Part 1 out of 3
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[Illustration: "I am going to take you from the island!"]
The COURAGE of CAPTAIN PLUM
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
FRANK E. SCHOONOVER
THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM
THE TWO OATHS
On an afternoon in the early summer of 1856 Captain Nathaniel Plum,
master and owner of the sloop _Typhoon_ was engaged in nothing more
important than the smoking of an enormous pipe. Clouds of strongly
odored smoke, tinted with the lights of the setting sun, had risen above
his head in unremitting volumes for the last half hour. There was
infinite contentment in his face, notwithstanding the fact that he had
been meditating on a subject that was not altogether pleasant. But
Captain Plum was, in a way, a philosopher, though one would not have
guessed this fact from his appearance. He was, in the first place, a
young man, not more than eight or nine and twenty, and his strong,
rather thin face, tanned by exposure to the sea, was just now lighted up
by eyes that shone with an unbounded good humor which any instant might
take the form of laughter.
At the present time Captain Plum's vision was confined to one direction,
which carried his gaze out over Lake Michigan. Earlier in the day he had
been able to discern the hazy outline of the Michigan wilderness twenty
miles to the eastward. Straight ahead, shooting up rugged and sharp in
the red light of the day's end, were two islands. Between these, three
miles away, the sloop _Typhoon_ was strongly silhouetted in the fading
glow. Beyond the islands and the sloop there were no other objects for
Captain Plum's eyes to rest upon. So far as he could see there was no
other sail. At his back he was shut in by a dense growth of trees and
creeping vines, and unless a small boat edged close in around the end
of Beaver Island his place of concealment must remain undiscovered. At
least this seemed an assured fact to Captain Plum.
In the security of his position he began to whistle softly as he beat
the bowl of his pipe on his boot-heel to empty it of ashes. Then he drew
a long-barreled revolver from under a coat that he had thrown aside and
examined it carefully to see that the powder and ball were in solid and
that none of the caps was missing. From the same place he brought forth
a belt, buckled it round his waist, shoved the revolver into its
holster, and dragging the coat to him, fished out a letter from an
inside pocket. It was a dirty, much worn letter. Perhaps he had read it
a score of times. He read it again now, and then, refilling his pipe,
settled back against the rock that formed a rest for his shoulders and
turned his eyes in the direction of the sloop.
The last rim of the sun had fallen below the Michigan wilderness and in
the rapidly increasing gloom the sloop was becoming indistinguishable.
Captain Plum looked at his watch. He must still wait a little longer
before setting out upon the adventure that had brought him to this
isolated spot. He rested his head against the rock, and thought. He had
been thinking for hours. Back in the thicket he heard the prowling of
some small animal. There came the sleepy chirp of a bird and the
rustling of tired wings settling for the night. A strange stillness
hovered about him, and with it there came over him a loneliness that was
chilling, a loneliness that made him homesick. It was a new and
unpleasant sensation to Captain Plum. He could not remember just when he
had experienced it before; that is, if he dated the present from two
weeks ago to-night. It was then that the letter had been handed to him
in Chicago, and it had been a weight upon his soul and a prick to his
conscience ever since. Once or twice he had made up his mind to destroy
it, but each time he had repented at the last moment. In a sudden
revulsion at his weakness he pulled himself together, crumpled the
dirty missive into a ball, and flung it out upon the white rim of beach.
At this action there came a quick movement in the dense wall of verdure
behind him. Noiselessly the tangle of vines separated and a head thrust
itself out in time to see the bit of paper fall short of the water's
edge. Then the head shot back as swiftly and as silently as a serpent's.
Perhaps Captain Plum heard the gloating chuckle that followed the
movement. If so he thought it only some night bird in the brush.
"Heigh-ho!" he exclaimed with some return of his old cheer, "it's about
time we were starting!" He jumped to his feet and began brushing the
sand from his clothes. When he had done, he walked out upon the rim of
beach and stretched himself until his arm-bones cracked.
Again the hidden head shot forth from its concealment. A sudden turn and
Captain Plum would certainly have been startled. For it was a weird
object, this spying head; its face dead-white against the dense green of
the verdure, with shocks of long white hair hanging down on each side,
framing between them a pair of eyes that gleamed from cavernous sockets,
like black glowing beads. There was unmistakable fear, a tense anxiety
in those glittering eyes as Captain Plum walked toward the paper, but
when he paused and stretched himself, the sole of his boot carelessly
trampling the discarded letter, the head disappeared again and there
came another satisfied bird-like chuckle from the gloom of the thicket.
Captain Plum now put on his coat, buttoned it close to conceal the
weapons in his belt, and walked along the narrow water-run that crept
like a white ribbon between the lake and the island wilderness. No
sooner had he disappeared than the bushes and vines behind the rock were
torn asunder and a man wormed his way through them. For an instant he
paused, listening for returning footsteps, and then with startling
agility darted to the beach and seized the crumpled letter.
The person who for the greater part of the afternoon had been spying
upon Captain Plum from the security of the thicket was to all
appearances a very small and a very old man, though there was something
about him that seemed to belie a first guess at his age. His face was
emaciated; his hair was white and hung in straggling masses on his
shoulders; his hooked nose bore apparently the infallible stamp of
extreme age. Yet there was a strange and uncanny strength and quickness
in his movements. There was no stoop to his shoulders. His head was set
squarely. His eyes were as keen as steel. It would have been impossible
to have told whether he was fifty or seventy. Eagerly he smoothed out
the abused missive and evidently succeeded even in the failing light, in
deciphering much of it, for the glimmer of a smile flashed over his thin
features as he thrust the paper into his pocket.
Without a moment's hesitation he set out on the trail of Captain Plum. A
quarter of a mile down the path he overtook the object of his pursuit.
"Ah, how do you do, sir?" he greeted as the younger man turned about
upon hearing his approach. "A mighty fast pace you're setting for an old
man, sir!" He broke into a laugh that was not altogether unpleasant, and
boldly held out a hand. "We've been expecting you, but--not in this way.
I hope there's nothing wrong?"
Captain Plum had accepted the proffered hand. Its coldness and the
singular appearance of the old man who had come like an apparition
chilled him. In a moment, however, it occurred to him that he was a
victim of mistaken identity. As far as he knew there was no one on
Beaver Island who was expecting him. To the best of his knowledge he was
a fool for being there. His crew aboard the sloop had agreed upon that
point with extreme vehemence and, to a man, had attempted to dissuade
him from the mad project upon which he was launching himself among the
Mormons in their island stronghold. All this came to him while the
little old man was looking up into his face, chuckling, and shaking his
hand as if he were one of the most important and most greatly to be
desired personages in the world.
"Hope there's nothing wrong, Cap'n?" he repeated.
"Right as a trivet here, Dad," replied the young man, dropping the cold
hand that still persisted in clinging to his own. "But I guess you've
got the wrong party. Who's expecting me?"
The old man's face wrinkled itself in a grimace and one gleaming eye
opened and closed in an understanding wink.
"Ho, ho, ho!--of course you're not expected. Anyway, you're not
_expected_ to be expected! Cautious--a born general--mighty clever thing
to do. Strang should appreciate it." The old man gave vent to his own
approbation in a series of inimitable chuckles. "Is that your sloop out
there?" he inquired interestedly.
Something in the strangeness of the situation began to interest Captain
Plum. He had planned a little adventure of his own, but here was one
that promised to develop into something more exciting. He nodded his
"Splendid cargo," went on the old man. "Splendid cargo, eh?"
"Powder in good shape, eh?"
"Dry as tinder."
"And balls--lots of balls, and a few guns, eh?"
"Yes, we _have_ a few guns," said Captain Plum. The old man noted the
emphasis, but the darkness that had fast settled about them hid the
added meaning that passed in a curious look over the other's face.
"Odd way to come in, though--very odd!" continued the old man, gurgling
and shaking as if the thought of it occasioned him great merriment.
"Very cautious. Level business head. Want to know that things are on
the square, eh?"
"That's it!" exclaimed Captain Plum, catching at the proffered straw.
Inwardly he was wondering when his feet would touch bottom. Thus far he
had succeeded in getting but a single grip on the situation. Somebody
was expected at Beaver Island with powder and balls and guns. Well, he
had a certain quantity of these materials aboard his sloop, and if he
could make an agreeable bargain--
The old man interrupted the plan that was slowly forming itself in
Captain Plum's puzzled brain.
"It's the price, eh?" He laughed shrewdly. "You want to see the color of
the gold before you land the goods. I'll show it to you. I'll pay you
the whole sum to-night. Then you'll take the stuff where I tell you to.
Eh? Isn't that so?" He darted ahead of Captain Plum with a quick alert
movement. "Will you please follow me, sir?"
For an instant Captain Plum's impulse was to hold back. In that instant
it suddenly occurred to him that he was lending himself to a rank
imposition. At the same time he was filled with a desire to go deeper
into the adventure, and his blood thrilled with the thought of what it
might hold for him.
"Are you coming, sir?"
The little old man had stopped a dozen paces away and turned
"I tell you again that you've got the wrong man, Dad!"
"Will you follow me, sir?"
"Well, if you'll have it so--damned if I won't!" cried Captain Plum. He
felt that he had relieved his conscience, anyway. If things should
develop badly for him during the next few hours no one could say that he
had lied. So he followed light-heartedly after the old man, his eyes and
ears alert, and his right hand, by force of habit, reaching under his
coat to the butt of his pistol. His guide said not another word until
they had traveled for half an hour along a twisting path and stood at
last on the bald summit of a knoll from which they could look down upon
a number of lights twinkling dimly a quarter of a mile away. One of
these lights gleamed above all the others, like a beacon set among
"That's St. James," said the old man. His voice had changed. It was low
and soft, as though he feared to speak above a whisper.
The young man at his side gazed down silently upon the scattered lights,
his heart throbbing in a sudden tumult of excitement. He had set out
that day with the idea of resting his eyes on St. James. In its silent
mystery the town now lay at his feet.
"And that light--" spoke the old man. He pointed a trembling arm toward
the glare that shone more powerfully than the others. "That light marks
the sacred home of the king!" His voice had again changed. A metallic
hardness came into it, his words were vibrant with a strange excitement
which he strove hard to conceal. It was still light enough for Captain
Plum to see that the old man's black, beady eyes were startlingly alive
with newly aroused emotion.
He started rapidly down the knoll and there floated back to Captain Plum
the soft notes of his meaningless chuckle. A dozen rods farther on his
mysterious guide turned into a by-path which led them to another knoll,
capped by a good-sized building made of logs. There sounded the grating
of a key in a lock, the shooting of a bolt, and a door opened to admit
"You will pardon me if I don't light up," apologized the old man as he
led the way in. "A candle will be sufficient. You know there must be
privacy in these matters--always. Eh? Isn't that so?"
Captain Plum followed without reply. He guessed that the cabin was made
up of one large room, and that at the present time, at least, it
possessed no other occupant than the singular creature who had guided
him to it.
"It is just as well, on this particular night, that no light is seen at
the window," continued the old man as he rummaged about a table for a
match and a candle. "I have a little corner back here that a candle will
brighten up nicely and no one in the world will know it. Ho, ho,
ho!--how nice it is to have a quiet little corner sometimes! Eh, Captain
At the sound of his name Captain Plum started as though an unexpected
hand had suddenly been laid upon him. So he _was_ expected, after all,
and his name was known! For a moment his surprise robbed him of the
power of speech. The little old man had lighted his candle, and,
grinning back over his shoulder, passed through a narrow cut in the
wall that could hardly be called a door and planted his light on a table
that stood in the center of a small room, or closet, not more than five
feet square. Then he coolly pulled Captain Plum's old letter from his
pocket and smoothed it out in the dim light.
"Be seated, Captain Plum; right over there--opposite me. So!"
He continued for a moment to smooth out the creases in the letter and
then proceeded to read it with as much assurance as though its owner
were a thousand miles away instead of within arm's reach of him. Captain
Plum was dumfounded. He felt the hot blood rushing to his face and his
first impulse was to recover the crumpled paper and demand something
more than an explanation. In the next instant it occurred to him that
this action would probably spoil whatever possibilities his night's
adventure might have for him. So he held his peace. The old man was so
intent in his perusal of the letter that the end of his hooked nose
almost scraped the table. He went over the dim, partly obliterated words
line by line, chuckling now and then, and apparently utterly oblivious
of the other's presence. When he had come to the end he looked up, his
eyes glittering with unbounded satisfaction, carefully folded the
letter, and handed it to Captain Plum.
"That's the best introduction in the world, Captain Plum--the very best!
Ho, ho!--it couldn't be better. I'm glad I found it." He chuckled
gleefully, and rested his ogreish head in the palms of his skeleton-like
hands, his elbows on the table. "So you're going back home--soon?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet, Dad," responded Captain Plum, pulling
out his pipe and tobacco. "You've read the letter pretty carefully, I
guess. What would you do?"
"Vermont?" questioned the old man shortly.
"Well, I'd go, and very soon, Captain Plum, _very_ soon, indeed. Yes,
I'd hurry!" The old man jumped up with the quickness of a cat. So sudden
was his movement that it startled Captain Plum, and he dropped his
tobacco pouch. By the time he had recovered this article his strange
companion was back in his seat again holding a leather bag in his hand.
Quickly he untied the knot at its top and poured a torrent of glittering
gold pieces out upon the table.
"Business--business and gold," he gurgled happily, rubbing his thin
hands and twisting his fingers until they cracked. "A pretty sight, eh,
Captain Plum? Now, to our account! A hundred carbines, eh? And a
thousand of powder and a ton of balls. Or is it in lead? It doesn't make
any difference--not a bit. It's three thousand, that's the account, eh?"
He fell to counting rapidly.
For a full minute Captain Plum remained in stupefied bewilderment,
silenced by the sudden and unexpected turn his adventure had taken.
Fascinated, he watched the skeleton fingers as they clinked the gold
pieces. What was the mysterious plot into which he had allowed himself
to be drawn? Why were a hundred guns and a ton and a half of powder and
balls wanted by the Mormons of Beaver Island? Instinctively he reached
out and closed his hand over the counting fingers of the old man. Their
eyes met. And there was a shrewd, half-understanding gleam in the black
orbs that fixed Captain Plum in an unflinching challenge. For a little
space there was silence. It was Captain Plum who broke it.
"Dad, I'm going to tell you for the third and last time that you've made
a mistake. I've got eight of the best rifles in America aboard my sloop
out there. But there's a man for every gun. And I've got something
hidden away underdeck that would blow up St. James in half an hour. And
there is powder and ball for the whole outfit. But that's all. I'll sell
you what I've got--for a good price. Beyond that you've got the wrong
He settled back and blew a volume of smoke from his pipe. For another
half minute the old man continued to look at him, his eyes twinkling,
and then he fell to counting again.
Captain Plum was not given over to the habit of cursing. But now he
jumped to his feet with an oath that jarred the table. The old man
chuckled. The gold pieces clinked between his fingers. Coolly he shoved
two glittering piles alongside the candle-stick, tumbled the rest back
into the leather bag, deliberately tied the end, and smiled up into the
face of the exasperated captain.
"To be sure you're not the man," he said, nodding his head until his
elf-locks danced around his face. "Of course you're not the man. I know
it--ho, ho! you can wager that I know it! A little ruse of mine, Captain
Plum. Pardonable--excusable, eh? I wanted to know if you were a liar. I
wanted to see if you were honest."
[Illustration: Captain Plum]
With a gasp of astonishment Captain Plum sank back into the chair. His
jaw dropped and his pipe was held fireless in his hand.
"The devil you say!"
"Oh, certainly, certainly, if you wish it," chuckled the little man, in
high humor. "I would have visited your sloop to-day, Captain Plum, if
you hadn't come ashore so opportunely this morning. Ho, ho, ho! a good
joke, eh? A mighty good joke!"
Captain Plum regained his composure by relighting his pipe. He heard the
chink of gold pieces and when he looked again the two piles of money
were close to the edge of his side of the table.
"That's for you, Captain Plum. There's just a thousand dollars in those
two piles." There was tense earnestness now in the old man's face and
voice. "I've imposed on you," he continued, speaking as one who had
suddenly thrown off a disguise. "If it had been any other man it would
have been the same. I want help. I want an honest man. I want a man whom
I can trust. I will give you a thousand dollars if you will take a
package back to your vessel with you and will promise to deliver it as
quickly as you can."
"I'll do it!" cried Captain Plum. He jumped to his feet and held out his
hand. But the old man slipped from his chair and darted swiftly out into
the blackness of the adjoining room. As he came back Captain Plum could
hear his insane chuckling.
"Business--business--business--" he gurgled. "Eh, Captain Plum? Did you
ever take an oath?" He tossed a book on the table. It was the Bible.
Captain Plum understood. He reached for the book and held it under his
left hand. His right he lifted above his head, while a smile played
about his lips.
"I suppose you want to place me under oath to deliver that package," he
The old man nodded. His eyes gleamed with a feverish glare. A sudden
hectic flush had gathered in his death-like cheeks. He trembled. His
voice rose barely above a whisper.
"Repeat," he commanded. "I, Captain Nathaniel Plum, do solemnly swear
A thrilling inspiration shot into Captain Plum's brain.
"Hold!" he cried. He lowered his hand. With something that was almost a
snarl the old man sprang back, his hands clenched. "I will take this
oath upon one other consideration," continued Captain Plum. "I came to
Beaver Island to see something of the life and something of the people
of St. James. If you, in turn, will swear to show me as much as you can
to-night I will take the oath."
The old man was beside the table again in an instant.
"I will show it to you--all--all--" he exclaimed excitedly. "I will show
it to you--yes, and swear to it upon the body of Christ!"
Captain Plum lifted his hand again and word by word repeated the oath.
When it was done the other took his place.
"Your name?" asked Captain Plum.
A change scarcely perceptible swept over the old man's face.
"But you are a Mormon. You have the Bible there?"
Again the old man disappeared into the adjoining room. When he returned
he placed two books side by side and stood them on edge so that he might
clasp both between his bony fingers. One was the Bible, the other the
Book of the Mormons. In a cracked, excited voice he repeated the
strenuous oath improvised by Captain Plum.
"Now," said Captain Plum, distributing the gold pieces among his
pockets, "I'll take that package."
This time the old man was gone for several minutes. When he returned he
placed a small package tightly bound and sealed into his companion's
"More precious than your life, more priceless than gold," he whispered
tensely, "yet worthless to all but the one to whom it is to be
There were no marks on the package.
"And who is that?" asked Captain Plum.
The old man came so close that his breath fell hot upon the young man's
cheek. He lifted a hand as though to ward sound from the very walls that
closed them in.
"Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America!"
THE SEVEN WIVES
Hardly had the words fallen from the lips of Obadiah Price than the old
man straightened himself and stood as rigid as a gargoyle, his gaze
penetrating into the darkness of the room beyond Captain Plum, his head
inclined slightly, every nerve in him strained to a tension of
expectancy. His companion involuntarily gripped the butt of his pistol
and faced the narrow entrance through which they had come. In the moment
of absolute silence that followed there came to him, faintly, a sound,
unintelligible at first, but growing in volume until he knew that it was
the last echo of a tolling bell. There was no movement, no sound of
breath or whisper from the old man at his back. But when it came again,
floating to him as if from a vast distance, he turned quickly to find
Obadiah Price with his face lifted, his thin arms flung wide above his
head and his lips moving as if in prayer. His eyes burned with a dull
glow as though he had been suddenly thrown into a trance. He seemed not
to breathe, no vibration of life stirred him except in the movement of
his lips. With the third toll of the distant bell he spoke, and to
Captain Plum it was as if the passion and fire in his voice came from
"Our Christ, Master of hosts, we call upon Thy chosen people the three
blessings of the universe--peace, prosperity and plenty, and upon
Strang, priest, king and prophet, the bounty of Thy power!"
Three times more the distant bell tolled forth its mysterious message
and when the last echoes had died away the old man's arms dropped beside
him and he turned again to Captain Plum.
"Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America," he
repeated, as though there had been no interruption since his companion's
question. "The package is to be delivered to him. Now you must excuse
me. An important matter calls me out for a short time. But I will be
back soon--oh, yes, very soon. And you will wait for me. You will wait
for me here, and then I will take you to St. James."
He was gone in a quick hopping way, like a cricket, and the last that
Captain Plum saw of him was his ghostly face turned back for an instant
in the darkness of the next room, and after that the soft patter of his
feet and the strange chuckle in his throat traveled to the outer door
and died away as he passed out into the night. Nathaniel Plum was not a
man to be easily startled, but there was something so unusual about the
proceedings in which he was as yet playing a blind part that he forgot
to smoke, which was saying much. Who was the old man? Was he mad? His
eyes scanned the little room and an exclamation of astonishment fell
from his lips when he saw the leather bag, partly filled with gold,
lying where his mysterious acquaintance had dropped it. Surely this was
madness or else another ruse to test his honesty. The discovery thrilled
him. It was wonderfully quiet out in that next room and very dark. Were
hidden eyes guarding that bag? Well, if so, he would give their owner to
understand that he was not a thief. He rose from his chair and moved
toward the bag, lifted it in his hand, and tossed it back again so that
the gold in it chinked loudly. Then he went to the narrow aperture and
blocked it with his body and listened until he knew that if there had
been human life in the room he would have heard it.
The outer door was open and through it there came to him the soft breath
of the night air and the sweetness of balsam and wild flowers. It struck
him that it would be pleasanter waiting outside than in, and it would
undoubtedly make no difference to Obadiah Price. In front of the cabin
he found the stump of a log and seating himself on it where the clear
light of the stars fell full upon him he once more began his
interrupted smoke. It seemed to him that he had waited a long time when
he heard the sound of footsteps. They came rapidly as if the person was
half running. Hardly had he located the direction of the sound when a
figure appeared in the opening and hurried toward the door of the cabin.
A dozen yards from him it paused for a moment and turned partly about,
as if inspecting the path over which it had come. With a greeting
whistle Captain Plum jumped to his feet. He heard a little throat note,
which was not the chuckling of Obadiah Price, and the figure ran almost
into his arms. A sudden knowledge of having made a mistake drew Captain
Plum a pace backward. For scarcely more than five seconds he found
himself staring into the white terrified face of a girl. Eyes wide and
glowing with sudden fright met his own. Instinctively he lifted his hand
to his hat, but before he could speak the girl sprang back with a low
cry and ran swiftly down the path that led into the gloom of the woods.
For several minutes Captain Plum stood as if the sudden apparition had
petrified him. He listened long after the sound of retreating footsteps
had died away. There remained behind a faint sweet odor of lilac which
stirred his soul and set his blood tingling. It was a beautiful face
that he had seen. He was sure of that and yet he could have given no
good verbal proof of it. Only the eyes and the odor of lilac remained
with him and after a little the lilac drifted away. Then he went back to
the log and sat down. He smiled as he thought of the joke that he had
unwittingly played on Obadiah. From his knowledge of the Beaver Island
Mormons he was satisfied that the old man who displayed gold in such
reckless profusion was anything but a bachelor. In all probability this
was one of his wives and the cabin behind him, he concluded, was for
some reason isolated from the harem. "Evidently that little Saintess is
not a flirt," he concluded, "or she would have given me time to speak to
The continued absence of Obadiah Price began to fill Captain Plum with
impatience. After an hour's wait he reentered the cabin and made his way
to the little room, where the candle was still burning dimly. To his
astonishment he beheld the old man sitting beside the table. His thin
face was propped between his hands and his eyes were closed as if he was
asleep. They shot open instantly on Captain Plum's appearance.
"I've been waiting for you, Nat," he cried, straightening himself with
spring-like quickness. "Waiting for you a long time, Nat!" He rubbed his
hands and chuckled at his own familiarity. "I saw you out there enjoying
yourself. What did you think of her, Nat?" He winked with such audacious
glee that, despite his own astonishment, Captain Plum burst into a
laugh. Obadiah Price held up a warning hand. "Tut, tut, not so loud!" he
admonished. His face was a map of wrinkles. His little black eyes shone
with silent laughter. There was no doubt but that he was immensely
pleased over something. "Tell me, Nat--why did you come to St. James?"
He leaned forward over the table, his odd white head almost resting on
it, and twiddled his thumbs with wonderful rapidity. "Eh, Nat?" he
urged. "Why did you come?"
"Because it was too hot and uninteresting lying out there in a calm,
Dad," replied the master of the _Typhoon_. "We've been roasting for
thirty-six hours without a breath to fill our sails. I came over to see
what you people are like. Any harm done?"
"Not a bit, not a bit--yet," chuckled the old man. "And what's your
"Ho, ho, ho! of course, I might have known it! Sailing--_mostly_. Why,
certainly you sail! And why do you carry a pistol on one side of you and
a knife on the other, Nat?"
"Troublous times, Dad. Some of the fisher-folk along the Northern End
aren't very scrupulous. They took a cargo of canned stuffs from me a
"And what use do you make of the four-pounder that's wrapped up in
tarpaulin under your deck, Nat? And what in the world are you going to
do with five barrels of gunpowder?"
"How in blazes--" began Captain Plum.
"O, to be sure, to be sure--they're for the fisher-folk," interrupted
Obadiah Price. "Blow 'em up, eh, Nat? And you seem to be a young man of
education, Nat. How did you happen to make a mistake in your count?
Haven't you twelve men aboard your sloop instead of eight, Nat? Aren't
there twelve, instead of eight? Eh, Nat?"
"The devil take you!" cried Captain Plum, leaping suddenly to his feet,
his face flaming red. "Yes, I have got twelve men and I've got a gun in
tarpaulin and I've got five barrels of gunpowder! But how in the name of
Kingdom-Come did you find it out?"
Obadiah Price came around the end of the table and stood so close to
Captain Plum that a person ten feet away could not have heard him when
"I know more than that, Nat," he whispered. "Listen! A little while
ago--say two weeks back--you were becalmed off the head of Beaver
Island, and one dark night you were boarded by two boat-loads of men who
made you and your crew prisoners, robbed you of everything you had,--and
the next day you went back to Chicago. Eh?"
Nathaniel stood speechless.
"And you made up your mind the pirates were Mormons, enlisted some of
your friends, armed your ship--and you're back here to make us settle.
Isn't it so, Nat?"
The little old man was rubbing his hands eagerly, excitedly.
"You tried to get the revenue cutter _Michigan_ to come down with you,
but they wouldn't--ho, ho, they wouldn't! One of our friends in Chicago
sent quick word ahead of you to tell me all about it, and--Strang, the
king, doesn't know!"
He spoke the last words in intense earnestness.
Then, suddenly, he held out his hand.
"Young man, will you shake hands with me? Will you shake hands?--and
then we will go to St. James!"
Captain Plum thrust out a hand and the old man gripped it. The thin
fingers tightened like cold clamps of steel. For a moment the face of
Obadiah Price underwent a strange change. The hardness and glitter went
out of his eyes and in place there came a questioning, almost an
appealing, look. His tense mouth relaxed. It was as if he was on the
point of surrendering to some emotion which he was struggling to stifle.
And Nathaniel, meeting those eyes, felt that somewhere within him had
been struck a strange chord of sympathy, something that made this little
old man more than a half-mad stranger to him, and involuntarily the
grip of his fingers tightened around those of his companion.
"Now we will go to St. James, Captain Plum!"
He attempted to withdraw his hand but Captain Plum held to it.
"Not yet!" he exclaimed. "There are two or three things which your
friend didn't tell you, Obadiah Price!"
Nathaniel's eyes glittered dangerously.
"When I left ship this morning I gave explicit orders to Casey, my
He gazed steadily into the old man's unflinching eyes.
"I said something like this: 'Casey, I'm going to see Strang before I
come back. If he's willing to settle for five thousand, we'll call it
off. And if he isn't--why, we'll stand out there a mile and blow St.
James into hell! And if I don't come back by to-morrow at sundown,
Casey, you take command and blow it to hell without me!' So, Obadiah
Price, if there's treachery--"
The old man clutched at his hands with insane fierceness.
"There will be no treachery, Nat, I swear to God there will be no
treachery! Come, we will go--"
Still Captain Plum hesitated.
"Who are you? Whom am I to follow?"
"A member of our holy Council of Twelve, Nat, and lord high treasurer of
His Majesty, King Strang!"
Before Captain Plum could recover from the surprise of this whispered
announcement the little old man had freed himself and was pattering
swiftly through the darkness of the next room. The master of the
_Typhoon_ followed close behind him. Outside the councilor hesitated for
a moment, as if debating which route to take, and then with a prodigious
wink at Captain Plum and a throatful of his inimitable chuckles, chose
the path down which his startled visitor of a short time before had
fled. For fifteen minutes this path led between thick black walls of
forest verdure. Obadiah Price kept always a few paces ahead of his
companion and spoke not a word. At the end of perhaps half a mile the
path entered into a large clearing on the farther side of which
Nathaniel caught the glimmer of a light. They passed close to this
light, which came from the window of a large square house built of logs,
and Captain Plum became suddenly conscious that the air was filled with
the redolent perfume of lilac. With half a dozen quick strides he
overtook the councilor and caught him by the arm.
"I smell lilac!" he exclaimed.
"Certainly, so do I," replied Obadiah Price. "We have very fine lilacs
on the island."
"And I smelled lilac back there," continued Nathaniel, still holding to
the old man's arm, and pointing a thumb over his shoulder. "I smelled
'em back there, when--"
"Ho, ho, ho!" chuckled the councilor softly. "I don't doubt it, Nat, I
don't doubt it. She is very fond of lilacs. She wears the flowers very
He pulled himself away and Captain Plum could hear his queer chuckling
for some time after. Soon they entered the gloom of the woods again and
a little later came out into another clearing and Nathaniel knew that it
was St. James that lay at his feet. The lights of a few fishing boats
were twinkling in the harbor, but for the most part the town was dark.
Here and there a window shone like a spot of phosphorescent yellow in
the dismal gloom and the great beacon still burned steadily over the
home of the prophet.
"Ah, it is not time," whispered Obadiah. "It is still too early." He
drew his companion out of the path which they had followed and sat
himself down on a hummock a dozen yards away from it, inviting Nathaniel
by a pull of the sleeve to do the same. There were three of these
hummocks, side by side, and Captain Plum chose the one nearest the old
man and waited for him to speak. But the councilor did not open his
lips. Doubled over until his chin rested almost upon the sharp points of
his knees, he gazed steadily at the beacon, and as he looked it
shuddered and grew dark, like a firefly that suddenly closes its wings.
With a quick spring the councilor straightened himself and turned to the
master of the _Typhoon_.
"You have a good nose, Nat," he said, "but your ears are not so good.
Sh-h-h-h!" He lifted a hand warningly and nodded sidewise toward the
path. Captain Plum listened. He heard low voices and then
footsteps--voices that were approaching rapidly, and were those of
women, and footsteps that were almost running. The old man caught him by
the arm and as the sounds came nearer his grip tightened.
"Don't frighten them, Nat. Get down!"
He crouched until he was only a part of the shadows of the ground and
following his example Nathaniel slipped between two of the knolls. A
few yards away the sound of the voices ceased and there was a hesitancy
in the soft tread of the approaching steps. Slowly, and now in awesome
silence, two figures came down the path and when they reached a point
opposite the hummocks Nathaniel could see that they turned their faces
toward them and that for a brief space there was something of terror in
the gleam he caught of their eyes. In a moment they had passed. Then he
heard them running.
"They saw us!" Captain Plum exclaimed.
Obadiah hopped to his feet and rubbed his hands with great glee. "What a
temptation, Nat!" he whispered. "What a temptation to frighten them out
of their wits! No, they didn't see us, Nat--they didn't see us. The
girls are always frightened when they pass these graves. Some day--"
"Graves!" almost shouted the master of the _Typhoon_. "Graves--and we
sitting on 'em!"
"That's all right, Nat--that's all right. They're my graves, so we're
welcome to sit on them. I often come here and sit for hours at a time.
They like to have me, especially little Jean--the middle one. Perhaps
I'll tell you about Jean before you go away."
If Captain Plum had been watching him he would have seen that soft
mysterious light again shining in the old councilor's eyes. But now
Nathaniel stood erect, his nostrils sniffing the air, catching once more
the sweet scent of lilac. He hurried out into the opening, with the old
man close behind him, and peered down into the starlit gloom into which
the two girls had disappeared. The lovely face that had appeared to him
for an instant at Obadiah's cabin began to haunt him. He was sure now
that his sudden appearance had not been the only cause of its terror,
and he felt that he should have called out to her or followed until he
had overtaken her. He could easily have excused his boldness, even if
the councilor had been watching him from the cabin door. He was certain
that she had passed very near to him again and that the fright which
Obadiah had attempted to explain was not because of the graves. He swung
about upon his companion, determined to ask for an explanation. The
latter seemed to divine his thought.
"Don't let a little scent of lilac disturb you so, young man," he said
with singular coldness. "It may cause you great unpleasantness." He went
ahead and Nathaniel followed him, assured that the old man's words and
the way in which he had spoken them no longer left a doubt as to the
identity of his night visitor. She was one of the councilor's wives, so
he thought, and his own interest in her was beginning to have an
irritating effect. In other words Obadiah was becoming jealous.
For some time there was silence between the two. Obadiah Price now
walked with extreme slowness and along paths which seemed to bring him
no nearer to the town below. Nathaniel could see that he was absorbed in
thoughts of his own, and held his peace. Was it possible that he had
spoiled his chances with the councilor because of a pretty face and a
bunch of lilacs? The thought tickled Captain Plum despite the delicacy
of his situation and he broke into an involuntary laugh. The laugh
brought Obadiah to a halt as suddenly as though some one had thrust a
bayonet against his breast.
"Nat, you've got good red blood in you," he cried, whirling about. "D'ye
suppose you can hate as well as love?"
"Lord deliver us!" exclaimed the astonished Captain Plum.
"Yes, _hate_," repeated the old man with fierce emphasis, so close that
his breath struck Nathaniel's face. "You can love a pretty face--and you
can _hate_. I know you can. If you couldn't I would send you back to
your sloop with the package to-night. But as it is I am going to relieve
you of your oath. Yes, Nat, I give you back your oath--for a time."
Nathaniel stepped a pace back and put his hands on his pockets as if to
protect the gold there.
"You mean that you want to call off our bargain?" he asked.
The councilor rubbed his hands until the friction of them sent a shiver
up Nathaniel's back. "Not that, Nat--O, no, not that! The bargain is
good. The gold is yours. You must deliver the package. But you need not
do it immediately. Understand? I am lonely back there in my shack. I
want company. You must stay with me a week. Eh? Lilacs and pretty faces,
Nat! Ho, ho!--You will stay a week, won't you, Nat?"
He spoke so rapidly and his face underwent so many changes, now
betraying the keenest excitement, now wrinkled in an ogreish, bantering
grin, now almost pleading in its earnestness, that Nathaniel knew not
what to make of him. He looked into the beady eyes, sparkling with
passion, and the cat-like glitter of them set his blood tingling. What
strange adventure was this old man dragging him into? What were the
motives, the reasoning, the plot that lay behind this mysterious
creature's apparent faith in him? He tried to answer these things in the
passing of a moment before he replied. The councilor saw his hesitancy
"I will show you many things of interest, Nat," he said. "I will show
you just one to-night. Then you will make up your mind, eh? You need not
tell me until then."
He took the lead again and this time struck straight down for the town.
They passed a number of houses built of logs and Nathaniel caught narrow
gleams of light from between close-drawn curtains. In one of these
houses he heard the crying of children, and with a return of his grisly
humor Obadiah Price prodded him in the ribs and said,
"Good old Israel Laeng lives there--two wives, one old, one
young--eleven children. The Kingdom of Heaven is open to him!" And from
a second he heard the sound of an organ, and from still a third there
came the laughter and chatter of several feminine voices, and again
Obadiah reached out and prodded Nathaniel in the ribs. There was one
great, gloomy, long-built place which they passed, without a ray of
light to give it life, and the councilor said, "Three widows there,
Nat,--fight like cats and dogs. Poor Job killed himself." They avoided
the more thickly populated part of the settlement and encountered few
people, which seemed to please the councilor. Once they overtook and
passed a group of women clad in short skirts and loose waists and with
their hair hanging in braids down their backs. For a third time Obadiah
nudged Captain Plum.
"It is the king's pleasure that all women wear skirts that come just
below the knees," he whispered. "Some of them won't do it and he's
wondering how to punish them. To-morrow there's going to be two public
whippings. One of the victims is a man who said that if he was a woman
he'd die before he put on knee skirts. After he's whipped he is going
to be made to wear 'em. By Urim and Thummin, isn't that choice, Nat?"
He shivered with quiet laughter and dived into a great block of darkness
where there seemed to be no houses, keeping close beside Nathaniel. Soon
they came to the edge of a grove and deep among the trees Captain Plum
caught a glimpse of a lighted window. Obadiah Price now began to exhibit
unusual caution. He approached the light slowly, pausing every few steps
to peer guardedly about him, and when they had come very near to the
window he pulled his companion behind a thick clump of shrubbery.
Nathaniel could hear the old man's subdued chuckle and he bent his head
to catch what he was about to whisper to him.
"You must make no noise, Nat," he warned. "This is the castle of our
priest, king and prophet--James Jesse Strang. I am going to show you
what you have never seen before and what you will never look upon again.
I have sworn upon the Two Books and I will keep my oath. And then--you
will answer the question I asked you back there."
He crept out into the darkness of the trees and Nathaniel followed, his
heart throbbing with excitement, every sense alert, and one hand resting
on the butt of his pistol. He felt that he was nearing the climax of his
day's adventure and now, in the last moment of it, his old caution
reasserted itself. He knew that he was among a dangerous people, men
who, according to the laws of his country, were criminals in more ways
than one. He had seen much of their work along the coasts and he had
heard of more of it. He knew that this gloom and sullen quiet of St.
James hid cut-throats and pirates and thieves. Still there was nothing
ahead to alarm him. The old man dodged the gleams of the lighted window
and slunk around to the end of the great house. Here, several feet above
his head, was another window, small and veiled with the foliage wall.
With the assurance of one who had been there before the councilor
mounted some object under the window, lifted himself until his chin was
on a level with the glass, and peered within. He was there but an
instant and then fell back, chuckling and rubbing his hands.
He stood a little to one side and bowed with mock politeness. For a
moment Captain Plum hesitated. Under ordinary circumstances this spying
through a window would have been repugnant to him. But at present
something seemed to tell him that it was not to satisfy his curiosity
alone that Obadiah Price had given him this opportunity. Would a look
through that little window explain some of the mysteries of the night?
There came a low whisper in his ear.
"Do you smell lilac, Nat? Eh?"
The councilor was grinning at him. There was a suggestive gleam in his
eyes. He rubbed his hands almost fiercely.
In another instant Captain Plum had stepped upon the object beneath the
window and parted the leaves. Breathlessly he looked in. A strange scene
met his eyes. He was looking into a vast room, illuminated by a huge
hanging lamp suspended almost on a level with his head. Under this lamp
there was a long table and at the table sat seven women and one man. The
man was at the end nearest the window and all that Nat could see was the
back of his head and shoulders. But the women were in full view, three
on each side of the table and one at the far end. He guessed the man to
be Strang; but he stared at the women and as his eyes traveled back to
the one facing him at the end of the table he could scarcely repress the
exclamation of surprise that rose to his lips. It was the girl whom he
had encountered at the councilor's cabin. She was leaning forward as if
in an agony of suspense, her eyes on the king, her lips parted, her
hands clutching at a great book which lay open before her. Her cheeks
were flushed with excitement. And even as he looked Captain Plum saw
her head fall suddenly forward upon the table, encircled by her arms.
The heavy braid of her hair, partly undone, glistened like red gold in
the lamplight. Her slender body was convulsed with sobs. The woman
nearest her reached over and laid a caressing hand on the bowed head,
but drew it quickly away as if at a sharp command.
In his eagerness Nathaniel thrust his face through the foliage until his
nose touched the glass. When the girl lifted her head she straightened
back in her chair--and saw him. There came a sudden white fear in her
face, a parting of the lips as if she were on the point of crying out,
and then, before the others had seen, she looked again at Strang. She
had discovered him and yet she had not revealed her discovery! Nathaniel
could have shouted for joy. She had seen him, had recognized him! And
because she had not cried out she wanted him! He drew his pistol from
its holster and waited. If she signaled for him, if she called him, he
would burst the window. The girl was talking now and as she talked she
lifted her eyes. Nathaniel pressed his face close against the window,
and smiled. That would let her know he was a friend. She seemed to
answer him with a little nod and he fancied that her eyes glowed with a
mute appeal for his assistance. But only for an instant, and then they
turned again to the king. Not until that moment did Nathaniel notice
upon her bosom a bunch of crumpled lilacs.
From below the iron grip of the councilor dragged him down.
"That's enough," he whispered. "That's enough--for to-night." He saw the
pistol in Nathaniel's hand and gave a sudden breathless cry.
He caught Captain Plum's free hand in his.
"Tell me this, Obadiah Price," whispered the master of the _Typhoon_,
"who is she?"
The councilor stood on tiptoe to answer.
"They are the six wives of Strang, Nat!"
"But the other?" demanded Nathaniel. "The other--"
"O, to be sure, to be sure," chuckled Obadiah. "The girl of the lilacs,
eh? Why, she's the seventh wife, Nat--that's all, the seventh wife!"
So quickly that Obadiah Price might not have counted ten before it had
come and gone the significance of his new situation flashed upon Captain
Plum as he stood under the king's window. His plans had changed since
leaving ship but now he realized that they had become hopelessly
involved. He had intended that Obadiah should show him where Strang was
to be found, and that later, when ostensibly returning to his vessel, he
would visit the prophet in his home. Whatever the interview brought
forth he would still be in a position to deliver the councilor's
package. Even an hour's bombardment of St. James would not interfere
with the fulfilment of his oath. But those few minutes at the king's
window had been fatal to the scheme he had built. The girl had seen
him. She had not betrayed his presence. She had called to him with her
eyes--he would have staked his life on that. What did it all mean? He
turned to Obadiah. The old man was grimacing and twisting his hands
nervously. He seemed half afraid, cringing, as if fearing a blow. The
sight of him set Nathaniel's blood afire. His white face seemed to
verify the terrible thought that had leaped into his brain. Suddenly he
heard a faint cry--a woman's voice--and in an instant he was back at the
window. The girl had risen to her feet and stood facing him. This time,
as her eyes met his own, he saw in them a flashing warning, and he
obeyed it as if she had spoken to him. As he dropped silently back to
the ground the councilor came close to his side.
"That's enough for to-night, Nat," he whispered.
He made as if to slip away but Nathaniel detained him with an emphatic
"Not yet, Dad! I'd like to have a word with--this--"
"With Strang's wife," chuckled Obadiah. "Ho, ho, ho, Nat, you're a
rascal!" The old man's face was mapped with wrinkles, his eyes glowed
with joyous approbation. "You shall, Nat, you shall! You love a pretty
face, eh? You shall meet Mrs. Strang, Nat, and you shall make love to
her if you wish. I swear that, too. But not to-night, Nat--not
He stood a pace away and rubbed his hands.
"There will be no chance to-night, Nat--but to-morrow night, or the
next. O, I promise you shall meet her, and make love to her, Nat! Ho, if
Strang knew, if Strang _only_ knew!"
There was something so fiendishly gloating in the councilor's attitude,
in his face, in the hot glow of his eyes, that for a moment Nathaniel's
involuntary liking for the little old man before him turned to
abhorrence. The passion, the triumph of the man, convinced him where
words had failed. The girl was Strang's wife. His last doubt was
dispelled. And because she was Strang's wife Obadiah hated the Mormon
prophet. The councilor had spoken with fateful assurance--that he should
meet her, that he should make love to her. It was an assurance that made
him shudder. As he followed in silence up out of the gloom of the town
he strove, but in vain, to find whether sin had lurked in the sweet face
that had appealed to him in its misery--whether there had been a flash
of something besides terror, besides prayerful entreaty, in the lovely
eyes that had met his own. Obadiah spoke no word to break in on his
thoughts. Now and then the old man's insane chucklings floated softly to
Nathaniel's ears, and when at last they came to the cabin in the forest
he broke into a low laugh that echoed weirdly in the great black room
which they entered. He lighted another candle and approached a ladder
which led through a trap in the ceiling. Without a word he mounted this
ladder, and Nathaniel followed him, finding himself a moment later in a
small low room furnished with a bed. The councilor placed his candle on
a table close beside it and rubbed his hands until it seemed they must
"You will stay--eh, Nat?" he cried, bobbing his head. "Yes, you will
stay, and you will give me back the package for a day or two." He
retreated to the trap and slid down it as quickly as a rat. "Pleasant
dreams to you, Nat, and--O, wait a minute!" Captain Plum could hear him
pattering quickly over the floor below. In a moment he was back,
thrusting his white grimacing face through the trap and tossed something
upon the bed. "She left them last night, Nat. Pleasant dreams, pleasant
dreams," and he was gone.
Nathaniel turned to the bed and picked up a faded bunch of lilacs. Then
he sat down, loaded his pipe, and smoked until he could hardly see the
walls of his little room. From the moment of his landing on the island
he turned the events of the day over in his mind. Yet when he arrived at
the end of them he was no less mystified than when he began. Who was
Obadiah Price? Who was the girl that fate had so mysteriously associated
with his movements thus far? What was the plot in which he had
accidentally become involved? With tireless tenacity he hung to these
questions for hours. That there was a plot of some kind he had not the
least doubt. The councilor's strange actions, the oath, the package, and
above all the scene in the king's house convinced him of that. And he
was sure that Obadiah's night visitor--the girl with the lilacs--was
playing a vital part in it.
He plucked at the withered flowers which the old man had thrown him. He
could detect their sweet scent above the pungent fumes of tobacco and as
Obadiah's triumphant chuckle recurred to him, the gloating joy in his
eyes, the passionate tremble of his voice, a grim smile passed over his
face. The mystery was easy of solution--if he was willing to reason
along certain lines. But he was not willing. He had formed his own
picture of Strang's wife and it pleased him to keep it. At moments he
half conceded himself a fool, but that did not trouble him. The longer
he smoked the more his old confidence and his old recklessness returned
to him. He had enjoyed his adventure. The next day he would end it. He
would go openly into St. James and have done his business with Strang.
Then he would return to his ship. What had he, Captain Plum, to do with
But even after he had determined on these things his brain refused to
rest. He paced back and forth across the narrow room, thinking of the
man whom he was to meet to-morrow--of Strang, the one-time schoolmaster
and temperance lecturer who had made himself a king, who for seven years
had defied the state and nation, and who had made of his island
stronghold a hot-bed of polygamy, of licentiousness, of dissolute power.
His blood grew hot as he thought again of the beautiful girl who had
appealed to him. Obadiah had said that she was the king's wife. Still--
Thoughts flashed into his head which for a time made him forget his
mission on the island. In spite of his resolution to keep to his own
scheme he found himself, after a little, thinking only of the Mormon
king, and the lovely face he had seen through the castle window. He knew
much about the man with whom he was to deal to-morrow. He knew that he
had been a rival of Brigham Young and that when the exodus of the
Mormons to the deserts of the west came he had led his own followers
into the North, and that each July, amid barbaric festivities, he was
recrowned with a circlet of gold. But the girl! If she was the king's
wife why had her eyes called to him for help?
The question crowded Nathaniel's brain with a hundred thrilling
pictures. With a shudder he thought of the terrible power the Mormon
king held not only over his own people but over the Gentiles of the
mainlands as well. With these mainlanders, he regarded Beaver Island as
a nest of pirates and murderers. He knew of the depredations of Strang
and his people among the fishermen and settlers, of the piratical
expeditions of his armed boats, of the dreaded raids of his sheriffs,
and of the crimes that made the women of the shores tremble and turn
white at the mere mention of his name.
Was it possible that this girl--
Captain Plum did not let himself finish the thought. With a powerful
effort he brought himself back to his own business on the island, smoked
another pipe, and undressed. He went to bed with the withered lilacs on
the table close beside him. He fell asleep with their scent in his
nostrils. When he awoke they were gone. He started up in astonishment
when he saw what had taken their place. Obadiah had visited him while he
slept. The table was spread with a white cloth and upon it was his
breakfast, a pot of coffee still steaming, and the whole of a cold baked
fowl. Near-by, upon a chair, was a basin of water, soap and a towel.
Nathaniel rolled from his bed with a healthy laugh of pleasure. The
councilor was at least a courteous host, and his liking for the curious
old man promptly increased. There was a sheet of paper on his plate upon
which Obadiah had scribbled the following words:
"My dear Nat:--Make yourself at home. I will be away to-day but will see
you again to-night. Don't be surprised if somebody makes you a visit."
The "somebody" was heavily underscored and Nathaniel's pulse quickened
and a sudden flush of excitement surged into his face as he read the
meaning of it. The "somebody" was Strang's wife. There could be no other
interpretation. He went to the trap and called down for Obadiah but
there was no answer. The councilor had already gone. Quickly eating his
breakfast the master of the _Typhoon_ climbed down the ladder into the
room below. The remains of the councilor's breakfast were on a table
near the door, and the door was open. Through it came a glory of
sunshine and the fresh breath of the forest laden with the perfume of
wild flowers and balsam. A thousand birds seemed caroling and twittering
in the sunlit solitude about the cabin. Beyond this there was no other
sound or sign of life. For many minutes Nathaniel stood in the open, his
eyes on the path along which he knew that Strang's wife would come--if
she came at all. Suddenly he began to examine the ground where the girl
had stood the previous night. The dainty imprints of her feet were
plainly discernible in the soft earth. Then he went to the path--and
with a laugh so loud that it startled the birds into silence he set off
with long strides in the direction of St. James. From the footprints in
that path it was quite evident that Strang's wife was a frequent visitor
At the edge of the forest, from where he could see the log house
situated across the opening, Nathaniel paused. He had made up his mind
that the girl whom he had seen through the king's window was in some way
associated with it. Obadiah had hinted as much and she had come from
there on her way to Strang's. But as the prophet's wives lived in his
castle at St. James this surely could not be her home. More than ever he
was puzzled. As he looked he saw a figure suddenly appear from among the
mass of lilac bushes that almost concealed the cabin. An involuntary
exclamation of satisfaction escaped him and he drew back deeper among
the trees. It was the councilor who had shown himself. For a few moments
the old man stood gazing in the direction of St. James as if watching
for the approach of other persons. Then he dodged cautiously along the
edge of the bushes, keeping half within their cover, and moved swiftly
in the opposite direction toward the center of the island. Nathaniel's
blood leaped with a desire to follow. The night before he had guessed
that Obadiah with his gold and his smoldering passion was not a man to
isolate himself in the heart of the forest. Here--across the open--was
evidence of another side of his life. In that great square-built
domicile of logs, screened so perfectly by flowering lilac, lived
Obadiah's wives. Captain Plum laughed aloud and beat the bowl of his
pipe on the tree beside him. And the _girl_ lived there--or came from
there to the woodland cabin so frequently that her feet had beaten a
well-worn path. Had the councilor lied to him? Was the girl he had seen
through the King's window one of the seven wives of Strang--or was she
the wife of Obadiah Price?
The thought was one that thrilled him. If the girl was the councilor's
wife what was the motive of Obadiah's falsehood? And if she was Strang's
wife why had her feet--and hers alone with the exception of the old
man's--worn this path from the lilac smothered house to the cabin in the
woods? The captain of the _Typhoon_ regretted now that he had given such
explicit orders to Casey. Otherwise he would have followed the figure
that was already disappearing into the forest on the opposite side of
the clearing. But now he must see Strang. There might be delay,
necessary delay, and if it so happened that his own blundering curiosity
kept him on the island until sundown--well, he smiled as he thought of
what Casey would do.
Refilling his pipe and leaving a trail of smoke behind him he set out
boldly for St. James. When he came to the three graves he stopped,
remembering that Obadiah had said they were his graves. A sort of grim
horror began to stir at his soul as he gazed on the grass-grown
mounds--proofs that the old councilor would inherit a place in the
Mormon Heaven having obeyed the injunctions of his prophet on earth.
Nathaniel now understood the meaning of his words of the night before.
This was the family burying ground of the old councilor.
He walked on, trying in vain to concentrate his mind solely upon the
business that was ahead of him. A few days before he would have counted
this walk to St. James one of the events of his life. Now it had lost
its fascination. Despite his efforts to destroy the vision of the
beautiful face that had looked at him through the king's window its
memory still haunted him. The eyes, soft with appeal; the red mouth,
quivering, and with lips parted as if about to speak to him; the bowed
head with its tumbled glory of hair--all had burned themselves upon his
soul in a picture too deep to be eradicated. If St. James was
interesting now it was because that face was a part of it, because the
secret of its life, of the misery that it had confessed to him, was
hidden somewhere down there among its scattered log homes.
Slowly he made his way down the slope in the direction of Strang's
castle, the tower of which, surmounted by its great beacon, glistened in
the morning sun. He would find Strang there. And there would be one
chance in a thousand of seeing the girl--if Obadiah had spoken the
truth. As he passed down he met men and boys coming up the slope and
others moving along at the bottom of it, all going toward the interior
of the island. They had shovels or rakes or hoes upon their shoulders
and he guessed that the Mormon fields were in that direction; others
bore axes; and now and then wagons, many of them drawn by oxen, left the
town over the road that ran near the shore of the lake. Those whom he
met stared at him curiously, much interested evidently in the appearance
of a stranger. Nathaniel paid but small heed to them. As he entered the
grove through which the councilor had guided him the night before his
eagerness became almost excitement. He approached the great log house
swiftly but cautiously, keeping as much from view as possible. As he
came under the window through which he had looked upon the king and his
wives his heart leaped with anticipation, with hope that was strangely
mingled with fear. For only a moment he paused to listen, and
notwithstanding the seriousness of his position he could not repress a
smile as there came to his ears the crying of children and the high
angry voice of a woman. He passed around to the front of the house. The
door of Strang's castle was wide open and unguarded. No one had seen his
approach; no one accosted him as he mounted the low steps; there was no
one in the room into which he gazed a moment later. It was the great
hall into which he had spied a few hours previous. There was the long
table with the big book on it, the lamp whose light had bathed the
girl's head in a halo of glory, the very chair in which he had found her
sitting! He was conscious of a throbbing in his breast, a longing to
call out--if he only knew her name.
In the room there were four closed doors and it was from beyond these
that there came to him the wailing of children. A fifth door was open
and through it he saw a cradle gently rocking. Here at last was visible
life, or motion at least, and he knocked loudly. Very gradually the
cradle ceased its movement. Then it stopped, and a woman came out into
the larger room. In a moment Nathaniel recognized her as the one who had
placed a caressing hand upon the bowed head of the sobbing girl the
night before. Her face was of pathetic beauty. Its whiteness was
startling. Her eyes shone with an unhealthy luster, and her dark hair,
falling in heavy curls over her shoulder, added to the wonderful pallor
of her cheeks.
Nathaniel bowed. "I beg your pardon, madam; I came to see Mr. Strang,"
"You will find the king at his office," she replied.
The woman's voice was low, but so sweet that it was like music to the
ear. As she spoke she came nearer and a faint flush appeared in the
transparency of her cheek.
"Why do you wish to see the king?" she asked.
Was there a tremble of fear in her voice? Even as he looked Nathaniel
saw the flush deepen in her cheeks and her eyes light with nervous
"I am sent by Obadiah Price," he hazarded.
A flash of relief shot into the woman's face.
"The king is at his office," she repeated. "His office is near the
Nathaniel retired with another bow.
"By thunder, Strang, old boy, you've certainly got an eye for beauty!"
he laughed as he hurried through the grove.
"And Obadiah Price must be somebody, after all!"
The Mormon temple was the largest structure in St. James, a huge square
building of hewn logs, and Nathaniel did not need to make inquiry to
find it. On one side was a two-story building with an outside stairway
leading to the upper floor, and a painted sign announced that on this
second floor was situated the office of James Jesse Strang, priest, king
and prophet of the Mormons. It was still very early and the general
merchandise store below was not open. Congratulating himself on this
fact, and with the fingers of his right hand reaching instinctively for
his pistol butt, Captain Plum mounted the stair. When half way up he
heard voices. As he reached the landing at the top he caught the quick
swish of a skirt. Another step and he was in the open door. He was not
soon enough to see the person who had just disappeared through an
opposite door but he knew that it was a woman. Directly in front of him
as if she had been expecting his arrival was a young girl, and no sooner
had he put a foot over the threshold than she hurried toward him, the
most acute anxiety and fear written in her face.
"You are Captain Plum?" she asked breathlessly.
Nathaniel stopped in astonishment.
"Then you must hurry--hurry!" cried the girl excitedly. "You have not a
moment to lose! Go back to your ship before it is too late! She says
they will kill you--"
"Who says so?" thundered Captain Plum. He sprang to the girl's side and
caught her by the arm. "Who says that I will be killed? Tell me--who
gave you this warning for me?"
"I--I--tell you so!" stammered the young girl. "I--I--heard the
king--they will kill you--" Her lips trembled. Nathaniel saw that her
eyes were already red from crying. "You will go?" she pleaded.
Nathaniel had taken her hand and now he held it tightly in his own. His
head was thrown back, his eyes were upon the door across the room. When
he looked again into the girlish face there was flashing joyous defiance
in his eyes, and in his voice there was confession of the truth that had
suddenly come to overwhelm whatever law of self preservation he might
have held unto himself.
"No, my dear, I am not going back to my ship," he spoke softly. "Not
unless she who is in that room comes out and bids me go herself!"
Scarce had the words fallen from his lips when there sounded a slow,
heavy step on the stair outside. The young girl snatched her hand free
and caught Nathaniel by the wrist.
"It is the king!" she whispered excitedly. "It is the king! Quick--you
still have time! You must go--you must go--"
She strove to pull him across the room.
"There--through that door!" she urged.
The slowly ascending steps were half way up the stairs. Nathaniel
hesitated. He knew that a moment before there had passed through that
door one who carried with her the odor of lilac and his heart leaped to
its own conclusion who that person was. He had heard the rustle of the
girl's skirt. He had seen the last inch of the door close as Strang's
wife pulled it after her. And now he was implored to follow! He sprang
forward as the heavy steps neared the landing. His hand was upon the
latch--when he paused. Then he turned and bent his head close down to
"No, I won't do it, my dear," he whispered. "Just now it might make
He lifted his eyes and saw a man looking at him from the doorway. He
needed no further proof to assure him that this was Strang the king of
the Mormons, for the Beaver Island prophet was painted well in that
region which knew the grip and terror of his power. He was a massive
man, with the slow slumbering strength of a beast. He was not much under
fifty; but his thick beard, reddish and crinkling, his shaggy hair, and
the full-fed ruddiness of his face, with its foundation of heavy jaw,
gave him a more youthful appearance. There was in his eyes, set deep and
so light that they shone like pale blue glass, the staring assurance
that is frequently born of power. In his hand he carried a huge
In an instant Nathaniel had recovered himself. He advanced a step,
"I am Captain Plum, of the sloop _Typhoon_," he said. "I called at your
home a short time ago and was directed to your office. As a stranger on
the island I did not know that you had an office or I would have come
The king drew his right foot back half a pace and bowed so low that
Nathaniel saw only the crown of his hat. When he raised his head the
aggressive stare had gone out of his eyes and a welcoming smile lighted
up his face as he advanced with extended hand.
"I am glad to see you, Captain Plum."
His voice was deep and rich, filled with that wonderful vibratory power
which seems to strike and attune the hidden chords of one's soul. The
man's appearance had not prepossessed Nathaniel, but at the sound of his
voice he recognized that which had made him the prophet of men. As the
warm hand of the king clasped his own Captain Plum knew that he was in
the presence of a master of human destinies, a man whose ponderous
red-visaged body was simply the crude instrument through which spoke the
marvelous spirit that had enslaved thousands to him, that had enthralled
a state legislature and that had hypnotized a federal jury into giving
him back his freedom when evidence smothered him in crime. He felt
himself sinking in the presence of this man and struggled fiercely to
regain himself. He withdrew his hand and straightened himself like a
"I have come to you with a grievance, Mr. Strang," he began. "A
grievance which I feel sure you will do your best to right. Perhaps you
are aware that some little time ago--about two weeks back--your people
boarded my ship in force and robbed me of several thousand dollars'
worth of merchandise."
Strang had drawn a step back.
"Aware of it!" he exclaimed in a voice that shook the room. "Aware of
it!" The red of his face turned purple and he clenched his free hand in
sudden passion. "Aware of it!" He repeated the words, this time so
gently that Nathaniel could scarcely hear them, and tapped his heavy
stick upon the floor. "No, Captain Plum, I was not aware of it. If I
_had_ been--" He shrugged his thick shoulders. The movement, and a
sudden gleam of his teeth through his beard, were expressive enough for
Nathaniel to understand.
Then the king smiled.
"Are you sure--are you _quite_ sure, Captain Plum, that it was my people
who attacked your ship? If so, of course you must have some proof?"
"We were very near to Beaver Island and many miles from the mainland,"
said Nathaniel. "It could only have been your people."
Strang led the way to a table at the farther end of the room and
motioned Nathaniel to a seat opposite him.
"We are a much persecuted people, Captain Plum, very much persecuted
indeed." His wonderful voice trembled with a subdued pathos. "We have
answered for many sins that have never been ours, Captain Plum, and
among them are robbery, piracy and even murder. The people along the
coasts are deadly enemies to us--who would be their friends; they commit
crimes in our name and we do not retaliate. It was not my people who
waylaid your vessel. They were fishermen, probably, who came from the
Michigan shore and awaited their opportunity off Beaver Island. But I
shall investigate this; believe me, I shall investigate this fully,
Nathaniel felt something like a great choking fist shoot up into his
throat. It was not a sensation of fear but of humiliation--the
humiliation of defeat, the knowledge of his own weakness in the hands of
this man who had so quickly and so surely blocked his claim. His quick
brain saw the futility of argument. He possessed no absolute proof and
he had thought that he needed none. Strang saw the flash of doubt in his
face, the hesitancy in his answer; he divined the working of the other's
brain and in his soft voice, purring with friendship, he followed up his
"I sympathize with you," he spoke gently, "and my sympathy and word
shall help you. We do not welcome strangers among us, for strangers have
usually proved themselves our enemies and have done us wrong. But to you
I give the freedom of our kingdom. Search where you will, at what hours
you will, and when you have found a single proof that your stolen
property is among my people--when you have seen a face that you
recognize as one of the robbers, return to me and I shall make
restitution and punish the evil-doers."
So intensely he spoke, so filled with reason and truth were his words,
that Nathaniel thrust out his hand in token of acceptance of the king's
terms. And as Strang gripped that hand Captain Plum saw the young girl's
face over the prophet's shoulder--a face, white as death in its terror,
that told him all he had heard was a lie.
"And when you have done with my people," continued the king, "you will
go among that other race, along the mainland, where men have thrown off
the restraints of society to give loose reign to lust and avarice; where
the Indian is brutified that his wife may be intoxicated by compulsion
and prostituted by violence before his eyes; where the forest cabins and
the streets of towns are filled with half-breeds; where there stalk
wretches with withered and tearless eyes, who are in nowise troubled by
recollection of robbery, rape and murder. And _there_ you will find whom
you are looking for!"
Strang had risen to his feet. His eyes blazed with the fire of smothered
hatred and passion and his great voice rolled through his beard,
tremulous with excitement, but still deep and rich, like the booming of
some melodious instrument. He flung aside his hat as he paced back and
forth; his shaggy hair fell upon his shoulders; huge veins stood out
upon his forehead--and Nathaniel sat mute as he watched this lion of a
man whose great throat quivered with the power that might have stirred a
nation--that might have made him president instead of king. He waited
for the thunder of that throat and his nerves keyed themselves to meet
its bursting passion. But when Strang spoke again it was in a voice as
soft and as gentle as a woman's.
"Those are the men who have vilified us, Captain Plum; who have covered
us with crimes that we have never committed; who have driven our people
into groups that they may be free from depredation; who watch like
vultures to despoil our women; wild wifeless men, Captain Plum, who have
left families and character behind them and who have sought the
wilderness to escape the penalties of law and order. It is they who
would destroy us. Go among my own people first, Captain Plum, and find
your lost property if you can; and if you can not discover it where in
seven years not one child has been born out of wedlock, seek among the
Lamanites--and my sheriffs shall follow where you place the crime!"
He had stretched out his arms like one whose plea was of life and death;
his face shone with earnestness; his low words throbbed as if his heart
were borne upon them for the inspection of its truth and honor. He was
Strang the tragedian, the orator, the conqueror of a legislature, a
governor, a dozen juries--and of human souls. And as he stood silent for
a moment in this attitude Nathaniel rose to his feet, subservient, and
believing as others had believed in the fitness of this man. But as his
eyes traveled a dozen paces beyond, he saw the young girl gesturing to
him in that same terror, and holding up for him to see a slip of paper
upon which she had written. And when she had caught his eyes she
crumpled the paper into a shapeless ball and tossed it just over the
landing to the ground below the stair.
"I thank you for the privileges of the island which you have offered
me," said Nathaniel, putting on his hat, "and I shall certainly take
advantage of your kindness for a few hours, as I want very much to
witness one of your ceremonies which I understand is to take place
to-day. Then, if I have discovered nothing, I shall return to my ship."
"Ah, you wish to see the whipping?" The king smiled his approval. "That
is one way we have of punishing slight misdemeanors in our kingdom,
Captain Plum. It is an illustration of our intolerance of evil-doers."
He turned suddenly toward the girl. "Winnsome, my dear, have you copied
the paper I was at work on? I wish to show it to Captain Plum."
He walked slowly toward her and for the first time since her warning
Nathaniel had an opportunity of observing the girl without fear of
being perceived by the prophet. She was very young, hardly more than a
child he would have guessed at first; and yet at a second and more
careful glance he knew that she could not be under fifteen--perhaps
sixteen. Her whole attire was one to add to her childish appearance. Her
hair, which was rather short, fell in lustrous dark curls about her face
and upon her neck. She wore a fitted coat-like blouse, and knee skirts
which disclosed a pretty pair of legs and ankles. As Strang was
returning with the paper which she handed to him the girl turned her
face to Captain Plum. Her mouth was formed into a round red O and she
pointed anxiously to where she had thrown the note. The king's eyes were
on his paper and Nathaniel nodded to assure her that he understood.
"I am like a gardener who compels every passing neighbor to go into his
back yard and admire his first sprouts," laughed the prophet jovially.
"In other words, I do a little writing, and I take a kind of childish
joy in making other people read it. But I see this is not in proper
shape, so you have escaped. It is a brief history of Beaver Island
written at the request of the Smithsonian Institute, which has already
published an article of mine. If you happen to be on the island
to-morrow and should you return to this office I shall certainly have
you read it if I have to call all of my sheriffs into service!"
He laughed with such open good-humor that Nathaniel found himself
smiling despite the varied unpleasant sensations within him. "Do you
write much?" he asked.
"I get out a daily paper," said the king rather proudly, "and of course,
as prophet, I am the translator of what word may be handed down to us
from Heaven for the direction and commandment of my people. I hold the
secret of the Urim and Thummin, which was first delivered by angels into
the hands of Joseph, and with it have revealed the word of God as it
appears in a book which I have written. Ah--I had forgotten this!" From
among a mass of papers and books on the table he drew forth a
blue-covered pamphlet and passed it to his companion. "I have only a few
copies left but you may have this one, Captain Plum. It will surely
interest you. In it I have set forth the troubles existing between my
own people and the cyprian-rotted criminals that infest Mackinac and the
mainland and have described our struggle for chastity and honor against
these human vultures. It was published two years ago. But conditions are
different to-day. Now--now I am king, and the oppressors in the filth of
their crime have become the oppressed!"
The last words boomed from him in a slogan of triumph and as if in
echoing mockery there came from the open door the chuckling, mirthless
laugh of Obadiah Price.
"Yea--yea--even into the land of the Lamanites are you king!"
At the sound of his voice Strang turned toward him and the sonorous
triumph that rumbled in his throat faded to a low greeting. And
Nathaniel saw that the little old councilor's eyes glittered boldly as
they met the prophet's and that in their glance was neither fear nor
servitude but rather a light as of master meeting master. The two
advanced and clasped hands and a few low words passed between them while
Nathaniel went to the door.
"I will go with you, Captain Nathaniel Plum," called Obadiah. "I will go
with you and show you the town."
"The councilor will be your friend," added Strang. "To-day he carries
with him that authority from the king."
He bowed and Nathaniel passed through the door. Looking back he caught a
last warning flash from the girl's eyes. As he hurried down the stair he
heard the councilor pause for an instant upon the landing and taking
advantage of this opportunity he picked up the bit of crumpled paper,
and read these lines:
"Hurry to your ship. In another hour men will be watching for an
opportunity to kill you. You will never leave the island alive--_unless
you go now_. The girl you saw through the window sends you this
He thrust the paper into his coat pocket as Obadiah came up behind him.
"Ho, ho, Nat, my boy, I have come fast to catch you--I have come fast!"
he whispered. He caught his companion by the arm and Nathaniel felt his
hand trembling violently. "Come this way, Nat--beyond the temple. I have
things to say to you." His voice was strangely unnatural and when
Captain Plum looked down into his face the look in the bead-like eyes
startled him. "Nat, you must hurry away with the package!"
"So I understand--if I save my skin. Obadiah Price, I have a notion to
They had passed beyond the huge edifice of logs, and as he stopped,
hidden from the view of the king's office, Nathaniel caught the
councilor's arm in a grip that crushed to the bone.
"I have a notion to kill you!" he repeated.
The old man stood unflinching. Not a muscle of his face quivered as the
captain's fingers sank into his flesh.
"At the first sign of treachery, at the first sign of danger to myself,
I shall shoot you dead!" he finished.
"You may, Nat, you may. From this moment until you leave the island I
shall be at your side and no harm shall come to you. But if there
should, Nat, or if there should come a moment when you believe that I am
your enemy--shoot me!" There was sincerity in his voice that carried
conviction to Nathaniel's heart and he released his hold upon the
councilor's arm. Regardless of the mystery that surrounded him he
believed in Obadiah. But there rose in his breast a mad desire to choke
this old man into telling him the truth, to force him to reveal the
secrets of this strange plot into which he had been drawn and of which
he knew as little as when he first set foot in Strang's kingdom. Yet he
realized even as the desire formed itself in his brain that such an
effort would be useless.
"If you had remained at the cabin, Nat, you would have known that I was
your friend," continued Obadiah. "She would have come to you, but
now--it is impossible. You know. You have been warned?"
Nathaniel drew Winnsome's note from his pocket and read it aloud.
Obadiah smiled gleefully when he noticed how carefully he kept the
handwriting from his eyes.
"Ah, Nat, you are a noble fellow!" he cried, rubbing his hands in his
old tireless way. "You would not betray pretty little Winn, eh? And who
do you suppose told Winnsome to give you this note?"
"Yea, even so. And it was she who set my old legs a-running for you, my
boy. Come, let us move!"
The little councilor was his old self again, chuckling and grimacing and
rubbing his hands, and his eyes danced as he spoke of the girl.
"Casey is not a cautious man," he gurgled with a sudden upward leer.
"Casey is a fool!"
"Casey!" almost shouted Captain Plum. "What the devil do you mean?"
"Ho, ho, ho--haven't you guessed the truth yet, Nat? While you and I
were getting acquainted last night a couple of fishermen from the
mainland dropped alongside your sloop. They had been robbed by the
Mormon pirates! They cursed Strang. They swore vengeance. And your
cautious Casey cursed with 'em, and fed 'em, and drank with 'em--and he
would have had them stay until morning only they were anxious to hurry
with their report to Strang. Understand, Nat? Eh? Do you understand?"
"What did Casey tell them?" gasped Nathaniel.
Obadiah hunched his shoulders.
"Enough to warrant a bullet through your head, Nat. Cheerful, isn't it?
But we'll fool them, Nat, we'll fool them! You shall board your ship and
hurry away with the package, and then you shall make love to Strang's
wife--_for she will go with you!_"
He stopped to enjoy the amazement that was written in every lineament of
the other's face. The red blood surged into Nathaniel's neck and
deepened on his bronze cheeks. Slowly the reaction came. When he spoke
there was an uneasy gleam in his eyes and his voice was as hard as
"She will go with me, Councilor! And why?"
Obadiah had laughed softly as he watched the change. Suddenly he jerked
"Sh-h-h!" he whispered. "Keep cool, Nat! Don't show any excitement or
fear. Here comes the man who is to kill you!"
He made no move save with his eyes.
"He is coming to speak with me and to get a good look at you," he added
in excited haste. "Appear friendly. Agree with what I say. He is the
chief of sheriffs, the king's murderer--Arbor Croche!"
He turned as if he had just seen the approaching figure. And he
whispered softly, "Winnsome's father!"
Arbor Croche! Nathaniel gave an involuntary shudder as he turned with
Obadiah. Croche, chief of sheriffs, scourge of the mainland--the Attila
of the Mormon kingdom, whose very name caused the women of the shores to
turn white and on whose head the men had secretly set a price in gold!
Without knowing it his hand went under his coat. Obadiah saw the
movement and as he advanced to meet the officer of the king he jerked
the arm back fiercely. Half a dozen paces away the chief of sheriffs
paused and bowed low. But the councilor stood erect, as he had stood
before the king, smiling and nodding his head.
"Ah, Croche," he greeted, "good morning!"
"Good morning, Councilor!"
"Sheriff, I would have you meet Captain Nathaniel Plum, master of the
sloop _Typhoon_. Captain Plum this is His Majesty's officer, Arbor
The two men advanced and shook hands. Nathaniel stood half a head above
the sheriff, who, like his master, the king, was short and of massive
build, though a much younger man. He was a dark lowering hulk of a
creature, with black eyes, black hair, and a hand-clasp that showed him
possessed of great strength.
"You are a stranger, Captain Plum?"
The councilor replied quickly.
"He has never been at St. James before, sheriff. I have invited him to
stay over to see the whipping. By the way--" he shot a suggestive look
at the Officer. "By the way, Croche, I want you to see him safely aboard
his sloop to-night. His ship is at the lower end of the island, and if
you will detail a couple of men just before dusk--an escort, you know--"
Nathaniel felt a curious thrill creep up his spine at the satisfaction
which betrayed itself in the officer's black face.
"It will give me great pleasure, Councilor," he interrupted. "I shall
escort you myself if you will allow me, Captain Plum!"
"Thank you," said Nathaniel.
"Captain Plum is to remain with me throughout the day," added Obadiah.
"Come at seven--to my place. Ah, I see that people are assembling near
"We have changed our plans somewhat, Councilor." The officer turned to
Nathaniel. "You will see the whipping within half an hour, Captain
Plum." He turned away with another bow to the councilor and hastened in
the direction of Strang's office.
"So that is the gentleman who thinks he is going to put a bullet through
me!" exclaimed Nathaniel when the officer had gone beyond hearing. He
laughed, and there was a kind of wild expectant joy in his voice.
"Obadiah, can you not make arrangements for him to go with me alone?"
"He will not go with you at all, Nat," gloated the old man. "Ho, ho, we
are playing at his own game--treachery. When he calls at my place you
will be aboard ship."
"But I should like to have a talk with him--alone, and in the woods.
God--I know a man at Grand Traverse Bay whose wife and daughter--"
"Sh-h-h-h!" interrupted the councilor. "Would you kill little Winnsome's
"Her father? That animal! That murderer! Is it true?"
"But you should have seen her mother, Nat, you should have seen her
mother!" The old man twisted his hands, like a miser ravished by the
sight of gold. "She was beautiful--as beautiful as a wild flower, and
she killed herself three years ago to save the birth of another child
into this hell. Little Winn is like her mother, Nat."
"And she lives with him?"
"Er, yes--and guarded, oh, so carefully guarded by Strang, Nat! Yes, I
guess that some day she will be a queen."
"Great God!" cried the young man. "And you--you live in this cesspool of
sin and still believe in a Heaven?"
"Yes, I believe in a Heaven. And my reward there shall be great. Ho, ho,
I am taking no middle road, Nat!"
They had passed in a semicircle beyond the temple and now approached a
squat building constructed of logs, which Obadiah had pointed out as the
jail. A glance satisfied Nathaniel that it was so situated that an
admirable view of the proceedings could be obtained from the rear of the
structure in which Strang had his office. Several score of people had
already assembled about the prison and stood chatting with that tense
interest and anticipation with which the mob always awaits public
infliction of the law's penalties. A third of them were women. As
Nathaniel had previously noted, the feminine part of the Mormon
population wore their hair either in braids down their backs or in thick
curls flowing over their shoulders and with the exception of three or
four were attired in skirts that just concealed their knees. Obadiah
halted his companion close to a group of half a dozen of these women and
nudged him slyly.
"Pretty sight, eh, Nat?" he chuckled. "Ah, the king has a wonderful eye
for beauty, Nat--wonderful eye! He orders that no skirt shall fall below
the female knee. Ho, ho, if he dared, if he _quite_ dared, Nat!"
He nudged Nathaniel again with such enthusiasm that the latter jumped as
though a knife had been thrust between his ribs.
"By George, I admire his taste!" he laughed. The women caught him
staring at them, and one, who was the youngest and prettiest of the lot,
"Tush--the Jezebel!" snapped Obadiah, catching the look. "That's her
child playing just beyond."
The young woman tossed her head and her white teeth gleamed in a laugh,
as though she had overheard the old councilor's words.
"See her twist her hair," he snarled venomously as the young woman,
still boldly eying Nathaniel, played with the luxuriant curls that
glistened in the sun upon her breast. "Ezra Wilton is so fond of her
that he will take no other wife. Ugh, Strang is a fool!"
Nathaniel turned away from the smiling eyes with a shrug.
"To tell our women that it helps to save their souls to wear short
skirts and let their hair hang down. For every soul of a woman that it
saves it sends two men on the road to hell!"
So intense was the old man's displeasure and so ludicrous the twisting
contortions of his face that Nathaniel could hardly restrain himself
from bursting into a roar of laughter. Obadiah perceived his inclination
and with an angry bob of his head led the way through to the inner edge
of the waiting circle of men. Within this circle, in a small open space,
was a short post with straps attached to an arm nailed across it, and
leaning upon this post in an attitude of one who possesses a most
distinguished office was a young man with a three thonged whip in his
hand. An ominous silence pervaded the circle, with the exception of the
hushed whispering of a number of women who had forced themselves into
the line of spectators, bent upon witnessing the sight of blood as well
as hearing the sound of lashes. Nathaniel noticed that most of the women
hung in frightened curiosity beyond the men.
"That is MacDougall with the lash--official whipper and caretaker of the
slave hounds," explained Obadiah in a whisper.
Nathaniel gave a start of horror.
"Slave hounds!" he breathed.
The councilor grinned and twisted his hands, in enjoyment of his
"We have the finest pack of bloodhounds north of Louisiana," he
continued, so low that only Nathaniel could hear. "See! Isn't the earth
worn smooth and hard about that post?"
Nathaniel looked and his blood grew hot.
"I have seen such things in the South," he said. "But not--for white
The councilor caught him by the arm.
"They are coming!"
In the direction of the jail the crowd was separating. Men crushed back
on each side, forming a narrow aisle, even the whispering of the women
ceased. A moment later three men appeared in the opening between the
spectators. One of these, who walked between the other two, was stripped
to the waist. About each of his naked wrists was tied a leather thong
and these thongs were held by the man's guards. The prisoner's face was
livid; his hands were red with blood that dripped from his lacerated
wrists; his eyes glared malignantly and his heaving chest showed that
he had not been brought from the log prison without a struggle.
"Ah, it's Wittle first!" breathed the councilor. "It's he who said his
wife should not wear short skirts."
At the edge of the circle the prisoner hesitated and the muscles in his
arms and chest grew rigid. Those of the crowd nearest to him drew back.
Then a sudden change swept over the man's features and he walked quickly
to the stake and kneeled before it. The thongs about his wrists were
tied to the straps of the cross-piece and the whipper took his position.
As the first lash fell, a cry burst from the lips of the victim. When
the whip descended again he was silent. A curious sensation of sickness
crept over Nathaniel as he saw the red gashes thicken on the white
flesh. Five times--six times--seven times the whip rose and fell and he
could see the blood starting. In horror he turned his eyes away. Behind
him a man grinned at the whiteness of his face and the involuntary
trembling of his lips. Again and again he heard the lash fall upon the
naked back. From near him there came the sobbing moan of a woman. A
subdued movement, a sound as of murmuring wordless voices swept through
the throng. A steady glitter filled the eyes of the man who had laughed
at him--and he turned again to the stake. The man's back was dripping
blood. Great red seams lay upon his shoulders and a single lash had cut
his bowed neck. Another stroke, more fierce than the others, and
MacDougall turned away from the figure at the post, breathing hard. The
guards unfastened the victim's wrist-thongs and the man staggered to his
feet. As he swayed down through the path that opened for him his crimson
back shone in the sun.
"Great God!" gasped Nathaniel.
He turned to Obadiah and was startled by the appearance of the old man.
The councilor's face was ghastly. His mouth twitched and his body
trembled. Nathaniel took his arm sympathetically.
"Hadn't we better go, Dad?" he whispered.
"No--no--no--not yet, Nat. It's--it's--Neil now and I must see how the
It was but a short time before the guards returned. This time their
prisoner walked free and erect. The thongs dangled from his wrists and
he was a pace ahead of the two men who accompanied him. He was a young
man. Nathaniel judged his age at twenty-five. He was a striking contrast
to the man who had suffered first at the post. His face instead of
betraying the former's pallor was flushed with excitement; his head was
held high; not a sign of fear or hesitation shone in his eyes. As he
glanced quickly around the circle of faces the flush grew deeper in his
cheeks. He nodded and smiled at MacDougall and in that nod and smile
there was a meaning that sent a shiver to the whip-master's heart. Then
his eyes fell upon Obadiah and Nathaniel. He saw the councilor's hand
resting upon the young captain's arm and a flash of understanding passed
over his face. For an instant the eyes of the two young men met. The man
at the post took half a step forward. His lips moved as if he was on the
point of speaking, the defiant smile went out of his face, the flush
faded in his cheeks. Then he turned quickly and held out his hands to
As the young man kneeled before the post Nathaniel heard a smothered sob
at his side which he knew came from Obadiah.
"Come, Dad," he said softly. "I can't stand this. Let's get away!"
He shoved the councilor back. The lash whistled through the air behind
him. As it fell there came a piercing cry. It was a woman's voice, and
with a snarl like that of a tortured animal the old man struck down
Nathaniel's arm and clawed his way back to the edge of the line. On the
opposite side there was a surging in the crowd and as MacDougall raised
his whip a woman burst through.
"My God!" cried Nathaniel, "it's--"
He left the rest of the words unspoken. His veins leaped with fire. A
single sweep of his powerful arms and he had forced himself through the
innermost line of spectators. Within a dozen feet of him stood Strang's
wife, her beautiful hair disheveled, her face deadly white, her bosom
heaving as if she had been running. In a moment her eyes had taken in
the situation--the man at the stake, the upraised lash--and Nathaniel.
With a sobbing, breathless cry, she flung herself in front of MacDougall
and threw her arms around the kneeling man, her hair covering him in a
glistening veil. For an instant her eyes were raised to Nathaniel and he
saw in them that same agonized appeal that had called to him through the
king's window. The striking muscles of his arms tightened like steel.
One of the guards sprang forward and caught the girl roughly by the arm
and attempted to drag her away. In his excitement he pulled her head
back and her hair trailed in the dirt. The sight was maddening. From
Nathaniel's throat there came a fierce cry and in a single leap he had