the
fittest--only so long as he survived. And he was always guarding
against the end. His brain was keen, his ears quick, and every
fibre in him trained to its duty of watchfulness. And he knew,
without turning his head, that someone was standing in the doorway
behind him. There had come a faint noise, a shadowing of the
fading sun-glow on the wall, the electrical disturbance of another
presence, gazing at him quietly, without motion, and without
sound. After that first telegraphic shock of warning he stabbed
his fork into a partridge breast, flopped it over, chuckled
loudly--and then with a lightning movement was facing the door,
his forty-four Colt leveled waist-high at the intruder.
Almost in the same movement his gun-arm dropped limply to his
"Well, I'll be--"
He stared. And the face in the doorway stared back at him.
"Nada!" he gasped. "Good Lord, I thought--I thought--" He
swallowed as he tried to lie. "I thought--it might be a bear!"
He did not, at first, see that the slim, calico-dressed little
figure of Jed Hawkins' foster-girl was almost dripping wet. Her
blue eyes were shining at him, wide and startled. Her cheeks were
flushed. A strange look had frozen on her parted red lips, and her
hair was falling loose in a cloud of curling brown tresses about
her shoulders. Jolly Roger, dreaming of her in his insane
happiness of a few minutes ago, sensed nothing beyond the beauty
and the unexpectedness of her in this first moment. Then--swiftly
--he saw the other thing. The last glow of the sun glistened in her
wet hair, her dress was sodden and clinging, and little pools of
water were widening slowly about her ragged shoes. These things he
might have expected, for she had to cross the creek. But it was
the look in her eyes that startled him, as she stood there with
Peter, the mongrel pup, clasped tightly in her arms.
"Nada, what's happened?" he asked, laying his gun on the table.
"You fell in the creek--"
"It--it's Peter," she cried, with a sobbing break in her voice.
"We come on Jed Hawkins when he was diggin' up some of his
whiskey, and he was mad, and pulled my hair, and Peter bit him--
and then he picked up Peter and threw him against a rock--and he's
terribly hurt! Oh, Mister Jolly Roger--"
She held out the pup to him, and Peter whimpered as Jolly Roger
took his wiry little face between his hands, and then lifted him
gently. The girl was sobbing, with passionate little catches in
her breath, but there were no tears in her eyes as they turned for
an instant from Peter to the gun on the table.
"If I'd had that," she cried, "I'd hev killed him!"
Jolly Roger's face was coldly gray as he knelt down on the floor
and bent over Peter.
"He--pulled your hair, you say?"
"I--forgot," she whispered, close at his shoulder. "I wasn't goin'
to tell you that. But it didn't hurt. It was Peter--"
He felt the damp caress of her curls upon his neck as she bent
"Please tell me, Mister Jolly Roger--is he hurt--bad?"
With the tenderness of a woman Jolly Roger worked his fingers over
Peter's scrawny little body. And Peter, whimpering softly, felt
the infinite consolation of their touch. He was no longer afraid
of Jed Hawkins, or of pain, or of death. The soul of a dog is
simple in its measurement of blessings, and to Peter it was a
great happiness to lie here, broken and in pain, with the face of
his beloved mistress over him and Jolly Roger's hands working to
mend his hurt. He whimpered when Jolly Roger found the broken
place, and he cried out like a little child when there came the
sudden quick snapping of a bone--but even then he turned his head
so that he could thrust out his hot tongue against the back of his
man-friend's hand. And Jolly Roger, as he worked, was giving
instructions to the girl, who was quick as a bird to bring him
cloth which she tore into bandages, so that at the end of ten
minutes Peter's right hind leg was trussed up so tightly that it
was as stiff and as useless as a piece of wood.
"His hip was dislocated and his leg-bone broken," said Jolly Roger
when he had finished. "He is all right now, and inside of three
weeks will be on his feet again."
He lifted Peter gently, and made him a nest among the blankets in
his bunk. And then, still with that strange, gray look in his
face, he turned to Nada.
She was standing partly facing the door, her eyes straight on him.
And Jolly Roger saw in them that wonderful something which had
given his storm-beaten soul a glimpse of paradise earlier that
day. They were blue, so blue that he had never seen violets like
them--and he knew that in her heart there was no guile behind
which she could hide the secret they were betraying. A yearning
such as had never before come into his life urged him to open his
arms to her, and he knew that she would have come into them; but a
still mightier will held them tense and throbbing at his side. Her
cheeks were aflame as she looked at him, and he told himself that
God could not have made a lovelier thing, as she stood there in
her worn dress and her ragged shoes, with that light of glory in
her face, and her damp hair waving and curling about her in the
last light of the day.
"I knew you'd fix him, Mister-Roger," she whispered, a great pride
and faith and worship in the low thrill of her voice. "I knew it!"
Something choked Jolly Roger, and he turned to the stove and began
spearing the crisp brown potatoes on the end of a fork. And he
said, with his back toward her,
"You came just in time for supper, Nada. We'll eat--and then I'll
go home with you, as far as the Ridge."
Peter watched them. His pain was gone, and it was nice and
comfortable in Jolly Roger's blanket, and with his whiskered face
on his fore-paws his bright eyes followed every movement of these
two who so completely made up his world. He heard that sweet
little laugh which came only now and then from Nada's lips, when
for a moment she was happy; he saw her shake out her hair in the
glow of the lamp which Jolly Roger lighted, and he observed Jolly
Roger standing at the stove--looking at her as she did it--a
worship in his face which changed the instant her eyes turned
toward him. In Peter's active little brain this gave birth to
nothing of definite understanding, except that in it all he sensed
happiness, for--somehow--there was always that feeling when they
were with Jolly Roger, no matter whether the sun was shining or
the day was dark and filled with gloom. Many times in his short
life he had seen grief and tears in Nada's face, and had seen her
cringe and hide herself at the vile cursing and witch-like voice
of the man and woman back in the other cabin. But there was
nothing like that in Jolly Roger's company. He had two eyes, and
he was not always cursing, and he did not pull Nada's hair--and
Peter loved him from the bottom of his soul. And he knew that his
mistress loved him, for she had told him so, and there was always
a different look in her eyes when she was with Jolly Roger, and it
was only then that she laughed in that glad little way--as she was
Jolly Roger was seated at the table, and Nada stood behind him,
her face flushed joyously at the wonderful privilege of pouring
his coffee. And then she sat down, and Jolly Roger gave her the
nicest of the partridge breasts, and tried hard to keep his eyes
calm and quiet as he looked at the adorable sweetness of her
across the table from him. To Nada there was nothing of shame in
what lay behind the happiness in the violet radiance of her eyes.
Jolly Roger had brought to her the only happiness that had ever
come into her life. Next to her God, which Jed Hawkins and his
witch-woman had not destroyed within her, she thought of this
stranger who for three months had been hiding in Indian Tom's
cabin. And, like Peter, she loved him. The innocence of it lay
naked in her eyes.
"Nada," said Jolly Roger. "You're seventeen--"
"Goin' on eighteen," she corrected quickly. "I was seventeen two
The quick, undefined little note of eagerness in her voice made
his heart thump. He nodded, and smiled.
"Yes, going on eighteen," he said. "And pretty soon some young
fellow will come along, and see you, and marry you--"
It was a little, strange cry that came to her lips, and Jolly
Roger saw a quick throbbing in her bare throat. and her eyes were
so wide-open and startled as she looked at him that he felt, for a
moment, as if the resolution in his soul was giving way.
"Where are you goin', Mister Roger?"
"Me? Oh, I'm not going anywhere--not for a time, at least. But
you--you'll surely be going away with some one--some day."
"I won't," she denied hotly. "I hate men! I hate all but you,
Mister Jolly Roger. And if you go away--"
"Yes, if I go away--
"I'll kill Jed Hawkins!"
Involuntarily she reached out a slim hand to the big gun on the
corner of the table.
"I'll kill 'im, if you go away," she threatened again, "He's
broken his wife, and crippled her, and if it wasn't for her I'd
have gone long ago. But I've promised, and I'm goin' to stay--
until something happens. And if you go--now--"
At the choking throb in her throat and the sudden quiver that came
to her lips, Jolly Roger jumped up for the coffee pot, though his
cup was still half full.
"I won't go, Nada," he cried, trying to laugh. "I promise--cross
my heart and hope to die! I won't go--until you tell me I can."
And then, feeling that something had almost gone wrong for a
moment, Peter yipped from his nest in the bunk, and the gladness
in Nada's eyes thanked Jolly Roger for his promise when he came
back with the coffee pot. Standing behind her, he made pretense of
refilling her cup, though she had scarcely touched it, and all the
time his eyes were looking at her beautiful head, and he saw again
the dampness in her hair.
"What happened in the creek, Nada?" he asked.
She told him, and at the mention of his name Peter drew his
bristling little head erect, and waited expectantly. He could see
Jolly Roger's face, now staring and a bit shocked, and then with a
quick smile flashing over it; and when Nada had finished, Jolly
Roger leaned a little toward her in the lampglow, and said,
"You've got to promise me something, Nada. If Jed Hawkins ever
hits you again, or pulls your hair, or even threatens to do it--
will you tell me?" Nada hesitated.
"If you don't--I'll take back my promise, and won't stay," he
"Then--I'll promise," she said. "If he does it, I'll tell you. But
I ain't--I mean I am not afraid, except for Peter. Jed Hawkins
will sure kill him if I take him back, Mister Roger. Will you keep
him here? And--o-o-o-h!--if I could only stay, too--"
The words came from her in a frightened breath, and in an instant
a flood of color rushed like fire into her cheeks. But Jolly Roger
turned again to the stove, and made as if he had not seen the
blush or heard her last words, so that the shame of her
embarrassment was gone as quickly as it had come.
"Yes, I'll keep Peter," he said over his shoulder. And in his
heart another voice which she could not hear, was crying, "And I'd
give my life if I could keep you!"
Devouring his bits of partridge breast, Peter watched Jolly Roger
and Nada out of the corner of his eye as they left the cabin half
an hour later. It was dark when they went, and Jolly Roger closed
only the mosquito-screen, leaving the door wide open, and Peter
could hear their footsteps disappearing slowly into the deep gloom
of the forest. It was a little before moonrise, and under the
spruce and cedar and thick balsam the world was like a black pit.
It was very still, and except for the soft tread of their own feet
and the musical ripple of water in the creek there was scarcely a
sound in this first hour of the night. In Jolly Roger there rose
something of exultation, for Nada's warm little hand lay in his as
he guided her through the darkness, and her fingers had clasped
themselves tightly round his thumb. She was very close to him when
he paused to make sure of the unseen trail, so close that her
cheek rested against his arm, and--bending a little--his lips
touched the soft ripples of her hair. But he could not see her in
the gloom, and his heart pounded fiercely all the way to the ford.
Then he laughed a strange little laugh that was not at all like
"I'll try and not let you get wet again, Nada," he said.
Her fingers still held to his thumb, as if she was afraid of
losing him there in the blackness that lay about them like a great
ink-blotch. And she crept closer to him, saying nothing, and all
the power in his soul fought in Jolly Roger to keep him from
putting his arms about her slim little body and crying out the
worship that was in him.
"I ain't--I mean I'm not afraid of gettin' wet," he heard her
whisper then. "You're so big and strong, Mister Roger--"
Gently he freed his thumb from her fingers, and picked her up, and
held her high, so that she was against his breast and above the
deepest of the water. Lightly at first Nada's arms lay about his
shoulders, but as the flood began to rush higher and she felt him
straining against it,--her arms tightened, until the clasp of them
was warm and thrilling round Jolly Roger's neck. She gave a big
gasp of relief when he stood her safely down upon her feet on the
other side. And then again she reached out, and found his hand,
and twined her fingers about his big thumb--and Jolly Roger went
on with her over the plain toward Cragg's Ridge, dripping wet,
just as the rim of the moon began to rise over the edge of the
It seemed an interminable wait to Peter, back in the cabin. Jolly
Roger had put out the light, and when the moon came up the glow of
it did not come into the dark room where Peter lay, for the open
door was to the west, and curtains were drawn closely at both
windows. But through the door he could see the first mellowing of
the night, and after that the swift coming of a soft, golden
radiance which swallowed all darkness and filled his world with
the ghostly shadows which seemed alive, yet never made a sound. It
was a big, splendid moon this night, and Peter loved the moon,
though he had seen it only a few times in his three months of
life. It fascinated him more than the sun, for it was always light
when the sun came, and he had never seen the sun eat up darkness,
as the moon did. Its mystery awed him, but did not frighten. He
could not quite understand the strange, still shadows which were
always unreal when he nosed into them, and it puzzled him why the
birds did not fly about in the moon glow, and sing as they did in
the day-time. And something deep in him, many generations older
than himself, made his blood run faster when this thing that ate
up darkness came creeping through the sky, and he was filled with
a yearning to adventure out into the strange glow of it, quietly
and stealthily, watching and listening for things he had never
seen or heard.
In the gloom of the cabin his eyes remained fixed steadily upon
the open door, and for a long time he listened only for the
returning footsteps of Jolly Roger and Nada. Twice he made efforts
to drag himself to the edge of the bunk, but the movement sent
such a cutting pain through him that he did not make a third. And
outside, after a time, he heard the Night People rousing
themselves. They were very cautious, these Night People, for
unlike the creatures of the dawn, waking to greet the sun with
song and happiness, most of them were sharp-fanged and long-
clawed-rovers and pirates of the great wilderness, ready to kill.
And this, too, Peter sensed through the generations of northland
dog that was in him. He heard a wolf howl, coming faintly through
the night from miles away, and something told him it was not a
dog. From nearer came the call of a moose, and that same sense
told him he had heard a monster bear which his eyes had never
seen. He did not know of the soft-footed, night-eyed creatures of
prey--the fox, the lynx, the fisher-cat, the mink and the ermine,
nor of the round-eyed, feathered murderers in the tree-tops--yet
that same something told him they were out there among the
shadows, under the luring glow of the moon. And a thing happened,
all at once, to stab the truth home to him. A baby snowshoe
rabbit, a third grown, hopped out into the open close to the cabin
door, and as it nibbled at the green grass, a gray catapult of
claw and feathers shot out of the air, and Peter heard the crying
agony of the rabbit as the owl bore it off into the thick spruce
tops. Even then--unafraid--Peter wanted to go out into the moon
At last, there was an end to his wait. He heard footsteps, and
Jolly Roger came from out of the yellow moon-mist of the night and
stopped in front of the door. There he stood, making no sound, and
looking into the west, where the sky was ablaze with stars over
the tree-tops. There was a glad little yip in Peter's throat, but
he choked it back. Jolly Roger was strangely quiet, and Peter
could not hear Nada, and as he sniffed, and gulped the lump in his
throat, he seemed to catch the breath of something impending in
the air. Then Jolly Roger came in, and sat down in darkness near
the table, and for a long time Peter kept his eyes fixed on the
shadowy blotch of him there in the gloom, and listened to his
breathing, until he could stand it no longer, and whined.
The sound stirred Jolly Roger. He got up, struck a match--and then
blew the match out, and came and sat down beside Peter, and
stroked him with his hand.
"Peter," he said in a low voice, "I guess we've got a job on our
hands. You began it today--and I've got to finish it. We're goin'
to kill Jed Hawkins!"
Peter snuggled closer.
"Mebby I'm bad, and mebby the law ought to have me," Jolly Roger
went on in the darkness, "but until tonight I never made up my
mind to kill a man. I'm ready--now. If Jed Hawkins hurts her again
we're goin' to kill him! Understand, Pied-Bot?"
He got up, and Peter could hear him undressing. Then he made a
nest for Peter on the floor, and stretched himself out in the
bunk; and after that, for a long time, there seemed to be
something heavier than the gloom of night in the cabin for Peter,
and he listened and waited and prayed in his dog way for Nada's
return, and wondered why it was that she left him so long. And the
Night People held high carnival under the yellow moon, and there
was flight and terror and slaughter in the glow of it--and Jolly
Roger slept, and the wolf howled nearer, and the creek chortled
its incessant song of running water, and in the end Peter's eyes
closed, and a red-eyed ermine peeped over the sill into the man-
and dog-scented stillness of the outlaw's cabin.
For many days after this first night in the cabin, Peter did not
see Nada. There was more rain, and the creek flooded higher, so
that each time Jolly Roger went over to Cragg's Ridge he took his
life in his hands in fording the stream. Peter saw no one but
Jolly Roger, and at the end of the second week he was going about
on his mended leg. But there would always be a limp in his gait,
and always his right hind-foot would leave a peculiar mark in the
These two weeks of helplessness were an education in Peter's life
and were destined to leave their mark upon him always. He learned
to know Jolly Roger, not alone from seeing events, but through an
intuitive instinct that grew swiftly somewhere in his shrewd head.
This instinct, given widest scope in these weeks of helplessness,
developed faster than any other in him, until in the end, he could
judge Jolly Roger's humor by the sound of his approaching
footsteps. Never was there a waking hour in which he was not
fighting to comprehend the mystery of the change that had come
over his life. He knew that Nada was gone, and each day that
passed put her farther away from him, yet he also sensed the fact
that Jolly Roger went to her, and when the outlaw returned to the
cabin Peter was filled with a yearning hope that Nada was
returning with him.
But gradually Peter came to think less about Nada, and more about
Jolly Roger, until at last his heart beat with a love for this man
which was greater than all other things in his world. And in these
days Jolly Roger found in Peter's comradeship and growing
understanding a comforting outlet for the things which at times
consumed him. Peter saw it all--hours when Jolly Roger's voice and
laughter filled the cabin with cheer and happiness, and others
when his face was set in grim lines, with that hard, far-away look
in his eyes that Peter could never quite make out. It was at such
times, when Jolly Roger held a choking grip on the love in his
heart, that he told Peter things which he had never revealed to a
In the dusk of one evening, as he sat wet with the fording of the
creek, he said to Peter,
"We ought to go, Peter. We ought to pack up--and go tonight.
Because--sometimes I'm afraid of myself, Pied-Bot. I'd kill for
her. I'd die for her. I'd give up the whole world, and live in a
prison cell--if I could have her with me. And that's dangerous,
Peter, because we can't have her. It's impossible, boy. She
doesn't guess why I'm here. She doesn't know I've been outlawin'
it for years, and that I'm hiding here because the Police would
never think of looking for Jolly Roger McKay this close to
civilization. If I told her, she would think I was worse than Jed
Hawkins, and she wouldn't believe me if I told her I've outlawed
with my wits instead of a gun, and that I've never criminally hurt
a person in my life. No, she wouldn't believe that, Peter. And
she--she cares for me, Pied-Bot. That's the hell of it! And she's
got faith in me, and would go with me to the Missioner's tomorrow.
I know it. I can see it, feel it, and I--"
His fingers tightened in the loose hide of Peter's neck.
"Peter," he whispered in the thickening darkness. "I believe
there's a God, but He's a different sort of God than most people
believe in. He lives in the trees out there, in the flowers, in
the birds, the sky, in everything--and I hope that God will strike
me dead if I do what isn't right with her, Peter! I do. I hope he
strikes me dead!"
And that night Peter knew that Jolly Roger tossed about restlessly
in his bunk, and slept but little
But the next morning he was singing, and the warm sun flooding
over the wilderness was not more cheerful than his voice as he
cooked their breakfast. That, to Peter, was the most puzzling
thing about this man. With gloom and oppression fastened upon him
he would rise up suddenly, and start whistling or singing, and
once he said to Peter,
"I take my cue from the sun, Peter Clubfoot. It's always shining,
no matter if the clouds are so thick underneath that we can't see
it. A laugh never hurts a man, unless he's got a frozen lung."
Jolly Roger did not cross the ford that day.
It was in the third week after his hurt that Peter saw Nada. By
that time he could easily follow Jolly Roger as far as the
fording-place, and there he would wait, sometimes hours at a
stretch, while his comrade and master went over to Cragg's Ridge.
But frequently Jolly Roger would not cross, but remained with
Peter, and would lie on his back at the edge of a grassy knoll
they had found, reading one of the little old-fashioned red books
which Peter knew were very precious to him. Often he wondered what
was between the faded red covers that was so interesting, and if
he could have read he would have seen such titles as "Margaret of
Anjou," "History of Napoleon," "History of Peter the Great,"
"Caesar," "Columbus the Discoverer," and so on through the twenty
volumes which Jolly Roger had taken from a wilderness mail two
years before, and which he now prized next to his life.
This afternoon, as they lay in the sleepy quiet of June, Jolly
Roger answered the questioning inquisitiveness in Peter's face and
"You see, Pied-Bot, it was this way," he said, beginning a little
apologetically. "I was dying for something to read, and I figgered
there'd be something on the Mail--newspapers, you know. So I
stopped it, and tied up the driver, and found these. And I swear I
didn't take anything else--that time. There's twenty of them, and
they weigh nine pounds, and in the last two years I've toted them
five thousand miles. I wouldn't trade them for my weight in gold,
and I'm pretty heavy. I named you after one of them--Peter. I
pretty near called you Christopher Columbus. And some day we've
got to take these books to the man they were going to, Peter. I've
promised myself that. It seems sort of like stealing the soul out
of someone. I just borrowed them, that's all. And I've kept the
address of the owner, away up on the edge of the Barrens. Some day
we're going to make a special trip to take the books home."
Peter, all at once, had become interested in something else, and
following the direction of his pointed nose Jolly Roger saw Nada
standing quietly on the opposite side of the stream, looking at
them. In a moment Peter knew her, and he was trembling in every
muscle when Jolly Roger caught him up under his arm, and with a
happy laugh plunged through the creek with him. For a good five
minutes after that Jolly Roger stood aside watching Peter and
Nada, and there was a glisten of dampness in his eyes when he saw
the wet on Nada's cheeks, and the whimpering joy of Peter as he
caressed her face and hands. Three weeks had been a long time to
Peter, but he could see no difference in the little mistress he
worshipped. There were still the radiant curls to hide his nose
in, the gentle hands, the sweet voice, the warm thrill of her body
as she hugged him in her arms. He did not know that she had new
shoes and a new dress, and that some of the color had gone from
her red lips, and that her cheeks were paler, and that she could
no longer hide the old haunted look in her eyes.
But Jolly Roger saw the look, and the growing pallor, and had
noted them for two weeks past. And later that afternoon, when Nada
returned to Cragg's Ridge, and he re-crossed the stream with
Peter, there was a hard and terrible look in his eyes which Peter
had caught there more and more frequently of late. And that
evening, in the twilight of their cabin, Jolly Roger said,
"It's coming soon, Peter. I'm expecting it. Something is happening
which she won't tell us about. She is afraid for me. I know it.
But I'm going to find out--soon. And then, Pied-Bot, I think we'll
probably kill Jed Hawkins, and hit for the North."
The gloom of foreboding that was in Jolly Roger's voice and words
seemed to settle over the cabin for many days after that, and more
than ever Peter sensed the thrill and warning of that mysterious
something which was impending. He was developing swiftly, in flesh
and bone and instinct, and there began to possess him now the
beginning of that subtle caution and shrewdness which were to mean
so much to him later on. An instinct greater than reason, if it
was not reason itself, told him that his master was constantly
watching for something which did not come. And that same instinct,
or reason, impinged upon him the fact that it was a thing to be
guarded against. He did not go blindly into the mystery of things
now. He circumvented them, and came up from behind. Craft and
cunning replaced mere curiosity and puppyish egoism. He was quick
to learn, and Jolly Roger's word became his law, so that only once
or twice was he told a thing, and it became a part of his
understanding. While the keen, shrewd brain of his Airedale father
developed inside Peter's head, the flesh and blood development of
his big, gentle, soft-footed Mackenzie hound mother kept pace in
his body. His legs and feet began to lose their grotesqueness.
Flesh began to cover the knots in his tail. His head, bristling
fiercely with wiry whiskers, seemed to pause for a space to give
his lanky body a chance to catch up with it. And in spite of his
big feet, so clumsy that a few weeks ago they had stumbled over
everything in his way, he could now travel without making a sound.
So it came to pass, after a time, that when Peter heard footsteps
approaching the cabin he made no effort to reveal himself until he
knew it was Jolly Roger who was coming. And this was strangely in
spite of the fact that in the five weeks since Nada had brought
him from Cragg's Ridge no one but Jolly Roger and Nada had set
foot within sight of the shack. It was an inborn caution, growing
stronger in him each day. There came one early evening when Peter
made a discovery. He had returned with Jolly Roger from a fishing
trip farther down the creek, and scarcely had he set nose to the
little clearing about the cabin when he caught the presence of a
strange scent. He investigated it swiftly, and found it all about
the cabin, and very strong close up against the cabin door. There
were no doubts in Peter's mind. A man had been there, and this man
had gone around and around the cabin, and had opened the door, and
had even gone inside, for Peter found the scent of him on the
floor. He tried, in a way, to tell Jolly Roger. He bristled, and
whined, and looked searchingly into the darkening edge of the
forest. Jolly Roger quested with him for a few moments, and when
he failed to find marks in the ground he began cleaning a fish for
supper, and said.
"Probably a wolverine, Pied-Bot. The rascal came to see what he
could find while we were away."
But Peter was not satisfied. He was restless all that night.
Sounds which had been familiar now held a new significance for
him. The next day he was filled with a quiet but brooding
expectancy. He resented the intrustion of the strange footprints.
It was, in his process of instinctive reasoning, an encroachment
upon the property rights of his master, and he was--true to the
law of his species--the guardian of those rights.
The fourth evening after the stranger's visit to the cabin Jolly
Roger was later than usual in returning from Cragg's Ridge. Peter
had been on a hunting adventure of his own, and came to the cabin
at sunset. But he never came out of cover now without standing
quietly for a few moments, getting the wind, and listening. And
tonight, poking his head between some balsams twenty yards from
the shack, he was treated to a sudden thrill. The cabin door was
open. And standing close to this door, looking quietly and
cautiously about, stood a stranger. He was not like Jed Hawkins,
was Peter's first impression. He was tall, with a wide-brimmed
hat, and wore boots with striped trousers tucked into them, and on
his coat were bits of metal which caught the last gleams of the
sun. Peter knew nothing of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. But
he sensed danger, and he remained very quiet, without moving a
muscle of his head or body, while the stranger looked about, with
a hand on his unbuttoned pistol holster. Not until he entered the
cabin, and closed the door after him, did Peter move back into the
deeper gloom of the forest. And then, silent as a fox, he skulked
through cover to the foot-trail, and down the trail to the ford,
across which Jolly Roger would come from Cragg's Ridge.
There was still half an hour of daylight when Jolly Roger arrived.
Peter did not, as usual, run to the edge of the bank to meet him.
He remained sitting stolidly on his haunches, with his ears
flattened, and in his whole attitude no sign of gladness at his
master's coming. With every instinct of caution developed to the
highest degree within him, Jolly Roger was lightning quick to
observe the significance of small things. He spoke to Peter,
caressed him with his hand, and moved on along the foot-trail
toward the cabin. Peter fell in behind him moodily, and after a
few moments stopped, and squatted on his haunches again. Jolly
Roger was puzzled.
"What is it, Peter?" he asked. "Are you afraid of that wolverine--
Peter whined softly; but even as he whined, his ears were flat,
and his eyes filled with a red light as they glared down the trail
beyond the outlaw. Jolly Roger turned and went on, until he
disappeared around a twist in the path. There he stopped, and
peered back. Peter was not following him, but still sat where he
had left him. A quicker breath came to Jolly Roger's lips, and he
went back to Peter. For fully a minute he stood beside him,
watching and listening, and not once did the reddish glare in
Peter's eyes leave the direction of the cabin. Jolly Roger's eyes
had grown very bright, and suddenly he dropped on his knees beside
Peter, and spoke softly, close up to his flattened ear.
"You say it isn't a wolverine, Peter? Is that what you're trying
to tell me?"
Peter's teeth clicked, and he whimpered, never taking his eyes
There was a cold light in Jolly Roger's eyes as he rose to his
feet, and he turned swiftly and quietly into the edge of the
forest, and in the gloom that was gathering there his hand carried
the big automatic. Peter followed him now, and Jolly Roger swung
in a wide circle, so that they came up on that forest side of the
cabin where there was no window. And here Jolly Roger knelt down
beside Peter again, and whispered to him.
"You stay here, Pied-Bot. Understand? You stay here."
He pressed him down gently with his hand, so that Peter
understood. Then, slinking low, and swift as a cat, Jolly Roger
ran to the end of the cabin where there was no window. With his
head close to the ground he peered out cautiously at the door. It
was closed. Then he looked at the windows. To the west the
curtains were up, as he had left them. And to the east--
A whimsical smile played at the corners of his mouth. Those
curtains he had kept tightly drawn. One of them was down now. But
the other was raised two inches, so that one hidden within the
cabin could watch the approach from the trail!
He drew back, and under his breath he chuckled. He recognized the
sheer nerve of the thing, the clever handiwork of it. Someone was
inside the cabin, and he was ready to stake his life it was
Cassidy, the Irish bloodhound of "M" Division. If anyone ferreted
him out way down here on the edge of civilization he had gambled
with himself that it would be Cassidy. And Cassidy had come--
Cassidy, who had hung like a wolf to his trails for three years,
who had chased him across the Barren Lands, who had followed him
up the Mackenzie, and back again--who had fought with him, and
starved with him, and froze with him, yet had never brought him to
prison. Deep down in his heart Jolly Roger loved Cassidy. They had
played, and were still playing, a thrilling game, and to win that
game had become the life's ambition of each. And now Cassidy was
in there, confident that at last he had his man, and waiting for
him to step into the trap.
To Jolly Roger, in the face of its possible tragedy, there was a
deep-seated humor in the situation. Three times in the last year
and a half had he turned the tables on Cassidy, leaving him
floundering in the cleverly woven webs which the man-hunter had
placed for his victim. This was the fourth time. And Cassidy would
be tremendously upset!
Praying that Peter would remain quiet, Jolly Roger took off his
shoes. After that he made no more sound than a ferret as he crept
to the door. An inch at a time he raised himself, until he was
standing up, with his ear half an inch from the crack that ran
lengthwise of the frame. Holding his breath, he listened. For an
interminable time, it seemed to him, there was no sound from
within. He guessed what Cassidy was doing--peering through that
slit of window under the curtain. But he was not absolutely sure.
And he knew the necessity of making no error, with Cassidy in
there, gripping the butt of his gun.
Suddenly he heard a movement. A man's steps, subdued and yet
distinct, were moving from the window toward the door. Half way
they paused, and turned to one of the windows looking westward.
But it was evident the watcher was not expecting his game from
that direction, for after a moment's silence he returned to the
window through which he could see the trail. This time Jolly Roger
was sure. Cassidy was again peering through the window, with his
back toward him, and every muscle in the forest rover's body
gathered for instant action. In another moment he had flung open
the door, and the watcher at the window whirled about to find
himself looking straight into the muzzle of Jolly Roger's gun.
For several minutes after that last swift movement of Jolly
Roger's, Peter lay where his master had left him, his eyes fairly
popping from his head in his eagerness to see what was happening.
He heard voices, and then the wild thrill of Jolly Roger's
laughter, and restraining himself no longer he trotted cautiously
to the open door of the cabin. In a chair sat the stranger with
the broad-brimmed hat and high boots, with his hands securely tied
behind him. And Jolly Roger was hustling about, filling a
shoulder-pack in the last light of the day.
"Cassidy, I oughta kill you," Jolly Roger was saying as he worked,
an exultant chuckle in his voice. "You don't give me any peace. No
matter where I go you're sure to come, and I can't remember that I
ever invited you. I oughta put you out of the way, and plant
flowers over you, now that I've got the chance. But I'm too
chicken-hearted. Besides, I like you. By the time you get tired of
chasing me you should be a pretty good man-hunter. But just now
you lack finesse, Cassidy--you lack finesse. "And Jolly Roger's
chuckle broke into another laugh.
Cassidy heaved out a grunt.
"It's luck--just damned luck!" he growled.
"If it is, I hope it keeps up," said Jolly Roger. "Now, look here,
Cassidy! Let's make a man's bet of it. If you don't get me next
time--if you fail, and I turn the trick on you once more--will you
Cassidy's eyes gleamed in the thickening dusk.
"If I don't get you next time--I'll hand in my resignation!"
The laughter went out of Jolly Roger's voice.
"I believe you, Cassidy. You've played square--always. And now--if
I free your hands--will you swear to give me a two hours' start
before you leave this cabin?"
"I'll give you the start," said Cassidy.
His lean face was growing indistinct in the gloom.
Jolly Roger came up behind him. There was the slash of a knife.
Then he picked up his shoulder-pack. At the door he paused.
"Look at your watch when I'm gone, Cassidy, and be sure you make
it a full two hours."
"I'll make it two hours and five minutes," said Cassidy. "Hittin'
north are you, Jolly Roger?"
"I'm hittin'--bushward," replied the outlaw. "I'm going where it's
plenty thick and hard to travel, Cassidy. Goodby--"
He was gone. He hit straight north, making noise as he went, but
once in the timber he swung southward, and plunged through the
creek with Peter under his arm. Not until they had traveled a good
half mile over the plain did Jolly Roger speak. Then he said,
speaking directly at Peter,
"Cassidy thinks I'll sure hit for the North country again, Pied-
Bot. But we're foolin' him. I've sort of planned on something like
this happening, and right now we're hittin' for the tail-end of
Cragg's Ridge where there's a mess of rock that the devil himself
can hardly get into. We've got to do it, boy. We can't leave the
girl--just now. We can't leave--her--"
Jolly Roger's voice choked. Then he paused for a moment, and bent
over to put his hand on Peter.
"If it hadn't been for you, Peter--Cassidy would have got me--
sure. And I'm wondering, Peter--I'm wondering--why did God forget
to give a dog speech?"
Peter whined in answer, and through the darkness of the night they
went on together.
A frosty mist dulled the light of the stars, but this cleared away
as Jolly Roger and Peter crossed the plain between the creek and
They did not hurry, for McKay had faith in Cassidy's word. He knew
the red-headed man-hunter would not break his promise--he would
wait the full two hours in Indian Tom's cabin, and another five
minutes after that. In Jolly Roger, as the minutes passed,
exultation at his achievement died away, and there filled him
again the old loneliness--the loneliness which called out against
the fate which had made of Cassidy an enemy instead of a friend.
And yet--what an enemy!
He reached down, and touched Peter's bushy head with his hand.
"Why didn't the Law give another man the assignment to run us
down," he protested. "Someone we could have hated, and who would
have hated us! Why did they send Cassidy--the fairest and squarest
man that ever wore red? We can't do him a dirty turn--we can't
hurt him, Pied-Bot, even at the worst. And if ever he takes us in
to Headquarters, and looks at us through the bars, I feel it's
going to be like a knife in his heart. But he'll do it, Peter, if
he can. It's his job. And he's honest. We've got to say that of
The Ridge loomed up at the edge of the level plain, and for a few
moments Jolly Roger paused, while he looked off through the
eastward gloom. A mile in that direction, beyond the cleft that
ran like a great furrow through the Ridge, was Jed Hawkins' cabin,
still and dark under the faint glow of the stars. And in that
cabin was Nada. He felt that she was sitting at her little window,
looking out into the night, thinking of him--and a great desire
gripped at his heart, tugging him in its direction. But he turned
toward the west.
"We can't let her know what has happened, boy," he said, feeling
the urge of caution. "For a little while we must let her think we
have left the country. If Cassidy sees her, and talks with her,
something in those blue-flower eyes of hers might give us away if
she knew we were hiding up among the rocks of the Stew-Kettle. But
I'm hopin' God A'mighty won't let her see Cassidy. And I'm
thinking He won't, Pied-Bot, because I've a pretty good hunch He
wants us to settle with Jed Hawkins before we go."
It was a habit of his years of aloneness, this talking to a
creature that could make no answer. But even in the darkness he
sensed the understanding of Peter.
Rocks grew thicker and heavier under their feet, and they went
more slowly, and occasionally stumbled in the gloom. But, after a
fashion, they knew their way even in darkness. More than once
Peter had wondered why his master had so carefully explored this
useless mass of upheaved rock at the end of Cragg's Ridge. They
had never seen an animal or a blade of grass in all its gray, sun-
blasted sterility. It was like a hostile thing, overhung with a
half-dead, slow-beating something that was like the dying pulse of
an evil thing. And now darkness added to its mystery and its
unfriendliness as Peter nosed close at his master's heels. Up and
up they picked their way, over and between ragged upheavals of
rock, twisting into this broken path and that, feeling their way,
partly sensing it, and always ascending toward the stars. Roger
McKay did not speak again to Peter. Each time he came out where
the sky was clear he looked toward the solitary dark pinnacle, far
up and ahead, strangely resembling a giant tombstone in the star-
glow, that was their guide. And after many minutes of strange
climbing, in which it seemed to Jolly Roger the nail-heads in the
soles of his boots made weirdly loud noises on the rocks, they
came near to the top.
There they stopped, and in a deeply shadowed place where there was
a carpet of soft sand, with walls of rock close on either side,
Jolly Roger spread out his blankets. Then he went out from the
black shadow, so that a million stars seemed not far away over
their heads. Here he sat down, and began to smoke, thinking of
what tomorrow would hold for him, and of the many days destined to
follow that tomorrow. Nowhere in the world was there to be--for
him--the peace of an absolute certainty. Not until he felt the
cold steel of iron bars with his two hands, and the fatal game had
been played to the end.
There was no corrosive bitterness of the vengeful in Jolly Roger's
heart. For that reason even his enemies, the Police, had fallen
into the habit of using the nickname which the wilderness people
had given him. He did not hate these police. Curiously, he loved
them. Their type was to him the living flesh and blood of the
finest manhood since the Crusaders. And he did not hate the law.
At times the Law, as personified in all of its unswerving majesty,
amused him. It was so terribly serious over such trivial things--
like himself, for instance. It could not seem to sleep or rest
until a man was hanged, or snugly put behind hard steel, no matter
how well that man loved his human-kind--and the world. And Jolly
Roger loved both. In his heart he believed he had not committed a
crime by achieving justice where otherwise there would have been
no justice. Yet outwardly he cursed himself for a lawbreaker. And
he loved life. He loved the stars silently glowing down at him
tonight. He loved even the gray, lifeless rock, which recalled to
his imaginative genius the terrific and interesting life that had
once existed--he loved the ghostly majesty of the grave-like
pinnacle that rose above him, and beyond that he loved all the
But most of all, more than his own life or all that a thousand
lives might hold for him, he loved the violet-eyed girl who had
come into his life from the desolation and unhappiness of Jed
Forgetting the law, forgetting all but her, he went at last into
the dungeon-like gloom between the rocks, and after Peter had
wallowed himself a bed in the carpet of sand they fell asleep.
They awoke with the dawn. But for three days thereafter they went
forth only at night, and for three days did not show themselves
above the barricade of rocks. The Stew-Kettle was what Jolly Roger
had called it, and when the sun was straight above, or descending
with the last half of the day, the name fitted.
It was a hot place, so hot that at a distance its piled-up masses
of white rock seemed to simmer and broil in the blazing heat of
the July sun. Neither man nor beast would look into the heart of
it, Jolly Roger had assured Peter, unless the one was half-witted
and the other a fool. Looking at it from the meadowy green plain
that lay between the Ridge and the forest their temporary retreat
was anything but a temptation to the eye. Something had happened
there a few thousand centuries before, and in a moment of evident
spleen and vexation the earth had vomited up that pile of rock
debris, and Jolly Roger good humoredly told himself and Peter that
it was an act of Providence especially intended for them, though
planned and erupted some years before they were born.
The third afternoon of their hiding, Jolly Roger decided upon
This afternoon all of the caloric guns of an unclouded sun had
seemed to concentrate themselves on the gigantic rock-pile. Though
it was now almost sunset, a swirling and dizzying incandescence
still hovered about it. The huge masses of stone were like baked
things to the touch of hand and foot, and one breathed a
smoldering air in between their gray and white walls.
Thus forbidding looked the Stew-Kettle, when viewed from the
plain. But from the top-most crag of the mass, which rose a
hundred feet high at the end of the Ridge, one might find his
reward for a blistering climb. On all sides, a paradise of green
and yellow and gold, stretched the vast wilderness, studded with
shimmering lakes that gleamed here and there from out of their
rich dark frames of spruce and cedar and balsam. And half way
between the edge of the plain and this highest pinnacle of rock,
utterly hidden from the eyes of both man and beast, nestled the
hiding place which Jolly Roger and Peter had found.
It was a cool and cavernous spot, in spite of the Sahara-like heat
of the great pile. In the very heart of it two gigantic masses of