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´╗┐Title: The Courage of Captain Plum
Author: Curwood, James Oliver, 1879-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Courage of Captain Plum" ***

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[Illustration: "I am going to take you from the island!"]


The COURAGE of CAPTAIN PLUM

BY
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
1912

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
FRANK E. SCHOONOVER



THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM



CHAPTER I

THE TWO OATHS


On an afternoon in the early summer of 1856 Captain Nathaniel Plum,
master and owner of the sloop _Typhoon_ was engaged in nothing more
important than the smoking of an enormous pipe. Clouds of strongly
odored smoke, tinted with the lights of the setting sun, had risen above
his head in unremitting volumes for the last half hour. There was
infinite contentment in his face, notwithstanding the fact that he had
been meditating on a subject that was not altogether pleasant. But
Captain Plum was, in a way, a philosopher, though one would not have
guessed this fact from his appearance. He was, in the first place, a
young man, not more than eight or nine and twenty, and his strong,
rather thin face, tanned by exposure to the sea, was just now lighted up
by eyes that shone with an unbounded good humor which any instant might
take the form of laughter.

At the present time Captain Plum's vision was confined to one direction,
which carried his gaze out over Lake Michigan. Earlier in the day he had
been able to discern the hazy outline of the Michigan wilderness twenty
miles to the eastward. Straight ahead, shooting up rugged and sharp in
the red light of the day's end, were two islands. Between these, three
miles away, the sloop _Typhoon_ was strongly silhouetted in the fading
glow. Beyond the islands and the sloop there were no other objects for
Captain Plum's eyes to rest upon. So far as he could see there was no
other sail. At his back he was shut in by a dense growth of trees and
creeping vines, and unless a small boat edged close in around the end
of Beaver Island his place of concealment must remain undiscovered. At
least this seemed an assured fact to Captain Plum.

In the security of his position he began to whistle softly as he beat
the bowl of his pipe on his boot-heel to empty it of ashes. Then he drew
a long-barreled revolver from under a coat that he had thrown aside and
examined it carefully to see that the powder and ball were in solid and
that none of the caps was missing. From the same place he brought forth
a belt, buckled it round his waist, shoved the revolver into its
holster, and dragging the coat to him, fished out a letter from an
inside pocket. It was a dirty, much worn letter. Perhaps he had read it
a score of times. He read it again now, and then, refilling his pipe,
settled back against the rock that formed a rest for his shoulders and
turned his eyes in the direction of the sloop.

The last rim of the sun had fallen below the Michigan wilderness and in
the rapidly increasing gloom the sloop was becoming indistinguishable.
Captain Plum looked at his watch. He must still wait a little longer
before setting out upon the adventure that had brought him to this
isolated spot. He rested his head against the rock, and thought. He had
been thinking for hours. Back in the thicket he heard the prowling of
some small animal. There came the sleepy chirp of a bird and the
rustling of tired wings settling for the night. A strange stillness
hovered about him, and with it there came over him a loneliness that was
chilling, a loneliness that made him homesick. It was a new and
unpleasant sensation to Captain Plum. He could not remember just when he
had experienced it before; that is, if he dated the present from two
weeks ago to-night. It was then that the letter had been handed to him
in Chicago, and it had been a weight upon his soul and a prick to his
conscience ever since. Once or twice he had made up his mind to destroy
it, but each time he had repented at the last moment. In a sudden
revulsion at his weakness he pulled himself together, crumpled the
dirty missive into a ball, and flung it out upon the white rim of beach.

At this action there came a quick movement in the dense wall of verdure
behind him. Noiselessly the tangle of vines separated and a head thrust
itself out in time to see the bit of paper fall short of the water's
edge. Then the head shot back as swiftly and as silently as a serpent's.
Perhaps Captain Plum heard the gloating chuckle that followed the
movement. If so he thought it only some night bird in the brush.

"Heigh-ho!" he exclaimed with some return of his old cheer, "it's about
time we were starting!" He jumped to his feet and began brushing the
sand from his clothes. When he had done, he walked out upon the rim of
beach and stretched himself until his arm-bones cracked.

Again the hidden head shot forth from its concealment. A sudden turn and
Captain Plum would certainly have been startled. For it was a weird
object, this spying head; its face dead-white against the dense green of
the verdure, with shocks of long white hair hanging down on each side,
framing between them a pair of eyes that gleamed from cavernous sockets,
like black glowing beads. There was unmistakable fear, a tense anxiety
in those glittering eyes as Captain Plum walked toward the paper, but
when he paused and stretched himself, the sole of his boot carelessly
trampling the discarded letter, the head disappeared again and there
came another satisfied bird-like chuckle from the gloom of the thicket.

Captain Plum now put on his coat, buttoned it close to conceal the
weapons in his belt, and walked along the narrow water-run that crept
like a white ribbon between the lake and the island wilderness. No
sooner had he disappeared than the bushes and vines behind the rock were
torn asunder and a man wormed his way through them. For an instant he
paused, listening for returning footsteps, and then with startling
agility darted to the beach and seized the crumpled letter.

The person who for the greater part of the afternoon had been spying
upon Captain Plum from the security of the thicket was to all
appearances a very small and a very old man, though there was something
about him that seemed to belie a first guess at his age. His face was
emaciated; his hair was white and hung in straggling masses on his
shoulders; his hooked nose bore apparently the infallible stamp of
extreme age. Yet there was a strange and uncanny strength and quickness
in his movements. There was no stoop to his shoulders. His head was set
squarely. His eyes were as keen as steel. It would have been impossible
to have told whether he was fifty or seventy. Eagerly he smoothed out
the abused missive and evidently succeeded even in the failing light, in
deciphering much of it, for the glimmer of a smile flashed over his thin
features as he thrust the paper into his pocket.

Without a moment's hesitation he set out on the trail of Captain Plum. A
quarter of a mile down the path he overtook the object of his pursuit.

"Ah, how do you do, sir?" he greeted as the younger man turned about
upon hearing his approach. "A mighty fast pace you're setting for an old
man, sir!" He broke into a laugh that was not altogether unpleasant, and
boldly held out a hand. "We've been expecting you, but--not in this way.
I hope there's nothing wrong?"

Captain Plum had accepted the proffered hand. Its coldness and the
singular appearance of the old man who had come like an apparition
chilled him. In a moment, however, it occurred to him that he was a
victim of mistaken identity. As far as he knew there was no one on
Beaver Island who was expecting him. To the best of his knowledge he was
a fool for being there. His crew aboard the sloop had agreed upon that
point with extreme vehemence and, to a man, had attempted to dissuade
him from the mad project upon which he was launching himself among the
Mormons in their island stronghold. All this came to him while the
little old man was looking up into his face, chuckling, and shaking his
hand as if he were one of the most important and most greatly to be
desired personages in the world.

"Hope there's nothing wrong, Cap'n?" he repeated.

"Right as a trivet here, Dad," replied the young man, dropping the cold
hand that still persisted in clinging to his own. "But I guess you've
got the wrong party. Who's expecting me?"

The old man's face wrinkled itself in a grimace and one gleaming eye
opened and closed in an understanding wink.

"Ho, ho, ho!--of course you're not expected. Anyway, you're not
_expected_ to be expected! Cautious--a born general--mighty clever thing
to do. Strang should appreciate it." The old man gave vent to his own
approbation in a series of inimitable chuckles. "Is that your sloop out
there?" he inquired interestedly.

Something in the strangeness of the situation began to interest Captain
Plum. He had planned a little adventure of his own, but here was one
that promised to develop into something more exciting. He nodded his
head.

"That's her."

"Splendid cargo," went on the old man. "Splendid cargo, eh?"

"Pretty fair."

"Powder in good shape, eh?"

"Dry as tinder."

"And balls--lots of balls, and a few guns, eh?"

"Yes, we _have_ a few guns," said Captain Plum. The old man noted the
emphasis, but the darkness that had fast settled about them hid the
added meaning that passed in a curious look over the other's face.

"Odd way to come in, though--very odd!" continued the old man, gurgling
and shaking as if the thought of it occasioned him great merriment.
"Very cautious. Level business head. Want to know that things are on
the square, eh?"

"That's it!" exclaimed Captain Plum, catching at the proffered straw.
Inwardly he was wondering when his feet would touch bottom. Thus far he
had succeeded in getting but a single grip on the situation. Somebody
was expected at Beaver Island with powder and balls and guns. Well, he
had a certain quantity of these materials aboard his sloop, and if he
could make an agreeable bargain--

The old man interrupted the plan that was slowly forming itself in
Captain Plum's puzzled brain.

"It's the price, eh?" He laughed shrewdly. "You want to see the color of
the gold before you land the goods. I'll show it to you. I'll pay you
the whole sum to-night. Then you'll take the stuff where I tell you to.
Eh? Isn't that so?" He darted ahead of Captain Plum with a quick alert
movement. "Will you please follow me, sir?"

For an instant Captain Plum's impulse was to hold back. In that instant
it suddenly occurred to him that he was lending himself to a rank
imposition. At the same time he was filled with a desire to go deeper
into the adventure, and his blood thrilled with the thought of what it
might hold for him.

"Are you coming, sir?"

The little old man had stopped a dozen paces away and turned
expectantly.

"I tell you again that you've got the wrong man, Dad!"

"Will you follow me, sir?"

"Well, if you'll have it so--damned if I won't!" cried Captain Plum. He
felt that he had relieved his conscience, anyway. If things should
develop badly for him during the next few hours no one could say that he
had lied. So he followed light-heartedly after the old man, his eyes and
ears alert, and his right hand, by force of habit, reaching under his
coat to the butt of his pistol. His guide said not another word until
they had traveled for half an hour along a twisting path and stood at
last on the bald summit of a knoll from which they could look down upon
a number of lights twinkling dimly a quarter of a mile away. One of
these lights gleamed above all the others, like a beacon set among
fireflies.

"That's St. James," said the old man. His voice had changed. It was low
and soft, as though he feared to speak above a whisper.

"St. James!"

The young man at his side gazed down silently upon the scattered lights,
his heart throbbing in a sudden tumult of excitement. He had set out
that day with the idea of resting his eyes on St. James. In its silent
mystery the town now lay at his feet.

"And that light--" spoke the old man. He pointed a trembling arm toward
the glare that shone more powerfully than the others. "That light marks
the sacred home of the king!" His voice had again changed. A metallic
hardness came into it, his words were vibrant with a strange excitement
which he strove hard to conceal. It was still light enough for Captain
Plum to see that the old man's black, beady eyes were startlingly alive
with newly aroused emotion.

"You mean--"

"Strang!"

He started rapidly down the knoll and there floated back to Captain Plum
the soft notes of his meaningless chuckle. A dozen rods farther on his
mysterious guide turned into a by-path which led them to another knoll,
capped by a good-sized building made of logs. There sounded the grating
of a key in a lock, the shooting of a bolt, and a door opened to admit
them.

"You will pardon me if I don't light up," apologized the old man as he
led the way in. "A candle will be sufficient. You know there must be
privacy in these matters--always. Eh? Isn't that so?"

Captain Plum followed without reply. He guessed that the cabin was made
up of one large room, and that at the present time, at least, it
possessed no other occupant than the singular creature who had guided
him to it.

"It is just as well, on this particular night, that no light is seen at
the window," continued the old man as he rummaged about a table for a
match and a candle. "I have a little corner back here that a candle will
brighten up nicely and no one in the world will know it. Ho, ho,
ho!--how nice it is to have a quiet little corner sometimes! Eh, Captain
Plum?"

At the sound of his name Captain Plum started as though an unexpected
hand had suddenly been laid upon him. So he _was_ expected, after all,
and his name was known! For a moment his surprise robbed him of the
power of speech. The little old man had lighted his candle, and,
grinning back over his shoulder, passed through a narrow cut in the
wall that could hardly be called a door and planted his light on a table
that stood in the center of a small room, or closet, not more than five
feet square. Then he coolly pulled Captain Plum's old letter from his
pocket and smoothed it out in the dim light.

"Be seated, Captain Plum; right over there--opposite me. So!"

He continued for a moment to smooth out the creases in the letter and
then proceeded to read it with as much assurance as though its owner
were a thousand miles away instead of within arm's reach of him. Captain
Plum was dumfounded. He felt the hot blood rushing to his face and his
first impulse was to recover the crumpled paper and demand something
more than an explanation. In the next instant it occurred to him that
this action would probably spoil whatever possibilities his night's
adventure might have for him. So he held his peace. The old man was so
intent in his perusal of the letter that the end of his hooked nose
almost scraped the table. He went over the dim, partly obliterated words
line by line, chuckling now and then, and apparently utterly oblivious
of the other's presence. When he had come to the end he looked up, his
eyes glittering with unbounded satisfaction, carefully folded the
letter, and handed it to Captain Plum.

"That's the best introduction in the world, Captain Plum--the very best!
Ho, ho!--it couldn't be better. I'm glad I found it." He chuckled
gleefully, and rested his ogreish head in the palms of his skeleton-like
hands, his elbows on the table. "So you're going back home--soon?"

"I haven't made up my mind yet, Dad," responded Captain Plum, pulling
out his pipe and tobacco. "You've read the letter pretty carefully, I
guess. What would you do?"

"Vermont?" questioned the old man shortly.

"That's it."

"Well, I'd go, and very soon, Captain Plum, _very_ soon, indeed. Yes,
I'd hurry!" The old man jumped up with the quickness of a cat. So sudden
was his movement that it startled Captain Plum, and he dropped his
tobacco pouch. By the time he had recovered this article his strange
companion was back in his seat again holding a leather bag in his hand.
Quickly he untied the knot at its top and poured a torrent of glittering
gold pieces out upon the table.

"Business--business and gold," he gurgled happily, rubbing his thin
hands and twisting his fingers until they cracked. "A pretty sight, eh,
Captain Plum? Now, to our account! A hundred carbines, eh? And a
thousand of powder and a ton of balls. Or is it in lead? It doesn't make
any difference--not a bit. It's three thousand, that's the account, eh?"
He fell to counting rapidly.

For a full minute Captain Plum remained in stupefied bewilderment,
silenced by the sudden and unexpected turn his adventure had taken.
Fascinated, he watched the skeleton fingers as they clinked the gold
pieces. What was the mysterious plot into which he had allowed himself
to be drawn? Why were a hundred guns and a ton and a half of powder and
balls wanted by the Mormons of Beaver Island? Instinctively he reached
out and closed his hand over the counting fingers of the old man. Their
eyes met. And there was a shrewd, half-understanding gleam in the black
orbs that fixed Captain Plum in an unflinching challenge. For a little
space there was silence. It was Captain Plum who broke it.

"Dad, I'm going to tell you for the third and last time that you've made
a mistake. I've got eight of the best rifles in America aboard my sloop
out there. But there's a man for every gun. And I've got something
hidden away underdeck that would blow up St. James in half an hour. And
there is powder and ball for the whole outfit. But that's all. I'll sell
you what I've got--for a good price. Beyond that you've got the wrong
man!"

He settled back and blew a volume of smoke from his pipe. For another
half minute the old man continued to look at him, his eyes twinkling,
and then he fell to counting again.

Captain Plum was not given over to the habit of cursing. But now he
jumped to his feet with an oath that jarred the table. The old man
chuckled. The gold pieces clinked between his fingers. Coolly he shoved
two glittering piles alongside the candle-stick, tumbled the rest back
into the leather bag, deliberately tied the end, and smiled up into the
face of the exasperated captain.

"To be sure you're not the man," he said, nodding his head until his
elf-locks danced around his face. "Of course you're not the man. I know
it--ho, ho! you can wager that I know it! A little ruse of mine, Captain
Plum. Pardonable--excusable, eh? I wanted to know if you were a liar. I
wanted to see if you were honest."

[Illustration: Captain Plum]

With a gasp of astonishment Captain Plum sank back into the chair. His
jaw dropped and his pipe was held fireless in his hand.

"The devil you say!"

"Oh, certainly, certainly, if you wish it," chuckled the little man, in
high humor. "I would have visited your sloop to-day, Captain Plum, if
you hadn't come ashore so opportunely this morning. Ho, ho, ho! a good
joke, eh? A mighty good joke!"

Captain Plum regained his composure by relighting his pipe. He heard the
chink of gold pieces and when he looked again the two piles of money
were close to the edge of his side of the table.

"That's for you, Captain Plum. There's just a thousand dollars in those
two piles." There was tense earnestness now in the old man's face and
voice. "I've imposed on you," he continued, speaking as one who had
suddenly thrown off a disguise. "If it had been any other man it would
have been the same. I want help. I want an honest man. I want a man whom
I can trust. I will give you a thousand dollars if you will take a
package back to your vessel with you and will promise to deliver it as
quickly as you can."

"I'll do it!" cried Captain Plum. He jumped to his feet and held out his
hand. But the old man slipped from his chair and darted swiftly out into
the blackness of the adjoining room. As he came back Captain Plum could
hear his insane chuckling.

"Business--business--business--" he gurgled. "Eh, Captain Plum? Did you
ever take an oath?" He tossed a book on the table. It was the Bible.

Captain Plum understood. He reached for the book and held it under his
left hand. His right he lifted above his head, while a smile played
about his lips.

"I suppose you want to place me under oath to deliver that package," he
said.

The old man nodded. His eyes gleamed with a feverish glare. A sudden
hectic flush had gathered in his death-like cheeks. He trembled. His
voice rose barely above a whisper.

"Repeat," he commanded. "I, Captain Nathaniel Plum, do solemnly swear
before God--"

A thrilling inspiration shot into Captain Plum's brain.

"Hold!" he cried. He lowered his hand. With something that was almost a
snarl the old man sprang back, his hands clenched. "I will take this
oath upon one other consideration," continued Captain Plum. "I came to
Beaver Island to see something of the life and something of the people
of St. James. If you, in turn, will swear to show me as much as you can
to-night I will take the oath."

The old man was beside the table again in an instant.

"I will show it to you--all--all--" he exclaimed excitedly. "I will show
it to you--yes, and swear to it upon the body of Christ!"

Captain Plum lifted his hand again and word by word repeated the oath.
When it was done the other took his place.

"Your name?" asked Captain Plum.

A change scarcely perceptible swept over the old man's face.

"Obadiah Price."

"But you are a Mormon. You have the Bible there?"

Again the old man disappeared into the adjoining room. When he returned
he placed two books side by side and stood them on edge so that he might
clasp both between his bony fingers. One was the Bible, the other the
Book of the Mormons. In a cracked, excited voice he repeated the
strenuous oath improvised by Captain Plum.

"Now," said Captain Plum, distributing the gold pieces among his
pockets, "I'll take that package."

This time the old man was gone for several minutes. When he returned he
placed a small package tightly bound and sealed into his companion's
hand.

"More precious than your life, more priceless than gold," he whispered
tensely, "yet worthless to all but the one to whom it is to be
delivered."

There were no marks on the package.

"And who is that?" asked Captain Plum.

The old man came so close that his breath fell hot upon the young man's
cheek. He lifted a hand as though to ward sound from the very walls that
closed them in.

"Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America!"



CHAPTER II

THE SEVEN WIVES


Hardly had the words fallen from the lips of Obadiah Price than the old
man straightened himself and stood as rigid as a gargoyle, his gaze
penetrating into the darkness of the room beyond Captain Plum, his head
inclined slightly, every nerve in him strained to a tension of
expectancy. His companion involuntarily gripped the butt of his pistol
and faced the narrow entrance through which they had come. In the moment
of absolute silence that followed there came to him, faintly, a sound,
unintelligible at first, but growing in volume until he knew that it was
the last echo of a tolling bell. There was no movement, no sound of
breath or whisper from the old man at his back. But when it came again,
floating to him as if from a vast distance, he turned quickly to find
Obadiah Price with his face lifted, his thin arms flung wide above his
head and his lips moving as if in prayer. His eyes burned with a dull
glow as though he had been suddenly thrown into a trance. He seemed not
to breathe, no vibration of life stirred him except in the movement of
his lips. With the third toll of the distant bell he spoke, and to
Captain Plum it was as if the passion and fire in his voice came from
another being.

"Our Christ, Master of hosts, we call upon Thy chosen people the three
blessings of the universe--peace, prosperity and plenty, and upon
Strang, priest, king and prophet, the bounty of Thy power!"

Three times more the distant bell tolled forth its mysterious message
and when the last echoes had died away the old man's arms dropped beside
him and he turned again to Captain Plum.

"Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America," he
repeated, as though there had been no interruption since his companion's
question. "The package is to be delivered to him. Now you must excuse
me. An important matter calls me out for a short time. But I will be
back soon--oh, yes, very soon. And you will wait for me. You will wait
for me here, and then I will take you to St. James."

He was gone in a quick hopping way, like a cricket, and the last that
Captain Plum saw of him was his ghostly face turned back for an instant
in the darkness of the next room, and after that the soft patter of his
feet and the strange chuckle in his throat traveled to the outer door
and died away as he passed out into the night. Nathaniel Plum was not a
man to be easily startled, but there was something so unusual about the
proceedings in which he was as yet playing a blind part that he forgot
to smoke, which was saying much. Who was the old man? Was he mad? His
eyes scanned the little room and an exclamation of astonishment fell
from his lips when he saw the leather bag, partly filled with gold,
lying where his mysterious acquaintance had dropped it. Surely this was
madness or else another ruse to test his honesty. The discovery thrilled
him. It was wonderfully quiet out in that next room and very dark. Were
hidden eyes guarding that bag? Well, if so, he would give their owner to
understand that he was not a thief. He rose from his chair and moved
toward the bag, lifted it in his hand, and tossed it back again so that
the gold in it chinked loudly. Then he went to the narrow aperture and
blocked it with his body and listened until he knew that if there had
been human life in the room he would have heard it.

The outer door was open and through it there came to him the soft breath
of the night air and the sweetness of balsam and wild flowers. It struck
him that it would be pleasanter waiting outside than in, and it would
undoubtedly make no difference to Obadiah Price. In front of the cabin
he found the stump of a log and seating himself on it where the clear
light of the stars fell full upon him he once more began his
interrupted smoke. It seemed to him that he had waited a long time when
he heard the sound of footsteps. They came rapidly as if the person was
half running. Hardly had he located the direction of the sound when a
figure appeared in the opening and hurried toward the door of the cabin.
A dozen yards from him it paused for a moment and turned partly about,
as if inspecting the path over which it had come. With a greeting
whistle Captain Plum jumped to his feet. He heard a little throat note,
which was not the chuckling of Obadiah Price, and the figure ran almost
into his arms. A sudden knowledge of having made a mistake drew Captain
Plum a pace backward. For scarcely more than five seconds he found
himself staring into the white terrified face of a girl. Eyes wide and
glowing with sudden fright met his own. Instinctively he lifted his hand
to his hat, but before he could speak the girl sprang back with a low
cry and ran swiftly down the path that led into the gloom of the woods.


For several minutes Captain Plum stood as if the sudden apparition had
petrified him. He listened long after the sound of retreating footsteps
had died away. There remained behind a faint sweet odor of lilac which
stirred his soul and set his blood tingling. It was a beautiful face
that he had seen. He was sure of that and yet he could have given no
good verbal proof of it. Only the eyes and the odor of lilac remained
with him and after a little the lilac drifted away. Then he went back to
the log and sat down. He smiled as he thought of the joke that he had
unwittingly played on Obadiah. From his knowledge of the Beaver Island
Mormons he was satisfied that the old man who displayed gold in such
reckless profusion was anything but a bachelor. In all probability this
was one of his wives and the cabin behind him, he concluded, was for
some reason isolated from the harem. "Evidently that little Saintess is
not a flirt," he concluded, "or she would have given me time to speak to
her."

The continued absence of Obadiah Price began to fill Captain Plum with
impatience. After an hour's wait he reentered the cabin and made his way
to the little room, where the candle was still burning dimly. To his
astonishment he beheld the old man sitting beside the table. His thin
face was propped between his hands and his eyes were closed as if he was
asleep. They shot open instantly on Captain Plum's appearance.

"I've been waiting for you, Nat," he cried, straightening himself with
spring-like quickness. "Waiting for you a long time, Nat!" He rubbed his
hands and chuckled at his own familiarity. "I saw you out there enjoying
yourself. What did you think of her, Nat?" He winked with such audacious
glee that, despite his own astonishment, Captain Plum burst into a
laugh. Obadiah Price held up a warning hand. "Tut, tut, not so loud!" he
admonished. His face was a map of wrinkles. His little black eyes shone
with silent laughter. There was no doubt but that he was immensely
pleased over something. "Tell me, Nat--why did you come to St. James?"

He leaned forward over the table, his odd white head almost resting on
it, and twiddled his thumbs with wonderful rapidity. "Eh, Nat?" he
urged. "Why did you come?"

"Because it was too hot and uninteresting lying out there in a calm,
Dad," replied the master of the _Typhoon_. "We've been roasting for
thirty-six hours without a breath to fill our sails. I came over to see
what you people are like. Any harm done?"

"Not a bit, not a bit--yet," chuckled the old man. "And what's your
business, Nat?"

"Sailing--mostly."

"Ho, ho, ho! of course, I might have known it! Sailing--_mostly_. Why,
certainly you sail! And why do you carry a pistol on one side of you and
a knife on the other, Nat?"

"Troublous times, Dad. Some of the fisher-folk along the Northern End
aren't very scrupulous. They took a cargo of canned stuffs from me a
year back."

"And what use do you make of the four-pounder that's wrapped up in
tarpaulin under your deck, Nat? And what in the world are you going to
do with five barrels of gunpowder?"

"How in blazes--" began Captain Plum.

"O, to be sure, to be sure--they're for the fisher-folk," interrupted
Obadiah Price. "Blow 'em up, eh, Nat? And you seem to be a young man of
education, Nat. How did you happen to make a mistake in your count?
Haven't you twelve men aboard your sloop instead of eight, Nat? Aren't
there twelve, instead of eight? Eh, Nat?"

"The devil take you!" cried Captain Plum, leaping suddenly to his feet,
his face flaming red. "Yes, I have got twelve men and I've got a gun in
tarpaulin and I've got five barrels of gunpowder! But how in the name of
Kingdom-Come did you find it out?"

Obadiah Price came around the end of the table and stood so close to
Captain Plum that a person ten feet away could not have heard him when
he spoke.

"I know more than that, Nat," he whispered. "Listen! A little while
ago--say two weeks back--you were becalmed off the head of Beaver
Island, and one dark night you were boarded by two boat-loads of men who
made you and your crew prisoners, robbed you of everything you had,--and
the next day you went back to Chicago. Eh?"

Nathaniel stood speechless.

"And you made up your mind the pirates were Mormons, enlisted some of
your friends, armed your ship--and you're back here to make us settle.
Isn't it so, Nat?"

The little old man was rubbing his hands eagerly, excitedly.

"You tried to get the revenue cutter _Michigan_ to come down with you,
but they wouldn't--ho, ho, they wouldn't! One of our friends in Chicago
sent quick word ahead of you to tell me all about it, and--Strang, the
king, doesn't know!"

He spoke the last words in intense earnestness.

Then, suddenly, he held out his hand.

"Young man, will you shake hands with me? Will you shake hands?--and
then we will go to St. James!"

Captain Plum thrust out a hand and the old man gripped it. The thin
fingers tightened like cold clamps of steel. For a moment the face of
Obadiah Price underwent a strange change. The hardness and glitter went
out of his eyes and in place there came a questioning, almost an
appealing, look. His tense mouth relaxed. It was as if he was on the
point of surrendering to some emotion which he was struggling to stifle.
And Nathaniel, meeting those eyes, felt that somewhere within him had
been struck a strange chord of sympathy, something that made this little
old man more than a half-mad stranger to him, and involuntarily the
grip of his fingers tightened around those of his companion.

"Now we will go to St. James, Captain Plum!"

He attempted to withdraw his hand but Captain Plum held to it.

"Not yet!" he exclaimed. "There are two or three things which your
friend didn't tell you, Obadiah Price!"

Nathaniel's eyes glittered dangerously.

"When I left ship this morning I gave explicit orders to Casey, my
mate."

He gazed steadily into the old man's unflinching eyes.

"I said something like this: 'Casey, I'm going to see Strang before I
come back. If he's willing to settle for five thousand, we'll call it
off. And if he isn't--why, we'll stand out there a mile and blow St.
James into hell! And if I don't come back by to-morrow at sundown,
Casey, you take command and blow it to hell without me!' So, Obadiah
Price, if there's treachery--"

The old man clutched at his hands with insane fierceness.

"There will be no treachery, Nat, I swear to God there will be no
treachery! Come, we will go--"

Still Captain Plum hesitated.

"Who are you? Whom am I to follow?"

"A member of our holy Council of Twelve, Nat, and lord high treasurer of
His Majesty, King Strang!"

Before Captain Plum could recover from the surprise of this whispered
announcement the little old man had freed himself and was pattering
swiftly through the darkness of the next room. The master of the
_Typhoon_ followed close behind him. Outside the councilor hesitated for
a moment, as if debating which route to take, and then with a prodigious
wink at Captain Plum and a throatful of his inimitable chuckles, chose
the path down which his startled visitor of a short time before had
fled. For fifteen minutes this path led between thick black walls of
forest verdure. Obadiah Price kept always a few paces ahead of his
companion and spoke not a word. At the end of perhaps half a mile the
path entered into a large clearing on the farther side of which
Nathaniel caught the glimmer of a light. They passed close to this
light, which came from the window of a large square house built of logs,
and Captain Plum became suddenly conscious that the air was filled with
the redolent perfume of lilac. With half a dozen quick strides he
overtook the councilor and caught him by the arm.

"I smell lilac!" he exclaimed.

"Certainly, so do I," replied Obadiah Price. "We have very fine lilacs
on the island."

"And I smelled lilac back there," continued Nathaniel, still holding to
the old man's arm, and pointing a thumb over his shoulder. "I smelled
'em back there, when--"

"Ho, ho, ho!" chuckled the councilor softly. "I don't doubt it, Nat, I
don't doubt it. She is very fond of lilacs. She wears the flowers very
often."

He pulled himself away and Captain Plum could hear his queer chuckling
for some time after. Soon they entered the gloom of the woods again and
a little later came out into another clearing and Nathaniel knew that it
was St. James that lay at his feet. The lights of a few fishing boats
were twinkling in the harbor, but for the most part the town was dark.
Here and there a window shone like a spot of phosphorescent yellow in
the dismal gloom and the great beacon still burned steadily over the
home of the prophet.

"Ah, it is not time," whispered Obadiah. "It is still too early." He
drew his companion out of the path which they had followed and sat
himself down on a hummock a dozen yards away from it, inviting Nathaniel
by a pull of the sleeve to do the same. There were three of these
hummocks, side by side, and Captain Plum chose the one nearest the old
man and waited for him to speak. But the councilor did not open his
lips. Doubled over until his chin rested almost upon the sharp points of
his knees, he gazed steadily at the beacon, and as he looked it
shuddered and grew dark, like a firefly that suddenly closes its wings.
With a quick spring the councilor straightened himself and turned to the
master of the _Typhoon_.

"You have a good nose, Nat," he said, "but your ears are not so good.
Sh-h-h-h!" He lifted a hand warningly and nodded sidewise toward the
path. Captain Plum listened. He heard low voices and then
footsteps--voices that were approaching rapidly, and were those of
women, and footsteps that were almost running. The old man caught him by
the arm and as the sounds came nearer his grip tightened.

"Don't frighten them, Nat. Get down!"

He crouched until he was only a part of the shadows of the ground and
following his example Nathaniel slipped between two of the knolls. A
few yards away the sound of the voices ceased and there was a hesitancy
in the soft tread of the approaching steps. Slowly, and now in awesome
silence, two figures came down the path and when they reached a point
opposite the hummocks Nathaniel could see that they turned their faces
toward them and that for a brief space there was something of terror in
the gleam he caught of their eyes. In a moment they had passed. Then he
heard them running.

"They saw us!" Captain Plum exclaimed.

Obadiah hopped to his feet and rubbed his hands with great glee. "What a
temptation, Nat!" he whispered. "What a temptation to frighten them out
of their wits! No, they didn't see us, Nat--they didn't see us. The
girls are always frightened when they pass these graves. Some day--"

"Graves!" almost shouted the master of the _Typhoon_. "Graves--and we
sitting on 'em!"

"That's all right, Nat--that's all right. They're my graves, so we're
welcome to sit on them. I often come here and sit for hours at a time.
They like to have me, especially little Jean--the middle one. Perhaps
I'll tell you about Jean before you go away."

If Captain Plum had been watching him he would have seen that soft
mysterious light again shining in the old councilor's eyes. But now
Nathaniel stood erect, his nostrils sniffing the air, catching once more
the sweet scent of lilac. He hurried out into the opening, with the old
man close behind him, and peered down into the starlit gloom into which
the two girls had disappeared. The lovely face that had appeared to him
for an instant at Obadiah's cabin began to haunt him. He was sure now
that his sudden appearance had not been the only cause of its terror,
and he felt that he should have called out to her or followed until he
had overtaken her. He could easily have excused his boldness, even if
the councilor had been watching him from the cabin door. He was certain
that she had passed very near to him again and that the fright which
Obadiah had attempted to explain was not because of the graves. He swung
about upon his companion, determined to ask for an explanation. The
latter seemed to divine his thought.

"Don't let a little scent of lilac disturb you so, young man," he said
with singular coldness. "It may cause you great unpleasantness." He went
ahead and Nathaniel followed him, assured that the old man's words and
the way in which he had spoken them no longer left a doubt as to the
identity of his night visitor. She was one of the councilor's wives, so
he thought, and his own interest in her was beginning to have an
irritating effect. In other words Obadiah was becoming jealous.

For some time there was silence between the two. Obadiah Price now
walked with extreme slowness and along paths which seemed to bring him
no nearer to the town below. Nathaniel could see that he was absorbed in
thoughts of his own, and held his peace. Was it possible that he had
spoiled his chances with the councilor because of a pretty face and a
bunch of lilacs? The thought tickled Captain Plum despite the delicacy
of his situation and he broke into an involuntary laugh. The laugh
brought Obadiah to a halt as suddenly as though some one had thrust a
bayonet against his breast.

"Nat, you've got good red blood in you," he cried, whirling about. "D'ye
suppose you can hate as well as love?"

"Lord deliver us!" exclaimed the astonished Captain Plum.
"Hate--love--what the--"

"Yes, _hate_," repeated the old man with fierce emphasis, so close that
his breath struck Nathaniel's face. "You can love a pretty face--and you
can _hate_. I know you can. If you couldn't I would send you back to
your sloop with the package to-night. But as it is I am going to relieve
you of your oath. Yes, Nat, I give you back your oath--for a time."

Nathaniel stepped a pace back and put his hands on his pockets as if to
protect the gold there.

"You mean that you want to call off our bargain?" he asked.

The councilor rubbed his hands until the friction of them sent a shiver
up Nathaniel's back. "Not that, Nat--O, no, not that! The bargain is
good. The gold is yours. You must deliver the package. But you need not
do it immediately. Understand? I am lonely back there in my shack. I
want company. You must stay with me a week. Eh? Lilacs and pretty faces,
Nat! Ho, ho!--You will stay a week, won't you, Nat?"

He spoke so rapidly and his face underwent so many changes, now
betraying the keenest excitement, now wrinkled in an ogreish, bantering
grin, now almost pleading in its earnestness, that Nathaniel knew not
what to make of him. He looked into the beady eyes, sparkling with
passion, and the cat-like glitter of them set his blood tingling. What
strange adventure was this old man dragging him into? What were the
motives, the reasoning, the plot that lay behind this mysterious
creature's apparent faith in him? He tried to answer these things in the
passing of a moment before he replied. The councilor saw his hesitancy
and smiled.

"I will show you many things of interest, Nat," he said. "I will show
you just one to-night. Then you will make up your mind, eh? You need not
tell me until then."

He took the lead again and this time struck straight down for the town.
They passed a number of houses built of logs and Nathaniel caught narrow
gleams of light from between close-drawn curtains. In one of these
houses he heard the crying of children, and with a return of his grisly
humor Obadiah Price prodded him in the ribs and said,

"Good old Israel Laeng lives there--two wives, one old, one
young--eleven children. The Kingdom of Heaven is open to him!" And from
a second he heard the sound of an organ, and from still a third there
came the laughter and chatter of several feminine voices, and again
Obadiah reached out and prodded Nathaniel in the ribs. There was one
great, gloomy, long-built place which they passed, without a ray of
light to give it life, and the councilor said, "Three widows there,
Nat,--fight like cats and dogs. Poor Job killed himself." They avoided
the more thickly populated part of the settlement and encountered few
people, which seemed to please the councilor. Once they overtook and
passed a group of women clad in short skirts and loose waists and with
their hair hanging in braids down their backs. For a third time Obadiah
nudged Captain Plum.

"It is the king's pleasure that all women wear skirts that come just
below the knees," he whispered. "Some of them won't do it and he's
wondering how to punish them. To-morrow there's going to be two public
whippings. One of the victims is a man who said that if he was a woman
he'd die before he put on knee skirts. After he's whipped he is going
to be made to wear 'em. By Urim and Thummin, isn't that choice, Nat?"

He shivered with quiet laughter and dived into a great block of darkness
where there seemed to be no houses, keeping close beside Nathaniel. Soon
they came to the edge of a grove and deep among the trees Captain Plum
caught a glimpse of a lighted window. Obadiah Price now began to exhibit
unusual caution. He approached the light slowly, pausing every few steps
to peer guardedly about him, and when they had come very near to the
window he pulled his companion behind a thick clump of shrubbery.
Nathaniel could hear the old man's subdued chuckle and he bent his head
to catch what he was about to whisper to him.

"You must make no noise, Nat," he warned. "This is the castle of our
priest, king and prophet--James Jesse Strang. I am going to show you
what you have never seen before and what you will never look upon again.
I have sworn upon the Two Books and I will keep my oath. And then--you
will answer the question I asked you back there."

He crept out into the darkness of the trees and Nathaniel followed, his
heart throbbing with excitement, every sense alert, and one hand resting
on the butt of his pistol. He felt that he was nearing the climax of his
day's adventure and now, in the last moment of it, his old caution
reasserted itself. He knew that he was among a dangerous people, men
who, according to the laws of his country, were criminals in more ways
than one. He had seen much of their work along the coasts and he had
heard of more of it. He knew that this gloom and sullen quiet of St.
James hid cut-throats and pirates and thieves. Still there was nothing
ahead to alarm him. The old man dodged the gleams of the lighted window
and slunk around to the end of the great house. Here, several feet above
his head, was another window, small and veiled with the foliage wall.
With the assurance of one who had been there before the councilor
mounted some object under the window, lifted himself until his chin was
on a level with the glass, and peered within. He was there but an
instant and then fell back, chuckling and rubbing his hands.

"Come, Nat!"

He stood a little to one side and bowed with mock politeness. For a
moment Captain Plum hesitated. Under ordinary circumstances this spying
through a window would have been repugnant to him. But at present
something seemed to tell him that it was not to satisfy his curiosity
alone that Obadiah Price had given him this opportunity. Would a look
through that little window explain some of the mysteries of the night?

There came a low whisper in his ear.

"Do you smell lilac, Nat? Eh?"

The councilor was grinning at him. There was a suggestive gleam in his
eyes. He rubbed his hands almost fiercely.

In another instant Captain Plum had stepped upon the object beneath the
window and parted the leaves. Breathlessly he looked in. A strange scene
met his eyes. He was looking into a vast room, illuminated by a huge
hanging lamp suspended almost on a level with his head. Under this lamp
there was a long table and at the table sat seven women and one man. The
man was at the end nearest the window and all that Nat could see was the
back of his head and shoulders. But the women were in full view, three
on each side of the table and one at the far end. He guessed the man to
be Strang; but he stared at the women and as his eyes traveled back to
the one facing him at the end of the table he could scarcely repress the
exclamation of surprise that rose to his lips. It was the girl whom he
had encountered at the councilor's cabin. She was leaning forward as if
in an agony of suspense, her eyes on the king, her lips parted, her
hands clutching at a great book which lay open before her. Her cheeks
were flushed with excitement. And even as he looked Captain Plum saw
her head fall suddenly forward upon the table, encircled by her arms.
The heavy braid of her hair, partly undone, glistened like red gold in
the lamplight. Her slender body was convulsed with sobs. The woman
nearest her reached over and laid a caressing hand on the bowed head,
but drew it quickly away as if at a sharp command.

In his eagerness Nathaniel thrust his face through the foliage until his
nose touched the glass. When the girl lifted her head she straightened
back in her chair--and saw him. There came a sudden white fear in her
face, a parting of the lips as if she were on the point of crying out,
and then, before the others had seen, she looked again at Strang. She
had discovered him and yet she had not revealed her discovery! Nathaniel
could have shouted for joy. She had seen him, had recognized him! And
because she had not cried out she wanted him! He drew his pistol from
its holster and waited. If she signaled for him, if she called him, he
would burst the window. The girl was talking now and as she talked she
lifted her eyes. Nathaniel pressed his face close against the window,
and smiled. That would let her know he was a friend. She seemed to
answer him with a little nod and he fancied that her eyes glowed with a
mute appeal for his assistance. But only for an instant, and then they
turned again to the king. Not until that moment did Nathaniel notice
upon her bosom a bunch of crumpled lilacs.

From below the iron grip of the councilor dragged him down.

"That's enough," he whispered. "That's enough--for to-night." He saw the
pistol in Nathaniel's hand and gave a sudden breathless cry.

"Nat--Nat--"

He caught Captain Plum's free hand in his.

"Tell me this, Obadiah Price," whispered the master of the _Typhoon_,
"who is she?"

The councilor stood on tiptoe to answer.

"They are the six wives of Strang, Nat!"

"But the other?" demanded Nathaniel. "The other--"

"O, to be sure, to be sure," chuckled Obadiah. "The girl of the lilacs,
eh? Why, she's the seventh wife, Nat--that's all, the seventh wife!"



CHAPTER III

THE WARNING


So quickly that Obadiah Price might not have counted ten before it had
come and gone the significance of his new situation flashed upon Captain
Plum as he stood under the king's window. His plans had changed since
leaving ship but now he realized that they had become hopelessly
involved. He had intended that Obadiah should show him where Strang was
to be found, and that later, when ostensibly returning to his vessel, he
would visit the prophet in his home. Whatever the interview brought
forth he would still be in a position to deliver the councilor's
package. Even an hour's bombardment of St. James would not interfere
with the fulfilment of his oath. But those few minutes at the king's
window had been fatal to the scheme he had built. The girl had seen
him. She had not betrayed his presence. She had called to him with her
eyes--he would have staked his life on that. What did it all mean? He
turned to Obadiah. The old man was grimacing and twisting his hands
nervously. He seemed half afraid, cringing, as if fearing a blow. The
sight of him set Nathaniel's blood afire. His white face seemed to
verify the terrible thought that had leaped into his brain. Suddenly he
heard a faint cry--a woman's voice--and in an instant he was back at the
window. The girl had risen to her feet and stood facing him. This time,
as her eyes met his own, he saw in them a flashing warning, and he
obeyed it as if she had spoken to him. As he dropped silently back to
the ground the councilor came close to his side.

"That's enough for to-night, Nat," he whispered.

He made as if to slip away but Nathaniel detained him with an emphatic
hand.

"Not yet, Dad! I'd like to have a word with--this--"

"With Strang's wife," chuckled Obadiah. "Ho, ho, ho, Nat, you're a
rascal!" The old man's face was mapped with wrinkles, his eyes glowed
with joyous approbation. "You shall, Nat, you shall! You love a pretty
face, eh? You shall meet Mrs. Strang, Nat, and you shall make love to
her if you wish. I swear that, too. But not to-night, Nat--not
to-night."

He stood a pace away and rubbed his hands.

"There will be no chance to-night, Nat--but to-morrow night, or the
next. O, I promise you shall meet her, and make love to her, Nat! Ho, if
Strang knew, if Strang _only_ knew!"

There was something so fiendishly gloating in the councilor's attitude,
in his face, in the hot glow of his eyes, that for a moment Nathaniel's
involuntary liking for the little old man before him turned to
abhorrence. The passion, the triumph of the man, convinced him where
words had failed. The girl was Strang's wife. His last doubt was
dispelled. And because she was Strang's wife Obadiah hated the Mormon
prophet. The councilor had spoken with fateful assurance--that he should
meet her, that he should make love to her. It was an assurance that made
him shudder. As he followed in silence up out of the gloom of the town
he strove, but in vain, to find whether sin had lurked in the sweet face
that had appealed to him in its misery--whether there had been a flash
of something besides terror, besides prayerful entreaty, in the lovely
eyes that had met his own. Obadiah spoke no word to break in on his
thoughts. Now and then the old man's insane chucklings floated softly to
Nathaniel's ears, and when at last they came to the cabin in the forest
he broke into a low laugh that echoed weirdly in the great black room
which they entered. He lighted another candle and approached a ladder
which led through a trap in the ceiling. Without a word he mounted this
ladder, and Nathaniel followed him, finding himself a moment later in a
small low room furnished with a bed. The councilor placed his candle on
a table close beside it and rubbed his hands until it seemed they must
burn.

"You will stay--eh, Nat?" he cried, bobbing his head. "Yes, you will
stay, and you will give me back the package for a day or two." He
retreated to the trap and slid down it as quickly as a rat. "Pleasant
dreams to you, Nat, and--O, wait a minute!" Captain Plum could hear him
pattering quickly over the floor below. In a moment he was back,
thrusting his white grimacing face through the trap and tossed something
upon the bed. "She left them last night, Nat. Pleasant dreams, pleasant
dreams," and he was gone.

Nathaniel turned to the bed and picked up a faded bunch of lilacs. Then
he sat down, loaded his pipe, and smoked until he could hardly see the
walls of his little room. From the moment of his landing on the island
he turned the events of the day over in his mind. Yet when he arrived at
the end of them he was no less mystified than when he began. Who was
Obadiah Price? Who was the girl that fate had so mysteriously associated
with his movements thus far? What was the plot in which he had
accidentally become involved? With tireless tenacity he hung to these
questions for hours. That there was a plot of some kind he had not the
least doubt. The councilor's strange actions, the oath, the package, and
above all the scene in the king's house convinced him of that. And he
was sure that Obadiah's night visitor--the girl with the lilacs--was
playing a vital part in it.

He plucked at the withered flowers which the old man had thrown him. He
could detect their sweet scent above the pungent fumes of tobacco and as
Obadiah's triumphant chuckle recurred to him, the gloating joy in his
eyes, the passionate tremble of his voice, a grim smile passed over his
face. The mystery was easy of solution--if he was willing to reason
along certain lines. But he was not willing. He had formed his own
picture of Strang's wife and it pleased him to keep it. At moments he
half conceded himself a fool, but that did not trouble him. The longer
he smoked the more his old confidence and his old recklessness returned
to him. He had enjoyed his adventure. The next day he would end it. He
would go openly into St. James and have done his business with Strang.
Then he would return to his ship. What had he, Captain Plum, to do with
Strang's wife?

But even after he had determined on these things his brain refused to
rest. He paced back and forth across the narrow room, thinking of the
man whom he was to meet to-morrow--of Strang, the one-time schoolmaster
and temperance lecturer who had made himself a king, who for seven years
had defied the state and nation, and who had made of his island
stronghold a hot-bed of polygamy, of licentiousness, of dissolute power.
His blood grew hot as he thought again of the beautiful girl who had
appealed to him. Obadiah had said that she was the king's wife. Still--

Thoughts flashed into his head which for a time made him forget his
mission on the island. In spite of his resolution to keep to his own
scheme he found himself, after a little, thinking only of the Mormon
king, and the lovely face he had seen through the castle window. He knew
much about the man with whom he was to deal to-morrow. He knew that he
had been a rival of Brigham Young and that when the exodus of the
Mormons to the deserts of the west came he had led his own followers
into the North, and that each July, amid barbaric festivities, he was
recrowned with a circlet of gold. But the girl! If she was the king's
wife why had her eyes called to him for help?

The question crowded Nathaniel's brain with a hundred thrilling
pictures. With a shudder he thought of the terrible power the Mormon
king held not only over his own people but over the Gentiles of the
mainlands as well. With these mainlanders, he regarded Beaver Island as
a nest of pirates and murderers. He knew of the depredations of Strang
and his people among the fishermen and settlers, of the piratical
expeditions of his armed boats, of the dreaded raids of his sheriffs,
and of the crimes that made the women of the shores tremble and turn
white at the mere mention of his name.

Was it possible that this girl--

Captain Plum did not let himself finish the thought. With a powerful
effort he brought himself back to his own business on the island, smoked
another pipe, and undressed. He went to bed with the withered lilacs on
the table close beside him. He fell asleep with their scent in his
nostrils. When he awoke they were gone. He started up in astonishment
when he saw what had taken their place. Obadiah had visited him while he
slept. The table was spread with a white cloth and upon it was his
breakfast, a pot of coffee still steaming, and the whole of a cold baked
fowl. Near-by, upon a chair, was a basin of water, soap and a towel.
Nathaniel rolled from his bed with a healthy laugh of pleasure. The
councilor was at least a courteous host, and his liking for the curious
old man promptly increased. There was a sheet of paper on his plate upon
which Obadiah had scribbled the following words:

"My dear Nat:--Make yourself at home. I will be away to-day but will see
you again to-night. Don't be surprised if somebody makes you a visit."

The "somebody" was heavily underscored and Nathaniel's pulse quickened
and a sudden flush of excitement surged into his face as he read the
meaning of it. The "somebody" was Strang's wife. There could be no other
interpretation. He went to the trap and called down for Obadiah but
there was no answer. The councilor had already gone. Quickly eating his
breakfast the master of the _Typhoon_ climbed down the ladder into the
room below. The remains of the councilor's breakfast were on a table
near the door, and the door was open. Through it came a glory of
sunshine and the fresh breath of the forest laden with the perfume of
wild flowers and balsam. A thousand birds seemed caroling and twittering
in the sunlit solitude about the cabin. Beyond this there was no other
sound or sign of life. For many minutes Nathaniel stood in the open, his
eyes on the path along which he knew that Strang's wife would come--if
she came at all. Suddenly he began to examine the ground where the girl
had stood the previous night. The dainty imprints of her feet were
plainly discernible in the soft earth. Then he went to the path--and
with a laugh so loud that it startled the birds into silence he set off
with long strides in the direction of St. James. From the footprints in
that path it was quite evident that Strang's wife was a frequent visitor
at Obadiah's.

At the edge of the forest, from where he could see the log house
situated across the opening, Nathaniel paused. He had made up his mind
that the girl whom he had seen through the king's window was in some way
associated with it. Obadiah had hinted as much and she had come from
there on her way to Strang's. But as the prophet's wives lived in his
castle at St. James this surely could not be her home. More than ever he
was puzzled. As he looked he saw a figure suddenly appear from among the
mass of lilac bushes that almost concealed the cabin. An involuntary
exclamation of satisfaction escaped him and he drew back deeper among
the trees. It was the councilor who had shown himself. For a few moments
the old man stood gazing in the direction of St. James as if watching
for the approach of other persons. Then he dodged cautiously along the
edge of the bushes, keeping half within their cover, and moved swiftly
in the opposite direction toward the center of the island. Nathaniel's
blood leaped with a desire to follow. The night before he had guessed
that Obadiah with his gold and his smoldering passion was not a man to
isolate himself in the heart of the forest. Here--across the open--was
evidence of another side of his life. In that great square-built
domicile of logs, screened so perfectly by flowering lilac, lived
Obadiah's wives. Captain Plum laughed aloud and beat the bowl of his
pipe on the tree beside him. And the _girl_ lived there--or came from
there to the woodland cabin so frequently that her feet had beaten a
well-worn path. Had the councilor lied to him? Was the girl he had seen
through the King's window one of the seven wives of Strang--or was she
the wife of Obadiah Price?

The thought was one that thrilled him. If the girl was the councilor's
wife what was the motive of Obadiah's falsehood? And if she was Strang's
wife why had her feet--and hers alone with the exception of the old
man's--worn this path from the lilac smothered house to the cabin in the
woods? The captain of the _Typhoon_ regretted now that he had given such
explicit orders to Casey. Otherwise he would have followed the figure
that was already disappearing into the forest on the opposite side of
the clearing. But now he must see Strang. There might be delay,
necessary delay, and if it so happened that his own blundering curiosity
kept him on the island until sundown--well, he smiled as he thought of
what Casey would do.

Refilling his pipe and leaving a trail of smoke behind him he set out
boldly for St. James. When he came to the three graves he stopped,
remembering that Obadiah had said they were his graves. A sort of grim
horror began to stir at his soul as he gazed on the grass-grown
mounds--proofs that the old councilor would inherit a place in the
Mormon Heaven having obeyed the injunctions of his prophet on earth.
Nathaniel now understood the meaning of his words of the night before.
This was the family burying ground of the old councilor.

He walked on, trying in vain to concentrate his mind solely upon the
business that was ahead of him. A few days before he would have counted
this walk to St. James one of the events of his life. Now it had lost
its fascination. Despite his efforts to destroy the vision of the
beautiful face that had looked at him through the king's window its
memory still haunted him. The eyes, soft with appeal; the red mouth,
quivering, and with lips parted as if about to speak to him; the bowed
head with its tumbled glory of hair--all had burned themselves upon his
soul in a picture too deep to be eradicated. If St. James was
interesting now it was because that face was a part of it, because the
secret of its life, of the misery that it had confessed to him, was
hidden somewhere down there among its scattered log homes.

Slowly he made his way down the slope in the direction of Strang's
castle, the tower of which, surmounted by its great beacon, glistened in
the morning sun. He would find Strang there. And there would be one
chance in a thousand of seeing the girl--if Obadiah had spoken the
truth. As he passed down he met men and boys coming up the slope and
others moving along at the bottom of it, all going toward the interior
of the island. They had shovels or rakes or hoes upon their shoulders
and he guessed that the Mormon fields were in that direction; others
bore axes; and now and then wagons, many of them drawn by oxen, left the
town over the road that ran near the shore of the lake. Those whom he
met stared at him curiously, much interested evidently in the appearance
of a stranger. Nathaniel paid but small heed to them. As he entered the
grove through which the councilor had guided him the night before his
eagerness became almost excitement. He approached the great log house
swiftly but cautiously, keeping as much from view as possible. As he
came under the window through which he had looked upon the king and his
wives his heart leaped with anticipation, with hope that was strangely
mingled with fear. For only a moment he paused to listen, and
notwithstanding the seriousness of his position he could not repress a
smile as there came to his ears the crying of children and the high
angry voice of a woman. He passed around to the front of the house. The
door of Strang's castle was wide open and unguarded. No one had seen his
approach; no one accosted him as he mounted the low steps; there was no
one in the room into which he gazed a moment later. It was the great
hall into which he had spied a few hours previous. There was the long
table with the big book on it, the lamp whose light had bathed the
girl's head in a halo of glory, the very chair in which he had found her
sitting! He was conscious of a throbbing in his breast, a longing to
call out--if he only knew her name.

In the room there were four closed doors and it was from beyond these
that there came to him the wailing of children. A fifth door was open
and through it he saw a cradle gently rocking. Here at last was visible
life, or motion at least, and he knocked loudly. Very gradually the
cradle ceased its movement. Then it stopped, and a woman came out into
the larger room. In a moment Nathaniel recognized her as the one who had
placed a caressing hand upon the bowed head of the sobbing girl the
night before. Her face was of pathetic beauty. Its whiteness was
startling. Her eyes shone with an unhealthy luster, and her dark hair,
falling in heavy curls over her shoulder, added to the wonderful pallor
of her cheeks.

Nathaniel bowed. "I beg your pardon, madam; I came to see Mr. Strang,"
he said.

"You will find the king at his office," she replied.

The woman's voice was low, but so sweet that it was like music to the
ear. As she spoke she came nearer and a faint flush appeared in the
transparency of her cheek.

"Why do you wish to see the king?" she asked.

Was there a tremble of fear in her voice? Even as he looked Nathaniel
saw the flush deepen in her cheeks and her eyes light with nervous
eagerness.

"I am sent by Obadiah Price," he hazarded.

A flash of relief shot into the woman's face.

"The king is at his office," she repeated. "His office is near the
temple."

Nathaniel retired with another bow.

"By thunder, Strang, old boy, you've certainly got an eye for beauty!"
he laughed as he hurried through the grove.

"And Obadiah Price must be somebody, after all!"

The Mormon temple was the largest structure in St. James, a huge square
building of hewn logs, and Nathaniel did not need to make inquiry to
find it. On one side was a two-story building with an outside stairway
leading to the upper floor, and a painted sign announced that on this
second floor was situated the office of James Jesse Strang, priest, king
and prophet of the Mormons. It was still very early and the general
merchandise store below was not open. Congratulating himself on this
fact, and with the fingers of his right hand reaching instinctively for
his pistol butt, Captain Plum mounted the stair. When half way up he
heard voices. As he reached the landing at the top he caught the quick
swish of a skirt. Another step and he was in the open door. He was not
soon enough to see the person who had just disappeared through an
opposite door but he knew that it was a woman. Directly in front of him
as if she had been expecting his arrival was a young girl, and no sooner
had he put a foot over the threshold than she hurried toward him, the
most acute anxiety and fear written in her face.

"You are Captain Plum?" she asked breathlessly.

Nathaniel stopped in astonishment.

"Yes, I'm--"

"Then you must hurry--hurry!" cried the girl excitedly. "You have not a
moment to lose! Go back to your ship before it is too late! She says
they will kill you--"

"Who says so?" thundered Captain Plum. He sprang to the girl's side and
caught her by the arm. "Who says that I will be killed? Tell me--who
gave you this warning for me?"

"I--I--tell you so!" stammered the young girl. "I--I--heard the
king--they will kill you--" Her lips trembled. Nathaniel saw that her
eyes were already red from crying. "You will go?" she pleaded.

Nathaniel had taken her hand and now he held it tightly in his own. His
head was thrown back, his eyes were upon the door across the room. When
he looked again into the girlish face there was flashing joyous defiance
in his eyes, and in his voice there was confession of the truth that had
suddenly come to overwhelm whatever law of self preservation he might
have held unto himself.

"No, my dear, I am not going back to my ship," he spoke softly. "Not
unless she who is in that room comes out and bids me go herself!"



CHAPTER IV

THE WHIPPING


Scarce had the words fallen from his lips when there sounded a slow,
heavy step on the stair outside. The young girl snatched her hand free
and caught Nathaniel by the wrist.

"It is the king!" she whispered excitedly. "It is the king! Quick--you
still have time! You must go--you must go--"

She strove to pull him across the room.

"There--through that door!" she urged.

The slowly ascending steps were half way up the stairs. Nathaniel
hesitated. He knew that a moment before there had passed through that
door one who carried with her the odor of lilac and his heart leaped to
its own conclusion who that person was. He had heard the rustle of the
girl's skirt. He had seen the last inch of the door close as Strang's
wife pulled it after her. And now he was implored to follow! He sprang
forward as the heavy steps neared the landing. His hand was upon the
latch--when he paused. Then he turned and bent his head close down to
the girl.

"No, I won't do it, my dear," he whispered. "Just now it might make
trouble for--her."

He lifted his eyes and saw a man looking at him from the doorway. He
needed no further proof to assure him that this was Strang the king of
the Mormons, for the Beaver Island prophet was painted well in that
region which knew the grip and terror of his power. He was a massive
man, with the slow slumbering strength of a beast. He was not much under
fifty; but his thick beard, reddish and crinkling, his shaggy hair, and
the full-fed ruddiness of his face, with its foundation of heavy jaw,
gave him a more youthful appearance. There was in his eyes, set deep and
so light that they shone like pale blue glass, the staring assurance
that is frequently born of power. In his hand he carried a huge
metal-knobbed stick.

In an instant Nathaniel had recovered himself. He advanced a step,
bowing coolly.

"I am Captain Plum, of the sloop _Typhoon_," he said. "I called at your
home a short time ago and was directed to your office. As a stranger on
the island I did not know that you had an office or I would have come
here first."

"Ah!"

The king drew his right foot back half a pace and bowed so low that
Nathaniel saw only the crown of his hat. When he raised his head the
aggressive stare had gone out of his eyes and a welcoming smile lighted
up his face as he advanced with extended hand.

"I am glad to see you, Captain Plum."

His voice was deep and rich, filled with that wonderful vibratory power
which seems to strike and attune the hidden chords of one's soul. The
man's appearance had not prepossessed Nathaniel, but at the sound of his
voice he recognized that which had made him the prophet of men. As the
warm hand of the king clasped his own Captain Plum knew that he was in
the presence of a master of human destinies, a man whose ponderous
red-visaged body was simply the crude instrument through which spoke the
marvelous spirit that had enslaved thousands to him, that had enthralled
a state legislature and that had hypnotized a federal jury into giving
him back his freedom when evidence smothered him in crime. He felt
himself sinking in the presence of this man and struggled fiercely to
regain himself. He withdrew his hand and straightened himself like a
soldier.

"I have come to you with a grievance, Mr. Strang," he began. "A
grievance which I feel sure you will do your best to right. Perhaps you
are aware that some little time ago--about two weeks back--your people
boarded my ship in force and robbed me of several thousand dollars'
worth of merchandise."

Strang had drawn a step back.

"Aware of it!" he exclaimed in a voice that shook the room. "Aware of
it!" The red of his face turned purple and he clenched his free hand in
sudden passion. "Aware of it!" He repeated the words, this time so
gently that Nathaniel could scarcely hear them, and tapped his heavy
stick upon the floor. "No, Captain Plum, I was not aware of it. If I
_had_ been--" He shrugged his thick shoulders. The movement, and a
sudden gleam of his teeth through his beard, were expressive enough for
Nathaniel to understand.

Then the king smiled.

"Are you sure--are you _quite_ sure, Captain Plum, that it was my people
who attacked your ship? If so, of course you must have some proof?"

"We were very near to Beaver Island and many miles from the mainland,"
said Nathaniel. "It could only have been your people."

"Ah!"

Strang led the way to a table at the farther end of the room and
motioned Nathaniel to a seat opposite him.

"We are a much persecuted people, Captain Plum, very much persecuted
indeed." His wonderful voice trembled with a subdued pathos. "We have
answered for many sins that have never been ours, Captain Plum, and
among them are robbery, piracy and even murder. The people along the
coasts are deadly enemies to us--who would be their friends; they commit
crimes in our name and we do not retaliate. It was not my people who
waylaid your vessel. They were fishermen, probably, who came from the
Michigan shore and awaited their opportunity off Beaver Island. But I
shall investigate this; believe me, I shall investigate this fully,
Captain Plum!"

Nathaniel felt something like a great choking fist shoot up into his
throat. It was not a sensation of fear but of humiliation--the
humiliation of defeat, the knowledge of his own weakness in the hands of
this man who had so quickly and so surely blocked his claim. His quick
brain saw the futility of argument. He possessed no absolute proof and
he had thought that he needed none. Strang saw the flash of doubt in his
face, the hesitancy in his answer; he divined the working of the other's
brain and in his soft voice, purring with friendship, he followed up his
triumph.

"I sympathize with you," he spoke gently, "and my sympathy and word
shall help you. We do not welcome strangers among us, for strangers have
usually proved themselves our enemies and have done us wrong. But to you
I give the freedom of our kingdom. Search where you will, at what hours
you will, and when you have found a single proof that your stolen
property is among my people--when you have seen a face that you
recognize as one of the robbers, return to me and I shall make
restitution and punish the evil-doers."

So intensely he spoke, so filled with reason and truth were his words,
that Nathaniel thrust out his hand in token of acceptance of the king's
terms. And as Strang gripped that hand Captain Plum saw the young girl's
face over the prophet's shoulder--a face, white as death in its terror,
that told him all he had heard was a lie.

"And when you have done with my people," continued the king, "you will
go among that other race, along the mainland, where men have thrown off
the restraints of society to give loose reign to lust and avarice; where
the Indian is brutified that his wife may be intoxicated by compulsion
and prostituted by violence before his eyes; where the forest cabins and
the streets of towns are filled with half-breeds; where there stalk
wretches with withered and tearless eyes, who are in nowise troubled by
recollection of robbery, rape and murder. And _there_ you will find whom
you are looking for!"

Strang had risen to his feet. His eyes blazed with the fire of smothered
hatred and passion and his great voice rolled through his beard,
tremulous with excitement, but still deep and rich, like the booming of
some melodious instrument. He flung aside his hat as he paced back and
forth; his shaggy hair fell upon his shoulders; huge veins stood out
upon his forehead--and Nathaniel sat mute as he watched this lion of a
man whose great throat quivered with the power that might have stirred a
nation--that might have made him president instead of king. He waited
for the thunder of that throat and his nerves keyed themselves to meet
its bursting passion. But when Strang spoke again it was in a voice as
soft and as gentle as a woman's.

"Those are the men who have vilified us, Captain Plum; who have covered
us with crimes that we have never committed; who have driven our people
into groups that they may be free from depredation; who watch like
vultures to despoil our women; wild wifeless men, Captain Plum, who have
left families and character behind them and who have sought the
wilderness to escape the penalties of law and order. It is they who
would destroy us. Go among my own people first, Captain Plum, and find
your lost property if you can; and if you can not discover it where in
seven years not one child has been born out of wedlock, seek among the
Lamanites--and my sheriffs shall follow where you place the crime!"

He had stretched out his arms like one whose plea was of life and death;
his face shone with earnestness; his low words throbbed as if his heart
were borne upon them for the inspection of its truth and honor. He was
Strang the tragedian, the orator, the conqueror of a legislature, a
governor, a dozen juries--and of human souls. And as he stood silent for
a moment in this attitude Nathaniel rose to his feet, subservient, and
believing as others had believed in the fitness of this man. But as his
eyes traveled a dozen paces beyond, he saw the young girl gesturing to
him in that same terror, and holding up for him to see a slip of paper
upon which she had written. And when she had caught his eyes she
crumpled the paper into a shapeless ball and tossed it just over the
landing to the ground below the stair.

"I thank you for the privileges of the island which you have offered
me," said Nathaniel, putting on his hat, "and I shall certainly take
advantage of your kindness for a few hours, as I want very much to
witness one of your ceremonies which I understand is to take place
to-day. Then, if I have discovered nothing, I shall return to my ship."

"Ah, you wish to see the whipping?" The king smiled his approval. "That
is one way we have of punishing slight misdemeanors in our kingdom,
Captain Plum. It is an illustration of our intolerance of evil-doers."
He turned suddenly toward the girl. "Winnsome, my dear, have you copied
the paper I was at work on? I wish to show it to Captain Plum."

He walked slowly toward her and for the first time since her warning
Nathaniel had an opportunity of observing the girl without fear of
being perceived by the prophet. She was very young, hardly more than a
child he would have guessed at first; and yet at a second and more
careful glance he knew that she could not be under fifteen--perhaps
sixteen. Her whole attire was one to add to her childish appearance. Her
hair, which was rather short, fell in lustrous dark curls about her face
and upon her neck. She wore a fitted coat-like blouse, and knee skirts
which disclosed a pretty pair of legs and ankles. As Strang was
returning with the paper which she handed to him the girl turned her
face to Captain Plum. Her mouth was formed into a round red O and she
pointed anxiously to where she had thrown the note. The king's eyes were
on his paper and Nathaniel nodded to assure her that he understood.

"I am like a gardener who compels every passing neighbor to go into his
back yard and admire his first sprouts," laughed the prophet jovially.
"In other words, I do a little writing, and I take a kind of childish
joy in making other people read it. But I see this is not in proper
shape, so you have escaped. It is a brief history of Beaver Island
written at the request of the Smithsonian Institute, which has already
published an article of mine. If you happen to be on the island
to-morrow and should you return to this office I shall certainly have
you read it if I have to call all of my sheriffs into service!"

He laughed with such open good-humor that Nathaniel found himself
smiling despite the varied unpleasant sensations within him. "Do you
write much?" he asked.

"I get out a daily paper," said the king rather proudly, "and of course,
as prophet, I am the translator of what word may be handed down to us
from Heaven for the direction and commandment of my people. I hold the
secret of the Urim and Thummin, which was first delivered by angels into
the hands of Joseph, and with it have revealed the word of God as it
appears in a book which I have written. Ah--I had forgotten this!" From
among a mass of papers and books on the table he drew forth a
blue-covered pamphlet and passed it to his companion. "I have only a few
copies left but you may have this one, Captain Plum. It will surely
interest you. In it I have set forth the troubles existing between my
own people and the cyprian-rotted criminals that infest Mackinac and the
mainland and have described our struggle for chastity and honor against
these human vultures. It was published two years ago. But conditions are
different to-day. Now--now I am king, and the oppressors in the filth of
their crime have become the oppressed!"

The last words boomed from him in a slogan of triumph and as if in
echoing mockery there came from the open door the chuckling, mirthless
laugh of Obadiah Price.

"Yea--yea--even into the land of the Lamanites are you king!"

At the sound of his voice Strang turned toward him and the sonorous
triumph that rumbled in his throat faded to a low greeting. And
Nathaniel saw that the little old councilor's eyes glittered boldly as
they met the prophet's and that in their glance was neither fear nor
servitude but rather a light as of master meeting master. The two
advanced and clasped hands and a few low words passed between them while
Nathaniel went to the door.

"I will go with you, Captain Nathaniel Plum," called Obadiah. "I will go
with you and show you the town."

"The councilor will be your friend," added Strang. "To-day he carries
with him that authority from the king."

He bowed and Nathaniel passed through the door. Looking back he caught a
last warning flash from the girl's eyes. As he hurried down the stair he
heard the councilor pause for an instant upon the landing and taking
advantage of this opportunity he picked up the bit of crumpled paper,
and read these lines:

"Hurry to your ship. In another hour men will be watching for an
opportunity to kill you. You will never leave the island alive--_unless
you go now_. The girl you saw through the window sends you this
warning."

He thrust the paper into his coat pocket as Obadiah came up behind him.

"Ho, ho, Nat, my boy, I have come fast to catch you--I have come fast!"
he whispered. He caught his companion by the arm and Nathaniel felt his
hand trembling violently. "Come this way, Nat--beyond the temple. I have
things to say to you." His voice was strangely unnatural and when
Captain Plum looked down into his face the look in the bead-like eyes
startled him. "Nat, you must hurry away with the package!"

"So I understand--if I save my skin. Obadiah Price, I have a notion to
kill you!"

They had passed beyond the huge edifice of logs, and as he stopped,
hidden from the view of the king's office, Nathaniel caught the
councilor's arm in a grip that crushed to the bone.

"I have a notion to kill you!" he repeated.

The old man stood unflinching. Not a muscle of his face quivered as the
captain's fingers sank into his flesh.

"At the first sign of treachery, at the first sign of danger to myself,
I shall shoot you dead!" he finished.

"You may, Nat, you may. From this moment until you leave the island I
shall be at your side and no harm shall come to you. But if there
should, Nat, or if there should come a moment when you believe that I am
your enemy--shoot me!" There was sincerity in his voice that carried
conviction to Nathaniel's heart and he released his hold upon the
councilor's arm. Regardless of the mystery that surrounded him he
believed in Obadiah. But there rose in his breast a mad desire to choke
this old man into telling him the truth, to force him to reveal the
secrets of this strange plot into which he had been drawn and of which
he knew as little as when he first set foot in Strang's kingdom. Yet he
realized even as the desire formed itself in his brain that such an
effort would be useless.

"If you had remained at the cabin, Nat, you would have known that I was
your friend," continued Obadiah. "She would have come to you, but
now--it is impossible. You know. You have been warned?"

Nathaniel drew Winnsome's note from his pocket and read it aloud.
Obadiah smiled gleefully when he noticed how carefully he kept the
handwriting from his eyes.

"Ah, Nat, you are a noble fellow!" he cried, rubbing his hands in his
old tireless way. "You would not betray pretty little Winn, eh? And who
do you suppose told Winnsome to give you this note?"

"Strang's wife."

"Yea, even so. And it was she who set my old legs a-running for you, my
boy. Come, let us move!"

The little councilor was his old self again, chuckling and grimacing and
rubbing his hands, and his eyes danced as he spoke of the girl.

"Casey is not a cautious man," he gurgled with a sudden upward leer.
"Casey is a fool!"

"Casey!" almost shouted Captain Plum. "What the devil do you mean?"

"Ho, ho, ho--haven't you guessed the truth yet, Nat? While you and I
were getting acquainted last night a couple of fishermen from the
mainland dropped alongside your sloop. They had been robbed by the
Mormon pirates! They cursed Strang. They swore vengeance. And your
cautious Casey cursed with 'em, and fed 'em, and drank with 'em--and he
would have had them stay until morning only they were anxious to hurry
with their report to Strang. Understand, Nat? Eh? Do you understand?"

"What did Casey tell them?" gasped Nathaniel.

Obadiah hunched his shoulders.

"Enough to warrant a bullet through your head, Nat. Cheerful, isn't it?
But we'll fool them, Nat, we'll fool them! You shall board your ship and
hurry away with the package, and then you shall make love to Strang's
wife--_for she will go with you!_"

He stopped to enjoy the amazement that was written in every lineament of
the other's face. The red blood surged into Nathaniel's neck and
deepened on his bronze cheeks. Slowly the reaction came. When he spoke
there was an uneasy gleam in his eyes and his voice was as hard as
steel.

"She will go with me, Councilor! And why?"

Obadiah had laughed softly as he watched the change. Suddenly he jerked
himself erect.

"Sh-h-h!" he whispered. "Keep cool, Nat! Don't show any excitement or
fear. Here comes the man who is to kill you!"

He made no move save with his eyes.

"He is coming to speak with me and to get a good look at you," he added
in excited haste. "Appear friendly. Agree with what I say. He is the
chief of sheriffs, the king's murderer--Arbor Croche!"

He turned as if he had just seen the approaching figure. And he
whispered softly, "Winnsome's father!"

Arbor Croche! Nathaniel gave an involuntary shudder as he turned with
Obadiah. Croche, chief of sheriffs, scourge of the mainland--the Attila
of the Mormon kingdom, whose very name caused the women of the shores to
turn white and on whose head the men had secretly set a price in gold!
Without knowing it his hand went under his coat. Obadiah saw the
movement and as he advanced to meet the officer of the king he jerked
the arm back fiercely. Half a dozen paces away the chief of sheriffs
paused and bowed low. But the councilor stood erect, as he had stood
before the king, smiling and nodding his head.

"Ah, Croche," he greeted, "good morning!"

"Good morning, Councilor!"

"Sheriff, I would have you meet Captain Nathaniel Plum, master of the
sloop _Typhoon_. Captain Plum this is His Majesty's officer, Arbor
Croche!"

The two men advanced and shook hands. Nathaniel stood half a head above
the sheriff, who, like his master, the king, was short and of massive
build, though a much younger man. He was a dark lowering hulk of a
creature, with black eyes, black hair, and a hand-clasp that showed him
possessed of great strength.

"You are a stranger, Captain Plum?"

The councilor replied quickly.

"He has never been at St. James before, sheriff. I have invited him to
stay over to see the whipping. By the way--" he shot a suggestive look
at the Officer. "By the way, Croche, I want you to see him safely aboard
his sloop to-night. His ship is at the lower end of the island, and if
you will detail a couple of men just before dusk--an escort, you know--"

Nathaniel felt a curious thrill creep up his spine at the satisfaction
which betrayed itself in the officer's black face.

"It will give me great pleasure, Councilor," he interrupted. "I shall
escort you myself if you will allow me, Captain Plum!"

"Thank you," said Nathaniel.

"Captain Plum is to remain with me throughout the day," added Obadiah.
"Come at seven--to my place. Ah, I see that people are assembling near
the jail!"

"We have changed our plans somewhat, Councilor." The officer turned to
Nathaniel. "You will see the whipping within half an hour, Captain
Plum." He turned away with another bow to the councilor and hastened in
the direction of Strang's office.

"So that is the gentleman who thinks he is going to put a bullet through
me!" exclaimed Nathaniel when the officer had gone beyond hearing. He
laughed, and there was a kind of wild expectant joy in his voice.
"Obadiah, can you not make arrangements for him to go with me alone?"

"He will not go with you at all, Nat," gloated the old man. "Ho, ho, we
are playing at his own game--treachery. When he calls at my place you
will be aboard ship."

"But I should like to have a talk with him--alone, and in the woods.
God--I know a man at Grand Traverse Bay whose wife and daughter--"

"Sh-h-h-h!" interrupted the councilor. "Would you kill little Winnsome's
father?"

"Her father? That animal! That murderer! Is it true?"

"But you should have seen her mother, Nat, you should have seen her
mother!" The old man twisted his hands, like a miser ravished by the
sight of gold. "She was beautiful--as beautiful as a wild flower, and
she killed herself three years ago to save the birth of another child
into this hell. Little Winn is like her mother, Nat."

"And she lives with him?"

"Er, yes--and guarded, oh, so carefully guarded by Strang, Nat! Yes, I
guess that some day she will be a queen."

"Great God!" cried the young man. "And you--you live in this cesspool of
sin and still believe in a Heaven?"

"Yes, I believe in a Heaven. And my reward there shall be great. Ho, ho,
I am taking no middle road, Nat!"

They had passed in a semicircle beyond the temple and now approached a
squat building constructed of logs, which Obadiah had pointed out as the
jail. A glance satisfied Nathaniel that it was so situated that an
admirable view of the proceedings could be obtained from the rear of the
structure in which Strang had his office. Several score of people had
already assembled about the prison and stood chatting with that tense
interest and anticipation with which the mob always awaits public
infliction of the law's penalties. A third of them were women. As
Nathaniel had previously noted, the feminine part of the Mormon
population wore their hair either in braids down their backs or in thick
curls flowing over their shoulders and with the exception of three or
four were attired in skirts that just concealed their knees. Obadiah
halted his companion close to a group of half a dozen of these women and
nudged him slyly.

"Pretty sight, eh, Nat?" he chuckled. "Ah, the king has a wonderful eye
for beauty, Nat--wonderful eye! He orders that no skirt shall fall below
the female knee. Ho, ho, if he dared, if he _quite_ dared, Nat!"

He nudged Nathaniel again with such enthusiasm that the latter jumped as
though a knife had been thrust between his ribs.

"By George, I admire his taste!" he laughed. The women caught him
staring at them, and one, who was the youngest and prettiest of the lot,
smiled invitingly.

"Tush--the Jezebel!" snapped Obadiah, catching the look. "That's her
child playing just beyond."

The young woman tossed her head and her white teeth gleamed in a laugh,
as though she had overheard the old councilor's words.

"See her twist her hair," he snarled venomously as the young woman,
still boldly eying Nathaniel, played with the luxuriant curls that
glistened in the sun upon her breast. "Ezra Wilton is so fond of her
that he will take no other wife. Ugh, Strang is a fool!"

Nathaniel turned away from the smiling eyes with a shrug.

"Why?"

"To tell our women that it helps to save their souls to wear short
skirts and let their hair hang down. For every soul of a woman that it
saves it sends two men on the road to hell!"

So intense was the old man's displeasure and so ludicrous the twisting
contortions of his face that Nathaniel could hardly restrain himself
from bursting into a roar of laughter. Obadiah perceived his inclination
and with an angry bob of his head led the way through to the inner edge
of the waiting circle of men. Within this circle, in a small open space,
was a short post with straps attached to an arm nailed across it, and
leaning upon this post in an attitude of one who possesses a most
distinguished office was a young man with a three thonged whip in his
hand. An ominous silence pervaded the circle, with the exception of the
hushed whispering of a number of women who had forced themselves into
the line of spectators, bent upon witnessing the sight of blood as well
as hearing the sound of lashes. Nathaniel noticed that most of the women
hung in frightened curiosity beyond the men.

"That is MacDougall with the lash--official whipper and caretaker of the
slave hounds," explained Obadiah in a whisper.

Nathaniel gave a start of horror.

"Slave hounds!" he breathed.

The councilor grinned and twisted his hands, in enjoyment of his
companion's surprise.

"We have the finest pack of bloodhounds north of Louisiana," he
continued, so low that only Nathaniel could hear. "See! Isn't the earth
worn smooth and hard about that post?"

Nathaniel looked and his blood grew hot.

"I have seen such things in the South," he said. "But not--for white
men!"

The councilor caught him by the arm.

"They are coming!"

In the direction of the jail the crowd was separating. Men crushed back
on each side, forming a narrow aisle, even the whispering of the women
ceased. A moment later three men appeared in the opening between the
spectators. One of these, who walked between the other two, was stripped
to the waist. About each of his naked wrists was tied a leather thong
and these thongs were held by the man's guards. The prisoner's face was
livid; his hands were red with blood that dripped from his lacerated
wrists; his eyes glared malignantly and his heaving chest showed that
he had not been brought from the log prison without a struggle.

"Ah, it's Wittle first!" breathed the councilor. "It's he who said his
wife should not wear short skirts."

At the edge of the circle the prisoner hesitated and the muscles in his
arms and chest grew rigid. Those of the crowd nearest to him drew back.
Then a sudden change swept over the man's features and he walked quickly
to the stake and kneeled before it. The thongs about his wrists were
tied to the straps of the cross-piece and the whipper took his position.
As the first lash fell, a cry burst from the lips of the victim. When
the whip descended again he was silent. A curious sensation of sickness
crept over Nathaniel as he saw the red gashes thicken on the white
flesh. Five times--six times--seven times the whip rose and fell and he
could see the blood starting. In horror he turned his eyes away. Behind
him a man grinned at the whiteness of his face and the involuntary
trembling of his lips. Again and again he heard the lash fall upon the
naked back. From near him there came the sobbing moan of a woman. A
subdued movement, a sound as of murmuring wordless voices swept through
the throng. A steady glitter filled the eyes of the man who had laughed
at him--and he turned again to the stake. The man's back was dripping
blood. Great red seams lay upon his shoulders and a single lash had cut
his bowed neck. Another stroke, more fierce than the others, and
MacDougall turned away from the figure at the post, breathing hard. The
guards unfastened the victim's wrist-thongs and the man staggered to his
feet. As he swayed down through the path that opened for him his crimson
back shone in the sun.

"Great God!" gasped Nathaniel.

He turned to Obadiah and was startled by the appearance of the old man.
The councilor's face was ghastly. His mouth twitched and his body
trembled. Nathaniel took his arm sympathetically.

"Hadn't we better go, Dad?" he whispered.

"No--no--no--not yet, Nat. It's--it's--Neil now and I must see how the
boy--stands it!"

It was but a short time before the guards returned. This time their
prisoner walked free and erect. The thongs dangled from his wrists and
he was a pace ahead of the two men who accompanied him. He was a young
man. Nathaniel judged his age at twenty-five. He was a striking contrast
to the man who had suffered first at the post. His face instead of
betraying the former's pallor was flushed with excitement; his head was
held high; not a sign of fear or hesitation shone in his eyes. As he
glanced quickly around the circle of faces the flush grew deeper in his
cheeks. He nodded and smiled at MacDougall and in that nod and smile
there was a meaning that sent a shiver to the whip-master's heart. Then
his eyes fell upon Obadiah and Nathaniel. He saw the councilor's hand
resting upon the young captain's arm and a flash of understanding passed
over his face. For an instant the eyes of the two young men met. The man
at the post took half a step forward. His lips moved as if he was on the
point of speaking, the defiant smile went out of his face, the flush
faded in his cheeks. Then he turned quickly and held out his hands to
the guards.

As the young man kneeled before the post Nathaniel heard a smothered sob
at his side which he knew came from Obadiah.

"Come, Dad," he said softly. "I can't stand this. Let's get away!"

He shoved the councilor back. The lash whistled through the air behind
him. As it fell there came a piercing cry. It was a woman's voice, and
with a snarl like that of a tortured animal the old man struck down
Nathaniel's arm and clawed his way back to the edge of the line. On the
opposite side there was a surging in the crowd and as MacDougall raised
his whip a woman burst through.

"My God!" cried Nathaniel, "it's--"

He left the rest of the words unspoken. His veins leaped with fire. A
single sweep of his powerful arms and he had forced himself through the
innermost line of spectators. Within a dozen feet of him stood Strang's
wife, her beautiful hair disheveled, her face deadly white, her bosom
heaving as if she had been running. In a moment her eyes had taken in
the situation--the man at the stake, the upraised lash--and Nathaniel.
With a sobbing, breathless cry, she flung herself in front of MacDougall
and threw her arms around the kneeling man, her hair covering him in a
glistening veil. For an instant her eyes were raised to Nathaniel and he
saw in them that same agonized appeal that had called to him through the
king's window. The striking muscles of his arms tightened like steel.
One of the guards sprang forward and caught the girl roughly by the arm
and attempted to drag her away. In his excitement he pulled her head
back and her hair trailed in the dirt. The sight was maddening. From
Nathaniel's throat there came a fierce cry and in a single leap he had
cleared the distance to the guard and had driven his fist against the
officer's head with the sickening force of a sledge-hammer. The man fell
without a groan. In another flash he had drawn his knife and severed the
thongs that held the man at the stake. For a moment his face was very
near the girl's and he saw her lips form the glad cry which he did not
wait to hear.

He turned like an enraged beast toward the circle of dumfounded
spectators and launched himself at the second guard. From behind him
there sounded a shout and he caught the gleam of naked shoulders as the
man who had been at the stake rushed to his side. Together they tore
through the narrow rim of the crowd, striking at the faces which
appeared before them, their terrific blows driving men right and left.

"This way, Neil!" shouted Nathaniel. "This way--to the ship!"

They raced up the slope that led from the town to the forest. Even the
king's officer, palsied by the suddenness of the attack, had not
followed. From a screened window in the king's building two men had
witnessed the exciting scene near the jail. One of these men was Strang.
The other was Arbor Croche. At another window a few feet away, hidden
from their eyes by a high desk and masses of papers and books, Winnsome
Croche was crumpled up on the floor hardly daring to breathe through
fear of betraying her presence. From these windows they had seen the
girl run from behind the jail; they had watched her struggle through the
line of spectators, saw Nathaniel leap forward--saw the quick blow, the
gleaming knife, and the escape. So suddenly had it all occurred that not
a sound escaped the two astonished men. But as Nathaniel and Neil burst
through the crowd and sped toward the forest Strang's great voice
boomed forth like the rumble of a gun.

"Arbor Croche, overtake those men--and kill them!"

With a wild curse the chief of sheriffs dashed down the stairway and as
she heard him go the terror of Winnsome's heart seemed to turn her blood
cold. She knew what that command meant. She knew that her father would
obey it. As the daughter of the chief of sheriffs more than one burning
secret was hidden in her breast, more than one of those frightful
daggers that had pricked at the soul of her mother until they had
murdered her. And the chief of them all was this: that to Arbor Croche
the words of Strang were the words of God and that if the prophet said
kill, he would kill. For a full minute she crouched in her concealment,
stunned by the horror that had so quickly taken the place of the joy
with which she had witnessed the escape. She heard Strang leave the
window, heard his heavy steps in the outer room, heard the door close,
and knew that he, too, was gone. She sprang to her feet and ran to the
window at which the two men had stood. The chief of sheriffs was already
at the jail. The crowd had begun to disperse. Men were swarming like
ants up the long slope reaching to the forest. Three or four of the
leaders were running and she knew that they were hot in pursuit of the
fugitives. Others were following more slowly and among these she saw
that there were women. As she looked there came a sound from the stair.
She recognized the step. She recognized the voice that called her name a
moment later and with a despairing cry she turned with outstretched arms
to greet the girl for whom Nathaniel had interrupted the king's
whipping.



CHAPTER V

THE MYSTERY


Hardly had Nathaniel fought his way through the thin crowd of startled
spectators about the whipping-post before the enormity of his offense in
interrupting the king's justice dawned upon him. He was not sorry that
he had responded to the mute appeal of the girl who had entered so
strangely into his life. He rejoiced at the spirit that had moved him to
action, that had fired his blood and put the strength of a giant in his
arms; and his nerves tingled with an unreasoning joy that he had leaped
all barriers which in cooler moments would have restrained him, and
which fixed in his excited brain only the memory of the beautiful face
that had sought his own in those crucial moments of its suffering. The
girl had turned to him and to him alone among all those men. He had
heard her voice, he had felt the soft sweep of her hair as he severed
the prisoner's thongs, he had caught the flash of her eyes and the
movement of her lips as he dashed himself into the crowd. And as he sped
swiftly up the slope he considered himself amply repaid for all that he
had done. His blood was stirred as if by the fire of sharp wines; he was
still in a tension of fighting excitement. Yet no sooner had he fought
himself clear of the mob than his better judgment leaped into the
ascendency. If danger had been lurking for him before it was doubly
threatening now and he was sufficiently possessed of the common spirit
of self-preservation to exult at the speed with which he was enabled to
leave pursuit behind. A single glance over his shoulder assured him that
the man whom he had saved from the prophet's wrath was close at his
heels. His first impulse was to direct his flight toward Obadiah's
cabin; his second to follow the path that led to his ship. At this hour
some of his men would surely be awaiting him in a small boat and once
aboard the _Typhoon_ he could continue his campaign against the Mormon
king with better chances of success than as a lone fugitive on the
island. Besides, he knew what Casey would do at sundown.

At the top of the slope he stopped and waited for the other to come up
to him.

"I've got a ship off there," he called, pointing inland. "Take a short
cut for the point at the head of the island. There's a boat waiting for
us!"

Neil came up panting. He was breathing so hard that for a moment he
found it impossible to speak but in his eyes there was a look that told
his unbounded gratitude. They were clear, fearless eyes, with the blue
glint of steel in them and, as he held out his hands to Nathaniel, they
were luminous with the joy of his deliverance.

"Thank you, Captain Plum!"

He spoke his companion's name with the assurance of one who had known
it for a long time. "If they loose the dogs there will be no time for
the ship," he added, with a suggestive hunch of his naked shoulders.
"Follow me!"

There was no alarm in his voice and Nathaniel caught the flashing gleam
of white teeth as Neil smiled grimly back at him, running in the lead.
From the man's eyes the master of the _Typhoon_ had sized up his
companion as a fighter. The smile--daring, confident, and yet signaling
their danger--assured him that he was right, and he followed close
behind without question. A dozen rods up the path Neil turned into a
dense thicket of briars and underbrush and for ten minutes they plunged
through the pathless jungle. Now and then Nathaniel saw the three red
stripes of the whipper's lash upon the bare shoulders of the man ahead
and to these every step seemed to add new wounds made by the thorns. As
they came out upon an old roadway the captain stripped off his coat and
Neil thrust himself into it as they ran.

Even in these first minutes of their flight Nathaniel was thrilled by
another thought than that of the peril behind them. Whom had he saved?
Who was this clear-eyed young fellow for whom the girl had so openly
sacrificed herself at the whipping-post, about whom she had thrown her
arms and covered with the protection of her glorious hair? With his joy
at having served her there was mingled a chilling doubt as these
questions formed themselves in his mind. Obadiah's vague suggestions,
the scene in the king's room, the night visits of the girl to the
councilor's cabin--and last of all this incident at the jail flashed
upon him now with another meaning, with a significance that slowly
cooled the enthusiasm in his veins. He was sure that he was near the
solution of the mysterious events in which he had become involved, and
yet this knowledge brought with it something of apprehension, something
which made him anticipate and yet dread the moment when the fugitive
ahead would stop in his flight, and he might ask him those questions
which would at least relieve him of his burden of doubt. They had
traveled a mile through forest unbroken by path or road when Neil halted
on the edge of a little stream that ran into a swamp. Pointing into the
tangled fen with a confident smile he plunged to his waist in the water
and waded slowly through the slough into the gloom of the densest alder.
A few minutes later he turned in to the shore and the soft bog gave
place to firm ground. Before Nathaniel had cleared the stream he saw his
companion drop to his knees beside a fallen log and when he came up to
him he was unwrapping a piece of canvas from about a gun. With a warning
gesture he rose to his feet and for twenty seconds the men stood and
listened. No sound came to them but the chirp of a startled squirrel and
the barking of a dog in the direction of St. James.

"They haven't turned out the dogs yet," said Neil, holding a hand
against his heaving chest. "If they do they can't reach us through that
slough." He leaned his rifle against the log and again thrusting an arm
into the place where it had been concealed drew forth a small box.

"Powder and ball--and grub!" he laughed. "You see I am a sort of
revolutionist and have my hiding-places. To-morrow--I will be a martyr."
He spoke as quietly as though his words but carried a careless jest.

"A martyr?" laughed Nathaniel, looking down into the smiling, sweating
face.

"Yes, to-morrow I shall kill Strang."

There was no excitement in Neil's voice as he stood erect. The smile did
not leave his lips. But in his eyes there shone that which neither words
nor smiling lips revealed, a reckless, blazing fury hidden deep in
them--so deep that Nathaniel stared to assure himself what it was. The
other saw the doubt in his face.

"To-morrow I shall kill Strang," he repeated. "I shall kill him with
this gun from under the window of his house through which you saw
Marion."

"Marion!" exclaimed Nathaniel. "Marion--" He leaned forward eagerly,
questioning. "Tell me--"

"My sister, Captain Plum!"

It seemed to Nathaniel that every fiber in his body was stretched to the
breaking point. He reached out, dazed by what he had heard and with both
hands seized Neil's arm.

"Your sister--who came to you at the whipping-post?"

"That was Marion."

"And--Strang's wife?"

"No!" cried Neil. "No--not his wife!" He drew back from Nathaniel's
touch as if the question had stabbed him to the heart. The passion that
had slumbered in his eyes burst into savage flame and his face became
suddenly terrible to look upon. There was hatred there such as Nathaniel
had never seen; a ferocious, pitiless hatred that sent a shuddering
thrill through him as he stood before it. After a moment the clenched
fist that had risen above Neil's head dropped to his side. Half
apologetically he held out his hand to his companion.

"Captain Plum, we've got a lot to thank you for, Marion and I," he said,
a tremble of the passing emotion in his voice. "Obadiah told Marion that
help might come to us through you and Marion brought the word to me at
the jail late last night--after she had seen you at the window. The old
councilor kept his word! You have saved her!"

"Saved her!" gasped Nathaniel. "From what? How?" A hundred questions
seemed leaping from his heart to his lips.

"From Strang. Good God, don't you understand? I tell you that I am going
to kill Strang!"

Neil stood as though appalled by his companion's incomprehension. "I am
going to kill Strang, I tell you!" he cried again, the fire burning
deeper through the sweat of his cheeks.

Nathaniel's bewilderment still shone in his face.

"She is not Strang's wife," he spoke softly, as if to himself. "And she
is not--" His face flushed as he nearly spoke the words. "Obadiah lied!"
He looked squarely into Neil's eyes. "No, I don't understand you. The
councilor said that she--that Marion was Strang's wife. He told me
nothing more than that, nothing of her trouble, nothing about you. Until
this moment I have been completely mystified. Only her eyes led me to
do--what I did at the jail."

Neil gazed at him in astonishment.

"Obadiah told--you--nothing?" he asked incredulously.

"Not a word about you or Marion except that Marion was the king's
seventh wife. But he hinted at many things and kept me on the trail,
always expecting, always watching, and yet every hour was one of
mystery. I am in the darkest of it at this instant. What does it all
mean? Why are you going to kill Strang? Why--"

Neil interrupted him with a cry so poignant in its wretchedness that
the last question died upon his lips.

"I thought that the councilor had told you all," he said. "I thought you
knew." The disappointment in his voice was almost despair. "Then--it was
only accidentally--you helped us?"

"Only accidentally that I helped _you_--yes! But Marion--" Nathaniel
crushed Neil's hand in both his own and his eyes betrayed more than he
would have said. "I've got an armed ship and a dozen men out there and
if I can help Marion by blowing up St. James--I'll do it!"

For a time only the tense breathing of the two broke the silence of
their lips. They looked into each other's face, Nathaniel with all the
eagerness of the passion with which Marion had stirred his soul, Neil
half doubting, as if he were trying to find in this man's eyes the
friendship which he had not questioned a few minutes before.

"Obadiah told you nothing?" he asked again, as if still unbelieving.

"Nothing."

"And you have not seen Marion--to talk with her?"

"No."

Nathaniel had dropped his companion's hand, and now Neil walked to the
log and sat down with his face turned in the direction from which their
pursuers must come if they entered the swamp.

Suddenly the memory of Obadiah's note shot into Nathaniel's head, the
councilor's admonition, his allusion to a visitor. With this memory
there recurred to him Obadiah's words at the temple, "If you had
remained at the cabin, Nat, you would have known that I was your friend.
She would have come to you, but now--it is impossible." For the first
time the truth began to dawn upon him. He went and sat down beside Neil.

"I am beginning to understand--a little," he said. "Obadiah had planned
that I should meet Marion, but I was a fool and spoiled his scheme. If I
had done as he told me I should have seen her this morning."

In a few words he reviewed the events of the preceding evening and of
that morning--of his coming to the island, his meeting with Obadiah, and
of the singular way in which he had become interested in Marion. He
omitted the oaths but told of Winnsome's warning and of his interview
with the Mormon king. When he spoke of the girl as he had seen her
through the king's window, and of her appealing face turned to him at
the jail, his voice trembled with an excitement that deepened the flush
in Neil's cheeks.

"Captain Plum, I thank God that you like Marion," he said simply. "After
I kill Strang will you help her?"

"Yes."

"You are willing to risk--"

"My life--my men--my ship!"

Nathaniel spoke like one to whom there had been suddenly opened the
portals to a great joy. He sprang to his feet and stood before Neil, his
whole being throbbing with the emotions which had been awakened within
him.

"Good God, why don't you tell me what her peril is?" he cried, no longer
restraining himself. "Why are you going to kill Strang? Has he--has
he--" His face flamed with the question which he dared not finish.

"No--not that!" interrupted Neil. "He has never laid a hand on Marion.
She hates him as she hates the snakes in this swamp. And yet--next
Sunday she is to become his seventh wife!"

Nathaniel started as if he had been threatened by a blow.

"You mean--he is forcing her into his harem?" he asked.

"No, he can not do that!" exclaimed Neil, the hatred bursting out anew
in his face. "He can not force her into marrying him, and yet--" He
flung his arms above his head in sudden passionate despair. "As there
is a God in Heaven I would give ten years of my life for the secret of
the prophet's power over Marion!" he groaned. "Three months ago her
hatred of him was terrible. She loathed the sight of him. I have seen
her shiver at the sound of his voice. When he asked her to become his
wife she refused him in words that I had believed no person in the
kingdom would dared to have used. Then--less than a month ago--the
change came, and one day she told me that she had made up her mind to
become Strang's wife. From that day her heart was broken. I was
dumfounded. I raged and cursed and even threatened. Once I accused her
of a shameful thing and though I implored her forgiveness a thousand
times I know that she weeps over my brutal words still. But nothing
could change her. On my knees I have pleaded with her, and once she
flung her arms round my shoulders and said, 'Neil, I can not tell you
why I am marrying Strang. But I must.' I went to Strang and demanded an
explanation; I told him that my sister hated him, that the sight of his
face and the sound of his voice filled her with abhorrence, but he only
laughed at me and asked why I objected to becoming the brother-in-law of
a prophet. Day by day I have seen Marion's soul dying within her. Some
terrible secret is gnawing at her heart, robbing her of the very life
which a few weeks ago made her the most beautiful thing on this island;
some dreadful influence is shadowing her every step, and as the day
draws near when she is to join the king's harem I see in her eyes at
times a look that frightens me. There is only one salvation. To-morrow I
shall kill Strang!"

"And then?"

Neil shrugged his shoulders.

"I will shoot him through the abdomen so that he will live to tell his
wives who did the deed. After that I will try to make my escape to the
mainland."

"And Marion--"

"Will not marry Strang! Isn't that plain?"

"You have guessed nothing--no cause for the prophet's power over your
sister?" asked Nathaniel.

"Absolutely nothing. And yet that influence is such that at times the
thought of it freezes the blood in my veins. It is so great that Strang
did not hesitate to throw me into jail on the pretext that I had
threatened his life. Marion implored him to spare me the disgrace of a
public whipping and he replied by reading to her the commandments of the
kingdom. That was last night--when you saw her through the window.
Strang is madly infatuated with her beauty and yet he dares to go to any
length without fear of losing her. She has become his slave. She is as
completely in his power as though bound in iron chains. And the most
terrible thing about it all is that she has constantly urged me to leave
the island--to go, and never return. Great God, what does it all mean? I
love her more than anything else on earth, we have been inseparable
since the day she was old enough to toddle alone--and yet she would have
me leave her! No power on earth can reveal the secret that is torturing
her. No power can make Strang divulge it."

"And Obadiah Price!" cried Nathaniel, sudden excitement flashing in his
eyes. "Does he not know?"

"I believe that he does!" replied Neil, pacing back and forth in his
agitation. "Captain Plum, if there is a man on this island who loves
Marion with all of a father's devotion it is Obadiah Price, and yet he
swears that he knows nothing of the terrible influence which has so
suddenly enslaved her to the prophet! He suggests that it may be
mesmerism, but I--" He interrupted himself with a harsh, mirthless
laugh. "Mesmerism be damned! It's not that!"

"Your sister--is--a Mormon," ventured Nathaniel, remembering what the
prophet had said to him that morning. "Could it be her faith?--a
message revealed through Strang from--"

Neil stopped him almost fiercely.

"Marion is not a Mormon!" he said. "She hates Mormonism as she hates
Strang. I have tried to get her to leave the island with me but she
insists on staying because of the old folk. They are very old, Captain
Plum, and they believe in the prophet and his Heaven as you and I
believe in that blue sky up there. The day before I was arrested I
begged my sister to flee to the mainland with me but she refused with
the words that she had said to me a hundred times before--'Neil, I must
marry the prophet!' Don't you see there is nothing to do--but to kill
Strang?"

Nathaniel thrust his hand into a pocket of the coat he had loaned to
Neil and drew forth his pipe and tobacco pouch. As he loaded the pipe he
looked squarely into the other's eyes and smiled.

"Neil," he said softly. "Do you know that you would have made an awful
fool of yourself if I hadn't hove in sight just when I did?"

He lighted his pipe with exasperating coolness, still smiling over its
bowl.

"You are not going to kill Strang to-morrow," he added, throwing away
the match and placing both hands on Neil's shoulders. His eyes were
laughing with the joy that shone in them. "Neil, I am ashamed of you!
You have worried a devilish lot over a very simple matter. See here--"
He blew a cloud of smoke over the other's head. "I've learned to demand
some sort of pay for my services since I landed on this island. Will you
promise to be--a sort of brother--to me--if I steal Marion and sail away
with her to-night?"



CHAPTER VI

MARION


At Nathaniel's astonishing words Neil stood as though struck suddenly
dumb.

"Don't you see what a very simple case it is?" he continued, enjoying
the other's surprised silence. "You plan to kill Strang to keep Marion
from marrying him. Well, I will hunt up Marion, put her in a bag if
necessary, and carry her to my ship. Isn't that better and safer and
just as sure as murder?"

The excitement had gone out of Neil's face. The flush slowly faded from
his cheeks and in his eyes there gleamed something besides the
malevolence of a few moments before. As Nathaniel stepped back from him
half laughing and puffing clouds of smoke from his pipe Marion's brother
thrust his hands into his pockets with an exclamation that forcefully
expressed his appreciation of Captain Plum's scheme.

"I never thought of that," he added, after a moment. "By Heaven, it will
be easy--"

"So easy that I tell you again I am ashamed of you for not having
thought of it!" cried Nathaniel. "The first thing is to get safely
aboard my ship."

"We can do that within an hour."

"And to-night--where will we find Marion?"

"At home," said Neil. "We live near Obadiah. You must have seen the
house as you came out into the clearing this morning from the forest."

Nathaniel smiled as he thought of his suspicions of the old councilor.

"It couldn't be better situated for our work," he said. "Does the forest
run down to the lake on Obadiah's side of the island?"

"Clear to the beach."

Neil's face betrayed a sudden flash of doubt.

"I believe that our place has been watched for some time," he explained.
"I am sure that it is especially guarded at night and that no person
leaves or enters it without the knowledge of Strang. I am certain that
Marion is aware of this surveillance although she professes to be wholly
ignorant of it. It may cause us trouble."

"Can you reach the house without being observed?"

"After midnight--yes."

"Then there is no cause for alarm," declared Nathaniel. "If necessary I
can bring ten men into the edge of the woods. Two can approach the house
as quietly as one and I will go with you. Once there you can tell Marion
that your life depends on her accompanying you to Obadiah's. I believe
she will go. If she won't--" He stretched out his arms as if in
anticipation of the burden they might hold. "If she won't--I'll help you
carry her!"

"And meanwhile," said Neil, "Arbor Croche's men--"

"Will be as dead as herring floaters if they show up!" he cried, leaping
two feet off the ground in his enthusiasm. "I've got twelve of the
damnedest fighters aboard my ship that ever lived and ten of them will
be in the edge of the woods!"

Neil's eyes were shining with something that made Nathaniel turn his own
to the loading of his pipe.

"Captain Plum, I hope I will be able to repay you for this," he said.
There was a trembling break in his voice and for a moment Nathaniel did
not look up. His own heart was near bursting with the new life that
throbbed within it. When he raised his eyes to his companion's face
again there was a light in them that spoke almost as plainly as words.

"You haven't accepted my price, yet, Neil," he replied quietly. "I asked
you if you'd--be--a sort of brother--"

Neil sprang to his side with a fervor that knocked the pipe out of his
hand.

"I swear that! And if Marion doesn't--"

Suddenly he jerked himself into a listening attitude.

"Hark!"

For a moment the two ceased to breathe. The sound had come to them both,
low, distant. After it there fell a brief hush. Then again, as they
stared questioningly into each other's eyes, it rolled faintly into the
swamp--the deep, far baying of a hound.

"Ah!" exclaimed Neil, drawing back with a deep breath. "I thought they
would do it!"

"The bloodhounds!"

Horror, not fear, sent an involuntary shiver through Nathaniel.

"They can't reach us!" assured Neil. There was the glitter of triumph in
his eyes. "This was to have been my way of escape after I killed Strang.
A quarter of a mile deeper in the swamp I have a canoe." He picked up
the gun and box and began forcing his way through the dense alder along
the edge of the stream. "I'd like to stay and murder those dogs," he
called back, "but it wouldn't be policy."

For a time the crashing of their bodies through the dense growth of the
swamp drowned all other sound. Five minutes later Neil stopped on the
edge of a wide bog. The hounds were giving fierce tongue in the forest
on their left and their nearness sent Nathaniel's hand to his pistol.
Neil saw the movement and laughed.

"Don't like the sound, eh?" he said. "We get used to it on Beaver
Island. They're just about at the place where they tore little Jim
Schredder to pieces a few weeks back. Schredder tried to kill one of the
elders for stealing his wife while he was away on a night's fishing
trip."

He plunged to his knees in the bog.

"They caught him just before he reached the swamp," he flung back over
his shoulder. "Two minutes more and he would have been safe."

Nathaniel, sinking to his knees in the mire, forged up beside him.

"Lord!" he exclaimed, as a breath of air brought a sudden burst of
blood-curdling cries to them. "If they'd loosed them on us sooner--"

He shivered at the terrible grimace Neil turned on him.

"Had they slipped the leashes when we escaped, we would have been with
poor Schredder now, Captain Plum. By the way--" he stopped a moment to
wipe the water and mud from his face, "--three days after they covered
Schredder's bones with muck out there, the elder took Schredder's wife!
She was too pretty for a fisherman." He started on, but halted suddenly
with uplifted hand. No longer could they hear the baying of the dogs.
"They've struck the creek!" said Neil. "Listen!"

After an interval of silence there came a long mournful howl.

"Treed--treed or in the water, that's what the howling means. How
Croche and his devils are hustling now!"

A curse was mingled with Neil's breath as he forced his way through the
bog. Twenty rods farther on they came to a slime covered bit of water on
which was floating a dugout canoe. Immense relief replaced the anxiety
in Nathaniel's face as he climbed into it. At that moment he was willing
to fight a hundred men for Marion's sake, but snakes and bogs and
bloodhounds were entirely outside his pale of argument and he exhibited
no hesitation in betraying this fact to his companion. For a quarter of
a mile Neil forced the dugout through water viscid with slime and rotted
substance before the clearer channel of the creek was reached. As they
progressed the stream constantly became deeper and more navigable until
it finally began to show signs of a current and a little later, under
the powerful impetus of Neil's paddle, the canoe shot from between the
dense shores into the open lake. A mile away Nathaniel discerned the
point of forest beyond which the _Typhoon_ was hidden. He pointed out
the location of the ship to his companion.

"You are sure there is a small boat waiting for you on the point?" asked
Neil.

"Yes, since early morning."

Neil was absorbed in thought for some time as he drove the canoe through
the tall rice grass that grew thick along the edge of the shore.

"How would it be if I landed you on the point and met you to-night at
Obadiah's?" he asked suddenly. "It is probable that after we get Marion
aboard your ship I will not return to the island again, and it is quite
necessary that I run down the coast for a couple of miles--for--" He did
not finish his reason, but added: "I can make the whole distance in this
rice so there is no danger of being seen. Or you might lie off the point
yonder and I would join you early this evening."

"That would be a better plan if we must separate," said Nathaniel, whose
voice betrayed the reluctance with which he assented to the project. He
had guessed shrewdly at Neil's motive. "Is it possible that we may have
another young lady passenger?" he asked banteringly.

There was no answering humor to this in Neil's eyes.

"I wish we might!" he said quietly.

"We can!" exclaimed Nathaniel. "My ship--"

"It is impossible. I am speaking of Winnsome. Arbor Croche's house is in
the heart of the town and guarded by dogs. I doubt if she would go,
anyway. She has always been like a little sister to Marion and me and
she has come to believe--something--as we do. I hate to leave her."

"Obadiah told me about her mother," ventured Nathaniel. "He said that
some day Winnsome will be a queen."

"I knew her mother," replied Neil, as though he had not heard
Nathaniel's last words. He looked frankly into the other's face. "I
worshipped her!"

"Oh-h-h!"

"From a distance," he hastened. "She was as pure as Winnsome is now.
Little Winn looks like her. Some day she will be as beautiful."

"She is beautiful now."

"But she is a mere child. Why, it seems only a year ago that I was
toting her about on my shoulders! And--by George, that was a year before
her mother died! She is sixteen now."

Nathaniel laughed softly.

"To-morrow she will be making love, Neil, and before you know it she
will be married and have a family of her own. I tell you she is a
woman--and if you are not a fool you will take her away with Marion."

With a powerful stroke of his paddle Neil brought the canoe in to the
shore.

"There!" he whispered. "You have only to cross this point to reach your
boat." He stretched out his long arm and in the silence the two shook
hands. "If you should happen to think of a way--that we might get
Winnsome--" he added, coloring.

The sudden grip of his companion's fingers made him flinch.

"We must!" said Nathaniel.

He climbed ashore and watched Neil until he had disappeared in the wild
rice. Then he turned into the woods. He looked at his watch and saw that
it was only two o'clock. He was conscious of no fatigue; he was not
conscious of hunger. To him the whole world had suddenly opened with
glorious promise and in the still depths of the forest he felt like
singing out his rejoicing. He had never stopped to ask himself what
might be the end of this passion that had overwhelmed him; he lived only
in the present, in the knowledge that Marion was not a wife, and that it
was he whom fate had chosen for her deliverance. He reasoned nothing
beyond the sweet eyes that had called upon him, that had burned their
gratitude, their hope and their despair upon his soul; nothing beyond
the thought that she would soon be free from the mysterious influence of
the Mormon king and that for days and nights after that she would be on
the same ship with him. He had emptied the pockets of the coat he had
given Neil and now he brought forth the old letter which Obadiah had
rescued from the sands. He read it over again as he sat for a few
moments in the cool of the forest and there was no trouble in his face
now. It was from a girl. He had known that girl, years ago, as Neil knew
Winnsome; in years of wandering he had almost forgotten her--until this
letter came. It had brought many memories back to him with shocking
clearness. The old folk were still in the little home under the hill;
they received his letters; they received the money he sent them each
month--but they wanted _him_. The girl wrote with merciless candor. He
had been away four years and it was time for him to return. She told
him why. She wrote what they, in their loving fear of inflicting pain,
would never have dared to say. At the end, in a postscript, she had
asked for his congratulations on her approaching marriage.

To Nathaniel this letter had been a torment. He saw the truth as he had
never seen it before--that his place was back there in Vermont, with his
father and mother; and that there was something unpleasant in thinking
of the girl as belonging to another. But now matters had changed. The
letter was a hope and inspiration to him and he smoothed it out with
tender care. What a refuge that little home among the Vermont hills
would make for Marion! He trembled at the thought and his heart sang
with the promise of it as he went his way again through the thick growth
of the woods.

It was half an hour before he came out upon the beach. Eagerly he
scanned the sea. The _Typhoon_ was nowhere in sight and for an instant
the gladness that had been in his heart gave place to a chilling fear.
But the direction of the wind reassured him. Casey had probably moved
beyond the jutting promontory, that swung in the form of a cart wheel
from the base of the point, that he might have sea room in case of
something worse than a stiff breeze. But where was the small boat? With
every step adding to his anxiety Nathaniel hurried along the narrow rim
of beach. He went to the very tip of the point which reached out like
the white forefinger of, a lady's hand into the sea; he passed the spot
where he had lain concealed the preceding day; his breath came faster
and faster; he ran, and called softly, and at last halted in the arch of
the cart wheel with the fear full-flaming in his breast. Over all those
miles of sea there was no sign of the sloop. From end to end of the
point there was no boat. What did it mean? Breathlessly he tore his way
through the strip of forest on the promontory until all Lake Michigan
to the south lay before his eyes. The _Typhoon_ was gone! Was it
possible that Casey had abandoned hope of Nathaniel's return and was
already lying off St. James with shotted gun? The thought sent a shiver
of despair through him. He passed to the opposite side of the point and
followed it foot by foot, but there was no sign of life, no distant
flash of white that might have been the canvas of the sloop _Typhoon_.

There was only one thing for him to do--wait. So he went to his
hiding-place of the day before and watched the sea with staring eyes. An
hour passed and his still aching vision saw no sign of sail; two
hours--and the sun was falling in a blinding glare over the Wisconsin
wilderness. At last he sprang to his feet with a hopeless cry and stood
for a few moments undecided. Should he wait until night with the hope of
attracting the attention of Neil and joining him in his canoe or should
he hasten in the direction of St. James? In the darkness he might miss
Neil, unless he kept up a constant shouting, which would probably bring
the Mormons down upon him; if he went to St. James there was a
possibility of reaching Casey. He still had faith in Obadiah and he was
sure that the old man would help him to reach his ship; he might even
assist him in his scheme of getting Marion from the island.

He would go to the councilor's. Having once decided, Nathaniel turned in
the direction of the town, avoiding the use of the path which he and
Obadiah had taken, but following in the forest near enough to use it as
a guide. He was confident that Arbor Croche and his sheriffs were
confining their man-hunt to the swamp, but in spite of this belief he
exercised extreme caution, stopping to listen now and then, with one
hand always near his pistol. A quiet gloom filled the forest and by the
tree-tops he marked the going down of the sun. Nathaniel's ears ached
with their strain of listening for the rumbling roar that would tell of
Casey's attack on St. James.

Suddenly he heard a crackling in the underbrush ahead of him, a sound
that came not from the strain of listening for the rumbling roar and in
a moment he had dodged into the concealment of the huge roots of an
overturned tree, drawn pistol in hand. Whatever object was approaching
came slowly, as if hesitating at each step--a cautious, stealthy
advance, it struck Nathaniel, and he cocked his weapon. Directly in
front of him, half a stone's throw away, was a dense growth of hazel and
he could see the tops of the slender bushes swaying. Twice this movement
ceased and the second time there came a crashing of brush and a faint
cry. For many minutes after that there was absolute silence. Was it the
cry of an animal that he had heard--or of a man? In either case the
creature who made it had fallen in the thicket and was lying there as
still as if dead. For a quarter of an hour Nathaniel waited and
listened. He could no longer have seen the movement of bushes in the
gathering night-gloom of the forest but his ears were strained to catch
the slightest sound from the direction of the mysterious thing that lay
within less than a dozen rods of him. Slowly he drew himself out from
the shelter of the roots and advanced step by step. Half way to the
thicket a stick cracked loudly under his foot and as the sound startled
the dead quiet of the forest with pistol-shot clearness there came
another cry from the dense hazel, a cry which was neither that of man
nor animal but of a woman; and with an answering shout Nathaniel sprang
forward to meet there in the edge of the thicket the white face and
outstretched arms of Marion. The girl was swaying on her feet. In her
face there was a pallor that even in his instant's glance sent a chill
of horror through the man and as she staggered toward him, half falling,
her lips weakly forming his name Nathaniel leaped to her and caught her
close in his arms. In that moment something seemed to burst within him
and flood his veins with fire. Closer he held the girl, and heavier he
knew that she was becoming in his arms. Her head was upon his breast,
his face was crushed in her hair, he felt her throbbing and breathing
against him and his lips quivered with the words that were bursting for
freedom in his soul. But first there came the girl's own whispered
breath--"Neil--where is Neil?"

"He is gone--gone from the island!"

She had become a dead weight now and so he knelt on the ground with her,
her head still upon his breast, her eyes closed, her arms fallen to her
side. And as Nathaniel looked into the face from which all life seemed
to have fled he forgot everything but the joy of this moment--forgot all
in life but this woman against his breast. He kissed her soft mouth and
the closed eyes until the eyes themselves opened again and gazed at him
in a startled, half understanding way, until he drew his head far back
with the shame of what he had dared to do flaming in his face.

And as for another moment he held her thus, feeling the quivering life
returning in her, there came to him through that vast forest stillness
the distant deep-toned thunder of a great gun.

"That's Casey!" he whispered close down to the girl's face. His voice
was almost sobbing in its happiness. "That's Casey--firing on St.
James!"



CHAPTER VII

THE HOUR OF VENGEANCE


For perhaps twenty seconds after the last echoes of the gun had rolled
through the forest the girl lay passive in Nathaniel's arms, so close
that he could feel her heart beating against his own and her breath
sweeping his face. Then there came a pressure against his breast, a
gentle resistance of Marion's half conscious form, and when she had
awakened from her partial swoon he was holding her in the crook of his
arm. It had all passed quickly, the girl had rested against him only so
long as he might have held half a dozen breaths and yet there had been
all of a lifetime in it for Nathaniel Plum, a cycle of joy that he knew
would remain with him for ever. But there was something bitter-sweet in
the thought that she was conscious of what he had done, something of
humiliation as well as gladness, and still not enough of the first to
make him regret that he had kissed her, that he had kissed her mouth and
her eyes. He loved her, and he was glad that in those passing moments he
had betrayed himself. For the first time he noticed that her face was
scratched and that the sleeves of her thin waist were torn to shreds;
and as she drew away from him, steadying herself with a hand on his arm,
his lips were parched of words, and yet he leaned to her eagerly,
everything that he would have said burning in the love of his eyes.
Still irresolute in her faintness the girl smiled at him, and in that
smile there was gentle accusation, the sweetness of forgiveness, and
measureless gratitude, and it was yet light enough for him to see that
with these there had come also a flush into her cheeks and a dazzling
glow into her eyes.

"Neil has escaped!" she breathed. "And you--"

"I was going back to you, Marion!" He spoke the words hardly above a
whisper. The beautiful eyes so close to him drew his secret from him
before he had thought. "I am going to take you from the island!"

With his words there came again that sound of a great gun rolling from
the direction of St. James. With a frightened cry the girl staggered to
her feet, and as she stood swaying unsteadily, her arms half reached to
him, Nathaniel saw only mortal dread in the whiteness of her face.

"Why didn't you go? Why didn't you go with Neil?" she moaned. Her breath
was coming in sobbing excitement. "Your ship is--at--St. James!"

"Yes, my ship is at St. James, Marion!" His voice was tremulous with
triumph, with gladness, with a tenderness which he could not control. He
put an arm half round her waist to support her trembling form and to his
joy she did not move away from him. His hand was buried in the richness
of her loose hair. He bent until his lips touched her silken tresses.
"Neil has told me everything--about you," he added softly. "My ship is
bombarding St. James, and I am going to take you from the island!"

Not until then did Marion free herself from his arm and then so gently
that when she stood facing him he felt no reproof. No longer did shame
send a flush into his face. He had spoken his love, though not in words,
and he knew that the girl understood him. It did not occur to him in
these moments that he had known this girl for only a few hours, that
until now a word had never passed between them. He was conscious only
that he had loved her from the time he saw her through the king's
window, that he had risked his life for her, and that she knew why he
had leaped into the arena at the whipping-post.

The words she spoke now came like a dash of cold water in his face.

"Your ship is not bombarding St. James, Captain Plum!" she exclaimed.
Darkness hid the terror in her face but he could hear the tremble of it
in her voice. "The _Typhoon_ has been captured by the Mormons and those
guns are--guns of triumph--and not--" She caught her breath in a
convulsive sob. "I want you to go--I want you to go--with Neil!" she
pleaded.

"So Casey is taken!"

He spoke slowly, as if he had not heard her last words. For a moment he
stood silent, and as silently the girl stood and watched him. She
guessed the despair that was raging in his heart but when he spoke to
her she could detect none of it in his voice.

"Casey is a fool," he said, unconsciously repeating Obadiah's words.
"Marion, will you come with me? Will you leave the island--and join your
brother?"

The hope that had risen in his heart was crushed as Marion drew farther
away from him.

"You must go alone," she replied. With a powerful effort she steadied
her voice. "Tell Neil that he has been condemned to death. Tell him
that--if he loves me--he will not return to the island."

"And I?"

From her distance she saw his arms stretched like shadows toward her.

"And you--"

Her voice was low, so low that he could hardly hear the words she spoke,
but its sweetness thrilled him.

"And you--if you love me--will do this thing for me. Go to Neil. Save
his life for me!"

She had come to him through the gloom, and in the luster of the eyes
that were turned up to him Nathaniel saw again the power that swayed his
soul.

"You will go?"

"I will save your brother--if I can!"

"You can--you can--" she breathed. In an ecstasy of gratitude she seized
one of his hands in both her own. "You can save him!"

"For you--I will try."

"For me--"

She was so close that he could feel the throbbing of her bosom. Suddenly
he lifted his free hand and brushed back the thick hair from her brow
and turned her face until what dim light there still remained of the day
glowed in the beauty of her eyes. "I will keep him from the island if I
can," he said, looking deep into them, "and as there is a God in Heaven
I swear that you--"

"What?" she urged, as he hesitated.

"That you shall not marry Strang!" he finished.

A cry welled up in the girl's throat. Was it of gladness? Was it of
hope? She sprang back a pace from Nathaniel and with clenched hands
waited breathlessly, as if she expected him to say more.

"No--no--you can not save me from Strang! Now--you must go!"

She retreated slowly in the direction of the path. In an instant
Nathaniel was at her side.

"I am going to see you safely back in St. James," he declared. "Then I
will go to your brother."

She barred his way defiantly.

"You can not go!"

"Why?"

"Because--" He caught the frightened flutter of her voice again.
"Because--they will kill you!"

The low laugh that he breathed in her hair was more of joy than fear.

"I am glad you care--Marion." He spoke her name with faltering
tenderness, and led her out into the path.

"You must go," she still persisted.

"With you--yes," he answered.

She surrendered to the determination in his voice and they moved slowly
along the path, listening for any sound that might come from ahead of
them. Nathaniel had already formed his plan of action. From Marion's
words and the voice in which she had uttered them he knew that it would
be useless for him as it had been for Neil to urge her to flee from the
island. There remained but one thing for him to do, so he fell back upon
the scheme which he had proposed to Marion's brother. He realized now
that he might be compelled to play the game single-handed unless he
could secure assistance from Obadiah. His ship and men were in the hands
of the Mormons; Neil, in his search for the captured vessel, stood a
large chance, of missing him that night, and in that event Marion's fate
would depend on him alone. If he could locate a small boat on the beach
back of Obadiah's; if he could in some way lure Marion to it--He gave an
involuntary shudder at the thought of using force upon the girl at his
side, at the thought of her terror of those first few moments, her
struggles, her broken confidence. She believed in him now. She believed
that he loved her. She trusted him. The warm soft pressure of her hand
as it clung to his arm in the blackening gloom of the forest was
evidence of that trust. She looked into his face anxiously, inquiringly
when they stopped to listen, like a child who was sure of a stronger
spirit at her side. She held her breath when he held his, she listened
when he listened, her feet fell with velvet stillness when he stepped
with caution. Her confidence in him was like a beautiful dream to
Nathaniel and he trembled when he pictured the destruction of it. After
a little he reached over and as if by accident touched the hand that was
lying on his arm; he dared more after a moment, and drew the warm little
fingers into his great strong palm and held them there, his soul
thrilled by their gentle submissiveness. And then in another breath
there came to still his joy a thought of the terrible power that chained
this girl to the Mormon king. He longed to speak words of encouragement
to her, to instil hope in her bosom, to ask her to confide in him the
secret of the shadow which hung over her, but the memory of what Neil
had said to him held his lips closed.

They had walked in silence for many minutes when the girl stopped.

"It is not very far now," she whispered. "You must go!"

"Only a little farther," he begged.

She surrendered again, hesitatingly, and they went on, more slowly than
before, until they came to where the path met the footway that led to
Obadiah's.

"Now--now you _must_ go," whispered Marion again.

In this last moment Nathaniel crushed her hand against his breast, his
body throbbing with a wild tumult, and a half of what he had meant not
to say fell passionately from his lips.

"Forgive me for--that--back there--Marion," he whispered. "It was
because I love you--love you--" He freed her hand and stood back,
choking the words that would have revealed his secret. He lied now for
the love of this girl. "Neil is out there waiting for me in a small
boat," he continued, pointing beyond Obadiah's to the lake. "I will see
him soon, and then I will return to Obadiah's to tell you if he has left
for the mainland. Will you promise to meet me there--to-night?"

"I will promise."

"At midnight--"

"Yes, at twelve o'clock."

This time it was Marion who came to him. Her eyes shone like stars.

"And if you make Neil go to the mainland," she said softly, "when I meet
you I will--will tell you--something."

The last word came in a breathless sob. As she slipped into the path
that led to St. James she paused for a moment and called back, in a low
voice, "Tell Neil that he must go for Winnsome's sake. Tell him that her
fate is shortly to be as cruel as mine--tell him that Winnsome loves
him, and that she will escape and come to him on the mainland. Tell him
to go--go!"

She turned again, and Nathaniel stood like a statue, hardly breathing,
until the sound of her feet had died away. Then he walked swiftly up
the foot-path that led to Obadiah's. He forgot his own danger in the
excitement that pulsated with every fiber of his being, forgot his old
caution and the fears that gave birth to it--forgot everything in those
moments but Marion and his own great happiness. Neil's absence meant
nothing to him now. He had held Marion in his arms, he had told her of
his love, and though she had accepted it with gentle unresponsiveness he
was thrilled by the memory of that last look in her eyes, which had
spoken faith, confidence, and perhaps even more. What was that
_something_ she would tell him if he got Neil safely away? It was to be
a reward for his own loyalty--he knew that, by the half fearing tremble
of her voice, the sobbing catch of her breath, the strange glow in her
eyes. With her brother away would she confide in him? Would she tell him
the secret of her slavedom to Strang? Nathaniel was conscious of no
madness in the wild hope that filled him; nothing seemed impossible to
him now. Marion would meet him at midnight. She would go with him to the
boat, and then--ah, he had solved the problem! He would use no force. He
would tell her that Neil was in his canoe half a mile out from the shore
and that he had promised to leave the island for good if she would go
out to bid him good-by. And once there, a half a mile or a mile away, he
would tell her that he had lied to her; and he would give her his heart
to trample upon to prove the love that had made him do this thing, and
then he would row her to the mainland.

It was the sight of Obadiah's cabin that brought his caution back. He
came upon it so suddenly that an exclamation of surprise fell unguarded
from his lips. There was no light to betray life within. He tried the
door and found it locked. He peered in at the windows, listened, and
knocked, and at last concealed himself near the path, confident that the
little old councilor was still at St. James. For an hour he waited. From
the rear of Obadiah's home a narrow footway led toward the lake and
Nathaniel followed it, now as warily as an animal in search of prey. For
half a mile it took him through the forest and ended at the white sands
of the beach. In neither direction could Nathaniel see a light, and
keeping close in the shadows of the trees he made his way slowly toward
St. James. He had gone but a short distance when he saw a house directly
ahead of him, a single gleam of light from a small window telling him
that it was inhabited and that its tenants were at home. He circled down
close to the water looking for a boat. His heart leaped with sudden
exultation when he saw a small skiff drawn upon the beach and his joy
was doubled at finding the oars still in the locks. It took him but a
moment to shove the light craft into the sea and a minute later he was
rowing swiftly away from the land.

Nathaniel was certain that by this time Neil had abandoned his search
for the captured _Typhoon_ and was probably paddling in the direction
of St. James. With the hope of intercepting him he pulled an eighth of a
mile from the shore and rowed slowly toward the head of the island.
There was no moon, but countless stars glowed in a clear sky and upon
the open lake Nathaniel could see for a considerable distance about him.
For another hour he rowed back and forth and then beached his boat
within a dozen rods of the path that came down from Obadiah's.

It was ten o'clock. Two more hours! He had tried to suppress his
excitement, his apprehensions, his eagerness, but now as he went back
into the darkness of the forest they burst out anew. What if Marion
should not keep the tryst? He thought of the spies whom Neil had said
guarded the girl's home--and of Obadiah. Could he trust the old
councilor? Should he confide his plot to him and ask his assistance? As
the minutes passed and these thoughts recurred again and again in his
brain he could not keep the nervousness from growing within him. He was
sure now that he would have to fight his battle without Neil. He saw
the necessity of coolness, of judgment, and he began to demand these
things of himself, struggling sternly against those symptoms of weakness
which had replaced his confidence of a short time before. Gradually he
fought himself back into his old faith. He would save Marion--without
Neil, without Obadiah. If Marion did not come to him by midnight it
would be because of the guards against whom Neil had warned him, and he
would go to her. In some way he would get her to the boat, even if he
had to fight his way through Arbor Croche's men.

With this return of confidence Nathaniel's thoughts reverted to his
present greatest need, which was food. Since early morning he had eaten
nothing and he began to feel the physical want in a craving that was
becoming acutely uncomfortable. If Obadiah had not returned to his home
he made up his mind that he would find entrance to the cabin and help
himself. A sudden turn in the path which he was following, however,
revealed one of the councilor's windows aglow with light, and as he
pressed quietly around the end of the building the sound of a low voice
came to him through the open door. Cautiously he approached and peered
in. A large oil lamp, the light of which he had seen in the window, was
burning on a table in the big room but the voice came from the little
closet into which Obadiah had taken him the preceding night. For several
minutes he crouched and listened. He heard the chuckling laugh of the
old councilor--and then an incoherent raving that set his blood
tingling. There is a horror in the sound of madness, a horror that
creeps to the very pit of one's soul, that sends shivering dread from
every nerve center, that causes one who is alone with it to sweat with a
nameless fear. It was the voice of madness that came from that little
room. Before it Nathaniel quailed as if a clammy hand had reached out
from the darkness and gripped him by the throat. He drew back shivering
in every limb, and the voice followed him, shrieking now in a sudden
burst of insane mirth and dying away a moment later in a hollow cackling
laugh that seemed to curdle the blood in his veins. Mad! Obadiah Price
was mad! Step by step Nathaniel fell back from the door. He felt himself
trembling from head to foot. His heart thumped within his breast like
the beating of a hammer. For an instant there was silence--a silence in
which strange dread held him breathless while he watched the glow in the
door and listened. And after that quiet there came suddenly a cry that
ended in the exultant chattering of a name.

At the sound of that name Nathaniel sprang forward again. It was
Marion's name and he strained his ears to catch the words that might
follow it. As he listened, his head thrust half in at the door,
Obadiah's voice became lower and lower, until at last it ceased
entirely. Not a step, not a deep breath, not the movement of a hand
disturbed the stillness of the little room. By inches Nathaniel drew
himself inside the door. His heavy boot caught in a sliver on the step
but the rending of wood brought no response. It was the quiet of death
that pervaded the cabin, it was a strange, growing fear of death that
entered Nathaniel as he now hurried across the room and peered through
the narrow aperture. The old councilor was half stretched upon the
table, his arms reaching out, his long, thin fingers gripping its edges,
his face buried under his shoulders. It looked as if death had come
suddenly to him during some terrible convulsion, but after a moment
Nathaniel saw that he was breathing. He went over and placed a hand on
the old man's twisted back.

"Hello, Obadiah! Hello--hello!" he called cheerfully.

A shudder ran through the councilor's frame, as if the voice had
startled him, his arms and body stiffened and slowly he lifted his head.
Nathaniel tried to stifle the cry on his lips, tried to smile--to
speak, but the terrible face that stared up into his own held him
silent, motionless. He had heard the voice of madness, now he looked
upon madness in the eyes that glared at him. In them was no sign of
recognition, no passing flash of sanity. The white face was lined with
purplish veins, the mouth was distorted and the lips bleeding.
Involuntarily he stepped back to the end of the table.

At his movement the councilor stretched out his arms with a sobbing
moan.

"Nat--Nat--don't--go--"

He fell again upon his face, clutching the table in a sudden convulsion.
In the next room Nathaniel had noticed a pail of water and he brought
this and wet the old man's head. For a long time Obadiah did not move,
and when he did it was to reach out with a groping hand to find
Nathaniel. A change had come into his face when he lifted it again, the
mad fire had partly burned itself out of his eyes, the old chuckling
laugh came from between his lips.

"A little weakness, Nat--a little weakness," he gasped faintly. "I have
it now and then. Excitement--great excitement--" He straightened himself
for a moment and stood, swaying free from the table, then collapsed into
a chair his head dropping upon his breast.

Without arousing him from the stupor into which he had fallen, Nathaniel
again concealed himself in the shadows outside the cabin where he could
better guard himself against the possible approach of Mormon visitors.
But he did not remain long. He struck a match and saw that it was nearly
eleven and a sudden resolution turned him back to the cabin door. He
believed that Obadiah would not easily arouse himself from the strange
stupor into which he had fallen. Meanwhile he would find food and then
conceal himself near the path to intercept Marion.

As he mounted the step he heard for the second time since landing upon
the island the solemn tolling of the great bell at St. James, and as he
paused for an instant to listen, peal upon peal followed the first until
its brazen thunder rolled in one long booming echo through the forests
of the Mormon kingdom. There came a shrill cry at his back and he
whirled about to see the councilor standing in the center of the big
room, his arms outstretched, his face lifted as it had been raised in
prayer at the tolling of that same bell the night before--but this time
it was not prayer that fell from his lips.

"Nat, ye have returned in the hour of vengeance! The hand of God is
descending upon the Mormon kingdom!"

His words came in a gasping, but triumphant cry.

"And to-morrow--to-morrow--" He stepped forward, his voice crooning a
wild joy, "To-morrow--I--shall--be--king!"

As he spoke the cabin trembled, a tremor passed under them, and the
tolling of the bell was lost in a sudden tumult that came like the
bursting crash of low thunder.

"What is it?" cried Nathaniel. He leaped into the room and caught
Obadiah by the arm. "What is it?"

"The hand of God!" whispered the old man again. "Nat--Nat--" It was his
old self that stood grimacing and twisting his hands before Nathaniel
now. "Nat--a thousand armed men are off the coast! The Lamanites of the
mainland are descending upon the Mormon kingdom as the hosts of Israel
upon Canaan! Strang is doomed--doomed--doomed--and to-morrow I shall be
king!" His voice rose in a wailing shriek. He darted to the door and his
cackling laugh rang with the old madness as he pointed into the north
where a lurid glow had mounted high into the sky.

"The signal fire--the bell!" he gurgled chokingly. "They are calling the
Mormons to arms--but it is too late--too late! Ho, ho, it is too late,
Nat--too late!" He staggered back, gripping his throat, and fell upon
the floor. "Too late--too late," he moaned, groveling weakly, as if
struggling for breath. "Too late--Nat--Marion--"

A shiver passed through his body and he lay quite still.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SIX CASTLE CHAMBERS


In an instant Nathaniel was upon his knees beside the prostrate form of
the old councilor.

Obadiah's eyes were open, but unseeing; his face was blanched to the
whiteness of paper; an almost imperceptible movement of his chest showed
that he still breathed. Nathaniel lifted one of the limp hands and its
clammy chill struck horror to his heart. Tenderly he lifted the old man
and carried him to the cot at the end of the room. He loosened his
clothes, tore off the low collar about his throat, and felt with his
hand to measure the faint beating of life in the councilor's breast. For
a few moments it seemed to grow fainter and fainter, and a choking lump
rose in his throat as he watched the pallor of death fixing itself on
the councilor's shriveled face. What strange chord of sympathy was it
that bound him to this old man? Was it the same mysterious influence
that had attracted Marion to him? He dropped upon his knees and called
the girl's name softly but it awakened no response in the sightless
eyes, no tremor in the parted, unquivering lips. Very slowly as the
minutes passed there came a reaction. The pulsations of the weakened
heart became a little stronger, he could catch faintly the sound of
breath coming from between the old man's lips.

With a gasp of relief Nathaniel rose to his feet. Through the door he
saw the red glare growing in the northern sky and heard the great bell
at St. James ring a wilder and more excited alarm. For a few moments he
stood in silent, listening inaction, his nerves tingling with a strange
sensation of impending peril. Obadiah's madness, the mysterious
trembling of the earth beneath his feet, the volcano of fire, the
clanging of the bell and the councilor's insane rejoicing had all come
so suddenly that he was dazed. What great calamity, what fearful
vengeance, was about to come upon the Mormon kingdom? Was it possible
that the fishermen and settlers of the mainland had risen, as Obadiah
had said, and were already at hand to destroy Strang and his people? The
thought spurred him to the door. The blood rushed like fire through his
veins. What would it mean to Marion--to Neil?

In his excitement he started down the path that led to the lilac hidden
home beyond the forest. Then he thought again of Obadiah and his last
choking utterance of Marion's name. He had tried to speak of her, even
with that death-like rattling of the breath in his throat; and the
memory of the old councilor's frantic struggle for words brought
Nathaniel quickly back to the cabin. He bent over Obadiah's shriveled
form and spoke the girl's name again and again in his ears. There came
no response, no quiver of life to show that the old man was conscious
of his presence. As he worked over him, bathing his face and chest in
cool water, the feeling became strong in him that he was fighting death
in this gloomy room for Marion's sake. It was like the whispering of an
invisible spirit in his ears--something more than presentiment,
something that made his own heart grow faint when death seemed winning
in the struggle. His watchfulness was acute, intense, desperate. When,
after a time, he straightened himself again, rewarded by Obadiah's more
regular breathing, the sweat stood in beads upon his face. He knew that
he had triumphed. Obadiah would live, and Marion--

He placed his mouth close to the councilor's ear.

"Tell me about Marion," he said again. "Marion--Marion--Marion--"

He waited, stilling his own breath to catch the sound of a whisper. None
came. As he bent over him he saw through the open door that the red
glare of fire had faded to a burnt out glow in the sky. In the deep
silence the sullen beating of the bell seemed nearer, and he could hear
the excited barking of dogs in St. James. Slowly the hope that Obadiah
might speak to him died away and he returned to the door. It still
lacked an hour of midnight, when Marion, had promised to come to him. He
was wildly impatient and to his impatience was added the fear that had
filled him as he hovered over Obadiah, a nameless, intangible
fear--something which he could not have analyzed and which clutched at
his heart and urged him to follow the path that led to Marion's. For a
time he resisted the impulse. What if she should come by another path
while he was gone? He waited nervously in the edge of the forest,
watching, and listening for footsteps. Each minute seemed like an hour
marked into seconds by the solemn steady tolling of the bell, and after
a little he found himself unconsciously measuring time by counting the
strokes. Then he went out into the path. He followed it, step by step,
until he could no longer see the light in the cabin; his pulse beat a
little faster; he stared ahead into the deep gloom between the walls of
forest--and quickened his pace. If Marion was coming to him he would
meet her. If she was not coming--

In his old fearless way he promptly made up his mind. He would go boldly
to the cabin and tell her that Neil was waiting. He felt sure that the
alarm sounding from St. James had drawn away the guards and that there
would be nothing to interfere with his plan. If she had already left the
cabin he would return quickly to Obadiah's. In his eagerness he began to
run. Once a sound stopped him--the distant beating of galloping hoofs.
He heard the shout of a man, a reply farther away, the quick, excited
yelping of a dog. His blood danced as he thought of the gathering of the
Mormon fighters, the men and boys racing down the black trails from the
inland forests, the excitement in St. James. As he ran on again he
thought of Arbor Croche mustering the panting, vengeful defenders; of
Strang, his great voice booming encouragement and promise, above the
brazen thunder of the bell; he saw in fancy the frightened huddling
groups of women and children and beyond and above all the coming of the
"vengeance of God"--a hundred beats, a thousand men--and there went out
from his soul if not from his lips a great cry of joy. At the edge of
the forest he stopped for a moment. Over beyond the clearing a light
burned dimly through the lilacs. The sweet odor of the flowers came to
him gently, persuasively, and nerved him into the open. He passed across
the open space swiftly and plunged into a tangle of bushes close to the
lighted window.

He heard a man's voice within, and then a woman's. Was it Marion?
Cautiously Nathaniel crept close to the log wall of the cabin. He
reached out, and hesitated. Should he look--as he had done at the king's
window? The man's voice came to him again, harsh and angry, and this
time it was not a woman's words that he heard but a woman's sobbing cry.
He parted the bushes and a glare of light fell on his face. The lamp was
on a table and beside the table there sat a woman, her white head turned
from him, her face buried in her hands. She was an old woman and he knew
that it was Marion's mother. He could not see the man.

Where was Marion? He wormed himself back out of the bushes and walked
quickly around the house. There was no other light, no other sign of
life except in that one room. With sudden resolution he stepped to the
door and knocked loudly.

For a full half minute there was silence, and he knocked again. He heard
the approach of a shuffling step, the thump, thump, thump of a cane, and
the door swung back. It was the man who opened it, a tall giant of an
old man, doubled as if with rheumatism, and close behind him was the
frightened face of the woman. An involuntary shudder passed through
Nathaniel as he looked at them. They were old--so old that the man's
shrivelled hands were like those of a skeleton; his giant frame seemed
about to totter into ruin, his eyes were sunken until his face gave the
horror of a death mask. Was it possible that these people were the
father and mother of Marion--and of Neil? As he stepped to the threshold
they timidly drew back from him. In a single glance Nathaniel swept the
room and what he saw thrilled him, for everywhere were signs of Marion;
in the pictures on the walls, the snowy curtains, the cushions in the
window-seat--and the huge vase of lilacs on the mantle.

"I am a messenger of the king," he said, advancing and closing the door
behind him. "I want to speak with Marion."

"Strang--the king!" cried the old man, clutching the knob of his cane
with both hands. "She has gone!"

"Gone!" exclaimed Nathaniel. For an instant his heart bounded with
delight. Marion was on her way to the tryst! He sprang back to the
door. "When? When did she go?"

The woman had come forward, her hands trembling, her lips quivering.
Something in the terror of her face sent the hot blood from Nathaniel's
cheeks.

"They sent for her an hour ago," she said. "The king sent Obadiah Price
for her! O, my God!" she shrieked suddenly, clutching at her breast,
"Tell me--what are they doing with Marion--"

"Shut up!" snarled the old man. "That is Strang's business. She has gone
to Strang." With an effort he straightened himself until his towering
form rose half a head above Nathaniel. "She has gone to the king," he
repeated. "Tell Strang that she will wive him to-night, as she has
promised!"

In spite of his effort to control himself a terrible cry burst from
Nathaniel's lips. He flung open the door and stood for an instant with
his white face turned back.

"She went to the castle--an hour ago?" he cried.

"Yes, to the castle--with Obadiah Price--" The last words followed him
as he sped out into the night. As swiftly as a wolf he raced across the
clearing to the trail that led down to St. James. Something seemed to
have burst in his brain; something that was not blood, but fire, seemed
to burn in his veins--a mad desire to reach Strang, to grip him by the
throat, to mete out to him the vengeance of a fiend instead of that of a
man. He was too late to save Marion! His brain reeled with the thought.
Too late--too late--too late. He panted the words. They came with every
gasp for breath. Too late! Too late! His heart pumped like an engine as
he strained to keep up his speed. He passed a man and a boy hurrying
with their rifles to St. James and made no answer to their shout; a
galloping horse forged ahead of him and he tried to keep up with it; and
then, at the top of the long hill that sloped down to the stronghold of
the Mormon kingdom something seemed to sweep his legs from under him,
and he fell panting on the ground. For a few moments he lay there
looking down upon the city. The great bell at the temple was now silent.
He saw huge fires burning for a mile along the coast, hundreds of lights
were twinkling in the harbor, there came up to him softly, subdued by
distance, the sound of commotion and excitement far below.

His eyes rested on the beacon above the prophet's home, burning like a
ball of fire over the black canopy of tree-tops. Marion was there! He
rose to his feet again and went on, reason and judgment returning to
him--telling him that he was about to play against odds; that his work
was to be one of strength and generalship and not of madness. As he
picked his way more slowly and cautiously down the slope a new hope
flashed upon him. Was it possible that the discovery of the approach of
the mainlanders had served to save Marion? In the excitement that
followed the calling of the Mormons to arms and the preparations for the
defense would Strang, the master of the kingdom, the bulwark of his
people, waste priceless time in carrying out the purpose for which he
had sent for Marion? Hardly did hope burn anew in his breast when there
came another thought to quench it. Why had the king sent for Marion on
this particular night and at this late hour? Why, unless at the approach
of his enemies he had feared that he might lose his beautiful victim,
and in his overmastering passion had called her to him even as his
people assembled in defense of his kingdom.

There was desperate coolness in Nathaniel's approach now. Whatever had
happened he would do what Neil had threatened to do--kill Strang. And
whatever had happened he would take Marion away with him if it was only
her dead body that he carried in his arms. To do these things he needed
strength. He advanced more slowly and drew deeper and deeper drafts of
air into his exhausted lungs. At the edge of the grove surrounding the
castle he paused to listen. For the first time it occurred to Nathaniel
that the prophet might have assembled some of his fighters to the
defense of his harem, which he knew would be one of the first places to
feel the vengeance of the outraged men of the mainland. But he heard no
voices ahead of him. There were no fires to betray the approach of the
enemy. Not even the barking of a dog gave warning of his stealthy
advance. Soon he could make out a light in the king's house. A few steps
more and he saw that the door was open, as it had been on his first
visit to the castle. He dodged swiftly from bush to bush, darted under
the window through which he had seen Marion, leaped lightly up the broad
steps and sprang into the great room, his pistol cocked in his hand.

The room was empty. He listened, but not a sound came to his ears except
the rustling of a curtain in the breeze. The huge lamp over the table
was burning dimly. The five doors leading from the room were tightly
closed. Nathaniel held his breath, tried to still the tumultuous
pounding of his heart as he waited for a sound of life--a step beyond
those doors, a woman's voice, a child's cry. But none came. The
stillness of desertion hovered about him. He went to one of the five
doors. It was not locked. He opened it silently, with the caution of a
thief, and there loomed before him a chaos of gloom.

"Hello!" he called gently. "Hello--Hello--"

There was no answer. He struck a match and advanced step by step,
holding the yellow bit of flame above his head. It disclosed the narrow
walls of a hall and an open door leading into another room. The match
sputtered and went out and he lighted another. On a little table just
outside the door was a half burned candle and he replaced his match with
this. Then he went in.

At a glance he knew that he had entered a woman's room, redolent with
the perfume of flowers. On one side was a bed and close beside it a
cradle with a child's toys scattered about it. The tumbled coverlets
showed that both had been recently used. About the room were thrown
articles of wearing apparel; a trunk had been dragged from a closet and
was half packed; everywhere was the disorder of hurried flight. For a
few moments the depth of his despair held Nathaniel motionless. The
castle was deserted--Marion was gone! He ran back into the great room,
no longer trying to still the sound of his footsteps, and opened a
second door. The same silence greeted him, the same disorder, the same
evidence that the wives and children of the Mormon king had fled. He
went into a third room--and then a fourth.

For an instant he paused at the threshold of this fourth chamber. A
light was burning in the room at the end of the hall. The door was
closed with the exception of an inch or two.

"Marion!" he called softly, and listened intently.

He went on when there was no reply, and pushed open the door.

A candle was burning on a stand in front of a mirror. The room was as
empty as the others. But there was no disorder here. The bed was unused,
the garments in the open closet had not been disarranged. On the floor
beside the bed was a pair of shoes and as Nathaniel saw them his heart
seemed to leap to his throat and stifled the cry that was on his lips.
He took one of them in his hand, his whole being throbbing with
excitement. It was Marion's shoe--encrusted with mud and torn as he had
seen it in the forest. With her name falling from his lips in a pleading
cry he now searched the room and on the stand in front of the mirror he
found a lilac colored ribbon, soiled and crumpled. It was Marion's
ribbon--the one he had seen last in her hair, and he crushed it to his
lips as he ran back into the great room, calling out her name again and
again in the torture of helplessness that now possessed him.

Mechanically, rather than with reason, he went to the fifth and last
door. His candle had become extinguished in his haste and after he had
opened the door he stopped at the threshold of the black hall to light
it again. There was a moment's pause as he searched his pockets for a
match, a silence in which he listened as he searched, and suddenly as he
was about to strike the sulphur tipped splint there came to his ears a
sound that held him chained to the spot. It was the sobbing of a woman;
or was it a child? In a moment he knew that it was a woman; and then the
sobbing ceased.

There was nothing but darkness ahead of him; no ray of light shone under
the door; the chamber itself was in utter gloom. As quietly as possible
he relighted his candle. A glance assured him that this hall was
different from the others; it was deeper, and there were two doors at
the end of it instead of one. Through which of these doors had come the
sound of sobbing he had heard?

He approached and listened. Each moment added to his excitement, his
fears, his hopes, but at last he opened the door on the left. The room
was empty; there was the same disorder as before; the same signs of
hurried flight. It was the room on the right! His heart almost stopped
its beating as he placed his hand on the latch, lifted it, and pushed
the door in. Kneeling beside the bed he saw a woman. She had turned
toward the light and in the dim illumination of the room Nathaniel
recognized the beautiful face he had seen at the king's castle the
preceding day--the face of the woman who had sent him to find the
prophet, who had placed her gentle hand on Marion's head as he had
looked through the window. There was no fear in her eyes as she saw
Nathaniel. Something more terrible than that shone in their glorious
depths as she rose to her feet and stood before him, her face lined with
grief, her mouth twitching in agony. She stood with clenched hands, her
bosom rising and falling in the passion of the storm within her; and she
sobbed even as Nathaniel paused there, unmanned in this sudden presence
of a distress greater than his own; sobbed in a choking, tearless way,
waiting for him to speak.

"Forgive me," he spoke gently. "I have come--for--Marion." He felt that
he had no reason to lie to this woman. His face betrayed his own anguish
as he came nearer to her. "I want Marion," he repeated. "My God, won't
you tell me--?"

She struggled to calm herself as he spoke the girl's name.

"Marion is not here," she said. She crushed his hands against her bosom
and a softer look came into her eyes; her voice was low and sweet, as it
had been the morning he asked for Strang. As she saw the despair
deepening in the man's face a great pity swept over her and she
stretched out her arms to him with an aching cry, "Marion is
gone--gone--gone," she moaned, "and you must go, too! O, I know you love
her--she told me that you loved her, as I love Strang, my king! We have
both lost--lost--and you must go--as--I--shall--go!" She turned away
from him with a cry so heart-breaking in its pain that Nathaniel felt
himself trembling to the soul. In another instant she had faced him
again, fighting back a strange calm into her face.

"I love Marion," she breathed softly. "I would help you--I would help
her--if I could." For a moment her pale beautiful face was filled with a
light that might have shone from the face of an angel, "Don't you
understand?" she continued, scarcely above a whisper. "I have been
Strang's one great love--his life--until Marion came into his heart. I
have lost--you have lost--but mine is the more bitter because Marion
loves you, and Strang--"

With a cry Nathaniel sprang to her side. The candle fell from his hand,
sputtered on the floor, and left them in darkness.

"Marion loves me! You say that Marion loves me?"

The woman's voice came to him in a whisper filled with the sweetness of
sympathy.

"She said so to-night--in this room. She told me that she loved you as
she never thought that she could love a man in this world. O, my God, is
that not a balm for your heart, if it is broken? And Strang--my
Strang--has forgotten his love for me!"

Nathaniel reached out his arms. They found the woman and for a time he
held her hands in his, while a great silence fell upon them. He could
hear the sobbing of her breath and as her fingers tightened about his
own his heart seemed bursting with its hatred of this man who called
himself a prophet of God; a hatred that burned furiously even as his
being throbbed with the wild joy of the words he had just heard.

"Where is Marion?" he pleaded.

"I don't know," replied the woman. "They took her away alone. The
others have gone to the temple."

"Do you think she is at the temple?" he inquired insistently.

"No. One of the others came back a little while ago. She said that
Marion was not there."

"Where is Strang?"

This time he felt the woman tremble.

"Strang--"

She drew her hands away from him. There was a strange quiver in her
voice.

"Yes--where is Strang?"

There came no reply.

"Tell me--where is he?"

"I don't know."

"Is he at the temple?"

"I don't know."

He could hear her stifled breath; he could almost feel her trembling, an
arm's reach out there in the darkness. What a woman was this whose
heart the Mormon king had broken for a new love!

"Listen," he said gently. "I am going to find Marion. I am going to take
her away. To-morrow you shall have Strang again--if he is alive!"

There was no answer and he moved slowly back to the door. He closed it
after him as he entered the hall. Once in the big room he paused for a
moment under the hanging lamp to examine his pistol and then went
outside. The grove in which the castle stood was absolutely deserted. So
far as he could see not even a guard watched over the property of the
king. Nathaniel had become too accustomed to the surprises of Beaver
Island to wonder at this. He could see by the lights flaring along the
harbor that the castle was in an isolated position and easy of attack.
From what Strang's wife had told him and the evidences of panic in the
chambers of the harem he believed that the Mormon king had abandoned the
castle to its fate and that the approaching conflict would center about
the temple.

Was Marion at the temple? If so he realized that she was beyond his
reach. But the woman had said that she was not there. Where could she
have gone? Why had not Strang taken her with his wives? In a flash
Nathaniel thought of Arbor Croche and Obadiah--the two men who always
knew what the king was doing. If he could find the sheriff alone--if he
could only nurse Obadiah back into sane life again! He thrust his pistol
into its holster. There was but one thing for him to do and that was to
return to the old councilor. It would be madness for him to go down to
St. James. He had lost--Strang had won. But his love for Marion was
undying. If he found her Strang's wife it would make no difference to
him. It would all be evened up when he killed the king. For Marion loved
him--loved him--

He turned his face toward Obadiah's, his heart singing the glad words
which the woman had spoken to him back there in the sixth chamber.

And as he was about to take the first step in that long race back to the
mad councilor's he heard behind him the approach of quick feet. He
crouched behind a clump of bushes and waited. A shadowy form was
hurrying through the grove. It passed close to him, mounted the castle
steps, and in the doorway turned and looked back for an instant in the
direction of St. James.

Nathaniel's lips quivered; the pounding of his heart half choked him; a
shriek of mad, terrible joy was ready to leap from his lips.

There in the dim glow of the great lamp stood Strang, the Mormon king.



CHAPTER IX

THE HAND OF FATE


Like a panther Nathaniel crouched and watched the man on the steps. His
muscles jerked, his hands were clenched; each instant he seemed about to
spring. But he held himself back until Strang had passed through the
door. Then he slipped along the log wall of the castle, hugging the
shadows, fearing that the king might reappear and see him in time to
close the door. What an opportunity fate had made for him! His fingers
itched to get at Strang's thick bull-like throat. He felt no fear, no
hesitation about the outcome of the struggle with this giant prophet of
God. He did not plan to shoot, for a shot would destroy the secret of
Marion's fate. He would choke the truth from Strang; rob him of life
slowly, gasp by gasp, until in the horror of death the king would reveal
her hiding-place--would tell what he had done with her.

Then he would kill him!

There was the strength of tempered steel in his arms; his body, slender
as an athlete's, quivered to hurl itself into action. Up the steps he
crept so cautiously that he made no sound. In the intensity of his
purpose Nathaniel looked only ahead of him--to the door. He did not see
that another figure was stealing through the gloom behind him as
cautiously, as quietly as himself. He passed through the door and stood
erect. Strang had not seen him. He had not heard him. He was standing
with his huge back toward him, facing the hall that led to the sixth
chamber--and the woman. Nathaniel drew his pistol. He would not shoot,
but Strang might be made to tell the truth with death leveling itself at
his heart. He groped behind him, found the door, and slammed it shut.
There would be no retreat for the king!

And the man who turned toward him at the slamming of that door, turned
slowly, coolly, and gazed into the black muzzle of his pistol looked,
indeed, every inch of him a king. The muscles of his face betrayed no
surprise, no fear. His splendid nerve was unshaken, his eyes unfaltering
as they rose above the pistol to the face behind it. For fifteen seconds
there was a strange terrible silence as the eyes of the two men met. In
that quarter of a minute Nathaniel knew that he had not guessed rightly.
Strang was not afraid. He would not tell him where Marion was. The
insuperable courage of this man maddened Captain Plum and unconsciously
his finger fell upon the trigger of his pistol. He almost shrieked the
words that he meant to speak calmly:

"Where is Marion?"

"She is safe, Captain Plum. She is where the friends who are invading us
from the mainland will have no chance of finding her."

Strang spoke as quietly as though in his own office beside the temple.
Suddenly he raised his voice.

"She is safe, Captain Plum--safe!"

His eyes wavered, and traveled beyond. As accurately as a striking
serpent Nathaniel measured that glance. It had gone to the door. He
heard a movement, felt a draft of air, and in an instant he whirled
about with his pistol pointed to the door. In another instant he had
fired and the huge form of Arbor Croche toppled headlong into the room.
A roar like that of a beast came from behind him and before he could
turn again Strang was upon him. In that moment he felt that all was
lost. Under the weight of the Mormon king he was crushed to the floor;
his pistol slipped from his grasp; two great hands choked a despairing
cry from his throat. He saw the prophet's face over him, distorted with
passion, his huge neck bulging, his eyes flaming like angry garnets. He
struggled to free his pinioned arms, to wrench off the death grip at his
throat, but his efforts were like those of a child against a giant. In a
last terrible attempt he drew up his knees inch by inch under the
weight of his enemy; it was his only chance--his only hope. Even as he
felt the fingers about his throat sinking like hot iron into his flesh
and the breath slipping from his body he remembered this murderous
knee-punch of the rough fighters of the inland seas and with all the
life that remained in him he sent it crushing into the abdomen of the
Mormon king. It was a moment before he knew that it had been successful,
before the film cleared from his eyes and he saw Strang groveling at his
feet; another moment and he had hurled himself on the prophet. His fist
shot out like a hammer against Strang's jaw. Again and again he struck
until the great shaggy head fell back limp. Then his fingers twined
themselves like the links of a chain about the purplish throat and he
choked until Strang's eyes opened wide and lifeless and his convulsions
ceased. He would have held on until there was no doubt of the end, had
not the king's wife--the woman whose misery he had shared that
night--suddenly flung herself with a piercing cry, between him and the
blackened face, clutching at his hands with all her fragile strength.

[Illustration: His fingers twined about the purplish throat.]

"My God, you are killing him--killing him!" she moaned.

Her eyes blazed as she tore at his fingers.

"You are killing him--killing him!" she shrieked. "He has not destroyed
Marion! You said you would take her and leave him--for me--" She struck
her head against his breast, tearing the flesh of his wrists with her
nails.

Nathaniel loosened his grip and staggered to his feet.

"For you!" he panted. "If you had only come--a little sooner--" He
stumbled to his pistol and picked it up. "I am afraid he is--dead!"

He did not look back.

Arbor Croche barred the door. He had not moved since he had fallen. His
head was twisted so that his face was turned to the glow of the lamp
and Nathaniel shuddered as he saw where his shot had struck. He had
apparently died with that last cry on his lips.

There was no longer a fear of the Mormons in Nathaniel. He believed the
king and Arbor Croche dead, and that in the gloom and excitement of the
night he could go among the people of St. James undiscovered. A great
load was lifted from his soul, for if he had not been in time to save
Marion he had at least delivered her after a short bondage. He had now
only to find Marion and she would go with him, for she loved him--and
Strang was no more.

He hurried through the grove toward the temple. Even before he had come
near to it he could see that a great crowd had congregated there. The
street which he passed was deserted. No lights shone in the houses. Even
the dogs were gone. For the first time he understood what it meant. The
whole town had fled to that huge log stronghold for protection.
Buildings and trees shut out his view seaward but he could see the
flare of great fires mounting into the sky and he knew that those who
were not at the temple were guarding the shore.

Suddenly he almost fell over a figure in his path. It was an old woman
mumbling and sobbing incoherently as she stumbled weakly in the
direction of the temple. Like an inspiration the thought came to him
that here was his opportunity of gaining admittance to that multitude of
women and children. He seized the old woman by the arm and spoke words
of courage to her as he half carried her on her way. A few minutes more
and a blaze of light burst upon them and the great square in which the
temple was situated lay open before them. Half a hundred yards ahead a
fire was burning; oil and pine sent their lurid flame high up into the
night, and in the thick gloom behind it, intensified by the blinding
glare, Nathaniel saw the shadows of men. He caught the old woman in his
arms and went on boldly. He passed close to a thin line of waiting men,
saw the faint glint of firelight on their rifles, and staggering past
them unchallenged with his weight he stopped for a moment to look back.
The effect was startling. Beyond the three great fires that blazed
around the temple the clearing was bathed in a sea of light; in its
concealment of giant trees the temple was buried in gloom. From the
gloom a hundred cool men might slaughter five times their number
charging across that illumined death-square!

Nathaniel could not repress a shudder as he looked. Screened behind each
of the three fires was a cannon. He figured that there were more than a
hundred rifles in that silent cordon of men. What was there on the
opposite side of the temple?

He turned with the old woman and joined the throng that was seething
about the temple doors. There were women, children and old men, crushing
and crowding, fighting with panic-stricken fierceness for admittance to
the thick log walls. Through the doors there came the low thunder of
countless voices pierced by the shrill cries of little children. Foot by
foot Nathaniel fought his way up the steps. At the top were drawn a
dozen men forming barriers with their rifles. One of them shoved him
back.

"Not you!" he shouted. "This is for the women!"

Nathaniel fell back, filled with horror. A glance had shown him the vast
dimly lighted interior of the temple packed to suffocation. What sins
had this people wrought that it thus feared the vengeance of the men
from the mainland! He felt the sweat break out upon his face as he
thought of Marion being in that mob, tired and fainting with her
terrible day's experience--perhaps dying under the panic-stricken feet
of those stronger than herself. He hoped now for that which at first had
filled him with despair--that Strang had hidden Marion away from the
terror and suffocation of this multitude that fought for its breath
within the temple. Freeing himself of the crowd he ran to the farther
side of the building. A fourth fire blazed in his face. But on this side
there was no cannon; scarcely a score of men were guarding the rear of
the temple.

For a full minute he stood concealed in the gloom. He realized now that
it would be useless to return to Obadiah. The old councilor could
probably have told him all that he had discovered for himself; that
Marion had gone to the castle--that Strang intended to make her his
bride that night. But did Obadiah know that the castle had been
abandoned? Did he know that the king's wives had sought refuge in the
temple, and did he know where Marion was hidden? Nathaniel could assure
himself but one answer; Obadiah, struck down by his strange madness, was
more ignorant than he himself of what had occurred at St. James.

While he paused a heavy noise arose that quickened his heart-beats and
sent the blood through his veins in wild excitement. From far down by
the shore there came the roar of a cannon. It was closely followed by a
second and a third, and hardly was the night shaken by their thunder
than a mighty cheering of men swept up from the fire-rimmed coast. The
battle had begun! Nathaniel leaped out into the glow of the great
blazing fire beyond the temple; he heard a warning shout as he darted
past the men; for an instant he saw their white faces staring at him
from the firelight--heard a second shout, which he knew was a
command--and was gone. Half a dozen rifles cracked behind him and a yell
of joyful defiance burst from his throat as the bullets hissed over his
head. The battle had begun! Another hour and the Mormon kingdom would be
at the mercy of the avenging host from the mainland--and Marion would be
his own for ever! He heard again the deep rumble of a heavy gun and from
its sullen detonation he knew that it was fired from a ship at sea. A
nearer crash of returning fire turned him into a deserted street down
which he ran wildly, on past the last houses of the town, until he came
to the foot of a hill up which he climbed more slowly, panting like a
winded animal.

From its top he could look down upon the scene of battle. To the
eastward stretched the harbor line with its rim of fires. A glance
showed him that the fight was not to center about these. They had served
their purpose, had forced the mainlanders to seek a landing farther down
the coast. The light of dawn had already begun to disperse the thick
gloom of night and an eighth of a mile below Nathaniel the Mormon forces
were creeping slowly along the shore. The pale ghostly mistiness of the
sea hung like a curtain between him and what was beyond, and even as he
strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of the avenging fleet a vivid light
leaped out of the white distance, followed by the thunder of a cannon.
He saw the head of the Mormon line falter. In an instant it had been
thrown into confusion. A second shot from the sea--a storm of cheering
voices from out of that white chaos of mist--and the Mormons fell back
from the shore in a panic-stricken, fleeing mob. Were those frightened
cowards the fierce fighters of whom he had heard so much? Were they the
men who had made themselves masters of a kingdom in the land of their
enemies--whose mere name carried terror for a hundred miles along the
coast? He was stupefied, bewildered. He made no effort to conceal
himself as they approached the hill, but drew his pistol, ready to fire
down upon them as they came. Suddenly there was a change. So quickly
that he could scarcely believe his eyes the flying Mormons had
disappeared. Not a man was visible upon that narrow plain between the
hill and the sea. Like a huge covey of quail they had dropped to the
ground, their rifles lost in that ghostly gloom through which the voices
of the mainlanders came in fierce cries of triumph. It was magnificent!
Even as the crushing truth of what it all meant came to him, the
fighting blood in his veins leaped at the sight of it--the pretended
effect of the shots from sea, the sham confusion, the disorderly
flight, the wonderful quickness and precision with which the rabble of
armed men had thrown itself into ambush!

Would the mainlanders rush into the trap? Had some keen eye seen those
shadowy forms dropping through the mist? Each instant the ghostly pall
that shut out vision seaward seemed drifting away. Nathaniel's staring
eyes saw a vague shape appear in it, an indistinct dirt-gray blotch, and
he knew that it was a boat. Another followed, and then another; he heard
the sound of oars, the grinding of keels upon the sand, and where the
Mormons had been a few moments before the beach was now alive with
mainlanders. In the growing light he could make out the king's men below
him, inanimate spots in the middle of the narrow plain. Helpless he
stood clutching his pistol, the horror in him growing with each breath.
Could he give no warning? Could he do nothing--nothing--At least he
could join in the fight! He ran down the hill, swinging to the left of
the Mormons. Half way, and he stopped as a thundering cheer swept up
from the shore. The mainlanders had started toward the hill! Without
rank, without order--shouting their triumph as they came they were
rushing blindly into the arms of the ambush! A shriek of warning left
Nathaniel's lips. It was drowned in a crash of rifle fire. Volley after
volley burst from that shadowy stretch of plain. Before the furious fire
the van of the mainlanders crumpled into ruin. Like chaff before a wind
those behind were swept back. Apparently they were flying without
waiting to fire a shot! Nathaniel dashed down into the plain. Ahead of
him the Mormons were charging in a solid line, and in another moment the
shore had become a mass of fighting men. Far to the left he saw a group
of the mainlanders running along the beach toward the conflict. If he
could only intercept them--and bring them into the rear! Like the wind
he sped to cut them off, shouting and firing his pistol.

He won by a hundred yards and stood panting as they came toward him.
Dawn had dispelled the mist-gloom and as the mainlanders drew nearer he
discerned in their lead a figure that brought a cry of joy from his
lips.

"Neil!" he shouted. "Neil--"

He turned as Marion's brother darted to his side.

"This way--from behind!"

The two led the way, side by side, followed by a dozen men. A glance
told Nathaniel that nothing much less than a miracle could turn the tide
of battle. Half of the mainlanders were fighting in the water. Others
were struggling desperately to get away in the boats. Foot by foot the
Mormons were crushing them back, their battle cries now turned into
demoniac yells of victory. Into the rear of the struggling mass, firing
as they ran, charged the handful of men behind Captain Plum and Neil.
For a little space the king's men gave way before them and with wild
cheers the powerful fishermen from the coast fought their way toward
their comrades. Many of them were armed with long knives; some had
pistols; others used their empty rifles as clubs. A dozen more men and
they would have split like a wedge through the Mormon mass. Above the
din of battle Nathaniel's voice rose in thundering shouts to the men in
the sea, and close beside him he heard Neil shrieking out a name between
his blows. Like demons they fought straight ahead, slashing with their
knives. The Mormon line was thinning. The mainlanders had turned and
were fighting their way back, gaining foot by foot what they had lost.
Suddenly there came a terrific cheer from the plain and the hope that
had flamed in Nathaniel's breast died out as he heard it. He knew what
it meant--that the Mormons at St. James had come to reinforce their
comrades. He fought now to reach the boats, calling to Neil, whom he
could no longer see. Even in that moment he thought of Marion. His only
chance was to escape with the others, his only hope of wresting her from
the kingdom lay in his own freedom. He had waited too long. A crushing
blow fell upon him from behind and with a last cry to Neil he sank under
the trampling feet. Indistinctly there came to him the surging shock of
the fresh body of Mormons. The din about him became fainter and fainter
as though he was being carried rapidly away from it; shouting voices
came to him in whispers, and deadened sounds, like the quick tapping of
a finger on his forehead, were all that he heard of the steady rifle
fire that pursued the defeated mainlanders in their flight.

After a little he began struggling back into consciousness. There was a
splitting pain somewhere in his head and he tried to reach his hand to
it.

"You won't have to carry him," he heard a voice say. "Give him a little
water and he'll walk."

He felt the dash of the water in his face and it put new life into him.
Somebody had raised him to a sitting posture and was supporting him
there while a second person bound a cloth about his head. He opened his
eyes and the light of day shot into them like a stinging, burning charge
of needle-points, and he closed them again with a sharp cry of pain.
That second's glance had shown him that it was a woman who was binding
his head. He had not seen her face. Beyond her he had caught a half
formed vision of many people and the glistening edge of the sea, and as
he lay with closed eyes the murmur of voices came to him. The support at
his back was taken away, slowly, as if the person who held him feared
that he would fall. Nathaniel stiffened himself to show his returning
strength and opened his eyes again. This time the pain was not so great.
A few yards away he saw a group of people and among them were women;
still farther away, so far that his brain grew dizzy as he looked, there
was a black moving crowd. He was among the wounded. The Mormon women
were here. Down there along the shore--among the dead--had assembled the
population of St. James.

A strange sickness overpowered him and he sank back against his
supporter. A cool hand passed over his face. It was a soothing, gentle
touch--the hand of the woman. He felt the sweep of soft hair against his
cheek--a breath whispering in his ear.

"You will be better soon."

His heart stood still.

"You will be better--"

Against his rough cheek there fell the soft pressure of a woman's lips.

Nathaniel pulled himself erect, every drop of blood in him striving for
the mastery of his body, his vision, his strength. He tried to turn, but
strong arms seized him from behind. A man's voice spoke to him, a man's
strength held him. In an agony of appeal Marion's name burst from his
lips.

"Sh-h-!" warned the voice behind him. "Are you crazy?"

The arms relaxed their hold and Nathaniel dragged himself to his knees.
The woman was gone. As far as he could see there were people--scores of
them, hundreds of them--multiplied into thousands and millions as he
looked, until there was only a black cloud about him. He staggered to
his feet and a strong hand kept him from falling while his brain slowly
cleared. The millions and thousands and hundreds of people dissolved
themselves into the day until only a handful was left where he had seen
multitudes. He turned his face weakly to the man beside him.

"Where did she go?" he asked.

It was a boyish face into which his pleading eyes gazed, a face white
with the strain of battle, reddened a little on one cheek with a smear
of blood, and there was a startled, frightened look in it that did not
come of the strife that had passed.

"Who? What are you talking about?"

"The woman," whispered Nathaniel. "The woman--Marion--who kissed--me--"

The young fellow's hand gripped his arm in a sudden fierce clutch.

"You've been dreaming!" he exclaimed in a threatening voice. "Shut up!"
He spoke the words loudly. Then quickly dropping his voice to a whisper
he added, "For God's sake don't betray her! They saw her with
us--everybody knows that it was the king's wife with you!"

The king's wife! Nathaniel was too weak to analyze the words beyond the
fact that they carried the dread truth of his fears deep into his soul.
Who would have come to him but Marion? Who else would have kissed him?
It was her voice that had whispered in his ear--the thrill of her hand
that had passed over his face. And this man had said that she was the
wife of the king! He heard the voices of other men near him but did not
understand what they were saying. He knew that after a moment there was
a man on each side of him holding him by the arms, and mechanically he
moved his legs, knowing that they wanted him to walk. They did not guess
how weak he was--how he struggled to keep from becoming too great a
weight on their hands. Once or twice they stopped in their agonizing
climb up the hill. On its top the cool sea air swept into Nathaniel's
face and it was like water to a parched throat.

After a time--it seemed a day of terrible work and pain to him--they
came to the streets of the town, and in a half conscious sort of way he
cursed at the rabble trailing at their heels. They passed close to the
temple, dirt and blood and a burning torment shutting the vision of it
from his eyes, and beyond this there was another crowd. An aisle opened
for them, as it had opened for others ahead of them. In front of the
jail they stopped. Nathaniel's head hung heavily upon his breast and he
made no effort to raise it. All ambition and desire had left him, all
desire but one, and that was to drop upon the ground and lie there for
endless, restful years. What consciousness was left in him was ebbing
swiftly; he saw black, fathomless night about him and the earth seemed
slipping from under his feet.

A voice dragged him back into life--a voice that boomed in his ears like
rolling thunder and set every fiber in him quivering with emotion. He
drew himself erect with the involuntary strength of one mastering the
last spasm of death and as they dragged him through the door he saw
there within an arm's reach of him the great, living face of Strang,
gloating at him as if from out of a mist--red eyed, white fanged, filled
with the vengefulness of a beast.

The great voice rumbled in his ears again.

"Take that man to the dungeon!"



CHAPTER X

WINNSOME'S VERDICT OF DEATH


The voice--the condemning words--followed Nathaniel as he staggered on
between his two guards; it haunted him still as the cold chill of the
rotting dungeon walls struck in his face; it remained with him as he
stood swaying alone in the thick gloom--the voice rumbling in his ears,
the words beating against his brain until the shock of them sickened
him, until he stretched out his arms and there fell from him such a cry
as had never tortured his lips before.

Strang was alive! He had left the spark of life in him, and the woman
who loved him had fanned it back into full flame.

Strang was alive! And Marion--Marion was his wife!

The voice of the king taunted him from the black chaos that hid the
dungeon walls. The words struck at him, filling his head with shooting
pain, and he tottered back and sank to the ground to get away from them.
They followed, and that vengeful leer of the king was behind them,
urging them on, until they beat his face into the sticky earth, and
smothered him into what he thought was death.

There came rest after that, a long silent rest. When Nathaniel slowly
climbed up out of the ebon shadows again the first consciousness that
came to him was that the word-demons had stopped their beating against
his brain and that he no longer heard the voice of the king. His relief
was so great that he breathed a restful sigh. Something touched him
then. Great God! were they coming back? Were they still
there--waiting--waiting--

It was a wonderfully familiar voice that spoke to him.

"Hello there, Nat! Want a drink?"

He gulped eagerly at the cool liquid that touched his lips.

"Neil," he whispered.

"It's me, Nat. They chucked me in with you. Hell's hole, isn't it?"

Nathaniel sat up, Neil's strong arm at his back. There was a light in
the room now and he could see his companion's face, smiling at him
encouragingly. The sight of it was like an elixir to him. He drank again
and new life coursed through him.

"Yes--hell of a hole!" he repeated drowsily. "Sorry for you--Neil--" and
he seemed to sleep again.

Neil laughed as he wiped his companion's face with a wet cloth.

"I'm used to it, Nat. Been here before," he said. "Can you get up?
There's a bench over here--not long enough to stretch you out on or I
would have made you a bed of it, but it's better than this mud to sit
on."

He put his arms about Nathaniel and helped him to his feet. For a few
moments the wounded man stood without moving.

"I'm not very bad, I guess," he said, taking a slow step. "Where is the
seat, Neil? I'm going to walk to it. What sort of a bump have I got on
the head?"

"Nothing much," assured Neil. "Suspicious, though," he grinned
cheerfully. "Looks as though you were running and somebody came up and
tapped you from behind!"

Nathaniel's strength returned to him quickly. The pain had gone from his
head and his eyes no longer hurt him. In the dim candle-light he could
distinguish the four walls of the dungeon, glistening with the water and
mold that reeked from between their rotting logs. The floor was of wet,
sticky earth which clung to his boots, and the air that he breathed
filled his nostrils and throat with the uncomfortable thickness of a
night fog at sea. Through it the candle burned in a misty halo. Near the
candle, which stood on a shelf-like table against one of the walls, was
a big dish which caught Nathaniel's eyes.

"What's that?" he asked pointing toward it.

"Grub," replied Neil. "Hungry?"

He went to the table and got the plate of food. There were chunks of
boiled meat, unbuttered bread, and cold potatoes. For several minutes
they ate in silence. Now that Nathaniel was himself again Neil could no
longer keep up his forced spirits. Both realized that they had played
their game and that it had ended in defeat. And each believed that it
was in his individual power to alleviate to some extent the other's
misery. To Neil what was ahead of them held no mystery. A few hours more
and then--death. It was only the form in which it would come that
troubled him, that made him think. Usually the victims of this dungeon
cell were shot. Sometimes they were hanged. But why tell Nathaniel? So
he ate his meat and bread without words, waiting for the other to speak,
as the other waited for him. And Nathaniel, on his part, kept to himself
the secret of Marion's fate. After they had done with the meat and the
bread and the cold potatoes he pulled out his beloved pipe and filled it
with the last scraps of his tobacco, and as the fumes of it clouded
round his head, soothing him in its old friendship, he told of his fight
with Strang and his killing of Arbor Croche.

"I'm glad for Winnsome's sake," said Neil, after a moment. "Oh, if you'd
only killed Strang!"

Nathaniel thought of what Marion had said to him in the forest.

"Neil," he said quietly, "do you know that Winnsome loves you--not as
the little girl whom you toted about on your shoulders--but as a woman?
Do you know that?" In the other's silence he added, "When I last saw
Marion she sent this message to you--'Tell Neil that he must go, for
Winnsome's sake. Tell him that her fate is shortly to be as cruel as
mine--tell him that Winnsome loves him and that she will escape and come
to him on the mainland.'" Like words of fire they had burned themselves
in his brain and as Nathaniel repeated them he thought of that other
broken heart that had sobbed out its anguish to him in the castle
chamber. "Neil, a man can die easier when he knows that a woman loves
him!"

He had risen to his feet and was walking back and forth through the
thick gloom.

"I'm glad!" Neil's voice came to him softly, as though he scarcely dared
to speak the words aloud. After a moment he added, "Have you got a
pencil, Nat? I would like to leave a little note for Winnsome."

Nathaniel found both pencil and paper in one of his pockets and Neil
dropped upon his knees in the mud beside the table. Ten minutes later he
turned to Nathaniel and a great change had come into his face.

"She always seemed like such a little child to me that I never
dared--to--tell her," he faltered. "I've done it in this."

"How will you get the note to her?"

"I know the jailer. Perhaps when he comes to bring us our dinner I can
persuade him to send it to her."

Nathaniel thrust his hands into his pockets. His fingers dug into
Obadiah's gold.

"Would this help?" he asked.

He brought out a shimmering handful of it and counted the pieces upon
the table.

"Two hundred dollars--if he will deliver that note," he said.

Neil stared at him in amazement.

"If he won't take it for that--I've got more. I'll go a thousand!"

Neil stood silent, wondering if his companion was mad. Nathaniel saw the
look in his face and his own flushed with sudden excitement.

"Don't you understand?" he cried. "That note means Heaven or hell for
Winnsome--it means life--her whole future! And you know what this cell
means for us," he said more calmly. "It means that we're at the end of
our rope, that the game is up, that neither of us will ever see Marion
or Winnsome again. That note is the last word in life from us--from you.
It's a dying prayer. Tell Winnsome your love, tell her that it is your
last wish that she go out into the big, free world--away from this
hell-hole, away from Strang, away from the Mormons, and live as other
women live! And commanded by your love--she will go!"

"I've told her that!" breathed Neil.

"I knew you would!"

Nathaniel threw another handful of gold on the table.

"Five hundred!" he exclaimed. "It's cheap enough for a woman's soul!"

He motioned for Neil to put the money in his pocket. The pain was coming
back into his head, he grew dizzy, and hastened to the bench. Neil came
and sat beside him.

"So you think it's the end?" he asked. He was glad that his companion
had guessed the truth.

"Don't you?"

"Yes."

There was a minute's dark silence. The ticking of Nathaniel's watch
sounded like the tapping of a stick.

"What will happen?"

"I don't know. But whatever it may be it will come to us soon. Usually
it happens at night."

"There is no hope?"

"Absolutely none. The whole mainland is at the mercy of Strang. He fears
no retribution now, no punishment for his crimes, no hand stronger than
his own. He will not even give us the pretense of a hearing. I am a
traitor, a revolutionist--you have attempted the life of the king. We
are both condemned--both doomed."

Neil spoke calmly and his companion strove to master the terrible pain
at his heart as he thought of Marion. If Neil could go to the end like a
martyr he would at least make an attempt to do as much. Yet he could not
help from saying:

"What will become of Marion?"

He felt the tremor that passed through his companion's body.

"I have implored Winnsome to do all that she can to get her away,"
replied Neil. "If Marion won't go--" He clenched his hands with a
moaning curse and sprang to his feet, again pacing back and forth
through the gloomy dungeon. "If she won't go I swear that Strang's
triumph will be short!" he cried suddenly. "I can not guess the terrible
power that the king possesses over her, but I know that once his wife
she will not endure it long. The moment she becomes that, her bondage is
broken. I know it. I have seen it in her eyes. She will kill herself!"

Nathaniel rose slowly from the bench and came to his side.

"She won't do that!" he groaned. "My God--she won't do that!"

Neil's face was blanched to the whiteness of paper.

"She will," he repeated quietly. "Her terrible pact with Strang will
have been fulfilled. And I--I am glad--glad--"

He raised his arms to the dripping blackness of the dungeon ceiling, his
voice shaking with a cold, stifled anguish. Nathaniel drew back from
that tall, straight figure, step by step, as though to hide beyond the
flickering candle glow the betrayal that had come into his face, the
blazing fire that seemed burning out his eyes. If what Neil had said was
true--

Something choked him as he dropped alone upon the bench.

If it was true--Marion was dead!

He dropped his head in his hands and sat for a long time in silence,
listening to Neil as he walked tirelessly over the muddy earth. Not
until there came a rattling of the chain at the cell door and a creaking
of the rusty hinges did he lift his face. It was the jailer with a huge
armful of straw. He saw Neil approach him after he had thrown it down.
Their low voices came to him in an indistinct murmur. After a little he
caught the sound of the chinking gold pieces.

Neil came and sat down beside him as the heavy door closed upon them
again.

"He took it," he whispered exultantly. "He will deliver it this morning.
If possible he will bring us an answer. I kept out a hundred and told
him that a reply would be worth that to him."

Nathaniel did not speak, and after a moment's silence Neil continued.

"The jury is assembling. We will know our fate very soon."

He rose to his feet, his words quivering with nervous excitement, and
Nathaniel heard him kicking about in the straw. In another breath his
voice hissed through the gloom in a sharp, startled command:

"Good God, Nat, come here!"

Something in the strange fierceness of Neil's words startled Nathaniel,
like the thrilling twinges of an electric shock. He darted across the
cell and found Marion's brother with his shoulder against the door.

"It's open!" he whispered. "The door--is--open!"

The hinges creaked under his weight. A current of air struck them in the
face. Another instant and they stood in the corridor, listening,
crushing back the breath in their lungs, not daring to speak. Only the
drip of water came to their ears. Gently Neil drew his companion back
into the cell.

"There's a chance--one chance in ten thousand!" he whispered. "At the
end of this corridor there is a door--the jailer's door. If that's not
locked, we can make a run for it! I'd rather die fighting--than here!"

He slipped out again, pressing Nathaniel back.

"Wait for me!"

Nathaniel heard him stealing slowly through the blackness. A minute
later he returned.

"Locked!" he exclaimed.

In the opposite direction a ray of light caught Nathaniel's eye.

"Where does that light come from?" he asked.

"Through a hole about as big as your two hands. It was made for a stove
pipe. If we were up there we could see into the jury room."

They moved quietly down the corridor until they stood under the
aperture, which was four or five feet above their heads. Through it they
could hear the sound of voices but could not distinguish the words that
were being spoken.

"The jury," explained Neil. "They're in a devil of a hurry! I wonder
why?"

Nathaniel could feel his companion shrug himself in the darkness.

"Lord--for my revolver!" he whispered excitedly. "One shot through that
hole would be worth a thousand notes to the girls!" He caught Marion's
brother by the arm as a voice louder than the others came to them.

"Strang!"

"Yes--the--king!" affirmed Neil laying an expostulating hand on him.
"Hush!"

"I would like to see--"

Even in these last hours of failure and defeat the fire of adventure
flamed up in Nathaniel's blood. He felt his nerves leaping again to
action, his arms grew tense with new ambition--almost he forgot that
death had him cornered and was already preparing to strike him down.
Another thought replaced all fear of this. A few feet beyond that log
wall were gathered the men whose bloodthirsty deeds had written for them
one of the reddest pages in history--men who had burned their souls out
in the destruction of human lives, whose passions and loves and hatreds
carried with them life and death; men who had bathed themselves in blood
and lived in blood until the people of the mainland called them "the
leeches."

"The Mormon jury!" Nathaniel spoke the words scarcely above his breath.

"I'd like to take a look through that hole, Neil," he added.

"Easy enough--if you keep quiet. Here!" He doubled himself against the
wall. "Climb up on my shoulders."

No sooner had Nathaniel's face come to a level with the hole than a soft
cry of astonishment escaped him. Neil whispered hoarsely but he did not
reply. He was looking into a room twice as large as the dungeon cell and
lighted by narrow windows whose lower panes were on a level with the
ground outside. At the farther end of the room, in full view, was a
platform raised several feet from the main floor. On this platform were
seated ten men, immovable as statues, every face gazing straight ahead.
Directly in front of them, on the lower floor, stood the Mormon king,
and at his side, partly held in the embrace of one of his arms was
Winnsome!

Strang's voice came to him in a low, solemn monotone, its rumbling
depth drowning the words he was speaking, and as Nathaniel saw him lift
his arm from about the girl's shoulders and place his great hand upon
her head he dug his own fingers fiercely into the rotting logs and an
imprecation burned in his breath. He did not need to hear what the king
was saying. It was a pantomime in which every gesture was
understandable. But even Neil, huddled against the wall, heard the last
words of the prophet as they thundered forth in sudden passion.

"Winnsome Croche demands the death of her father's murderer!"

Nathaniel felt his companion's shoulders sinking under his weight and he
leaped quickly to the floor.

"Winnsome is there!" he panted desperately. "Do you want to see her?"

Neil hesitated.

"No. Your boots gouge my shoulder. Take them off."

The scene had changed when Nathaniel took his position again. The jury
had left its platform and was filing through a small door. Winnsome and
the king were along.

The girl had turned from him. She was deathly pale and yet she was
wondrously beautiful, so beautiful that Nathaniel's breath came in quick
dread as the king approached her. He could see the triumph in his eyes,
a terrible eagerness in his face. He seized Winnsome's hand and spoke to
her in a soft, low voice, so low that it came to Nathaniel only in a
murmur. Then, in a moment, he began stroking the shimmering glory of her
hair, caressing the silken curls between his fingers until the blood
seemed as if it must burst, like hot sweat from Nathaniel's face.
Suddenly Winnsome drew back from him, the pallor gone from her face, her
eyes blazing like angry stars. She had retreated but a step when the
prophet sprang to her and caught her in his arms, straining her to him
until the scream on her lips was choked to a gasping cry. In answer to
that cry a yell of rage hurled itself from Nathaniel's throat.

"Stop, you hell-hound!" he cried threateningly. "Stop!"

He shrieked the words again and again, maddened beyond control, and the
Mormon king, whose self-possession was more that of devil than man,
still held the struggling girl in his arms as he turned his head toward
the voice and saw Nathaniel's long arm and knotted fist threatening him
through the hole in the wall. Then Neil's name in a piercing scream
resounded through the dungeon corridor and in response to it the man
under Nathaniel straightened himself so quickly that his companion fell
back to the floor.

"Great God! what is the matter, Nat? Quick! let me up!"

Nathaniel staggered to his feet, the breath half gone out of his body,
and in another instant Neil was at the opening. The great room into
which he looked was empty.

"What was it?" he cried, leaping down. "What were they doing with
Winnsome?"

"It was the king," said Nathaniel, struggling to master himself. "The
king put his arms around Winnsome and--she struck him!"

"That was all?"

"He kissed her as she fought--and I yelled."

"She struck him!" Neil cried. "God bless little Winnsome, Nat! and--God
bless her!"

Neil's breath came fast as he caught the other's hand.

"I'd give my life if I could help you--and Marion!"

"We'll give them together," said Nathaniel coolly, turning down the
corridor. "Here's our chance. They'll come through that door to relock
us in our cell. Shall we die fighting?"

He was groping about in the mud of the floor for some object.

"If we had a couple of stones--"

"It would be madness--worse than madness!" interposed Neil, steadying
himself. "There will be a dozen rifles at that door when they open it.
We must return to the cell. It is worth dying a harder death to hear
from Marion and Winnsome. And we will hear from them before night!"

They retreated into the dungeon. A few minutes later the door opened
cautiously at the head of the corridor. A light blazed through the
blackness and after an interval of silence the jailer made his
appearance in front of the cell, a pistol in his hand.

"Don't be afraid, Jeekum," said Neil reassuringly. "You forgot the door
and we've been having a little fun with the jury. That's all!"

The nervous whiteness left Jeekum's face at this cheerful report and he
was about to close the door when Nathaniel exhibited a handful of gold
pieces in the candle-light and frantically beckoned the man to come in.
The jailer's eyes glittered understandingly and with a backward glance
down the lighted corridor he thrust his head and shoulders inside.

"Five hundred dollars for that note!" he whispered. "Five hundred beside
the four you've got!"

"Jeekum's a fool!" said Neil, as the door closed on them. "I feel sorry
for him."

"Why?"

"Because he is accepting the money. Don't you suppose that you have been
searched? Of course you have--probably before I came, while you were
half dead on the floor. Somebody knows that you have the gold."

"Why hasn't it been taken?"

For a full minute Neil made no answer. And his answer, when it did come,
first of all was a laugh.

"By George, that's good!" he cried exultingly. "Of course you were
searched--and by Jeekum! He knows, but he hasn't made a report of it to
Strang because he believes that in some way he will get hold of the
money. He is taking a big risk--but he's winning! I wonder what his
first scheme was?"

"Thought I'd bury it, perhaps," vouchsafed Nathaniel, throwing himself
upon the straw. "There's room for two here, Neil."

A long silence fell between them. The action during the last few minutes
had been too great an effort for Nathaniel and his wound troubled him
again. As the pain and his terrible thoughts of Marion's fate returned
to him he regretted that they had not ended it all in one last fight at
the door. There, at least, they might have died like men instead of
waiting to be shot down like dogs, their hands bound behind them, their
breasts naked to the Mormon rifles. He did not fear death. In more than
one game he had played against its hand, more often for love of the
sport than not, but there was a horror in being penned up and tortured
by it. He had come to look upon it as a fair enemy, filled of course
with subterfuge and treachery, which were the laws of the game; but he
had never dreamed of it as anything but merciful in its quickness. It
was as if his adversary had broken an inviolable pact with him and he
sweated and tossed on his bed of straw while Neil sat cool and silent on
the bench against the dungeon wall. Sheer exhaustion brought him relief,
and after a time he fell asleep.

He was awakened by Neil. The white face of Marion's brother was over him
when he opened his eyes and he was shaking him roughly by the shoulder.

"Wake up, Nat!" he cried. "For Heaven's sake--wake up!"

He drew back as Nathaniel sleepily roused himself.

"I couldn't help it, Nat," he apologized, laughing nervously. "You've
lain there like a dead man for hours. My head is splitting with this
damned silence. Come--smoke up! I got some tobacco from our jailer and
he loaned me his pipe."

Nathaniel jumped to his feet. A fresh candle was burning on the table
and in its light he saw that a startling change had come into Neil's
face during the hours he had slept. It looked to him thinner and whiter,
its lines had deepened, and the young man's eyes were filled with gloomy
dejection.

"Why didn't you awaken me sooner?" he exclaimed. "I deserve a good
drubbing for leaving you alone here!" He saw fresh food on the table.
"It's late--" he began.

"That is our dinner and supper," interrupted Neil. He held his watch
close to the candle. "Half past eight!"

"And no word--from--"

"No."

The two men looked deeply into each other's eyes.

"Jeekum delivered my note to her at noon when he was relieved," said
Neil. "He did not carry it personally but swears that he saw her receive
it. He sent her word that he would call at a certain place for a reply
when he was relieved again at five. There was no reply for him--not a
word from Winnsome."

Their silence was painful. It was Nathaniel who spoke first,
hesitatingly, as though afraid to say what was passing in his mind.

"I killed Winnsome's father, Neil," he said, "and Winnsome has demanded
my death. I know that I am condemned to die. But you--" His eyes flashed
sudden fire. "How do you know that my fate is to be yours? I begin to
see the truth. Winnsome has not answered your note because she knows
that you are to live and that she will see you soon. Between Winnsome
and--Marion you will be saved!"

Neil had taken a piece of meat and was eating it as though he had not
heard his companion's words.

"Help yourself, Nat. It's our last opportunity."

"You don't believe--"

"No. Lord, man, do you suppose that Strang is going to let me live to
kill him?"

Somebody was fumbling with the chain at the dungeon door.

The two men stared as it opened slowly and Jeekum appeared. The jailer
was highly excited.

"I've got word--but no note!" he whispered hoarsely. "Quick! Is it
worth--"

"Yes! Yes!"

Nathaniel dug the gold pieces out of his pockets and dropped them into
the jailer's outstretched hand.

"I've had my boy watching Winnsome Croche's house," continued the
sheriff, white with the knowledge of the risk he was taking. "An hour
ago Winnsome came out of the house and went into the woods. My boy
followed. She ran to the lake, got into a skiff, and rowed straight out
to sea. She is following your instructions!"

In his excitement he betrayed himself. He had read the note.

There came a sound up the corridor, the opening of a door, the echo of
voices, and Jeekum leaped back. Nathaniel's foot held the cell door
from closing.

"Where is Marion?" he cried softly, his heart standing still with dread.
"Great God--what about Marion?"

For an instant the sheriff's ghastly face was pressed against the
opening.

"Marion has not been seen since morning. The king's officers are
searching for her."

The door slammed, the chains clanked loudly, and above the sound of
Jeekum's departure Neil's voice rose in a muffled cry of joy.

"They are gone! They are leaving the island!"

Nathaniel stood like one turned into stone. His heart grew cold within
him. When he spoke his words were passionless echoes of what had been.

"You are sure that Marion would kill herself as soon as she became the
wife of Strang?" he asked.

"Yes--before his vile hands touched more than the dress she wore!"
shouted Neil.

"Then Marion is dead," replied Nathaniel, as coldly as though he were
talking to the walls about him. "For last night Marion was forced into
the harem of the king."

As he revealed the secret whose torture he meant to keep imprisoned in
his own breast he dropped upon the pallet of straw and buried his face
between his arms, cursing himself that he had weakened in these last
hours of their comradeship.

He dared not look to see the effect of his words on Neil. His companion
uttered no sound. Instead there was a silence that was terrifying.

At the end of it Neil spoke in a voice so strangely calm that Nathaniel
sat up and stared at him through the gloom.

"I believe they are coming after us, Nat. Listen!"

The tread of many feet came to them faintly from beyond the corridor
wall.

Nathaniel had risen. They drew close together, and their hands clasped.

"Whatever it may be," whispered Neil, "may God have mercy on our souls!"

"Amen!" breathed Captain Plum.



CHAPTER XI

"THE STRAIGHT DEATH"


Hands were fumbling with the chain at the dungeon door.

It opened and Jeekum's ashen face shone in the candle-light. For a
moment his frightened eyes rested on the two men still standing in their
last embrace of friendship. A word of betrayal from them and he knew
that his own doom was sealed.

He came in, followed by four men. One of them was MacDougall, the king's
whipper. In the corridor were other faces, like ghostly shadows in the
darkness. Only MacDougall's face was uncovered. The others were hidden
behind white masks. The men uttered no sound but ranged themselves like
specters in front of the door, their cocked rifles swung into the crooks
of their arms. There was a triumphant leer on MacDougall's lips as he
and the jailer approached. As the whipper bound Neil's hands behind his
back he hissed in his ear.

"This will be a better job than the whipping, damn you!"

Neil laughed.

"Hear that, Nat?" he asked, loud enough for all in the cell to hear.
"MacDougall says this will be a better job than the whipping. He
remembers how I thrashed him once when he said something to Marion one
day."

Neil was as cool as though acting his part in a play. His face was
flushed, his eyes gleamed fearlessly defiant. And Nathaniel, looking
upon the courage of this man, from under whose feet had been swept all
hope of life, felt a twinge of shame at his own nervousness. MacDougall
grew black with passion at the taunting reminder of his humiliation and
tightened the thongs about Neil's wrists until they cut into the flesh.

"That's enough, you coward!" exclaimed

Nathaniel, as he saw the blood start. "Here--take this!"

Like lightning he struck out and his fist fell with crushing force
against the side of the man's head. MacDougall toppled back with a
hollow groan, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Nathaniel turned
coolly to the four rifles leveled at his breast.

"A pretty puppet to do the king's commands!" he cried. "If there's a man
among you let him finish the work!"

Jeekum had fallen upon his knees beside the whipper.

"Great God!" he shrieked. "You've killed, him! You've stove in the side
of his head!"

There was a sudden commotion in the corridor. A terrible voice boomed
forth in a roar.

"Let me in!"

Strang stood in the door. He gave a single glance at the man gasping and
bleeding in the mud. Then he looked at Nathaniel. The eyes of the two
men met unflinching. There was no hatred now in the prophet's face.

"Captain Plum, I would give a tenth of my kingdom for a brother like
you!" he said calmly. "Here--I will finish the work." He went boldly to
the task, and as he tied Nathaniel's arms behind him he added, "The
vicissitudes of war, Captain Plum. You are a man--and can appreciate
what they sometimes mean!"

A few minutes later, gagged and bound, the prisoners fell behind two of
the armed guards and at a command from the king, given in a low tone to
Jeekum, marched through the corridor and up the short flight of steps
that led out of the jail. To Nathaniel's astonishment there was no light
to guide them. Candles and lights had been extinguished. What words he
heard were spoken in whispers. In the deep shadow of the prison wall a
third guard joined the two ahead and like automatons they strode through
the gloom with slow, measured step, their rifles held with soldierly
precision. Nathaniel glanced over his shoulder and saw three other white
masked faces a dozen feet away. The king had remained behind.

He shuddered and looked at Neil. His companion's appearance was almost
startling. He seemed half a head taller than himself, yet he knew that
he was shorter by an inch or two; his shoulders were thrown back, his
chin held high, he kept step with the guards ahead. He was marching to
his death as coolly as though on parade.

Nathaniel's heart beat excitedly as they came to where the scrub of the
forest met the plain. They were taking the path that led to Marion's!
Again he looked at Neil. There was no change in the fearless attitude of
Marion's brother, no lowering of his head, no faltering in his step.
They passed the graves and entered the opening in the forest where lay
Marion's home, and as once more the sweet odor of lilac came to him,
awakening within his soul all those things that he had tried to stifle
that he might meet death like a man, he felt himself weakening, until
only the cloth about his mouth restrained the moaning cry that forced
itself to his lips. If he had possessed a life to give he would have
sacrificed it gladly then for a word with the Mormon king, a last prayer
that death might be meted to him here, where eternity would come to him
with his glazing eyes fixed to the end upon the home of his beloved, and
where the sweetness of the flower that had become a part of Marion
herself might soothe the pain of his final moment on earth.

His heart leaped with hope as a sharp voice from the rear commanded a
halt. It was Jeekum. He came up out of the darkness from behind the rear
guard, his face still unmasked, and for a few moments was in whispered
consultation with the guards ahead. Had Strang, in the virulence of that
hatred which he concealed so well, conceived of this spot to give added
torment to death? It was the poetry of vengeance! For the first time
Neil turned toward his companion. Each read what the other had guessed.
Neil, who was nearest to the whispering four, turned suddenly toward
them and listened. When he looked at Nathaniel again it was with a slow
negative shake of his head.

Jeekum returned quickly and placed himself between them, seizing each by
an arm, and the forward guards, pivoting to the left, set off at their
steady pace across the clearing. As they entered the denser gloom of the
forest on the farther side Nathaniel felt the jailer's fingers tighten
about his arm, then relax--and tighten again. A gentle pressure held him
back and the guards in front gained half a dozen feet. In a low voice
Jeekum called for those behind to fall a few paces to the rear.

Then came again the mysterious working of the man's fingers on
Nathaniel's arm.

Was Jeekum signaling to him?

He could see Neil's white face still turned stoically to the front.
Evidently nothing had occurred to arouse his suspicions. If the
maneuvering of Jeekum's fingers meant anything it was intended for him
alone. Action had been the manna of his life. The possibility of new
adventure, even in the face of death, thrilled him. He waited,
breathless--and the strange pressure came again, so hard that it hurt
his flesh.

There was no longer a doubt in his mind. The king's sheriff wanted to
speak to him.

And he was afraid of the eyes and ears behind.

The fingers were cautioning him to be ready--when the opportunity came.

The path widened and through the thin tree-tops above their heads the
starlight filtered down upon them. The leading guards were twenty feet
away. How far behind were the others?

A moment more and they plunged into deep night again. The figures ahead
were mere shadows. Again the fingers dug into Nathaniel's arm, and
pressing close to the sheriff he bent down his head.

A low, quick whisper fell in his ear.

"Don't give up hope! Marion--Winnsome--"

The sheriff jerked himself erect without finishing. Hurried footsteps
had come close to their heels. The rear guards were so near that they
could have touched them with their guns. Had some spot of lesser gloom
ahead betrayed the prisoner's bowed head and Jeekum's white face turned
to it? There was a steady pressure on Nathaniel's arm now, a warning,
frightened pressure, and the hand that made it trembled. Jeekum feared
the worst--but his fear was not greater than the chill of disappointment
that came to smother the excited beating of Nathaniel's heart. What had
the jailer meant to say? What did he know about Marion and Winnsome, and
why had he given birth to new hope in the same breath that he mentioned
their names?

His words carried at least one conviction. Marion was alive despite her
brother's somber prophesies. If she had killed herself the sheriff would
not have coupled her name with Winnsome's in the way he had.

Nathaniel's nerves were breaking with suspense. He stifled his breath to
listen, to catch the faintest whisper that might come to him from the
white faced man at his side. Each passing moment of silence added to his
desperation. He squeezed the sheriff's hand with his arm, but there was
no responding signal; in a patch of thick gloom that almost concealed
the figures ahead he pressed near to him and lowered his head again--and
Jeekum pushed him back fiercely, with a low curse.

They emerged from the forest and the clear starlight shone down upon
them. A little distance off lay the lake in shimmering stillness.
Nathaniel looked boldly at the sheriff now, and as his glance passed
beyond him he was amazed at the change that had come over Neil. The
young man's head was bowed heavily upon his breast, his shoulders were
hunched forward, and he walked with a listless, uneven step. Was it
possible that his magnificent courage had at last given way?

A hundred steps farther they came to the beach and Nathaniel saw a boat
at the water's edge with a single figure guarding it. Straight to this
Jeekum led his prisoners. For the first time he spoke to them aloud.

"One in front, the other in back," he said.

For an instant Nathaniel found himself close beside Neil and he prodded
him sharply with his knee. His companion did not lift his head. He made
no sign, gave no last flashing comradeship with his eyes, but climbed
into the bow of the boat and sat down with his chin still on his chest,
like a man lost in stupor.

Nathaniel followed him, scarcely believing his eyes, and sat himself in
the stern, leaning comfortably against the knees of the man who took the
tiller. He felt a curious thrill pass through him when he discovered a
moment later that this man was Jeekum. Two men seized the oars
amidships. A fourth, with his rifle across his knees sat facing Neil.

For the first time Nathaniel found himself wondering what this voyage
meant. Were they to be rowed far down the shore to some secret fastness
where no other ears would hear the sound of the avenging rifles, and
where, a few inches under the forest mold, their bodies would never be
discovered? Each stroke of the oars added to the remoteness of this
possibility. The boat was heading straight out to sea. Perhaps they were
to meet a less terrible death by drowning, an end which, though
altogether unpleasant, held something comforting in it for Captain Plum.
Two hours passed without pause in the steady labor of the men at the
oars. In those hours not a word was spoken. The two men amidships held
no communication. The guard in the bow moved a little now and then only
to relieve his cramped limbs. Neil was absolutely motionless, as though
he had ceased to breathe. Jeekum uttered not a whisper.

It was his whisper that Nathaniel waited for, the signaling clutch of
his fingers, the sound of his breath close to his ears. Again and again
he pressed himself against the sheriff's knees. He knew that he was
understood, and yet there came no answer. At last he looked up, and
Jeekum's face was far above him, staring straight and unseeing into the
darkness ahead. His last spark of hope went out.

After a time a dark rim loomed slowly up out of the sea. It was land,
half a mile or so away. Nathaniel sat up with fresh interest, and as
they drew nearer Jeekum rose to his feet and gazed long and steadily in
both directions along the coast. When he returned to his seat the boat's
course was changed. A few minutes later the bow grated upon sand. Still
voiceless as specters the guards leaped ashore and Neil roused himself
to follow them, climbing over the gunwale like a sick man. Nathaniel was
close at his heels. With a growing sense of horror he saw two ghostly
stakes thrusting themselves out of the beach a dozen paces away. He
looked beyond them. As far as he could see there was sand--nothing but
sand, as white as paper, scintillating in a billion flashing
needle-points in the starlight. Instinctively he guessed what the stakes
were for, and walked toward them with the blood turning cold in his
veins. Neil was before him and stopped at the first stake, making no
effort to lift his eyes as Nathaniel strode past him. At the second, a
dozen feet beyond, Nathaniel's two guards halted, and placed him with
his back to the post. Two minutes later, bound hand and foot to the
stake, he shifted his head so that he could look at his companion.

Neil was similarly fastened, with his face turned partly toward him.
There was no change in his attitude. His head hung weakly upon his
chest, as if he had fainted.

What did it mean?

Suddenly every nerve in Nathaniel's body leaped into excited action.

The guards were entering their boat! The last man was shoving it
off--they were rowing away! His throbbing muscles seemed ready to burst
their bonds. The boat became indistinct in the starry gloom--a mere
shadow--and faded in the distance. The sound of oars became fainter and
fainter. Then, after a little, there was wafted back to him from far out
in the lake a man's voice--the wild snatch of a song. The Mormons were
gone! They were not to be shot! They were not--

A voice spoke to him, startling him so that he would have cried out if
it had not been for the cloth that gagged him. It was Neil, speaking
coolly, laughingly.

"How are you, Nat?"

Nathaniel's staring eyes revealed his astonishment. He could see Neil
laughing at him as though it was an unusually humorous joke in which
they were playing a part.

"Lord, but this is a funny mess!" he chuckled. "Here am I, able and
willing to talk--and there you are, as dumb as a mummy, and looking for
all the world as if you'd seen a ghost! What's the matter? Aren't you
glad we're not going to be shot?"

Nathaniel nodded.

The other's voice became suddenly sober.

"This is worse than the other, Nat. It's what we call the 'Straight
Death.' Unless something turns up between now and to-morrow morning, or
a little later, we'll be as dead as though they had filled us with
bullets. Our only hope rests in the fact that I can use my lungs. That's
why I didn't let them know when my gag became loose. I had the devil's
own time keeping it from falling with my chin; pretty near broke my neck
doing it. A little later, when we're sure Jeekum and his men are out of
hearing, I'll begin calling for help. Perhaps some fisherman or
hunter--"

He stopped, and a chill ran up Nathaniel's back as he listened to a
weird howl that came from far behind them. It was a blood-curdling
sound and his face turned a more ghastly pallor as he gazed inquiringly
at Neil. His companion saw the terrible question in his face.

"Wolves," he said. "They're away back in the forest. They won't come
down to us." For a moment he was silent, his eyes turned to the sea.
Then he added, "Do you notice anything queer about the way you're bound
to that stake, Nat?"

There was a thrilling emphasis in Nathaniel's answer. He nodded his head
affirmatively, again and again.

"Your hands are tied to the post very loosely, with a slack of say six
inches," continued Neil with an appalling precision. "There is a rawhide
thong about your neck, wet, and so tight that it chafes your skin when
you move your head. But the very uncomfortable thing just at this moment
is the way your feet are fastened. Isn't that so? Your legs are drawn
back, so that you are half resting on your toes, and I'm pretty sure
your knees are aching right now. Eh? Well, it won't be very long before
your legs will give way under you and the slack about your wrists will
keep you from helping yourself. Do you know what will happen then?"

He paused and Nathaniel stared at him, partly understanding, yet giving
no sign.

"You will hang upon the thong about your neck until you choke to death,"
finished Neil. "That's the 'Straight Death.' If the end doesn't come by
morning the sun will finish the job. It will dry out the wet rawhide
until it grips your throat like a hand. Poetically we call it the hand
of Strang. Pleasant, isn't it?"

The grim definiteness with which he described the manner of their end
added to those sensations which had already become acutely discomforting
to Nathaniel. Had he possessed the use of his voice when the Mormons
were leaving he would have called upon them to return and lengthen the
thongs about his ankles by an inch or two. Now, with almost brutal
frankness, Neil had explained to him the meaning of his strange
posture. His knees began to ache. An occasional sharp pain shot up from
them to his hips, and the thong about his neck, which at first he had
used as a support for his chin, began to irritate him. At times he found
himself resting upon it so heavily that it shortened his breath, and he
was compelled to straighten himself, putting his whole weight on his
twisted feet. It seemed an hour before Neil broke the terrible silence
again. Perhaps it was ten minutes.

"I'm going to begin," he said. "Listen. If you hear an answer nod your
head."

He drew a deep breath, turned his face as far as he could toward the
shore, and shouted.

"Help--help--help!"

Again and again the thrilling words burst from his throat, and as their
echoes floated back to them from the forest, like a thousand mocking
voices, Nathaniel grew hot with the sweat of horror. If he could only
have added his own voice to those cries, shrieked out the words with
Neil--joined even unavailingly in this last fight for life, it would not
have been so bad. But he was helpless. He watched the desperation grow
in his companion's face as there came no response save the taunting
echoes; even in the light of the stars he saw that face darken with its
effort, the eyes fill with a mad light, and the throat strain against
its choking thong. Gradually Neil's voice became weaker. When he stopped
to rest and listen his panting breath came to Nathaniel like the hissing
of steam. Soon the echoes failed to come back from the forest, and
Nathaniel fought like a crazed man to free himself, jerking at the
thongs that held him until his wrists were bleeding and the rawhide
about his neck choked him.

"No use!" he heard Neil say. "Better take it easy for a while, Nat!"

Marion's brother had turned toward him, his head thrown back against the
stake, his face lifted to the sky. Nathaniel raised his own head, and
found that he could breath easier. For a long time his companion did not
break the silence. Mentally he began counting off the seconds. It was
past midnight--probably one o'clock. Dawn came at half past two, the sun
rose an hour later. Three hours to live! Nathaniel lowered his head, and
the rawhide tightened perceptibly at the movement. Neil was watching
him. His face shone as white as the starlit sand. His mouth was partly
open.

"I'm devilish sorry--for you--Nat--" he said.

His words came with painful slowness. There was a grating huskiness in
his voice.

"This damned rawhide--is pinching--my Adam's apple--"

He smiled. His white teeth gleamed, his eyes laughed, and with a heart
bursting with grief Nathaniel looked away from him. He had seen courage,
but never like this, and deep down in his soul he prayed--prayed that
death might come to him first, so that he might not have to look upon
the agonies of this other, whose end would be ghastly in its fearless
resignation. His own suffering had become excruciating. Sharp pains
darted like red-hot needles through his limbs, his back tortured him,
and his head ached as though a knife had cloven the base of his skull.
Still--he could breathe. By pressing his head against the post it was
not difficult for him to fill his lungs with air. But the strength of
his limbs was leaving him. He no longer felt any sensation in his
cramped feet. His knees were numb. He measured the paralysis of death
creeping up his legs inch by inch, driving the sharp pains before it,
until suddenly his weight tottered under him and he hung heavily upon
the thong about his throat. For a full half minute he ceased to breathe,
and a feeling of ineffable relief swept over him, for during those few
seconds his body was at rest. He found that by a backward contortion he
could bring himself erect again, and that for a few minutes after each
respite it was not so difficult for him to stand.

After a third effort he turned again toward Neil. A groan of horror rose
to his imprisoned lips. His companion's face was full upon him, ghastly
white; his eyes were wide and staring, like balls of shimmering glass in
the starlight, and his throat was straining at the fatal rawhide!
Nathaniel heard no sound, saw no stir of life in the inanimate figure.

A moaning, wordless cry broke through the cloth that gagged him.

At the sound of that cry, faint, terrifying, with all the horror that
might fill a human soul in its inarticulate note, a shudder of life
passed into Neil's body. Weakly he flung himself back, stood poised for
an instant against the stake, then fell again upon the deadly thong.
Twice--three times he made the effort, and failed. And to Nathaniel,
staring wild eyed and silent now, the spectacle was one that seemed to
blast the very soul within him and send his blood in rushing torrents of
fire to his sickened brain. Neil was dying! A fourth time he struggled
back. A fifth--and he held his ground. Even in that passing instant
something like a flash of his buoyant smile flickered in his face and
there came to Nathaniel's ears like a throttled whisper--his name.

"Nat--"

And no more.

The head fell forward again. And Nathaniel, turning his face away, saw
something come up out of the shimmering sea, like a shadow before his
blistering eyes, and as his own limbs went out from under him and he
felt the strangling death at his throat there came from that shadow a
cry that seemed to snap his very heartstrings--a piercing cry and (even
in his half consciousness he recognized it) a woman's cry! He flung
himself back, and for a moment he saw Neil struggling, the last spark of
life in him stirred by that same cry; and then across the white sand two
figures flew madly toward them and even as the hot film in his eyes grew
thicker he knew that one of them was Marion, and that the other was
Winnsome Croche.

His heart seemed to stop beating. He strove to pull himself together,
but his head fell forward. Faintly, as on a battlefield, voices came to
him, and when with a superhuman effort he straightened himself for an
instant he saw that Neil was no longer at the stake but was stretched on
the sand, and of the two figures beside him one suddenly sprang to her
feet and ran to him. And then Marion's terror-filled face was close to
his own, and Marion's lips were moaning his name, and Marion's hands
were slashing at the thongs that bound him. When with a great sigh of
joy he crumpled down upon the earth he knew that he was slipping off
into oblivion with Marion's arms about his neck, and with her lips
pressing to his the sweet elixir of her love.

Darkness enshrouded him but a few moments, when a dash of cool water
brought him back into light. He felt himself lowered upon the sand and
after a breath or two he twisted himself on his elbow and saw that
Neil's white face was held on Winnsome's breast and that Marion was
running up from the shore with more water. For a space she knelt beside
her brother, and then she hurried to him. Joy shone in her face. She
fell upon her knees and drew his head in the hollow of her arm, crooning
mad senseless words to him, and bathing his face with water, her eyes
shining down upon him gloriously. Nathaniel reached up and touched her
face, and she bowed her head until her hair smothered him in sweet
gloom, and kissed him. He drew her lips to his own, and then she lowered
him gently and stood up in the starlight, looking first at Neil and next
down at him; and then she turned quickly back to the sea.

From down near the shore she called back some word, and with a shrill
cry Winnsome followed her. Nathaniel struggled to his elbow, to his
knees--staggered to his feet. He saw the boat drifting out into the
night, and Winnsome standing alone at the water-edge, her sobbing cries
of entreaty, of terror, following it unanswered. He tottered down toward
her, gaining new strength at each step, but when he reached her the boat
was no longer to be seen and Winnsome's face was whiter than the sands
under her feet.

"She is gone--gone--" she moaned, stretching out her arms to him. "She
is going--back to Strang!"

And then, from far out in the white glory of the night, there came back
to him the voice of the girl he loved.

"Good-by--Good-by--"



CHAPTER XII

MARION FREED FROM BONDAGE


"Gone!" moaned Winnsome again. "She has gone--back--to--Strang!"

Neil was crawling to them like a wounded animal across the sand.

She started toward him but Nathaniel stopped her.

"She is the king's--wife--"

His throat was swollen so that he could hardly speak.

"No. They are to be married to-night. Oh, I thought she was going to
stay!" She tore herself away from him to go to Neil, who had fallen upon
his face exhausted, a dozen yards away.

In the wet sand, where the incoming waves lapped his hands and feet,
Nathaniel sank down, his eyes staring out into the shimmering distance
where Marion had gone. His brain was in a daze, and he wondered if he
had been stricken by some strange madness--if this all was but some
passing phantasm that would soon leave him again to his misery and his
despair. But the dash of the cold water against him cleared away his
doubt. Marion had come to him. She had saved him from death. And now she
was gone.

And she was not the king's wife!

He staggered to his feet again and plunged into the lake until the water
reached to his waist, calling her name, entreating her in weak, half
choked cries to come back to him. The water soaked through to his hot,
numb body, restoring his reason and strength, and he buried his face in
it and drank like one who had been near to dying of thirst. Then he
returned to Neil. Winnsome was holding his head in her arms.

He dropped upon his knees beside them and saw that life was returning
full and strong in Neil's face.

"You will be able to walk in a few minutes," he said. "You and Winnsome
must leave here. We are on the mainland and if you follow the shore
northward you will come to the settlements. I am going back for Marion."

Neil made an effort to follow him as he rose to his feet.

"Nat--Nat--wait--"

Winnsome held him back, frightened, tightening her arms about him.

"You must go with Winnsome," urged Nathaniel, seizing the hand that Neil
stretched up to him. "You must take her to the first settlement up the
coast. I will come back to you with Marion."

He spoke confidently, as a man who sees his way open clearly before him,
and yet as he turned, half running, to the low black shadow of the
distant forest he knew that he was beginning a blind fight against fate.
If he could find a hunter's cabin, a fisherman's shanty--a boat!

Barely had he disappeared when a voice called to him. It was Winnsome.
The girl ran up to him holding something in her hand. It was a pistol.
"You may need it!" she exclaimed. "We brought two!"

Nathaniel reached out hesitatingly, but not to take the weapon. Gently,
as though his touch was about to fall upon some fragile flower, he drew
the girl to him, took her beautiful face between his two strong hands
and gazed steadily and silently for a moment into her eyes.

"God bless you, little Winnsome!" he whispered. "I hope that someday you
will--forgive me."

The girl understood him.

"If I have anything to forgive--you are forgiven."

The pistol dropped upon the sand, her hands stole to his shoulders.

"I want you to take something to Marion for me," she whispered softly.
"This!"

And she kissed him.

Her eyes shone upon him like a benediction.

"You have given me a new life, you have given me--Neil! My prayers are
with you."

And kissing him again, she slipped away from under his hands before he
could speak.

And Nathaniel, following her with his eyes until he could no longer see
her, picked up the pistol and set off again toward the forest, the touch
of her lips and the prayers of this girl whose father he had slain
filling him with something that was more than strength, more than hope.
Life had been given to him again, strong, fighting life, and with it and
Winnsome's words there returned his old confidence, his old daring.
There was everything for him to win now. His doubts and his fears had
been swept away. Marion was not dead, she was not the king's wife--and
it was not of another that he had accepted proof of her love for him,
for he had felt the pressure of her arms about his neck and the warmth
of her lips upon his face. He had until night--and the dawn was just
beginning to break. Ten or fifteen miles to the north there were
settlements, and between there were scores of settlers' homes and
fishermen's shanties. Surely within an hour or two he would find a boat.

He turned where the edge of the forest came down to meet the white
water-run of the sea, and set off at a slow, steady trot into the north.
If he could reach a boat soon he might overtake Marion in mid-lake. The
thought thrilled him, and urged him to greater speed. As the stars faded
away in the dawn he saw the dark barrier of the forest drifting away,
and later, when the light broke more clearly, there stretched out ahead
of him mile upon mile of desert dunes. As far as he could see there was
no hope of life. He slowed his steps now, for he would need to preserve
his strength. Yet he experienced no fear, no loss of confidence. Each
moment added to his faith in himself. Before noon he would be on his
way to the Mormon kingdom, by nightfall he would be upon its shores.
After that--

He examined the pistol that Winnsome had given him. There were five
shots in it and he smiled joyously as he saw that it had been loaded by
an experienced hand. It would be easy enough for him to find Strang. He
would not consider the woman--his wife. The king's wife! Like a flash
there occurred to him the incident of the battlefield. Was it this
woman--the woman who had begged him to spare the life of the prophet,
who had knelt beside him, and whispered in his ear, and kissed him? Had
that been her reward for the sacrifice she believed he had made for her
in the castle chamber? The thought of this woman, whose beauty and love
breathed the sweet purity of a flower and whose faith to her king and
master was still unbroken even in her hour of repudiation fell upon him
heavily. For there was no choice, no shadow of alternative. There was
but one way for him to break the bondage of the girl he loved.

For hours he trod steadily through the sand. The sun rose above him, hot
and blistering, and the dunes still stretched out ahead of him, like
winnows and hills and mountains of glittering glass. Gradually the
desert became narrower. Far ahead he could see where the forest came
down to the shore and his heart grew lighter. Half an hour later he
entered the margin of trees. Almost immediately he found signs of life.
A tree had been felled and cut into wood. A short distance beyond he
came suddenly upon a narrow path, beaten hard by the passing of feet,
and leading toward the lake. He had meant to rest under the shade of
these trees but now he forgot his fatigue. For a moment he hesitated.
Far back in the forest he heard the barking of a dog--but he turned in
the opposite direction. If there was a boat the path would take him to
it. Through a break in the trees he caught the green sweep of marsh rice
and his heart beat excitedly with hope. Where there was rice there were
wild-fowl, and surely where there were wild-fowl, there would be a punt
or a canoe! In his eagerness he ran, and where the path ended, the flags
and rice beaten into the mud and water, he stopped with an exultant cry.
At his feet was a canoe. It was wet, as though just drawn out of the
water, and a freshly used paddle was lying across the bow. Pausing but
to take a quick and cautious glance about him he shoved the frail craft
into the lake and with a few quiet strokes buried himself in the rice
grass. When he emerged from it he was half a mile from the shore.

For a long time he sat motionless, looking out over the shimmering sea.
Far to the south and west he could make out the dim outline of Beaver
Island, while over the trail he had come, mile upon mile, lay the
glistening dunes. Somewhere between the white desert sand and that
distant coast of the Mormon kingdom Marion was making her way back to
bondage. Nathaniel had given up all hope of overtaking her now. Long
before he could intercept her she would have reached the island. When he
started again he paddled slowly, and laid out for himself the plan that
he was to follow. There must be no mistake this time, no error in
judgment, no rashness in his daring. He would lie in hiding until dusk,
and then under cover of darkness he would hunt down Strang and kill him.
After that he would fly to his canoe and escape. A little later, perhaps
that very night if fate played the game well for him, he would return
for Marion. And yet, as he went over and over his scheme, whipping
himself into caution--into cool deliberation--there burned in his blood
a fire that once or twice made him set his teeth hard, a fire that
defied extinction, that smoldered only to await the breath that would
fan it into a fierce blaze. It was the fire that had urged him into the
rescue at the whipping-post, that had sent him single-handed to invade
the king's castle, that had hurled him into the hopeless battle upon the
shore. He swore at himself softly, laughingly, as he paddled steadily
toward Beaver Island.

The sun mounted straight and hot over his head; he paddled more slowly,
and rested more frequently, as it descended into the west, but it still
lacked two hours of sinking behind the island forest when the white
water-run of the shore came within his vision. He had meant to hold off
the coast until the approach of evening but changed his mind and landed,
concealing his canoe in a spot which he marked well, for he knew it
would soon be useful to him again. Deep shadows were already gathering
in the forest and through these Nathaniel made his way slowly in the
direction of St. James. Between him and the town lay Marion's home and
the path that led to Obadiah's. Once more the spirit of impatience, of
action, stirred within him. Would Marion go first to her home?
Involuntarily he changed his course so that it would bring him to the
clearing. He assured himself that it would do no harm, that he still
would take no chances.

He came out in the strip of dense forest between the clearing and St.
James, worming his way cautiously through the underbrush until he could
look out into the opening. A single glance and he drew back in
astonishment. He looked again, and his face turned suddenly white, and
an almost inaudible cry fell from his lips. There was no longer a cabin
in the clearing! Where it had been there was gathered a crowd of men and
boys. Above their heads he saw a thin film of smoke and he knew what had
happened. Marion's home had burned! But what was the crowd doing? It
hung close in about the smoldering ruins as if every person in it were
striving to reach a common center. Surely a mere fire would not gather
and hold a throng like this.

Nathaniel rose to his feet and thrust his head and shoulders from his
hiding-place. He heard a loud shout near him and drew back quickly as a
boy rushed madly across the opening toward the crowd, crying out at the
top of his voice. He had come out of the path that led to St. James. No
sooner had he reached the group about the burned cabin than there came a
change that added to Nathaniel's bewilderment. He heard loud voices, the
excited shouting of men and the shrill cries of boys, and the crowd
suddenly began to move, thinning itself out until it was racing in a
black stream toward the Mormon city. In his excitement Nathaniel hurried
toward the path. From the concealment of a clump of bushes he watched
the people as they rushed past him a dozen paces away. Behind all the
others there came a figure that drew a sharp cry from him as he leaped
from his hiding-place. It was Obadiah Price.

"Obadiah!" he called. "Obadiah Price!"

The old man turned. His face was livid. He was chattering to himself,
and he chattered still as he ran up to Nathaniel. He betrayed no
surprise at seeing him, and yet there was the insane grip of steel in
the two hands that clutched fiercely at Nathaniel's.

"You have come in time, Nat!" he panted joyfully. "You have come in
time! Hurry--hurry--hurry--"

He ran back into the clearing, with Nathaniel close at his side, and
pointed to the smoking ruins of the cabin among the lilacs.

"They were killed last night!" he cried shrilly. "Somebody murdered
them--and burned them with the house! They are dead--dead!"

"Who?" shouted Nathaniel.

Obadiah had stopped and was rubbing and twisting his hands in his old,
mad way.

"The old folks. Ho, ho, the old folks, of course! They are
dead--dead--dead--"

He fairly shrieked the words. Then, for a moment, he stood tightly
clutching his thin hands over his chest in a powerful effort to control
himself.

"They are dead!" he repeated.

He spoke more calmly, and yet there was something so terrible in his
eyes, something so harshly vibrant of elation in the quivering passion
of his voice that Nathaniel felt himself filled with a strange horror.
He caught him by the arm, shaking him as he would have shaken a child.

"Where is Marion?" he asked. "Tell me, Obadiah--where is Marion?"

The councilor seemed not to have heard him. A singular change came into
his face and his eyes traveled beyond Nathaniel. Following his glance
the young man saw that three men had appeared from the scorched
shrubbery about the burned house and were hurrying toward them. Without
shifting his eyes Obadiah spoke to him quickly.

"Those are king's sheriffs, Nat," he said. "They know me. In a moment
they will recognize you. The United States warship _Michigan_ has just
arrived in the harbor to arrest Strang. If you can reach the cabin and
hold it for an hour you will be saved. Quick--you must run--"

"Where is Marion?"

"At the cabin! She is at--"

Nathaniel waited to hear no more, but sped toward the breach in the
forest that marked the beginning of the path to Obadiah's. The shouts of
the king's men came to him unheeded. At the edge of the woods he glanced
back and saw that they had overtaken the councilor. As he ran he drew
his pistol and in his wild joy he flung back a shout of defiance to the
men who were pursuing him. Marion was at the cabin--and a government
ship had come to put an end to the reign of the Mormon king! He shouted
Marion's name as he came in sight of the cabin; he cried it aloud as he
bounded up the low steps.

"Marion--Marion--"

In front of the door that led to the tiny chamber in which he had taken
Obadiah's gold he saw a figure. For a moment he was blinded by his
sudden dash from the light of day into the gloom of the cabin, and he
saw only that a figure was standing there, as still as death. His
pistol dropped to the floor. He stretched out his arms, and his voice
sobbed in its entreaty as he whispered the girl's name. In response to
that whisper came a low, glad cry, and Marion lay trembling on his
breast.

"I have come back for you!" he breathed.

He felt her heart beating against him. He pressed her closer, and her
arms slipped about his neck.

"I have come back for you!"

He was almost crying, like a boy, in his happiness.

"I love you, I love you--"

He felt the warm touch of her lips.

"You will go with me?"

"If you want me," she whispered. "If you want me--after you know--what I
am--"

She shuddered against his breast, and he raised her face between his two
hands and kissed her until she drew away from him, crying softly.

[Illustration: Marion]

"You must wait--you must wait!"

He saw now in her face an agony that appalled him. He would have gone to
her again, but there came loud voices from the forest, and recovering
his pistol he sprang to the door. Half a hundred paces away were Obadiah
and the king's sheriffs. They had stopped and the councilor was
expostulating excitedly with the men, evidently trying to keep them from
the cabin. Suddenly one of the three broke past him and ran swiftly
toward the open door, and with a shriek of warning to Nathaniel the old
councilor drew a pistol and fired point blank in the sheriff's back. In
another instant the two men behind had fired and Obadiah fell forward
upon his face.

With a yell of rage Nathaniel leaped from the door. He heard Marion cry
out his name, but his fighting blood was stirred and he did not stop.
Obadiah had given up his life for him, for Marion, and he was mad with a
desire to wreak vengeance upon the murderers. The first man lay where he
had fallen, with Obadiah's bullet through his back. The other two fired
again as Nathaniel rushed down upon them. He heard the zip of one of the
balls, which came so close that it stung his cheek.

"Take that!" he cried.

He fired, still running--once, twice, three times and one of the two men
crumpled down as though a powerful blow had broken his legs under him.

The other turned into the path and ran. Nathaniel caught a glimpse of a
frightened, boyish face, and something of mercy prompted him to hold the
shot he was about to send through his lungs.

"Stop!" he shouted. "Stop!"

He aimed at the fugitive's legs and fired.

"Stop!"

The boyish sheriff was lengthening the distance between them and
Nathaniel halted to make sure of his last ball. He was about to shoot
when there came a sharp command from down the path and a file of men
burst into view, running at double-quick. He saw the flash of a saber,
the gleam of brass buttons, the blue glare of the setting sun on leveled
carbines, and he stopped, shoulder to shoulder with the man he had been
pursuing. For a moment he stared as the man with the naked saber
approached. Then he sprang toward him with a joyful cry of recognition.

"My God, Sherly--Sherly--"

He stood with his arms stretched out, his naked chest heaving.

"Sherly--Lieutenant Sherly--don't you know me?"

The lieutenant had dropped the point of his saber. He advanced a step,
his face filled with astonishment.

"Plum!" he cried incredulously. "Is it you?"

For the moment Nathaniel could only wring the other's hand. He tried to
speak but his breath choked him.

"I told you in Chicago that I was going to blow up this damned
island--if you wouldn't do it for me--", he gasped at last. "I've had--a
hell of a time--"

"You look it!" laughed the lieutenant. "We got our orders the second day
after you left to 'Arrest Strang, and break up the Mormon kingdom!'
We've got Strang aboard the _Michigan_. But he's dead."

"Dead!"

"He was shot in the back by one of his own men as we were bringing him
up the gang-way. The fellow who killed him has given himself up, and
says that he did it because Strang had him publicly whipped day before
yesterday. I'm up here hunting for a man named Obadiah Price. Do you
know--"

Nathaniel interrupted him excitedly.

"What do you want with Obadiah Price?"

"The president of the United States wants him. That's all I know. Where
is he?"

"Back there--dead or very badly wounded! We've just had a fight with the
king's men--"

The lieutenant broke in with a sharp command to his men.

"Quick, lead us to him. Captain Plum! If he's not dead--"

He started off at a half run beside Nathaniel.

"Lord, it's a pretty mess if he is!" he added breathlessly. Without
pausing he called back over his shoulder, "Regan, fall out and return to
the ship. Tell the captain that Obadiah Price is badly wounded and that
we want the surgeon on the run!"

A turn in the path brought them to the opening where the fight had
occurred. Marion was on her knees beside the old councilor.

Nathaniel hurried ahead of the lieutenant and his men. The girl glanced
up at him and his heart filled with dread at the terror in her eyes.

"Is he dead?"

"No--but--" Her voice trembled with tears.

Nathaniel did not let her finish. Gently he raised her to her feet as
the lieutenant came up.

"You must go to the cabin, sweetheart," he whispered.

Even in this moment of excitement and death his great love drove all
else from his eyes, and the blood surged into Marion's pale cheeks as
she tremblingly gave him her hand. He led her to the door, and held her
for a moment in his arms.

"Strang is dead," he said softly. In a few words he told her what had
happened and turned back to the door, leaving her speechless.

"If he is dying--you will tell me--" she called after him.

"Yes, yes, I will tell you."

He ran back into the opening.

The lieutenant had doubled his coat under Obadiah's head and his face
was pale as he looked up at Nathaniel. The latter saw in his eyes what
his lips kept silent. The officer held something in his hand. It was the
mysterious package which Captain Plum had taken his oath to deliver to
the president of the United States.

"I don't dare move until the surgeon comes," said the lieutenant. "He
wants to speak to you. I believe, if he has anything to say you had
better hear it now."

His last words were in a whisper so low that Nathaniel scarcely heard
them. As the lieutenant rose to his feet, he whispered again.

"He is dying!"

Obadiah's eyes opened as Nathaniel knelt beside him and from between his
thin lips there came faintly the old, gurgling chuckle.

"Nat!" he breathed. His thin hand sought his companion's and clung to it
tightly. "We have won. The vengeance of God--has come!"

In these last moments all madness had left the eyes of Obadiah Price.

"I want to tell you--" he whispered, and Nathaniel bent low. "I have
given him the package. It is evidence I have gathered--all these
years--to destroy the Mormon kingdom."

He tried to turn his head.

"Marion--" he whispered wistfully.

"She will come," said Nathaniel. "I will call her."

"No--not yet."

Obadiah's fingers tightened about Captain Plum's.

"I want to tell--you."

For a few moments he seemed struggling to command all his strength.

"A good many years ago," he said, as if speaking to himself, "I loved a
girl--like Marion, and she loved me--as Marion loves you. Her people
were Mormons, and they went to Kirtland--and I followed them. We planned
to escape and go east, for my Jean was good and beautiful, and hated the
Mormons as I hated them. But they caught us and--thought--they--killed--"

The old man's lips twitched and a convulsive shudder shook his body.

"When everything came back to me I was older--much older," he went on.
"My hair was white. I was like an old man. My people had found me and
they told me that I had been mad for three years, Nat--mad--mad--mad!
and that a great surgeon had operated on my head, where they struck
me--and brought me back to reason. Nat--Nat--" He strained to raise
himself, gasping excitedly. "God, I was like you then, Nat! I went back
to fight for my Jean. She was gone. Nobody knew me, for I was an old
man. I hunted from settlement to settlement. In my madness I became a
Mormon, for vengeance--in hope of finding her. I was rich, and I became
powerful. I was made an elder because of my gold. Then I found--"

A moan trembled on the old man's lips.

"--they had forced her to marry--the son of a Mormon--"

He stopped, and for a moment his eyes seemed filling with the glazed
shadows of death. He roused himself almost fiercely.

"But he loved my Jean, Nat--he loved her as I loved her--and he was a
good man!", he whispered shrilly. "Quick--quick--I must tell you--they
had tried to escape from Missouri and the Danites killed him,--and
Joseph Smith wanted Jean and at the last moment she killed herself to
save her honor as Marion was going to do, and she left two children--"

He coughed and blood flecked his lips.

"She left--Marion and Neil!"

He sank back, ashen white and still, and with a cry Nathaniel turned to
the lieutenant. The officer ran forward with a flask in his hand.

"Give him this!"

The touch of liquor to Obadiah's lips revived him. He whispered weakly.

"The children, Nat--I tried to find them--and years after--I did--in
Nauvoo. The man and woman who had killed the father in their own house
had taken them and were raising them as their own. I went mad!
Vengeance--vengeance--I lived for it, year after year. I wanted the
children--but if I took them all would be lost. I followed them,
watched them, loved them--and they loved me. I would wait--wait--until
my vengeance would fall like the hand of God, and then I would free
them, and tell them how beautiful their mother was. When Joseph Smith
was killed and the split came the old folks followed Strang--and I--I
too--"

He rested a moment, breathing heavily.

"I brought my Jean with me and buried her up there on the hill--the
middle grave, Nat, the middle grave--Marion's mother."

Nathaniel pressed the liquor to the old man's lips again.

"My vengeance was at hand--I was almost ready--when Strang learned a
part of the secret," he continued with an effort. "He found the old
people were murderers. When Marion would not become his wife he told her
what they had done. He showed her the evidence! He threatened them with
death unless Marion became his wife. His sheriffs watched them night
and day. He named the hour of their doom--unless Marion yielded to him.
And to save them, her supposed parents--to keep the terrible knowledge of
their crime from Neil--Marion--was--going--to--sacrifice--herself--when--"

Again he stopped. His breath was coming more faintly.

"I understand," whispered Nathaniel. "I understand--"

Obadiah's dimming eyes gazed at him steadily.

"I thought my vengeance would come--in time--to save her, Nat. But--it
failed. I knew of one other way and when all seemed lost--I took it. I
killed the old people--the murderers of her father--of my Jean! I knew
that would destroy Strang's power--"

In a sudden spasm of strength he lifted his head. His voice came in a
hoarse, excited whisper.

"You won't tell Marion--you won't tell Marion that I killed them--"

"No--never."

Obadiah fell back with a relieved sigh. After a moment he added.

"In a chest in the cabin there is a letter for Marion. It tells her
about her mother--and the gold there--is for her--and Neil--"

His eyes closed. A shudder passed through his form.

"Marion--" he breathed. "Marion!"

Nathaniel rose to his feet and ran to the cabin door.

"Marion!" he called.

Blinding tears shut out the vision of the girl from his eyes. He
pointed, looking from her, and she, knowing what he meant, sped past him
to the old councilor.

In the great low room in which Obadiah Price had spent so many years
planning his vengeance Captain Plum waited.

After a time, the girl came back.

There was great pain in her voice as she stretched out her arms to him
blindly, sobbing his name.

"Gone--gone--they're all gone now--but Neil!"

Nathaniel held out his arms.

"Only Neil,"--he cried, "only Neil--Marion--?"

"And you--you--you--"

Her arms were around his neck, he held her throbbing against his breast.

"And you--"

She raised her face, glorious in its love.

"If you want me--still."

And he whispered:

"For ever and for ever!"


THE END





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