Part 3 out of 3
A few yards away he saw a group of people and among them were women;
still farther away, so far that his brain grew dizzy as he looked, there
was a black moving crowd. He was among the wounded. The Mormon women
were here. Down there along the shore--among the dead--had assembled the
population of St. James.
A strange sickness overpowered him and he sank back against his
supporter. A cool hand passed over his face. It was a soothing, gentle
touch--the hand of the woman. He felt the sweep of soft hair against his
cheek--a breath whispering in his ear.
"You will be better soon."
His heart stood still.
"You will be better--"
Against his rough cheek there fell the soft pressure of a woman's lips.
Nathaniel pulled himself erect, every drop of blood in him striving for
the mastery of his body, his vision, his strength. He tried to turn, but
strong arms seized him from behind. A man's voice spoke to him, a man's
strength held him. In an agony of appeal Marion's name burst from his
"Sh-h-!" warned the voice behind him. "Are you crazy?"
The arms relaxed their hold and Nathaniel dragged himself to his knees.
The woman was gone. As far as he could see there were people--scores of
them, hundreds of them--multiplied into thousands and millions as he
looked, until there was only a black cloud about him. He staggered to
his feet and a strong hand kept him from falling while his brain slowly
cleared. The millions and thousands and hundreds of people dissolved
themselves into the day until only a handful was left where he had seen
multitudes. He turned his face weakly to the man beside him.
"Where did she go?" he asked.
It was a boyish face into which his pleading eyes gazed, a face white
with the strain of battle, reddened a little on one cheek with a smear
of blood, and there was a startled, frightened look in it that did not
come of the strife that had passed.
"Who? What are you talking about?"
"The woman," whispered Nathaniel. "The woman--Marion--who kissed--me--"
The young fellow's hand gripped his arm in a sudden fierce clutch.
"You've been dreaming!" he exclaimed in a threatening voice. "Shut up!"
He spoke the words loudly. Then quickly dropping his voice to a whisper
he added, "For God's sake don't betray her! They saw her with
us--everybody knows that it was the king's wife with you!"
The king's wife! Nathaniel was too weak to analyze the words beyond the
fact that they carried the dread truth of his fears deep into his soul.
Who would have come to him but Marion? Who else would have kissed him?
It was her voice that had whispered in his ear--the thrill of her hand
that had passed over his face. And this man had said that she was the
wife of the king! He heard the voices of other men near him but did not
understand what they were saying. He knew that after a moment there was
a man on each side of him holding him by the arms, and mechanically he
moved his legs, knowing that they wanted him to walk. They did not guess
how weak he was--how he struggled to keep from becoming too great a
weight on their hands. Once or twice they stopped in their agonizing
climb up the hill. On its top the cool sea air swept into Nathaniel's
face and it was like water to a parched throat.
After a time--it seemed a day of terrible work and pain to him--they
came to the streets of the town, and in a half conscious sort of way he
cursed at the rabble trailing at their heels. They passed close to the
temple, dirt and blood and a burning torment shutting the vision of it
from his eyes, and beyond this there was another crowd. An aisle opened
for them, as it had opened for others ahead of them. In front of the
jail they stopped. Nathaniel's head hung heavily upon his breast and he
made no effort to raise it. All ambition and desire had left him, all
desire but one, and that was to drop upon the ground and lie there for
endless, restful years. What consciousness was left in him was ebbing
swiftly; he saw black, fathomless night about him and the earth seemed
slipping from under his feet.
A voice dragged him back into life--a voice that boomed in his ears like
rolling thunder and set every fiber in him quivering with emotion. He
drew himself erect with the involuntary strength of one mastering the
last spasm of death and as they dragged him through the door he saw
there within an arm's reach of him the great, living face of Strang,
gloating at him as if from out of a mist--red eyed, white fanged, filled
with the vengefulness of a beast.
The great voice rumbled in his ears again.
"Take that man to the dungeon!"
WINNSOME'S VERDICT OF DEATH
The voice--the condemning words--followed Nathaniel as he staggered on
between his two guards; it haunted him still as the cold chill of the
rotting dungeon walls struck in his face; it remained with him as he
stood swaying alone in the thick gloom--the voice rumbling in his ears,
the words beating against his brain until the shock of them sickened
him, until he stretched out his arms and there fell from him such a cry
as had never tortured his lips before.
Strang was alive! He had left the spark of life in him, and the woman
who loved him had fanned it back into full flame.
Strang was alive! And Marion--Marion was his wife!
The voice of the king taunted him from the black chaos that hid the
dungeon walls. The words struck at him, filling his head with shooting
pain, and he tottered back and sank to the ground to get away from them.
They followed, and that vengeful leer of the king was behind them,
urging them on, until they beat his face into the sticky earth, and
smothered him into what he thought was death.
There came rest after that, a long silent rest. When Nathaniel slowly
climbed up out of the ebon shadows again the first consciousness that
came to him was that the word-demons had stopped their beating against
his brain and that he no longer heard the voice of the king. His relief
was so great that he breathed a restful sigh. Something touched him
then. Great God! were they coming back? Were they still
It was a wonderfully familiar voice that spoke to him.
"Hello there, Nat! Want a drink?"
He gulped eagerly at the cool liquid that touched his lips.
"Neil," he whispered.
"It's me, Nat. They chucked me in with you. Hell's hole, isn't it?"
Nathaniel sat up, Neil's strong arm at his back. There was a light in
the room now and he could see his companion's face, smiling at him
encouragingly. The sight of it was like an elixir to him. He drank again
and new life coursed through him.
"Yes--hell of a hole!" he repeated drowsily. "Sorry for you--Neil--" and
he seemed to sleep again.
Neil laughed as he wiped his companion's face with a wet cloth.
"I'm used to it, Nat. Been here before," he said. "Can you get up?
There's a bench over here--not long enough to stretch you out on or I
would have made you a bed of it, but it's better than this mud to sit
He put his arms about Nathaniel and helped him to his feet. For a few
moments the wounded man stood without moving.
"I'm not very bad, I guess," he said, taking a slow step. "Where is the
seat, Neil? I'm going to walk to it. What sort of a bump have I got on
"Nothing much," assured Neil. "Suspicious, though," he grinned
cheerfully. "Looks as though you were running and somebody came up and
tapped you from behind!"
Nathaniel's strength returned to him quickly. The pain had gone from his
head and his eyes no longer hurt him. In the dim candle-light he could
distinguish the four walls of the dungeon, glistening with the water and
mold that reeked from between their rotting logs. The floor was of wet,
sticky earth which clung to his boots, and the air that he breathed
filled his nostrils and throat with the uncomfortable thickness of a
night fog at sea. Through it the candle burned in a misty halo. Near the
candle, which stood on a shelf-like table against one of the walls, was
a big dish which caught Nathaniel's eyes.
"What's that?" he asked pointing toward it.
"Grub," replied Neil. "Hungry?"
He went to the table and got the plate of food. There were chunks of
boiled meat, unbuttered bread, and cold potatoes. For several minutes
they ate in silence. Now that Nathaniel was himself again Neil could no
longer keep up his forced spirits. Both realized that they had played
their game and that it had ended in defeat. And each believed that it
was in his individual power to alleviate to some extent the other's
misery. To Neil what was ahead of them held no mystery. A few hours more
and then--death. It was only the form in which it would come that
troubled him, that made him think. Usually the victims of this dungeon
cell were shot. Sometimes they were hanged. But why tell Nathaniel? So
he ate his meat and bread without words, waiting for the other to speak,
as the other waited for him. And Nathaniel, on his part, kept to himself
the secret of Marion's fate. After they had done with the meat and the
bread and the cold potatoes he pulled out his beloved pipe and filled it
with the last scraps of his tobacco, and as the fumes of it clouded
round his head, soothing him in its old friendship, he told of his fight
with Strang and his killing of Arbor Croche.
"I'm glad for Winnsome's sake," said Neil, after a moment. "Oh, if you'd
only killed Strang!"
Nathaniel thought of what Marion had said to him in the forest.
"Neil," he said quietly, "do you know that Winnsome loves you--not as
the little girl whom you toted about on your shoulders--but as a woman?
Do you know that?" In the other's silence he added, "When I last saw
Marion she sent this message to you--'Tell Neil that he must go, for
Winnsome's sake. Tell him that her fate is shortly to be as cruel as
mine--tell him that Winnsome loves him and that she will escape and come
to him on the mainland.'" Like words of fire they had burned themselves
in his brain and as Nathaniel repeated them he thought of that other
broken heart that had sobbed out its anguish to him in the castle
chamber. "Neil, a man can die easier when he knows that a woman loves
He had risen to his feet and was walking back and forth through the
"I'm glad!" Neil's voice came to him softly, as though he scarcely dared
to speak the words aloud. After a moment he added, "Have you got a
pencil, Nat? I would like to leave a little note for Winnsome."
Nathaniel found both pencil and paper in one of his pockets and Neil
dropped upon his knees in the mud beside the table. Ten minutes later he
turned to Nathaniel and a great change had come into his face.
"She always seemed like such a little child to me that I never
dared--to--tell her," he faltered. "I've done it in this."
"How will you get the note to her?"
"I know the jailer. Perhaps when he comes to bring us our dinner I can
persuade him to send it to her."
Nathaniel thrust his hands into his pockets. His fingers dug into
"Would this help?" he asked.
He brought out a shimmering handful of it and counted the pieces upon
"Two hundred dollars--if he will deliver that note," he said.
Neil stared at him in amazement.
"If he won't take it for that--I've got more. I'll go a thousand!"
Neil stood silent, wondering if his companion was mad. Nathaniel saw the
look in his face and his own flushed with sudden excitement.
"Don't you understand?" he cried. "That note means Heaven or hell for
Winnsome--it means life--her whole future! And you know what this cell
means for us," he said more calmly. "It means that we're at the end of
our rope, that the game is up, that neither of us will ever see Marion
or Winnsome again. That note is the last word in life from us--from you.
It's a dying prayer. Tell Winnsome your love, tell her that it is your
last wish that she go out into the big, free world--away from this
hell-hole, away from Strang, away from the Mormons, and live as other
women live! And commanded by your love--she will go!"
"I've told her that!" breathed Neil.
"I knew you would!"
Nathaniel threw another handful of gold on the table.
"Five hundred!" he exclaimed. "It's cheap enough for a woman's soul!"
He motioned for Neil to put the money in his pocket. The pain was coming
back into his head, he grew dizzy, and hastened to the bench. Neil came
and sat beside him.
"So you think it's the end?" he asked. He was glad that his companion
had guessed the truth.
There was a minute's dark silence. The ticking of Nathaniel's watch
sounded like the tapping of a stick.
"What will happen?"
"I don't know. But whatever it may be it will come to us soon. Usually
it happens at night."
"There is no hope?"
"Absolutely none. The whole mainland is at the mercy of Strang. He fears
no retribution now, no punishment for his crimes, no hand stronger than
his own. He will not even give us the pretense of a hearing. I am a
traitor, a revolutionist--you have attempted the life of the king. We
are both condemned--both doomed."
Neil spoke calmly and his companion strove to master the terrible pain
at his heart as he thought of Marion. If Neil could go to the end like a
martyr he would at least make an attempt to do as much. Yet he could not
help from saying:
"What will become of Marion?"
He felt the tremor that passed through his companion's body.
"I have implored Winnsome to do all that she can to get her away,"
replied Neil. "If Marion won't go--" He clenched his hands with a
moaning curse and sprang to his feet, again pacing back and forth
through the gloomy dungeon. "If she won't go I swear that Strang's
triumph will be short!" he cried suddenly. "I can not guess the terrible
power that the king possesses over her, but I know that once his wife
she will not endure it long. The moment she becomes that, her bondage is
broken. I know it. I have seen it in her eyes. She will kill herself!"
Nathaniel rose slowly from the bench and came to his side.
"She won't do that!" he groaned. "My God--she won't do that!"
Neil's face was blanched to the whiteness of paper.
"She will," he repeated quietly. "Her terrible pact with Strang will
have been fulfilled. And I--I am glad--glad--"
He raised his arms to the dripping blackness of the dungeon ceiling, his
voice shaking with a cold, stifled anguish. Nathaniel drew back from
that tall, straight figure, step by step, as though to hide beyond the
flickering candle glow the betrayal that had come into his face, the
blazing fire that seemed burning out his eyes. If what Neil had said was
Something choked him as he dropped alone upon the bench.
If it was true--Marion was dead!
He dropped his head in his hands and sat for a long time in silence,
listening to Neil as he walked tirelessly over the muddy earth. Not
until there came a rattling of the chain at the cell door and a creaking
of the rusty hinges did he lift his face. It was the jailer with a huge
armful of straw. He saw Neil approach him after he had thrown it down.
Their low voices came to him in an indistinct murmur. After a little he
caught the sound of the chinking gold pieces.
Neil came and sat down beside him as the heavy door closed upon them
"He took it," he whispered exultantly. "He will deliver it this morning.
If possible he will bring us an answer. I kept out a hundred and told
him that a reply would be worth that to him."
Nathaniel did not speak, and after a moment's silence Neil continued.
"The jury is assembling. We will know our fate very soon."
He rose to his feet, his words quivering with nervous excitement, and
Nathaniel heard him kicking about in the straw. In another breath his
voice hissed through the gloom in a sharp, startled command:
"Good God, Nat, come here!"
Something in the strange fierceness of Neil's words startled Nathaniel,
like the thrilling twinges of an electric shock. He darted across the
cell and found Marion's brother with his shoulder against the door.
"It's open!" he whispered. "The door--is--open!"
The hinges creaked under his weight. A current of air struck them in the
face. Another instant and they stood in the corridor, listening,
crushing back the breath in their lungs, not daring to speak. Only the
drip of water came to their ears. Gently Neil drew his companion back
into the cell.
"There's a chance--one chance in ten thousand!" he whispered. "At the
end of this corridor there is a door--the jailer's door. If that's not
locked, we can make a run for it! I'd rather die fighting--than here!"
He slipped out again, pressing Nathaniel back.
"Wait for me!"
Nathaniel heard him stealing slowly through the blackness. A minute
later he returned.
"Locked!" he exclaimed.
In the opposite direction a ray of light caught Nathaniel's eye.
"Where does that light come from?" he asked.
"Through a hole about as big as your two hands. It was made for a stove
pipe. If we were up there we could see into the jury room."
They moved quietly down the corridor until they stood under the
aperture, which was four or five feet above their heads. Through it they
could hear the sound of voices but could not distinguish the words that
were being spoken.
"The jury," explained Neil. "They're in a devil of a hurry! I wonder
Nathaniel could feel his companion shrug himself in the darkness.
"Lord--for my revolver!" he whispered excitedly. "One shot through that
hole would be worth a thousand notes to the girls!" He caught Marion's
brother by the arm as a voice louder than the others came to them.
"Yes--the--king!" affirmed Neil laying an expostulating hand on him.
"I would like to see--"
Even in these last hours of failure and defeat the fire of adventure
flamed up in Nathaniel's blood. He felt his nerves leaping again to
action, his arms grew tense with new ambition--almost he forgot that
death had him cornered and was already preparing to strike him down.
Another thought replaced all fear of this. A few feet beyond that log
wall were gathered the men whose bloodthirsty deeds had written for them
one of the reddest pages in history--men who had burned their souls out
in the destruction of human lives, whose passions and loves and hatreds
carried with them life and death; men who had bathed themselves in blood
and lived in blood until the people of the mainland called them "the
"The Mormon jury!" Nathaniel spoke the words scarcely above his breath.
"I'd like to take a look through that hole, Neil," he added.
"Easy enough--if you keep quiet. Here!" He doubled himself against the
wall. "Climb up on my shoulders."
No sooner had Nathaniel's face come to a level with the hole than a soft
cry of astonishment escaped him. Neil whispered hoarsely but he did not
reply. He was looking into a room twice as large as the dungeon cell and
lighted by narrow windows whose lower panes were on a level with the
ground outside. At the farther end of the room, in full view, was a
platform raised several feet from the main floor. On this platform were
seated ten men, immovable as statues, every face gazing straight ahead.
Directly in front of them, on the lower floor, stood the Mormon king,
and at his side, partly held in the embrace of one of his arms was
Strang's voice came to him in a low, solemn monotone, its rumbling
depth drowning the words he was speaking, and as Nathaniel saw him lift
his arm from about the girl's shoulders and place his great hand upon
her head he dug his own fingers fiercely into the rotting logs and an
imprecation burned in his breath. He did not need to hear what the king
was saying. It was a pantomime in which every gesture was
understandable. But even Neil, huddled against the wall, heard the last
words of the prophet as they thundered forth in sudden passion.
"Winnsome Croche demands the death of her father's murderer!"
Nathaniel felt his companion's shoulders sinking under his weight and he
leaped quickly to the floor.
"Winnsome is there!" he panted desperately. "Do you want to see her?"
"No. Your boots gouge my shoulder. Take them off."
The scene had changed when Nathaniel took his position again. The jury
had left its platform and was filing through a small door. Winnsome and
the king were along.
The girl had turned from him. She was deathly pale and yet she was
wondrously beautiful, so beautiful that Nathaniel's breath came in quick
dread as the king approached her. He could see the triumph in his eyes,
a terrible eagerness in his face. He seized Winnsome's hand and spoke to
her in a soft, low voice, so low that it came to Nathaniel only in a
murmur. Then, in a moment, he began stroking the shimmering glory of her
hair, caressing the silken curls between his fingers until the blood
seemed as if it must burst, like hot sweat from Nathaniel's face.
Suddenly Winnsome drew back from him, the pallor gone from her face, her
eyes blazing like angry stars. She had retreated but a step when the
prophet sprang to her and caught her in his arms, straining her to him
until the scream on her lips was choked to a gasping cry. In answer to
that cry a yell of rage hurled itself from Nathaniel's throat.
"Stop, you hell-hound!" he cried threateningly. "Stop!"
He shrieked the words again and again, maddened beyond control, and the
Mormon king, whose self-possession was more that of devil than man,
still held the struggling girl in his arms as he turned his head toward
the voice and saw Nathaniel's long arm and knotted fist threatening him
through the hole in the wall. Then Neil's name in a piercing scream
resounded through the dungeon corridor and in response to it the man
under Nathaniel straightened himself so quickly that his companion fell
back to the floor.
"Great God! what is the matter, Nat? Quick! let me up!"
Nathaniel staggered to his feet, the breath half gone out of his body,
and in another instant Neil was at the opening. The great room into
which he looked was empty.
"What was it?" he cried, leaping down. "What were they doing with
"It was the king," said Nathaniel, struggling to master himself. "The
king put his arms around Winnsome and--she struck him!"
"That was all?"
"He kissed her as she fought--and I yelled."
"She struck him!" Neil cried. "God bless little Winnsome, Nat! and--God
Neil's breath came fast as he caught the other's hand.
"I'd give my life if I could help you--and Marion!"
"We'll give them together," said Nathaniel coolly, turning down the
corridor. "Here's our chance. They'll come through that door to relock
us in our cell. Shall we die fighting?"
He was groping about in the mud of the floor for some object.
"If we had a couple of stones--"
"It would be madness--worse than madness!" interposed Neil, steadying
himself. "There will be a dozen rifles at that door when they open it.
We must return to the cell. It is worth dying a harder death to hear
from Marion and Winnsome. And we will hear from them before night!"
They retreated into the dungeon. A few minutes later the door opened
cautiously at the head of the corridor. A light blazed through the
blackness and after an interval of silence the jailer made his
appearance in front of the cell, a pistol in his hand.
"Don't be afraid, Jeekum," said Neil reassuringly. "You forgot the door
and we've been having a little fun with the jury. That's all!"
The nervous whiteness left Jeekum's face at this cheerful report and he
was about to close the door when Nathaniel exhibited a handful of gold
pieces in the candle-light and frantically beckoned the man to come in.
The jailer's eyes glittered understandingly and with a backward glance
down the lighted corridor he thrust his head and shoulders inside.
"Five hundred dollars for that note!" he whispered. "Five hundred beside
the four you've got!"
"Jeekum's a fool!" said Neil, as the door closed on them. "I feel sorry
"Because he is accepting the money. Don't you suppose that you have been
searched? Of course you have--probably before I came, while you were
half dead on the floor. Somebody knows that you have the gold."
"Why hasn't it been taken?"
For a full minute Neil made no answer. And his answer, when it did come,
first of all was a laugh.
"By George, that's good!" he cried exultingly. "Of course you were
searched--and by Jeekum! He knows, but he hasn't made a report of it to
Strang because he believes that in some way he will get hold of the
money. He is taking a big risk--but he's winning! I wonder what his
first scheme was?"
"Thought I'd bury it, perhaps," vouchsafed Nathaniel, throwing himself
upon the straw. "There's room for two here, Neil."
A long silence fell between them. The action during the last few minutes
had been too great an effort for Nathaniel and his wound troubled him
again. As the pain and his terrible thoughts of Marion's fate returned
to him he regretted that they had not ended it all in one last fight at
the door. There, at least, they might have died like men instead of
waiting to be shot down like dogs, their hands bound behind them, their
breasts naked to the Mormon rifles. He did not fear death. In more than
one game he had played against its hand, more often for love of the
sport than not, but there was a horror in being penned up and tortured
by it. He had come to look upon it as a fair enemy, filled of course
with subterfuge and treachery, which were the laws of the game; but he
had never dreamed of it as anything but merciful in its quickness. It
was as if his adversary had broken an inviolable pact with him and he
sweated and tossed on his bed of straw while Neil sat cool and silent on
the bench against the dungeon wall. Sheer exhaustion brought him relief,
and after a time he fell asleep.
He was awakened by Neil. The white face of Marion's brother was over him
when he opened his eyes and he was shaking him roughly by the shoulder.
"Wake up, Nat!" he cried. "For Heaven's sake--wake up!"
He drew back as Nathaniel sleepily roused himself.
"I couldn't help it, Nat," he apologized, laughing nervously. "You've
lain there like a dead man for hours. My head is splitting with this
damned silence. Come--smoke up! I got some tobacco from our jailer and
he loaned me his pipe."
Nathaniel jumped to his feet. A fresh candle was burning on the table
and in its light he saw that a startling change had come into Neil's
face during the hours he had slept. It looked to him thinner and whiter,
its lines had deepened, and the young man's eyes were filled with gloomy
"Why didn't you awaken me sooner?" he exclaimed. "I deserve a good
drubbing for leaving you alone here!" He saw fresh food on the table.
"It's late--" he began.
"That is our dinner and supper," interrupted Neil. He held his watch
close to the candle. "Half past eight!"
"And no word--from--"
The two men looked deeply into each other's eyes.
"Jeekum delivered my note to her at noon when he was relieved," said
Neil. "He did not carry it personally but swears that he saw her receive
it. He sent her word that he would call at a certain place for a reply
when he was relieved again at five. There was no reply for him--not a
word from Winnsome."
Their silence was painful. It was Nathaniel who spoke first,
hesitatingly, as though afraid to say what was passing in his mind.
"I killed Winnsome's father, Neil," he said, "and Winnsome has demanded
my death. I know that I am condemned to die. But you--" His eyes flashed
sudden fire. "How do you know that my fate is to be yours? I begin to
see the truth. Winnsome has not answered your note because she knows
that you are to live and that she will see you soon. Between Winnsome
and--Marion you will be saved!"
Neil had taken a piece of meat and was eating it as though he had not
heard his companion's words.
"Help yourself, Nat. It's our last opportunity."
"You don't believe--"
"No. Lord, man, do you suppose that Strang is going to let me live to
Somebody was fumbling with the chain at the dungeon door.
The two men stared as it opened slowly and Jeekum appeared. The jailer
was highly excited.
"I've got word--but no note!" he whispered hoarsely. "Quick! Is it
Nathaniel dug the gold pieces out of his pockets and dropped them into
the jailer's outstretched hand.
"I've had my boy watching Winnsome Croche's house," continued the
sheriff, white with the knowledge of the risk he was taking. "An hour
ago Winnsome came out of the house and went into the woods. My boy
followed. She ran to the lake, got into a skiff, and rowed straight out
to sea. She is following your instructions!"
In his excitement he betrayed himself. He had read the note.
There came a sound up the corridor, the opening of a door, the echo of
voices, and Jeekum leaped back. Nathaniel's foot held the cell door
"Where is Marion?" he cried softly, his heart standing still with dread.
"Great God--what about Marion?"
For an instant the sheriff's ghastly face was pressed against the
"Marion has not been seen since morning. The king's officers are
searching for her."
The door slammed, the chains clanked loudly, and above the sound of
Jeekum's departure Neil's voice rose in a muffled cry of joy.
"They are gone! They are leaving the island!"
Nathaniel stood like one turned into stone. His heart grew cold within
him. When he spoke his words were passionless echoes of what had been.
"You are sure that Marion would kill herself as soon as she became the
wife of Strang?" he asked.
"Yes--before his vile hands touched more than the dress she wore!"
"Then Marion is dead," replied Nathaniel, as coldly as though he were
talking to the walls about him. "For last night Marion was forced into
the harem of the king."
As he revealed the secret whose torture he meant to keep imprisoned in
his own breast he dropped upon the pallet of straw and buried his face
between his arms, cursing himself that he had weakened in these last
hours of their comradeship.
He dared not look to see the effect of his words on Neil. His companion
uttered no sound. Instead there was a silence that was terrifying.
At the end of it Neil spoke in a voice so strangely calm that Nathaniel
sat up and stared at him through the gloom.
"I believe they are coming after us, Nat. Listen!"
The tread of many feet came to them faintly from beyond the corridor
Nathaniel had risen. They drew close together, and their hands clasped.
"Whatever it may be," whispered Neil, "may God have mercy on our souls!"
"Amen!" breathed Captain Plum.
"THE STRAIGHT DEATH"
Hands were fumbling with the chain at the dungeon door.
It opened and Jeekum's ashen face shone in the candle-light. For a
moment his frightened eyes rested on the two men still standing in their
last embrace of friendship. A word of betrayal from them and he knew
that his own doom was sealed.
He came in, followed by four men. One of them was MacDougall, the king's
whipper. In the corridor were other faces, like ghostly shadows in the
darkness. Only MacDougall's face was uncovered. The others were hidden
behind white masks. The men uttered no sound but ranged themselves like
specters in front of the door, their cocked rifles swung into the crooks
of their arms. There was a triumphant leer on MacDougall's lips as he
and the jailer approached. As the whipper bound Neil's hands behind his
back he hissed in his ear.
"This will be a better job than the whipping, damn you!"
"Hear that, Nat?" he asked, loud enough for all in the cell to hear.
"MacDougall says this will be a better job than the whipping. He
remembers how I thrashed him once when he said something to Marion one
Neil was as cool as though acting his part in a play. His face was
flushed, his eyes gleamed fearlessly defiant. And Nathaniel, looking
upon the courage of this man, from under whose feet had been swept all
hope of life, felt a twinge of shame at his own nervousness. MacDougall
grew black with passion at the taunting reminder of his humiliation and
tightened the thongs about Neil's wrists until they cut into the flesh.
"That's enough, you coward!" exclaimed
Nathaniel, as he saw the blood start. "Here--take this!"
Like lightning he struck out and his fist fell with crushing force
against the side of the man's head. MacDougall toppled back with a
hollow groan, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Nathaniel turned
coolly to the four rifles leveled at his breast.
"A pretty puppet to do the king's commands!" he cried. "If there's a man
among you let him finish the work!"
Jeekum had fallen upon his knees beside the whipper.
"Great God!" he shrieked. "You've killed, him! You've stove in the side
of his head!"
There was a sudden commotion in the corridor. A terrible voice boomed
forth in a roar.
"Let me in!"
Strang stood in the door. He gave a single glance at the man gasping and
bleeding in the mud. Then he looked at Nathaniel. The eyes of the two
men met unflinching. There was no hatred now in the prophet's face.
"Captain Plum, I would give a tenth of my kingdom for a brother like
you!" he said calmly. "Here--I will finish the work." He went boldly to
the task, and as he tied Nathaniel's arms behind him he added, "The
vicissitudes of war, Captain Plum. You are a man--and can appreciate
what they sometimes mean!"
A few minutes later, gagged and bound, the prisoners fell behind two of
the armed guards and at a command from the king, given in a low tone to
Jeekum, marched through the corridor and up the short flight of steps
that led out of the jail. To Nathaniel's astonishment there was no light
to guide them. Candles and lights had been extinguished. What words he
heard were spoken in whispers. In the deep shadow of the prison wall a
third guard joined the two ahead and like automatons they strode through
the gloom with slow, measured step, their rifles held with soldierly
precision. Nathaniel glanced over his shoulder and saw three other white
masked faces a dozen feet away. The king had remained behind.
He shuddered and looked at Neil. His companion's appearance was almost
startling. He seemed half a head taller than himself, yet he knew that
he was shorter by an inch or two; his shoulders were thrown back, his
chin held high, he kept step with the guards ahead. He was marching to
his death as coolly as though on parade.
Nathaniel's heart beat excitedly as they came to where the scrub of the
forest met the plain. They were taking the path that led to Marion's!
Again he looked at Neil. There was no change in the fearless attitude of
Marion's brother, no lowering of his head, no faltering in his step.
They passed the graves and entered the opening in the forest where lay
Marion's home, and as once more the sweet odor of lilac came to him,
awakening within his soul all those things that he had tried to stifle
that he might meet death like a man, he felt himself weakening, until
only the cloth about his mouth restrained the moaning cry that forced
itself to his lips. If he had possessed a life to give he would have
sacrificed it gladly then for a word with the Mormon king, a last prayer
that death might be meted to him here, where eternity would come to him
with his glazing eyes fixed to the end upon the home of his beloved, and
where the sweetness of the flower that had become a part of Marion
herself might soothe the pain of his final moment on earth.
His heart leaped with hope as a sharp voice from the rear commanded a
halt. It was Jeekum. He came up out of the darkness from behind the rear
guard, his face still unmasked, and for a few moments was in whispered
consultation with the guards ahead. Had Strang, in the virulence of that
hatred which he concealed so well, conceived of this spot to give added
torment to death? It was the poetry of vengeance! For the first time
Neil turned toward his companion. Each read what the other had guessed.
Neil, who was nearest to the whispering four, turned suddenly toward
them and listened. When he looked at Nathaniel again it was with a slow
negative shake of his head.
Jeekum returned quickly and placed himself between them, seizing each by
an arm, and the forward guards, pivoting to the left, set off at their
steady pace across the clearing. As they entered the denser gloom of the
forest on the farther side Nathaniel felt the jailer's fingers tighten
about his arm, then relax--and tighten again. A gentle pressure held him
back and the guards in front gained half a dozen feet. In a low voice
Jeekum called for those behind to fall a few paces to the rear.
Then came again the mysterious working of the man's fingers on
Was Jeekum signaling to him?
He could see Neil's white face still turned stoically to the front.
Evidently nothing had occurred to arouse his suspicions. If the
maneuvering of Jeekum's fingers meant anything it was intended for him
alone. Action had been the manna of his life. The possibility of new
adventure, even in the face of death, thrilled him. He waited,
breathless--and the strange pressure came again, so hard that it hurt
There was no longer a doubt in his mind. The king's sheriff wanted to
speak to him.
And he was afraid of the eyes and ears behind.
The fingers were cautioning him to be ready--when the opportunity came.
The path widened and through the thin tree-tops above their heads the
starlight filtered down upon them. The leading guards were twenty feet
away. How far behind were the others?
A moment more and they plunged into deep night again. The figures ahead
were mere shadows. Again the fingers dug into Nathaniel's arm, and
pressing close to the sheriff he bent down his head.
A low, quick whisper fell in his ear.
"Don't give up hope! Marion--Winnsome--"
The sheriff jerked himself erect without finishing. Hurried footsteps
had come close to their heels. The rear guards were so near that they
could have touched them with their guns. Had some spot of lesser gloom
ahead betrayed the prisoner's bowed head and Jeekum's white face turned
to it? There was a steady pressure on Nathaniel's arm now, a warning,
frightened pressure, and the hand that made it trembled. Jeekum feared
the worst--but his fear was not greater than the chill of disappointment
that came to smother the excited beating of Nathaniel's heart. What had
the jailer meant to say? What did he know about Marion and Winnsome, and
why had he given birth to new hope in the same breath that he mentioned
His words carried at least one conviction. Marion was alive despite her
brother's somber prophesies. If she had killed herself the sheriff would
not have coupled her name with Winnsome's in the way he had.
Nathaniel's nerves were breaking with suspense. He stifled his breath to
listen, to catch the faintest whisper that might come to him from the
white faced man at his side. Each passing moment of silence added to his
desperation. He squeezed the sheriff's hand with his arm, but there was
no responding signal; in a patch of thick gloom that almost concealed
the figures ahead he pressed near to him and lowered his head again--and
Jeekum pushed him back fiercely, with a low curse.
They emerged from the forest and the clear starlight shone down upon
them. A little distance off lay the lake in shimmering stillness.
Nathaniel looked boldly at the sheriff now, and as his glance passed
beyond him he was amazed at the change that had come over Neil. The
young man's head was bowed heavily upon his breast, his shoulders were
hunched forward, and he walked with a listless, uneven step. Was it
possible that his magnificent courage had at last given way?
A hundred steps farther they came to the beach and Nathaniel saw a boat
at the water's edge with a single figure guarding it. Straight to this
Jeekum led his prisoners. For the first time he spoke to them aloud.
"One in front, the other in back," he said.
For an instant Nathaniel found himself close beside Neil and he prodded
him sharply with his knee. His companion did not lift his head. He made
no sign, gave no last flashing comradeship with his eyes, but climbed
into the bow of the boat and sat down with his chin still on his chest,
like a man lost in stupor.
Nathaniel followed him, scarcely believing his eyes, and sat himself in
the stern, leaning comfortably against the knees of the man who took the
tiller. He felt a curious thrill pass through him when he discovered a
moment later that this man was Jeekum. Two men seized the oars
amidships. A fourth, with his rifle across his knees sat facing Neil.
For the first time Nathaniel found himself wondering what this voyage
meant. Were they to be rowed far down the shore to some secret fastness
where no other ears would hear the sound of the avenging rifles, and
where, a few inches under the forest mold, their bodies would never be
discovered? Each stroke of the oars added to the remoteness of this
possibility. The boat was heading straight out to sea. Perhaps they were
to meet a less terrible death by drowning, an end which, though
altogether unpleasant, held something comforting in it for Captain Plum.
Two hours passed without pause in the steady labor of the men at the
oars. In those hours not a word was spoken. The two men amidships held
no communication. The guard in the bow moved a little now and then only
to relieve his cramped limbs. Neil was absolutely motionless, as though
he had ceased to breathe. Jeekum uttered not a whisper.
It was his whisper that Nathaniel waited for, the signaling clutch of
his fingers, the sound of his breath close to his ears. Again and again
he pressed himself against the sheriff's knees. He knew that he was
understood, and yet there came no answer. At last he looked up, and
Jeekum's face was far above him, staring straight and unseeing into the
darkness ahead. His last spark of hope went out.
After a time a dark rim loomed slowly up out of the sea. It was land,
half a mile or so away. Nathaniel sat up with fresh interest, and as
they drew nearer Jeekum rose to his feet and gazed long and steadily in
both directions along the coast. When he returned to his seat the boat's
course was changed. A few minutes later the bow grated upon sand. Still
voiceless as specters the guards leaped ashore and Neil roused himself
to follow them, climbing over the gunwale like a sick man. Nathaniel was
close at his heels. With a growing sense of horror he saw two ghostly
stakes thrusting themselves out of the beach a dozen paces away. He
looked beyond them. As far as he could see there was sand--nothing but
sand, as white as paper, scintillating in a billion flashing
needle-points in the starlight. Instinctively he guessed what the stakes
were for, and walked toward them with the blood turning cold in his
veins. Neil was before him and stopped at the first stake, making no
effort to lift his eyes as Nathaniel strode past him. At the second, a
dozen feet beyond, Nathaniel's two guards halted, and placed him with
his back to the post. Two minutes later, bound hand and foot to the
stake, he shifted his head so that he could look at his companion.
Neil was similarly fastened, with his face turned partly toward him.
There was no change in his attitude. His head hung weakly upon his
chest, as if he had fainted.
What did it mean?
Suddenly every nerve in Nathaniel's body leaped into excited action.
The guards were entering their boat! The last man was shoving it
off--they were rowing away! His throbbing muscles seemed ready to burst
their bonds. The boat became indistinct in the starry gloom--a mere
shadow--and faded in the distance. The sound of oars became fainter and
fainter. Then, after a little, there was wafted back to him from far out
in the lake a man's voice--the wild snatch of a song. The Mormons were
gone! They were not to be shot! They were not--
A voice spoke to him, startling him so that he would have cried out if
it had not been for the cloth that gagged him. It was Neil, speaking
"How are you, Nat?"
Nathaniel's staring eyes revealed his astonishment. He could see Neil
laughing at him as though it was an unusually humorous joke in which
they were playing a part.
"Lord, but this is a funny mess!" he chuckled. "Here am I, able and
willing to talk--and there you are, as dumb as a mummy, and looking for
all the world as if you'd seen a ghost! What's the matter? Aren't you
glad we're not going to be shot?"
The other's voice became suddenly sober.
"This is worse than the other, Nat. It's what we call the 'Straight
Death.' Unless something turns up between now and to-morrow morning, or
a little later, we'll be as dead as though they had filled us with
bullets. Our only hope rests in the fact that I can use my lungs. That's
why I didn't let them know when my gag became loose. I had the devil's
own time keeping it from falling with my chin; pretty near broke my neck
doing it. A little later, when we're sure Jeekum and his men are out of
hearing, I'll begin calling for help. Perhaps some fisherman or
He stopped, and a chill ran up Nathaniel's back as he listened to a
weird howl that came from far behind them. It was a blood-curdling
sound and his face turned a more ghastly pallor as he gazed inquiringly
at Neil. His companion saw the terrible question in his face.
"Wolves," he said. "They're away back in the forest. They won't come
down to us." For a moment he was silent, his eyes turned to the sea.
Then he added, "Do you notice anything queer about the way you're bound
to that stake, Nat?"
There was a thrilling emphasis in Nathaniel's answer. He nodded his head
affirmatively, again and again.
"Your hands are tied to the post very loosely, with a slack of say six
inches," continued Neil with an appalling precision. "There is a rawhide
thong about your neck, wet, and so tight that it chafes your skin when
you move your head. But the very uncomfortable thing just at this moment
is the way your feet are fastened. Isn't that so? Your legs are drawn
back, so that you are half resting on your toes, and I'm pretty sure
your knees are aching right now. Eh? Well, it won't be very long before
your legs will give way under you and the slack about your wrists will
keep you from helping yourself. Do you know what will happen then?"
He paused and Nathaniel stared at him, partly understanding, yet giving
"You will hang upon the thong about your neck until you choke to death,"
finished Neil. "That's the 'Straight Death.' If the end doesn't come by
morning the sun will finish the job. It will dry out the wet rawhide
until it grips your throat like a hand. Poetically we call it the hand
of Strang. Pleasant, isn't it?"
The grim definiteness with which he described the manner of their end
added to those sensations which had already become acutely discomforting
to Nathaniel. Had he possessed the use of his voice when the Mormons
were leaving he would have called upon them to return and lengthen the
thongs about his ankles by an inch or two. Now, with almost brutal
frankness, Neil had explained to him the meaning of his strange
posture. His knees began to ache. An occasional sharp pain shot up from
them to his hips, and the thong about his neck, which at first he had
used as a support for his chin, began to irritate him. At times he found
himself resting upon it so heavily that it shortened his breath, and he
was compelled to straighten himself, putting his whole weight on his
twisted feet. It seemed an hour before Neil broke the terrible silence
again. Perhaps it was ten minutes.
"I'm going to begin," he said. "Listen. If you hear an answer nod your
He drew a deep breath, turned his face as far as he could toward the
shore, and shouted.
Again and again the thrilling words burst from his throat, and as their
echoes floated back to them from the forest, like a thousand mocking
voices, Nathaniel grew hot with the sweat of horror. If he could only
have added his own voice to those cries, shrieked out the words with
Neil--joined even unavailingly in this last fight for life, it would not
have been so bad. But he was helpless. He watched the desperation grow
in his companion's face as there came no response save the taunting
echoes; even in the light of the stars he saw that face darken with its
effort, the eyes fill with a mad light, and the throat strain against
its choking thong. Gradually Neil's voice became weaker. When he stopped
to rest and listen his panting breath came to Nathaniel like the hissing
of steam. Soon the echoes failed to come back from the forest, and
Nathaniel fought like a crazed man to free himself, jerking at the
thongs that held him until his wrists were bleeding and the rawhide
about his neck choked him.
"No use!" he heard Neil say. "Better take it easy for a while, Nat!"
Marion's brother had turned toward him, his head thrown back against the
stake, his face lifted to the sky. Nathaniel raised his own head, and
found that he could breath easier. For a long time his companion did not
break the silence. Mentally he began counting off the seconds. It was
past midnight--probably one o'clock. Dawn came at half past two, the sun
rose an hour later. Three hours to live! Nathaniel lowered his head, and
the rawhide tightened perceptibly at the movement. Neil was watching
him. His face shone as white as the starlit sand. His mouth was partly
"I'm devilish sorry--for you--Nat--" he said.
His words came with painful slowness. There was a grating huskiness in
"This damned rawhide--is pinching--my Adam's apple--"
He smiled. His white teeth gleamed, his eyes laughed, and with a heart
bursting with grief Nathaniel looked away from him. He had seen courage,
but never like this, and deep down in his soul he prayed--prayed that
death might come to him first, so that he might not have to look upon
the agonies of this other, whose end would be ghastly in its fearless
resignation. His own suffering had become excruciating. Sharp pains
darted like red-hot needles through his limbs, his back tortured him,
and his head ached as though a knife had cloven the base of his skull.
Still--he could breathe. By pressing his head against the post it was
not difficult for him to fill his lungs with air. But the strength of
his limbs was leaving him. He no longer felt any sensation in his
cramped feet. His knees were numb. He measured the paralysis of death
creeping up his legs inch by inch, driving the sharp pains before it,
until suddenly his weight tottered under him and he hung heavily upon
the thong about his throat. For a full half minute he ceased to breathe,
and a feeling of ineffable relief swept over him, for during those few
seconds his body was at rest. He found that by a backward contortion he
could bring himself erect again, and that for a few minutes after each
respite it was not so difficult for him to stand.
After a third effort he turned again toward Neil. A groan of horror rose
to his imprisoned lips. His companion's face was full upon him, ghastly
white; his eyes were wide and staring, like balls of shimmering glass in
the starlight, and his throat was straining at the fatal rawhide!
Nathaniel heard no sound, saw no stir of life in the inanimate figure.
A moaning, wordless cry broke through the cloth that gagged him.
At the sound of that cry, faint, terrifying, with all the horror that
might fill a human soul in its inarticulate note, a shudder of life
passed into Neil's body. Weakly he flung himself back, stood poised for
an instant against the stake, then fell again upon the deadly thong.
Twice--three times he made the effort, and failed. And to Nathaniel,
staring wild eyed and silent now, the spectacle was one that seemed to
blast the very soul within him and send his blood in rushing torrents of
fire to his sickened brain. Neil was dying! A fourth time he struggled
back. A fifth--and he held his ground. Even in that passing instant
something like a flash of his buoyant smile flickered in his face and
there came to Nathaniel's ears like a throttled whisper--his name.
And no more.
The head fell forward again. And Nathaniel, turning his face away, saw
something come up out of the shimmering sea, like a shadow before his
blistering eyes, and as his own limbs went out from under him and he
felt the strangling death at his throat there came from that shadow a
cry that seemed to snap his very heartstrings--a piercing cry and (even
in his half consciousness he recognized it) a woman's cry! He flung
himself back, and for a moment he saw Neil struggling, the last spark of
life in him stirred by that same cry; and then across the white sand two
figures flew madly toward them and even as the hot film in his eyes grew
thicker he knew that one of them was Marion, and that the other was
His heart seemed to stop beating. He strove to pull himself together,
but his head fell forward. Faintly, as on a battlefield, voices came to
him, and when with a superhuman effort he straightened himself for an
instant he saw that Neil was no longer at the stake but was stretched on
the sand, and of the two figures beside him one suddenly sprang to her
feet and ran to him. And then Marion's terror-filled face was close to
his own, and Marion's lips were moaning his name, and Marion's hands
were slashing at the thongs that bound him. When with a great sigh of
joy he crumpled down upon the earth he knew that he was slipping off
into oblivion with Marion's arms about his neck, and with her lips
pressing to his the sweet elixir of her love.
Darkness enshrouded him but a few moments, when a dash of cool water
brought him back into light. He felt himself lowered upon the sand and
after a breath or two he twisted himself on his elbow and saw that
Neil's white face was held on Winnsome's breast and that Marion was
running up from the shore with more water. For a space she knelt beside
her brother, and then she hurried to him. Joy shone in her face. She
fell upon her knees and drew his head in the hollow of her arm, crooning
mad senseless words to him, and bathing his face with water, her eyes
shining down upon him gloriously. Nathaniel reached up and touched her
face, and she bowed her head until her hair smothered him in sweet
gloom, and kissed him. He drew her lips to his own, and then she lowered
him gently and stood up in the starlight, looking first at Neil and next
down at him; and then she turned quickly back to the sea.
From down near the shore she called back some word, and with a shrill
cry Winnsome followed her. Nathaniel struggled to his elbow, to his
knees--staggered to his feet. He saw the boat drifting out into the
night, and Winnsome standing alone at the water-edge, her sobbing cries
of entreaty, of terror, following it unanswered. He tottered down toward
her, gaining new strength at each step, but when he reached her the boat
was no longer to be seen and Winnsome's face was whiter than the sands
under her feet.
"She is gone--gone--" she moaned, stretching out her arms to him. "She
is going--back to Strang!"
And then, from far out in the white glory of the night, there came back
to him the voice of the girl he loved.
MARION FREED FROM BONDAGE
"Gone!" moaned Winnsome again. "She has gone--back--to--Strang!"
Neil was crawling to them like a wounded animal across the sand.
She started toward him but Nathaniel stopped her.
"She is the king's--wife--"
His throat was swollen so that he could hardly speak.
"No. They are to be married to-night. Oh, I thought she was going to
stay!" She tore herself away from him to go to Neil, who had fallen upon
his face exhausted, a dozen yards away.
In the wet sand, where the incoming waves lapped his hands and feet,
Nathaniel sank down, his eyes staring out into the shimmering distance
where Marion had gone. His brain was in a daze, and he wondered if he
had been stricken by some strange madness--if this all was but some
passing phantasm that would soon leave him again to his misery and his
despair. But the dash of the cold water against him cleared away his
doubt. Marion had come to him. She had saved him from death. And now she
And she was not the king's wife!
He staggered to his feet again and plunged into the lake until the water
reached to his waist, calling her name, entreating her in weak, half
choked cries to come back to him. The water soaked through to his hot,
numb body, restoring his reason and strength, and he buried his face in
it and drank like one who had been near to dying of thirst. Then he
returned to Neil. Winnsome was holding his head in her arms.
He dropped upon his knees beside them and saw that life was returning
full and strong in Neil's face.
"You will be able to walk in a few minutes," he said. "You and Winnsome
must leave here. We are on the mainland and if you follow the shore
northward you will come to the settlements. I am going back for Marion."
Neil made an effort to follow him as he rose to his feet.
Winnsome held him back, frightened, tightening her arms about him.
"You must go with Winnsome," urged Nathaniel, seizing the hand that Neil
stretched up to him. "You must take her to the first settlement up the
coast. I will come back to you with Marion."
He spoke confidently, as a man who sees his way open clearly before him,
and yet as he turned, half running, to the low black shadow of the
distant forest he knew that he was beginning a blind fight against fate.
If he could find a hunter's cabin, a fisherman's shanty--a boat!
Barely had he disappeared when a voice called to him. It was Winnsome.
The girl ran up to him holding something in her hand. It was a pistol.
"You may need it!" she exclaimed. "We brought two!"
Nathaniel reached out hesitatingly, but not to take the weapon. Gently,
as though his touch was about to fall upon some fragile flower, he drew
the girl to him, took her beautiful face between his two strong hands
and gazed steadily and silently for a moment into her eyes.
"God bless you, little Winnsome!" he whispered. "I hope that someday you
The girl understood him.
"If I have anything to forgive--you are forgiven."
The pistol dropped upon the sand, her hands stole to his shoulders.
"I want you to take something to Marion for me," she whispered softly.
And she kissed him.
Her eyes shone upon him like a benediction.
"You have given me a new life, you have given me--Neil! My prayers are
And kissing him again, she slipped away from under his hands before he
And Nathaniel, following her with his eyes until he could no longer see
her, picked up the pistol and set off again toward the forest, the touch
of her lips and the prayers of this girl whose father he had slain
filling him with something that was more than strength, more than hope.
Life had been given to him again, strong, fighting life, and with it and
Winnsome's words there returned his old confidence, his old daring.
There was everything for him to win now. His doubts and his fears had
been swept away. Marion was not dead, she was not the king's wife--and
it was not of another that he had accepted proof of her love for him,
for he had felt the pressure of her arms about his neck and the warmth
of her lips upon his face. He had until night--and the dawn was just
beginning to break. Ten or fifteen miles to the north there were
settlements, and between there were scores of settlers' homes and
fishermen's shanties. Surely within an hour or two he would find a boat.
He turned where the edge of the forest came down to meet the white
water-run of the sea, and set off at a slow, steady trot into the north.
If he could reach a boat soon he might overtake Marion in mid-lake. The
thought thrilled him, and urged him to greater speed. As the stars faded
away in the dawn he saw the dark barrier of the forest drifting away,
and later, when the light broke more clearly, there stretched out ahead
of him mile upon mile of desert dunes. As far as he could see there was
no hope of life. He slowed his steps now, for he would need to preserve
his strength. Yet he experienced no fear, no loss of confidence. Each
moment added to his faith in himself. Before noon he would be on his
way to the Mormon kingdom, by nightfall he would be upon its shores.
He examined the pistol that Winnsome had given him. There were five
shots in it and he smiled joyously as he saw that it had been loaded by
an experienced hand. It would be easy enough for him to find Strang. He
would not consider the woman--his wife. The king's wife! Like a flash
there occurred to him the incident of the battlefield. Was it this
woman--the woman who had begged him to spare the life of the prophet,
who had knelt beside him, and whispered in his ear, and kissed him? Had
that been her reward for the sacrifice she believed he had made for her
in the castle chamber? The thought of this woman, whose beauty and love
breathed the sweet purity of a flower and whose faith to her king and
master was still unbroken even in her hour of repudiation fell upon him
heavily. For there was no choice, no shadow of alternative. There was
but one way for him to break the bondage of the girl he loved.
For hours he trod steadily through the sand. The sun rose above him, hot
and blistering, and the dunes still stretched out ahead of him, like
winnows and hills and mountains of glittering glass. Gradually the
desert became narrower. Far ahead he could see where the forest came
down to the shore and his heart grew lighter. Half an hour later he
entered the margin of trees. Almost immediately he found signs of life.
A tree had been felled and cut into wood. A short distance beyond he
came suddenly upon a narrow path, beaten hard by the passing of feet,
and leading toward the lake. He had meant to rest under the shade of
these trees but now he forgot his fatigue. For a moment he hesitated.
Far back in the forest he heard the barking of a dog--but he turned in
the opposite direction. If there was a boat the path would take him to
it. Through a break in the trees he caught the green sweep of marsh rice
and his heart beat excitedly with hope. Where there was rice there were
wild-fowl, and surely where there were wild-fowl, there would be a punt
or a canoe! In his eagerness he ran, and where the path ended, the flags
and rice beaten into the mud and water, he stopped with an exultant cry.
At his feet was a canoe. It was wet, as though just drawn out of the
water, and a freshly used paddle was lying across the bow. Pausing but
to take a quick and cautious glance about him he shoved the frail craft
into the lake and with a few quiet strokes buried himself in the rice
grass. When he emerged from it he was half a mile from the shore.
For a long time he sat motionless, looking out over the shimmering sea.
Far to the south and west he could make out the dim outline of Beaver
Island, while over the trail he had come, mile upon mile, lay the
glistening dunes. Somewhere between the white desert sand and that
distant coast of the Mormon kingdom Marion was making her way back to
bondage. Nathaniel had given up all hope of overtaking her now. Long
before he could intercept her she would have reached the island. When he
started again he paddled slowly, and laid out for himself the plan that
he was to follow. There must be no mistake this time, no error in
judgment, no rashness in his daring. He would lie in hiding until dusk,
and then under cover of darkness he would hunt down Strang and kill him.
After that he would fly to his canoe and escape. A little later, perhaps
that very night if fate played the game well for him, he would return
for Marion. And yet, as he went over and over his scheme, whipping
himself into caution--into cool deliberation--there burned in his blood
a fire that once or twice made him set his teeth hard, a fire that
defied extinction, that smoldered only to await the breath that would
fan it into a fierce blaze. It was the fire that had urged him into the
rescue at the whipping-post, that had sent him single-handed to invade
the king's castle, that had hurled him into the hopeless battle upon the
shore. He swore at himself softly, laughingly, as he paddled steadily
toward Beaver Island.
The sun mounted straight and hot over his head; he paddled more slowly,
and rested more frequently, as it descended into the west, but it still
lacked two hours of sinking behind the island forest when the white
water-run of the shore came within his vision. He had meant to hold off
the coast until the approach of evening but changed his mind and landed,
concealing his canoe in a spot which he marked well, for he knew it
would soon be useful to him again. Deep shadows were already gathering
in the forest and through these Nathaniel made his way slowly in the
direction of St. James. Between him and the town lay Marion's home and
the path that led to Obadiah's. Once more the spirit of impatience, of
action, stirred within him. Would Marion go first to her home?
Involuntarily he changed his course so that it would bring him to the
clearing. He assured himself that it would do no harm, that he still
would take no chances.
He came out in the strip of dense forest between the clearing and St.
James, worming his way cautiously through the underbrush until he could
look out into the opening. A single glance and he drew back in
astonishment. He looked again, and his face turned suddenly white, and
an almost inaudible cry fell from his lips. There was no longer a cabin
in the clearing! Where it had been there was gathered a crowd of men and
boys. Above their heads he saw a thin film of smoke and he knew what had
happened. Marion's home had burned! But what was the crowd doing? It
hung close in about the smoldering ruins as if every person in it were
striving to reach a common center. Surely a mere fire would not gather
and hold a throng like this.
Nathaniel rose to his feet and thrust his head and shoulders from his
hiding-place. He heard a loud shout near him and drew back quickly as a
boy rushed madly across the opening toward the crowd, crying out at the
top of his voice. He had come out of the path that led to St. James. No
sooner had he reached the group about the burned cabin than there came a
change that added to Nathaniel's bewilderment. He heard loud voices, the
excited shouting of men and the shrill cries of boys, and the crowd
suddenly began to move, thinning itself out until it was racing in a
black stream toward the Mormon city. In his excitement Nathaniel hurried
toward the path. From the concealment of a clump of bushes he watched
the people as they rushed past him a dozen paces away. Behind all the
others there came a figure that drew a sharp cry from him as he leaped
from his hiding-place. It was Obadiah Price.
"Obadiah!" he called. "Obadiah Price!"
The old man turned. His face was livid. He was chattering to himself,
and he chattered still as he ran up to Nathaniel. He betrayed no
surprise at seeing him, and yet there was the insane grip of steel in
the two hands that clutched fiercely at Nathaniel's.
"You have come in time, Nat!" he panted joyfully. "You have come in
He ran back into the clearing, with Nathaniel close at his side, and
pointed to the smoking ruins of the cabin among the lilacs.
"They were killed last night!" he cried shrilly. "Somebody murdered
them--and burned them with the house! They are dead--dead!"
"Who?" shouted Nathaniel.
Obadiah had stopped and was rubbing and twisting his hands in his old,
"The old folks. Ho, ho, the old folks, of course! They are
He fairly shrieked the words. Then, for a moment, he stood tightly
clutching his thin hands over his chest in a powerful effort to control
"They are dead!" he repeated.
He spoke more calmly, and yet there was something so terrible in his
eyes, something so harshly vibrant of elation in the quivering passion
of his voice that Nathaniel felt himself filled with a strange horror.
He caught him by the arm, shaking him as he would have shaken a child.
"Where is Marion?" he asked. "Tell me, Obadiah--where is Marion?"
The councilor seemed not to have heard him. A singular change came into
his face and his eyes traveled beyond Nathaniel. Following his glance
the young man saw that three men had appeared from the scorched
shrubbery about the burned house and were hurrying toward them. Without
shifting his eyes Obadiah spoke to him quickly.
"Those are king's sheriffs, Nat," he said. "They know me. In a moment
they will recognize you. The United States warship _Michigan_ has just
arrived in the harbor to arrest Strang. If you can reach the cabin and
hold it for an hour you will be saved. Quick--you must run--"
"Where is Marion?"
"At the cabin! She is at--"
Nathaniel waited to hear no more, but sped toward the breach in the
forest that marked the beginning of the path to Obadiah's. The shouts of
the king's men came to him unheeded. At the edge of the woods he glanced
back and saw that they had overtaken the councilor. As he ran he drew
his pistol and in his wild joy he flung back a shout of defiance to the
men who were pursuing him. Marion was at the cabin--and a government
ship had come to put an end to the reign of the Mormon king! He shouted
Marion's name as he came in sight of the cabin; he cried it aloud as he
bounded up the low steps.
In front of the door that led to the tiny chamber in which he had taken
Obadiah's gold he saw a figure. For a moment he was blinded by his
sudden dash from the light of day into the gloom of the cabin, and he
saw only that a figure was standing there, as still as death. His
pistol dropped to the floor. He stretched out his arms, and his voice
sobbed in its entreaty as he whispered the girl's name. In response to
that whisper came a low, glad cry, and Marion lay trembling on his
"I have come back for you!" he breathed.
He felt her heart beating against him. He pressed her closer, and her
arms slipped about his neck.
"I have come back for you!"
He was almost crying, like a boy, in his happiness.
"I love you, I love you--"
He felt the warm touch of her lips.
"You will go with me?"
"If you want me," she whispered. "If you want me--after you know--what I
She shuddered against his breast, and he raised her face between his two
hands and kissed her until she drew away from him, crying softly.
"You must wait--you must wait!"
He saw now in her face an agony that appalled him. He would have gone to
her again, but there came loud voices from the forest, and recovering
his pistol he sprang to the door. Half a hundred paces away were Obadiah
and the king's sheriffs. They had stopped and the councilor was
expostulating excitedly with the men, evidently trying to keep them from
the cabin. Suddenly one of the three broke past him and ran swiftly
toward the open door, and with a shriek of warning to Nathaniel the old
councilor drew a pistol and fired point blank in the sheriff's back. In
another instant the two men behind had fired and Obadiah fell forward
upon his face.
With a yell of rage Nathaniel leaped from the door. He heard Marion cry
out his name, but his fighting blood was stirred and he did not stop.
Obadiah had given up his life for him, for Marion, and he was mad with a
desire to wreak vengeance upon the murderers. The first man lay where he
had fallen, with Obadiah's bullet through his back. The other two fired
again as Nathaniel rushed down upon them. He heard the zip of one of the
balls, which came so close that it stung his cheek.
"Take that!" he cried.
He fired, still running--once, twice, three times and one of the two men
crumpled down as though a powerful blow had broken his legs under him.
The other turned into the path and ran. Nathaniel caught a glimpse of a
frightened, boyish face, and something of mercy prompted him to hold the
shot he was about to send through his lungs.
"Stop!" he shouted. "Stop!"
He aimed at the fugitive's legs and fired.
The boyish sheriff was lengthening the distance between them and
Nathaniel halted to make sure of his last ball. He was about to shoot
when there came a sharp command from down the path and a file of men
burst into view, running at double-quick. He saw the flash of a saber,
the gleam of brass buttons, the blue glare of the setting sun on leveled
carbines, and he stopped, shoulder to shoulder with the man he had been
pursuing. For a moment he stared as the man with the naked saber
approached. Then he sprang toward him with a joyful cry of recognition.
"My God, Sherly--Sherly--"
He stood with his arms stretched out, his naked chest heaving.
"Sherly--Lieutenant Sherly--don't you know me?"
The lieutenant had dropped the point of his saber. He advanced a step,
his face filled with astonishment.
"Plum!" he cried incredulously. "Is it you?"
For the moment Nathaniel could only wring the other's hand. He tried to
speak but his breath choked him.
"I told you in Chicago that I was going to blow up this damned
island--if you wouldn't do it for me--", he gasped at last. "I've had--a
hell of a time--"
"You look it!" laughed the lieutenant. "We got our orders the second day
after you left to 'Arrest Strang, and break up the Mormon kingdom!'
We've got Strang aboard the _Michigan_. But he's dead."
"He was shot in the back by one of his own men as we were bringing him
up the gang-way. The fellow who killed him has given himself up, and
says that he did it because Strang had him publicly whipped day before
yesterday. I'm up here hunting for a man named Obadiah Price. Do you
Nathaniel interrupted him excitedly.
"What do you want with Obadiah Price?"
"The president of the United States wants him. That's all I know. Where
"Back there--dead or very badly wounded! We've just had a fight with the
The lieutenant broke in with a sharp command to his men.
"Quick, lead us to him. Captain Plum! If he's not dead--"
He started off at a half run beside Nathaniel.
"Lord, it's a pretty mess if he is!" he added breathlessly. Without
pausing he called back over his shoulder, "Regan, fall out and return to
the ship. Tell the captain that Obadiah Price is badly wounded and that
we want the surgeon on the run!"
A turn in the path brought them to the opening where the fight had
occurred. Marion was on her knees beside the old councilor.
Nathaniel hurried ahead of the lieutenant and his men. The girl glanced
up at him and his heart filled with dread at the terror in her eyes.
"Is he dead?"
"No--but--" Her voice trembled with tears.
Nathaniel did not let her finish. Gently he raised her to her feet as
the lieutenant came up.
"You must go to the cabin, sweetheart," he whispered.
Even in this moment of excitement and death his great love drove all
else from his eyes, and the blood surged into Marion's pale cheeks as
she tremblingly gave him her hand. He led her to the door, and held her
for a moment in his arms.
"Strang is dead," he said softly. In a few words he told her what had
happened and turned back to the door, leaving her speechless.
"If he is dying--you will tell me--" she called after him.
"Yes, yes, I will tell you."
He ran back into the opening.
The lieutenant had doubled his coat under Obadiah's head and his face
was pale as he looked up at Nathaniel. The latter saw in his eyes what
his lips kept silent. The officer held something in his hand. It was the
mysterious package which Captain Plum had taken his oath to deliver to
the president of the United States.
"I don't dare move until the surgeon comes," said the lieutenant. "He
wants to speak to you. I believe, if he has anything to say you had
better hear it now."
His last words were in a whisper so low that Nathaniel scarcely heard
them. As the lieutenant rose to his feet, he whispered again.
"He is dying!"
Obadiah's eyes opened as Nathaniel knelt beside him and from between his
thin lips there came faintly the old, gurgling chuckle.
"Nat!" he breathed. His thin hand sought his companion's and clung to it
tightly. "We have won. The vengeance of God--has come!"
In these last moments all madness had left the eyes of Obadiah Price.
"I want to tell you--" he whispered, and Nathaniel bent low. "I have
given him the package. It is evidence I have gathered--all these
years--to destroy the Mormon kingdom."
He tried to turn his head.
"Marion--" he whispered wistfully.
"She will come," said Nathaniel. "I will call her."
Obadiah's fingers tightened about Captain Plum's.
"I want to tell--you."
For a few moments he seemed struggling to command all his strength.
"A good many years ago," he said, as if speaking to himself, "I loved a
girl--like Marion, and she loved me--as Marion loves you. Her people
were Mormons, and they went to Kirtland--and I followed them. We planned
to escape and go east, for my Jean was good and beautiful, and hated the
Mormons as I hated them. But they caught us and--thought--they--killed--"
The old man's lips twitched and a convulsive shudder shook his body.
"When everything came back to me I was older--much older," he went on.
"My hair was white. I was like an old man. My people had found me and
they told me that I had been mad for three years, Nat--mad--mad--mad!
and that a great surgeon had operated on my head, where they struck
me--and brought me back to reason. Nat--Nat--" He strained to raise
himself, gasping excitedly. "God, I was like you then, Nat! I went back
to fight for my Jean. She was gone. Nobody knew me, for I was an old
man. I hunted from settlement to settlement. In my madness I became a
Mormon, for vengeance--in hope of finding her. I was rich, and I became
powerful. I was made an elder because of my gold. Then I found--"
A moan trembled on the old man's lips.
"--they had forced her to marry--the son of a Mormon--"
He stopped, and for a moment his eyes seemed filling with the glazed
shadows of death. He roused himself almost fiercely.
"But he loved my Jean, Nat--he loved her as I loved her--and he was a
good man!", he whispered shrilly. "Quick--quick--I must tell you--they
had tried to escape from Missouri and the Danites killed him,--and
Joseph Smith wanted Jean and at the last moment she killed herself to
save her honor as Marion was going to do, and she left two children--"
He coughed and blood flecked his lips.
"She left--Marion and Neil!"
He sank back, ashen white and still, and with a cry Nathaniel turned to
the lieutenant. The officer ran forward with a flask in his hand.
"Give him this!"
The touch of liquor to Obadiah's lips revived him. He whispered weakly.
"The children, Nat--I tried to find them--and years after--I did--in
Nauvoo. The man and woman who had killed the father in their own house
had taken them and were raising them as their own. I went mad!
Vengeance--vengeance--I lived for it, year after year. I wanted the
children--but if I took them all would be lost. I followed them,
watched them, loved them--and they loved me. I would wait--wait--until
my vengeance would fall like the hand of God, and then I would free
them, and tell them how beautiful their mother was. When Joseph Smith
was killed and the split came the old folks followed Strang--and I--I
He rested a moment, breathing heavily.
"I brought my Jean with me and buried her up there on the hill--the
middle grave, Nat, the middle grave--Marion's mother."
Nathaniel pressed the liquor to the old man's lips again.
"My vengeance was at hand--I was almost ready--when Strang learned a
part of the secret," he continued with an effort. "He found the old
people were murderers. When Marion would not become his wife he told her
what they had done. He showed her the evidence! He threatened them with
death unless Marion became his wife. His sheriffs watched them night
and day. He named the hour of their doom--unless Marion yielded to him.
And to save them, her supposed parents--to keep the terrible knowledge of
their crime from Neil--Marion--was--going--to--sacrifice--herself--when--"
Again he stopped. His breath was coming more faintly.
"I understand," whispered Nathaniel. "I understand--"
Obadiah's dimming eyes gazed at him steadily.
"I thought my vengeance would come--in time--to save her, Nat. But--it
failed. I knew of one other way and when all seemed lost--I took it. I
killed the old people--the murderers of her father--of my Jean! I knew
that would destroy Strang's power--"
In a sudden spasm of strength he lifted his head. His voice came in a
hoarse, excited whisper.
"You won't tell Marion--you won't tell Marion that I killed them--"
Obadiah fell back with a relieved sigh. After a moment he added.
"In a chest in the cabin there is a letter for Marion. It tells her
about her mother--and the gold there--is for her--and Neil--"
His eyes closed. A shudder passed through his form.
"Marion--" he breathed. "Marion!"
Nathaniel rose to his feet and ran to the cabin door.
"Marion!" he called.
Blinding tears shut out the vision of the girl from his eyes. He
pointed, looking from her, and she, knowing what he meant, sped past him
to the old councilor.
In the great low room in which Obadiah Price had spent so many years
planning his vengeance Captain Plum waited.
After a time, the girl came back.
There was great pain in her voice as she stretched out her arms to him
blindly, sobbing his name.
"Gone--gone--they're all gone now--but Neil!"
Nathaniel held out his arms.
"Only Neil,"--he cried, "only Neil--Marion--?"
Her arms were around his neck, he held her throbbing against his breast.
She raised her face, glorious in its love.
"If you want me--still."
And he whispered:
"For ever and for ever!"