Part 4 out of 5
Suddenly he held out a hand to Peter, who sat near the lamp, his
bright eyes fixed watchfully on the stranger.
"Nice dog you have, Cummings. Come here, Peter! Peter--Peter--"
Tight ringers seemed to grip at McKay's throat. He had not spoken
Peter's name since the rescue of Breault.
The Ferret was smiling affably. But Peter did not move. He made no
response to the outstretched hand. His eyes were steady and
challenging. In that moment McKay wanted to hug him up in his
The Ferret laughed.
"He's a good dog, a very good dog, Cummings. I like a one-man dog,
and I also like a one-dog man. That's what Jolly Roger McKay is,
if you ever happen to meet him. Travels with one dog. An Airedale,
with whiskers on him like a Mormon. And his name is Peter. Funny
name for a dog, isn't it?"
He faced the outer room, stretching his long arms above his head.
"I'm going to try sleep again, Cummings. Goodnight! And--Mother of
Heaven!--listen to the wind."
"Yes, it's a bad night," said McKay.
He looked at Peter when Breault was gone, and his heart was
beating fast. He could hear the wind, too. It was sweeping over
the Barren more fiercely than before, and the sound of it brought
a steely glitter into his eyes. This time he could not run away
from the law. Flight meant death. And Breault knew it. He was in a
trap--a trap built by himself. That is, if Breault had guessed the
truth, and he believed he had. There was only one way out--and
that meant fight.
He went into the outer room for his pack and a blanket. He did not
look at Breault, but he knew the man's narrow eyes were following
him. He left the alcohol lamp burning, but in his own room, after
he had spread out his bed, he extinguished the light. Then, very
quietly, he dug a hole through the snow partition between the two
rooms. He waited for ten minutes before he thrust a finger-tip
through the last thin crust of snow. With his eye close to the
aperture he could see Breault. The Ferret was sitting up, and
leaning toward Porter, who was sleeping an arm's length away. He
reached over, and touched him on the shoulder.
Jolly Roger widened the snow-slit another inch, straining his ears
to hear. He could see Tavish and the girl asleep. In another
moment Porter was sitting up, with the Ferret's hand gripping his
arm warningly. Breault motioned toward the inner room, and Porter
was silent. Then Breault bent over and began to whisper. Jolly
Roger could hear only the indistinct monotone of his voice. But he
could see very clearly the change that came into Porter's face.
His eyes widened, and he stared toward the inner room, making a
movement as if to rouse Tavish and the girl.
The Ferret stopped him.
"Don't get excited. Let them sleep."
McKay heard that much--and no more. For some time after that the
two men sat close together, conversing in whispers. There was an
exultant satisfaction in Porter's clean-cut face, as well as in
Breault's. Jolly Roger watched them until Breault extinguished the
second lamp. Then he lightly plugged the hole in the partition
with snow, and reached out in the darkness until his hand found
"They think they've got us, boy," he whispered, "They think
they've got us!"
Very quietly they lay for an hour. McKay did not sleep, and Peter
was wide awake. At the end of that hour Jolly Roger crept on his
hands and knees to the doorway and listened. One after another he
picked out the steady breathing of the sleepers. Then he began
feeling his way around the wall of his room until he came to a
place where the snow was very soft.
"An air-drift," he whispered to Peter, close at his shoulder.
"We'll fool 'em, boy. And we'll fight--if we have to."
He began worming his head and shoulders and body into the air-
drift like a gimlet. A foot at a time he burrowed himself through,
heaving his body up and down and sideways to pack the light snow,
leaving a round tunnel two feet in diameter behind him. Within an
hour he had come to the outer crust on the windward side of the
big snow-dune. He did not break through this crust, which was as
tough as crystal-glass, but lay quietly for a time and listened to
the sweep of the wind outside. It was warm, and very comfortable,
and he had half-dozed off before he caught himself back into
wakefulness and returned to his room. The mouth of his tunnel he
packed with snow. After that he wound the blanket about him and
gave himself up calmly to sleep.
Only Peter lay awake after that. And it was Peter who roused Jolly
Roger in what would have been the early dawn outside the snow-
dune. McKay felt his restless movement, and opened his eyes. A
faint light was illumining his room, and he sat up. In the outer
room the alcohol lamp was burning again. He could hear movement,
and voices that were very low and indistinct. Carefully he dug out
once more the little hole in the snow wall, and widened the slit.
Breault and Tavish were asleep, but Porter was sitting up, and
close beside him sat the girl. Her coiled hair was loosened, and
fallen over her shoulders. There was no sign of drowsiness in her
wide-open eyes as they stared at the door between the two rooms.
McKay could see her hand clasping Porter's arm. Porter was
talking, with his face so close to her bent head that his lips
touched her hair, and though Jolly Roger could understand no word
that was spoken he knew Porter was whispering the exciting secret
of his identity to Josephine Tavish. He could see, for a moment, a
shadow of protest in her face, he could hear the quick, sibilant
whisper of her voice, and Porter cautioned her with a finger at
her lips, and made a gesture toward the sleeping Tavish. Then his
fingers closed about her uncoiled hair as he drew her to him.
McKay watched the long kiss between them. The girl drew away
quickly then, and Porter tucked the blanket about her when she lay
down beside her father. After that he stretched out again beside
Jolly Roger guessed what had happened. The girl had awakened, a
bit nervous, and had roused Porter and asked him to relight the
alcohol lamp. And Porter had taken advantage of the opportunity to
tell her of the interesting discovery which Breault had made--and
to kiss her. McKay stroked Peter's scrawny neck, and listened. He
could no longer hear the storm, and he wondered if the fury of it
Every few minutes he looked through the slit in the snow wall. The
last time, half an hour after Porter had returned to his blanket,
Josephine Tavish was sitting up. She was very wide awake. McKay
watched her as she rose slowly to her knees, and then to her feet.
She bent over Porter and Breault to make sure they were asleep,
and then came straight toward the door of his room.
He lay back on his blanket, with the fingers of one hand gripped
closely about Peter.
"Be quiet, boy," he whispered. "Be quiet."
He could see the shutting out of light at his door as the girl
stood there, listening for his breathing. He breathed heavily, and
before he closed his eyes he saw Josephine Tavish coming toward
him. In a moment she was bending over him. He could feel the soft
caress of her loose hair on his face and hands. Then she knelt
quietly down beside him, stroking Peter with her hand, and shook
him lightly by the shoulder.
"Jolly Roger!" she whispered. "Jolly Roger McKay!"
He opened his eyes, looking up at the white face in the gloom.
"Yes," he replied softly. "What is it, Miss Tavish?"
He could hear the choking breath in her throat as her fingers
tightened at his shoulder. She bent her face still nearer to him,
until her hair cluttered his throat and breast.
"Then--listen to me. If you are Jolly Roger McKay you must get
away--somewhere. You must go before Breault awakens in the
morning. I think the storm is over--there is no wind--and if you
are here when day comes--"
Her fingers loosened. Jolly Roger reached out and somewhere in the
darkness he found her hand. It clasped his own--firm, warm,
"I thank you for what you have done," she whispered. "But the law
--and Breault--they have no mercy!"
She was gone, swiftly and silently, and McKay looked through the
slit in the wall until she was with her father again.
In the gloom he drew Peter close to him.
"We're up against it again, Pied-Bot," he confided under his
breath. "We've got to take another chance."
He worked without sound, and in a quarter of an hour his pack was
ready, and the entrance to his tunnel dug out. He went into the
outer room then, where Josephine Tavish was awake. Jolly Roger
pantomimed his desire as she sat up. He wanted something from one
of the packs. She nodded. On his knees he fumbled in the dunnage,
and when he rose to his feet, facing the girl, her eyes opened
wide at what he held in his hand--a small packet of old newspapers
her father was taking to the factor at Fort Churchill. She saw the
hungry, apologetic look in his eyes, and her woman's heart
understood. She smiled gently at him, and her lips formed an
unvoiced whisper of gratitude as he turned to go. At the door he
looked back. He thought she was beautiful then, with her shining
hair and eyes, and her lips parted, and her hands half reaching
out to him, as if in that moment of parting she was giving him
courage and faith. Suddenly she pressed the palms of her fingers
to her mouth and sent the kiss of benediction to him through the
twilight glow of the snow-room.
A moment later, crawling through his tunnel with Peter close
behind him, there was an exultant singing in Jolly Roger's heart.
Again he was fleeing from the law, but always, as Yellow Bird had
predicted in her sorcery, there were happiness and hope in his
going. And always there was someone to urge him on, and to take a
pride in him, like Josephine Tavish.
He broke through the dune-crust at the end of his tunnel and
crawled out into the thick, gray dawn of a barren-land day. The
sky was heavy overhead, and the wind had died out. It was the
beginning of the brief lull which came in the second day of the
McKay laughed softly as he sensed the odds against them.
"We'll be having the storm at our heels again before long, Pied-
Bot," he said. "We'd better make for the timber a dozen miles
He struck out, circling the dune, so that he was traveling
straight away from the first hole he had cut through the shell of
the drift. From that door, made by the outlaw who had saved them,
Josephine Tavish watched the shadowy forms of man and dog until
they were lost in the gray-white chaos of a frozen world.
Through the blizzard Jolly Roger made his way a score of miles
southward from the big dune on the Barren. For a day and a night
he made his camp in the scrub timber which edged the vast treeless
tundras reaching to the Arctic. He believed he was safe, for the
unceasing wind and the blasts of shot-like snow filled his tracks
a few moments after they were made. He struck a straight line for
his cabin after that first day and night in the scrub timber. The
storm was still a thing of terrific force out on the barren, but
in the timber he was fairly well sheltered. He was convinced the
police patrol would find his cabin very soon after the storm had
worn itself out. Porter and Tavish did not trouble him. But from
Breault he knew there was no getting away. Breault would nose out
his cabin. And for that reason he was determined to reach it
The second night he did not sleep. His mind was a wild thing--wild
as a Loup-Garou seeking out its ghostly trails; it passed beyond
his mastery, keeping sleep away from him though he was dead tired.
It carried him back over all the steps of his outlawry, visioning
for him the score of times he had escaped, as he was narrowly
escaping now; and it pictured for him, like a creature of
inquisition, the tightening net ahead of him, the final futility
of all his effort. And at last, as if moved by pity to ease his
suffering a little, it brought him back vividly to the green
valley, the flowers and the blue skies of Cragg's Ridge--and Nada.
It was like a dream. At times he could scarcely assure himself
that he had actually lived those weeks and months of happiness
down on the edge of civilization; it seemed impossible that Nada
had come like an Angel into his life down there, and that she had
loved him, even when he confessed himself a fugitive from the law
and had entreated him to take her with him. He closed his eyes and
that last roaring night of storm at Cragg's Ridge was about him
again. He was in the little old Missioner's cabin, with thunder
and lightning rending earth and sky outside and Nada was in his
arms, her lips against his, the piteous heartbreak of despair in
her eyes. Then he saw her--a moment later--a crumpled heap down
beside the chair, the disheveled glory of her hair hiding her
white face from him as he hesitated for a single instant before
opening the door and plunging out into the night.
With a cry he sprang up, dashing the vision from him, and threw
fresh fuel on the fire. And he cried out the same old thought to
"It would have been murder for us to bring her, Pied-Bot. It would
have been murder!"
He looked about him at the swirling chaos outside the rim of light
made by his fire and listened to the moaning of the wind over the
treetops. Beyond the circle of light the dry snow, which crunched
like sand under his feet, was lost in ghostly gloom. It was forty
degrees below zero. And he was glad, even with this sickness of
despair in his heart, that she was not a fugitive with him
Yet he built up a little make-believe world for himself as he sat
with a blanket hugged close about him, staring into the fire. In a
hundred different ways he saw her face, a will-o-the-wisp thing
amid the flames; an illusive, very girlish, almost childish face--
yet always with the light of a woman's soul shining in it. That
was the miracle which startled him at last. It seemed as if the
fiction he built up in his despair transformed itself subtly into
fact and that her soul had come to him from out of the southland
and was speaking to him with eyes which never changed or faltered
in their adoration, their faith and their courage. She seemed to
come to him, to creep into his arms under the folds of the blanket
and he sensed the soft crush of her hair, the touch of her lips,
the warm encircling of her arms about his neck. Closer to him
pressed the mystery, until the beating of her heart was a living
pulse against him; and then--suddenly, as an irresistible impulse
closed his arms to hold the spirit to him, his eyes were drawn to
the heart of the fire, and he saw there for an instant, wide-eyed
and speaking to him, the face of Yellow Bird the Indian sorceress.
The flames crept up the long braids of her hair, her lips moved,
and then she was gone--but slowly, like a ghost slipping upward
into the mist of smoke and night.
Peter heard his master's cry. And after that Jolly Roger rose up
and threw off the blanket and walked back and forth until his feet
trod a path in the snow. He told himself it was madness to
believe, and yet he believed. Faith fought itself back into that
dark citadel of his heart from which for a time it had been
driven. New courage lighted up again the black chaos of his soul.
And at last he fell down on his knees and gripped Peter's shaggy
head between his two hands.
"Pied-Bot, she said everything would come out right in the end,"
he cried, a new note in his voice. "That's what Yellow Bird told
us, wasn't it? Mebby they would have burned her as a witch a long
time ago because she's a sorceress, and says she can send her soul
out of her body and see what we can't see. BUT WE BELIEVE!" His
voice choked up, and he laughed. "They were both here tonight," he
added. "Nada--and Yellow Bird. And I believe--I believe--I know
what it means!"
He stood up again, and Peter saw the old smile on his master's
lips as Jolly Roger looked up into the swirling black canopy of
the spruce-tops. And the wailing of the storm seemed no longer to
hold menace and taunt, but in it he heard the whisper of fierce,
strong voices urging upon him the conviction that had already
swept indecision from his heart.
And then he said, holding out his arms as if encompassing
something which he could not see.
"Peter, we're going back to Nada!"
Dawn was a scarcely perceptible thing when it came. Darkness
seemed to fade a little, that was all. Frosty shapes took form in
the gloom, and the spruce-tops became tangible in an abyss of
sepulchral shadow overhead.
Through this beginning of the barren-land day Jolly Roger set out
in the direction of his cabin and in his blood was that new
singing thing of fire and warmth that more than made up for the
hours of sleep he had lost during the night. The storm was dying
out, he thought, and it was growing warmer; yet the wind whistled
and raved in the open spaces and his thermometer registered the
fortieth and a fraction degree below zero. The air he breathed was
softer, he fancied, yet it was still heavy with the stinging shot
of blizzard; and where yesterday he had seen only the smothering
chaos of twisted spruce and piled up snow, there was now--as the
pale day broadened--his old wonderland of savage beauty, awaiting
only a flash of sunlight to transform it into the pure glory of a
thing indescribable. But the sun did not come and Jolly Roger did
not miss it over-much for his heart was full of Nada, and a-thrill
with the inspiration of his home-going.
"That's what it means, GOING HOME" he said to Peter, who nosed
close in the path of his snowshoes. "There's a thousand miles
between us and Cragg's Ridge, a thousand miles of snow and ice--
and hell, mebby. But we'll make it!"
He was sure of himself now. It was as if he had come up from out
of the shadow of a great sickness. He had been unwise. He had not
reasoned as a man should reason. The hangman might be waiting for
him at Cragg's Ridge, down on the rim of civilization, but that
same grim executioner was also pursuing close at his heels. He
would always be pursuing in the form of a Breault, a Cassidy, a
Tavish, or a Somebody Else of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.
It would be that way until the end came. And when the end did
come, when they finally got him, the blow would be easier at
Cragg's Ridge than up here on the edge of the Barren Land.
And again there was hope, a wild, almost unbelievable hope that
with Nada he might find that place which Yellow Bird, the
sorceress, had promised for them--that mystery-place of safety and
of happiness which she had called The Country Beyond, where "all
would end well." He had not the faith of Yellow Bird's people; he
was not superstitious enough to believe fully in her sorcery,
except that he seized upon it as a drowning man might grip at a
floating sea-weed. Yet was the under-current of hope so persistent
that at times it was near faith. Up to this hour Yellow Bird's
sorcery had brought him nothing but the truth. For him she had
conjured the spirits of her people, and these spirits, speaking
through Yellow Bird's lips, had saved him from Cassidy at the
fishing camp and had performed the miracle on the shore of
Wollaston and had predicted the salvation that had come to him out
on the Barren. And so--was it not conceivable that the other would
also come true?
But these visions came to him only in flashes. As he traveled
through the hours the one vital desire of his being was to bring
himself physically into the presence of Nada, to feel the wild joy
of her in his arms once more, the crush of her lips to his, the
caress of her hands in their old sweet way at his face--and to
hear her voice, the girl's voice with the woman's soul behind it,
crying out its undying love, as he had last heard it that night in
the Missioner's cabin many months ago. After this had happened,
then--if fate decreed it so--all other things might end. Breault,
the Ferret, might come. Or Porter. Or that Somebody Else who was
always on his trail. If the game finished thus, he would be
When he stopped to make a pot of black tea and warm a snack to eat
Jolly Roger tried to explain this new meaning of life to Peter.
"The big thing we must do is to get there--safely," he said,
already beginning to make plans in the back of his head. And then
he went on, building up his fabric of new hope before Peter, while
he crunched his luncheon of toasted bannock and fat bacon. There
was something joyous and definite in his voice which entered into
Peter's blood and body. There was even a note of excitement in it,
and Peter's whiskers bristled with fresh courage and his eyes
gleamed and his tail thumped the snow comprehendingly. It was like
having a master come back to him from the dead.
And Jolly Roger even laughed, softly, under his breath.
"This is February," he said. "We ought to make it late in March. I
mean Cragg's Ridge, Pied-Bot."
After that they went on, traveling hard to reach their cabin
before the darkness of night, which would drop upon them like a
thick blanket at four o'clock. In these last hours there pressed
even more heavily upon Jolly Roger that growing realization of the
vastness and emptiness of the world. It was as if blindness had
dropped from his eyes and he saw the naked truth at last. Out of
this world everything had emptied itself until it held only Nada.
Only she counted. Only she held out her arms to him, entreating
him to keep for her that life in his body which meant so little in
all other ways. He thought of one of the little worn books which
he carried in his shoulder-pack--Jeanne D'Arc. As she had fought,
with the guidance of God, so he believed the blue-eyed girl down
at Cragg's Ridge was fighting for him, and had sent her spirit out
in quest of him. And he was going back to her. GOING!
The last word, as it came from his lips, meant that nothing would
stop them. He almost shouted it. And Peter answered.
In spite of their effort, darkness closed in on them. With the
first dusk of this night there came sudden lulls in which the
blizzard seemed to have exhausted itself. Jolly Roger read the
signs. By tomorrow there would be no storm and Breault the Ferret
would be on the trail again, along with Porter and Tavish.
It was his old craft, his old cunning, that urged him to go on.
Strangely, he prayed for the blizzard not to give up the ghost.
Something must be accomplished before its fury was spent; and he
was glad when after each lull he heard again the moaning and
screeching of it over the open spaces, and the slashing together
of spruce tops where there was cover. In a chaos of gloom they
came to the low ridge which reached across an open sweep of tundra
to the finger of shelter where the cabin was built. An hour later
they were at its door. Jolly Roger opened it and staggered in. For
a space he stood leaning against the wall while his lungs drank in
the warmer air. The intake of his breath made a whistling sound
and he was surprised to find himself so near exhaustion. He heard
the thud of Peter's body as it collapsed to the floor.
It was difficult for his storm-beaten lips to speak the words.
Peter thumped his tail. The rat-tap-tap of it came in one of those
lulls of the storm which Jolly Roger had begun to dread.
"I hope it keeps up another two hours," he said, wetting his lips
to take the stiffness out of them. "If it doesn't--"
He was thinking of Breault as he drew off his mittens and fumbled
for a match. It was Breault he feared. The Ferret would find his
cabin and his trail if the storm died out too soon.
He lighted the tin lamp on his table and after that, assured that
wastefulness would cost him nothing now, he set two bear-drip
candles going, one at each end of the cabin. The illumination
filled the single room. There was little for it to reveal--the
table he had made, a chair, a battered little sheet-iron stove,
and the humped up blanket in his bunk, under which he had stored
the remainder of his possessions. Back of the stove was a pile of
dry wood, and in another five minutes the roar of flames in the
chimney mingled with a fresh bluster of the wind outside.
Defying the exhaustion of limbs and body, Jolly Roger kept
steadily at work. He threw off his heavier garments as the
freezing atmosphere of the room became warmer, and prepared for a
"We'll call it Christmas, and have everything we've got, Pied-Bot.
We'll cook a quart of prunes instead of six. No use stinting
Even Peter was amazed at the prodigality of his master. An hour
later they ate, and McKay drank a quart of hot coffee before he
was done. Half of his fatigue was gone and he sat back for a few
minutes to finish off with the luxury of his pipe. Peter, gorged
with caribou meat, stretched himself out to sleep. But his eyes
did not close. His master puzzled him. For after a little Jolly
Roger put on his heavy coat and parkee and pocketed his pipe.
After that he slipped the straps of his pack over head and
shoulders and then, even more to Peter's bewilderment, emptied a
quart bottle of kerosene over the pile of dry wood behind the hot
stove. To this he touched a lighted match. His next movement drew
from Peter a startled yelp. With a single thrust of his foot he
sent the stove crashing into the middle of the floor.
Half an hour later, when Peter and Jolly Roger looked back from
the crest of the ridge, a red pillar of flame lighted up the
gloomy chaos of the unpeopled world they were leaving behind them.
The wind was driving fiercely from the Barren and with it came
stinging volleys of the fine drift-snow. In the teeth of it Roger
McKay stared back.
"It's a good fire," he mumbled in his hood. "Half an hour and it
will be out. There'll be nothing for Breault to find if this wind
keeps up another two hours--nothing but drift-snow, with no sign
of trail or cabin."
He struck out, leaving the shelter of the ridge. Straight south he
went, keeping always in the open spaces where the wind-swept drift
covered his snowshoe trail almost as soon as it was made. Darkness
did not trouble him now. The open barren was ahead, miles of it,
while only a little to the westward was the shelter of timber.
Twice he blundered to the edge of this timber, but quickly set his
course again in the open, with the wind always quartering at his
back. He could only guess how long he kept on. The time came when
he began to count the swing of his snowshoes, measuring off half a
mile, or a mile, and then beginning over again until at last the
achievement of five hundred steps seemed to take an immeasurable
length of time and great effort. Like the ache of a tooth came the
first warning of snowshoe cramp in his legs. In the black night he
grinned. He knew what it meant--a warning as deadly as swimmer's
cramp in deep water. If he continued much longer he would be
crawling on his hands and knees.
Quickly he turned in the direction of the timber. He had traveled
three hours, he thought, since abandoning his cabin to the flames.
Another half hour, with the caution of slower, shorter steps,
brought him to the timber. Luck was with him and he cried aloud to
Peter as he felt himself in the darkness of a dense cover of
spruce and balsam. He freed himself from his entangled snowshoes
and went on deeper into the shelter. It became warmer and they
could feel no longer a breath of the wind.
He unloaded his pack and drew from it a jackpine torch, dried in
his cabin and heavy with pitch. Shortly the flare of this torch
lighted up their refuge for a dozen paces about them. In the
illumination of it, moving it from place to place, he gathered dry
fire wood and with his axe cut down green spruce for the
smouldering back-fire that would last until morning. By the time
the torch had consumed itself the fire was burning, and where
Jolly Roger had scraped away the snow from the thick carpet of
spruce needles underfoot he piled a thick mass of balsam boughs,
and in the center of the bed he buried himself, wrapped warmly in
his blankets, and with Peter snuggled close at his side.
Through dark hours the green spruce fire burned slowly and
steadily. For a long time there was wailing of wind out in the
open. But at last it died away, and utter stillness filled the
world. No life moved in these hours which followed the giving up
of the big storm's last gasping breath. Slowly the sky cleared.
Here and there a star burned through. But Jolly Roger and Peter,
deep in the sleep of exhaustion, knew nothing of the change.
It was Peter who roused Jolly Roger many hours later; Peter nosing
about the still burning embers of the fire, and at last muzzling
his master's face with increasing anxiety. McKay sat up out of his
nest of balsam boughs and blankets and caught the bright glint of
sunlight through the treetops. He rubbed his eyes and stared again
to make sure. Then he looked at his watch. It was ten o'clock and
peering in the direction of the open he saw the white edge of it
glistening in the unclouded blaze of a sun. It was the first sun--
the first real sun--he had seen for many days, and with Peter he
went to the rim of the barren a hundred yards distant. He wanted
to shout. As far as he could see the white plain was ablaze with
eye-blinding light, and never had the sky at Cragg's Ridge been
clearer than the sky that was over him now.
He returned to the fire, singing. Back through the months leapt
Peter's memory to the time when his master had sung like that. It
was in Indian Tom's cabin, with Cragg's Ridge just beyond the
creek, and it was in those days before Terence Cassidy had come to
drive them to another hiding place; in the happy days of Nada's
visits and of their trysts under the Ridge, when even the little
gray mother mouse lived in a paradise with her nest of babies in
the box on their cabin shelf. He had almost forgotten but it came
back to him now. It was the old Jolly Roger--the old master come
to life again.
In the clear stillness of the morning one might have heard that
shouting song half a mile away. But McKay was no longer afraid. As
the storm seemed to have cleaned the world so the sun cleared his
soul of its last shadow of doubt. It was not merely an omen or a
promise, but for him proclaimed a certainty. God was with him.
Life was with him. His world was opening its arms to him again--
and he sang as if Nada was only a mile away from him instead of a
When he went on, after their breakfast, he laughed at the thought
of Breault discovering their trail. The Ferret would be more than
human to do that after what wind and storm and fire had done for
This first day of their pilgrimage into the southland was a day of
glory from its beginning until the setting of the sun. There was
no cloud in the sky. And it grew warmer, until Jolly Roger flung
back the hood of his parkee and turned up the fur of his cap. That
night a million stars lighted the heaven.
After this first day and night nothing could break down the hope
and confidence of Jolly Roger and his, dog. Peter knew they were
going south, in which direction lay everything he had ever yearned
for; and each night beside their campfire McKay made a note with
pencil and paper and measured the distance they had come and the
distance they had yet to go. Hope in a little while became
certainty. Into his mind urged no thought of changes that might
have taken place at Cragg's Ridge; or, if the thought did come, it
caused him no uneasiness. Now that Jed Hawkins was dead Nada would
be with the little old Missioner in whose care he had left her,
and not for an instant did a doubt cloud the growing happiness of
his anticipations. Breault and the hunters of the law were the one
worry that lay ahead and behind him. If he outwitted them he would
find Nada waiting for him.
Day after day they kept south and west until they struck the
Thelon; and then through a country unmapped, and at times terrific
in its cold and storm, they fought steadily to the frozen regions
of the Dubawnt waterways. Only once in the first three weeks did
they seek human company. This was at a small Indian camp where
Jolly Roger bartered for caribou meat and moccasins for Peter's
feet. Twice between there and God's Lake they stopped at trappers'
It was early in March when they struck the Lost Lake country,
three hundred miles from Cragg's Ridge.
And here it was, buried under a blind of soft snow, that Peter
nosed out the frozen carcass of a disemboweled buck which Boileau,
the French trapper, had poisoned for wolves. Jolly Roger had built
a fire and was warming half a pint of deer tallow for a baking of
bannock, when Peter dragged himself in, his rear legs already
stiffening with the palsy of strychnine. In a dozen seconds McKay
had the warm tallow down Peter's throat, to the last drop of it;
and this he followed with another dose as quickly as he could heat
it, and in the end Peter gave up what he had eaten.
Half an hour later Boileau, who was eating his dinner, jumped up
in wonderment when the door of his cabin was suddenly opened by a
grim and white-faced man who carried the limp body of a dog in his
For a long time after this the shadow of death hung over the
Frenchman's trapping-shack. To Boileau, with his brotherly
sympathy and regret that his poison-bait had brought calamity,
Peter was "just dog." But when at last he saw the strong shoulders
of the grim-faced stranger shaking over Peter's paralyzed body and
listened to the sobbing grief that broke in passionate protest
from his white lips, he drew back a little awed. It seemed for a
time that Peter was dead; and in those moments Jolly Roger put his
arms about him and buried his despairing face in Peter's scraggly
neck, calling in a wild fit of anguish for him to come back, to
live, to open his eyes again. Boileau, crossing himself, felt of
Peter's body and McKay heard his voice over him, saying that the
dog was not dead, but that his heart was beating steadily and that
he thought the last stiffening blow of the poison was over. To
McKay it was like bringing the dead back to life. He raised his
head and drew away his arms and knelt beside the bunk stunned and
mutely hopeful while Boileau took his place and began dropping
warm condensed milk down Peter's throat. In a little while Peter's
eyes opened and he gave a great sigh.
Boileau looked up and shrugged his shoulders.
"That was a good breath, m'sieu," he said. "What is left of the
poison has done its worst. He will live."
A bit stupidly McKay rose to his feet. He swayed a little, and for
the first time sensed the hot tears that had blinded his eyes and
wet his cheeks. And then there came a sobbing laugh out of his
throat and he went to the window of the Frenchman's shack and
stared out into the white world, seeing nothing. He had stood in
the presence of death many times before but never had that
presence choked up his heart as in this hour when the soul of
Peter, his comrade, had stood falteringly for a space half-way
between the living and the dead.
When he turned from the window Boileau was covering Peter's body
with blankets and a warm bear skin. And for many days thereafter
Peter was nursed through the slow sickness which followed.
An early spring came this year in the northland. South of the
Reindeer waterway country the snows were disappearing late in
March and ice was rotting the first week in April. Winds came from
the south and west and the sun was warmer and clearer than Boileau
had ever known it at the winter's end in Lost Lake country. It was
in this first week of April that Peter was able to travel, and
McKay pointed his trail once more for Cragg's Ridge
He left a part of his winter dunnage at Boileau's shack and went
on light, figuring to reach Cragg's Ridge before the new "goose
moon" had worn itself out in the west. But for a week Peter lagged
and until the darker red in the rims of his eyes cleared away
Jolly Roger checked the impetus of his travel so that the goose
moon had faded out and the "frog moon" of May was in its full
before they came down the last slope that dipped from the Height
of Land to the forests and lakes of the lower country.
And now, in these days, it seemed to Jolly Roger that a great
kindness, and not tragedy, had delayed him so that his "home
coming" was in the gladness of spring. All about him was the
sweetness and mystic whispering of new life just awakening. It was
in the sky and the sun; it was underfoot, in the fragrance of the
mold he trod upon, in the trees about him, and in the mate-
chirping of the birds flocking back from the southland. His
friends the jays were raucous and jaunty again, bullying and
bluffing in the warmth of sunshine; the black glint of crows'
wings flashed across the opens; the wood-sappers and pewees and
big-eyed moose-birds were aflutter with the excitement of home
planning; partridges were feasting on the swelling poplar buds--
and then, one glorious sunset, he heard the chirruping evening
song of his first robin.
And the next day they would reach Cragg's Ridge!
Half of that last night he sat up, awake, or smoked in the glow of
his fire, waiting for the dawn. With the first lifting of darkness
he was traveling swiftly ahead of Peter and the morning was only
half gone when he saw far ahead of him the great ridge which shut
out Indian Tom's swamp, and Nada's plain, and Cragg's Ridge beyond
It was noon when he stood at the crest of this. He was breathing
hard, for to reach this last precious height from which he might
look upon the country of Nada's home he had half run up its rock-
strewn side. There, with his lungs gasping for air, his eager eyes
shot over the country below him and for a moment the significance
of the thing which he saw did not strike him. And then in another
instant it seemed that his heart choked up, like a fist suddenly
tightened, and stopped its beating.
Reaching away from him, miles upon miles of it, east, west and
south--was a dead and char-stricken world.
Up to the foot of the ridge itself had come the devastation of
flame, and where it had swept, months ago, there was now no sign
of the glorious spring that lay behind him.
He looked for Indian Tom's swamp, and where it had been there was
no longer a swamp but a stricken chaos of ten thousand black
stubs, the shriven corpses of the spruce and cedar and jackpines
out of which the wolves had howled at night.
He looked for the timber on Sucker Creek where the little old
Missioner's cabin lay, and where he had dreamed that Nada would be
waiting for him. And he saw no timber there but only the
littleness and emptiness of a blackened world.
And then he looked to Cragg's Ridge, and along the bald crest of
it, naked as death, he saw blackened stubs pointing skyward,
painting desolation against the blue of the heaven beyond.
A cry came from him, a cry of fear and of horror, for he was
looking upon the fulfilment of Yellow Bird's prediction. He seemed
to hear, whispering softly in his ears, the low, sweet voice of
the sorceress, as on the night when she had told him that if he
returned to Cragg's Ridge he would find a world that had turned
black with ruin and that it would not be there he would ever find
After that one sobbing cry he tore like a madman dawn into the
valley, traveling swiftly through the muck of fire and under-foot
tangle with Peter fighting behind him. Half an hour later he stood
where the Missioner's cabin had been and he found only a ruin of
ash and logs burned down to the earth. Where the trail had run
there was no longer a trail. A blight, grim and sickening, lay
upon the earth that had been paradise.
Peter heard the choking sound in his master's throat and chest.
He, too, sensed the black shadow of tragedy and cautiously he
sniffed the air, knowing that at last they were home--and yet it
was not home. Instinctively he had faced Cragg's Ridge and Jolly
Roger, seeing the dog's stiffened body pointing toward the break
beyond which lay Nada's old home, felt a thrill of hope leap up
within him. Possibly the farther plain had escaped the scourge of
fire. If so, Nada would be there, and the Missioner--
He started for the break, a mile away. As he came nearer to it his
hope grew less for he could see where the flames had swept in an
inundating sea along Cragg's Ridge. They passed over the meadow
where the thick young jackpines, the red strawberries and the blue
violets had been and Peter heard the strange sob when they came to
the little hollow--the old trysting place where Nada had first
given herself into his master's arms. And there it was that Peter
forgot master and caution and sped swiftly ahead to the break that
cut the Ridge in twain.
When Jolly Roger came to that break and ran through it he was
staggering from the mad effort he had made. And then, all at once,
the last of his wind came in a cry of gladness. He swayed against
a rock and stood there staring wild-eyed at what was before him.
The world was as black ahead of him as it was behind. But Jed
Hawkins' cabin was untouched! The fire had crept up to its very
door and there it had died.
He went on the remaining hundred yards and before the closed door
of Nada's old home he found Peter standing stiff-legged and
strange. He opened the door and a damp chill touched his face. The
cabin was empty. And the gloom and desolation of a grave filled
He stepped in, a moaning whisper of the truth coming to his lips.
He heard the scurrying flight of a starved wood-rat, a flutter of
loose papers, and then the silence of death fell about him. The
door of Nada's little room was open and he entered through it. The
bed was naked and there remained only the skeleton of things that
He moved now like a man numbed by a strange sickness and Peter
followed gloomily and silently in the footsteps of his master.
They went outside and a distance away Jolly Roger saw a thing
rising up out of the char of fire, ugly and foreboding, like the
evil spirit of desolation itself. It was a rude cross made of
saplings, up which the flames had licked their way, searing it
grim and black.
His hands clenched slowly for he knew that under the cross lay the
body of Jed Hawkins, the fiend who had destroyed his world.
After that he re-entered the cabin and went into Nada's room,
closing the door behind him; and for many minutes thereafter Peter
remained outside guarding the outer door, and hearing no sound or
movement from within.
When Jolly Roger came out his face was set and white, and he
looked where the thick forest had stood on that stormy night when
he ran down the trail toward Mooney's cabin. There was no forest
now. But he found the old tie-cutters' road, cluttered as it was
with the debris of fire, and he knew when he came to that twist in
the trail where long ago Jed Hawkins had lain dead on his back.
Half a mile beyond he came to the railroad. Here it was that the
fire had burned hottest, for as far as his vision went he could
see no sign of life or of forest green alight in the waning sun.
And now there fell upon him, along with the desolation of despair,
a something grimmer and more terrible--a thing that was fear.
About him everywhere reached this graveyard of death, leaving no
spot untouched. Was it possible that Nada and the Missioner had
not escaped its fury? The fear settled upon him more heavily as
the sun went down and the gloom of evening came, bringing with it
an unpleasant chill and a cloying odor of things burned dead.
He did not talk to Peter now. There was a lamp in the cabin and
wood behind the stove, and silently he built a fire and trimmed
and lighted the wick when darkness came. And Peter, as if hiding
from the ghosts of yesterday, slunk into a corner and lay there
unmoving and still. And McKay did not get supper nor did he smoke,
but after a long time he carried his blankets into Nada's room,
and spread them out upon her bed. Then he put out the light and
quietly laid himself down where through the nights of many a month
and year Nada had slept in the moon glow.
The moon was there tonight. The faint glow of it rose in the east
and swiftly it climbed over the ragged shoulder of Cragg's Ridge,
flooding the blackened world with light and filling the room with
a soft and golden radiance. It was a moon undimmed, full and round
and yellow; and it seemed to smile in through the window as if
some living spirit in it had not yet missed Nada, and was
embracing her in its glory. And now it came upon Jolly Roger why
she had loved it even more than she had loved the sun; for through
the little window it shut out all the rest of the world, and
sitting up, he seemed to hear her heart beating at his side and
clearly he saw her face in the light of it and her slim arms out-
reaching, as if to gather it to her breast. Thus--many times, she
had told him--had she sat up in her bed to greet the moon and to
look for the smiling face that was almost always there, the face
of the Man in the Moon, her friend and playmate in the sky.
For a space his heart leapt up; and then, as if discovery of the
usurper in her room had come, a cloud swept over the face of the
moon like a mighty hand and darkness crowded him in. But the cloud
sailed on and the light drove out the gloom again. Then it was
that Jolly Roger saw the Old Man in the Moon was up and awake
tonight, for never had he seen his face more clearly. Often had
Nada pointed it out to him in her adorable faith that the Old Man
loved her, telling him how this feature changed and that feature
changed, how sometimes the Old Man looked sick and at others well,
and how there were times when he smiled and was happy and other
times when he was sad and stern and sat there in his castle in the
sky sunk in a mysterious grief which she could not understand.
"And always I can tell whether I'm going to be glad or sorry by
the look of the Man in the Moon," she had said to him. "He looks
down and tells me even when the clouds are thick and he can only
peep through now and then. And he knows a lot about you, Mister--
Jolly Roger--because I've told him everything."
Very quietly Jolly Roger got up from the bed and very strange
seemed his manner to Peter as he walked through the outer room and
into the night beyond. There he stood making no sound or movement,
like one of the lifeless stubs left by fire; and Peter looked up,
as his master was looking, trying to make out what it was he saw
in the sky. And nothing was there--nothing that he had not seen
many times before; a billion stars, and the moon riding King among
them all, and fleecy clouds as if made of web, and stillness, a
great stillness that was like sleep in the lap of the world.
For a little Jolly Roger was silent and then Peter heard him
"Yellow Bird was right--again. She said we'd find a black world
down here and we've found it. And we're going to find Nada where
she told us we'd find her, in that place she called The Country
Beyond--the country beyond the forests, beyond the tall trees and
the big swamps, beyond everything we've ever known of the wild and
open spaces; the country where God lives in churches on Sunday and
where people would laugh at some of our queer notions, Pied-Bot.
It's there we'll find Nada, driven out by the fire, and waiting
for us now in the settlements."
He spoke with a strange and quiet conviction, the haggard look
dying out of his face as he stared up into the splendor of the
And then he said.
"We won't sleep tonight, Peter. We'll travel with the moon."
Half an hour later, as the lonely figures of man and dog headed
for the first settlement a dozen miles away, there seemed to come
for an instant the flash of a satisfied smile in the face of the
Man in the sky.
From the cabin McKay went first to the great rock that jutted from
the broken shoulder of Cragg's Ridge, and as they stood there
Peter heard the strange something that was like a laugh, and yet
was not a laugh, on his master's lips. But his scraggly face did
not look up. There was an answering whimper in his throat. He had
been slow in sensing the significance of the mysterious thing that
had changed his old home since months ago. During the hours of
afternoon, and these moonlit hours that followed, he tried to
understand. He knew this was home. Yet the green grass was gone,
and a million trees had changed into blackened stubs. The world
was no longer shut in by deep forests. And Cragg's Ridge was naked
where he and Nada had romped in sunshine and flowers, and out of
it all rose the mucky death-smell of the flame-swept earth. These
things he understood, in his dog way. But what he could not
understand clearly was why Nada was not in the cabin, and why they
did not find her, even though the world was changed.
He sat back on his haunches, and Jolly Roger heard again the
whimpering grief in his throat. It comforted the man to know that
Peter remembered, and he was not alone in his desolation. Gently
he placed a soot-grimed hand on his comrade's head.
"Peter, it was from this rock--right where we're standing now--
that I first saw her, a long time ago," he said, a bit of forced
cheer breaking through the huskiness of his voice. "Remember the
little jackpine clump down there? You climbed up onto her lap, a
little know-nothing thing, and you pawed in her loose curls, and
growled so fiercely I could hear you. And when I made a noise, and
she looked up, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had
ever seen--just a kid, with those eyes like the flowers, and her
hair shining in the sun, an' tear stains on her cheeks. Tear
stains, Pied-Bot--because of that snake who's dead over there.
Remember how you growled at me, Peter?"
Peter wriggled an answer.
"That was the beginning," said Jolly Roger, "and this--looks like
the end. But--"
He clenched his fists, and there was a sudden fierceness in the
grotesque movement of his shadow on the rock.
"We're going to find her before that end comes," he added
defiantly. "We're going to find her, Pied-Bot, even if it takes us
to the settlements--right up into the face of the law."
He set out over the rocks, his boots making hollow sounds in the
deadness of the world about them. Again he followed where once had
been the trail that led to Mooney's shack, over on the wobbly line
of rail that rambled for eighty miles into the wilderness from
Fort William. The P. D. & W. it was named--Port Arthur, Duluth &
Western; but it had never reached Duluth, and there were those who
had nicknamed it Poverty, Destruction & Want. Many times Jolly
Roger had laughed at the queer stories Nada told him about it; how
a wrecking outfit was always carried behind on the twice-a-week
train, and how the crew picked berries in season, and had their
trapping lines, and once chased a bear half way to Whitefish Lake
while the train waited for hours. She called it the "Cannon Ball,"
because once upon a time it had made sixty-nine miles in twenty-
four hours. But there was nothing of humor about it as Jolly Roger
and Peter came out upon it tonight. It stretched out both ways
from them, a thin, grim line of tragedy in the moonlight, and from
where they stood it appeared to reach into a black and abysmal
Once more man and dog paused, and looked back at what had been.
And the whine came in Peter's throat again and something tugged
inside him, urging him to bark up into the face of the moon, as he
had often barked for Nada in the days of his puppyhood, and
But his master went on and Peter followed him, stepping the uneven
ties one by one. And with the black chaos of the world under and
about them, and the glorious light of the moon filling; the sky
over their heads, the journey they made seemed weirdly unreal. For
the silver and gold of the moon and the black muck of the fire
refused to mingle, and while over their heads they could see the
tiniest clouds and beyond to the farthest stars, all was black
emptiness when they looked about them upon what once had been a
living earth. Only the two lines of steel caught the moon-glow and
the charred ends of the fire-shriven stubs that rose up out of the
earth shroud and silhouetted themselves against the sky.
To Peter it was not what he failed to see, but what he did not
hear or smell that oppressed him and stirred him to wide-eyed
watchfulness against impending evil. Under many moons he had
traveled with his master in their never-ending flight from the
law, and many other nights with neither moon nor stars had they
felt out their trails together. But always, under him and over him
on all sides of him, there had been LIFE. And tonight there was no
life, nor smell of life. There was no chirp of night bird, or
flutter of owl's wing, no plash of duck or cry of loon. He
listened in vain for the crinkling snap of twig, and the whisper
of wind in treetops. And there was no smell--no musk of mink that
had crossed his path, no taste in the air of the strong scented
fox, no subtle breath of partridge and rabbit and fleshy
porcupine. And even from the far distances there came no sound, no
howl of wolf, no castanet clatter of stout moose horns against
bending saplings--not even the howl of a trapper's dog.
The stillness was of the earth, and yet unearthly. It was even as
if some fearsome thing was smothering the sound of his master's
feet. To McKay, sensing these same things that Peter sensed, came
understanding that brought with it an uneasiness which changed
swiftly into the chill of a growing fear. The utter lifelessness
told him how vast the destruction of the fire had been. Its
obliteration was so great no life had adventured back into the
desolated country, though the conflagration must have passed in
the preceding autumn, many months ago. The burned country was a
grave and the nearest edge of it, judged from the sepulchral
stillness of the night, was many miles away.
For the first time came the horror of the thought that in such a
fire as this people must have died. It had swept upon them like a
tidal wave, galloping the forests with the speed of a race horse,
with only this thin line of rail leading to the freedom of life
outside. In places only a miracle could have made escape possible.
And here, where Nada had lived, with the pitch-wood forests
crowding close, the fire must have burned most fiercely. In this
moment, when fear of the unspeakable set his heart trembling, his
faith fastened itself grimly to the little old gray Missioner,
Father John, in whose cabin Nada had taken refuge many months ago,
when Jed Hawkins lay dead in the trail with his one-eyed face
turned up to the thunder and lightning in the sky. Father John, on
that stormy night when he fled north, had promised to care for
Nada, and in silence he breathed a prayer that the Missioner had
saved her from the red death that had swept like an avalanche upon
them. He told himself it must be so. He cried out the words aloud,
and Peter heard him, and followed closer, so that his head touched
his master's leg as he walked.
But the fear was there. From a spark it grew into a red-hot spot
in Jolly Roger's heart. Twice in his own life he had raced against
death in a forest fire. But never had he seen a fire like this
must have been. All at once he seemed to hear the roar of it in
his ears, the rolling thunder of the earth as it twisted in the
cataclysm of flame, the hissing shriek of the flaming pitch-tops
as they leapt in lightning fires against the smoke-smothered sky.
A few hours ago he had stood where Father John's Cabin had been
and the place was a ruin of char and ash. If the fire had hemmed
them in and they had not escaped--
His voice cried out in sudden protest.
"It can't be, Peter. It can't be! They made the rail--or the lake
--and we'll find them in the settlements. It couldn't happen. God
wouldn't let her die like that!"
He stopped, and stared into the moon-broken gloom on his left.
Something was there, fifty feet away, that drew him down through
the muck which lay knee deep in the right-of-way ditch. It was
what was left of the cutter's cabin, a clutter of burned logs, a
wind scattered heap of ash. Even there, within arm's reach of the
railroad, there had been no salvation from the fire.
He waded again through the muck of the ditch, and went on.
Mentally and physically he was fighting the ogre that was striving
to achieve possession of his brain. Over and over he repeated his
faith that Nada and the Missioner had escaped and he would find
them in the settlements. Less than ever he thought of the law in
these hours. What happened to himself was of small importance now,
if he could find Nada alive before the menace caught up with him
from behind, or ambushed him ahead. Yet the necessity of caution
impinged itself upon him even in the recklessness of his
determination to find her if he had to walk into the arms of the
law that was hunting him.
For an hour they went on, and as the moon sank westward it seemed
to turn its face to look at them; and behind them, when they
looked back, the world was transformed into a black pit, while
ahead--with the glow of it streaming over their shoulders--ghostly
shapes took form, and vision reached farther. Twice they caught
the silvery gleam of lakes through the tree-stubs, and again they
walked with the rippling murmur of a stream that kept for a mile
within the sound of their ears. But even here, with water crying
out its invitation to life, there was no life.
Another hour after that Jolly Roger's pulse beat a little faster
as he strained his eyes to see ahead. Somewhere near, within a
mile or two, was the first settlement with its sawmill and its
bunkhouses, its one store and its few cabins, with flat mountains
of sawdust on one side of it, and the evergreen forest creeping up
to its doors on the other. Surely they would find life here, where
there had been man power to hold fire back from the clearing. And
it was here he might find Nada and the Missioner, for more than
once Father John had preached to the red-cheeked women and
children and the clear-eyed men of the Finnish community that
But as they drew nearer he listened in vain for the bark of a dog,
and his eyes quested as futilely for a point of light in the wide
canopy of gloom. At last, close together, they rounded a curve in
the road, and crossed a small bridge with a creek running below,
and McKay knew his arm should be able to send a stone to what he
was seeking ahead. And then, a minute later, he drew in a great
gasping breath of unbelief and horror.
For the settlement was no longer in the clearing between him and
the rim-glow of the moon. No living tree raised its head against
the sky, no sign of cabin or mill shadowed the earth, and where
the store had been, and the little church with its white-painted
cross, was only a chaos of empty gloom.
He went down, as he had gone to the tie cutter's cabin, and for
many minutes he stared and listened, while Peter seemed to stand
without breathing. Then making a wide megaphone of his hands, he
shouted. It was an alarming thing to do and Peter started as if
struck. For there were only ghosts to answer back and the
hollowness of a shriven pit for the cry to travel in. Nothing was
there. Even the great sawdust piles had shrunk into black scars
under the scourge of the fire.
A groaning agony was in the breath of Jolly Roger's lips as he
went back to the railroad and hurried on Death must have come
here, death sudden and swift. And if it had fallen upon the
Finnish settlement, with its strong women and its stronger men,
what might it not have done in the cabin of the little old gray
For a long time after that he forgot Peter was with him. He forgot
everything but his desire to reach a living thing. At times, where
the road-bed was smooth, he almost ran, and at others he paused
for a little to gather his breath and listen. And it was Peter, in
one of these intervals, who caught the first message of life. From
a long distance away came faintly the barking of a dog.
Half a mile farther on they came to a clearing where no stubs of
trees stood up like question marks against the sky, and in this
clearing was a cabin, a dark blotch that was without light or
sound. But from behind it the dog barked again, and Jolly Roger
made quickly toward it. Here there was no ash under his feet, and
he knew that at last he had found an oasis of life in the
desolation. Loudly he knocked with his fist at the cabin door and
soon there was a response inside, the heavy movement of a man's
body getting out of bed, and after that the questioning voice of a
woman. He knocked again and the flare of a lighted match illumined
the window. Then came the drawing of a bar at the door and a man
stood there in his night attire, a man with a heavy face and
bristling beard, and a lamp in his hand.
"I beg your pardon for waking you," said Jolly Roger, "but I am
just down from the north, hoping to find my friends back here and
I have seen nothing but destruction and death. You are the first
living soul I have found to ask about them."
"Where were they?" grunted the man.
"At Cragg's Ridge."
"Then God help them," came the woman's voice from back in the
"Cragg's Ridge," said the man, "was a burning hell in the middle
of the night."
Jolly Roger's fingers dug into the wood at the edge of the door.
"A lot of 'em died," said the man stolidly, as if eager to rid
himself of the one who had broken his sleep. "If it was Mooney,
he's dead. An' if it was Robson, or Jake the Swede, or the Adams
family--they're dead, too."
"But it wasn't," said Jolly Roger, his heart choking between fear
and hope. "It was Father John, the Missioner, and Nada Hawkins,
who lived with him--or with her foster-mother in the Hawkins'
The man shook his head, and turned down the wick of his lamp.
"I dunno about the girl, or the old witch who was her mother," he
said, "but the Missioner made it out safe, and went to the
"And no girl was with him?"
"No, there was no girl," came the woman's voice again, and Peter
jerked up his ears at the creaking of a bed. "Father John stopped
here the second day after the fire had passed, and he said he was
gathering up the bones of the dead. Nada Hawkins wasn't with him,
and he didn't say who had died and who hadn't. But I think--"
She stopped as the bearded man turned toward her.
"You think what?" demanded Jolly Roger, stepping half into the
"I think," said the woman, "that she died along with the others.
Anyway, Jed Hawkins' witch-woman was burned trying to make for the
lake, and little of her was left."
The man with the lamp made a movement as if to close the door.
"That's all we know," he growled.
"For God's sake--don't!" entreated Jolly Roger, barring the door
with his arm. "Surely there were some who escaped from Cragg's
Ridge and beyond!"
"Mebby a half, mebby less," said the man. "I tell you it burned
like hell, and the worst of it came in the middle of the night
with a wind behind it that blew a hurricane. We've twenty acres
cleared here, with the cabin in the center of it, an' it singed my
beard and burned her hair and scorched our hands, and my pigs died
out there from the heat of it. Mebby it's a place to sleep in for
the night you want, stranger?"
"No, I'm going on," said Jolly Roger, the blood in his veins
running with the chill of water. "How far before I come to the end
"Ten miles on. It started this side of the next settlement."
Jolly Roger drew back and the door closed, and standing on the
railroad once more he saw the light go out and after that the
occasional barking of the settler's dog grew fainter and fainter
He felt a great weariness in his bones and body now. With hope
struck down the exhaustion of two nights and a day without sleep
seized upon him and his feet plodded more and more slowly over the
uneven ties of the road. Even in his weariness he fought madly
against the thought that Nada was dead and he repeated the word
"impossible--impossible" so often that it ran in sing-song through
his brain. And he could not keep away from him the white, thin
face of the Missioner, who had promised on his faith In God to
care for Nada, and who had passed the settler's cabin ALONE.
Another two hours they went on and then came the first of the
green timber. Under the shelter of some balsams Jolly Roger found
a resting place and there they waited for the break of dawn. Peter
stretched out and slept. But Jolly Roger sat with his head and
shoulders against the bole of a tree, and not until the light of
the moon was driven away by the darkness that preceded dawn by an
hour or two did his eyes close in restless slumber. He was roused
by the wakening twitter of birds and in the cold water of a creek
that ran near he bathed his face and hands. Peter wondered why
there was no fire and no breakfast this morning.
The settlement was only a little way ahead and it was very early
when they reached it. People were still in their beds and out of
only one chimney was smoke rising into the clear calm of the
breaking day. From this cabin a young man came, and stood for a
moment after he had closed the door, yawning and stretching his
arms and looking up to see what sort of promise the sky held for
the day. After that he went to a stable of logs, and Jolly Roger
followed him there.
He was unlike the bearded settler, and nodded with a youthful
smile of cheer.
"Good morning," he said. "You're traveling early, and--"
He looked more keenly as his eyes took in Jolly Roger's boots and
clothes, and the gray pallor in his face.
"Just get in?" he asked kindly. "And--from the burnt country?"
"Yes, from the burnt country. I've been away a long time, and I'm
trying to find out if my friends are among the living or the dead.
Did you ever hear of Father John, the Missioner at Cragg's Ridge?"
The young man's face brightened.
"I knew him," he said. "He helped me to bury my brother, three
years ago. And if it's him you seek, he is safe. He went up to
Fort William a week after the fire, and that was in September,
eight months past."
"And was there with him a girl named Nada Hawkins?" asked Jolly
Roger, trying hard to speak calmly as he looked into the other's
The youth shook his head.
"No, he was alone. He slept in my cabin overnight, and he said
nothing of a girl named Nada Hawkins."
"Did he speak of others?"
"He was very tired, and I think he was half dead with grief at
what had happened. He spoke no names that I remember."
Then he saw the gray look in Jolly Roger's face grow deeper, and
saw the despair which could not hide itself in his eyes.
"But there were a number of girls who passed here, alone or with
their friends," he said hopefully. "What sort of looking girl was
"A--kid. That's what I called her," said Jolly Roger, in a dead,
cold voice. "Eighteen, and beautiful, with blue eyes, and brown
hair that she couldn't keep from blowing in curls about her face.
So like an angel you wouldn't forget her if you'd seen her--just
Gently the youth placed a hand on Jolly Roger's arm.
"She didn't come this way," he said, "but maybe you'll find her
somewhere else. Won't you have breakfast with me? I've a stranger
in the cabin, still sleeping, who's going into the fire country
from which you've come. He's hunting for some one, and maybe you
can give him information. He's going to Cragg's Ridge."
"Cragg's Ridge!" exclaimed Jolly Roger. "What is his name?"
"Breault," said the youth. "Sergeant Breault, of the Royal
Northwest Mounted Police."
Jolly Roger turned to stroke the neck of a horse waiting for its
morning feed. But he felt nothing of the touch of flesh under his
hand. Cold as iron went his heart, and for half a minute he made
no answer. Then he said:
"Thanks, friend. I breakfasted before it was light and I'm hitting
out into the brush west and north, for the Rainy River country.
Please don't tell this man Breault that you saw me, for he'll
think badly of me for not waiting to give him information he might
want. But--you understand--if you loved the brother who died--that
it's hard for me to talk with anyone just now."
The young man's fingers touched his arm again.
"I understand," he said, "and I hope to God you'll find her."
Silently they shook hands, and Jolly Roger hurried away from the
cabin with the rising spiral of smoke.
Three days later a man and a dog came from the burned country into
the town of Fort William, seeking for a wandering messenger of God
who called himself Father John, and a young and beautiful girl
whose name was Nada Hawkins. He stopped first at the old mission,
in whose shadow the Indians and traders of a century before had
bartered their wares, and Father Augustine, the aged patriarch who
talked with him, murmured as he went that he was a strange man,
and a sick one, with a little madness lurking in his eyes.
And it was, in fact, a madness of despair eating out the life in
Jolly Roger's heart. For he no longer had hope Nada had escaped
the fire, even though at no place had he found a conclusive
evidence of her death. But that signified little, for there were
many of the missing who had not been found between the last of
September and these days of May. What he did find, with deadly
regularity, was the fact that Father John had escaped--and that he
had traveled to safety ALONE.
And Father Augustine told him that when Father John stopped to
rest for a few days at the Mission he was heading north, for
somewhere on Pashkokogon Lake near the river Albany.
There was little rest for Peter and his master at Fort William
town. That Breault must be close on their trail, and following it
with the merciless determination of the ferret from which he had
been named, there was no shadow of doubt in the mind of Jolly
Roger McKay. So after outfitting his pack at a little corner shop,
where Breault would be slow to enquire about him, he struck north
through the bush toward Dog Lake and the river of the same name.
Five or six days, he thought, would bring him to Father John and
the truth which he dreaded more and more to hear.
The despondency of his master had sunk, in some mysterious way,
into the soul of Peter. Without the understanding of language he
sensed the oppressive gloom of tragedy behind and about him and
there was a wolfish slinking in the manner of his travel now, and
his confidence was going as he caught the disease of despair of
the man who traveled with him. But constantly and vigilantly his
eyes and scent were questing about them, suspicious of the very
winds that whispered in the treetops. And at night after they had
built their little cooking fire in the deepest heart of the bush
he would lie half awake during the hours of darkness, the
watchfulness of his senses never completely dulled in the stupor
Since the night they had stopped at the settler's cabin Jolly
Roger's face had grown grayer and thinner. A number of times he
had tried to assure himself what he would do in that moment which
was coming when he would stand face to face with Breault the man-
hunter. His caution, after he left Fort William, was in a way an
automatic instinct that worked for self-preservation in face of
the fact that he was growing less and less concerned regarding
Breault's appearance. It was not in his desire to delay the end
much longer. The chase had been a long one, with its thrills and
its happiness at times, but now he was growing tired and with Nada
gone there was only hopeless gloom ahead. If she were dead he
wanted to go to her. That thought was a dawning pleasure in his
breast, and it was warm in his heart when he tied in a hard knot
the buckskin string which locked the flap of his pistol holster.
When Breault overtook him the law would know, because of the
significance of this knot, that he had welcomed the end of the
Never in the northland had there come a spring more beautiful than
this of the year in which McKay and his dog went through the deep
wilds to Pashkokogon Lake. In a few hours, it seemed, the last
chill died out of the air and there came the soft whispers of
those bridal-weeks between May and Summer, a month ahead of their
time. But Jolly Roger, for the first time in his life, failed to
respond to the wonder and beauty of the earth's rejoicing. The
first flowers did not fill him with the old joy. He no longer
stood up straight, with expanding chest, to drink in the rare
sweetness of air weighted with the tonic of balsams and cedar
spruce. Vainly he tried to lift up his soul with the song and
bustle of mating things. There was no longer music for him in the
flood-time rushing of spring waters. An utter loneliness filled
the cry of the loon. And all about him was a vast emptiness from
which the spirit of life had fled for him.
Thus he came at last to a stream in the Burntwood country which
ran into Pashkokogon Lake; and it was this day, in the mellow
sunlight of late afternoon, that they heard coming to them from
out of the dense forest the chopping of an axe.
Toward this they made their way, with caution and no sound, until
in a little clearing in a bend of the stream they saw a cabin. It
was a newly built cabin, and smoke was rising from the chimney.
But the chopping was nearer them, in the heart of a thick cover of
evergreen and birch. Into this Jolly Roger and Peter made their
way and came within a dozen steps of the man who was wielding the
axe. It was then that Jolly Roger rose up with a cry on his lips,
for the man was Father John the Missioner.
In spite of the tragedy through which he had passed the little
gray man seemed younger than in that month long ago when Jolly
Roger had fled to the north. He dropped his axe now and stood as
if only half believing, a look of joy shining in his face as he
realized the truth of what had happened. "McKay," he cried,
reaching out his hands. "McKay, my boy!"
A look of pity mellowed the gladness in his eyes as he noted the
change in Jolly Roger's face, and the despair that had set its
mark upon it.
They stood for a moment with clasped hands, questioning and
answering with the silence of their eyes. And then the Missioner
"You have heard? Someone has told you?"
"No," said Jolly Roger, his head dropping a little. "No one has
told me," and he was thinking of Nada, and her death.
Father John's fingers tightened.
"It is strange how the ways of God bring themselves about," he
spoke in a low voice. "Roger, you did not kill Jed Hawkins!"
Dumbly, his lips dried of words, Jolly Roger stared at him.
"No, you didn't kill him," repeated Father John. "On that same
night of the storm when you thought you left him dead in the
trail, he stumbled back to his cabin, alive. But God's vengeance
"A few days later, while drunk, he missed his footing and fell
from a ledge to his death. His wife, poor creature, wished him
buried in sight of the cabin door--"
But in this moment Roger McKay was thinking less of Breault the
Ferret and the loosening of the hangman's rope from about his neck
than he was of another thing. And Father John was saying in a
voice that seemed far away and unreal:
"We've sent out word to all parts of the north, hoping someone
would find you and send you back. And she has prayed each night,
and each hour of the day the same prayer has been in her heart and
on her lips. And now--"
Someone was coming to them from the direction of the cabin--
someone, a girl, and she was singing,
McKay's face went whiter than the gray ash of fire.
"My God," he whispered huskily. "I thought--she had died!"
It was only then Father John understood the meaning of what he had
seen in his face.
"No, she is alive," he cried. "I sent her straight north through
the bush with an Indian the day after the fire. And later I left
word for you with the Fire Relief Committee at Fort Wiliam, where
I thought you would first enquire."
"And it was there," said Jolly Roger, "that I did not enquire at
In the edge of the clearing, close to the thicket of timber, Nada
had stopped. For across the open space a strange looking creature
had raced at the sound of her voice; a dog with bristling Airedale
whiskers, and a hound's legs, and wild-wolf's body hardened and
roughened by months of fighting in the wilderness. As in the days
of his puppyhood, Peter leapt up against her, and a cry burst from
Nada's lips, a wild and sobbing cry of PETER, PETER, PETER--and it
was this cry Jolly Roger heard as he tore away from Father John.
On her knees, with her arms about Peter's shaggy head, Nada stared
wildly at the clump of timber, and in a moment she saw a man break
out of it, and stand still, as if the mellow sunlight blinded him,
and made him unable to move. And the same choking weakness was at
her own heart as she rose up from Peter, and reached out her arms
toward the gray figure in the edge of the wood, sobbing, trying to
speak and yet saying no word.
And a little slower, because of his age, Father John came a moment
later, and peered out with the knowledge of long years from a
thicket of young banksians, and when he saw the two in the open,
close in each other's arms, and Peter hopping madly about them, he
drew out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes, and went back then for
the axe which he had dropped in the timber clump.
There was a great drumming in Jolly Roger's head, and for a time
he failed even to hear Peter yelping at their side, for all the
world was drowned in those moments by the breaking sobs in Nada's
breath and the wild thrill of her body in his arms; and he saw
nothing but the upturned face, crushed close against his breast,
and the wide-open eyes, and the lips to kiss. And even Nada's face
he seemed to see through a silvery mist, and he felt her arms
strangely about his neck, as if it was all half like a dream--a
dream of the kind that had come to him beside his campfire. It was
a little cry from Nada that drove the unreality away.
"Roger--you're--breaking me," she cried, gasping for her breath in
his arms, yet without giving up the clasp of her own arms about
his neck in the least; and at that he sensed the brutality of his
strength, and held her off a little, looking into her face.
Pride and happiness and the courage in his heart would have slunk
away could he have seen himself then, as Father John saw him,
coming from the edge of the bush, and as Nada saw him, held there
at the end of his arms. Since the day he had come with Peter to
Cragg's Ridge the blade of a razor had not touched his face, and
his beard was like a brush, and with it his hair unkempt and
straggling; and his eyes were red from sleeplessness and the
haunting of that grim despair which had dogged his footsteps.
But these things Nada did not see. Or, if she did, there must have
been something beautiful about them for her. For it was not a
little girl, but a woman who was standing there before Jolly Roger
now--Nada grown older, very much older it seemed to McKay, and
taller, with her hair no longer rioting free about her, but
gathered up in a wonderful way on the crown of her head. This
change McKay discovered as she stood there, and it swept upon him
all in a moment, and with it the prick of something swift and
terrorizing inside him. She was not the little girl of Cragg's
Ridge. She was a WOMAN. In a year had come this miracle of change,
and it frightened him, for such a creature as this that stood
before him now Jed Hawkins would never have dared to curse or
beat, and he--Roger McKay--was afraid to gather her back into his
And then, even as his fingers slowly drew themselves away from her
shoulders, he saw that which had not changed--the wonder-light in
her eyes, the soul that lay as open to him now as on that other
day in Indian Tom's cabin, when Mrs. Captain Kidd had bustled and
squeaked on the pantry shelf, and Peter had watched them as he lay
with his broken leg in the going down of the sun. And as he
hesitated it was Nada herself who came into his arms, and laid her
head on his breast, and trembled and laughed and cried there,
while Father John came up and patted her shoulder, and smiled
happily at McKay, and then went on to the cabin in the clearing.
For a time after that Jolly Roger crushed his face in Nada's hair,
and neither said a word, but there was a strange throbbing of
their hearts together, and after a little Nada reached up a hand
to his cheek, and stroked it tenderly, bristly beard and all.
"I'll never let you run away from me again--Mister--Jolly Roger,"
she said, and it was the little Nada of Cragg's Ridge who
whispered the words, half sobbing; but in the voice there was also
something very definite and very sure, and McKay felt the glorious
thrill of it as he raised his face from her hair, and saw once
more the sun-filled world about him.
Following this day Peter was observant of a strange excitement in
the cabin on the Burntwood. It was not so much a thing of physical
happening, but more the mysterious FEEL of something impending and
very near. The day following their arrival in the Pashkokogon
country his master seemed to have forgotten him entirely. It was
Nada who noticed him, but even she was different; and Father John
went about, overseeing two Indians whom he kept very busy, his
pale, thin face luminous with an anticipation which roused Peter's
curiosity, and kept him watchful. He was puzzled, too, by the odd
actions of the humans about him. The second morning Nada remained
in her room, and Jolly Roger wandered off into the woods without
his breakfast, and Father John ate alone, smiling gently as he
looked at the tightly closed door of Nada's bedroom. Even
Oosimisk, the Leaf Bud, the sleek-haired Indian woman who cared
for the house, was nervously expectant as she watched for Nada,
and Mistoos, her husband, grunted and grimaced as he carried in
from the edge of the forest many loads of soft evergreens on his
Into the forest Jolly Roger went alone, puffing furiously at his
pipe. He was all a-tremble and his blood seemed to quiver and
dance as it ran through his veins. Since the first rose-flush of
dawn he had been awake, fighting against this upsetting of every
nerve that was in him.
He felt pitiably weak and helpless. But it was the weakness and
helplessness of a happiness too vast for him to measure. It was
Nada in her ragged shoes and dress, with the haunting torture of
Jed Hawkins' brutality in her eyes and face, that he had expected
to find, if he found her at all; someone to fight for, and kill
for if necessary, someone his muscle and brawn would always
protect against evil. He had not dreamed that in these many months
with Father John she would change from "a little kid goin' on
eighteen" into--A WOMAN.
He tried to recall just what he had said to her last night--that
he was still an outlaw, and would always be, no matter how well he
lived from this day on; and that she, now that she had Father
John's protection, was very foolish to care for him, or keep her
troth with him, and would be happier if she could forget what had
happened at Cragg's Ridge.
"You're a WOMAN now," he said. "A WOMAN--" he had emphasized that
--"and you don't need me any more."
And she had looked at him, without speaking, as if reading what
was inside him; and then, with a sudden little laugh, she swiftly
pulled her hair down about her shoulders, and repeated the very
words she had said to him a long time ago--"Without you--I'd want
to die--Mister--Jolly Roger," and with that she turned and ran
into the cabin, her hair flying riotously, and he had not seen her
again since that moment.
Since then his heart had behaved like a thing with the fever, and
it was beating swiftly now as he looked at his watch and noted the
quick passing of time.
Back in the cabin Peter was sniffing at the crack under Nada's
door, and listening to her movement. For a long time he had heard
her, but not once had she opened the door. And he wondered, after
that, why Oosimisk and her husband and Father John piled
evergreens all about, until the cabin looked like the little
jackpine trysting-place down at Cragg's Ridge, even to the soft
carpet of grass on the floor, and flowers scattered all about.
Hopeless of understanding what it meant, he went outside, and
waited in the warm May-day sun until his master came back through
the clearing. What happened after that puzzled him greatly. When
he followed Jolly Roger into the cabin Mistoos and the Leaf Bud
were seated in chairs, their hands folded, and Father John stood
behind a small table on which lay an open book, and he was looking
at his watch when they came in. He nodded, and smiled, and very
clearly Peter saw his master gulp, as if swallowing something that
was in his throat. And the ruddiness had gone completely out of
his smooth-shaven cheeks. It was the first time Peter had seen his
master so clearly afraid, and from his burrow in the evergreens he
growled under his breath, eyeing the open door with sudden thought
of an enemy.
And then Father John was tapping at Nada's door.
He went back to the table and waited, and as the knob of the door
turned very slowly Jolly Roger swallowed again, and took a step
toward it. It opened, and Nada stood there. And Jolly Roger gave a
little cry, so low that Peter could just hear it, as he held out
his hands to her.
For Nada was no longer the Nada who had come to him in Father
John's clearing. She was the Nada of Cragg's Ridge, the Nada of
that wild night of storm when he had fled into the north. Her hair
fell about her, as in the old days when Peter and she had played
together among the rocks and flowers, and her wedding dress was
faded and torn, for it was the dress she had worn that night of
despair when she sent her message to Peter's master, and on her
little feet were shoes broken and disfigured by her flight in
those last hours of her mighty effort to go with the man she
loved. In Father John's eyes, as she stood there, was a great
astonishment; but in Jolly Roger's there came such a joy that, in
answer to it, Nada went straight into his arms and held up her
lips to be kissed.
Her cheeks were very pink when she stood beside McKay, with Father
John before them, the open book in his hands; and then, as her
long lashes drooped over her eyes, and her breath came a little
more quickly, she saw Peter staring at her questioningly, and made
a little motion to him with her hand. He went to her, and her
fingers touched his head as Father John began speaking. Peter
looked up, and listened, and was very quiet in these moments.
Jolly Roger was staring straight at the balsam-decked wall
opposite him, but there was something mighty strong and proud in
the way he held his head, and the fear had gone completely out of
his eyes. And Nada stood very close to him, so that her brown head
lightly touched his shoulder and he could see the silken shimmer
of loose tresses which with sweet intent she had let fall over his
arm. And her little fingers clung tightly to his thumb, as on that
blessed night when they had walked together across the plain below
Cragg's Ridge, with the moon lighting their way.
Peter, in his dog way, fell a-wondering as he stood there, but
kept his manners and remained still. When it was all over he felt
a desire to show his teeth and growl, for when Father John had
kissed Nada, and was shaking Jolly Roger's hand, he saw his
mistress crying in that strange, silent way he had so often seen
her crying in his puppyhood days. Only now her blue eyes were wide
open as she looked at Jolly Roger, and her cheeks were flushed to
the pink of wild rose petals, and her lips were trembling a
little, and there was a tiny something pulsing in her soft white
throat. And all at once there came a smile with the tears, and
Jolly Roger--turning from Father John to find her thus--gathered
her close in his arms, and Peter wagged his tail and went out into
the sun-filled day, where he heard a red squirrel challenging him
from a stub in the edge of the clearing.
A little later he saw Nada and his master come out of the cabin,
and walk hand in hand across the open into the sweet-smelling
timber where Father John had been chopping with his axe.
On a fresh-cut log Nada sat down, and McKay sat beside her, still
holding her hand. Not once had he spoken in crossing the open, and
it seemed as though little devils were holding his lips closed
With her eyes looking down at the greening earth under their feet,
Nada said, very softly,
"Mister--Jolly Roger--are you glad?"
"Yes," he said.
"Glad that I am--your wife?"
The word drew a great, sobbing breath from him, and looking up
suddenly she saw that he was staring over the balsam-tops into the
wonderful blue of the sky.
"Your WIFE," she whispered, touching his shoulder gently with her
"Yes, I'm glad," he said. "So glad that I'm--afraid."
"Then--if you are glad--please kiss me again."
He stood up, and drew her to him, and held her face between his
hands as he kissed her red lips; and after that he kissed her
shining hair again and again, and when he let her go her eyes were
a glory of happiness.
"And you will never run away from me again?" she demanded, holding
him at arm's length. "Never?"
"Then--I want nothing more in this life," she said, nestling
against him again. "Only you, for ever and ever."
Jolly Roger made no answer, but held her a long time in his arms,
with the soft beating of her heart against him, and listened to
the twitter and song of nesting and mating things about them. In
this silence she lay content, until Peter--growing restless--
started quietly into the golden depths of the forest.
It was Pied-Bot's going, cautious and soft-footed, as if danger
and menace might lurk just ahead of him, that brought another look
into McKay's eyes as Nada's hand crept to his cheek, and rested
"You love me--very much?"
"More than life," he answered, and as he spoke he was watching
Peter, questing the soft wind that came whispering from the south.
Her finger touched his lips, gentle and sweet.
"And wherever you go, I go--forever and always?" she questioned.
"Yes, forever and always"--and his eyes were looking through miles
upon miles of deep forest, and at the end he saw the thin and
pitiless face of a man who was following his trail, Breault the
His arms closed more tightly about her, and he pressed her face
"And I pray God you will never be sorry," he said, still looking
through the miles of forest.
"No, no--sorry I shall never be," she cried softly. "Not if we
fly, and go hungry, and fight--and die. Never shall I be sorry--
with you," and he felt the tightening of her arms.
And then, as he remained silent, with his lips on the velvety
smoothness of her hair, she told him what Father John had already
told him--of her wild effort to overtake him in that night of
storm when he had fled from the Missioner's cabin at Cragg's
Ridge; and in turn he told her how Peter came to him in the break
of the morning with the treasure which had saved him heart and
soul, and how he had given that treasure into the keeping of
Yellow Bird, on the shores of Wollaston.
And thereafter, for an hour, as they wandered through the May-time
sweetness of the forest, she would permit him to talk of only
Yellow Bird and Sun Cloud; and, one thing leading to another, she
learned how it was that Yellow Bird had been his fairy in
childhood days, and how he came to be an outlaw for her in later
manhood. Her eyes were shining when he had finished, and her red
lips were a-tremble with the quickness of her breathing.
"Some day--you'll take me there," she whispered. "Oh, I'm so proud
of you, my Roger. And I love Yellow Bird. And Sun Cloud. Some day
He nodded, happiness overshadowing the fear of Breault that had
grown in his heart.
"Yes, we'll go. I've dreamed it, and the dream helped to keep me
And then he told her of Cassidy, and of the paradise he had found
with Giselle and her grandfather on the other side of Wollaston.
And so it happened the hours passed swiftly, and it was afternoon
when they returned to Father John's cabin, and Nada went into her
In the early waning of the sun the feast which the Leaf Bud had
been preparing was ready, and not until then did Nada appear
And once more the lump rose up in Roger's throat at the wonder of
her, for very completely she had transformed herself into a woman
again, from the softly shining coils of hair on the crown of her
head to the coquettish little slippers that set off her dainty
feet. And he saw the white gleam of soft shoulders and tender arms
where once had been rags and bruises, and held there by the slim
beauty and exquisite daintiness of her he stared like a fool,
until suddenly she laughed joyously at his amaze, and ran to him
with wide-open arms, and kissed him so soundly that Peter cocked
up his ears a bit startled. And then she kissed Father John, and
after that was mistress at the table, radiant in her triumph and
her eyes starry with happiness.
And she was no longer shy in speaking his name, but called him
Roger boldly and many times, and twice during that meal of
marvelous forgetfulness--though long lashes covered her eyes when
she spoke it--she called him 'my husband.'
In truth she was a woman and for the most part Roger McKay--
fighting man and very strong though he was--looked at her in dumb
worship, speaking little, his heart a-throb, and his brain reeling
in the marvel of what at last had come into his possession.
And yet, even in this hour of supreme happiness that held him half
mute, there was always lurking in the back of his brain a thought
of Breault, the Ferret.
In the star dusk of evening the time came when he spoke his fears
to Father John.
Nada had gone into her room, taking Peter with her, and out under
the cool of the skies Father John's pale face was turned up to the
unending glory of the firmament, and his lips were whispering a
prayer of gratitude and blessing, when Roger laid a hand gently on
"Father," he said, "it is a wonderful night."
"A night of gladness and omen," replied Father John. "See the
stars! They seem to be alive and rejoicing, and it is not
sacrilege to believe they are, giving you their benediction."
"And yet--I am afraid."
Father John looked into his eyes, and saw him staring off over the
"Yes--afraid for her."
Briefly he told him of what had happened on the Barren months ago,
and how he had narrowly escaped Breault in coming away from the
"He is on my trail," he said, "and tonight he is not very far
The Missioner's hand rested in a comforting way on his arm.
"You did not kill Jed Hawkins, my son, and for that we have
thanked God each day and night of our lives--Nada and I. And each
evening she has prayed for you, kneeling at my side, and through
every hour of the day I know she was praying for you in her heart
--and I believe in the answer to prayer such as that, Roger. Her
faith, now, is as deep as the sea. And you, too, must have faith."
"She is more precious to me than life--a thousand lives, if I had
them," whispered Jolly Roger. "If anything should happen--now--"
"Yes, if the thing you fear should happen, what then?" cried
Father John, faith ringing like a note of inspiration in his low
voice. "What, then, Roger? You did not kill Jed Hawkins. If the
law compels you to pay a price for the errors it believes you have
committed, will that price be so terribly severe?"
"Prison, Father. Probably five years."
Father John laughed softly, the star-glow revealing a radiance in
"Five years!" he repeated. "Oh, my boy, my dear boy, what are five
years to pay for such a treasure as that which has come into your
possession tonight? Five short years--only five. And she waiting
for you, proud of you for those very achievements which sent you
to prison, planning for all the future that lies beyond those five
short years, growing sweeter and more beautiful for you as she
waits--Roger, is that a very great sacrifice? Is it too great a
price to pay? Five years, and after that--peace, love, happiness
for all time? Is it, Roger?"
McKay felt his voice tremble as he tried to answer.
"But she, father--"
"Yes, yes, I know what you would say," interrupted Father John
gently. "I argued with her, just as you would have argued, Roger.
I appealed to her reason. I told her that if you returned it would
mean prison for you, and strangely I said that same thing--five
years. But I found her selfish, Roger, very selfish--and set upon
her desire beyond all reason. And it was she who asked first those
very questions I have asked you tonight. 'What are five years?'
she demanded of me, defying my logic. 'What are five years--or
ten--or twenty, IF I KNOW I AM TO HAVE HIM AFTER THAT?' Yes, she
was selfish, Roger. Just that great is her love for you."
"Dear God in Heaven," breathed Jolly Roger, and stopped, his eyes
staring wide at the stars.
"And after that, after I had given in to her selfishness, Roger,