Part 3 out of 4
into the house and returned in a moment, her fresh young face shaded
by a brim of straw covered with moss roses.
"What a pretty hat!" exclaimed Sperry, as they crossed the compound
to the trail leading down to the brook. "Oh, you young New York girls
know just what is and what is not becoming."
"Do you think so?" returned Margaret vaguely, not knowing just what
answer to make. "It was my own idea."
Sperry looked at the young girl, fresh and trim in her youth, and a
memory rushed over him of his Paris days. Margaret reminded him of
Lucille, he thought to himself, all except the eyes--Lucille's eyes
"Yes, it's adorable," he replied, drinking in the fresh beauty of the
young girl. "You are very pretty, my dear--just like your mother."
This line of attack had always succeeded in sounding the hearts of the
young girls he had known.
The girl blushed--the freedom of his tone troubled, and then half
frightened her. So much so that she walked on in silence, wishing she
had not come. Then again it was the first time she had been entirely
alone with him, and the feeling was not altogether a pleasant one.
There was, too, a certain familiarity in his voice and manner which
she would have resented in a younger man but which, somehow, she had
to submit to.
She stopped abruptly as they came to a steep rock.
"Please go on ahead," she said with an appealing look in her brown
eyes, as he put out his hand to help her down. "I can get down very
"Come, be sensible, little girl," he returned; "we must not have
another accident to-day. Pretty ankles are as hard to mend as broken
Again the colour mounted to her cheeks; no one had ever spoken to her
in this way before.
"Please don't," she returned, her voice trembling.
"Don't _what_, may I ask?" he laughed.
"Please don't call me 'little girl'; I--I don't like it," she
returned, not knowing what else to say and still uneasy--outraged,
really, if she had understood her feelings. She sat down quickly,
and as he turned to look at the torrent below, slid down the rock
in safety. Sperry's brow knit. What surprised him was to find her
different from the girls he had known. Then he said in an absent way:
"What splendid rapids!"
"It's the most beautiful old stream in the world," replied Margaret,
glad he had found another topic besides herself.
"But be careful," he cautioned her a few rods farther on; "it's
slippery here. Come, give me your arm."
Again she evaded him.
"I'm not an invalid," she laughed--she was farther from him now and
her courage had accordingly increased.
"Of course you're not--whoever said you were. Invalids do not have
cheeks like roses, my little girl, and yours are wonderful to-day."
The girl turned away her head in silence, and the two picked their
steps the remainder of the way down to the brook without speaking.
There she made a spring and landed on a flat rock about the edge of
which swirled the green water of a broad pool. Sperry, undaunted,
seated himself beside her.
"Margaret," he began, "why don't you like me? I seem to have offended
you. Tell me, what have I said? I wouldn't offend you for the world,
and you know it. Why don't you like me?" he repeated.
"Why, doctor!" she exclaimed with a forced little laugh that trembled
in her fresh, young throat, "what a funny question!"
"I am quite serious," he added, with a sudden vibrant tone in his
voice. Impulsively his hand closed over hers; she felt for a second
the warm pressure of his fingers, the next instant she started to her
"Don't!" she cried indignantly, flushing to the roots of her fair
hair, her wide-open eyes staring at him. "You mustn't do that; I don't
like it!" Her lips were trembling now, her eyes full of tears. Then
she added helplessly "We had better be going--we shall be late for
He was standing beside her now. "Then tell me you like me," he
insisted. "Besides, we have loads of time. Why, it's only twenty
minutes to one," he said, looking hurriedly at his watch, careful to
conceal the tell-tale hands of its dial from her frightened glance.
Without answering the girl turned and began to retrace her steps.
"But you haven't said you like me," he called out, hurrying to her
Margaret did not speak; she only knew that her head was throbbing,
that she heard but indistinctly the words of the man who kept close to
her as they went on up the steep trail. At the rock where she had been
too quick for him, Sperry abruptly stepped in front of her, barring
"Come now," he said; "be sensible. You must not go in to luncheon
looking as you do." He put forth both hands to assist her up the rock;
she offered her own mechanically, in a helpless sort of way, knowing
it would be impossible to ascend otherwise while he was there. A
quick, steady pull, and she was abreast of him, the brim of her
gay little hat touching for a second his waistcoat. The moment was
irresistible--in that second he was conscious of the fragrance and
warmth of her girlhood. He felt her soft brown hands in his own,
straining to release themselves.
"Don't!" she faltered; "please--I beg of you--"
A voice behind him brought him to his senses:
"Beg pardon, miss, but luncheon is served."
It was Blakeman. The butler stood respectfully aside to let them pass.
Slowly he followed the retreating form of the doctor and Margaret,
his hands clenched. For some seconds he stood immovable, then he broke
hastily into the woods, cross-cutting back to his pantry.
"Damn him!" he muttered, as he squeezed the cork from a bottle of
Pomard. "I hadn't a second to lose!"
At luncheon Blakeman served the Burgundy without a trace upon his
round, smug face of the indignation surging within him. His skilled
hand replenished Sperry's glass generously.
The doctor grew talkative; he told his complete set of luncheon
stories with enthusiasm, while Margaret sat in grateful silence; she
was in no mood to talk herself; the incident of the morning had left
her depressed and nervous.
"She's pulling out of it," he said to Alice when the girl had left the
room. "Colour good and walks without losing her breath. I think now
you can dismiss all anxiety from your mind. The woods have saved her
life." What he said to himself was: "I made a mess of this morning's
work; she's not such a fool as I thought."
The end of the week, and Sperry's last (for Thayor, despite all of
Alice's numerous hints, had not asked that his visit be prolonged),
brought Alice's paradise to a close. So far their days together had
seemed like a dream--his departure the next morning would mean the
renewal of an ennui which would continue until she reached the month
of freedom which her husband had promised her.
If Thayor had noticed his wife's anxiety he made no sign. He had
gratified her wishes and she had been happy; further than that he did
not care to go.
As to Alice, that which occupied her waking thoughts was how to
prolong the situation without letting the doctor feel her need of him.
Then again there was her husband. Would he agree to a continuance of
Sperry's visit if she proposed it outright? She had lately noticed
a certain reserved manner in Thayor whenever he found them
together--nothing positive--but something unusual in one so
universally courteous to everybody about him, especially a guest.
Would this develop into antagonism if he read her thoughts?
That same day Sperry went twice to the lower shanty to see Le Boeuf.
His increasing his usual morning visit to glance at the slowly mending
fracture was sufficient to make Thayor inquire anxiously about the
little Frenchman's condition.
"Is poor Le Boeuf worse?" he asked the doctor as they sat over their
cigars in the den after dinner.
Sperry rose, bent over the lamp chimney and kindled the end of a fresh
"I am afraid," he said, resuming his seat, "that the poor fellow's
arm is in a rather discouraging condition. I shall see him again
Thayor frowned--the old worried look came again into his eyes.
Suffering of any kind always affected him--suffering for which in a
measure he was responsible was one of the things he could not bear.
"You don't say so!" he exclaimed; "that _is_ bad news. I'm very, very
sorry. You know my men are my children; there is not one of them
who would not stand by me if I was ill or in danger. And you really
consider Le Boeufs condition alarming?"
Sperry shrugged his shoulders. "A fracture like that sometimes gives
us serious trouble," he replied in his best professional manner.
"Frankly, I do not like the looks of things at all."
"And he needs a doctor," Thayor said, suddenly looking up. "You will,
of course, stay until he is out of danger?"
"No, I must return to New York," Sperry protested. "I feel I have
already imposed on you and your good wife's hospitality; besides,
there are my patients waiting. It is neither right nor fair to my
assistant, Bainbridge. His last letter was rather savage," laughed
"But can Le Boeuf be moved?"
"Well--er--no. Frankly, I would not take the risk."
"Then you consider his condition alarming?"
"Alarming enough to know that unless things take a sudden turn for the
better, blood-poisoning will set in. We shall then have to amputate.
These cases sometimes prove fatal."
"Then I will not hear of your going," Thayor said in a decisive
tone--"at least not until Le Boeuf is out of danger. You have set his
arm and are thoroughly in touch with the case. You must stay here and
pull him through."
Sperry raised his arms in hopeless protest.
"Really, my dear Mr. Thayor, it is impossible," he said.
"No--nothing is impossible where a man's life is at stake," Thayor
continued, lapsing into his old business-like manner. "As to your
practice, you know me well enough to know I would not for a moment put
you to any personal loss."
"But my dear Thayor--"
"I won't listen to you, Dr. Sperry. It is a matter of the life or
death of one of my men--a man who, Holcomb tells me, has been most
faithful in his work. I will not hear of your going, and that ends
Sperry rose, and for some moments regarded intently the blue spiral of
smoke from his cigar curl lazily past his nose; then with a smile of
ill-concealed triumph and a slight shrug of acquiescence, he replied:
"Of course, if you insist; yes, I'll stay. I shall do my best to save
"Thank you," cried Thayor. "Now we will join Alice and Margaret. He
held back the heavy portiere screening the door of the living room.
"Not a word to Margaret, remember," Thayor whispered, "about Le Boeuf,
nor to Mrs. Thayor--she doesn't like these things and I try to keep
them from her all I can."
"Certainly not," returned the doctor. "It would only worry her.
Besides, I think I have a fighting chance to save him."
As they entered the living room Alice raised her eyes. Margaret put
down a treatise on forestry that Holcomb had lent her, rose, and said
good-night. She did not relish the thought of general conversation
when the doctor was present--especially after the experiences she had
"Ah, Alice," said Thayor, as he crossed the room to where his wife was
sitting, "I have a bit of news for you, my dear. Our friend here has
positively refused to leave. Oh--it's the air," he added as the
doctor laughed, "and the charm of old nature. You know, doctor, it's
contagious, this enchantment of the woods." Alice gave an involuntary
start and the little ball of blue worsted in her lap dropped to the
floor, and unravelled itself to the edge of the Persian rug.
"Not really!" she exclaimed, smothering her secret joy. "You see what
a useless person I am at persuasion, doctor. Come, be truthful--didn't
I try to persuade you to stay?"
"Yes, my dear lady, to be truthful you did; but I had no intention of
wearing my welcome into shreds."
The sense of an exquisite relief thrilled every nerve in Alice's body.
Sperry saw her breast heave a little, then their eyes met.
Thayor touched the bell for whiskey and soda. As the doctor drained
his second glass he snapped out his watch.
"I must look in on Le Boeuf," he said briskly.
Again Thayor touched the bell. "Blakeman will accompany you with a
Sperry turned and bid Alice a formal good-night. "Don't wait up for
me; I may not be in until late--my overcoat, Blakeman"--and the two
passed out into the night.
The days added to the doctor's visit were not wholly given to the care
of the sick. One morning Holcomb, who had been cross-cutting back to
camp after looking over some timber in the thick woods through which
chattered a small brook, heard the murmur of voices almost within
reach of his hand. His skill as a still hunter had served him well--so
quick was he to stop short in his tracks and so noiseless had been his
approaching step, that neither Alice nor the doctor, seated beside the
brook, had been aware of his presence.
For the space of a quarter of an hour he stood motionless as a rock.
"It is a serious case," he heard the doctor laugh.
"Very," Alice sighed. "And he will get well?"
"Yes--of course he'll get well, in a week at best."
"And you're not bored in this dreadful place? And are still willing to
"Bored? Ah--you have been so sweet to me, dear friend," he ventured.
"I?" she returned. "I have not been even charitable. Your gratefulness
is almost pathetic."
For some moments neither spoke. The still hunter stood his ground; he
became part of the great hemlock beside him, his eyes riveted upon the
man and woman. Now she dipped her hands in the cool, pure water, the
doctor sitting close to her upon the edge of her skirt which she
had spread for him, her trim feet placed firmly against a rock, the
frou-frou of her petticoat framing her silken ankles.
"You see," she resumed at length, as if speaking to a spoiled child,
"because you have been very, very good we are still friends--good
friends--am I not right?"
"Yes," he confessed gloomily, irritated by her words. "And how long am
I to be your model friend?"
"Until you cease to be," she replied, smiling mischievously through
her half-closed eyes.
"And then?" he asked eagerly.
"Then you may go home," she returned in a cool, delicious voice.
With an impatient gesture the doctor tossed his half-smoked cigarette
into the stream. He shrugged his shoulders, gazing absently at the
cigarette bobbing along in the current.
"You cast me off like that," he muttered gloomily, nodding to the
cigarette. "Did you notice," he added, "how it still fought to burn?"
"And how quickly it sizzled and went out when it had to?" she laughed.
Impulsively he took her hand--a hand which she did not withdraw, for
she was trembling. Slowly his face bent nearer her own, his words were
sunk to a whisper, but in his eyes there gleamed the craving of her
"Don't!" she protested, raising her free hand--"for God's sake don't!
_You shall not_!"
"I must," he answered, hotly.
"You shall not," she replied. "I should only suffer--I am unhappy
enough as it is," and she buried her face in her clenched hands, her
Even the quiver did not evade the eyes of the man stock still beside
the hemlock; no detail of the drama that was being enacted beside the
brook escaped him. He who could observe with ease the smashing of a
moth's wing thirty rods from shore, possessed a clearness of vision
akin to that of a hawk. A bird fluttered in the underbrush near them.
"What was that?" she asked, with a guilty little start, withdrawing
"A bird--nothing more dangerous," he laughed outright, amused at her
Holcomb's features, as he gazed at them, were like bronze. His first
thought, as he gazed out from his ambush, had been Margaret's mother!
His second thought was his dislike for Sperry. He watched half
unwillingly, with a feeling of mingled curiosity and disgust. He had
not pried upon them; it was pure chance that had brought him where he
was. At length he withdrew.
He was still thinking of the incident when he heard the brush crack
ahead of him. Then the smug face of Blakeman emerged from a thicket.
It was the butler's afternoon off, and he was out after birds. He let
down the hammers of his gun as Holcomb drew near.
"Any luck?" asked Holcomb.
The butler drew from the wide pocket of a well-worn leather hunting
coat a pair of ruffled partridges.
"Good enough!" exclaimed Holcomb.
"'Twas a bit of devil's luck," returned Blakeman, dropping into his
native brogue, which he always suppressed in service. "Both birds
jumped back of me, but I got 'em."
"You're a good shot," declared Billy.
"No, my friend," replied Blakeman modestly, "I _used_ to be a good
shot; I'm only a lucky shot now. It's not often I make a double. Where
have you been?"
"Over to look at some timber on the West Branch."
"I heard voices," Blakeman said, "full half an hour ago"--and he
pointed in the direction from which Holcomb had come--"and did you see
"Yes," said Holcomb, after a moment's thoughtful hesitation, "I did."
"Mrs. Thayor and the doctor, out for a walk."
"Of course," said Blakeman, looking queerly into Holcomb's eyes. "You
saw them quite by chance, I'll wager. You're not the kind of a lad to
prowl on the edge of other people's affairs."
Holcomb did not reply. He was weighing in his mind the advisability
of making a confidant of Blakeman against the wisdom of telling him
"When you know these people of the world as well as I do, my friend,"
continued Blakeman, as the two seated themselves to rest, "what you've
just seen won't rob you of much sleep," and he laid his favourite gun
tenderly upon a log. "The very last people in the world--women--whom
you wouldn't suspect--are usually the ones. Most of them do as they
please if they've enough money."
"Blakeman," exclaimed Holcomb, unable to contain himself longer, "the
man whom you and I serve is my friend. Sam Thayor never did a mean
thing in his life--he's not that kind. It's his daughter, too, whom I
am thinking about. You've known them both as well as I do--longer in
"And far better," added Blakeman. "It is a pleasure to serve a master
like Mr. Thayor, and Miss Margaret is as good as gold." He scraped the
mud from his boots as he continued: "Didn't I serve an archduke once,
who was a pig in his household and a damned idiot out of it?--but
neither you nor me are getting to the point. What you really want to
talk about is madam, and since I believe in you I intend to post you
further. It may be the means of keeping two people happy who deserve
to be, if nothing else."
"That's about what I was going to say," confessed Holcomb simply,
drawn by the butler's frankness.
Blakeman smiled--a bitter smile that terminated with a sudden gleam in
his eyes as he leaned forward.
"Last winter," he went on hurriedly, as he glanced at the setting
sun, "I stumbled on them both just as you've done, only my trail led
through the conservatory of the New York house. They were both hard
pressed, do you see, for a way out; that's how I first knew about Mr.
Thayor's intention to purchase this property."
"The telegram Mr. Thayor sent, you mean?"
"No--a letter. It meant separation to them. I saw her hand it to the
doctor to read. Do you know what he did? He condemned Miss Margaret's
lungs--told her mother the child had consumption. By God--I could have
Holcomb gripped the log on which he sat, staring grimly at the butler.
"Yes, ordered her here!" continued Blakeman. "That was _their way
out. Damn him_! Ordered her here--winter and summer, knowing that her
father would go along with her, and let the wife do as she pleased. It
There are two kinds of anger that seize a man--explosive and
suppressed. Holcomb was now suffering under the latter--a subtle anger
that would undoubtedly have meant serious injury to the immaculate
Sperry had he been unlucky enough to have crossed his path at the
As Blakeman, little by little, unfolded more of the doctor's villainy,
Holcomb's muscles relaxed and his indignation, which had risen by
degrees until it boiled within him, now settled to reason. He had not
only Thayor's happiness to think of, but Margaret's as well. Both,
he determined, must be kept in ignorance of what, so far, only he and
"The morning the little fellow, Le Boeuf, got hurt," Blakeman went on,
"the doctor took Miss Margaret for a walk. I was in the pantry and
saw them start off together in the woods down by the brook. I followed
them--I couldn't help it; I had a little girl myself once in the old
country, and I've seen too much of Sperry's kind. Europe is full of
The tenseness in Holcomb returned. "What did you see?" he asked
"No more than I expected," returned the butler. "The doctor is a
snake--and Miss Margaret is young and pretty; well--he would have
kissed her--but I announced luncheon."
Holcomb caught his breath. "And she was willing?" he asked, looking
sternly at Blakeman.
"Willing! She was frightened to death."
Holcomb threw up his head with a jerk--his clenched fists rigid on the
"I'm telling you this," Blakeman went on, not waiting for him to
reply, "because I believe you can help. I have always made it a
rule in service to keep silent, no matter what passes in a family. I
meddled once at Ostend in an affair of the like of this, and it taught
me a lesson. There'll be trouble here if things go on like this--maybe
later a divorce--and a divorce is the devil in a family like Mr.
Thayor's. Neither you nor me want that; we must stand by the little
girl and the master and avoid it."
"What do you intend to do?" inquired Holcomb, staring grimly at the
"I'm going to give madame a chance--she's a fool, but she's not
crooked; that is, I don't think she is," Blakeman replied. "Then I'll
"Do you think Mr. Thayor suspects anything?" asked Holcomb, after a
"He's not that kind. I dare not tell him--never in the world would
tell him. You might--he would listen to you. Butlers are seldom
believed--I've tried it."
He gathered up the pair of fat partridges and stuffed them in his
"And you advise me to tell him?" asked Holcomb slowly.
"No," returned Blakeman, "I don't. It would go hard with him and Miss
Margaret; he's had hell enough in his life already; he's happy now--so
is Miss Margaret. It's not always you find two people happy in the
same family." He buttoned the collar of his shooting coat about his
neck, for the sun was burning below the edge of the forest and with
its last rays the woods grew still and cold. "I propose to watch
madame and find out whether she is bad or whether she's only
losing her head," said Blakeman, as he rose to go. "Mind you do the
same--mind you promise me you will."
Blakeman had lifted his mask. Holcomb saw in him no longer the suave,
trained domestic, but a man of intelligence--a man with a heart and a
wide experience in a world which he as yet knew but little of.
"You can count on me," said Holcomb, as he straightened to his feet.
Blakeman rested his gun in the hollow of his arm.
"We must be going," he said, "or I shall be late for my table. Have
you a short cut home in your memory?"
"Come on," said Holcomb, and the two disappeared in the thick timber.
The next morning Thayor handed Alice a telegram. It was from Jack
Randall, accepting Sam's invitation to visit him.
"I am so glad he's coming!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands in
delight. "Jack is a host in himself. Ah, that was a good idea of mine,
dear--splendid idea! I want Holcomb to dine with us, of course, while
Randall is here over Sunday; it's a pity he can't stay longer." Thayor
had not said a word to her about his "idea" until he had shown her
Alice said nothing, except to remark that she would be glad to see Mr.
Randall again--he was always so amusing; she did not relish the idea
of Holcomb sharing their table during his visit. She wondered
whether Thayor was paying her back for the many she had given without
"Who do you think is coming?" exclaimed Margaret, who had run over
to Holcomb's cabin to tell him the news that afternoon; "nice Jack
Randall!" she cried before he could even begin to think.
Holcomb opened his eyes in surprise.
"Father said you had met him at The Players," added Margaret.
"Met him--why I've known Mr. Randall for years! It seems mighty good
to think I'm going to see the dear fellow again. Well, that _is_ good
news--dear old Jack!"
They were standing in the open doorway of the cabin. Holcomb thought
he had never seen her look prettier than she did this sunny morning
without her hat--dressed as she was in a simple frock of some soft
white fabric cut low about her plump brown throat.
"May I come inside," she asked timidly, as she peeped into the new
"Why, certainly. Come in and sit down; you are really the only visitor
I've had except your father--sit down--won't you?" He drew a chair up
to his freshly scrubbed deal table.
Margaret looked up into his eyes--half seriously for a moment, as she
stood by the proffered chair.
"You are coming to dine with us while he's here," she said in her
frank way. "Father says you must."
Billy's embarrassment was evident. "That's really kind of him," he
replied, "but don't you think I'd better wait until--"
"There--you're going to refuse; I was half afraid you would. But
you will come--won't you? Please, Mr. Holcomb!" She seated herself
opposite him, resting her adorable little chin in her hands, her eyes
again looking into his own.
"I mean I'd rather your mother had asked me," he said, after a
moment's hesitation. "I'm afraid Mrs. Thayor would be better pleased
if I did not come, much as I'd like to."
The brown eyes were lowered and the corners of the young mouth
quivered; she lifted her head and he saw the eyes were dim with two
"You'll come, won't you?" she faltered, trying hard to smile. He
started to rise, looking helplessly about him as a man who casts about
him for a remedy in an emergency.
"There, I shouldn't have said what I did," he explained as she brushed
away the tears. "I'm sorry--I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You haven't hurt me," she said; "you couldn't."
There was an awkward pause during which she buried her face in her
dimpled brown hands. Holcomb breathed heavily.
"You don't understand," she resumed bravely, trying to clear the
quaver in her voice, "and it's so hard for me to explain--and I _want_
you to understand--about--mother, I mean. Mother is dreadfully rude to
people at times--she is that way to nearly everyone whom she does not
consider smart people." Her young voice grew steadier. "I mean
whom she likes and are in her own set. It makes me feel so ashamed
sometimes I could cry."
"Come," coaxed Holcomb, "you mustn't feel badly about it. People are
all different, anyway. It's just Mrs. Thayor's way, I suppose, just as
it's your way, and your father's way, to be kind to everyone," he said
tenderly. He saw the colour flush to her cheeks.
"Mother has hurt you!" she cried indignantly. "I have seen it over and
over again. Oh, why can't people be a little more considerate. It's
not considered smart, I suppose. In society nearly everyone is rude to
one another--some of them are perfectly nasty and they think nothing
of saying horrid things about you behind your back! I hate New York,"
she exclaimed hotly; "I never knew what it was to be really happy
until I came to Big Shanty and these dear old woods. You have had
them all your life, so perhaps you can't understand what they mean to
me--how much I love them, Mr. Holcomb."
"They mean considerable to me," he replied. "They seem like home. I
liked what I saw in New York, and I had a good time down there with
Jack, but I know I'd get pretty tired of it if I had to live there in
"I hate New York," she repeated impetuously, her brown hands trembling
after the tears. "If you had to go out--out--out--all the time to
stupid teas and dances, you would hate it too. It was hard waiting
for the camp. I--I--used to count the days--longing for the days you
promised it would be ready. It was so hard to wait--but I knew you
were doing your best, and daddy knew it too."
Holcomb reddened. "I'm glad you trusted me," he said, and added, "I
hope you will trust me always."
"Why, yes, of course I will!" she exclaimed, brightening. "Oh, you
know I will, don't you?"
Holcomb was conscious of a sudden sensation of infinite joy; it seemed
to spring up like an electric current from somewhere deep within him,
and tingled all over him.
"I'm glad you'll always trust me," he said, as he rose suddenly from
his chair and, going over to her, held out his hand. The words he had
just spoken he was as unconscious of as his impulsive gesture. "I
hope you'll always trust me," he repeated. "You see I wouldn't like to
disappoint you _ever_" he went on gently.
She gave the strong fingers that held her own a firm little squeeze,
not knowing why she did it.
"Of course I will. Oh, you know I'll trust you--always--always." She
said it simply--like a child telling the truth. "I must be going," she
ventured faintly. "You will come to the dinner--I mean--to dine with
us as long as they are here--promise me!" Again she looked appealingly
into his eyes as if she were speaking in a dream.
"Yes, if you want me," he said softly, almost in a whisper, still
thrilled by the pressure of her warm little hand. He stood watching
her as she slowly re-crossed the compound. Then he went in and shut
the door of his cabin and stood for some moments gazing at the chair
in which she had been seated--his heart beating fast.
* * * * *
The dinner was all that Thayor could have wished it. In this he had
consulted Blakeman, and not Alice. The soup was perfect; so were
a dozen young trout taken from an ice-cold brook an hour before,
accompanied by a dish of tender cucumbers fresh from the garden and
smothered in crushed ice; so was the dry champagne--a rare vintage
of hissing gold poured generously into Venetian glasses frail as
a bubble, iridescent and fashioned like an open flower; so was the
saddle of mutton that followed--and so, too, were the salad and
cheese--and the minor drinkables and eatables to the very end.
Moreover, Alice was in her best humour and in her best clothes; the
doctor genial; Thayor beaming; Margaret merry as a lark; Holcomb's
ease and personality a delight (Mrs. Thayor had at the last moment
sent a special invitation by Margaret, and he had come)--and Jack a
never-ending joy. That rare something which made every man who knew
him love him, bubbled out of him as ceaselessly as the ascending
commotion in the golden vintage. Moreover, this good fellow was
overjoyed at the change in his host; he felt that Thayor's splendid
health was largely due to his advice.
Jack's repertoire was famous; he had been a prime favourite at the
University smokers for years, and so when dinner was over, and the
guests were grouped about the roaring fire in the living room, Sperry
next to Alice, Blakeman passing the coffee, liqueurs and cigars,
he was ready to answer any call. And thus it was that Thayor, amid
general applause, led--or rather dragged--Jack triumphantly to the new
grand piano, finally picking him up bodily and depositing him before
the keyboard, where he held him on the stool with the grip of a
sheriff, until this best of fellows raised his hands hopelessly and
smiled to his eager audience.
Few skilled pianists possessed Jack's touch; his playing was snappy
and sympathetic--it was gay, and invested with a swing and rhythm
that were irresistible. He had at his command a vast host of
memories--everything from a Hungarian "Czardas" to Grieg. He rippled
on fantastically, joining together the seemingly impossible by a
series of harmonic transitions entirely his own. His crisp execution
was as facile as that of a virtuoso; he did things contrary to even
the first principles found in the instruction books of the pianoforte.
He rushed from the Dance of the Sun Feast of the Sioux Indians,
through a passage of rag time into the tenderest of cradle songs that
emerged in turn, by an intricate series of harmonic byways, into the
trio from Faust and leaped, as a climax at a single bound, to the
Rakoczy March--the shrill war march of Hungary, the rhythm of which
stirs the blood and made men fight up hill with forty clarionets in
line in the days when the Magyar took all before him--a march that
brought the blood to Alice Thayor's cheeks and diffused a lazy
brilliancy in her eyes--eyes that looked at Sperry under their curved
lashes. Under its spell there welled within her an irresistible desire
to scream--to dance savagely until she swooned. The last chord was as
vibrant as the crack of a whip.
As for Holcomb, a strange happiness had come to him. He had heard
Alice voice her surprise at his ease of manner and good breeding. "He
is a gentleman, Sam; I never could have believed it," and his eyes had
lighted up when his employer had replied, "As well-bred as Jack,
my dear. I am glad to hear you acknowledge it at last." But even a
greater joy possessed him,--a happiness which he dared not speak
about or risk the danger of destroying. Margaret trusted him!--that in
itself was enough for the moment. She had a way of looking earnestly
into his eyes now--moments when he made awkward attempts at concealing
his joy. There was, too, a certain note of tenderness in her voice
when she spoke to him. That firm pressure of her soft little hand--her
tears! What had she meant by it? he wondered. She seemed a different
being to him now--divine--not of this world. When they were alone
together her very presence made him forget all else save his loyalty
toward Thayor--in brief moments such as these he would gaze at her,
when she was not looking; conversation he found difficult. There were
moments, too, when he experienced a feeling of silent depression, and
other times when there sprang up within him a positive fear--the
first fear he had ever experienced. The dread that he might lose his
self-control and tell her frankly all that lay in his heart--how much
he thought of her--how much he would always think of her. Yet he
would rather have left Big Shanty forever than have offended her. How
strange it all seemed to him! Could she really care for him?--this
girl, the very essence of refinement--this child of luxury. The
realization of the wide social breach that lay between them was plain
enough to him; he was not of her world--not of her blood.
The hopelessness of this thought brought with it a feeling of
bitterness. Once he dreamed she had kissed him. It was all so real
to him in his dream--they were a long way off in the woods somewhere
together, back of Big Shanty, near a pond which he had never seen; he
was leading her down to its edge through some rough timber, when she
sighed, "I am so tired, Billy," and sank down in a little heap half
fainting from exhaustion. He took her into his arms and carried
her--she cuddled her head against his throat. Then she kissed him
twice, and he awoke.
For a long time he sat wondering on the edge of his cot--the light
from a waning moon streaking across the cabin floor. He tried to go
to sleep, in the hope that his dream might continue, but he dreamed of
horses breaking through the ice. He wakened again at the first glimmer
of dawn--dressed and went out in the crisp air for a tramp, still
thinking of his dream and the memory of her dear lips against his
The day at last arrived when Sperry must return to New York. His mail
during the last few days compelled his immediate presence. Although
he gauged the contents of several letters as false alarms there were
three that left no room for refusal: one meant an operation that he
dared not leave to his assistant's hands; the other two meant money.
He had begun to notice, too, a little coldness on the part of his
host; Holcomb's manner toward him had also set him to thinking. Upon
one occasion Thayor's strained silence, when he was alone with him
smoking in his den and Alice had retired, had thrown Sperry into a
state of positive alarm and kept his heart thumping the while, until
a yawn of his host and a cheerful good-night relieved him of his fear.
The doctor, like others of his ilk, was innately a coward.
On the last night of his visit, Alice and Sperry sat together in a
corner of the veranda. Thayor had gone over to Holcomb's cabin for a
talk; Margaret had retired early.
Alice had been strangely silent since dinner. The doctor's figure in
the wicker armchair drawn close to her own, showed dimly in the dusk.
Tree toads croaked in the blackness beyond the veranda rail; the air
smelled of rain. All growing things seemed to have ceased living;
the air was heavy and laden with a resinous, dreamy vapour--magnetic,
intoxicating. Such a night plays havoc with some women. Under
these stifled conditions she is no longer normal; she becomes weak,
pliable--she no longer reasons; she craves excitement, deceit,
misadventure, confession--quarrels--jealousy--love--stringing their
nerves to a tension and breeding a certain melancholy; it tortures by
its suppression; a flash of lightning or a drenching rain would have
been a relief.
For some moments neither had spoken. The man close to her in the dusk
was biding his time.
"Dear--" he whispered at length.
She did not answer.
He leaned toward her until the glow from his cigar illumined her eyes;
he saw they were full of tears. His hand closed upon her own lying
idle in her lap. She began to tremble as if seized with a nervous
chill. It was the condition he had been waiting for. He watched her
now with a thrill of satisfaction--with that suppressed exultance of a
gambler holding a winning card.
"There--there," he said affectionately, smoothing with comforting
little pats her trembling fingers. Being a born gambler he sat in this
game easily; just as he had sat in many a game before when the stakes
were high--yet he knew that never in his whole discreditable life had
he played for as high stakes as this woman's heart.
Her silence irritated him. He threw his half-smoked cigar into the
blackness beyond the veranda rail and leaned close to her white
throat, framed in the soft filmy lace of her gown.
"Why are you so silent?" he asked. "Is it because--of to-morrow?"
"Sh-sh-sh! Do be careful," she cautioned him; "someone might hear
"We are quite alone, you and I," he returned curtly. "You know he
is with Holcomb and Margaret is in bed." His voice sunk to infinite
tenderness. "You are very nervous, dear," he said, raising both her
hands firmly to his lips.
"Don't," she moaned faintly. "Can't you see I'm trying to be brave;
can't you see how hard it is? _You must not_!"
He bent closer with slow determination until she felt the warmth of
his breath upon her lips.
"Kiss me," he pleaded tensely; "I love you."
Her breath came quick, her whole body trembling violently. There was a
hushed moment in which he saw her dark eyes dilate and half close with
a savage gleam.
He sprang toward her.
"For God's sake, don't!" she gasped, as he tried to take her in his
"I love you--_I love you_!" he repeated fiercely. "Don't you trust me?
You will--you _shall_ listen to me. I can't leave you like this; it
may be months before we shall see each other again. It is your right
to be happy--to be loved--every woman has--Why don't you take it?"
"What do you mean?" she stammered, her blood running cold.
"I mean that neither he nor your daughter loves you--that you are
She lay back in the wicker chair, scarcely breathing.
"Yes, it's my fault," he continued pitilessly; "but it is because I
love you--because you are dearest to me. I want you near me--close to
me always. I've thought it all out. Come to New York; there we shall
find an enchanted island, the paradise I have longed for--that we've
both longed for."
Her eyes looked straight into his own. They were wide open--filled for
the instant with a strange look of amazement.
Her breath came in quick little gasps; a subtle anger seemed to close
She sprang to her feet, steadied herself by the chair back, and
without another word, her white hands clenched to her side, turned
slowly into the opening leading to the hall.
Her astonishment and disgust were genuine.
At this instant the door of Holcomb's cabin swung back and a flow of
light streamed out. Sperry halted and stood immovable in a protecting
shadow. Thayor moved slowly across the compound. As his foot touched
the lower step of the veranda a thin, dry laugh escaped the doctor's
"I've been waiting patiently for a nightcap with you," he said.
"Mental telepathy," returned his host. "I was just thinking of it
myself. It's so late everybody has gone to bed, but I expect we
can----No--here's Blakeman. Brandy and soda, Blakeman, and some
"Very good, sir--anything else, sir," replied Blakeman, pulling his
face into shape--he had heard every word that had passed.
"No, that will do."
"Thank you, sir."
Sperry studied the butler's impassible face for a moment, measured
with his eye the distance from the pantry window to the corner of the
veranda, then he drew a long breath--the first he had drawn in some
Sperry left early the next morning; only his host and Blakeman saw him
off. When he had reached his train and had slipped off his overcoat,
he found all the tips he had given Blakeman in its outside pocket.
The doctor was not the only man that morning that awoke with an
anxious mind. His host was equally preoccupied; all through breakfast
he had caught his thoughts straying from those usually given to a
departing guest. In his talk with Holcomb, the night before, his
manager had gone straight to the point.
"You remember, do you not," he had said, "that a horse Bergstein
bought died a week after its arrival--the first horse we lost, I
"Yes, Billy, I remember," Thayor had answered. "Poor beast. I remember
also that you said in the letter that Bergstein was indefatigable in
his efforts to save him."
"Perhaps so--but I don't think so now, and I'll tell you why in a
minute. You remember, too, that Jimmy said he was all right that
night when he got through work and put him in the barn for the night?"
Thayor raised his eyes in surprise. "That barn was locked," Holcomb
went on, "and Bergstein had the key."
"What was the veterinary's opinion?" Thayor had asked seriously, after
a moment's thought.
"Quite different from mine," declared Holcomb; "he pronounced it
"Was he a capable man?" demanded Thayor.
"So Bergstein said," replied Holcomb slowly. "He got him from
Thayor bent his head in deep thought.
"And what do you think, Holcomb?"
"That the horse was poisoned, sir."
Thayor started. "That's a serious charge. What proof have you got?"
"This"--and he opened the wisp of paper the hide-out had given him
and laid it on the table. "There's strychnine enough in that to kill
a dozen horses. This was found under Bergstein's mattress--the rest of
it is in the gray horse's stomach." Then had followed the sum of his
discoveries in which, however, no mention was made of the hide-out's
help. That was too dangerous a secret to be entrusted to anyone not of
These discoveries had revealed a condition of things Thayor little
dreamed of, and yet the facts were undeniable. Within the last month
two horses had died; another had gone so lame that he had been given
up as incurable. Leaks had also been frequent in expensive piping.
Moreover, the men had begun to complain of bad food at the lower
shanty; especially some barrels of corned beef and beans which were of
so poor a quality and in such bad condition that the shanty cook had
refused to serve them.
That not a word concerning these things had reached Thayor's ears was
owing, so Holcomb told him, to the influence of the trapper and the
Clown, who prevented the men from coming to him in open protest. In
the meantime he--Holcomb--had been secretly engaged in ferreting
out the proofs of a wholesale villainy at the bottom of which was
Bergstein. What he destroyed he replaced at such a good profit to
himself that he had, during his connection with Big Shanty, already
become exceedingly well off. Not content with laming and poisoning
dumb beasts to buy others at a fat commission, he had provided
condemned meat for the men under him at the lower shanty, had secretly
damaged thousands of dollars' worth of expensive plumbing, and
had sown hatred among the men against the man whose generosity had
befriended him. He had accomplished this systematically, little by
little, carrying his deeds clear from suspicion by a shrewdness and
daring that marked him a most able criminal. He had had freedom to do
as he pleased for months, and no profitable opportunity had escaped
him. These gains he had deposited in inconspicuous sums in rural
savings banks. What he did not deposit he had invested in timber
land. The evidence against him had been collected with care. Upon two
occasions Holcomb said he took the trapper with him as a witness. The
two had moved skilfully on, the trail of the culprit and had
watched him at work; once he was busy ruining a costly system of
water-filters. They had let him pass--he having stepped within a rod
of them unconscious of their presence.
* * * * *
With these facts before him Thayor came to an instant conclusion.
The result was that a little before noon on this same day--the day of
Sperry's departure--the owner of Big Shanty sent for Bergstein. Both
the trapper and Holcomb were present. Thayor stood beside the broad
writing table of his den as Bergstein entered; his manner was again
that of the polite, punctilious man of affairs; he was exceedingly
calm and exasperatingly pleasant. To all outward appearances the
black-bearded man, grasping his dusty derby in his hand, might
have been a paying teller summoned to the president's office for an
increase of salary.
"Mr. Bergstein" Thayor said, "dating from to-morrow, the 8th of
September, I shall no longer need your services. You may therefore
consider what business relations have existed between us at an end."
A sullen flash from the black eyes accompanied Bergstein's first
words, his clammy hand gripping the rim of the derby lined with soiled
"See here, Mr. Thayor," the voice began, half snarl, half whine.
"That will do, Mr. Bergstein," returned Thayor briskly. "I believe
the situation is sufficiently clear to need no further explanation on
either your part or mine. I bid you good morning."
Bergstein turned, with the look of a trapped bear, to Holcomb and the
old man; what he saw in their steady gaze made him hesitate. He put
on his hat and walked out of the door without again opening his thick
"You ain't goin' to let him go free, be ye?" exclaimed the trapper
in astonishment. Holcomb started to speak, glancing hurriedly at the
"What he has taken from me," interrupted Thayor, "I can replace; what
he has taken from himself he can never replace." He turned to a small
mahogany drawer and extracted a thin, fresh box of Havanas. "Let us
forget," he said, as he pried open the fragrant lid. "Be tolerant,
Billy--be tolerant even of scoundrels," and he struck a match for the
The news of Bergstein's discharge demoralized the gang at the lower
shanty. They no sooner heard of it than Thayor became a target for
their unwarranted abuse. I say "the news" since Bergstein did not put
in an appearance to officially announce it. His mismanagement of the
commissary department was laid at Thayor's door. The men's grumbling
had been of some weeks' duration; their opinions wavering, swaying
and settling under Bergstein's hypnotic popularity as easily as a
weather-vane in April. Nowhere had they earned as good wages as at
Big Shanty. They, too, looked at Thayor's purchase as a gold mine.
Morrison had done a thriving business with the stout little tumblers
with bottoms half an inch thick. Bergstein frequently treated--when
they growled over the bad food he treated liberally, and they forgot.
He blamed it on Thayor and they agreed. They made no secret of the
fact among themselves as well as outsiders, that if it were not for
the high wages they would have deserted in a body long ago; no lumber
boss they had ever known or worked for had dared feed them like this.
These lumber jacks were used to good, plain food and plenty of it.
It is needless to say neither the trapper nor the Clown complained.
They, like Holcomb, were fully aware of the fact that Bergstein was
playing a dangerous game. They were waiting for the _denouement_. At
times when the men gave vent to their grievances Hite Holt and Freme
Skinner did their level best to smooth things over; they did not want
to trouble Thayor.
The same afternoon of Bergstein's discharge the gang at the lower
shanty struck. The bar-room at Morrison's became packed. Little else
was talked of but the injustice of the owner of Big Shanty. Later in
the day a delegation of awkward, sinewy men came upon his veranda.
They were for the most part sober. It might be said they were the
soberest. Le Boeuf was among them. Men of the sea and men of the woods
air their grievances in the same way--a spokesman is indispensable.
This man's name was Shank Dollard--a man with a slow mind and a quick
temper. Their interview with Thayor was brief. His polite firmness and
his quiet manner made Shank Dollard lower his voice.
"I know precisely what you are going to say," Thayor began as the
deputation shuffled into his den. "In the first place I hear there has
been general dissatisfaction over the food at the lower shanty."
"You ain't fur from the p'int," blurted out Dollard; "it hain't been
fit to feed to a dog."
"One moment, Mr. Dollard--you will wait until I get through speaking,"
Thayor said as he lifted a pile of bills. "These," he went on, "are
the complete list of supplies since Bergstein took charge of your
commissary department. A glance at the items and their cost will, I
feel sure, force you men to acknowledge that they are the best money
can buy." He passed half the file to Dollard, the remainder he handed
to a big fellow next him for distribution. The totals alone were
"We hain't had a dollar's worth of them things, and you know it,"
Dollard exclaimed surlily, looking up suddenly, as he read.
"Of course you haven't," Thayor smiled in return, "and yet you censure
me for terminating my business relations with Bergstein--a man you men
There was an awkward pause and a sheepish look on the faces of the men
as they craned their corded, bronzed necks over the shoulders of those
who held the accounts.
"Wall, I swan!" drawled one.
"Reg'lar damned skin!" muttered another.
"I need not explain to you further," Thayor resumed, "that the
statements are pure forgeries. You will readily see that it was
Bergstein's method to open a small account at these reputable houses
and add the rest."
"I tink he been one beeg rascal--_hein_!" grinned Le Boeuf.
There were others present who were still unconvinced.
"Anything further, Mr. Dollard?" asked Thayor sharply.
"About this 'ere grub," returned the spokesman; "it ain't fit, I tell
ye, for a dog."
"It will be fit enough by to-morrow night," answered Thayor. "I have
attended to that by telegraph." There was a slight murmur of approval.
"See here, Mr. Thayor," resumed Dollard, gaining courage over the
promise of good food. "Maybe the food'll git so's we kin git along,
but you hain't been treatin' us no whiter 'n you're a mind to. We
ain't gittin' paid no more'n keep us out the poor-house."
"I goll, you're right, Shank Dollard," came from somewhere in the back
"Ah!" exclaimed Thayor, "I was waiting for that. Where, may I ask,
have you received as high wages as I have paid you? Not even on a
river drive," he went on coolly--"dangerous work like that, I know,
commands a just reward."
"When we was to work for Morrison," interrupted a round-shouldered
lumber jack, "we--"
"You need not enlighten me with figures," resumed Thayor; "I have them
here," and he turned to a yellow pad. "When, I say, have you been paid
as much and as steadily?"
"That may be, but we ain't as satisfied over what we git as you be,"
retorted Shank Dollard.
"Then let me tell you plainly--and I wish you to understand me clearly
once for all," returned Thayor, glancing quickly into the faces of
the men before him, "you'll stay at Big Shanty for the wages you are
getting or you'll go. Moreover, the man that leaves my employ leaves
Again there was an awkward silence. Thayor turned, seated himself
promptly at his desk and began methodically filing away the forged
accounts in a pigeon hole. The men moved toward the open door leading
on to the veranda, muttering among themselves. Shank Dollard shot a
vicious glance at the man seated at his desk. To exit thus, beaten by
the truth, was not easy--a gentleman is always a difficult opponent.
"Good mornin'," he sneered as he started to follow the last man
through the door; "a hell of a lot you done for us."
"Good morning," returned Thayor, looking up--"and good-bye. You may go
to Holcomb, Dollard, for whatever is due you at once."
Dollard straightened aggressively and with an oath passed out,
slamming the door behind him. The closed door muffled somewhat the
grumbling from the group on the veranda. Now it increased, plentifully
interlarded with profanity.
Sam Thayor, sitting at his desk, did not move. He drew from a drawer
a packet of vouchers and began studying them, jotting the totals upon
the yellow pad. After a few moments the sound of heavy boots stamping
down the veranda steps reached his ears--grew fainter and died away.
Thayor started to rise. As he did so, his foot struck something heavy
and muscular beneath his desk; then a cold, wet muzzle touched his
It was the old dog.
He had been plainly visible from where the men stood during the entire
interview; he had arrived early, unperceived. The look in his brave,
gray eyes might have had something to do with Shank Dollard's exit.
On the other side of the closed door leading out to the living room,
Alice stood breathless for a quarter of an hour--listening.
She had passed a sleepless night; in the gray dawn she had left her
bed and taken a seat by the window. She had tried the balcony--but the
night air chilled her to the bone and she had gone back to bed, her
As she listened, her cheek close to the panel, straining her ears, her
heart beating fast with a dull throb, her hands like ice, there were
moments when she grew faint--the faintness of fear. Now and then she
managed to catch disconnected grumbling sentences; occasionally she
was enabled, through the glimmering light of the half-closed keyhole,
to distinguish with her strained, frightened eyes, the figure of her
husband speaking fearlessly as he flung his ultimatum in the faces of
the rough men in front of him. What manner of man was this whom she
Suddenly an uncontrollable fear fell upon her; with a quick movement
she gathered her skirts about her and fled upstairs to her own room.
That night the photograph taken in Heidelberg, and all the letters
Sperry had written her, lay in ashes in her bedroom grate.
Before dawn Alice awoke in a fit of coughing. Her bedroom was a blank.
The open window overlooking the torrent had disappeared. She sat up
choking--staring with wide open, stinging eyes, into an acrid haze.
She felt for the matches beside her bed and struck one. Its flame
burned saffron for an instant and went out as if it had been plunged
into a bottle. At this instant she would have shrieked with fright
had not the sound of a man leaping up the stairs leading to her room
reached her ears. Then her door crashed in clear of its hinges. She
remained sitting bolt upright in bed, too terrified to move. A pair of
sinewy arms reached out for her, groping in the strangling haze.
"Who's there?" she gasped.
"Keep your mouth shut!" commanded a voice close to her ear; then the
arms lifted her bodily out of bed and swung her clear of the floor;
a glimmering tongue of flame licking up the stairway revealed the
features of the man in whose arms she struggled.
"Holcomb!" she started to cry out, but the acrid fog closed her
"Keep your mouth shut--do you hear!" he muttered in her ear; "we'll be
out of this in a minute." He lunged with her headlong over the smashed
door and reached the top of the flight, feeling for the first step
cautiously with his foot. She screamed this time, beating his face
with her clenched hands.
"Keep your mouth shut," he mumbled; "you'll strangle."
Her arm became limp. "Where's Sam?--where's--" she pleaded feebly.
Then a dull roar rang in her ears; she lay unconscious, a dead weight
in his arms.
Holcomb began to stagger on the bottom step, reeling like a drunkard;
again he proceeded, stumbling on through the passageway leading to
Blakeman's pantry. The ceiling of varnished yellow pine above him
rained down sputtering drippings of flame; they burned his neck, his
hands, his hair. He dashed on through a pantry of sizzling blisters,
past a glowing wall in a hot fog of yellow smoke, one burned hand
covering her mouth. Then he turned sharply to the left, striking his
shoulder heavily against a corner beam!
The blow made him conscious of a man crawling on his hands and knees
toward them. The man rose--groped blindly like an animal driven to bay
and rushed straight at him.
"Give her to me, Billy," he hissed in his ear, "Quick--save yourself!"
Then a burned fist struck straight out and missed--struck again and
Holcomb fell senseless.
With the quickness of a cat the man caught the woman in his arms,
groped his way to the open, laid her prostrate body on the charred
grass--sprang back into the swirl and choke of the deadly gas
and smoke, and the next instant reappeared with the stunned and
half-conscious Holcomb on his back, his hair singed, his clothes on
fire; then he tripped and fell headlong.
The shock brought Holcomb to his senses. The man was stooping over
him, his ear close to his cheek.
"It's me, Billy--Bob Dinsmore. I didn't want to hurt ye, but I see
ye couldn't manage her and yerself and thar warn't no other way; ye'd
both been smothered. She's all right--they're tendin' to her."
Holcomb clutched at the hide-out's sleeve.
"No--I dassent stay--nobody seen me but you"--and he was swallowed up
in the shadows.
Two men and a girl now swept past the half-dazed man, halted for a
moment, and with a cry of joy from the girl, aided by the trapper and
the Clown, dragged him clear of the rain of burning embers.
When Holcomb regained consciousness Margaret was bending over him.
"No, Billy--don't move, dear. Please, oh, please--" and she kissed
his cheek--two soft little kisses--the kisses he had remembered in his
dream. Then she left him.
He forgot the pain racking his arm; his brain grew clearer. He reached
his feet, lurching unsteadily toward Thayor, who sat by Alice who was
sobbing hysterically. The banker put out his left hand and covered
Holcomb's burned fist tenderly, his gaze still fixed on the leaping
flames, but neither spoke. The situation was too intense for words.
* * * * *
During this utter destruction not a man among the gang employed had
put in an appearance. This fact, in itself, was alarming; nor had one
outside of these come to the rescue. There was no doubt now that the
general desertion had been as premeditated as the fire. Who were the
prime movers of this dastardly revenge remained still a mystery.
The housekeeper, the cook, the two maids and the valet--all but
Blakeman and Annette, who had awakened at the first alarm--had made
their escape in terror down the macadam road; they were just in time;
this road--the only open exit leading out from Big Shanty being now
barred by flame. Worse than all, this barrier of fire had widened so
that now two roaring wings of burning timber extended from the very
edge of the torrent in a vast semi-circle of flame--sinister and
impenetrable--across the compound and far into the woods on the other
side. It was as if the last life boat had been launched from a sinking
ship, leaving those who were too late to die!
Their only way out now lay through that trackless wilderness behind
Here was a situation far graver than the burning of Big Shanty. The
gray-haired man with his back against the hemlock realized this. He
still stood grimly watching the fire--his ashen lips shut tight.
Big Shanty burned briskly; it crackled, blazed, puffed and roared,
driven by a northeast wind. The northeast wind was in league with
the flames. It was on hand; it had begun with the stables--it had now
nearly finished with the main camp. The surrounding buildings--the
innumerable shelters for innumerable things--made a poor display; they
went too quickly. It was the varnish in the main camp that went mad
in flame--rioting flames that swept joyously now in oily waves. The
northeast wind spared nothing. It seemed to howl to the flames: "Keep
on--I'll back you--I'm game until daylight."
Walls, partitions, gables, roofs, ridge-poles, stuff in closets,
furniture, luxuries, rugs, pictures, floors, clapboards, jewels,
shingles, a grand piano, guns, gowns, books, money--in twenty minutes
became a glowing hole in the ground. The destruction was complete; the
heel of the northeast wind had stamped it flat. Big Shanty camp had
The man braced against the trunk of the hemlock saw all this with the
old, weary, haggard look in his eyes, yet not a syllable escaped his
lips. He saw the northeast wind drive its friend the fire straight
into the thick timber of the wilderness; trees crackled, flared
and gave up; others ahead of them bent, burst and went under--the
northeast wind had doomed them rods ahead; it swept--it
annihilated--without quarter. It scattered the half-clad group of
refugees to shelter across Big Shanty Brook upon whose opposite shore,
as yet untouched, they re-gathered to watch--out of the way.
It began to drizzle--a drizzle of no importance, but it cooled the
faces of those who were ill.
In an hour Big Shanty Brook had sacrificed three miles of its shore
in self-defence. Its bend above the nodding cedars--where Thayor had
killed his deer--had succeeded in turning the course of the fire. The
shore upon which the refugees stood was untouched. The brook in the
chaos of running fire had saved their lives.
Still the fire roared on and although the torrent kept it at bay
it went wild in the bordering wilderness. The burned camp was now a
forgotten incident in this devilish course of flame. The northeast
wind had not failed. The woods became a fire opal--opaque in smoke,
with the red glint of innumerable trees glowing in gleaming strata,
marking the course of the wind. Many a bird fluttered and dropped in a
vain effort to escape from the heat--the heat of a blast furnace. The
hedgehog being lazy and loath to move--lay dead--simmering in his
fat. The kingfisher jeered in safety--never before had he seen so
many little dead fish. It was a gala day for him. They stuck against
charred branches conveniently in shallow, out-of-the-way pools. He sat
perched on the top of a giant hemlock chattering over his good luck.
The chipmunk, at the first sinister glare, had skittered away to
safety. He had not had a wink of sleep and his little nose was as
black as his hide from running over charred timber. Often it was a
close squeak with him to keep from burning his feet.
Nothing can tear through a forest like a fire. Its speed is
unbelievable; it strikes with the quickness of a cat--slipping out
myriads of snake-like tongues right and left into the dryest places.
It reasons--it decides--rarely it pardons. It is more dangerous than
an incoming sea; the sea gives warning--the fire gives none. Your
death is only one of many--a burned detail. The forest fire has a leap
which is subtle--ferocious. Things it misses it goes back for until
they crumble and are devoured at its edge. It cuts with the sweep of
a red-hot scythe. All this occurs above the surface. What happens
beneath is worse. It gnaws with the tenacity of a cancer deep into the
ground, lingering hidden until suspicion has passed; then it asserts
itself in a new outbreak in places least suspected. When it is all
over the region lies desolate for years. It becomes a waste, a tangle
of briers--pitiful upstarts of trees and burned stumps.
Had it not been for the trapper's and the Clown's forethought the
fugitives would have fared worse. They had managed to rescue a
nondescript collection of clothing, blankets, mackintoshes, socks,
brogans and two teamsters' overcoats from the partly destroyed lower
shanty. In the storehouse adjoining they, with Blakeman's assistance,
found three hams, matches, a sack of flour, some tea, half a sack of
beans and a few cooking utensils. Everything else had been stolen,
including possibly the new stock of provisions Thayor had telegraphed
for, the debris of two new boxes and the gray ashes of excelsior
giving little doubt that the new provisions had arrived. Holt and
Skinner had only time to bundle these valuables together when the fire
reached them. Heavily loaded they managed to regain the others keeping
along the edge of the torrent.
Alice Thayor presented a strange appearance; a pair of lumberjack's
trousers, a mackinaw shirt, rough woollen socks, a pair of brogans
and one of the teamster's overcoats, its collar turned up against her
dishevelled hair, had transformed her into a vagabond. She was still
weak from shock, but she went to work with Margaret and Annette,
brewing a pail of tea, while Thayor, Holcomb and the rest straightened
out their weird bivouac in the acrid opal haze. The Clown was again
busy with his fry-pan, the old dog watching him with bloodshot eyes.
There was little or no conversation during the preparation of that
hurried meal. When at last it was ready Blakeman started to serve it.
Thayor caught his butler's eye and motioned him to a seat beside him.
"You are as hungry as the rest of us," he said with an effort;
"there's no need of formality here, Blakeman." He glanced with
a peculiar, weary smile from one to another of the little group
squatting around the improvised meal, and his voice faltered.
"Big Shanty is gone," he resumed; "but I thank God it was no worse.
Whatever is in store for us we must share. What that will be nobody
can tell, but it's going to be a hard experience and we must meet it.
It would be sheer folly to attempt to get clear of all this by way of
Morrison's; that road is completely cut off--am I right, Holt?"--and
he turned to the trapper.
The old man, who had eaten sparingly and in silence, raised his head.
"Yes, ye'r right, Mr. Thayor, but it won't do for us to stay whar we
be no longer 'n we're obleeged to, that's sartain. Them hell-hounds
ain't done yit. Yer life ain't safe," he added slowly.
Alice Thayor gave a little gasp, riveting her frightened gaze on the
speaker. Margaret turned and looked at her mother with trembling lips;
then she patted Alice's hand affectionately. Annette began to cry.
"It's hard to tell ye the truth, friend," continued the old man, "but
I might as well tell ye _now_. There ain't nothin' left for us to do
but to git out o' this hell-hole as quick as God'll let us. We got
plenty of things in our favour----No, sir, it ain't as bad as it might
be with them woods full of smoke. Thar's a railroad over thar"--he
continued, nodding to the wilderness beyond them. "I cal'late we could
make the railroad in, say, four days. Let's see--Bear Pond--as fur
as the leetle Still water; then over them Green Mount'ins and through
"And it's clear goin', Hite," interposed the Clown, "as fur as Buck
Pond. I was in thar once with the survey." Holcomb did not speak; it
was a country which he had never entered.
"I had a trappin' shanty at Buck Pond once," continued Holt, "most
thirty years ago. I knowed that country in them days as well as I know
my hat and I presume likely it ain't changed. A day from Buck Pond,
steady travellin', ought, in my idee, to git us out to the cars. I'll
do my best to git ye thar."
Thus it was hurriedly decided that the trapper should lead the way.
Holcomb suggested that he and the trapper should return to the burned
camp in the hope, if possible, of finding something left which might
be of use on the journey. They were sadly in need of an axe; the dull
hatchet they had found in the cook's shanty they knew would prove next
to useless. So Holcomb and Holt set off at once for the scene of the
disaster while the rest got together into more practical carrying
shape all that they possessed, ready for a start immediately on their
Soon Holcomb and the trapper were trudging about in the stifling heat
of the ruins; they had drenched themselves to the waist in the brook
and were thus enabled to make a hurried search within the fire zone.
The first ruins they came upon were the stables--not a horse had
Although they found it impossible to approach the still blazing ruins
of the main camp, they discovered among the smouldering, charred
timbers of Holcomb's cabin the blade of a double-bitted axe, its helve
burned off. A few rods further on, in the blinding smoke, they found a
keg of nails. The only things the flames had left around them were of
iron. An iron reservoir lay on its side where it had fallen; twisted
girders loomed above the cauldron of desultory flame, marking the
rectangle of the main camp. They shovelled the hot nails and the
blades of the two axes into a blackened tin bucket and started back to
The trapper led. He had gone about a dozen rods farther on when he
halted abruptly, peering under the palm of his hand at a smouldering
log ahead of him.
"God Almighty!" he cried, staring back at Holcomb, as he pointed to
the smoking log.
Holcomb, with stinging eyes, saw a claw of a hand thrust above the
log. The bones of the wrist were visible; the rest resembled a misfit
glove, the fingers hanging in shreds. The hand connected with the body
of a man lying close against the opposite side of the log. The legs
from the knees down were gone; the remainder of the man was a mass of
burned flesh and rags. Near the stump of the right arm lay a charred
Under the trapper's guidance the party left the burned camp behind
them. They pushed on in silence, following mechanically the tall,
lank figure of the old man ahead of their single file. He led them up
timbered ridges and along their spines; he swerved down into swampy
hollows choked with wind-slash, around which they were obliged to make
tedious detours. The fine drizzle had turned into a steady soft rain
that pattered on the broad moose-hopple leaves. Often they plunged
into swamp mud nearly to their knees. The fallen logs over which they
climbed were as slippery as wet glass--the branch spikes on these logs
as dangerous under slipping feet as upturned pitchforks. The men were
top-heavy under their packs; the women uncomplaining and soaked to
their skins. The moist air was still impregnated with the scent of
smoke--a sinister odour which kept in their minds the events of the
During such a forced march in the wilderness conversation is
difficult; one is content with one's own thoughts. Under the
mental and physical strain they were enduring their bodies moved
automatically. During this unconscious process of locomotion one
can dream over one's thoughts and still go on. Legs and arms move
themselves; sore muscles become reconciled to their burden--they
become numb; the mind is thus left alone in peace.
Alice Thayor's thought was occupied with the incidents leading to her
last evening with Sperry. Every feature stood out in bold relief. Even
the tones of the doctor's voice rang clear. As these thoughts crowded
in, one after another, her brain reeled, her eyes became dim. Missing
her footing she sank back in the mud, steadied herself against a tree,
brushing the damp hair out of her eyes and staggered on, her gaze
fixed upon the swaying pack ahead of her fastened to the Clown's
The old dog now fell out of file; she felt his steaming muzzle bump
under the palm of her hand. Since they started from their refuge
across Big Shanty Brook the old dog had gone thus from one to the
other. Twice she had patted him; she wanted him near her now in her
weariness, but he left her the next moment to join Margaret. Her
husband trudged on under his heavy pack in front of the Clown; he
spoke encouragingly to those in front and behind him--and to her.
Once in a while, when they came to a halt in a difficult place, he
supported her with his arm and a cheery word. She would have marvelled
at his grit had she not overheard his talk to Dollard. Now and then
she could see Margaret, her ankles incased in rough woollen socks
showing above the tops of the Clown's brogans. Margaret followed
Holcomb when it was possible, and the two often walked abreast talking
low and earnestly. Twice Alice was about to call her maid. The fatigue
was telling terribly on this woman accustomed to luxury. Then she
remembered her husband's words: "Whatever is in store for us we must
share in common." Farther on Blakeman noticed his mistress turn her
white face over her shoulder and look at him appealingly. He came
toward her lurching under his load.
"What is it, madam?" he asked.
"Oh, Blakeman, I'm so tired! Stand here with me a minute--and you--do
the straps cut your shoulders?"
A curious expression--one of intense surprise, followed instantly by
one of tenderness and pity--crossed his countenance. Never before, in
all their intercourse, had she spoken to him one word of kindness--one
personal to himself.
"No, madam," he answered quietly, "I'm all right, thank you."
When he overtook Holcomb later on he related the incident, at which
Holcomb's eyes filled. "It is the Margaret in her," Billy had said
to himself. Perhaps, after all, he had misjudged her. The butler said
nothing of what he had seen and heard behind the pantry door. She had
confirmed his diagnosis made to Holcomb that day in the woods--"She's
a fool but I don't think she's crooked." Better let well enough alone.
Night began to settle. The monotonous forest of trees became
indistinct; for half an hour the rain fell in sheets--ghostly white
in the dusk. It became difficult now to evade the roots and holes. It
grew colder, yet there was no breeze. Still the gaunt figure of
the trapper ahead of them led on without pity. They followed him
blindly--now stumbling in the shadows--some of these proved to be
mud--others water--still others the soaked underbrush. Whatever they
stumbled into now the sensation was the same.
"Sam!" called Alice feebly.
"Yes, dear," came his voice ahead. He fell out of line and waited for
her, bent and dripping under his pack. She looked at him, her
mouth trembling and he patted her cheek with a numb hand. "A little
more--only a little more courage, dear," he said kindly; "Holt tells
me we are near Bear Pond. You have been so plucky."
"And so have you--Sam," she faltered. He smiled wearily, turned away
from her and regained his place in the line.
The rain ceased--the trees grew shorter; hemlock and spruce resolved
themselves into a stunted horizon of tamarack; then came a glimmering
light through an open space and a sheet of water, glistening like
steel, appeared ahead of them and they emerged suddenly upon a hard,
smooth point of sand.
"Bear Pond!" the trapper announced cheerily as he halted. "Here we be,
by whimey! I was afeared some of ye'd give out, but I dassent stop
a minute. You folks'll begin to feel better soon's we git a fire
Already Holcomb's and the Clown's axes were being swung with a will.
They soon emerged from the forest dragging out on the smooth sand
spit, where the line of tamaracks ended, enough dry timber for a fire
which the trapper soon roused into a welcome blaze. He used but one
match--often he travelled a week on seven. When they were wet he
rubbed them in his hair.
Again the sharp whack of the axes cut out a ridgepole and two forked
supports. Before it grew dark they had a snug lean-to built and
covered with boughs at the edge of the tamaracks--out of the wind.
Here, after a warm meal, they passed the first night of their flight.
The women shared one side of the lean-to, grateful for the dry
blankets; the men, tired from their heavy loads, crept in noiselessly
in their sock feet beside them and were soon asleep. The old dog
waited patiently until they were settled, then entered and lay down
in the only space left. Back of them, far away over the horizon of the
wilderness, the sky was pink.
Alice Thayor slept soundly until midnight, then she lay awake until
the first glimmer of dawn. She half rose upon her elbow and looked
calmly at the face of her husband asleep next to her. It seemed
strange to her to be sleeping next to him. His face was drawn and
haggard; he breathed heavily. Margaret was curled next to her on the
other side, the curve of her lovely mouth showing above the coarse
edge of the horse blanket.
Then an irresistible desire came over her to get away--away from this
misery--out of these rough clothes--away from these men. The fire in
front of her blazed up, illumining the thatched roof of the lean-to.
She looked at her hands--they were dirty, the nails black from
scrambling over logs. At that moment she would eagerly have exchanged
her jewels for a boudoir and a bath. Her jewels--they were gone in
the fire. Gone, too, before it began were a packet of letters and a
tell-tale photograph! This fact was the only one in her desolation
that comforted her.
Then came moments when her surroundings became exasperating; what
fresh misery would she be forced to endure--days worse, perhaps, than
the one she had just passed through might follow. If she could only
fly! But where? Out in that wilderness? She had sense enough left to
know that had she stolen out beyond sight of the lean-to she would
have been hopelessly lost. She did not know, however, all that it
meant; the terror that would await her--the suffering, stumbling
blindly in a circle--hungry, yet afraid to eat had she had
food--thirsty, yet not daring to stop even at a clear spring. Her
body beaten and bruised--her mind weak from fear--half naked--her
hair dishevelled, her scalp bleeding; reeling toward any quarter which
seemed like the way out. All this, had she but known it, had happened
to the three men sleeping in the lean-to: the trapper, when he was
eighteen, found barely breathing after twelve days of torture, the
dog chain which he had wrapped round his waist after starting a deer,
having deflected the needle of his compass; Holcomb, picking his way
out along the shores of a chain of lakes, with no matches and but a
handful of cartridges; and the Clown, blind drunk on Jamaica ginger
and peppermint essence, in a country whose unfamiliarity nearly caused
his death. A man without his stomach and physique would have died; by
some miracle he lived to reach Morrison's unaided--he wanted a drink.
And yet there was not a portion of this wilderness that could
lose these three men now, past masters as they were in the art of
wood-craft. Yes--it was just as well that The Lady of Big Shanty knew
none of these things. Miserable as she was, here, she was protected.
Her hand went out unconsciously and rested for a moment on her
husband. Again she fell asleep--a troubled sleep--in which she dreamed
she confronted a face with sinister eyes and hot cheeks from which she
fled in terror. When she awoke she looked out into a blanket of mist.
In the breaking dawn the surface of Bear Pond lay like a mirror. The
others were still asleep. The fire in front of the lean-to was a
bed of white ashes. A kingfisher screamed past, following the limpid
turquoise edge of the shore. Beyond the mist rose a great mountain,
the filmy, ragged edges of the fog blanket sweeping in curling rifts
beneath a precipice of black sides.
The sun presently turned the mist into rose vapour; the mirror became
a greenish black, shining like polished metal. She looked out upon
this scene with a sense of restful fascination. It was the first
sunrise of its kind this woman--to whom morning meant the perfunctory
drawing of her bedroom curtains--had seen for years. It was as if she
had been transported to a new world, shutting out the other world
she had known so well--the world in which she had fluttered so
successfully, spending lavishly the money of the man who at that
moment lay next to her, worn out by calamity and fatigue. He had been
patient through years of her unreasonable extravagance--through her
selfish domination--through her tyranny. He was patient now.
Alice Thayor thought of these things as she gazed out upon the
strange, silent pond. It was the first time in her later life she had
taken time to think. Mental anguish has its sudden changes. When we
have suffered enough we seek the pleasant; to suffer requires effort.
When at last we shirk the work of being unhappy we forget our sorrow.
Alice, little by little, was forgetting hers--even in the midst of
these trying circumstances.
Soon she noticed that Margaret's blanket had slipped from her
shoulders. She leaned forward and drew it tenderly back to its place;
then she bent over and kissed the cheek of the sleeping girl.
The grip of the primaeval had laid hold of her heart!
When she again gazed across the thin rose vapour, disappearing rapidly
under the first rays of the sun, hot, scalding tears were streaming
down her face.
With the breaking of the full dawn the Clown called the old dog, rose
and stretched himself, and, noticing Alice awake, whispered:
"Good mornin',--how d'ye stand it? Kinder coolish, warn't it, 'long
'bout three o'clock?"
Alice placed her finger on her lips.
"Yes--let 'em sleep," whispered the Clown.
He rose, drew on his brogans and tiptoed noiselessly out to the ashes
of the dead fire. With the crackling of a blaze freshly built, the
rest awoke. The second day of their flight had begun.
It was rough and slow going along the shore of Bear Pond, with the
exception of the spit of sand on which they had camped. The shore
was lined with dead trees and jagged masses of rock; there was no
alternative but to follow the shore, the swamp lands, which were even
worse, extending far back of the dead timber. By noon they had only
reached the foot of the range of mountains. By another twilight they
found themselves on the other side of the range and within half a
day's tramp of Alder Swamp.
All that day Alice kept patiently on with the rest. Her husband's grit
was a revelation to her; not once since they left the burned camp had
he mentioned the catastrophe.
Thayor's mind was also occupied. His loss had been a heavy one; the
camp he loved had been criminally laid in ashes--such had been his
reward for generosity. The very men he had befriended had burned him
out with murderous intent. They would at that moment take his life
could they find him. His money had been the cause of jealousy and
discontent; it had resulted in a catastrophe--one that had been
premeditated, carefully planned and carried swiftly into execution,
presumably by the help of Morrison's liquor. It was clear, too,
that the fire had started simultaneously in half a dozen places. The
identity of the burned man was still a mystery. "Pray God it wasn't
poor Bob Dinsmore hunting for food!" he said to himself. If Holcomb
and the trapper had any suspicion they made no comment. They had left
the body lying where it was. Neither had they referred to the hero who
had risked his life to save both Holcomb and Alice.
As for Holcomb's thoughts, they had been all fastened on Margaret.
In fact, there was no moment when she was out of his mind. He was
continually near her during every step of their forced march as they
followed the trapper--often her hand in his for better support.
It was while helping her over the hard places, she leaning on his arm,
clasping his fingers for a better spring over a wind-slash or slippery
rock that the currents of their lives flowed together.
Margaret, who, though tired out, had kept up her spirits all day, had
wandered off by herself a little way into the silent woods during
a half hour's rest and had sunk down on a bed of moss behind the
lean-to. There, half hidden by a thicket of balsam, Holcomb had
discovered her pitiful little figure huddled in the rough ulster. She
did not hear him until he stood over her and, bending, laid his hand
on the upturned collar of the overcoat that lay damp against the fair
"Don't cry," he had said tenderly; "we'll soon be out of this."
"I know," she returned faintly, meeting his eyes in an effort to be
brave, "but--but--Billy, I'm so unhappy."
"But that's because you're tired out. That's what's the matter.
It's been too rough a trip for you. I told Holt yesterday we must go
"No," she moaned, "no--it's not that."
"But it will come out all right," he pleaded, "I feel sure of it.
Think of it--to-morrow you will be out of the woods and--and--safely
on your way home." Yet he was not sure of either.
She looked up at him with her brown eyes wide open, her lips
"But then _you_ will be gone, Billy!"
His own lips trembled now. That which he had tried all these days to
tell her, she had told him out of her frank young heart. He took one
of her plump, little hands in both his own, holding it as gently as he
would have held a wounded bird. A strange sensation of weakness stole
through him. He bent lower, until his bronzed cheek felt the flush of
her own through the maze of spun gold. Then he sank on his knees in
the damp moss, pressing his lips to the warm fingers.
"God knows!" he burst out, "I have no right to talk to you. I've tried
not to, but I must tell you."
"Don't, Billy--don't!" she sobbed, and she looked into his eyes
through her tears, her limp form in the coarse ulster swaying as if
she was about to faint.
He felt the hot tears strike his hand; saw the dim wonder in her eyes.
Then slowly, still trembling, she sank in his arms.
"And I love you too, Billy," she breathed as she yielded her lips. "I
love you with all my heart--with all my soul!"
None of these happenings did they ever breathe to Alice--time enough
for that when the fear that haunted them all had passed. The mother
had looked at them both in wonder when the two fell into line again,
noting the new spring in their steps and the glad light in the girl's
eyes, but she made no comment.
They had now reached a desolate region of oozy moss and dead trees;
here they camped for the second night. It was a place even a hungry
lynx would have avoided. The stillness was oppressive--a silence that
one could _hear_. Before it grew quite dark this audible hush was
twice broken by the plaintive note of a hermit thrush--a bird so shy
that he leaves his mate, seeking his hermitage among forgotten places.
The place was inanimate--dead like the trees--their skeletons rising
weirdly from the spongy moss.
The moon rose at length, seemingly shedding its light over the
desolate spot out of pity. Again Alice Thayor lay awake until long
past midnight. The very desolation fascinated her. Again she thought
of Sperry, and again her face flamed with indignation--in fact, he
had seldom been clear of her mind, try as she might to banish him.
She wondered if he would have roughed it with the grit her husband
had shown. Not once had Sam complained. This, in itself, was a
revelation--she who had dared to complain of everything that thwarted
her comfort or her plans. Nor had he once failed in all the hours of
their long tramp to look after her comfort as best he could. With all
this his heavy pack had been badly balanced, so much so that he had
been obliged to stop now and then to re-pad the ropes cutting under
his armpits with moss--Holcomb helping him--the straps rescued from
three charred pack-baskets being reserved for the heavier loads of the
Clown, the trapper, and Holcomb.
As these things developed in her mind another feeling arose in her
heart: a feeling of pride in the man trudging on ahead of her--pride
in his pluck, in his patience, in his cheeriness, and last, in his
bodily strength, for to her great surprise her husband proved to be
stronger than Blakeman and the match of Holcomb. She had not believed
At dawn she fell asleep, awaking with a violent headache. She felt as
if she had been beaten; every bone in her body ached; her cheeks were
burning; her hands were like ice. She shuddered now in a chill, yet
she crawled deeper into her blanket and called no one. All through the
cold of the early dawn she suffered intensely--shivering with cold and
burning with fever, by turns. She dare not move lest she might wake
Margaret or Sam. Toward morning her legs grew warm; the old dog had
lain across them. Then she fell into a troubled sleep.
When she regained consciousness two days had elapsed. She saw dimly
that the rest were at breakfast. It was raining. The old dog again
lay across her feet; he was hungry, but he had not moved through the
night. She tried to sit up, but the trees danced in front of her.
Margaret and Thayor started toward her.
"You've slept so well, mother," she could hear Margaret saying; "you
feel better, don't you?" Thayor was on his knees beside her--he put
his arm under her shoulders and placed a tin cup to her lips.
"Come, dear--drink this"--she heard his voice faintly. Her lips moved
spasmodically. "It's broth," he said softly. "Billy killed a deer this
morning at daylight."
She stared up at him with a pair of vacant, feverish eyes. "Mrs. Van
Renssalaer cannot come--send these people away, Sam--I want them sent
away--at once--at once--Blakeman." The spasmodic movement of her jaw
continued, but her words ceased to be audible.
"Drink a little, dear," Sam pleaded. "It will do you good." The lips
smiled feebly, pressing wearily against the rusty edge of the tin cup;
then she sank back in his arms in a dead faint.
* * * * *
By the second morning her splendid physique came to the rescue.
Weakened as she was by fever, she would, she insisted, take her
place with the others when they were ready to start. To this Thayor
assented, as they were now nearing their last resting place, the
railroad lying but half a day's tramp beyond where they were camped.
As the thought of her freedom rose in her mind a strange feeling came
"Won't somebody sing?" she asked. "It's been so dreary for so many
wretched long miles. Maybe I can." They were grouped about the
smouldering fire at the time, Margaret's head in her lap, Holcomb, the
old trapper and the others in a half circle.
Thayor looked at his wife with mingled pride and astonishment: pride
in her pluck and her desire to lighten the hearts of those about
her--astonishment--amazement really, in the change that had come over
Alice lifted her eyes to her husband and began, in her rich contralto
voice, a song that recalled the days when he had first known and loved
her. She sang it all through, never once taking her eyes from the man
who sat apart from the others, his head buried deep in his hands.
As the last note died away a crackling in the brush behind the lean-to
was heard. The two woodsmen sprang instantly to their feet; Annette
screamed. The drums of Alice's ears were thumping with the beating of
her heart. Holcomb reached for his rifle laying between his own and
the Clown's pack, and hurriedly cocked it. The old dog had already
plunged ahead into the underbrush with a low growl.
"Hold on, Billy," came a thin voice out of the blackness beyond and to
the left of the lean-to. "Don't shoot!"
A short, gaunt figure now leaped noiselessly--rather than strode--out
into the firelight. He moved with the furtive agility of an animal,
making straight for the fire, over which he stood for some moments
The silent apparition stood in a pair of soaked moccasins. On his legs
were worn trousers of deerskin, patched here and there with the skins
of muskrats and squirrels; one thin brown knee showed bare through a
rent. Over a tattered woollen shirt hung an old cloth coat twice too
big for him--moss-green from exposure, the sleeves of which hung in
shreds over his bony fingers. Framed by a shock of sandy hair falling
to his shoulders, and by an unkempt, tow-coloured beard, his eyes
shone out in the firelight over his cheek-bones, with the cavernous
brilliancy of an owl's. To have guessed his age would have been
impossible. The truth was he was thirty-one.
No one spoke. They watched.
The trapper rose to his feet and laid his hand on the stranger's
shoulder. The figure, with a wistful look in his eyes, twisted his
emaciated body and held out his hand. The trapper grasped the thin,
sinewy fingers in both his own.
"Friend," he said, turning to Thayor, "I'd like to make ye acquainted
with my son--Bob Dinsmore."