Part 2 out of 5
rock had put their shoulders together, like Gog and Magog, so that
under their ten thousand tons of weight was a crypt-like tunnel as
high as a man's head, into which the light and the glare of the
sun never came.
Peter, now that he had grown accustomed to the deadness of it,
liked this change from Indian Tom's cabin. He liked his wallow of
soft sand during the day, and he liked still more the aloneness
and the aloofness of their ramparted stronghold when the cool of
evening came. He did not, of course, understand just what their
escape from Cassidy had meant, but instinct was shrewdly at work
within him, and no wolf could have guarded the place more
carefully than he. And he had all creation in mind when he guarded
All but Nada. Many times he whimpered for her, just as the great
call for her was in Jolly Roger's own heart. And on this third
afternoon, as the hot July sun dipped half way to the western
forests, both Peter and his master were looking yearningly, and
with the same thought, toward the east, where over the back-bone
of Cragg's Ridge Jed Hawkins' cabin lay.
"We'll let her know tonight," Roger McKay said at last, with
something very slow and deliberate in his voice. "We'll take the
chance--and let her know."
Peter's bristling Airedale whiskers, standing out like a bunch of
broom splints about his face, quivered sympathetically, and he
thumped his tail in the sand. He was an artful hypocrite, was
Peter, because he always looked as if he understood, whether he
did or not. And Jolly Roger, staring at the gray rock-backs
outside their tunnel door, went on.
"We must play square with her, Pied-Bot, and it's a crime worse
than murder not to let her know the truth. If she wasn't a kid,
Peter! But she's that--just a kid--the sweetest, purest thing God
A'mighty ever made, and it isn't fair to live this lie any longer,
no matter how we love her. And we do love her, Peter."
Peter lay very quiet, watching the strange gray look that had
settled in Jolly Roger's face.
"I've got to tell her that I'm a damned highwayman," he added, in
a moment. "And she won't understand, Peter. She can't. But I'm
going to do it. I'm going to tell her--today. And then--I think
we'll be hittin' north pretty soon, Pied-Bot. If it wasn't for Jed
Hawkins--" He rose up out of the sand, his hands clenched.
"We ought to kill Jed Hawkins before we go. It would be safer for
her," he finished.
He went out, forgetting Peter, and climbed a rock-splintered path
until he stood on the knob of a mighty boulder, looking off into
the northern wilderness. Off there, a hundred, five hundred, a
thousand miles--was home. It was ALL his home, from Hudson's Bay
to the Rockies, from the Height of Land to the Arctic plains, and
in it he had lived the thrill of life according to his own
peculiar code. He knew that he had loved life as few had ever
loved it. He had worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars.
The world had been a glorious place in which to live, in spite of
its ceaseless peril for him.
But there was nothing of cheer left in his heart now as he stood
in the blaze of the setting sun. Paradise had come to him for a
little while, and because of it he had lived a lie. He had not
told Jed Hawkins' foster-girl that he was an outlaw, and that he
had come to the edge of civilization because he thought it was the
last place the Royal Mounted would look for him. When he went to
her this evening it would probably be for the last time. He would
tell her the truth. He would tell her the police were after him
from one end of the Canadian northland to the other. And that same
night, with Peter, he would hit the trail for the Barren Lands, a
thousand miles away. He was sure of himself now--sure--even as the
dark wall of the forest across the plain faded out, and gave place
to a pale, girlish face with eyes blue as flowers, and brown curls
filled with the lustre of the sun--a face that had taken the place
of mother, sister and God deep down in his soul. Yes, he was sure
of himself--even with that face rising lo give battle to his last
great test of honor. He was an outlaw, and the police wanted him,
Peter was troubled by the grimness that settled in his master's
face. They waited for dusk, and when deep shadows had gathered in
the valley McKay led the way out of the rock-pile.
An hour later they came cautiously through the darkness that lay
between the broken shoulders of Cragg's Ridge. There was a light
in the cabin, but Nada's window was dark. Peter crouched down
under the warning pressure of McKay's hand.
"I'll go on alone," he said. "You stay here."
It seemed a long time that he waited in the darkness. He could not
hear the low tap, tap, tap of his master's fingers against the
glass of Nada's darkened window. And Jolly Roger, in response to
that signal-tapping, heard nothing from within, except a monotone
of voice that came from the outer room. For half an hour he
waited, repeating the signals at intervals. At last a door opened,
and Nada stood silhouetted against the light of the room beyond.
McKay tapped again, very lightly, and the door closed quickly
behind the girl. In a moment she was at the window, which was
raised a little from the bottom.
"Mister--Roger--" she whispered. "Is it--YOU?"
"Yes," he said, finding a little hand in the darkness. "It's me."
The hand was cold, and its fingers clung tightly to his, as if the
girl was frightened. Peter, restless with waiting, had come up
quietly in the dark, and he heard the low, trembling whisper of
Nada's voice at the window. There was something in the note of it,
and in the caution of Jolly Roger's reply, that held him stiff and
attentive, his ears wide-open for approaching sound. For several
minutes he stood thus, and then the whispering voices at the
window ceased and he heard his master retreating very quietly
through the night. When Jolly Roger spoke to him, back under the
broken shoulder of the ridge, he did not know that Peter had stood
near the window.
McKay stood looking back at the pale glow of light in the cabin.
"Something happened there tonight--something she wouldn't tell me
about," he said, speaking half to Peter and half to himself. "I
could FEEL it. I wish I could have seen her face."
He set out over the plain; and then, as if remembering that he
must explain the matter to Peter, he said:
"She can't get out tonight, Pied-Bot, but she'll come to us in the
jackpines tomorrow afternoon. We'll have to wait"
He tried to say the thing cheerfully, but between this night and
tomorrow afternoon seemed an interminable time, now that he was
determined to make a clean breast of his affairs to Nada, and
leave the country. Most of that night he walked in the coolness of
the moonlit plain, and for a long time he sat amid the flower-
scented shadows of the trysting-place in the heart of the jackpine
clump, where Nada had a hidden place all her own. It was here that
Peter discovered something which Jolly Roger could not see in the
deep shadows, a bundle warm and soft and sweet with the presence
of Nada herself. It was hidden under a clump of young banksians,
very carefully hidden, and tucked about with grass and evergreen
boughs. When McKay left the jackpines he wondered why it was that
Peter showed no inclination to follow him until he was urged.
They did not return to the Stew-Kettle until dawn, and most of
that day Jolly Roger spent in sleep between the two big rocks. It
was late afternoon when they made their last meal. In this
farewell hour McKay climbed up close to the pinnacle, where he
smoked his pipe and measured the shadows of the declining sun
until it was time to leave for the jackpines.
Retracing his steps to the hiding place under Gog and Magog he
looked for Peter. But Peter's sand-wallow was empty, and Peter was
Peter was on his way to the mystery of the bundle he had found in
At the foot of the ridge, where the green plain fought with the
blighting edge of the Stew-Kettle, he stood for many minutes
before he started east-ward. With keen eyes gleaming behind his
mop of scraggly face-bristles he critically surveyed both land and
air, and then, with the slight limp in his gait which would always
remain as a mark of Jed Hawkins' brutality, he trotted
deliberately in the direction of the whiskey-runner's cabin home.
A bitter memory of Jed Hawkins flattened his ears when he came
near the rock-cluttered coulee in which he had fought for Nada,
and had suffered his broken bones, and today--even as he obeyed
the instinctive caution to stop and listen--Jed Hawkins himself
came out of the mouth of the coulee, bearing a brown jug in one
hand and a thick cudgel in the other. His one wicked eye gleamed
in the waning sun. His lean and scraggly face was alight with a
sinister exultation as he paused for a moment close to the rock
behind which Peter was hidden, and Peter's fangs lay bare and his
body trembled while the man stood there. Then he moved on, and
Peter did not stir, but waited until the jug and the cudgel and
the man were out of sight.
Low under his breath he was snarling when he went on. Hatred, for
a moment, had flamed hot in his soul. Then he turned, and buried
himself in a clump of balsams that reached out into the plain, and
a few moments later came to the edge of a tiny meadow in the heart
of them, where a warbler was bursting its throat in evening-song.
Around the edge of the meadow Peter circled, his feet deep in
buttercups and red fire-flowers, and crushing softly ripe
strawberries that grew in scarlet profusion in the open, until he
came to a screen of young jackpines, and through these he quietly
and apologetically nosed his way. Then he stood wagging his tail,
with Nada sitting on the grass half a dozen steps from him, wiping
the strawberry stain from her finger-tips. And the stain was on
her red lips, and a bit of it against the flush of her cheek, as
she gave a little cry of gladness and greeting to Peter. Her eyes
flashed beyond him, and every drop of blood in her slim, beautiful
little body seemed to be throbbing with an excitement new to Peter
as she looked for Jolly Roger.
Peter went to her, and dropped down, with his head in her lap, and
looking up through his bushy eye-brows he saw a livid bruise just
under the ripples of her brown hair, where there had been no mark
yesterday, or the day before. Nada's hands drew him closer, until
he was half in her lap, and she bent her face down to him, so that
her thick, shining hair fell all about him. Peter loved her hair,
almost as much as Jolly Roger loved it, and he closed his eyes and
drew a deep breath of content as the smothering sweetness of it
shut out the sunlight from him.
"Peter," she whispered, "I'm almost scared to have him come today.
I've promised him. You remember--I promised to tell him if Jed
Hawkins struck me again. And he has! He made that mark, and if
Jolly Roger knows it he'll kill him. I've got to lie--lie--"
Peter wriggled, to show his interest, and his hard tail thumped
the ground. For a space Nada said nothing more, and he could hear
and feel the beating of her heart close down against him. Then she
raised her head, and looked in the direction from which she would
first hear Jolly Roger as he came through the young jackpines.
Peter, with his eyes half closed in a vast contentment, did not
see or sense the change in her today--that her blue eyes were
brighter, her cheeks flushed, and in her body a strange and
subdued throbbing that had never been there before. Not even to
Peter did she whisper her secret, but waited and listened for
Jolly Roger, and when at last she heard him and he came through
the screen of jackpines, the color in her cheeks was like the
stain of strawberries crimsoning her finger-tips. In an instant,
looking down upon her, Jolly Roger saw what Peter had not
discovered, and he stopped in his tracks, his heart thumping like
a hammer inside him. Never, even in his dreams, had the girl
looked lovelier than she did now, and never had her eyes met his
eyes as they met them today, and never had her red lips said as
much to him, without uttering a word. In the same instant he saw
the livid bruise, half hidden under her hair--and then he saw a
big bundle behind her, partly screened by a dwarfed banksian.
After that his eyes went back to the bruise.
"Jed Hawkins didn't do it," said Nada, knowing what was in his
mind. "It was Jed's woman. And you can't kill her!" she added a
Jolly Roger caught the choking throb in her throat, and he knew
she was lying. But Nada thrust Peter from her lap, and stood up,
and she seemed taller and more like a woman than ever before in
her life as she faced Jolly Roger there in the tiny open, with
violets and buttercups and red strawberries in the soft grass
under their feet. And behind them, and very near, a rival to the
warbler in the meadow began singing. But Nada did not hear. The
color had rushed hot into her cheeks at first, but now it was
fading out as swiftly, and her hands trembled, clasped in front of
her. But the blue in her eyes was as steady as the blue in the sky
as she looked at Jolly Roger.
"I'm not going back to Jed Hawkins' any more, Mister Roger," she
A soft breath of wind lifted the tress of hair from her forehead,
revealing more clearly the mark of Jed Hawkins' brutality, and
Nada saw gathering in Jolly Roger's eyes that cold, steely glitter
which always frightened her when it came. His hands clenched, and
when she reached out and touched his arm the flesh of it was as
hard as white birch. Even in her fear there was glory in the
thought that at a word from her he would kill the man who had
struck her. Her fingers crept up his arm, timidly, and the blue in
her eyes darkened, and there was a pleading tremble in the curve
of her lips as she looked straight at him.
"I'm not going back," she repeated.
Jolly Roger, looking beyond her, saw the significance of the
bundle. His eyes met her steady gaze again, and his heart seemed
to swell in his chest, and choke him. He tried to let his tense
muscles relax. He tried to smile. He struggled to bring up the
courage which would make possible the confession he had to make.
And Peter, sitting on his haunches in a patch of violets, watched
them both, wondering what was going to happen between these two.
"Where are you going?" Jolly Roger asked.
Nada's fingers had crept almost to his shoulder. They were
twisting at his flannel shirt nervously, but not for the tenth
part of a second did she drop her eyes, and that strange,
wonderful something which he saw looking at him so clearly out of
her soul brought the truth to Jolly Roger, before she had spoken.
"I'm goin' with you and Peter."
The low cry that came from Jolly Roger was almost a sob as he
stepped back from her. He looked away from her--at Peter. But her
pale face, her parted red lips, her wide-open, wonderful eyes, her
radiant hair stirred by the wind--came between them. She was no
longer the little girl--"past seventeen, goin' on eighteen." To
Jolly Roger she was all that the world held of glorious womanhood.
"But--you can't!" he cried desperately. "I've come to tell you
things, Nada. I'm not fit. I'm not what you think I am. I've been
livin' a lie--"
He hesitated, and then lashed himself on to the truth.
"You'll hate me when I tell you, Nada. You think Jed Hawkins is
bad. But the law thinks I'm worse. The police want me. They've
wanted me for years. That's why I came down here, and hid over in
Indian Tom's cabin--near where I first met you. I thought they
wouldn't find me away down here, but they did. That's why Peter
and I moved over to the big rock-pile at the end of the Ridge.
I'm--an outlaw. I've done a lot of bad things--in the eyes of the
law, and I'll probably die with a bullet in me, or in jail. I'm
sorry, but that don't help. I'd give my life to be able to tell
you what's in my heart. But I can't. It wouldn't be square."
He wondered why no change came into the steady blue of her eyes as
he went on with the truth. The pallor was gone from her cheeks.
Her lips seemed redder, and what he was saying did not seem to
startle her, or frighten her.
"Don't you understand, Nada?" he cried. "I'm bad. The police want
me. I'm a fugitive--always running away, always hiding--an outlaw--"
"I know it, Mister Roger," she said quietly. "I heard you tell
Peter that a long time ago. And Mister Cassidy was at our place
the day after you and Peter ran away from Indian Tom's cabin, and
I showed him the way to Father John's, and he told me a lot about
you, and he told Father John a lot more, and it made me awful
proud of you, Mister Roger--and I want to go with you and Peter!"
"Proud!" gasped Jolly Roger. "Proud, of ME--"
She nodded again.
"Mister Cassidy--the policeman--he used just the word you used a
minute ago. He said you was square, even when you robbed other
people. He said he had to get you in jail if he could, but he
hoped he never would. He said he'd like to have a man like you for
a brother. And Peter loves you. And I--"
The color came into her white face.
"I'm goin' with you and Peter," she finished.
Something came to relieve the tenseness of the moment for Jolly
Roger. Peter, nosing in a thick patch of bunch-grass, put out a
huge snowshoe rabbit, and the two crashed in a startling avalanche
through the young jackpines, Peter's still puppyish voice yelling
in a high staccato as he pursued. Jolly Roger turned from Nada,
and stared where they had gone. But he was seeing nothing. He knew
the hour of his mightiest fight had come. In the reckless years of
his adventuring he had more than once faced death. He had starved.
He had frozen. He had run the deadliest gantlets of the elements,
of beast, and of man. Yet was the strife in him now the greatest
of all his life. His heart thumped. His brain was swirling in a
vague and chaotic struggle for the mastery of things, and as he
fought with himself--his unseeing eyes fixed on the spot where
Peter and the snowshoe rabbit had disappeared--he heard Nada's
voice behind him, saying again that she was going with him and
Peter. In those seconds he felt himself giving way, and the
determined action he had built up for himself began to crumble
like sand. He had made his confession and in spite of it this
young girl he worshipped--sweeter and purer than the flowers of
the forest--was urging herself upon him! And his soul cried out
for him to turn about, and open his arms to her, and gather her
into them for as long as God saw fit to give him freedom and life.
But still he fought against that mighty urge, dragging reason and
right back fragment by fragment, while Nada stood behind him, her
wide-open, childishly beautiful eyes beginning to comprehend the
struggle that was disrupting the heart of this man who was an
outlaw--and her god among men. And when Jolly Roger turned, his
face had aged to the grayness of stone, and his eyes were dull,
and there was a terribly dead note in his voice.
"You can't go with us," he said. "You can't. It's wrong--all
wrong. I couldn't take care of you in jail, and some day--that's
where I'll be."
More than once when she had spoken of Jed Hawkins he had seen the
swift flash of lightning come into the violet of her eyes. And it
came now, and her little hands grew tight at her sides, and bright
spots burned in her cheeks.
"You won't!" she cried. "I won't let you go to jail. I'll fight
for you--if you'll let me go with you and Peter!"
She came a step nearer.
"And if I stay here Jed Hawkins is goin' to sell me to a tie-
cutter over on the railroad. That's what it is--sellin' me. I
ain't--I mean I haven't--told you before, because I was afraid of
what you'd do. But it's goin' to happen, unless you let me go with
you and Peter. Oh, Mister Roger--Mister Jolly Roger--"
Her fingers crept up his arms. They reached his shoulders, and her
blue eyes, and her red lips, and the woman's soul in her girl-body
were so close to him he could feel their sweetness and thrill, and
then he saw a slow-gathering mist, and tears--
"I'll go wherever you go," she was whispering, "And we'll hide
where they won't ever find us, and I'll be happy, so happy, Mister
Roger--and if you won't take me I want to die. Oh--"
She was crying, with her head on his breast, and her slim, half
bare arms around his neck, and Jolly Roger listened like a miser
to the choking words that came with her sobs. And where there had
been tumult and indecision in his heart there came suddenly the
clearness of sunshine and joy, and with it the happiness of a new
and mighty possession as his arms closed about her, and he turned
her face up, so that for the first time he kissed the soft red
lips that for some inscrutable reason the God of all things had
given into his keeping this day.
And then, holding her close, with her arms still tighter about his
neck, he cried softly,
"I'm goin' to take you, little girl. You're goin' with Peter and
me, for ever--and ever. And we'll go--tonight!"
When Peter came back, just in the last sunset glow of the evening,
he found his master alone in the bit of jackpine opening, and Nada
was swiftly crossing the larger meadow that lay between them and
the break in Cragg's Ridge, beyond which was Jed Hawkins' cabin.
It was not the same Jolly Roger whom he had left half an hour
before. It was not the man of the hiding-place in the rock-pile.
Jolly Roger McKay, standing there in the last soft glow of the
day, was no longer the fugitive and the outcast. He stood with
silent lips, yet his soul was crying out its gratitude to all that
God of Life which breathed its sweetness of summer evening about
him. He was the First Possessor of the earth. In that hour, that
moment, he would not have sold his place for all the happiness of
all the remaining people in the world. He cried out aloud, and
Peter, squatted at his feet with his red tongue lolling out,
listened to him.
"She is mine, mine, mine," he was saying, and he repeated that
word over and over, until Peter quirked his ears, and wondered
what it meant. And then, seeing Peter, Jolly Roger laughed softly,
and bent over him, with a look of awe and wonderment mingling with
the happiness in his face.
"She's mine--ours," he cried boyishly. "God A'mighty took a hand,
Pied-Bot, and she's going with us! We're going tonight, when the
moon comes up. And Peter--Peter--we're going straight to the
Missioner's, and he'll marry us, and then we'll hit for a place
where no one in the world will ever find us. The law may want us,
Pied-Bot, but God--this God all around--is good to us. And we'll
try and pay Him back. We will, Peter!"
He straightened himself, and faced the west. Then he picked up the
bundle Nada had brought, and dived through the jackpines, with
Peter at his heels. Swiftly they moved through the shadowing dusk
of the plain, and came at last to the Stew-Kettle, and to their
hiding-place under the shoulders of Gog and Magog. There was still
a faint twilight in the tunnel, and in this twilight Jolly Roger
McKay packed his possessions; and then, with fingers that trembled
as if they were committing a sacrilege, he drew Nada's few
treasures from her bundle and placed them tenderly with his own.
And all the time Peter heard him saying things under his breath,
so softly that it was like the whispered drone of song.
In darkness they went down through the rocks to the plain, and
half an hour later they came to the break in the Ridge, and went
through it, and stopped in the black shadow of a great rock, with
Jed Hawkins' cabin half a rifle-shot away. Here Nada was to come
to them with the first rising of the moon.
It was very still all about, and Peter sensed a significance in
the silence, and lay very quietly watching the light in the cabin,
and the shadowy form of his master. Also he knew that somewhere in
the distance a storm was gathering. The breath of it was in the
air, though the sky was clear of cloud overhead, except for the
haze of a gray and ghostly mist that lay between them and the
yellow stars. Jolly Roger counted the seconds between then and
moonrise. It seemed hours before the golden rim of it rose in the
east. Shadows grew swiftly after that. Grotesque things took
shape. The rock-caps of the ridge began to light up, like timid
signal-fires. Black spruce and balsam and cedar glistened as if
bathed in enamel. And the moon came on, and mellow floods of light
played in the valleys and plains, and danced over the forest-tops,
and in voice-less and soundless miracle called upon all living
things to look upon the glory of God. In his soul Jolly Roger
McKay felt the urge and the call of that voiceless Master Power,
and through his lips came an unconscious whisper of prayer--of
And he watched the light in Jed Hawkins' cabin, and strained his
ears to hear a sound of footsteps coming through the moonlight.
But there was no change. The light did not move. A door did not
open or close. There was no sound, except the growing whisper of
the wind, the call of a night bird, and the howl of the old gray
wolf that always cried out to the moon from the tangled depths of
Indian Tom's swamp.
A thrill of nervousness swept through Jolly Roger. He waited half
an hour, three-quarters, an hour--after the moon had risen. And
Nada did not come. The nervousness grew in him, and he moved out
into the moon-glow, and slowly and watchfully followed the edge of
the rock-shadows until he came to the fringe of cedars and spruce
behind the cabin. Peter, careful not to snap a twig under his
paws, followed closely. They came to the cabin, and there--very
distinctly--Jolly Roger McKay heard the low moaning of a voice.
He edged his way to the window, and looked in.
Crouched beside a chair in the middle of the floor was Jed
Hawkins's woman. She was moaning, and her thin body was rocking
back and forth, and with her hands clasped at her bony breast she
was staring at the open door. With a shock Jolly Roger saw that
except for the strangely crying old woman the cabin was empty.
Sudden fear chilled his blood--a fear that scarcely took form
before he was at the door, and in the cabin. The woman's eyes were
red and wild as she stared at him, and she stopped her moaning,
and her hands unclasped. Jolly Roger went nearer and bent over her
and shivered at the half-mad terror he saw in her face.
"Where is Nada?" he demanded. "Tell me--where is she?"
"Gone, gone, gone," crooned the woman, clutching her hands at her
breast again. "Jed has taken her--taken her to Mooney's shack,
over near the railroad. Oh, my God!--I tried to keep her, but I
couldn't. He dragged her away, and tonight he's sellin' her to
Mooney--the devil--the black brute--the tie-cutter--"
She choked, and began rocking herself back and forth, and the
moaning came again from her thin lips. Fiercely McKay gripped her
by the shoulder.
"Mooney's shack--where?" he cried. "Quick! Tell me!"
"A thousand--a thousand--he's givin' a thousand dollars to git her
in the shack--alone," she cried in a dull, sing-song voice. "The
road out there leads straight to it. Near the railroad. A mile.
Two miles. I tried to keep him from doin' it, but I couldn't--I
Jolly Roger heard no more. He was out of the door, and running
across the open, with Peter racing close behind him. They struck
the road, and Jolly Roger swung into it, and continued to run
until the breath was out of his lungs. And all that time the
things Nada had told him about Jed Hawkins and the tie-cutter were
rushing madly through his brain. An hour or two ago, when the
words had come from her lips in the jackpine thicket, he had
believed that Nada was frightened, that a distorted fear possessed
her, that such a thing as she had half confessed to him was too
monstrous to happen. And now he cried out aloud, a groaning,
terrible cry as he went on. Hawkins and Nada had reached Mooney's
shack long before this, a shack buried deep in the wilderness, a
shack from which no cries could be heard--
Peter, trotting behind, whined at what he heard in Jolly Roger
McKay's panting voice. And the moon shone on them as they
staggered and ran, and here and there dark clouds were racing past
the face of it, and the slumberous whisper of storm grew nearer in
the air. And then came the time when one of the dark clouds rode
under the moon and the two ran on in darkness. The cloud passed,
and the moon flooded the road again with light--and suddenly Jolly
Roger stopped in his tracks, and his heart almost broke in the
strain of that moment.
Ahead of them, staggering toward them, sobbing as she came, was
Nada. Jolly Roger's blazing eyes saw everything in that vivid
light of the moon. Her hair was tangled and twisted about her
shoulders and over her breast. One arm was bare where the sleeve
had been torn away, and her girlish breast gleamed white where her
waist had been stripped half from her body. And then she saw Jolly
Roger in the trail, with wide-open, reaching arms, and with a cry
such as Peter had never heard come from her lips before she ran
into them, and held up her face to him in the yellow moon-light.
In her eyes--great, tearless, burning pools--he saw the tragedy
and yet it was only that, and not horror, not despair, NOT the
other thing. His arms closed crushingly about her. Her slim body
seemed to become a part of him. Her hot lips reached up and clung
"Did--he get you--to--Mooney's shack--" He felt her body stiffen
"No," she panted. "I fought--every inch. He dragged me, and hit
me, and tore my clothes--but I fought. And up there--in the trail
--he turned his back for a moment, when he thought I was done, and
I hit him with a club. And he's there, now, on his back--"
She did not finish. Jolly Roger thrust her out from him, arm's
length. A cloud under the moon hid his face. But his voice was
low, and terrible.
"Nada, go to the Missioner's as fast as you can," he said,
fighting to speak coolly. "Take Peter--and go. You will make it
before the storm breaks. I am going back to have a few words with
Jed Hawkins--alone. Then I will join you, and the Missioner will
The cloud was gone, and he saw joy and radiance in her face. Fear
had disappeared. Her eyes were luminous with the golden glow of
the night. Her red lips were parted, entreating him with the lure
of their purity and love, and for a moment he held her close in
his arms again, kissing her as he might have kissed an angel,
while her little hands stroked his face, and she laughed softly
and strangely in her happiness--the wonder of a woman's soul
rising swiftly out of the sweetness of her girlhood.
And then Jolly Roger set her firmly in the direction she was to
"Hurry, little girl," he said. "Hurry--before the storm breaks!"
She went, calling Peter softly, and Jolly Roger strode down the
trail, not once looking back, and bent only upon the vengeance he
would this night wreak upon the two lowest brutes in creation.
Never before had he felt the desire to kill. But he felt that
desire now. Before the night was much older he would do unto
Hawkins and Mooney as Hawkins had done unto Peter. He would leave
them alive, but broken and crippled and forever punished.
And then he stumbled over something in another darkening of the
moon. He stopped, and the light came again, and he looked down
into the upturned face of Jed Hawkins. It was a distorted and
twisted face, and its one eye was closed. The body did not move.
And close to the head was the club which Nada had used.
Jolly Roger laughed grimly. Fate was kind to him in making a half
of his work so easy. But he wanted Hawkins to rouse himself first.
Roughly he stirred him with the toe of his boot.
"Wake up, you fiend," he said. "I'm going to break your bones,
your arms, your legs, just as you broke Peter--and that poor old
woman back in the cabin. Wake up!"
Jed Hawkins made no stir. He was strangely limp. For many seconds
Jolly Roger stood looking down at him, his eyes growing wider,
more staring. Darkness came again. It was an inky blackness this
time, like a blotter over the world. Low thunder came out of the
west. The tree-tops whispered in a frightened sort of way. And
Jolly Roger could hear his heart beating. He dropped upon his
knees, and his hands moved over Jed Hawkins. For a space not even
Peter could have heard his movement or his breath.
In the ebon darkness he rose to his feet, and the night--
lifelessly still for a moment--heard the one choking word that
came from his lips.
And there he stood, the heat of his rage changing to an icy chill,
his heart dragging within him like a chunk of lead, his breath
choking in his throat. Jed Hawkins was dead! He was growing stiff
there in the black trail. He had ceased to breathe. He had ceased
to be a part of life. And the wind, rising a little with the
coming of storm, seemed to whisper and chortle over the horrible
thing, and the lone wolf in Indian Tom's swamp howled weirdly, as
if he smelled death.
Jolly Roger McKay's finger-nails dug into the flesh of his palms.
If he had killed the human viper at his feet, if his own hands had
meted out his punishment, he would not have felt the clammy terror
that wrapped itself about him in the darkness. But he had come too
late. It was Nada who had killed Jed Hawkins. Nada, with her
woman's soul just born in all its glory, had taken the life of her
foster-father. And Canadian law knew no excuse for killing.
The chill crept to his finger-tips, and unconsciously, in a
childish sort of way, he sobbed between his clenched teeth. The
thunder was rolling nearer, and it was like a threatening voice, a
deep-toned booming of a thing inevitable and terrible. He felt the
air shivering about him, and suddenly something moved softly
against his foot, and he heard a questioning whine. It was Peter--
come back to him in this hour when he needed a living thing to
give him courage. With a groan he dropped on his knees again, and
clutched his hands about Peter.
"My God," he breathed huskily. "Peter, she's killed him. And she
mustn't know. We mustn't let anyone know--"
And there he stopped, and Peter felt him growing rigid as stone,
and for many moments Jolly Roger's body seemed as lifeless as that
of the man who lay with up-turned face in the trail. Then he
fumbled in a pocket and found a pencil and an old envelope. And on
the envelope, with the darkness so thick he could not see his
hand, he scribbled, "I killed Jed Hawkins," and after that he
signed his name firmly and fully--"Jolly Roger McKay."
Then he tucked the envelope under Jed Hawkins' body, where the
rain could not get at it. And after that, to make the evidence
complete, he covered the dead man's face with his coat.
"We've got to do it, Peter," he said, and there was a new note in
his voice as he stood up on his feet again. "We've got to do it--
for her. We'll--tell her we caught Jed Hawkins in the trail and
Caution, cleverness, his old mental skill returned to him. He
dragged the boot-legger's body to a new spot, turned it face down,
threw the club away, and kicked up the earth with his boots to
give signs of a struggle.
The note in his voice was triumph--triumph in spite of its
heartbreak--as he turned back over the trail after he had
finished, and spoke to Peter.
"We may have done some things we oughtn't to, Pied-Bot," he said,
"but tonight I sort o' think we've tried to make--restitution. And
if they hang us, which they probably will some time, I sort o'
think it'll make us happy to know we've done it--for her. Eh,
And the moon sailed out for a space, and shone on the dead
whiteness of Jolly Roger's face. And on the lips of that face was
a strange, cold smile, a smile of mastery, of exaltation, and the
eyes were looking straight ahead--the eyes of a man who had made
his sacrifice for a thing more precious to him than his God.
Only now and then did the moon gleam through the slow-moving
masses of black cloud when he came to the edge of the Indian
settlement clearing three miles away, where stood the cabin of the
Missioner. The storm had not broken, but seemed holding back its
forces for one mighty onslaught upon the world. The thunder was
repressed, and the lightning held in leash, with escaping flashes
of it occasionally betraying the impending ambuscades of the sky.
The clearing itself was a blot of stygian darkness, with a yellow
patch of light in the center of it--the window of the Missioner's
cabin. And Jolly Roger stood looking at it for a space, as a
carven thing of rock might have stared. His heart was dead. His
soul crushed. His dream broken. There remained only his brain, his
mind made up, his worship for the girl--a love that had changed
from a thing of joy to a fire of agony within him. Straight ahead
he looked, knowing there was only one thing for him to do. And
only one. There was no alternative. No hope. No change of fortune
that even the power of God might bring about. What lay ahead of
him was inevitable.
After all, there is something unspeakable in the might and glory
of dying for one's country--or for a great love. And Jolly Roger
McKay felt that strength as he strode through the blackness, and
knocked at the door, and went in to face Nada and the little old
gray-haired Missioner in the lampglow.
Swift as one of the flashes of lightning in the sky the anxiety
and fear had gone out of Nada's face, and in an instant it was
flooded with the joy of his coming. She did not mark the strange
change in him, but went to him as she had gone to him in the
trail, and Jolly Roger's arms closed about her, but gently this
time, and very tenderly, as he might have held a little child he
was afraid of hurting. Then she felt the chill of his lips as she
pressed her own to them. Startled, she looked up into his eyes.
And as he had done in the trail, so now Jolly Roger stood her away
from him, and faced the Missioner. In a cold, hard voice he told
what had happened to Nada that evening, and of the barbarous
effort Jed Hawkins had made to sell her to Mooney. Then, from a
pocket inside his shirt, he drew out a small, flat leather wallet,
and thrust it in the little Missioner's hand.
"There's close to a thousand dollars in that," he said. "It's
mine. And I'm giving it to you--for Nada. I want you to keep her,
and care for her, and mebby some day--"
With both her hands Nada clutched his arm. Her eyes had widened.
Swift pallor had driven the color from her face, and a broken cry
was in her voice.
"I'm goin' with you," she protested. "I'm goin' with you--and
"You can't--now," he said. "I've got to go alone, Nada. I went
back--and I killed Jed Hawkins."
Over the roof of the cabin rolled a crash of thunder. As the
explosion of it rocked the floor under their feet, Jolly Roger
pointed to a door, and said,
"Father, if you will leave us alone--just a minute--"
White-faced, clutching the wallet, the little gray Missioner
nodded, and went to the door, and as he opened it and entered into
the darkness of the other room he saw Jolly Roger McKay open wide
his arms, and the girl go into them. After that the storm broke.
The rain descended in a deluge upon the cabin roof. The black
night was filled with the rumble and roar and the hissing
lightning-flare of pent-up elements suddenly freed of bondage. And
in the darkness and tumult the Missioner stood, a little gray man
of tragedy, of deeply buried secrets, a man of prayer and of faith
in God--his heart whispering for guidance and mercy as he waited.
The minutes passed. Five. Ten. And then there came a louder
roaring of the storm, shut off quickly, and the little Missioner
knew that a door was opened--and closed.
He lifted the latch, and looked out again into the lampglow.
Huddled at the side of a chair on the floor, her arms and face
buried in the lustrous, disheveled mass of her shining hair--lay
Nada, and close beside her was Peter. He went to her. Tenderly he
knelt down beside her. His thin arm went about her, and as the
storm raved and shrieked above them he tried to comfort her--and
spoke of God.
And through that storm, his head bowed, his heart gone, went Jolly
Roger McKay--heading north.
Peter, thrust back from the door through which through which his
master had gone, listened vainly for the sound of returning
footsteps in the beat of rain and the crash of thunder outside. A
strange thing had burned itself into his soul, a thing that made
his flesh quiver and set hot fires running in his blood. As a dog
sometimes senses the stealthy approach of death, so he began to
sense the tragedy of this night that had brought with it not only
a chaos of blackness and storm, but an anguish which roused an
answering whimper in his throat as he turned toward Nada.
She was crumpled with her head in her arms, where she had flung
herself with Jolly Roger's last kiss of worship on her lips, and
she was sobbing like a child with its heart broken. And beside her
knelt the old gray Missioner, man of God in the deep forest, who
stroked her hair with his thin hand, whispering courage and
consolation to her, with the wind and rain beating overhead and
the windows rattling to the accompaniment of ghostly voices that
shrieked and wailed in the tree-tops outside.
Peter trembled at the sobbing, but his heart and his desire were
with the man who had gone. In his unreasoning little soul it was
Jed Hawkins who was rattling the windows with his unseen hands and
who was pounding at the door with the wind, and who was filling
the black night with its menace and fear. He hated this man, who
lay back in the trail with his lifeless face turned up to the
deluge that poured out of the sky. And he was afraid of the man,
even as he hated him, and he believed that Nada was afraid of him,
and that because of her fear she was crying there in the middle of
the floor, with Father John patting her shoulder and stroking her
hair, and saying things to her which he could not understand. He
wanted to go to her. He wanted to feel himself close against her,
as Nada had held him so often in those hours when she had
unburdened her grief and her unhappiness to him. But even stronger
than this desire was the one to follow his master.
He went to the door, and thrust his nose against the crack at the
bottom of it. He felt the fierceness of the wind fighting to break
in, and the broken mist of it filled his nostrils. But there came
no scent of Jolly Roger McKay. For a moment he struggled at the
crack with his paws. Then he flopped himself down, his heart
beating fast, and fixed his eyes inquiringly on Nada and the
His four and a half months of life in the big wilderness, and his
weeks of constant comradeship with Jolly Roger, had developed in
him a brain that was older than his body. No process of reasoning
could impinge upon him the fact that his master was an outlaw, but
with the swift experiences of tragedy and hiding and never-ceasing
caution had come instinctive processes which told him almost as
much as reason. He knew something was wrong tonight. It was in the
air. He breathed it. It thrilled in the crash of thunder, in the
lightning fire, in the mighty hands of the wind rocking the cabin
and straining at the windows. And vaguely the knowledge gripped
him that the dead man back in the trail was responsible for it
all, and that because of this something that had happened his
mistress was crying and his master was gone. And he believed he
should also have gone with Jolly Roger into the blackness and
mystery of the storm, to fight with him against the one creature
in all the world he hated--the dead man who lay back in the
thickness of gloom between the forest walls.
And the Missioner was saying to Nada, in a quiet, calm voice out
of which the tragedies of years had burned all excitement and
"God will forgive him, my child. In His mercy He will forgive
Roger McKay, because he killed Jed Hawkins to save YOU. But man
will not forgive. The law has been hunting him because he is an
outlaw, and to outlawry he has added what the law will call
murder. But God will not look at it in that way. He will look into
the heart of the man, the man who sacrificed himself--"
And then, fiercely, Nada struck up the Missioner's comforting
hand, and Peter saw her young face white as star-dust in the
"I don't care what God thinks," she cried passionately. "God
didn't do right today. Mister Roger told me everything, that he
was an outlaw, an' I oughtn't to marry him. But I didn't care. I
loved him. I could hide with him. An' we were coming to have you
marry us tonight when God let Jed Hawkins drag me away, to sell me
to a man over on the railroad--an' it was God who let Mister Roger
go back and kill him. I tell you He didn't do right! He didn't--he
didn't--because Mister Roger brought me the first happiness I ever
knew, an' I loved him, an' he loved me--an' God was wicked to let
him kill Jed Hawkins--"
Her voice cried out, a woman's soul broken in a girl's body, and
Peter whimpered and watched the Missioner as he raised Nada to her
feet and went with her into his bedroom, where a few minutes
before he had lighted a lamp. And Peter crept in quietly after
them, and when the Missioner had gone and closed the door, leaving
them alone in their tragedy, Nada seemed to see him for the first
time and slowly she reached out her arms.
"Peter!" she whispered. "Peter--Peter--"
In the minutes that followed, Peter could feel her heart beating.
Clutched against her breast he looked up at the white, beautiful
face, the trembling throat, the wide-open blue eyes staring at the
one black window between them and the outside night. A lull had
come in the storm. It was quiet and ominous stillness, and the
ticking of a clock, old and gray like the Missioner himself,
filled the room. And Nada, seated on the edge of Father John's
bed, no longer looked like the young girl of "seventeen goin' on
eighteen." That afternoon, in the hidden jackpine open, with its
sweet-scented jasmines, its violets and its crimson strawberries
under their feet, the soul of a woman had taken possession of her
body. In that hour the first happiness of her life had come to
her. She had heard Jolly Roger McKay tell her those things which
she already knew--that he was an outlaw, and that he was hiding
down on the near-edge of civilization because the Royal Mounted
were after him farther north--and that he was not fit to love her,
and that it was a crime to let her love him. It was then the soul
of the woman had come to her in all its triumph. She had made her
choice, definitely and decisively, without hesitation and without
fear. And now, as she stared unseeingly at the window against
which the rain was beating, the woman in her girlish body rose in
her mightier than in the hour of her happiness, fighting to find a
way--crying out for the man she loved.
Her mind swept back in a single flash through all the years she
had lived, through her years of unhappiness and torment as the
foster-girl of Jed Hawkins and his broken, beaten wife; through
summers and winters that had seemed ages to her, eternities of
desolation, of heartache, of loneliness, with the big wilderness
her one friend on earth. As the window rattled in a fresh blast of
storm, she thought of the day months ago when she had accidentally
stumbled upon the hiding-place of Roger McKay. Since that day he
had been her God, and she had lived in a paradise. He had been
father, mother, brother, and at last--what she most yearned for--a
lover to her. And this day, when for the first time he had held
her in his arms, when the happiness of all the earth had reached
out to them, God had put it into Jed Hawkins' heart to destroy
her--and Jolly Roger had killed him!
With a sharp little cry she sprang to her feet, so suddenly that
Peter fell with a thump to the floor. He looked up at her,
puzzled, his jaws half agape. She was breathing quickly. Her
slender body was quivering. Suddenly Peter saw the fire in her
eyes and the flame that was rushing into her white cheeks. Then
she turned to him, and panted in a wild little whisper, so low
that the Missioner could not hear:
"Peter, I was wrong. God wasn't wicked to let Mister Roger kill
Jed Hawkins. He oughta been killed. An' God meant him to be
killed. Peter--Peter--we don't care if he's an outlaw! We're goin'
with him. We're goin'--goin'--"
She sprang to the window, and Peter was at her heels as she
strained at it with all her strength, and he could hear her
"We're goin' with him, Peter. We're goin'--if we die for it!"
An inch at a time she pried the window up. The storm beat in. A
gust of wind blew out the light, but in the last flare of it Nada
saw a knife in an Eskimo sheath hanging on the wall. She groped
for it, and clutched it in her hand as she climbed through the
window and dropped to the soggy ground beneath. In a single leap
Peter followed her. Blackness swallowed them as they turned toward
the trail leading north--the only trail which Jolly Roger could
travel on a night like this. They heard the voice of the Missioner
calling from the window behind them. Then a crash of thunder set
the earth rolling under their feet, and the lull in the storm came
to an end. The sky split open with the vivid fire of lightning.
The trees wailed and whined, the rain fell again in a smothering
deluge, and through it Nada ran, gripping the knife as her one
defense against the demons of darkness--and always close at her
side ran Peter.
He could not see her in that pitchy blackness, except when the
lightning flashes came. Then she was like a ghostly wraith, with
drenched clothes clinging to her until she seemed scarcely
dressed, her wet hair streaming and her wide, staring eyes looking
straight ahead. After the lightning flashes, when the world was
darkest, he could hear the stumbling tread of her feet and the
panting of her breath, and now and then the swish of brush as it
struck across her face and breast. The rain had washed away the
scent of his master's feet but he knew they were following Jolly
Roger, and that the girl was running to overtake him. In him was
the desire to rush ahead, to travel faster through the night, but
Nada's stumbling feet and her panting breath and the strange white
pictures he saw of her when the sky split open with fire held him
back. Something told him that Nada must reach Jolly Roger. And he
was afraid she would stop. He wanted to bark to give her
encouragement, as he had often barked in their playful races in
the green plain-lands on the farther side of Cragg's Ridge. But
the rain choked him. It beat down upon him with the weight of
heavy hands, it slushed up into his face from pools in the trail
and drove the breath from him when he attempted to open his jaws.
So he ran close--so close that at times Nada felt the touch of his
body against her.
In these first minutes of her fight to overtake the man she loved
Nada heard but one voice--a voice crying out from her heart and
brain and soul, a voice rising above the tumult of thunder and
wind, urging her on, whipping the strength from her frail body in
pitiless exhortation. Jolly Roger was less than half an hour ahead
of her. And she must overtake him--quickly--before the forests
swallowed him, before he was gone from her life forever.
The wall of blackness against which she ran did not frighten her.
When the brush tore at her face and hair she swung free of it, and
stumbled on. Twice she ran blindly into broken trees that lay
across her path, and dragged her bruised body through their
twisted tops, moaning to Peter and clutching tightly to the
sheathed knife in her hand. And the wild spirits that possessed
the night seemed to gather about her, and over her, exulting in
the helplessness of their victim, shrieking in weird and savage
joy at the discovery of this human plaything struggling against
their might. Never had Peter heard thunder as he heard it now. It
rocked the earth under his feet. It filled the world with a
ceaseless rumble, and the lightning came like flashes from swift-
loading guns, and with it all a terrific assault of wind and rain
that at last drove Nada down in a crumpled heap, panting for
breath, with hands groping out wildly for him.
Peter came to them, sodden and shivering. His warm tongue found
the palm of her hand, and for a space Nada hugged him close to
her, while she bowed her head until her drenched curls became a
part of the mud and water of the trail. Peter could hear her
sobbing for breath. And then suddenly, there came a change. The
thunder was sweeping eastward. The lightning was going with it.
The wind died out in wailing sobs among the treetops, and the rain
fell straight down. Swiftly as its fury had come, the July storm
was passing. And Nada staggered to her feet again and went on.
Her mind began to react with the lessening of the storm, dragging
itself out quickly from under the oppression of fear and shock.
She began to reason, and with that reason the beginning of faith
and confidence gave her new strength. She knew that Jolly Roger
would take this trail, for it was the one trail leading from the
Missioner's cabin through the thick forest country north. And in
half an hour he would not travel far. The thrilling thought came
to her that possibly he had sought shelter in the lee of a big
tree trunk during the fury of the storm. If he had done that he
would be near, very near. She paused in the trail and gathered her
breath, and cried out his name. Three times she called it, and
only the low whine in Peter's throat came in answer. Twice again
during the next ten minutes she cried out as loudly as she could
into the darkness. And still no answer came back to her through
the gloom ahead.
The trail had dipped, and she felt the deepening slush of swamp-
mire under her feet. She sank in it to her shoe-tops, and stumbled
into pools knee-deep, and Peter wallowed in it to his belly. A
quarter of an hour they fought through it to the rising ground
beyond. And by that time the last of the black storm clouds had
passed overhead. The rain had ceased. The rumble of thunder came
more faintly. There was no lightning, and the tree-tops began to
whisper softly, as if rejoicing in the passing of the wind. About
them--everywhere--they could hear the run and drip of water, the
weeping of the drenched trees, the gurgle of flooded pools, and
the trickle of tiny rivulets that splashed about their feet.
Through a rift in the breaking clouds overhead came a passing
flash of the moon.
"We'll find him now, Peter," moaned the girl. "We'll find him--
now. He can't be very far ahead--"
And Peter waited, holding his breath, listening for an answer to
the cry that went out for Jolly Roger McKay.
The glory of July midnight, with a round, full moon straight
overhead, followed the stress of storm. The world had been lashed
and inundated, every tree whipped of its rot and slag, every blade
of grass and flower washed clean. Out of the earth rose sweet
smells of growing life, the musky fragrance of deep moss and
needle-mold, and through the clean air drifted faintly the aroma
of cedar and balsam and the subtle tang of unending canopies and
glistening tapestries of evergreen breathing into the night. The
deep forest seemed to tremble with the presence of an invisible
and mysterious life--life that was still, yet wide-awake,
breathing, watchful, drinking in the rejuvenating tonic of the air
which had so quietly followed thunder and lightning and the roar
of wind and rain. And the moon, like a queen who had so ordered
these things, looked down in a mighty triumph. Her radiance,
without dust or fog or forest-smoke to impede its way, was like
the mellow glow of half-day. It streamed through the treetops in
paths of gold and silver, throwing dark shadows where it failed to
penetrate, and gathering in wide pools where its floods poured
through broad rifts in the roofs of the forest. And the trail,
leading north, was like a river of shimmering silver, splitting
the wilderness from earth to sky.
In this trail, clearly made in the wet soil, were Jolly Roger's
foot-prints, and in a wider space, where at some time a trapper
had cleared himself a spot for his tepee or shack, Jolly Roger had
paused to rest after his fight through the storm--and had then
continued on his way. And into this clearing, three hours after
they left the Missioner's cabin, came Nada and Peter.
They came slowly, the girl a slim wraith in the moon-light; in the
open they stood for a moment, and Peter's heart weighed heavily
within him as his mistress cried out once more for Jolly Roger.
Her voice rose only in a sob, and ended in a sob. The last of her
strength was gone. Her little figure swayed, and her face was
white and haggard, and in her drawn lips and staring eyes was the
agony of despair. She had lost, and she knew that she had lost as
she crumpled down in the trail, crying out sobbingly to the
footprints which led so clearly ahead of her.
"Peter, I can't go on," she moaned. "I can't--go on--"
Her hands clutched at her breast. Peter saw the glint of the
moonlight on the ivory sheath of the Eskimo knife, and he saw her
white face turned up to the sky--and also that her lips were
moving, but he did not hear his name come from them, or any other
sound. He whined, and foot by foot began to nose along the trail
on the scent left by Jolly Roger. It was very clear to his
nostrils, and it thrilled him. He looked back, and again he whined
his encouragement to the girl.
"Peter!" she called. "Peter!"
He returned to her. She had drawn the knife out of its scabbard,
and the cold steel glistened in her hand. Her eyes were shining,
and she reached out and clutched Peter close up against her, so
that he could hear the choke and throb of her heart.
"Oh, Peter, Peter," she panted. "If you could only talk! If you
could run and catch Mister Roger, an' tell him I'm here, an' that
he must come back--"
She hugged him closer. He sensed the sudden thrill that leapt
through her body.
"Peter," she whispered, "will you do it?"
For a few moments she did not seem to breathe. Then he heard a
quick little cry, a sob of inspiration and hope, and her arms came
from about him, and he saw the knife flashing in the yellow
He did not understand, but he knew that he must watch her
carefully. She had bent her head, and her hair, nearly dry, glowed
softly in the face of the moon. Her hands were fumbling in the
disheveled curls, and Peter saw the knife flash back and forth,
and heard the cut of it, and then he saw that in her hand she held
a thick brown tress of hair that she had severed from her head. He
was puzzled. And Nada dropped the knife, and his curiosity
increased when she tore a great piece out of her tattered dress,
and carefully wrapped the tress of hair in it. Then she drew him
to her again, and tied the knotted fold of dress securely about
his neck; after that she tore other strips from her dress, and
wound them about his neck until he felt muffled and half
And all the time she was talking to him in a half sobbing, excited
little voice, and the blood in Peter's body ran swifter, and the
strange thrill in him was greater. When she had finished she rose
to her feet, and stood there swaying back and forth, like one of
the spruce-top shadows, while she pointed up the moonlit trail.
"Go, Peter!" she cried softly. "Quick! Follow him, Peter--catch
him--bring him back! Mister Roger--Jolly Roger--go, Peter! Go--go
It was strange to Peter. But he was beginning to understand. He
sniffed in Jolly Roger's footprints, and then he looked up
quickly, and saw that it had pleased the girl. She was urging him
on. He sniffed from one footprint to another, and Nada clapped her
hands and cried out that he was right--for him to hurry--hurry--
Impulse, thought, swiftly growing knowledge of something to be
done thrilled in his brain. Nada wanted him to go. She wanted him
to go to Jolly Roger. And she had put something around his neck
which she wanted him to take with him. He whined eagerly, a bit
excitedly. Then he began to trot. Instinctively it was his test.
She did not call him back. He flattened his ears, listening for
her command to return, but it did not come. And then the thrill in
him leapt over all other things. He was right. He was not
abandoning Nada. He was not running away. She WANTED him to go!
The night swallowed him. He became a part of the yellow floods of
its moonlight, a part of its shifting shadows, a part of its
stillness, its mystery, its promise of impending things. He knew
that grim and terrible happenings had come with the storm, and he
still sensed the nearness of tragedy in this night-world through
which he was passing. He did not go swiftly, yet he went three
times as fast as the girl and he had traveled together. He was
cautious and watchful, and at intervals he stopped and listened,
and swallowed hard to keep the whine of eagerness out of his
throat. Now that he was alone every instinct in him was keyed to
the pulse and beat of life about him. He knew the Night People of
the deep forests were awake. Softly padded, clawed, sharp-beaked
and feathered--the prowlers of darkness were on the move. With the
stillness of shadows they were stealing through the moonlit
corridors of the wilderness, or hovering gray-winged and ghostly
in the ambuscades of the treetops, eager to waylay and kill,
hungering for the flesh and blood of creatures weaker than
themselves. Peter knew. Both heritage and experience warned him.
And he watched the shadows, and sniffed the air, and kept his
fangs half bared and ready as he followed the trail of McKay.
He was not stirred by the impulse of adventure alone. Without the
finesse of what man might charitably call reason in a beast, he
had sensed a responsibility. It was present in the closely drawn
strips of faded cloth about his neck. It was, in a way, a part of
the girl herself, a part of her flesh and blood, a part of her
spirit--something vital to her and dependent upon him. He was
ready to guard it with every instinct of caution and every ounce
of courage there was in him. And to protect it meant to fight.
That was the first law of his breed, the primal warning which came
to him through the red blood of many generations of wilderness
forefathers. So he listened, and he watched, and his blood pounded
hot in his veins as he followed the footprints in the trail. A bit
of brush, swinging suddenly free from where it had been prisoned
by the storm, drew a snarl from him as he faced the sound with the
quickness of a cat. A gray streak, passing swiftly over the trail
ahead of him, stirred a low growl in his throat. It was a lynx,
and for a space Peter paused, and then sped soft-footed past the
moon-lit spot where the stiletto-clawed menace of the woods had
Now that he was alone, and no longer accompanied by a human
presence whose footsteps and scent held the wild things aloof and
still, Peter felt nearer and nearer to him the beat and stir of
life. Powerful beaks, instead of remaining closed and without
sound, snapped and hissed at him as the big gray owls watched his
passing. He heard the rustling of brush, soft as the stir of a
woman's dress, where living things were secretly moving, and he
heard the louder crash of clumsy and piggish feet, and caught the
strong scent of a porcupine as it waddled to its midnight lunch of
poplar bark. Then the trail ended, and Jolly Roger's scent led
into the pathless forest, with its shifting streams and pools of
moonlight, its shadows and black pits of darkness. And here--now--
Peter began his trespass into the strongholds of the People of the
Night. He heard a wolf howl, a cry filled with loneliness, yet
with a shivering death-note in it; he caught the musky, skunkish
odor of a fox that was stalking prey in the face of a whispering
breath of wind; once, in a moment of dead stillness, he listened
to the snap of teeth and the crackle of bones in one of the dark
pits, where a fisher-cat--with eyes that gleamed like coals of
fire--was devouring the warm and bleeding carcass of a mother
partridge. And beaks snapped at him more menacingly as he went on,
and gray shapes floated over his head, and now and then he heard
the cries of dying things--the agonized squeak of a wood-mouse,
the cry of a day-bird torn from its sleeping place by a sinuous,
beady-eyed creature of fur and claw, the noisy screaming of a
rabbit swooped upon and pierced to the vitals by one of the gray-
feathered pirates of the air. And then, squarely in the center of
a great pool of moonlight, Peter came upon a monster. It was a
bear, a huge mother bear, with two butter-fat cubs wrestling and
rolling in the moon glow. Peter had never seen a bear. But the
mother, who raised her brown nose suddenly from the cool mold out
of which she had been digging lily-bulbs, had seen dogs. She had
seen many dogs, and she had heard their howl, and she knew that
always they traveled with man. She gave a deep, chesty sniff, and
close after that sniff a WHOOF that startled the cubs like the
lashing end of a whip. They rolled to her, and with two cuffs of
the mother's huge paws they were headed in the right direction,
and all three crashed off into darkness.
In spite of his swelling heart Peter let out a little yip. It was
a great satisfaction, just at a moment when his nerves were
getting unsteady, to discover that a monster like this one in the
moonlight was anxious to run away from him. And Peter went on, a
bit of pride and jauntiness in his step, his bony tail a little
A mile farther on, in another yellow pool of the moon, lay the
partly devoured carcass of a fawn. A wolf had killed it, and had
fed, and now two giant owls were rending and tearing in the flesh
and bowels of what the wolf had left. They were Gargantuans of
their kind, one a male, the other a female. Their talons warm in
blood, their beaks red, their slow brains drunk with a ravenous
greed, they rose on their great wings in sullen rage when Peter
came suddenly upon them. He had ceased to be afraid of owls. There
was something shivery in the gritting of their beaks, especially
in the dark places, but they had never attacked him, and had
always kept out of his reach. So their presence in a black spruce
top directly over the dead fawn did not hold him back now. He
sniffed at the fresh, sweet meat, and hunger all at once possessed
him. Where the wolf had stripped open a tender flank he began to
eat, and as he ate he growled, so that warning of his
possessorship reached the spruce top.
In answer to it came a stir of wings, and the male owl launched
himself out into the moon glow. The female followed. For a few
moments they floated like gray ghosts over Peter, silent as the
night shadows. Then, with the suddenness and speed of a bolt from
a catapult, the giant male shot out of a silvery mist of gloom and
struck Peter. The two rolled over the carcass of the fawn, and for
a space Peter was dazed by the thundering beat of powerful wings,
and the hammering of the owl's beak at the back of his neck. The
male had missed his claw-hold, and driven by rage and ferocity,
fought to impale his victim from the ground, without launching
himself into the air again. Swiftly he struck, again and again,
while his wings beat like clubs. Suddenly his talons sank into the
cloth wrapped about Peter's neck. Terror and shock gave way to a
fighting madness inside Peter now. He struck up, and buried his
fangs in a mass of feathers so thick he could not feel the flesh.
He tore at the padded breast, snarling and beating with his feet,
and then, as the stiletto-points of the owl's talons sank through
the cloth into his neck, his jaws closed on one of the huge bird's
legs. His teeth sank deep, there was a snapping and grinding of
tendon and bone, and a hissing squawk of pain and fear came from
above him as the owl made a mighty effort to launch himself free.
As the five-foot pinions beat the air Peter was lifted from the
ground. But the owl's talons were hopelessly entangled in the
cloth, and the two fell in a heap again. Peter scarcely sensed
what happened after that, except that he was struggling against
death. He closed his eyes, and the leg between his jaws was broken
and twisted into pulp. The wings beat about him in a deafening
thunder, and the owl's beak tore at his flesh, until the pool of
moonlight in which they fought was red with blood. At last
something gave way. There was a ghastly cry that was like the cry
of neither bird nor beast, a weak flutter of wings, and Gargantua
of the Air staggered up into the treetops and fell with a crash
among the thick boughs of the spruce.
Peter raised himself weakly, the severed leg of the owl dropping
from his jaws. He was half blinded. Every muscle in his body
seemed to be torn and bleeding, yet in his discomfort the
thrilling conviction came to him that he had won. He tensed
himself for another attack, hugging the ground closely as he
watched and waited, but no attack came. He could hear the flutter
and wheeze of his maimed adversary, and slowly he drew himself
back--still facing the scene of battle--until in a farther patch
of gloom he turned once more to his business of following the
trail of Jolly Roger McKay.
There was no mark of bravado in his advance now. If he had
possessed an over-growing confidence, Gargantua's attack had set
it back, and he stole like a shifty fox through the night. Driven
into his brain was the knowledge that all things were not afraid
of him, for even the snapping beaks and floating gray shapes to
which he had paid but little attention had now become a deadly
menace. His egoism had suffered a jolt, a healthful reaction from
its too swift ascendency. He sensed the narrowness of his escape
without the mental action of reasoning it out, and his injuries
were secondary to the oppressive horror of the uncanny combat out
of which he had come alive. Yet this horror was not a fear.
Heretofore he had recognized the ghostly owl-shapes of night more
or less as a curious part of darkness, inspiring neither like nor
dislike in him. Now he hated them, and ever after his fangs
gleamed white when one of them floated over his head.
He was badly hurt. There were ragged tears in his flank and back,
and a last stroke of Gargantua's talons had stabbed his shoulder
to the bone. Blood dripped from him, and one of his eyes was
closing, so that shapes and shadows were grotesquely dim in the
night. Instinct and caution, and the burning pains in his body,
urged him to lie down in a thicket and wait for the day. But
stronger than these were memory of the girl's urging voice, the
vague thrill of the cloth still about his neck, and the freshness
of Jolly Roger's trail as it kept straight on through the forest's
moonlit corridors and caverns of gloom.
It was in the first graying light of July dawn that Peter dragged
himself up the rough side of a ridge and looked down into a narrow
strip of plain on the other side. Just as Nada had given up in
weakness and despair, so now he was almost ready to quit. He had
traveled miles since the owl fight, and his wounds had stiffened,
and with every step gave him excruciating pain. His injured eye
was entirely closed, and there was a strange, dull ache in the
back of his head, where Gargantua had pounded him with his beak.
The strip of valley, half hidden in its silvery mist of dawn,
seemed a long distance away to Peter, and he dropped on his belly
and began to lick his raw shoulder with a feverish tongue. He was
sick and tired, and the futility of going farther oppressed him.
He looked again down into the strip of plain, and whined.
Then, suddenly, he smelled something that was not the musty fog-
mist that hung between the ridges. It was smoke. Peter's heart
beat faster, and he pulled himself to his feet, and went in its
Hidden in a little grassy cup between two great boulders that
thrust themselves out from the face of the ridge, he found Jolly
Roger. First he saw the smouldering embers of a fire that was
almost out--and then his master. Jolly Roger was asleep. Storm-
beaten and strangely haggard and gray his face was turned to the
sky. Peter did not awaken him. There was something in his master's
face that quieted the low whimper in his throat. Very gently he
crept to him, and lay down. The movement, slight as it was, made
the man stir. His hand rose, and then fell limply across Peter's
body. But the fingers moved.
Unconsciously, as if guided by the spirit and prayer of the girl
waiting far back in the forest, they twined about the cloth around
Peter's neck--his message to his master.
And for a long time after that, as the sun rose over a wonderful
world, Peter and his master slept.
It was the restlessness of Peter that roused Jolly Roger. Half
awake, and before he opened his eyes, life seized upon him where
sleep had cut it off for a time last night. His muscles ached. His
neck was stiff. He seemed weighted like a log to the hard earth.
Swiftly the experience of the preceding hours rushed upon him, and
it was in the first of this wakefulness that he felt the presence
He sat up and stared wide-eyed at the dog. The fact that Peter had
escaped from the cabin, and had followed him, was not altogether
amazing. It was quite the natural thing for a one-man dog to do.
But the unexpectedness of it held McKay speechless, and at first a
little disappointed. It was as if Peter had deliberately betrayed
a trust. During the storm and flight of the night McKay had
thought of him as the one connecting link remaining between him
and the girl he loved. He had left Peter to fill his place, to
guard and watch and keep alive the memory of the man who was gone.
For him there had been something of consolation in this giving up
of his comradeship to Nada. And Peter had turned traitor.
Even Peter seemed to sense the argument and condemnation that was
passing behind McKay's unsmiling eyes. He did not move, but lay
squatted on his belly, with his nose straight out on the ground
between his forepaws. It was his attitude of self-immolation. His
acknowledgment of the other's right to strike with lash or club.
Yet in his eyes, bright and steady behind his mop of whiskers,
Jolly Roger saw a prayer.
Without a word he held out his arms. It was all Peter needed, and
in a moment he was hugged up close against McKay. After all, there
was a mighty something that reached from heart to heart of these
two, and Jolly Roger said, with a sound that was half laugh and
half sob in his throat,
"Pied-Bot, you devil--you little devil--"
His fingers closed in the cloth about Peter's neck, and his heart
jumped when he saw what it was--a piece of Nada's dress. Peter,
realizing that at last the importance of his mission was
understood, waited in eager watchfulness while his master untied
the knot. And in another moment, out in the clean and glorious sun
that had followed storm, McKay held the shining tress of Nada's
It was a real sob that broke in his throat now, and Peter saw him
crush the shining thing to his face, and hold it there, while
strange quivers ran through his strong shoulders, and a wetness
that was not rain gathered in his eyes.
"God bless her!" he whispered. And then he said, "I wish I was a
kid, Peter--a kid. Because--if I ever wanted to cry--IT'S NOW"
In his face, even with the tears and the strange quivering of his
lips, Peter saw a radiance that was joy. And McKay stood up, and
looked south, back over the trail he had followed through the
blackness and storm of night. He was visioning things. He saw Nada
in Father John's cabin, urging Peter out into the wild tumult of
thunder and lightning with that precious part of her which she
knew he would love forever. Her last message to him. Her last
promise of love and faith until the end of time.
He guessed only the beginning of the truth. And Peter, denied the
power of thought transmission because of an error in the creation
of things, ran back a little way over the trail, trying to tell
his master that Nada had come with him through the storm, and was
back in the deep forest calling for him to return.
But McKay's mind saw nothing beyond the dimly lighted room of the
He pressed his lips to the silken tress of Nada's hair, still damp
with the rain; and after that, with the care of a miser he
smoothed it out, and tied the end of the tress tightly with a
string, and put it away in the soft buckskin wallet which he
There was a new singing in his heart as he gathered sticks with
which to build a small fire, for after this he would not travel
That day they went on; and day followed day, until August came,
and north--still farther north they went into the illimitable
wilderness which reached out in the drowsing stillness of the
Flying-up-Month--the month when newly fledged things take to their
wings, and the deep forests lie asleep.
Days added themselves into weeks, until at last they were in the
country of the Reindeer waterways.
To the east was Hudson's Bay; westward lay the black forests and
twisting waterways of Upper Saskatchewan; and north--always north
--beckoned the lonely plains and unmapped wildernesses of the
Athabasca, the Slave and the Great Bear--toward which far country
their trail was slowly but surely wending its way.
The woodlands and swamps were now empty of man. Cabin and shack
and Indian tepee were lifeless, and waited in the desolation of
abandonment. No smoke rose in the tree-tops; no howl of dog came
with the early dawn and the setting sun; trap lines were over-
growing, and laughter and song and the ring of the trapper's axe
were gone, leaving behind a brooding silence that seemed to pulse
and thrill like a great heart--the heart of the wild unchained for
a space from its human bondage.
It was the vacation time--the midsummer carnival weeks of the
wilderness people. Wild things were breeding. Fur was not good.
Flesh was unfit to kill. And so they had disappeared, man, woman
and child, and their dogs as well, to foregather at the Hudson's
Bay Company's posts scattered here and there in the fastnesses of
the wilderness lands. A few weeks more and they would return.
Cabins would send up their smoke again. Brown-faced children would
play about the tepee door. Ten thousand dwellers of the forests,
white and half-breed and Indian born, would trickle in twos and
threes and family groups back into the age-old trade of a domain
that reached from Hudson's Bay to the western mountains and from
the Height of Land to the Arctic Sea.
Until then nature was free, and in its freedom ran in riotous
silence over the land. These were days when the wolf lay with her
young, but did not howl; when the lynx yawned sleepily, and hunted
but little--days of breeding, nights of drowsy whisperings, and of
big red moons, and of streams rippling softly at lowest ebb while
they dreamed of rains and flood-time. And through it all--through
the lazy drone of insects, the rustling sighs of the tree-tops and
the subdued notes of living things ran a low and tremulous
whispering, as if nature had found for itself a new language in
this temporary absence of man.
To Jolly Roger this was Life, It breathed for him out of the cool
earth. He heard it over him, and under him, and on all sides of
him where other ears would have found only a thing vast and
oppressive and silent. On what he called these "motherhood days of
the earth" the passing years had built his faith and his creed.
One evening he stopped for camp at the edge of the Burntwood. From
his feet reached out the wide river, ankle deep in places, knee
deep in others, rippling and singing between sandbars and
driftwood where in May and June it had roared with the fury of
flood Peter, half asleep after their day's travel through a hot
forests watched his master. Since their flight from the edge of
civilization far south he had grown heavier and broadened out. The
hardship of adventuring and the craft of fighting for food and
life had whipped the last of his puppyhood behind him At six
months of age he was scarred, and lithe-muscled, and ready for
instant action at all times. Through the mop of Airedale whiskers
that covered his face his bright eyes were ever alert, and always
they watched the back-trail as he wondered why the slim, blue-eyed
girl they both loved and missed so much did not come. And vaguely
he wondered why it was that his master always went on and on, and
never waited for her to catch up with them.
And Jolly Roger was changed. He was not the plump and rosy-faced
wilderness freebooter who whistled and sang away down at Cragg's
Ridge even when he knew the Law was at his heels. The steadiness
of their flight had thinned him, and a graver look had settled in
his face. But in his clear eyes was still the love of life--a
thing even stronger than the grief which was eating at his heart
as their trail reached steadily toward the Barren Lands.
In the sunset glow of this late afternoon Peter's watchful eyes
saw his master draw forth their treasure.
It was something he had come to look for, and expect--once, twice,
and sometimes half a dozen times between the rising and the
setting of the sun. And at night, when they paused in their flight
for the day, Jolly Roger never failed to do what he was doing now.
Peter drew nearer to where his master was sitting with his back to
the big rock, and his eyes glistened. Always he caught the sweet,
illusive perfume of the girl when Jolly Roger drew out their
preciously guarded package. He unwrapped it gently now, and in a
moment held in his hands the tress of Nada's hair, the last of her
they would ever possess or see. And Peter wondered again why they
did not go back to where they had left the rest of the girl. Many
times, seeing his restlessness and his yearning, Jolly Roger had
tried to make him understand. And Peter tried to comprehend. But
always in his dreams he was with the girl he loved, following her,
playing with her, fighting for her, hearing her voice--feeling the
touch of her hand. In his dog soul he wanted her, just as Jolly
Roger wanted her with all the yearning and heartbreak of the man.
Yet always when he awoke from his dreams they went on again--not
south--but north. To Peter this was hopeless mystery, and he
possessed no power of reason to solve it. Nor could he speak in
words the message which he carried in his heart--that last crying
agony of the girl when she had sent him out on the trail of Roger
McKay, entreating him to bring back the man she loved and would
always love in spite of all the broken and unbroken laws in the
That night, as they lay beside the Burntwood, Peter heard his
master crying out Nada's name in his sleep.
And the next dawn they went on--still farther north.
In these days and weeks, with the hot inundation of the wilderness
about him, McKay fought doggedly against the forces which were
struggling to break down the first law of his creed. The law might
catch him, and probably would, and when it caught him the law
might hang him--and probably would. But it would never KNOW him.
There was something grimly and tragically humorous in this. It
would never know of the consuming purity of his worship for little
children, and old people--and women. It would laugh at the
religion he had built up for himself, and it would cackle
tauntingly if he dared to say he was not wholly bad. For it
believed he was bad, and it believed he had killed Jed Hawkins,
and he knew that seven hundred men were anxious to get him, dead
But was he bad?
He took the matter up one evening, with Peter.
"If I'm bad, mebby it isn't all my fault, Pied-Bot," he said.
"Mebby it's this--" and he swept his arms out to the gathering
night." I was born in the open, on a night just like this is going
to be. My mother, before she died, told me many times how she
watched the moon come up that night, and how it seemed to look
down on her, and talk to her, like a living thing. And I've loved
the moon ever since, and the sun, and everything that's outdoors--
and if there's a God I don't believe He ever intended man to make
a law that wasn't right according to the plans He laid out. That's
where I've got in wrong, Pied-Bot, I haven't always believed in
man-made law, and I've settled a lot of things in my own way. And
I guess I've loved trees and flowers and sunshine and wind and
storm too much. I've just wandered. And I've done things along the
way. The thrill of it got into me, Pied-Bot, and--the law wants
Peter heard the subdued humor of the man, a low laugh that held
neither fear nor regret.
"It was the Treaty Money first," he went on, leaning very
seriously toward Peter, as if he expected an argument. "You see,
Yellow Bird was in that particular tribe, Pied-Bot. I remember her
as she looked to me when a boy, with her two long, shining black
braids and her face that was almost as beautiful to me as my
mother's. My mother loved her, and she loved my mother, and I
loved Yellow Bird, just as a child loves a fairy. And always
Yellow Bird has been my fairy, Peter. I guess child worship is the
one thing that lasts through life, always remaining ideal, and
never forgotten. Years after my mother's death, when I was a young
man, and had been down to Montreal and Ottawa and Quebec, I went
back to Yellow Bird's tribe. And it was starving, Pied-Bot.
Starving to death!"
Reminiscent tenderness and humor were gone from McKay's voice. It
was hard and flinty.
"It was winter," he continued, "the dead of winter. And cold. So
cold that even the wolves and foxes had buried themselves in. No
fish that autumn, no game in the deep snows, and the Indians were
starving. Pied-Bot, my heart went dead when I saw Yellow Bird.
There didn't seem to be anything left of her but her eyes and her
hair--those two great, shining braids, and eyes that were big and
deep and dark, like beautiful pools. Boy, you never saw an Indian
--an Indian like Yellow Bird--cry. They don't cry very much. But
when that childhood fairy of mine first saw me she just stood
there, swaying in her weakness, and the tears filled those big,
wide-open eyes and ran down her thin cheeks. She had married Slim
Buck. Two of their three children had died within a fortnight.
Slim Buck was dying of hunger and exhaustion. And Yellow Bird's
heart was broken, and her soul was crying out for God to let her
lie down beside Slim Buck and die with him--when I happened along.
"Peter--" Jolly Roger leaned over in the thickening dusk, and his
eyes gleamed. "Peter, if there's a God, an' He thinks I did wrong
then, let Him strike me dead right here! I'm willin'. I found out
what the trouble was. There was a new Indian Agent, a cur. And
near the tribe was a Free Trader, another cur. The two got
together. The Agent sent up the Treaty Money, and along with it--
underground, mind you--he sent a lot of whiskey to the Free
Trader. Inside of five days the whiskey got the Treaty Money from
the Indians. Then came winter. Everything went bad, When I came--
and found out what had happened--eighteen out of sixty had died,
and inside of another two weeks half the others would follow.
Pied-Bot, away back--somewhere--there must have been a pirate
before me--mebby a great-grandfather of mine. I set out, I came
back in three days, and I had a sledge-load of grub, and warm
things to wear--plenty of them. My God, how those starving things
did eat! I went again, and returned in another week, with a still
bigger sledge-load. And Yellow Bird was getting beautiful again,
and Slim Buck was on his feet, growing strong, and there was
happiness--and I think God A'mighty was glad. I kept it up for two
months. Then the back-bone of the winter broke. Game came into the
country I left them well supplied--and skipped. That was what made
me an outlaw, Pied-Bot. That!"
He chuckled, and Peter heard the rubbing of his hands in the
"Want to know why?" he asked. "Well, you see, I went over to the
Free Trader's, and this God the law don't take into account went
with me, and we found the skunk alone. First I licked him until he
was almost dead. Then, sticking a knife into him about half an
inch, I made him write a note saying he was called south suddenly,
and authorizing me to take charge in his absence. Then I chained
him in a dugout in a place where nobody would find him. And I took
charge. Pied-Bot, I sure did! Everybody was on the trap-lines, and
I wasn't bothered much by callers. And I fed and clothed my tribe
for eight straight weeks, fed 'em until they grew fat, Boy--and
Yellow Bird's eyes were bright as stars again. Then I brought
Roach--that was his name--back to his empty post, and I lectured
him, an' gave him another licking--and left."
McKay rose to his feet. The first stars were peeping out of the
velvety darkness of the sky, and Peter heard his master draw in a
deep breath--the breath of a man whose lungs rejoice in the glory
After a moment he said,
"And the Royal Mounted have been after me ever since that winter,
Peter. And the harder they've chased me the more I've given them
reason to chase me. I half killed Beaudin, the Government mail-
runner, because he insulted another man's wife when that man--my
friend--was away. Then Beaudin, seeing his chance, robbed the mail
himself, and the crime was laid to me. Well, I got even, and stuck
up a mail-sledge myself--but I guess there was a good reason for
it. I've done a lot of things since then, but I've done it all
with my naked fists, and I've never put a bullet or a knife into a
man except Roach the Free Trader. And the funniest thing of the
whole business, Pied-Bot, is this--I didn't kill Jed Hawkins. Some
day mebby I'll tell you about what happened on the trail, the
thing which you and Nada didn't see. But now--"
For a moment he stood very still, and Peter sensed the sudden
thrill that was going through the man as he stood there in
darkness. And then, suddenly, Jolly Roger bent over him.
"Peter, there's three women we'll love as long as we live," he
whispered. "There's my mother, and she is dead. There's Nada back
there, and we'll never see her again--" His voice choked for an
instant. "And then--there's Yellow Bird--" he added. "It's five
years since I fed the tribe. Mebby they've had more kids! Boy,
let's go and see!"
North and west, in the direction of Yellow Bird's people, went
Jolly Roger and Peter after that night. They traveled slowly and
cautiously, and with each day Peter came to understand more
clearly there was some reason why they must be constantly on their
guard. His master, he noticed, was thrillingly attentive whenever
a sound came to their ears--perhaps the cracking of a twig, a
mysterious movement of brush, or the tread of a cloven hoof. And
instinctively he came to know they were evading Man. He remembered
vividly their escape from Cassidy and their quiet hiding for many
days in the mass of sun-baked rocks which Jolly Roger had called
the Stew-Kettle. The same vigilance seemed to be a part of his
master's movements now. He did not laugh, or sing, or whistle, or
talk loudly. He built fires so small that at first Peter was
absorbed in an almost scientific analysis of them; and instead of
shooting game which could have been easily secured he set little
snares in the evening, and caught fish in the streams. At night
they always slept half a mile or more from the place where they
had built their tiny supper-fire. And during these hours of sleep
Peter was ready to rouse himself at the slightest sound of
movement near them. Scarcely a night passed that his low growl of
warning did not bring Jolly Roger out of his slumber, a hand on
his gun, and his eyes and ears wide open.
Whether he would have used the gun had the red-coated police
suddenly appeared, McKay had not quite assured himself. Day after
day the same old fight went on within him. He analyzed his
situation from every point of view, and always--no matter how he
went about it--eventually found himself face to face with the same
definite fact. If the law succeeded in catching Him it would not
trouble itself to punish him for stealing back the Treaty Money,
or for holding up Government mails, or for any of his other
misdemeanors. It would hang him for the murder of Jed Hawkins. And
the minions of the law would laugh at the truth, even if he told
it--which he never would. More than once his imaginative genius
had drawn up a picture of that impossible happening. For it was a
truth so inconceivable that he found the absurdity of it a grimly
humorous thing. Even Nada believed he had killed her scoundrelly
foster-father. Yet it was she--herself--who had killed him! And it
was Nada whom the law would hang, if the truth was known--and
Frequently he went back over the scenes of that tragic night at
Cragg's Ridge when all the happiness in the world seemed to be
offering itself to him--the night when Nada was to go with him to
the Missioner's, to become his wife, And then--the dark trail--
the disheveled girl staggering to him through the starlight, and
her sobbing story of how Jed Hawkins had tried to drag her through
the forest to Mooney's cabin, and how--at last--she had saved
herself by striking him down with a stick which she had caught up
out of the darkness. Would the police believe HIM--an outlaw--if
he told the rest of the story?--how he had gone back to give Jed
Hawkins the beating of his life, and had found him dead in the
trail, where Nada had struck him down? Would they believe him if,
in a moment of cowardice, he told them that to protect the girl he
loved he had fastened the responsibility of the crime upon
himself? No, they would not. He had made the evidence too
complete. The world would call him a lying yellow-back if he
betrayed what had actually happened on the trail between Cragg's
Ridge and Mooney's cabin.
And this, after all, was the one remaining bit of happiness in
Jolly Roger's heart, the knowledge that he had made the evidence
utterly complete, and that Nada would never know, and the world
would never know--the truth. His love for the blue-eyed girl-woman
who had given her heart and her soul into his keeping, even when
she knew he was an outlaw, was an undying thing, like his love for
the mother of years ago. "It will be easy to die for her," he told
Peter, and this, in the end, was what he knew he was going to do.
Thought of the inevitable did not make him afraid. He was
determined to keep his freedom and his life as long as he could,
but he was fatalistic enough, and sufficiently acquainted with the
Royal Northwest Mounted Police, to know what the ultimate of the
thing would be. And yet, with tragedy behind him, and a still
grimmer tragedy ahead, the soul of Jolly Roger was not dead or in
utter darkness. In it, waking and sleeping, he enshrined the girl
who had been willing to give up all other things in the world for
him, who had pleaded with him in the last hour of storm down on
the edge of civilization that she be given the privilege of
accompanying him wherever his fate might lead. That he was an
outlaw had not destroyed her faith in him. That he had killed a
man--a man unfit to live--had only drawn her arms more closely
about him, and had made her more completely a part of him. And a
thousand times the maddening thought possessed Jolly Roger--was he
wrong, and not right, in refusing to accept the love and
companionship which she had begged him to accept, in spite of all
that had happened and all that might happen?
Day by day he slowly won for himself, and at last, as they
traveled in the direction of Yellow Bird's country, he crushed the
final doubt that oppressed him, and knew that he was right. In his
selfishness he had not shackled her to an outlaw. He had left her
free. Life and hope and other happiness were ahead of her. He had
not destroyed her, and this thought would strengthen him and leave
something of gladness in his heart, even in that gray dawn when
the law would compel him to make his final sacrifice.
It is a strange peace which follows grief, a secret happiness no
other soul but one can understand. Out of it excitement and
passion have been burned, and it is then the Great God of things
comes more closely into the possession of his own. And now, as
they went westward and north toward the Wollaston Lake country,
this peace possessed Jolly Roger. It mellowed his world. It was
half an ache, half a steady and undying pain, but it drew Life
nearer to him than he had ever known it before. His love for the
sun and the sky, for the trees and flowers and all growing things
of the earth was more worship of the divine than a love for
physical things, and each day he felt it drawing more closely
about him in its comradeship, whispering to him of its might, and
of its power to care for him in the darkest hours of stress that
He did not travel fast after he had reached the decision to go to
Yellow Bird's people. And he tried to imagine, a great deal of the
time, that Nada was with him. He succeeded in a way that
bewildered Peter, for quite frequently the man talked to someone
who was not there.
The slowness and caution with which they traveled developed
Peter's mental faculties with marvelous swiftness. His master,
free of egoism and prejudice, had placed him on a plane of
intimate equality, and Peter struggled each day to live up a
little more to the responsibility of this intimacy and confidence.
Instinct, together with human training, taught him woodcraft until
in many ways he was more clever than his master. And along with
this Jolly Roger slowly but surely impressed upon him the
difference between wanton slaughter and necessary killing.
"Everything that's got a breath of life must kill--up to a certain
point," Jolly Roger explained to him, repeating the lesson over
and over. "And that isn't wrong, Peter. The sin is in killing when
you don't have to. See that tree over there, with a vine as big as
my wrist winding around it, like a snake? Well, that vine is
choking the life out of the tree, and in time the tree will die.
But the vine is doing just what God A'mighty meant it to do. It
needs a tree to live on. But I'm going to cut the vine, because I
think more of the tree than I do the vine. That's MY privilege--
following my conscience. And we're eating young partridges
tonight, because we had to have something to keep us alive. It's
the necessity of the thing that counts, Peter. Think you can
It was pretty hard for Peter at first, but he was observant, and
his mind worked quickly. The crime of destroying birdlings in
their nest, or on the ground, was impressed upon him. He began to
understand there was a certain humiliating shame attached to an
attack upon a creature weaker than himself, unless there was a
reason for it. He looked chiefly to his master for decisions in
the matter. Snowshoe rabbits, young and half grown, were very tame
in this month of August, and ordinarily he would have destroyed
many of them in a day's travel. But unless Jolly Roger gave him a
signal, or he was hungry, he would pass a snowshoe unconcernedly.
This phase of Peter's development interested Jolly Roger greatly.
The outlaw's philosophy had not been punctured by the egotistical
"I am the only reasoning being" arguments of narrow-gauged nature
scientists. He believed that Peter possessed not only a brain and
super-instinct, but also a very positive reasoning power which he
was helping to develop. And the process was one that fascinated
him. When he was not sleeping, or traveling, or teaching Peter he
was usually reading the wonderful little red volumes of history
which he had purloined from the mail sledge up near the Barren
Lands. He knew their contents nearly by heart. His favorites were
the life-stories of Napoleon, Margaret of Anjou, and Peter the
Great, and always when he compared his own troubles with the
difficulties and tragedies over which these people had triumphed
he felt a new courage and inspiration, and faced the world with
better cheer. If Nature was his God and Bible, and Nada his Angel,
these finger-worn little books written by a man half a century
dead were voices out of the past urging him on to his best. Their
pages were filled with the vivid lessons of sacrifice, of courage
and achievement, of loyalty, honor and dishonor--and of the
crashing tragedy which comes always with the last supreme egoism
and arrogance of man. He marked the dividing lines, and applied
them to himself. And he told Peter of his conclusions. He felt a
consuming tenderness for the glorious Margaret of Anjou, and his
heart thrilled one day when a voice seemed to whisper to him out
of the printed page that Nada was another Margaret--only more
wonderful because she was not a princess and a queen.
"The only difference," he explained to Peter, "is that Margaret
sacrificed and fought and died for a king, and our Nada is willing
to do all that for a poor beggar of an outlaw. Which makes
Margaret a second-rater compared with Nada," he added. "For
Margaret wanted a kingdom along with her husband, and Nada would
take--just you and me. And that's where we're pulling some Peter
the Great stuff," he tried to laugh. "We won't let her do it!"
And so they went on, day after day, toward the Wollaston
waterways--the country of Yellow Bird and her people.
It was early September when they crossed the Geikie and struck up
the western shore of Wollaston Lake. The first golden tints were
ripening in the canoe-birch leaves, and the tremulous whisper of
autumn was in the rustle of the aspen trees. The poplars were
yellowing, the ash were blood red with fruit, and in cool, dank
thickets wild currants were glossy black and lusciously ripe. It
was the season which Jolly Roger loved most of all, and it was the
beginning of Peter's first September. The days were still hot, but
at night there was a bracing something in the air that stirred the
blood, and Peter found a sharp, new note in the voices of the
wild. The wolf howled again in the middle of the night. The loon
forgot his love-sickness, and screamed raucous defiance at the
moon. The big snowshoes were no longer tame, but wary and alert,
and the owls seemed to slink deeper into darkness and watch with
more cunning. And Jolly Roger knew the human masters of the
wilderness were returning from the Posts to their cabins and trap-
lines, and he advanced with still greater caution. And as he went,
watching for smoke and listening for sound, he began to reflect
upon the many changes which five years might have produced among
Yellow Bird's people. Possibly other misfortunes had come, other
winters of hunger and pestilence, scattering and destroying the
tribe. It might even be that Yellow Bird was dead.
For three days he followed slowly the ragged shore of Wollaston
Lake, and foreboding of evil was oppressing him when he came upon
the fish-racks of the Indians. They had been abandoned for many
days, for black bear tracks fairly inundated the place, and Peter
saw two of the bears--fat and unafraid--nosing along the shore
where the fish offal had been thrown.
It was the next day, in the hour before sunset, that Jolly Roger
and Peter came out on the edge of a shelving beach where Indian
children were playing in the white sand. Among these children,
playing and laughing with them, was a woman. She was tall and
slim, with a skirt of soft buckskin that came only a little below
her knees, and two shining black braids which tossed like velvety
ropes when she ran. And she was running when they first saw her--
running away from them, pursued by the children; and then she
twisted suddenly, and came toward them, until with a startled cry
she stopped almost within the reach of Jolly Roger's hands. Peter
was watching. He saw the half frightened look in her face, then
the slow widening of her dark eyes, and the quick intake of her
breath. And in that moment Jolly Roger cried out a name.
He went to her slowly, wondering if it could be possible the years
had touched Yellow Bird so lightly; and Yellow Bird reached out
her hands to him, her face flaming up with sudden happiness, and
Peter wondered what it was all about as he cautiously eyed the
half dozen brown-faced little Indian children who had now gathered
quietly about them. In another moment there was an interruption. A
girl came through the fringe of willows behind them. It was as if
another Yellow Bird had come to puzzle Peter--the same slim,
graceful little body, the same shining eyes, and yet she was half
a dozen years younger than Nada. For the first time Peter was
looking at Sun Cloud, the daughter of Yellow Bird. And in that
moment he loved her, just as something gave him confidence and
faith in the starry-eyed woman whose hands were in his master's.