Part 2 out of 5
fight for her, was it so very strange that a beast like Quade would
fight--in another way?
He went on down the trail, his hands clenched tightly. After all, it was
not fear of Quade or of what he might attempt that filled him with
uneasiness. It was Joanne herself, her strange quest, its final outcome.
With the thought that she was seeking for the man who was her husband, a
leaden hand seemed gripping at his heart. He tried to shake it off, but it
was like a sickness. To believe that she had been the wife of another man
or that she could ever belong to any other man than himself seemed like
shutting his eyes forever to the sun. And yet she had told him. She had
belonged to another man; she might belong to him even now. She had come to
find if he was alive--or dead.
And if alive? Aldous stopped again, and looked down into the dark pit
through which the river was rushing a hundred feet below him. It tore in
frothing maelstroms through a thousand rocks, filling the night with a low
thunder. To John Aldous the sound of it might have been a thousand miles
away. He did not hear. His eye saw nothing in the blackness. For a few
moments the question he had asked himself obliterated everything. If they
found Joanne's husband alive at Tete Jaune--what then? He turned back,
retracing his steps over the trail, a feeling of resentment--of hatred for
the man he had never seen--slowly taking the place of the oppressive thing
that had turned his heart sick within him. Then, in a flash, came the
memory of Joanne's words--words in which, white-faced and trembling, she
had confessed that her anxiety was not that she would find him dead, but
that _she would find him alive_. A joyous thrill shot through him as he
remembered that. Whoever this man was, whatever he might have been to her
once, or was to her now, Joanne did not want to find him alive! He laughed
softly to himself as he quickened his pace. The tense grip of his fingers
loosened. The grim, almost ghastly part of it did not occur to him--the
fact that deep in his soul he was wishing a man dead and in his grave.
He did not return at once to the scenes about Quade's place, but went to
the station, three quarters of a mile farther up the track. Here, in a
casual way, he learned from the little pink-faced Cockney Englishman who
watched the office at night that Stevens had been correct in his
information. Quade had gone to Tete Jaune. Although it was eleven o'clock,
Aldous proceeded in the direction of the engineers' camp, still another
quarter of a mile deeper in the bush. He was restless. He did not feel that
he could sleep that night. The engineers' camp he expected to find in
darkness, and he was surprised when he saw a light burning brightly in
Keller was the assistant divisional engineer, and they had become good
friends. It was Keller who had set the first surveyor's line at Tete Jaune,
and it was he who had reported it as the strategic point from which to push
forward the fight against mountain and wilderness, both by river and rail.
He was, in a way, accountable for the existence of Tete Jaune just where it
did exist, and he knew more about it than any other man in the employ of
the Grand Trunk Pacific. For this reason Aldous was glad that Keller had
not gone to bed. He knocked at the door and entered without waiting for an
The engineer stood in the middle of the floor, his coat off, his fat,
stubby hands thrust into the pockets of his baggy trousers, his red face
and bald cranium shining in the lamplight. A strange fury blazed in his
eyes as he greeted his visitor. He began pacing back and forth across the
room, puffing volumes of smoke from a huge bowled German pipe as he
motioned Aldous to a chair.
"What's the matter, Peter?"
"Enough--an' be damned!" growled Peter. "If it wasn't enough do you think
I'd be out of bed at this hour of the night?"
"I'm sure it's enough," agreed Aldous. "If it wasn't you'd be in your
little trundle over there, sleeping like a baby. I don't know of any one
who can sleep quite as sweetly as you, Peter. But what the devil _is_ the
"Something that you can't make me feel funny over. You haven't heard--about
"Not a word, Peter."
Keller took his hands from his pockets and the big, bowled pipe from his
"You know what I did with that bear," he said. "More than a year ago I made
friends with her up there on the hill instead of killing her. Last summer I
got her so she'd eat out of my hands. I fed her a barrel of sugar between
July and November. We used to chum it an hour at a time, and I'd pet her
like a dog. Why, damn it, man, I thought more of that bear than I did of
any human in these regions! And she got so fond of me she didn't leave to
den up until January. This spring she came out with two cubs, an' as soon
as they could waddle she brought 'em out there on the hillside an' waited
for me. We were better chums than ever. I've got another half barrel of
sugar--lump sugar--on the way from Edmonton. An' now what do you think that
damned C.N.R. gang has done?"
"They haven't shot her?"
"No, they haven't shot her. I wish to God they had! They've _blown her
The little engineer subsided into a chair.
"Do you hear?" he demanded. "They've blown her up! Put a stick of dynamite
under some sugar, attached a battery wire to it, an' when she was licking
up the sugar touched it off. An' I can't do anything, damn 'em! Bears ain't
protected. The government of this province calls 'em 'pests.' Murder 'em
on sight, it says. An' those fiends over there think it's a good joke on
me--an' the bear!"
Keller was sweating. His fat hands were clenched, and his round, plump body
fairly shook with excitement and anger.
"When I went over to-night they laughed at me--the whole bunch," he went on
thickly. "I offered to lick every man in the outfit from A to Z, an' I
ain't had a fight in twenty years. Instead of fighting like men, a dozen of
them grabbed hold of me, chucked me into a blanket, an' bounced me for
fifteen minutes straight! What do you think of _that_, Aldous?
Me--assistant divisional engineer of the G.T.P.--_bounced in a blanket_!"
Peter Keller hopped from his chair and began pacing back and forth across
the room again, sucking truculently on his pipe.
"If they were on our road I'd--I'd chase every man of them out of the
country. But they're not. They belong to the C.N.R. They're out of my
reach." He stopped, suddenly, in front of Aldous. "What can I do?" he
"Nothing," said Aldous. "You've had something like this coming to you,
Peter. I've been expecting it. All the camps for twenty miles up and down
the line know what you thought of that bear. You fired Tibbits because, as
you said, he was too thick with Quade. You told him that right before
Quade's face. Tibbits is now foreman of that grading gang over there. Two
and two make four, you know. Tibbits--Quade--the blown-up bear. Quade
doesn't miss an opportunity, no matter how small it is. Tibbits and Quade
did this to get even with you. You might report the blanket affair to the
contractors of the other road. I don't believe they would stand for it."
Aldous had guessed correctly what the effect of associating Quade's name
with the affair would be. Keller was one of Quade's deadliest enemies. He
sat down close to Aldous again. His eyes burned deep back. It was not
Keller's physique, but his brain, and the fearlessness of his spirit, that
made him dangerous.
"I guess you're right, Aldous," he said. "Some day--I'll even up on Quade."
"And so shall I, Peter."
The engineer stared into the other's eyes.
"Quade left for Tete Jaune to-night, on a hand-car. I follow him to-morrow,
on the train. I can't tell you what's up, Peter, but I don't think it will
stop this side of death for Quade and Culver Rann--or me. I mean that quite
literally. I don't see how more than one side can come out alive. I want to
ask you a few questions before I go on to Tete Jaune. You know every
mountain and trail about the place, don't you?"
"I've tramped them all, afoot and horseback."
"Then perhaps you can direct me to what I must find--a man's grave."
Peter Keller paused in the act of relighting his pipe. For a moment he
stared in amazement.
"There are a great many graves up at Tete Jaune," he said, at last. "A
great many graves--and many of them unmarked. If it's a _Quade_ grave
you're looking for, Aldous, it will be unmarked."
"I am quite sure that it is marked--or _was_ at one time," said Aldous.
"It's the grave of a man who had quite an unusual name, Peter, and you
might remember it--Mortimer FitzHugh."
"FitzHugh--FitzHugh," repeated Keller, puffing out fresh volumes of smoke.
"He died, I believe, before there was a Tete Jaune, or at least before the
steel reached there," added Aldous. "He was on a hunting trip, and I have
reason to think that his death was a violent one."
Keller rose and fell into his old habit of pacing back and forth across the
room, a habit that had worn a path in the bare pine boards of the floor.
"There's graves an' graves up there, but not so many that were there before
Tete Jaune came," he began, between puffs. "Up on the side of White Knob
Mountain there's the grave of a man who was torn to bits by a grizzly. But
his name was Humphrey. Old Yellowhead John--Tete Jaune, they called
him--died years before that, and no one knows where his grave is. We had
five men die before the steel came, but there wasn't a FitzHugh among 'em.
Crabby--old Crabby Tompkins, a trapper, is buried in the sand on the
Frazer. The last flood swept his slab away. There's two unmarked graves in
Glacier Canyon, but I guess they're ten years old if a day. Burns was shot.
I knew him. Plenty died after the steel came, but before that----"
Suddenly he stopped. He faced Aldous. His breath came in quick jerks.
"By Heaven, I do remember!" he cried. "There's a mountain in the Saw Tooth
Range, twelve miles from Tete Jaune--a mountain with the prettiest basin
you ever saw at the foot of it, with a lake no bigger than this camp, and
an old cabin which Yellowhead himself must have built fifty years ago.
There's a blind canyon runs out of it, short an' dark, on the right. We
found a grave there. I don't remember the first name on the slab. Mebby it
was washed out. But, so 'elp me God, _the last name was FitzHugh_!"
With a sudden cry, Aldous jumped to his feet and caught Keller's arm.
"You're sure of it, Peter?"
It was impossible for Aldous to repress his excitement. The engineer stared
at him even harder than before.
"What can that grave have to do with Quade?" he asked. "The man died before
Quade was known in these regions."
"I can't tell you now, Peter," replied Aldous, pulling the engineer to the
table. "But I think you'll know quite soon. For the present, I want you to
sketch out a map that will take me to the grave. Will you?"
On the table were pencil and paper. Keller seated himself and drew them
"I'm damned if I can see what that grave can have to do with Quade," he
said; "but I'll tell you how to find it!"
For several minutes they bent low over the table, Peter Keller describing
the trail to the Saw Tooth Mountain as he sketched it, step by step, on a
sheet of office paper. When it was done, Aldous folded it carefully and
placed it in his wallet.
"I can't go wrong, and--thank you, Keller!"
After Aldous had gone, Peter Keller sat for some time in deep thought.
"Now I wonder what the devil there can be about a grave to make him so
happy," he grumbled, listening to the whistle that was growing fainter down
And Aldous, alone, with the moon straight above him as he went back to the
Miette Plain, felt, in truth, this night had become brighter for him than
any day he had ever known. For he knew that Peter Keller was not a man to
make a statement of which he was not sure. Mortimer FitzHugh was dead. His
bones lay under the slab up in that little blind canyon in the shadow of
the Saw Tooth Mountain. To-morrow he would tell Joanne. And, blindly, he
told himself that she would be glad.
Still whistling, he passed the Chinese laundry shack on the creek, crossed
the railroad tracks, and buried himself in the bush beyond. A quarter of an
hour later he stole quietly into Stevens' camp and went to bed.
Stevens, dreaming of twenty horses plunging to death among the rocks in the
river, slept uneasily. He awoke before it was dawn, but when he dragged
himself from his tepee, moving quietly not to awaken his boy, he found John
Aldous on his knees before a small fire, slicing thin rashers of bacon into
a frying-pan. The weight of his loss was in the tired packer's eyes and
face and the listless droop of his shoulders. John Aldous, with three hours
between the blankets to his credit, was as cheery as the crackling fire
itself. He had wanted to whistle for the last half-hour. Seeing Stevens, he
"I wasn't going to rouse you until breakfast was ready," he interrupted
himself to say. "I heard you groaning, Stevens. I know you had a bad night.
And the kid, too. He couldn't sleep. But I made up my mind you'd have to
get up early. I've got a lot of business on to-day, and we'll have to rouse
Curly Roper out of bed to buy his pack outfit. Find the coffee, will you? I
For a moment Stevens stood over him.
"See here, Aldous, you didn't mean what you said last night, did you? You
"Confound it, yes! Can't you understand plain English, Stevens? Don't you
believe a man when he's a gentleman? Buy that outfit! Why, I'd buy twenty
outfits to-day, I'm--I'm feeling so fine, Stevens!"
For the first time in forty-eight hours Stevens smiled.
"I was wondering if I hadn't been dreaming," he said. "Once, a long time
ago, I guess I felt just like you do now."
With which cryptic remark he went for the coffee.
Aldous looked up in time to see the boy stagger sleepily out of the tepee.
There was something pathetic about the motherlessness of the picture, and
he understood a little of what Stevens had meant.
An hour later, with breakfast over, they started for Curly's. Curly was
pulling on his boots when they arrived, while his wife was frying the
inevitable bacon in the kitchen.
"I hear you have some horses for sale, Curly," said Aldous.
"Twenty-nine, 'r twenty-eight--mebby twenty-seven."
Curly looked up from the task of pulling on his second boot.
"H'are you buying 'orses or looking for hinformation?" he asked.
"I'm buying, and I'm in a hurry. How much do you want a head?"
"Sixty, 'r six----"
"I'll give you sixty dollars apiece for twenty-eight head, and that's just
ten dollars apiece more than they're worth," broke in Aldous, pulling a
check-book and a fountain pen from his pocket. "Is it a go?"
A little stupefied by the suddenness of it all, Curly opened his mouth and
"Is it a go?" repeated Aldous. "Including blankets, saddles, pack-saddles,
ropes, and canvases?"
Curly nodded, looking from Aldous to Stevens to see if he could detect
anything that looked like a joke.
"Hit's a go," he said.
Aldous handed him a check for sixteen hundred and eighty dollars.
"Make out the bill of sale to Stevens," he said. "I'm paying for them, but
they're Stevens' horses. And, look here, Curly, I'm buying them only with
your agreement that you'll say nothing about who paid for them. Will you
agree to that?"
Curly was joyously looking at the check.
"Gyve me a Bible," he demanded. "Hi'll swear Stevens p'id for them! I give
you the word of a Hinglish gentleman!"
Without another word Aldous opened the cabin door and was gone, leaving
Stevens quite as much amazed as the little Englishman whom everybody called
Curly, because he had no hair.
Aldous went at once to the station, and for the first time inquired into
the condition that was holding back the Tete Jaune train. He found that a
slide had given way, burying a section of track under gravel and rock. A
hundred men were at work clearing it away, and it was probable they would
finish by noon. A gang boss, who had come back with telegraphic reports,
said that half a dozen men had carried Quade's hand-car over the
obstruction about midnight.
It was seven o'clock when Aldous left for the Miette bottom. He believed
that Joanne would be up. At this season of the year the first glow of day
usually found the Ottos at breakfast, and for half an hour the sun had been
shining on the top of Pyramid Mountain. He was eager to tell her what had
passed between him and Keller. He laughed softly when he confessed to
himself how madly he wanted to see her.
He always liked to come up to the Otto home very early of a morning, or in
the dusk of evening. Very frequently he was filled with a desire to stand
outside the red-and-white striped walls of the tent-house and listen
unseen. Inside there was always cheer: at night the crackle of fire and the
glow of light, the happy laughter of the gentle-hearted Scotchwoman, and
the affectionate banter of her "big mountain man," who looked more like a
brigand than the luckiest and most contented husband in the mountains--the
luckiest, quite surely, with the one exception of his brother Clossen, who
had, by some occult strategy or other, induced a sweet-faced and
aristocratic little woman to look upon his own honest physiognomy as the
handsomest and finest in the world. This morning Aldous followed a narrow
path that brought him behind the tent-house. He heard no voices. A few
steps more and he emerged upon a scene that stopped him and set his heart
Less than a dozen paces away stood Mrs. Otto and Joanne, their backs toward
him. They were gazing silently and anxiously in the direction of the thick,
low bush across the clearing, through which led the trail to his cabin. He
did not look toward the bush. His eyes were upon Joanne. Her slender figure
was full in the golden radiance of the morning sun, and Aldous felt himself
under the spell of a joyous wonder as he looked at her. For the first time
he saw her hair as he had pictured it--as he had given it to that other
_Joanne_ in the book he had called "Fair Play." She had been brushing it in
the sun when he came, but now she stood poised in that tense and waiting
attitude--silent--gazing in the direction of the bush, with that marvellous
mantle sweeping about her in a shimmering silken flood. He would not have
moved, nor would he have spoken, until Joanne herself broke the spell. She
turned, and saw him. With a little cry of surprise she flung back her hair.
He could not fail to see the swift look of relief and gladness that had
come into her eyes. In another instant her face was flushing crimson.
"I beg your pardon for coming up like an eavesdropper," he apologized. "I
thought you would just about be at breakfast, Mrs. Otto."
The Scotchwoman heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.
"Goodness gracious, but I'm glad to see you!" she exclaimed thankfully.
"Jack and Bruce have just gone out to see if they could find your dead
"We thought perhaps something might have happened," said Joanne, who had
moved nearer the door. "You will excuse me, won't you, while I finish my
Without waiting for him to answer, she ran into the tent. No sooner had she
disappeared than the good-natured smile left Mrs. Otto's face. There was a
note of alarm in her low voice as she whispered:
"Jack and Bruce went to the barn last night, and she slept with me. She
tried to be quiet, but I know she didn't sleep much. And she cried. I
couldn't hear her, but the pillow was wet. Once my hand touched her cheek,
and it was wet. I didn't ask any questions. This morning, at breakfast, she
told us everything that happened, all about Quade--and your trouble. She
told us about Quade looking in at the window, and she was so nervous
thinking something might have happened to you last night that the poor dear
couldn't even drink her coffee until Jack and Bruce went out to hunt for
you. But I don't think that was why she cried!"
"I wish it had been," said Aldous. "It makes me happy to think she was
"Good Lord!" gasped Mrs. Otto.
He looked for a moment into the slow-growing amazement and understanding in
her kind eyes.
"You will keep my little secret, won't you, Mrs. Otto?" he asked. "Probably
you'll think it's queer. I've only known her a day. But I feel--like that.
Somehow I feel that in telling this to you I am confiding in a mother, or a
sister. I want you to understand why I'm going on to Tete Jaune with her.
That is why she was crying--because of the dread of something up there. I'm
going with her. She shouldn't go alone."
Voices interrupted them, and they turned to find that Jack and Bruce Otto
had come out of the bush and were quite near. Aldous was sorry that Joanne
had spoken of his trouble with Quade. He did not want to discuss the
situation, or waste time in listening to further advice. He was anxious to
be alone again with Joanne, and tell her what he had learned from Peter
Keller. For half an hour he repressed his uneasiness. The brothers then
went on to their corral. A few minutes later Joanne was once more at his
side, and they were walking slowly over the trail that led to the cabin on
He could see that the night had made a change in her. There were circles
under her eyes which were not there yesterday. When she looked at him their
velvety blue depths betrayed something which he knew she was struggling
desperately to keep from him. It was not altogether fear. It was more a
betrayal of pain--a torment of the soul and not of the body. He noticed
that in spite of the vivid colouring of her lips her face was strangely
pale. The beautiful flush that had come into it when she first saw him was
Then he began to tell her of his visit to Peter Keller. His own heart was
beating violently when he came to speak of the grave and the slab over it
that bore the name of FitzHugh. He had expected that what he had discovered
from Keller would create some sort of a sensation. He had even come up to
the final fact gradually, so that it would not appear bald and shocking.
Joanne's attitude stunned him. She looked straight ahead. When she turned
to him he did not see in her eyes what he had expected to see. They were
quiet, emotionless, except for that shadow of inward torture which did not
"Then to-morrow we can go to the grave?" she asked simply.
Her voice, too, was quiet and without emotion.
He nodded. "We can leave at sunrise," he said. "I have my own horses at
Tete Jaune and there need be no delay. We were to start into the North from
"You mean on the adventure you were telling me about?"
She had looked at him quickly.
"Yes. Old Donald, my partner, has been waiting for me a week. That's why I
was so deuced anxious to rush the book to an end. I'm behind Donald's
schedule, and he's growing nervous. It's rather an unusual enterprise
that's taking us north this time, and Donald can't understand why I should
hang back to write the tail end of a book. He has lived sixty years in the
mountains. His full name is Donald MacDonald. Sometimes, back in my own
mind, I've called him History. He seems like that--as though he'd lived for
ages in these mountains instead of sixty years. If I could only write what
he has lived--even what one might imagine that he has lived! But I cannot.
I have tried three times, and have failed. I think of him as The Last
Spirit--a strange wandering ghost of the mighty ranges. His kind passed
away a hundred years ago. You will understand--when you see him."
She put her hand on his arm and let it rest there lightly as they walked.
Into her eyes had returned some of the old warm glow of yesterday.
"I want you to tell me about this adventure," she entreated softly. "I
understand--about the other. You have been good--oh! so good to me! And I
should tell you things; you are expecting me to explain. It is only fair
and honest that I should. I know what is in your mind, and I only want you
to wait--until to-morrow. Will you? And I will tell you then, when we have
found the grave."
Involuntarily his hand sought Joanne's. For a single moment he felt the
warm, sweet thrill of it in his own as he pressed it more closely to his
arm. Then he freed it, looking straight ahead. A soft flush grew in
"Do you care a great deal for riches?" he asked. "Does the golden pot at
the end of the rainbow hold out a lure for you?" He did not realize the
strangeness of his question until their eyes met. "Because if you don't,"
he added, smiling, "this adventure of ours isn't going to look very
exciting to you."
She laughed softly.
"No, I don't care for riches," she replied. "I am quite sure that just as
great education proves to one how little one knows, so great wealth brings
one face to face with the truth of how little one can enjoy. My father used
to say that the golden treasure at the end of the rainbow in every human
life was happiness, and that is something which you cannot buy. So why
crave riches, then? But please don't let my foolish ideas disappoint you.
I'll promise to be properly excited."
She saw his face suddenly aflame with enthusiasm.
"By George, but you're a--a brick, Joanne!" he exclaimed. "You are! And
I--I----" He was fumbling in his breast pocket. He brought out his wallet
and extracted from it the bit of paper Stevens had given him. "You dropped
that, and Stevens found it," he explained, giving it to her. "I thought
those figures might represent your fortune--or your income. Don't mind
telling you I went over 'em carefully. There's a mistake in the third
column. Five and four don't make seven. They make nine. In the final, when
you come to the multiplication part of it, that correction will make you
just thirty-two thousand five hundred dollars richer."
"Thanks," said Joanne, lowering her eyes, and beginning to tear the paper
into small pieces. "And will it disappoint you, Mr. John Aldous, if I tell
you that all these figures stand for riches which some one else possesses?
And won't you let me remind you that we're getting a long way from what I
want to know--about your trip into the North?"
"That's just it: we're hot on the trail," chuckled Aldous, deliberately
placing her hand on his arm again. "You don't care for riches. Neither do
I. I'm delighted to know we're going tandem in that respect. I've never had
any fun with money. It's the money that's had fun with me. I've no use for
yachts and diamonds and I'd rather travel afoot with a gun over my shoulder
than in a private car. Half the time I'm doing my own cooking, and I
haven't worn a white shirt in a year. My publishers persist in shoving more
money my way than I know what to do with.
"You see, I pay only ten cents a plug for my smoking tobacco, and other
things accordingly. Somebody has said something about the good Lord sitting
up in Heaven and laughing at the jokes He plays on men. Well, I'm sitting
back and laughing now and then at the tussle between men and money over all
creation. There's a whole lot of humour in the way men and women fight and
die for money, if you only take time to stand out on the side and look on.
There's nothing big or dramatic about it. I may be a heathen, but to my
mind the funniest of all things is to see the world wringing its neck for a
dollar. And Donald--old History--needs even less money than I. So that puts
the big element of humour in this expedition of ours. We don't want money,
particularly. Donald wouldn't wear more than four pairs of boots a year if
he was a billionaire. And yet----"
He turned to Joanne. The pressure of her hand was warmer on his arm. Her
beautiful eyes were glowing, and her red lips parted as she waited
breathlessly for him to go on.
"And yet, we're going to a place where you can scoop gold up with a
shovel," he finished. "That's the funny part of it."
"It isn't funny--it's tremendous!" gasped Joanne. "Think of what a man like
you could do with unlimited wealth, the good you might achieve, the
splendid endowments you might make----"
"I have already made several endowments," interrupted Aldous. "I believe
that I have made a great many people happy, Ladygray--a great many. I am
gifted to make endowments, I think, above most people. Not one of the
endowments I have made has failed of complete success."
"And may I ask what some of them were?"
"I can't remember them all. There have been a great, great many. Most
conspicuous among them were three endowments which I made to some very
worthy people at various times for seven salted mines. I suppose you know
what a salted mine is, Ladygray? At other times I have endowed railroad
stocks which were very much in need of my helping mite, two copper
companies, a concern that was supposed to hoist up pure asbestos from the
stomach of Popocatapetl, and a steamship company that never steamed. As I
said before, they were all very successful endowments."
"And how many of the other kind have you made?" she asked gently, looking
down the trail. "Like--Stevens', for instance?"
He turned to her sharply.
"What the deuce----"
"Did you succeed in getting the new outfit from Mr. Curly?" she asked.
"Yes. How did you know?"
She smiled at the amazement which had gathered in his face. A glad, soft
light shone in her eyes.
"I guess Mrs. Otto has been like a mother to that poor little boy," she
explained. "When you and Mr. Stevens went up to buy the outfit this morning
Jimmy ran over to tell her the news. We were all there--at breakfast. He
was so excited he could scarcely breathe. But it all came out, and he ran
back to camp before you came because he thought you wouldn't want me to
know. Wasn't that funny? He told me so when I walked a little way up the
path with him."
"The little reprobate!" chuckled Aldous. "He's the best publicity man I
ever had, Ladygray. I did want you to know about this, and I wanted it to
come to you in just this way, so that I wouldn't be compelled to tell you
myself of the big and noble act I have done. It was my hope and desire that
you, through some one else, would learn of it, and come to understand more
fully what a generous and splendid biped I am. I even plotted to give this
child of Stevens' a silver dollar if he would get the news to you in some
one of his innocent ways. He's done it. And he couldn't have done it
better--even for a dollar. Ah, here we are at the cabin. Will you excuse
me while I pick up a few things that I want to take on to Tete Jaune with
Between two trees close to the cabin he had built a seat, and here he left
Joanne. He was gone scarcely five minutes when he reappeared with a small
pack-sack over his shoulders, locked the door, and rejoined her.
"You see it isn't much of a task for me to move," he said, as they turned
back in the direction of the Ottos'. "I'll wash the dishes when I come back
"Five months!" gasped Joanne, counting on her fingers. "John Aldous, do you
"I do," he nodded emphatically. "I frequently leave dishes unwashed for
quite a spell at a time. That's the one unpleasant thing about this sort of
life--washing dishes. It's not so bad in the rainy season, but it's fierce
during a dry spell. When it rains I put the dishes out on a flat rock,
dirty side up, and the good Lord does the scrubbing."
He looked at Joanne, face and eyes aglow with the happiness that was
sweeping in a mighty tumult within him. Half an hour had worked a
transformation in Joanne. There was no longer a trace of anguish or of fear
in her eyes. Their purity and limpid beauty made him think of the rock
violets that grew high up on the mountains. Her lips and cheeks were
flushed, and the soft pressure of her hand again resting on his arm filled
him with the exquisite thrill of possession and joy. He did not speak of
Tete Jaune again until they reached the Otto tent-house, and then only to
assure her that he would call for her half an hour before the train was
ready to leave.
As soon as possible after that he went to the telegraph office and sent a
long message to MacDonald. Among other things he told him to prepare their
cabin for a lady guest. He knew this would shock the old mountain wanderer,
but he also knew that Donald would follow his instructions in spite of
whatever alarm he might have. There were other women at Tete Jaune, the
wives of men he knew, to whom he might have taken Joanne. Under the
conditions, however, he believed his own cabin would be her best refuge, at
least for a day or so. In that time he could take some one into his
confidence, probably Blackton and his wife. In fact, as he thought the
circumstances over, he saw the necessity of confiding in the Blacktons that
He left the station, growing a bit nervous. Was it right for him to take
Joanne to his cabin at all? He had a tremendous desire to do so, chiefly on
account of Quade. The cabin was a quarter of a mile in the bush, and he was
positive if Joanne was there that Quade, and perhaps Culver Rann, would
come nosing about. This would give him the opportunity of putting into
execution a plan which he had already arranged for himself and old
MacDonald. On the other hand, was this arrangement fair to Joanne, even
though it gave him the chance to square up accounts with Quade?
He stopped abruptly, and faced the station. All at once there swept upon
him a realization of how blind he had been, and what a fool he had almost
made of himself. Blackton was one of the contractors who were working
miracles in the mountains. He was a friend who would fight for him if
necessary. Mrs. Blackton, who preferred to be on the firing line with her
husband than in her luxurious city home, was the leader of all that was
decent and womanly in Tete Jaune. Why not have these friends meet them at
the train and take Joanne direct to their house? Such recognition and
friendship would mean everything to Joanne. To take her to his cabin would
Inwardly he swore at himself as he hurried back to the station, and his
face burned hotly as he thought of the chance such a blunder on his part
would have given Quade and Culver Rann to circulate the stories with which
they largely played their scoundrelly game. He sent another and longer
telegram. This time it was to Blackton.
He ate dinner with Stevens, who had his new outfit ready for the mountains.
It was two o'clock before he brought Joanne up to the station. She was
dressed now as he had first seen her when she entered Quade's place. A veil
covered her face. Through the gray film of it he caught the soft warm glow
of her eyes and the shimmer of gold-brown tendrils of her hair. And he knew
why she wore that veil. It set his heart beating swiftly--the fact that she
was trying to hide from all eyes but his own a beauty so pure and wonderful
that it made her uncomfortable when under the staring gaze of the Horde.
The hand that rested on his arm he pressed closer to his side as they
walked up the station platform, and under his breath he laughed softly and
joyously as he felt the thrill of it. He spoke no word. Not until they were
in their seat in the coach did Joanne look at him after that pressure of
her hand, and then she did not speak. But in the veiled glow of her eyes
there was something that told him she understood--a light that was
wonderfully gentle and sweet. And yet, without words, she asked him to
keep within his soul the things that were pounding madly there for speech.
As the train rolled on and the babble of voices about them joined the
crunching rumble of the wheels, he wanted to lean close to her and tell her
how a few hours had changed the world for him. And then, for a moment, her
eyes turned to him again, and he knew that it would be a sacrilege to give
voice to the things he wanted to say. For many minutes he was silent,
gazing with her upon the wild panorama of mountain beauty as it drifted
past the car window. A loud voice two seats ahead of them proclaimed that
they were about to make Templeton's Curve. The man was talking to his
"They shot up a hundred thousand pounds of black powder an' dynamite to
make way for two hundred feet of steel on that curve," he explained in a
voice heard all over the car. "They say you could hear the explosion fifty
miles away. Jack Templeton was near-sighted, an' he didn't see a rock
coming down on him that was half as big as a house. I helped scrape up what
was left of 'im an' we planted him at this end of the curve. It's been
Templeton's Curve ever since. You'll see his grave--with a slab over it!"
It was there almost as he spoke, marked by a white-painted cross in a
circle of whitewashed stones. John Aldous felt a sudden shiver pass through
his companion. She turned from the window. Through her veil he saw her lips
tighten. Until he left the car half an hour later the man in the second
seat ahead talked of Templeton's grave and a dozen other graves along the
right of way. He was a rock-hog, and a specialist on the subject of
graves. Inwardly Aldous cursed him roundly. He cursed him all the way to
Tete Jaune, for to him he attributed the change which had again come over
This change she could only partly conceal from him under her veil. She
asked him many questions about Tete Jaune and the Blacktons, and tried to
take an interest in the scenery they were passing. In spite of this he
could see that she was becoming more and more nervous as they progressed
toward the end of their journey. He felt the slow dampening of his own joy,
the deadening clutch of yesterday at his heart. Twice she lifted her veil
for a moment and he saw she was pale and the tense lines had gathered about
her mouth again. There was something almost haggard in her look the second
In the early dusk of evening they arrived at Tete Jaune. Aldous waited
until the car had emptied itself before he rose from his seat. Joanne's
hand clutched at his arm as they walked down the aisle. He felt the fierce
pressure of her fingers in his flesh. On the car platform they paused for a
moment, and he felt her throbbing beside him. She had taken her hand from
his arm, and he turned suddenly. She had raised her veil. Her face was dead
white. And she was staring out over the sea of faces under them in a
strange questing way, and her breath came from between her slightly parted
lips as if she had been running. Amazed for the moment, John Aldous did not
move. Somewhere in that crowd _Joanne expected to find a face she knew!_
The truth struck him dumb--made him inert and lifeless. He, too, stared as
if in a trance. And then, suddenly, every drop of blood in his body blazed
into fierce life.
In the glow of one of the station lamps stood a group of men. The faces of
all were turned toward them. One he recognized--a bloated, leering face
grinning devilishly at them. It was Quade!
A low, frightened cry broke from Joanne's lips, and he knew that she, too,
had seen him. But it was not Quade that she had looked for. It was not his
face that she had expected to see nor because of him that she had lifted
her veil for the mob!
He stepped down from the car and gave her his hand. Her fingers clutched
his convulsively. And they were cold as the fingers of the dead.
A moment later some one came surging through the crowd, and called Aldous
by name. It was Blackton. His thin, genial face with its little spiked
moustache rose above the sea of heads about him, and as he came he grinned
"A beastly mob!" he exclaimed, as he gripped his friend's hand. "I'm sorry
I couldn't bring my wife nearer than the back platform."
Aldous turned to Joanne. He was still half in a daze. His heart was choking
him with its swift and excited beating. Even as he introduced her to
Blackton the voice kept crying in his brain that she had expected to find
some one in this crowd whom she knew. For a space it was as if the Joanne
whom he had known had slipped away from him. She had told him about the
grave, but this other she had kept from him. Something that was almost
anger surged up in him. His face bore marks of the strain as he watched her
greet Blackton. In an instant, it seemed to him, she had regained a part of
her composure. Blackton saw nothing but the haggard lines about her eyes
and the deep pallor in her face, which he ascribed to fatigue.
"You're tired, Miss Gray," he said. "It's a killing ride up from Miette
these days. If we can get through this mob we'll have supper within fifteen
With a word to Aldous he began worming his long, lean body ahead of them.
An instant Joanne's face was very close to Aldous', so close that he felt
her breath, and a tendril of her hair touched his lips. In that instant her
eyes looked into his steadily, and he felt rush over him a sudden shame. If
she was seeking and expecting, it was to him more than ever that she was
now looking for protection. The haunting trouble in her eyes, their
entreaty, their shining faith in him told him that, and he was glad that
she had not seen his sudden fear and suspicion. She clung more closely to
him as they followed Blackton. Her little fingers held his arm as if she
were afraid some force might tear him from her. He saw that she was looking
quickly at the faces about them with that same questing mystery in her
At the thin outer edge of the crowd Blackton dropped back beside them. A
few steps more and they came to the end of the platform, where a buckboard
was waiting in the dim light of one of the station lamps. Blackton
introduced Joanne, and assisted her into the seat beside his wife.
"We'll leave you ladies to become acquainted while we rustle the baggage,"
he said. "Got the checks, Aldous?"
Joanne had given Aldous two checks on the train, and he handed them to
Blackton. Together they made their way to the baggage-room.
"Thought Miss Gray would have some luggage, so I had one of my men come
with another team," he explained. "We won't have to wait. I'll give him the
Before they returned to the buckboard, Aldous halted his friend.
"I couldn't say much in that telegram," he said. "If Miss Gray wasn't a
bit tired and unstrung I'd let her explain. I want you to tell Mrs.
Blackton that she has come to Tete Jaune on a rather unpleasant mission,
old man. Nothing less than to attend to the grave of a--a near relative."
"I regret that--I regret it very much," replied Blackton, flinging away the
match he had lighted without touching it to his cigar. "I guessed something
was wrong. She's welcome at our place, Aldous--for as long as she remains
in Tete Jaune. Perhaps I knew this relative. If I can assist you--or
"He died before the steel came," said Aldous. "FitzHugh was his name. Old
Donald and I are going to take her to the grave. Miss Gray is an old friend
of mine," he lied boldly. "We want to start at dawn. Will that be too much
trouble for you and your wife?"
"No trouble at all," declared Blackton. "We've got a Chinese cook who's
more like an owl than a human. How will a four o'clock breakfast suit you?"
As they went on, the contractor said:
"I carried your word to MacDonald. Hunted him down out in the bush. He is
very anxious to see you. He said he would not be at the depot, but that you
must not fail him. He's kept strangely under cover of late. Curious old
ghost, isn't he?"
"The strangest man in the mountains," said Aldous "And, when you come to
know him, the most lovable. We're going North together."
This time it was Blackton who stopped, with a hand on his companion's arm.
A short distance from them they could see the buckboard in the light of
the station lamp.
"Has old Donald written you lately?" he asked.
"No. He says he hasn't written a letter in twenty years."
"Then you haven't heard of his--accident?"
The strange look in the contractor's face as he lighted a cigar made John
Aldous catch him sharply by the arm.
"What do you mean?"
"He was shot. I happened to be in Dr. Brady's office when he dragged
himself in, late at night. Doc got the bullet out of his shoulder. It
wasn't a bad wound. The old man swore it was an accident, and asked us to
say nothing about it. We haven't. But I've been wondering. Old Donald said
he was careless with his own pistol. But the fact is, Aldous--_he was shot
"The deuce you say!"
"There was no perforation except from _behind_. In some way the bullet had
spent itself before it reached him. Otherwise it would have killed him."
For a moment Aldous stared in speechless amazement into Blackton's face.
"When did this happen?" he asked then.
"Three days ago. Since then I have not seen old Donald until to-night.
Almost by accident I met him out there in the timber. I delivered the
telegram you sent him. After he had read it I showed him mine. He scribbled
something on a bit of paper, folded it, and pinned it with a porcupine
quill. I've been mighty curious, but I haven't pulled out that quill. Here
From his pocket he produced the note and gave it to Aldous.
"I'll read it a little later," said Aldous. "The ladies may possibly become
anxious about us."
He dropped it in his pocket as he thanked Blackton for the trouble he had
taken in finding MacDonald. As he climbed into the front seat of the
buckboard his eyes met Joanne's. He was glad that in a large measure she
had recovered her self-possession. She smiled at him as they drove off, and
there was something in the sweet tremble of her lips that made him almost
fancy she was asking his forgiveness for having forgotten herself. Her
voice sounded more natural to him as she spoke to Mrs. Blackton. The
latter, a plump little blue-eyed woman with dimples and golden hair, was
already making her feel at home. She leaned over and placed a hand on her
"Let's drive home by way of town, Paul," she suggested. "It's only a little
farther, and I'm quite sure Miss Gray will be interested in our Great White
Way of the mountains. And I'm crazy to see that bear you were telling me
about," she added.
Nothing could have suited Aldous more than this suggestion. He was sure
that Quade, following his own and Culver Rann's old methods, had already
prepared stories about Joanne, and he not only wanted Quade's friends--but
all of Tete Jaune as well--to see Joanne in the company of Mrs. Paul
Blackton and her husband. And this was a splendid opportunity, for the
night carnival was already beginning.
"The bear is worth seeing," said Blackton, turning his team in the
direction of the blazing light of the half-mile street that was the
Broadway of Tete Jaune. "And the woman who rides him is worth seeing, too,"
he chuckled. "He's a big fellow--and she plays the Godiva act. Rides him up
and down the street with her hair down, collecting dimes and quarters and
half dollars as she goes."
A minute later the length of the street swept out ahead of them. It is
probable that the world had never before seen a street just like this
Broadway in Tete Jaune--the pleasure Mecca of five thousand workers along
the line of steel. There had been great "camps" in the building of other
railroads, but never a city in the wilderness like this--a place that had
sprung up like magic and which, a few months later, was doomed to disappear
as quickly. For half a mile it blazed out ahead of them, two garishly
lighted rows of shacks, big tents, log buildings, and rough board
structures, with a rough, wide street between.
To-night Tete Jaune was like a blazing fire against the darkness of the
forest and mountain beyond. A hundred sputtering "jacks" sent up columns of
yellow flame in front of places already filled with the riot and tumult of
the night. A thousand lamps and coloured lanterns flashed like fireflies
along the way, and under them the crowd had gathered, and was flowing back
and forth. It was a weird and fantastic sight--this one strange and almost
uncanny street that was there largely for the play and the excitement of
Aldous turned to Joanne. He knew what this town meant. It was the first and
the last of its kind, and its history would never be written. The world
outside the mountains knew nothing of it. Like the men who made up its
transient life it would soon be a forgotten thing of the past. Even the
mountains would forget it. But more than once, as he had stood a part of
it, his blood had warmed at the thought of the things it held secret, the
things that would die with it, the big human drama it stood for, its hidden
tragedies, its savage romance, its passing comedy. He found something of
his own thought in Joanne's eyes.
"There isn't much to it," he said, "but to-night, if you made the hunt, you
could find men of eighteen or twenty nationalities in that street."
"And a little more besides," laughed Blackton. "If you could write the
complete story of how Tete Jaune has broken the law, Aldous, it would fill
a volume as big as Peggy's family Bible!"
"And after all, it's funny," said Peggy Blackton. "There!" she cried
suddenly. "Isn't _that_ funny?"
The glare and noisy life were on both sides of them now. Half a dozen
phonographs were going. From up the street came the softer strains of a
piano, and from in between the shrieking notes of bagpipe. Peggy Blackton
was pointing to a brilliantly lighted, black-tarpaulined shop. Huge white
letters on its front announced that Lady Barbers were within. They could
see two of them at work through the big window. And they were pretty. The
place was crowded with men. Men were waiting outside.
"Paul says they charge a dollar for a haircut and fifty cents for a shave,"
explained Peggy Blackton. "And the man over there across the street is
going broke because he can't get business at fifteen cents a shave. _Isn't_
As they went on Aldous searched the street for Quade. Several times he
turned to the back seat, and always he found Joanne's eyes questing in that
strange way for the some one whom she expected to see. Mrs. Blackton was
pointing out lighted places, and explaining things as they passed, but he
knew that in spite of her apparent attention Joanne heard only a part of
what she was saying. In that crowd she hoped--or feared--to find a certain
face. And again Aldous told himself that it was not Quade's face.
Near the end of the street a crowd was gathering, and here, for a moment,
Blackton stopped his team within fifty feet of the objects of attraction. A
slim, exquisitely formed woman in shimmering silk was standing beside a
huge brown bear. Her sleek black hair, shining as if it had been oiled,
fell in curls about her shoulders. Her rouged lips were smiling. Even at
that distance her black eyes sparkled like diamonds. She had evidently just
finished taking up a collection, for she was fastening the cord of a silken
purse about her neck. In another moment she bestrode the bear, the crowd
fell apart, and as the onlookers broke into a roar of applause the big
beast lumbered slowly up the street with its rider.
"One of Culver Rann's friends," said Blackton _sotto voce_, as he drove on.
"She takes in a hundred a night if she makes a cent!"
[Illustration: A slim, exquisitely formed woman in shimmering silk was
standing beside a huge brown bear. In another moment she bestrode the bear,
and the big beast lumbered up the street with its rider.]
Blackton's big log bungalow was close to the engineers' camp half a mile
distant from the one lighted street and the hundreds of tents and shacks
that made up the residential part of the town. Not until they were inside,
and Peggy Blackton had disappeared with Joanne for a few moments, did
Aldous take old Donald MacDonald's note from his pocket. He pulled out the
quill, unfolded the bit of paper, and read the few crudely written words
the mountain man had sent him. Blackton turned in time to catch the sudden
amazement in his face. Crushing the note in his hand, Aldous looked at the
other, his mouth tightening.
"You must help me make excuses, old man," he said quietly. "It will seem
strange to them if I do not stay for supper. But--it is impossible. I must
see old Donald as quickly as I can get to him."
His manner more than his words kept Blackton from urging him to remain. The
contractor stared at him for a moment, his own eyes growing harder and more
"It's about the shooting," he said. "If you want me to go with you,
"Thanks. That will be unnecessary."
Peggy Blackton and Joanne were returning. Aldous turned toward them as they
entered the room. With the note still in his hand he repeated to them what
he had told Blackton--that he had received word which made it immediately
urgent for him to go to MacDonald. He shook hands with the Blacktons,
promising to be on hand for the four o'clock breakfast.
Joanne followed him to the door and out upon the veranda. For a moment they
were alone, and now her eyes were wide and filled with fear as he clasped
her hands closely in his own.
"I saw him," she whispered, her fingers tightening convulsively. "I saw
that man--Quade--at the station. He followed us up the street. Twice I
looked behind--and saw him. I am afraid--afraid to let you go back there. I
believe he is somewhere out there now--waiting for you!"
She was frightened, trembling; and her fear for him, the fear in her
shining eyes, in her throbbing breath, in the clasp of her fingers, sent
through John Aldous a joy that almost made him free her hands and crush her
in his arms in the ecstasy of that wonderful moment. Then Peggy Blackton
and her husband appeared in the door. He released her hands, and stepped
out into the gloom. The cheery good-nights of the Blacktons followed him.
And Joanne's good-night was in her eyes--following him until he was gone,
filled with their entreaty and their fear.
A hundred yards distant, where the trail split to lead to the camp of the
engineers, there was a lantern on a pole. Here Aldous paused, out of sight
of the Blackton bungalow, and in the dim light read again MacDonald's note.
In a cramped and almost illegible hand the old wanderer of the mountains
Don't go to cabin. Culver Rann waiting to kill you. Don't show
yorself in town. Cum to me as soon as you can on trail striking
north to Loon Lake. Watch yorself. Be ready with yor gun.
Aldous shoved the note in his pocket and slipped back out of the
lantern-glow into deep shadow. For several minutes he stood silent and
As John Aldous stood hidden in the darkness, listening for the sound of a
footstep, Joanne's words still rang in his ears. "I believe he is out
there--waiting for you," she had said; and, chuckling softly in the gloom,
he told himself that nothing would give him more satisfaction than an
immediate and material proof of her fear. In the present moment he felt a
keen desire to confront Quade face to face out there in the lantern-glow,
and settle with the mottled beast once for all. The fact that Quade had
seen Joanne as the guest of the Blacktons hardened him in his
determination. Quade could no longer be in possible error regarding her. He
knew that she had friends, and that she was not of the kind who could be
made or induced to play his game and Culver Rann's. If he followed her
Aldous gritted his teeth and stared up and down the black trail. Five
minutes passed and he heard nothing that sounded like a footstep, and he
saw no moving shadow in the gloom. Slowly he continued along the road until
he came to where a narrow pack-trail swung north and east through the thick
spruce and balsam in the direction of Loon Lake. Remembering MacDonald's
warning, he kept his pistol in his hand. The moon was just beginning to
rise over the shoulder of a mountain, and after a little it lighted up the
more open spaces ahead of him. Now and then he paused, and turned to
listen. As he progressed with slowness and caution, his mind worked
swiftly. He knew that Donald MacDonald was the last man in the world to
write such a message as he had sent him through Blackton unless there had
been a tremendous reason for it. But why, he asked himself again and again,
should Culver Rann want to kill him? Rann knew nothing of Joanne. He had
not seen her. And surely Quade had not had time to formulate a plot with
his partner before MacDonald wrote his warning. Besides, an attempt had
been made to assassinate the old mountaineer! MacDonald had not warned him
against Quade. He had told him to guard himself against Rann. And what
reason could this Culver Rann have for doing him injury? The more he
thought of it the more puzzled he became. And then, in a flash, the
possible solution of it all came to him.
Had Culver Rann discovered the secret mission on which he and the old
mountaineer were going into the North? Had he learned of the gold--where it
was to be found? And was their assassination the first step in a plot to
secure possession of the treasure?
The blood in Aldous' veins ran faster. He gripped his pistol harder. More
closely he looked into the moonlit gloom of the trail ahead of him. He
believed that he had guessed the meaning of MacDonald's warning. It was the
gold! More than once thought of the yellow treasure far up in the North had
thrilled him, but never as it thrilled him now. Was the old tragedy of it
to be lived over again? Was it again to play its part in a terrible drama
of men's lives, as it had played it more than forty years ago? The gold!
The gold that for nearly half a century had lain with the bones of its
dead, alone with its terrible secret, alone until Donald MacDonald had
found it again! He had not told Joanne the story of it, the appalling and
almost unbelievable tragedy of it. He had meant to do so. But they had
talked of other things. He had meant to tell her that it was not the gold
itself that was luring him far to the north--that it was not the gold alone
that was taking Donald MacDonald back to it.
And now, as he stood for a moment listening to the low sweep of the wind in
the spruce-tops, it seemed to him that the night was filled with whispering
voices of that long-ago--and he shivered, and held his breath. A cloud had
drifted under the moon. For a few moments it was pitch dark. The fingers of
his hand dug into the rough bark of a spruce. He did not move. It was then
that he heard something above the caressing rustle of the wind in the
It came to him faintly, from full half a mile deeper in the black forest
that reached down to the bank of the Frazer. It was the night call of an
owl--one of the big gray owls that turned white as the snow in winter.
Mentally he counted the notes in the call. One, two, three, _four_--and a
flood of relief swept over him. It was MacDonald. They had used that signal
in their hunting, when they had wished to locate each other without
frightening game. Always there were three notes in the big gray owl's
quavering cry. The fourth was human. He put his hands to his mouth and sent
back an answer, emphasizing the fourth note. The light breeze had died down
for a moment, and Aldous heard the old mountaineer's reply as it floated
faintly back to him through the forest. Continuing to hold his pistol, he
went on, this time more swiftly.
MacDonald did not signal again. The moon was climbing rapidly into the sky,
and with each passing minute the night was becoming lighter. He had gone
half a mile when he stopped again and signalled softly. MacDonald's voice
answered, so near that for an instant the automatic flashed in the
moonlight. Aldous stepped out where the trail had widened into a small open
spot. Half a dozen paces from him, in the bright flood of the moon, stood
The night, the moon-glow, the tense attitude of his waiting added to the
weirdness of the picture which the old wanderer of the mountains made as
Aldous faced him. MacDonald was tall; some trick of the night made him
appear almost unhumanly tall as he stood in the centre of that tiny moonlit
amphitheatre. His head was bowed a little, and his shoulders drooped a
little, for he was old. A thick, shaggy beard fell in a silvery sheen over
his breast. His hair, gray as the underwing of the owl whose note he
forged, straggled in uncut disarray from under the drooping rim of a
battered and weatherworn hat. His coat was of buckskin, and it was short at
the sleeves--four inches too short; and the legs of his trousers were cut
off between the knees and the ankles, giving him a still greater appearance
In the crook of his arm MacDonald held a rifle, a strange-looking,
long-barrelled rifle of a type a quarter of a century old. And Donald
MacDonald, in the picture he made, was like his gun, old and gray and
ghostly, as if he had risen out of some graveyard of the past to warm
himself in the yellow splendour of the moon. But in the grayness and
gauntness of him there was something that was mightier than the strength of
youth. He was alert. In the crook of his arm there was caution. His eyes
were as keen as the eyes of an animal. His shoulders spoke of a strength
but little impaired by the years. Ghostly gray beard, ghostly gray hair,
haunting eyes that gleamed, all added to the strange and weird
impressiveness of the man as he stood before Aldous. And when he spoke, his
voice had in it the deep, low, cavernous note of a partridge's drumming.
"I'm glad you've come, Aldous," he said. "I've been waiting ever since the
train come in. I was afraid you'd go to the cabin!"
Aldous stepped forth and gripped the old mountaineer's outstretched hand.
There was intense relief in Donald's eyes.
"I got a little camp back here in the bush," he went on, nodding riverward.
"It's safer 'n the shack these days. Yo're sure--there ain't no one
"Quite certain," assured Aldous. "Look here, MacDonald--what in thunder has
happened? Don't continue my suspense! Who shot you? Why did you warn me?"
Deep in his beard the old hunter laughed.
"Same fellow as would have shot you, I guess," he answered. "They made a
bad job of it, Johnny, an awful bad job, an' mebby there'd been a better
man layin' for you!"
He was pulling Aldous in the bush as he spoke. For ten minutes he dived on
ahead through a jungle in which there was no trail. Suddenly he turned,
led the way around the edge of a huge mass of rock, and paused a moment
later before a small smouldering fire. Against the face of a gigantic
boulder was a balsam shelter. A few cooking utensils were scattered about.
It was evident that MacDonald had been living here for several days.
"Looks as though I'd run away, don't it, Johnny?" he asked, laughing in his
curious, chuckling way again. "An' so I did, boy. From the mountain up
there I've been watching things through my telescope--been keepin' quiet
since Doc pulled the bullet out. I've been layin' for the Breed. I wanted
him to think I'd vamoosed. I'm goin' to kill him!"
He had squatted down before the fire, his long rifle across his knees, and
spoke as quietly as though he was talking of a partridge or a squirrel
instead of a human being. He wormed a hand into one of his pockets and
produced a small dark object which he handed to Aldous The other felt an
uncanny chill as it touched his fingers. It was a mis-shapened bullet.
"Doc gave me the lead," continued MacDonald coolly, beginning to slice a
pipeful of tobacco from a tar-black plug. "It come from Joe's gun. I've
hunted with him enough to know his bullet. He fired through the window of
the cabin. If it hadn't been for the broom handle--just the end of it
stickin' up"--he shrugged his gaunt shoulders as he stuffed the tobacco
into the bowl of his pipe--"I'd been dead!" he finished tersely.
"You mean that Joe----"
"Has sold himself to Culver Rann!" exclaimed MacDonald. He sprang to his
feet. For the first time he showed excitement. His eyes blazed with
repressed rage. A hand gripped the barrel of his rifle as if to crush it.
"He's sold himself to Culver Rann!" he repeated. "He's sold him our secret.
He's told him where the gold is, Johnny! He's bargained to guide Rann an'
his crowd to it! An' first--they're goin' to kill _us!_"
With a low whistle Aldous took off his hat. He ran a hand through his
blond-gray hair. Then he replaced his hat and drew two cigars from his
pocket. MacDonald accepted one. Aldous' eyes were glittering; his lips were
"They are, are they, Donald? They're going to kill us?"
"They're goin' to try," amended the old hunter, with another curious
chuckle in his ghostly beard. "They're goin' to try, Johnny. That's why I
told you not to go to the cabin. I wasn't expecting you for a week.
To-morrow I was goin' to start on a hike for Miette. I been watching
through my telescope from the mountain up there. I see Quade come in this
morning on a hand-car. Twice I see him and Rann together. Then I saw
Blackton hike out into the bush. I was worrying about you an' wondered if
he had any word. So I laid for him on the trail--an' I guess it was lucky.
I ain't been able to set my eyes on Joe. I looked for hours through the
telescope--an' I couldn't find him. He's gone, or Culver Rann is keeping
him out of sight."
For several moments Aldous looked at his companion in silence. Then he
"You're sure of all this, are you, Donald? You have good proof--that Joe
has turned traitor?"
"I've been suspicious of him ever since we come down from the North,"
spoke MacDonald slowly. "I watched him--night an' day. I was afraid he'd
get a grubstake an' start back alone. Then I saw him with Culver Rann. It
was late. I heard 'im leave the shack, an' I followed. He went to Rann's
house--an' Rann was expecting him. Three times I followed him to Culver
Rann's house. I knew what was happening then, an' I planned to get him back
in the mountains on a hunt, an' kill him. But I was too late. The shot came
through the window. Then he disappeared. An'--Culver Rann is getting an
outfit together! Twenty head of horses, with grub for three months!"
"The deuce! And our outfit? Is it ready?"
"To the last can o' beans!"
"And your plan, Donald?"
All at once the old mountaineer's eyes were aflame with eagerness as he
came nearer to Aldous.
"Get out of Tete Jaune to-night!" he cried in a low, hissing voice that
quivered with excitement. "Hit the trail before dawn! Strike into the
mountains with our outfit--far enough back--and then wait!"
"Yes--wait. If they follow us--_fight!_"
Slowly Aldous held out a hand. The old mountaineer's met it. Steadily they
looked into each other's eyes.
Then John Aldous spoke:
"If this had been two days ago I would have said yes. But to-night--it is
The fingers that had tightened about his own relaxed. Slowly a droop came
into MacDonald's shoulders. Disappointment, a look that was almost despair
settled in his eyes. Seeing the change, Aldous held the old hunter's hand
"That doesn't mean we're not going to fight," he said quickly. "Only we've
got to plan differently. Sit down, Donald. Something has been happening to
me. And I'm going to tell you about it."
A little back from the fire they seated themselves, and Aldous told Donald
MacDonald about Joanne.
He began at the beginning, from the moment his eyes first saw her as she
entered Quade's place. He left nothing out. He told how she had come into
his life, and how he intended to fight to keep her from going out of it. He
told of his fears, his hopes, the mystery of their coming to Tete Jaune,
and how Quade had preceded them to plot the destruction of the woman he
loved. He described her as she had stood that morning, like a radiant
goddess in the sun; and when he came to that he leaned nearer, and said
"And when I saw her there, Donald, with her hair streaming about her like
that, I thought of the time you told me of that other woman--the woman of
years and years ago--and how you, Donald, used to look upon her in the sun,
and rejoice in your possession. Her spirit has been with you always. You
have told me how for nearly fifty years you have followed it over these
mountains. And this woman means as much to me. If she should die to-night
her spirit would live with me in that same way. You understand, Donald. I
can't go into the mountains to-night. God knows when I can go--now. But
MacDonald had risen. He turned his face to the black wall of the forest.
Aldous thought he saw a sudden quiver pass through the great, bent
"And I," said MacDonald slowly, "will have the horses ready for you at
dawn. We will fight this other fight--later."
For an hour after Donald MacDonald had pledged himself to accompany Joanne
and Aldous on their pilgrimage to the grave in the Saw Tooth Range the two
men continued to discuss the unusual complications in which they had
suddenly become involved, and at the same time prepared themselves a supper
of bacon and coffee over the fire. They agreed upon a plan of action with
one exception. Aldous was determined to return to the town, arguing there
was a good strategic reason for showing himself openly and without fear.
MacDonald opposed this apprehensively.
"Better lay quiet until morning," he expostulated. "You'd better listen to
me, an' do that, Johnny. I've got something in my shoulder that tells me
In the face of the old hunter's misgiving, Aldous prepared to leave. It was
nearly ten o'clock when he set back in the direction of Tete Jaune, Donald
accompanying him as far as the moonlit amphitheatre in the forest. There
they separated, and Aldous went on alone.
He believed that Joanne and the Blacktons would half expect him to return
to the bungalow after he had seen MacDonald. He was sure that Blackton, at
least, would look for him until quite late. The temptation to take
advantage of their hospitality was great, especially as it would bring him
in the company of Joanne again. On the other hand, he was certain that this
first night in Tete Jaune held very large possibilities for him. The
detective instinct in him was roused, and his adventurous spirit was alive
for action. First of all, he wanted proof of what MacDonald had told him.
That an attempt had been made to assassinate the old mountaineer he did not
for an instant doubt. But had Joe DeBar, the half-breed, actually betrayed
them? Had he sold himself to Culver Rann, and did Rann hold the key to the
secret expedition they had planned into the North? He did not, at first,
care to see Rann. He made up his mind that if he did meet him he would stop
and chat casually with him, as though he had heard and seen nothing to
rouse his suspicions. He particularly wanted to find DeBar; and, next to
DeBar, Quade himself.
The night carnival was at its height when Aldous re-entered the long,
lighted street. From ten until eleven was the liveliest hour of the night.
Even the restaurants and soup-kitchens were crowded then. He strolled
slowly down the street until he came to a little crowd gathered about the
bear equestrienne. The big canvas dance-hall a few doors away had lured
from her most of her admirers by this time, and Aldous found no difficulty
in reaching the inner circle. He looked first for the half-breed. Failing
to find him, he looked at the woman, who stood only a few feet from him.
Her glossy black curls were a bit dishevelled, and the excitement of the
night had added to the vivid colouring of her rouged lips and cheeks. Her
body was sleek and sinuous in its silken vesture; arms and shoulders were
startlingly white; and when she turned, facing Aldous, her black eyes
flashed fires of deviltry and allurement.
For a moment he stared into her face. If he had not been looking closely he
would not have caught the swift change that shot into the siren-like play
of her orbs. It was almost instantaneous. Her slow-travelling glance
stopped as she saw him. He saw the quick intake of her breath, a sudden
compression of her lips, the startled, searching scrutiny of a pair of eyes
from which, for a moment, all the languor and coquetry of her trade were
gone. Then she passed him, smiling again, nodding, sweeping a hand and arm
effectively through her handsome curls as she flung a shapely limb over the
broad back of the bear. In a garish sort of way the woman was beautiful,
and this night, as on all others, her beauty had nearly filled the silken
coin-bag suspended from her neck. As she rode down the street Aldous
recalled Blackton's words: She was a friend of Culver Rann's. He wondered
if this fact accounted for the strangeness of the look she had given him.
He passed on to the dance-hall. It was crowded, mostly with men. But here
and there, like so many faces peering forth from living graves, he saw the
Little Sisters of Tete Jaune Cache. Outnumbered ten to one, their voices
rang out in shrill banter and delirious laughter above the rumble of men.
At the far end, a fiddle, a piano, and a clarinet were squealing forth
music. The place smelled strongly of whisky. It always smelled of that, for
most of the men who sought amusement here got their whisky in spite of the
law. There were rock-hogs from up the line, and rock-hogs from down the
line, men of all nationalities and of almost all ages; teamsters,
trail-cutters, packers, and rough-shod navvies; men whose daily task was to
play with dynamite and giant powder; steel-men, tie-men, and men who
drilled into the hearts of mountains. More than once John Aldous had looked
upon this same scene, and had listened to the trample and roar and wild
revelry of it, marvelling that to-morrow the men of this saturnalia would
again be the builders of an empire. The thin, hollow-cheeked faces that
passed and repassed him, rouged and smiling, could not destroy in his mind
the strength of the picture. They were but moths, fluttering about in their
own doom, contending with each other to see which should quickest achieve
For several minutes Aldous scanned the faces in the big tent-hall, and
nowhere did he see DeBar. He dropped out, and continued leisurely along the
lighted way until he came to Lovak's huge black-and-white striped
soup-tent. At ten o'clock, and until twelve, this was as crowded as the
dance-hall. Aldous knew Lovak, the Hungarian.
Through Lovak he had found the key that had unlocked for him many curious
and interesting things associated with that powerful Left Arm of the Empire
Builders--the Slav. Except for a sprinkling of Germans, a few Italians, and
now and then a Greek or Swiss, only the Slavs filled Lovak's place!--Slavs
from all the Russias and the nations south: the quick and chattering Polak;
the thick-set, heavy-jowled Croatian; the silent and dangerous-eyed
Lithuanian. All came in for Lovak's wonderful soup, which he sold in big
yellow bowls at ten cents a bowl--soup of barley, rice, and cabbage, of
beef and mutton, of everything procurable out of which soup could be made,
and, whether of meat or vegetable, smelling to heaven of garlic.
Fifty men were eating when Aldous went in, devouring their soup with the
utter abandon and joy of the Galician, so that the noise they made was like
the noise of fifty pigs at fifty troughs. Now and then DeBar, the
half-breed, came here for soup, and Aldous searched quickly for him. He was
turning to go when his friend, Lovak, came to him. No, Lovak had not seen
DeBar. But he had news. That day the authorities--the police--had
confiscated twenty dressed hogs, and in each porcine carcass they had found
four-quart bottles of whisky, artistically imbedded in the leaf-lard fat.
The day before those same authorities had confiscated a barrel of
"kerosene." They were becoming altogether too officious, Lovak thought.
Aldous went on. He looked in at a dozen restaurants, and twice as many
soft-drink emporiums, where phonographs were worked until they were cracked
and dizzy. He stopped at a small tobacco shop, and entered to buy himself
some cigars. There was one other customer ahead of him. He was lighting a
cigar, and the light of a big hanging lamp flashed on a diamond ring. Over
his sputtering match his eyes met those of John Aldous. They were dark
eyes, neither brown nor black, but dark, with the keenness and strange
glitter of a serpent's. He wore a small, clipped moustache; his hands were
white; he was a man whom one might expect to possess the _sang froid_ of a
devil in any emergency. For barely an instant he hesitated in the operation
of lighting his cigar as he saw Aldous. Then he nodded.
"Hello, John Aldous," he said.
"Good evening, Culver Rann," replied Aldous.
For a moment his nerves had tingled--the next they were like steel. Culver
Rann's teeth gleamed. Aldous smiled back. They were cold, hard, rapierlike
glances. Each understood now that the other was a deadly enemy, for Quade's
enemies were also Culver Rann's. Aldous moved carelessly to the glass case
in which were the cigars. With the barest touch of one of his slim white
hands Culver Rann stopped him.
"Have one of mine, Aldous," he invited, opening a silver case filled with
cigars. "We've never had the pleasure of smoking together, you know."
"Never," said Aldous, accepting one of the cigars. "Thanks."
As he lighted it, their eyes met again. Aldous turned to the case.
"Half a dozen 'Noblemen,'" he said to the man behind the counter; then, to
Rann: "Will you have one on me?"
"With pleasure," said Rann. He added, smiling straight into the other's
eyes, "What are you doing up here, Aldous? After local colour?"
"Perhaps. The place interests me."
"It's a lively town."
"Decidedly. And I understand that you've played an important part in the
making of it," replied Aldous carelessly.
For a flash Rann's eyes darkened, and his mouth hardened, then his white
teeth gleamed again. He had caught the insinuation, and he had scarcely
been able to ward off the shot.
"I've tried to do my small share," he admitted. "If you're after local
colour for your books, Aldous, I possibly may be able to assist you--if
you're in town long."
"Undoubtedly you could," said Aldous. "I think you could tell me a great
deal that I would like to know, Rann. But--will you?"
There was a direct challenge in his coldly smiling eyes.
"Yes, I think I shall be quite pleased to do so," said Rann.
"Especially--if you are long in town." There was an odd emphasis on those
He moved toward the door.
"And if you are here very long," he added, his eyes gleaming significantly,
"it is possible you may have experiences of your own which would make very
interesting reading if they ever got into print. Good-night, Aldous!"
For two or three minutes after Rann had gone Aldous loitered in the tobacco
shop. Then he went out. All at once it struck him that he should have kept
his eyes on Quade's partner. He should have followed him. With the hope of
seeing him again he walked up and down the street. It was eleven o'clock
when he went into Big Ben's pool-room. Five minutes later he came out just
as a woman hurried past him, carrying with her a strong scent of perfume.
It was the Lady of the Bear. She was in a street dress now, her glossy
curls still falling loose about her--probably homeward bound after her
night's harvest. It struck Aldous that the hour was early for her
retirement, and that she seemed somewhat in a hurry.
The woman was going in the direction of Rann's big log bungalow, which was
built well out of town toward the river. She had not seen him as he stood
in the pool-room doorway, and before she had passed out of sight he was
following her. There were a dozen branch trails and "streets" on the way to
Rann's, and into the gloom of some one of these the woman disappeared, so
that Aldous lost her entirely. He was not disappointed when he found she
had left the main trail.
Five minutes later he stood close to Rann's house. From the side on which
he had approached it was dark. No gleam of light showed through the
windows. Slowly he walked around the building, and stopped suddenly on the
opposite side. Here a closely drawn curtain was illuminated by a glow from
within. Cautiously Aldous made his way along the log wall of the house
until he came to the window. At one side the curtain had caught against
some object, leaving perhaps a quarter of an inch of space through which
the light shone. Aldous brought his eyes on a level with this space.
A half of the room came within his vision. Directly in front of him,
lighted by a curiously shaped iron lamp suspended from the ceiling, was a
dull red mahogany desk-table. At one side of this, partly facing him, was
Culver Rann. Opposite him sat Quade.
Rann was speaking, while Quade, with his bullish shoulders hunched forward
and his fleshy red neck, rolling over the collar of his coat, leaned across
the table in a tense and listening attitude. With his eyes glued to the
aperture, Aldous strained his ears to catch what Rann was saying. He heard
only the low and unintelligible monotone of his voice. A mocking smile was
accompanying Rann's words. To-night, as at all times, this hawk who preyed
upon human lives was immaculate. In all ways but one he was the antithesis
of the beefy scoundrel who sat opposite him. On the hand that toyed
carelessly with the fob of his watch flashed a diamond; another sparkled in
his cravat. His dark hair was sleek and well brushed; his bristly little
moustache was clipped in the latest fashion. He was not large. His hands,
as he made a gesture toward Quade, were of womanish whiteness. Casually, on
the street or in a Pullman, Aldous would have taken him for a gentleman.
Now, as he stared through the narrow slit between the bottom of the curtain
and the sill, he knew that he was looking upon one of the most dangerous
men in all the West. Quade was a villain. Culver Rann, quiet and cool and
suave, was a devil. Behind his depravity worked the brain which Quade
lacked, and a nerve which, in spite of that almost effeminate
immaculateness, had been described to Aldous as colossal.
Suddenly Quade turned, and Aldous saw that he was flushed and excited. He
struck the desk a blow with his fist. Culver Rann leaned back and smiled.
And John Aldous slipped away from the window.
His nerves were quivering; in the darkness he unbuttoned the pocket that
held his automatic. Through the window he had seen an open door behind
Rann, and his blood thrilled with the idea that had come to him. He was
sure the two partners in crime were discussing himself and MacDonald--and
Joanne. To hear what they were saying, to discover their plot, would be
three quarters of the fight won, if it came to a fight. The open door was
Swiftly and silently he went to the rear of the house. He tried the door
and found it unlocked. Softly he opened it, swinging it inward an inch at
a time, and scarcely breathing as he entered. It was dark, and there was a
second closed door ahead of him. From beyond that he heard voices. He
closed the outer door so that he would not be betrayed by a current of air
or a sound from out of the night. Then, even more cautiously and slowly, he
began to open the second door.
An inch at first, then two inches, three inches--a foot--he worked the door
inward. There was no light in this second room, and he lay close to the
floor, head and shoulders thrust well in. Through the third and open door
he saw Quade and Culver Rann. Rann was laughing softly as he lighted a
fresh cigar. His voice was quiet and good humoured, but filled with a
banter which it was evident Quade was not appreciating.
"You amaze me," Rann was saying. "You amaze me utterly. You've gone
mad--mad as a rock-rabbit, Quade! Do you mean to tell me you're on the
square when you offer to turn over a half of your share in the gold if I
help you to get this woman?"
"I do," replied Quade thickly. "I mean just that! And we'll put it down in
black an' white--here, now. You fix the papers, same as any other deal, and
For a moment Culver Rann did not reply. He leaned back in his chair, thrust
the thumbs of his white hands in his vest, and sent a cloud of smoke above
his head. Then he looked at Quade, a gleam of humour in his eyes.
"Nothing like a woman for turning a man's head soft," he chuckled. "Nothing
in the world like it, 'pon my word, Quade. First it was DeBar. I don't
believe we'd got him if he hadn't seen Marie riding her bear. Marie and
her curls and her silk tights, Quade--s'elp me, it wouldn't have surprised
me so much if you'd fallen in love with _her!_ And over this other woman
you're as mad as Joe is over Marie. At first sight he was ready to sell his
soul for her. So--I gave Marie to him. And now, for some other woman,
you're just as anxious to surrender a half of your share of what we've
bought through Marie. Good heaven, man, if you were in love with Marie----"
"Damn Marie!" growled Quade. "I know the time when you were bugs over her
yourself, Rann. It wasn't so long ago. If I'd looked at her then----"
"Of course, not then," interrupted Rann smilingly. "That would have been
impolite, Quade, and not at all in agreement with the spirit of our
brotherly partnership. And, you must admit, Marie is a devilish
good-looking girl. I've surrendered her only for a brief spell to DeBar.
After he has taken us to the gold--why, the poor idiot will probably have
been sufficiently happy to----"
He paused, with a suggestive shrug of his shoulders.
"--go into cold storage," finished Quade.
Again Quade leaned over the table, and for a moment there was silence, a
silence in which Aldous thought the pounding of his heart must betray him.
He lay motionless on the floor. The nails of his fingers dug into the bare
wood. Under the palm of his right hand lay his automatic.
Then Quade spoke. There must have been more in his face than was spoken in
his words, for Culver Rann took the cigar from between his lips, and a
light that was deadly serious slowly filled his eyes.
"Rann, we'll talk business!" Quade's voice was harsh, deep, and quivering.
"I want this woman. I may be a fool, but I'm going to have her. I might get
her alone, but we've always done things together--an' so I made you that
proposition. It ain't a hard job. It's one of the easiest jobs we ever had.
Only that fool of a writer is in the way--an' he's got to go anyway. We've
got to get rid of him on account of the gold, him an' MacDonald. We've got
that planned. An' I've showed you how we can get the woman, an' no one ever
know. Are you in on this with me?"
Culver Rann's reply was as quick and sharp as a pistol shot.
For another moment there was silence. Then Quade asked:
"Any need of writin', Culver?"
"No. There can't be a written agreement in this deal because--it's
dangerous. There won't be much said about old MacDonald. But questions, a
good many of them, will be asked about this man Aldous. As for the
woman----" Rann shrugged his shoulders with a sinister smile. "She will
disappear like the others," he finished. "No one will ever get on to that.
If she doesn't make a pal like Marie--after a time, why----"
Again Aldous saw that peculiar shrug of his shoulders.
Quade's head nodded on his thick neck.
"Of course, I agree to that," he said. "After a time. But most of 'em have
come over, ain't they, Culver? Eh? Most of 'em have," he chuckled coarsely.
"When you see her you won't call me a fool for going dippy over her,
Culver. And she'll come round all right after she's gone through what we've
got planned for her. I'll make a pal of her!"
In that moment, as he listened to the gloating passion and triumph in
Quade's brutal voice, something broke in the brain of John Aldous. It
filled him with a fire that in an instant had devoured every thought or
plan he had made, and in this madness he was consumed by a single
desire--the desire to kill. And yet, as this conflagration surged through
him, it did not blind or excite him. It did not make him leap forth in
animal rage. It was something more terrible. He rose so quietly that the
others did not see or hear him in the dark outer room. They did not hear
the slight metallic click of the safety on his pistol.
For the space of a breath he stood and looked at them. He no longer sensed
the words Quade was uttering. He was going in coolly and calmly to kill
them. There was something disagreeable in the flashing thought that he
might kill them from where he stood. He would not fire from the dark. He
wanted to experience the exquisite sensation of that one first moment when
they would writhe back from him, and see in him the presence of death. He
would give them that one moment of life--just that one. Then he would kill.
With his pistol ready in his hand he stepped out into the lighted room.
"Good evening, gentlemen!" he said.
For a space of perhaps twenty seconds after John Aldous announced himself
there was no visible sign of life on the part of either Quade or Culver
Rann. The latter sat stunned. Not the movement of a finger broke the
stonelike immobility of his attitude. His eyes were like two dark coals
gazing steadily as a serpent's over Quade's hunched shoulders and bowed
head. Quade seemed as if frozen on the point of speaking to Rann. One hand
was still poised a foot above the table. It was he who broke the tense and
Slowly, almost as slowly as Aldous had opened the door, Quade turned his
head, and stared into the coldly smiling face of the man whom he had
plotted to kill, and saw the gleaming pistol in his hand. A curious look
overcame his pouchy face, a look not altogether of terror--but of shock. He
knew Aldous had heard. He accepted in an instant, and perceptibly, the
significance of the pistol in his hand. But Culver Rann sat like a rock.
His face expressed nothing. Not for the smallest part of a second had he
betrayed any emotion that might be throbbing within him. In spite of
himself Aldous admired the man's unflinching nerve.
"Good evening, gentlemen!" he repeated.
Then Rann leaned slowly forward over the table. One hand rose to his
moustache. It was his right hand. The other was invisible. Quade pulled
himself together and stepped to the end of the table, his two empty hands
in front of him. Aldous, still smiling, faced Rann's glittering eyes and
covered him with his automatic. Culver Rann twisted the end of his
moustache, and smiled back.
"Well?" he said. "Is it checkmate?"
"It is," replied Aldous. "I've promised you scoundrels one minute of life.
I guess that minute is about up."
The last word was scarcely out of his mouth when the room was in
darkness--a darkness so complete and sudden that for an instant his hand
faltered, and in that instant he heard the overturning of a chair and the
falling of a body. Twice his automatic sent a lightning-flash of fire where
Culver Rann had sat; twice it spat threadlike ribbons of flame through the
blackness where Quade had stood. He knew what had happened, and also what
to expect if he lost out now. The curiously shaped iron lamp had concealed
an electric bulb, and Rann had turned off the switch-key under the table.
He had no further time to think. An object came hurtling through the thick
gloom and fell with terrific force on his outstretched pistol arm. His
automatic flew from his hand and struck against the wall. Unarmed, he
sprang back toward the open door--full into the arms of Quade!
Aldous knew that it was Quade and not Culver Rann, and he struck out with
all the force he could gather in a short-arm blow. His fist landed against
Quade's thick neck. Again and again he struck, and Quade's grip loosened.
In another moment he would have reached the door if Rann had not caught him
from behind. Never had Aldous felt the clutch of hands like those of the
womanish hands of Culver Rann. It was as if sinuous fingers of steel were
burying themselves in his flesh. Before they found his throat he flung
himself backward with all his weight, and with a tremendous effort freed
Both Quade and Culver Rann now stood between him and the door. He could
hear Quade's deep, panting breath. Rann, as before, was silent as death.
Then he heard the door close. A key clicked in the lock. He was trapped.
"Turn on the light, Billy," he heard Rann say in a quiet, unexcited voice.
"We've got this house-breaker cornered, and he's lost his gun. Turn on the
light--and I'll make one shot do the business!"
Aldous heard Quade moving, but he was not coming toward the table.
Somewhere in the room was another switch connected with the iron lamp, and
Aldous felt a curious chill shoot up his spine. Without seeing through that
pitch darkness of the room he sensed the fact that Culver Rann was standing
with his back against the locked door, a revolver in his hand. And he knew
that Quade, feeling his way along the wall, held a revolver in his hand.
Men like these two did not go unarmed. The instant the light was turned on
they would do their work. As he stood, silent as Culver Rann, he realized
the tables were turned. In that moment's madness roused by Quade's gloating
assurance of possessing Joanne he had revealed himself like a fool, and now
he was about to reap the whirlwind of his folly. Deliberately he had given
himself up to his enemies. They, too, would be fools if they allowed him to
He heard Quade stop. His thick hand was fumbling along the wall. Aldous
guessed that he was feeling for the switch. He almost fancied he could see
Rann's revolver levelled at him through the darkness. In that thrilling
moment his mind worked with the swiftness of a powder flash. One of his
hands touched the edge of the desk-table, and he knew that he was standing
directly opposite the curtained window, perhaps six feet from it. If he
flung himself through the window the curtain would save him from being cut
No sooner had the idea of escape come to him than he had acted. A flood of
light filled the room as his body crashed through the glass. He heard a
cry--a single shot--as he struck the ground. He gathered himself up and ran
swiftly. Fifty yards away he stopped, and looked back. Quade and Rann were
in the window. Then they disappeared, and a moment later the room was again
For a second time Aldous hurried in the direction of MacDonald's camp. He
knew that, in spite of the protecting curtain, the glass had cut him. He
felt the warm blood dripping over his face; both hands were wet with it,
The arm on which he had received the blow from the unseen object in the
room gave him considerable pain, and he had slightly sprained an ankle in
his leap through the window, so that he limped a little. But his mind was
clear--so clear that in the face of his physical discomfort he caught
himself laughing once or twice as he made his way along the trail.
Aldous was not of an ordinary type. To a curious and superlative degree he
could appreciate a defeat as well as a triumph. His adventures had been a
part of a life in which he had not always expected to win, and in
to-night's game he admitted that he had been hopelessly and ridiculously
beaten. Tragedy, to him, was a first cousin of comedy; to-night he had set
out to kill, and, instead of killing, he had run like a jack-rabbit for
cover. Also, in that same half-hour Rann and Quade had been sure of him,
and he had given them the surprise of their lives by his catapultic
disappearance through the window. There was something ludicrous about it
all--something that, to him, at least, had turned a possible tragedy into a
very good comedy-drama.
Nor was Aldous blind to the fact that he had made an utter fool of himself,
and that the consequences of his indiscretion might prove extremely
serious. Had he listened to the conspirators without betraying himself he
would have possessed an important advantage over them. The knowledge he had
gained from overhearing their conversation would have made it comparatively
easy for MacDonald and him to strike them a perhaps fatal blow through the
half-breed DeBar. As the situation stood now, he figured that Quade and
Culver Rann held the advantage. Whatever they had planned to do they would
put into quick execution. They would not lose a minute.
It was not for himself that Aldous feared. Neither did he fear for Joanne.
Every drop of red fighting blood in him was ready for further action, and
he was determined that Quade should find no opportunity of accomplishing
any scheme he might have against Joanne's person. On the other hand, unless
they could head off DeBar, he believed that Culver Rann's chances of
reaching the gold ahead of them would grow better with the passing of each
hour. To protect Joanne from Quade he must lose no time. MacDonald would
be in the same predicament, while Rann, assisted by as many rascals of his
own colour as he chose to take with him, would be free to carry out the
other part of the conspirators' plans.
The longer he thought of the mess he had stirred up the more roundly Aldous
cursed his imprudence. And this mess, as he viewed it in these cooler
moments, was even less disturbing than the thought of what might have
happened had he succeeded in his intention of killing both Quade and Rann.
Twenty times as he made his way through the darkness toward MacDonald's
camp he told himself that he must have been mad. To have killed Rann or
Quade in self-defence, or in open fight, would have been playing the game
with a shadow of mountain law behind it. But he had invaded Rann's home.
Had he killed them he would have had but little more excuse than a
house-breaker or a suspicious husband might have had. Tete Jaune would not
countenance cold-blooded shooting, even of criminals. He should have taken
old Donald's advice and waited until they were in the mountains. An
unpleasant chill ran through him as he thought of the narrowness of his
To his surprise, John Aldous found MacDonald awake when he arrived at the
camp in the thickly timbered coulee. He was preparing a midnight cup of
coffee over a fire that was burning cheerfully between two big rocks.
Purposely Aldous stepped out into the full illumination of it. The old
hunter looked up. For a moment he stared into the blood-smeared face of his
friend; then he sprang to his feet, and caught him by the arm.
"Yes, I got it," nodded Aldous cheerfully. "I went out for it, Mac, and I
got it! Get out your emergency kit, will you? I rather fancy I need a
little patching up."
MacDonald uttered not a word. From the balsam lean-to he brought out a
small rubber bag and a towel. Into a canvas wash-basin he then turned a
half pail of cold water, and Aldous got on his knees beside this. Not once
did the old mountaineer speak while he was washing the blood from Aldous'
face and hands. There was a shallow two-inch cut in his forehead, two
deeper ones in his right cheek, and a gouge in his chin. There were a dozen
cuts on his hands, none of them serious. Before he had finished MacDonald
had used two thirds of a roll of court-plaster.
Then he spoke.
"You can soak them off in the morning," he said. "If you don't, the lady'll
think yo're a red Indian on the warpath. Now, yo' fool, what have yo' gone
Aldous told him what had happened, and before MacDonald could utter an
expression of his feelings he admitted that he was an inexcusable idiot and
that nothing MacDonald might say could drive that fact deeper home.
"If I'd come out after hearing what they had to say, we could have got
DeBar at the end of a gun and settled the whole business," he finished. "As
it is, we're in a mess."
MacDonald stretched his gaunt gray frame before the fire. He picked up his
long rifle, and fingered the lock.
"You figger they'll get away with DeBar?"
MacDonald threw open the breech of his single-loader and drew out a
cartridge as long as his finger. Replacing it, he snapped the breech shut.
"Don't know as I'm pertic'lar sad over what's happened," he said, with a
curious look at Aldous. "We might have got out of this without what you
call strenu'us trouble. Now--it's _fight!_ It's goin' to be a matter of
guns an' bullets, Johnny--back in the mountains. You figger Rann an' the
snake of a half-breed'll get the start of us. Let 'em have a start! They've
got two hundred miles to go, an' two hundred miles to come back. Only--they
won't come back!"
Under his shaggy brows the old hunter's eyes gleamed as he looked at
"To-morrow we'll go to the grave," he added. "Yo're cur'ous to know what's
goin' to happen when we find that grave, Johnny. So am I. I hope----"
"What do you hope?"
MacDonald shook his great gray head in the dying firelight.
"Let's go to bed, Johnny," he rumbled softly in his beard. "It's gettin'
To sleep after the excitement through which he had passed, and with
to-morrow's uncertainties ahead of him, seemed to Aldous a physical
impossibility. Yet he slept, and soundly. It was MacDonald who roused him
three hours later. They prepared a quick breakfast over a small fire, and
Aldous heated water in which he soaked his face until the strips of
court-plaster peeled off. The scratches were lividly evident, but, inasmuch
as he had a choice of but two evils, he preferred that Joanne should see
these instead of the abominable disfigurement of court-plaster strips.
Old Donald took one look at him through half-closed eyes.
"You look as though you'd come out of a tussle with a grizzly," he grinned.
"Want some fresh court-plaster?"
"And look as though I'd come out of a circus--no!" retorted Aldous. "I'm
invited to breakfast at the Blacktons', Mac. How the devil am I going to
get out of it?"
"Tell 'em you're sick," chuckled the old hunter, who saw something funny in
the appearance of Aldous' face. "Good Lord, how I'd liked to have seen you
come through that window--in daylight!"
Aldous led off in the direction of the trail. MacDonald followed close
behind him. It was dark--that almost ebon-black hour that precedes summer
dawn in the northern mountains. The moon had long ago disappeared in the
west. When a few minutes later they paused in the little opening on the
trail Aldous could just make out the shadowy form of the old mountaineer.
"I lost my gun when I jumped through the window, Mac," he explained.
"There's another thirty-eight automatic in my kit at the corral. Bring
that, and the .303 with the gold-bead sight--and plenty of ammunition.
You'd better take that forty-four hip-cannon of yours along, as well as
your rifle. Wish I could civilize you, Mac, so you'd carry one of the
Savage automatics instead of that old brain-storm of fifty years ago!"
MacDonald gave a grunt of disgust that was like the whoof of a bear.
"It's done business all that time," he growled good humouredly. "An' it
ain't ever made me jump through any window as I remember of, Johnny!"
"Enough," said Aldous, and in the gloom he gripped the other's hand.
"You'll be there, Mac--in front of the Blacktons'--just as it's growing
"That means in three quarters of an hour, Johnny. I'll be there. Three
saddle-horses and a pack."
Where the trail divided they separated. Aldous went directly to the
Blacktons'. As he had expected, the bungalow was alight. In the kitchen he
saw Tom, the Oriental cook, busy preparing breakfast. Blackton himself,
comfortably dressed in duck trousers and a smoking-jacket, and puffing on a
pipe, opened the front door for him. The pipe almost fell from his mouth
when he saw his friend's excoriated face.
"What in the name of Heaven!" he gasped.
"An accident," explained Aldous, with a suggestive shrug of his shoulders.
"Blackton, I want you to do me another good turn. Tell the ladies anything
you can think of--something reasonable. The truth is, I went through a
window--a window with plenty of glass in it. Now how the deuce can I
explain going through a window like a gentleman?"
With folded arms, Blackton inspected him thoughtfully for a moment.