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Title: The Courage of Marge O'Doone
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.

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[Illustration: Against that savage background of mountain and gorge she
stood out clear-cut as a cameo, slender as a reed; wild, palpitating,
beautiful. She was more than a picture. She was Life.]

THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE

BY
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD

FRONTISPIECE BY
LESTER RALPH

PUBLISHED BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
FOR
P. F. COLLIER & SON COMPANY
NEW YORK
1925

       *       *       *       *       *

Copyright, 1918, by
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
AT
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY EVERY WEEK CORPORATION, UNDER THE TITLE
"THE GIRL BEYOND THE TRAIL"

       *       *       *       *       *



THE COURAGE OF MARGE O'DOONE

CHAPTER I


If you had stood there in the edge of the bleak spruce forest, with the
wind moaning dismally through the twisting trees--midnight of deep
December--the Transcontinental would have looked like a thing of fire;
dull fire, glowing with a smouldering warmth, but of strange ghostliness
and out of place. It was a weird shadow, helpless and without motion,
and black as the half-Arctic night save for the band of illumination
that cut it in twain from the first coach to the last, with a space like
an inky hyphen where the baggage car lay. Out of the North came armies
of snow-laden clouds that scudded just above the earth, and with these
clouds came now and then a shrieking mockery of wind to taunt this
stricken creation of man and the creatures it sheltered--men and women
who had begun to shiver, and whose tense white faces stared with
increasing anxiety into the mysterious darkness of the night that hung
like a sable curtain ten feet from the car windows.

For three hours those faces had peered out into the night. Many of the
prisoners in the snowbound coaches had enjoyed the experience somewhat
at first, for there is pleasing and indefinable thrill to unexpected
adventure, and this, for a brief spell, had been adventure de luxe.
There had been warmth and light, men's laughter, women's voices, and
children's play. But the loudest jester among the men was now silent,
huddled deep in his great coat; and the young woman who had clapped her
hands in silly ecstasy when it was announced that the train was
snowbound was weeping and shivering by turns. It was cold--so cold that
the snow which came sweeping and swirling with the wind was like
granite-dust; it _clicked, clicked, clicked_ against the glass--a
bombardment of untold billions of infinitesimal projectiles fighting to
break in. In the edge of the forest it was probably forty degrees below
zero. Within the coaches there still remained some little warmth. The
burning lamps radiated it and the presence of many people added to it.
But it was cold, and growing colder. A gray coating of congealed breath
covered the car windows. A few men had given their outer coats to women
and children. These men looked most frequently at their watches. The
adventure de luxe was becoming serious.

For the twentieth time a passing train-man was asked the same question.

"The good Lord only knows," he growled down into the face of the young
woman whose prettiness would have enticed the most chivalrous attention
from him earlier in the evening. "Engine and tender been gone three
hours and the divisional point only twenty miles up the line. Should
have been back with help long ago. Hell, ain't it?"

The young woman did not reply, but her round mouth formed a quick and
silent approbation of his final remark.

"Three hours!" the train-man continued his growling as he went on with
his lantern. "That's the hell o' railroading it along the edge of the
Arctic. When you git snowed in you're _snowed in_, an' there ain't no
two ways about it!"

He paused at the smoking compartment, thrust in his head for a moment,
passed on and slammed the door of the car after him as he went into the
next coach.

In that smoking compartment there were two men, facing each other across
the narrow space between the two seats. They had not looked up when the
train-man thrust in his head. They seemed, as one leaned over toward the
other, wholly oblivious of the storm.

It was the older man who bent forward. He was about fifty. The hand that
rested for a moment on David Raine's knee was red and knotted. It was
the hand of a man who had lived his life in struggling with the
wilderness. And the face, too, was of such a man; a face coloured and
toughened by the tannin of wind and blizzard and hot northern sun, with
eyes cobwebbed about by a myriad of fine lines that spoke of years spent
under the strain of those things. He was not a large man. He was shorter
than David Raine. There was a slight droop to his shoulders. Yet about
him there was a strength, a suppressed energy ready to act, a zestful
eagerness for life and its daily mysteries which the other and younger
man did not possess. Throughout many thousands of square miles of the
great northern wilderness this older man was known as Father Roland, the
Missioner.

His companion was not more than thirty-eight. Perhaps he was a year or
two younger. It may be that the wailing of the wind outside, the strange
voices that were in it and the chilling gloom of their little
compartment made of him a more striking contrast to Father Roland than
he would have been under other conditions. His eyes were a clear and
steady gray as they met Father Roland's. They were eyes that one could
not easily forget. Except for his eyes he was like a man who had been
sick, and was still sick. The Missioner had made his own guess. And now,
with his hand on the other's knee, he said:

"And you say--that you are afraid--for this friend of yours?"

David Raine nodded his head. Lines deepened a little about his mouth.

"Yes, I am afraid." For a moment he turned to the night. A fiercer
volley of the little snow demons beat against the window, as though his
pale face just beyond their reach stirred them to greater fury. "I have
a most disturbing inclination to worry about him," he added, and
shrugged his shoulders slightly.

He faced Father Roland again.

"Did you ever hear of a man losing himself?" he asked. "I don't mean in
the woods, or in a desert, or by going mad. I mean in the other
way--heart, body, soul; losing one's grip, you might call it, until
there was no earth to stand on. Did you?"

"Yes--many years ago--I knew of a man who lost himself in that way,"
replied the Missioner, straightening in his seat. "But he found himself
again. And this friend of yours? I am interested. This is the first
time in three years that I have been down to the edge of civilization,
and what you have to tell will be different--vastly different from what
I know. If you are betraying nothing would you mind telling me his
story?"

"It is not a pleasant story," warned the younger man, "and on such a
night as this----"

"It may be that one can see more clearly into the depths of misfortune
and tragedy," interrupted the Missioner quietly.

A faint flush rose into David Raine's pale face. There was something of
nervous eagerness in the clasp of his fingers upon his knees.

"Of course, there is the woman," he said.

"Yes--of course--the woman."

"Sometimes I haven't been quite sure whether this man worshipped the
woman or the woman's beauty," David went on, with a strange glow in his
eyes. "He loved beauty. And this woman was beautiful, almost too
beautiful for the good of one's soul, I guess. And he must have loved
her, for when she went out of his life it was as if he had sunk into a
black pit out of which he could never rise. I have asked myself often if
he would have loved her if she had been less beautiful--even quite
plain, and I have answered myself as he answered that question, in the
affirmative. It was born in him to worship wherever he loved at all. Her
beauty made a certain sort of completeness for him. He treasured that.
He was proud of it. He counted himself the richest man in the world
because he possessed it. But deep under his worship of her beauty he
loved _her_. I am more and more sure of that, and I am equally sure
that time will prove it--that he will never rise again with his old hope
and faith out of that black pit into which he sank when he came face to
face with the realization that there were forces in life--in nature
perhaps, more potent than his love and his own strong will."

Father Roland nodded.

"I understand," he said, and he sank back farther in his corner by the
window, so that his face was shrouded a little in shadow. "This other
man loved a woman, too. And she was beautiful. He thought she was the
most beautiful thing in the world. It is great love that makes beauty."

"But this woman--my friend's wife--was so beautiful that even the eyes
of other women were fascinated by her. I have seen her when it seemed
she must have come fresh from the hands of angels; and at first, when my
friend was the happiest man in the world, he was fond of telling her
that it must have been the angels who put the colour in her face and the
wonderful golden fires in her shining hair. It wasn't his love for her
that made her beautiful. She _was_ beautiful."

"And her soul?" softly questioned the shadowed lips of the Missioner.

The other's hand tightened slowly.

"In making her the angels forgot a soul, I guess," he said.

"Then your friend did not love her." The Little Missioner's voice was
quick and decisive. "There can be no love where there is no soul."

"That is impossible. He did love her. I know it."

"I still disagree with you. Without knowing your friend, I say that he
worshipped her beauty. There were others who worshipped that same
loveliness--others who did not possess her, and who would have bartered
their souls for her had they possessed souls to barter. Is that not
true?"

"Yes, there were others. But to understand you must have known my friend
before he sank down into the pit--when he was still a man. He was a
great student. His fortune was sufficient to give him both time and
means for the pursuits he loved. He had his great library, and adjoining
it a laboratory. He wrote books which few people read because they were
filled with facts and odd theories. He believed that the world was very
old, and that there was less profit for men in discovering new luxuries
for an artificial civilization than in re-discovering a few of the great
laws and miracles buried in the dust of the past. He believed that the
nearer we get to the beginning of things, and not the farther we drift,
the clearer comprehension can we have of earth and sky and God, and the
meaning of it all. He did not consider it an argument for progress that
Christ and His disciples knew nothing of the telephone, of giant engines
run by steam, of electricity, or of instruments by which man could send
messages for thousands of miles through space. His theory was that the
patriarchs of old held a closer touch on the pulse of Life than progress
in its present forms will ever bring to us. He was not a fanatic. He was
not a crank. He was young, and filled with enthusiasm. He loved
children. He wanted to fill his home with them. But his wife knew that
she was too beautiful for that--and they had none."

He had leaned a little forward, and had pulled his hat a trifle over his
eyes. There was a moment's lull in the storm, and it was so quiet that
each could hear the ticking of Father Roland's big silver watch.

Then he said:

"I don't know why I tell you all this, Father, unless it is to relieve
my own mind. There can be no hope that it will benefit my friend. And
yet it cannot harm him. It seems very near to sacrilege to put into
words what I am going to say about--his wife. Perhaps there were
extenuating conditions for her. I have tried to convince myself of that,
just as he tried to believe it. It may be that a man who is born into
this age must consider himself a misfit unless he can tune himself in
sympathy with its manner of life. He cannot be too critical, I guess. If
he is to exist in a certain social order of our civilization unburdened
by great doubts and deep glooms he must not shiver when his wife tinkles
her champagne glass against another. He must learn to appreciate the
sinuous beauties of the cabaret dancer, and must train himself to take
no offence when he sees shimmering wines tilted down white throats. He
must train himself to many things, just as he trains himself to
classical music and grand opera. To do these things he must forget, as
much as he can, the sweet melodies and the sweeter women who are sinking
into oblivion together. He must accept life as a Grand Piano tuned by a
new sort of Tuning Master, and unless he can dance to its music he is a
misfit. That is what my friend said to extenuate _her_. She fitted into
this kind of life splendidly. He was in the other groove. She loved
light, laughter, wine, song, and excitement. He, the misfit, loved his
books, his work, and his home. His greatest joy would have been to go
with her, hand in hand, through some wonderful cathedral, pointing out
its ancient glories and mysteries to her. He wanted aloneness--just they
two. Such was his idea of love. And she--wanted other things. You
understand, Father?... The thing grew, and at last he saw that she was
getting away from him. Her passion for admiration and excitement became
a madness. I know, because I saw it. My friend said that it was madness,
even as he was going mad. And yet he did not suspect her. If another had
told him that she was unclean I am sure he would have killed him. Slowly
he came to experience the agony of knowing that the woman whom he
worshipped did not love him. But this did not lead him to believe that
she could love another--or others. Then, one day, he left the city. She
went with him to the train--his wife. She saw him go. She waved her
handkerchief at him. And as she stood there she was--glorious."

Through partly closed eyes the Little Missioner saw his shoulders
tighten, and a hardness settle about his mouth. The voice, too, was
changed when it went on. It was almost emotionless.

"It's sometimes curious how the Chief Arbiter of things plays His tricks
on men--and women, isn't it, Father? There was trouble on the line
ahead, and my friend came back. It was unexpected. It was late when he
reached home, and with his night key he went in quietly, because he did
not want to awaken _her_. It was very still in the house--until he came
to the door of her room. There was a light. He heard voices--very low.
He listened. He went in."

There was a terrible silence. The ticking of Father Roland's big silver
watch seemed like the beating of a tiny drum.

"And what happened then, David?"

"My friend went in," repeated David. His eyes sought Father Roland's
squarely, and he saw the question there. "No, he did not kill them," he
said. "He doesn't know what kept him from killing--the man. He was a
coward, that man. He crawled away like a worm. Perhaps that was why my
friend spared him. The wonderful part of it was that the woman--his
wife--was not afraid. She stood up in her ravishing dishevelment, with
that mantle of gold he had worshipped streaming about her to her knees,
_and she laughed_? Yes, she laughed--a mad sort of laugh; a laughter of
fear, perhaps--but--_laughter_. So he did not kill them. Her
laughter--the man's cowardice--saved them. He turned. He closed the
door. He left them. He went out into the night."

He paused, as though his story was finished.

"And that is--the end?" asked Father Roland softly.

"Of his dreams, his hopes, his joy in life--yes, that was the end."

"But of your friend's story? What happened after that?"

"A miracle, I think," replied David hesitatingly, as though he could not
quite understand what had happened after that. "You see, this friend of
mine was not of the vacillating and irresolute sort. I had always given
him credit for that--credit for being a man who would measure up to a
situation. He was quite an athlete, and enjoyed boxing and fencing and
swimming. If at any time in his life he could have conceived of a
situation such as he encountered in his wife's room, he would have lived
in a moral certainty of killing the man. And when the situation did come
was it not a miracle that he should walk out into the night leaving them
not only unharmed, but together? I ask you, Father--was it not a
miracle?"

Father Roland's eyes were gleaming strangely under the shadow of his
broad-brimmed black hat. He merely nodded.

"Of course," resumed David, "it may be that he was too stunned to act. I
believe that the laughter--_her_ laughter--acted upon him like a
powerful drug. Instead of plunging him into the passion of a murderous
desire for vengeance it curiously enough anesthetized his emotions. For
hours he heard that laughter. I believe he will never forget it. He
wandered the streets all that night. It was in New York, and of course
he passed many people. But he did not see them. When morning came he was
on Fifth Avenue many miles from his home. He wandered downtown in a
constantly growing human stream whose noise and bustle and many-keyed
voice acted on him as a tonic. For the first time he asked himself what
he would do. Stronger and stronger grew the desire in him to return, to
face again that situation in his home. I believe that he would have done
this--I believe that the red blood in him would have meted out its own
punishment had he not turned just in time, and at the right place. He
found himself in front of The Little Church Around the Corner, nestling
in its hiding-place just off the Avenue. He remembered its restful
quiet, the coolness of its aisles and alcoves. He was exhausted, and he
went in. He sat down facing the chancel, and as his eyes became
accustomed to the gloom he saw that the broad, low dais in front of the
organ was banked with great masses of hydrangeas. There had been a
wedding, probably the evening before. My friend told me of the
thickening that came in his throat, of the strange, terrible throb in
his heart as he sat there alone--the only soul in the church--and stared
at those hydrangeas. Hydrangeas had been their own wedding flower,
Father. And then----"

For the first time there was something like a break in the younger man's
voice.

"My friend thought he was alone," he went on. "But some one had come out
like a shadow beyond the chancel railing, and of a sudden, beginning
wonderfully low and sweet, the great organ began to fill the church with
its melody. The organist, too, thought he was alone. He was a little,
old man, his shoulders thin and drooped, his hair white. But in his soul
there must have been a great love and a great peace. He played something
low and sweet. When he had finished he rose and went away as quietly as
he had come, and for a long time after that my friend sat there--alone.
Something new was born in him, something which I hope will grow and
comfort him in the years to come. When he went out into the city again
the sun was shining. He did not go home. He did not see the woman--his
wife--again. He has never seen her since that night when she stood up in
her dishevelled beauty and _laughed_ at him. Even the divorce
proceedings did not bring them together. I believe that he treated her
fairly. Through his attorneys he turned over to her a half of what he
possessed. Then he went away. That was a year ago. In that year I know
that he has fought desperately to bring himself back into his old health
of mind and body, and I am quite sure that he has failed."

He paused, his story finished. He drew the brim of his hat lower over
his eyes, and then he rose to his feet. His build was slim and
clean-cut. He was perhaps five feet ten inches in height, which was four
inches taller than the Little Missioner. His shoulders were of good
breadth, his waist and hips of an athletic slimness. But his clothes
hung with a certain looseness. His hands were unnaturally thin, and in
his face still hovered the shadows of sickness and of mental suffering.

Father Roland stood beside him now with eyes that shone with a deep
understanding. Under the sputter of the lamp above their heads the two
men clasped hands, and the Little Missioner's grip was like the grip of
iron.

"David, I've preached a strange code through the wilderness for many a
long year," he said, and his voice was vibrant with a strong emotion.
"I'm not Catholic and I'm not Church of England. I've got no religion
that wears a name. I'm simply Father Roland, and all these years I've
helped to bury the dead in the forest, an' nurse the sick, an' marry the
living, an' it may be that I've learned one thing better than most of
you who live down in civilization. And that's how to find yourself when
you're down an' out. Boy, will you come with me?"

Their eyes met. A fiercer gust of the storm beat against the windows.
They could hear the wind wailing in the trees outside.

"It was your story that you told me," said Father Roland, his voice
barely above a whisper. "She was your wife, David?"

It was very still for a few moments. Then came the reply: "Yes, she was
my wife...."

Suddenly David freed his hand from the Little Missioner's clasp. He had
stopped something that was almost like a cry on his lips. He pulled his
hat still lower over his eyes and went through the door out into the
main part of the coach.

Father Roland did not follow. Some of the ruddiness had gone from his
cheeks, and as he stood facing the door through which David had
disappeared a smouldering fire began to burn far back in his eyes. After
a few moments this fire died out, and his face was gray and haggard as
he sat down again in his corner. His hands unclenched. With a great sigh
his head drooped forward on his chest, and for a long time he sat thus,
his eyes and face lost in shadow. One would not have known that he was
breathing.



CHAPTER II


Half a dozen times that night David had walked from end to end of the
five snowbound coaches that made up the Transcontinental. He believed
that for him it was an act of Providence that had delayed the train.
Otherwise a sleeping car would have been picked up at the next
divisional point, and he would not have unburdened himself to Father
Roland. They would not have sat up until that late hour in the smoking
compartment, and this strange little man of the forest would not have
told him the story of a lonely cabin up on the edge of the Barrens--a
story of strange pathos and human tragedy that had, in some mysterious
way, unsealed his own lips. David had kept to himself the shame and
heartbreak of his own affliction since the day he had been compelled to
tell it, coldly and without visible emotion, to gain his own freedom. He
had meant to keep it to himself always. And of a sudden it had all come
out. He was not sorry. He was glad. He was amazed at the change in
himself. That day had been a terrible day for him. He could not get
_her_ out of his mind. Now a depressing hand seemed to have lifted
itself from his heart. He was quick to understand. His story had not
fallen upon ears eager with sensual curiosity. He had met a _man_, and
from the soul of that man there had reached out to him the spirit of a
deep and comforting strength. He would have revolted at compassion, and
words of pity would have shamed him. Father Roland had given voice to
neither of these. But the grip of his hand had been like the grip of an
iron man.

In the third coach David sat down in an empty seat. For the first time
in many months there was a thrill of something in his blood which he
could not analyze. What had the Little Missioner meant when, with that
wonderful grip of his knotted hand, he had said, "I've learned how a man
can find himself when he's down and out"? And what had he meant when he
added, "Will you come with me"? Go with him? Where?

There came a sudden crash of the storm against the window, a shrieking
blast of wind and snow, and David stared into the night. He could see
nothing. It was a black chaos outside. But he could hear. He could hear
the wailing and the moaning of the wind in the trees, and he almost
fancied that it was not darkness alone that shut out his vision, but the
thick walls of the forest.

Was that what Father Roland had meant? Had he asked him to go with him
into _that_?

His face touched the cold glass. He stared harder. That morning Father
Roland had boarded the train at a wilderness station and had taken a
seat beside him. They had become acquainted. And later the Little
Missioner had told him how those vast forests reached without a break
for hundreds of miles into the mysterious North. He loved them, even as
they lay cold and white outside the windows. There was gladness in his
voice when he had said that he was going back into them. They were a
part of _his_ world--a world of "mystery and savage glory" he had
called it, stretching for a thousand miles to the edge of the Arctic,
and fifteen hundred miles from Hudson's Bay to the western mountains.
And to-night he had said, "Will you come with me?"

David's pulse quickened. A thousand little snow demons beat in his face
to challenge his courage. The wind swept down, as if enraged at the
thought in his mind, and scooped up volley after volley of drifting snow
and hurled them at him. There was only the thin glass between. It was
like the defiance of a living thing. It threatened him. It dared him. It
invited him out like a great bully, with a brawling show of fists. He
had always been more or less pusillanimous in the face of winter. He
disliked cold. He hated snow. But this that beat and shrieked at him
outside the window had set something stirring strangely within him. It
was a desire, whimsical and undecided at first, to thrust his face out
into that darkness and feel the sting of the wind and snow. It was
Father Roland's world. And Father Roland had invited him to enter it.
That was the curious part of the situation, as it was impressed upon him
as he sat with his face flattened against the window. The Little
Missioner had invited him, and the night was daring him. For a single
moment the incongruity of it all made him forget himself, and he
laughed--a chuckling, half-broken, and out-of-tune sort of laugh. It was
the first time in a year that he had forgotten himself anywhere near to
a point resembling laughter, and in the sudden and inexplicable
spontaneity of it he was startled. He turned quickly, as though some one
at his side had laughed and he was about to demand an explanation. He
looked across the aisle and his eyes met squarely the eyes of a woman.

He saw nothing but the eyes at first. They were big, dark, questing
eyes--eyes that had in them a hunting look, as though they hoped to find
in his face the answer to a great question. Never in his life had he
seen eyes that were so haunted by a great unrest, or that held in their
lustrous depths the smouldering glow of a deeper grief. Then the face
added itself to the eyes. It was not a young face. The woman was past
forty. But this age did not impress itself over a strange and appealing
beauty in her countenance which was like the beauty of a flower whose
petals are falling. Before David had seen more than this she turned her
eyes from him slowly and doubtfully, as if not quite convinced that she
had found what she sought, and faced the darkness beyond her own side of
the car.

David was puzzled, and he looked at her with still deeper interest. Her
seat was turned so that it was facing him across the aisle, three seats
ahead, and he could look at her without conspicuous effort or rudeness.
Her hood had slipped down and hung by its long scarf about her
shoulders. She leaned toward the window, and as she stared out, her chin
rested in the cup of her hand. He noticed that her hand was thin, and
that there was a shadowy hollow in the white pallor of her cheek. Her
hair was heavy and done in thick coils that glowed dully in the
lamplight. It was a deep brown, almost black, shot through with little
silvery threads of gray.

For a few moments David withdrew his gaze, subconsciously ashamed of the
directness of his scrutiny. But after a little his eyes drifted back to
her. Her head was sunk forward a little, he caught now a pathetic droop
of her shoulders, and he fancied that he saw a little shiver run through
her. Just as before he had felt the desire to thrust his face out into
the night, he felt now an equally unaccountable impulse to speak to her
and ask her if he could in any way be of service to her. But he could
see no excuse for this presumptuousness in himself. If she was in
distress it was not of a physical sort for which he might have suggested
his services as a remedy. She was neither hungry nor cold, for there was
a basket at her side in which he had a glimpse of broken bits of food;
and at her back, draped over the seat, was a heavy beaver-skin coat.

He rose to his feet with the intention of returning to the smoking
compartment in which he had left Father Roland. His movement seemed to
rouse the woman. Again her dark eyes met his own. They looked straight
up at him as he stood in the aisle, and he stopped. Her lips trembled.

"Are you ... acquainted ... between here and Lac Seul?" she asked.

Her voice had in it the same haunting mystery that he had seen in her
eyes, the same apprehension, the same hope, as though some curious and
indefinable instinct was telling her that in this stranger she was very
near to the thing which she was seeking.

"I am a stranger," he said. "This is the first time I have ever been in
this country."

She sank back, the look of hope in her face dying out like a passing
flash.

"I thank you," she murmured. "I thought perhaps you might know of a man
whom I am seeking--a man by the name of Michael O'Doone."

She did not expect him to speak again. She drew her heavy coat about her
and turned her face toward the window. There was nothing that he could
say, nothing that he could do, and he went back to Father Roland.

He was in the last coach when a sound came to him faintly. It was too
sharp for the wailing of the storm. Others heard it and grew suddenly
erect, with tense and listening faces. The young woman with the round
mouth gave a little gasp. A man pacing back and forth in the aisle
stopped as if at the point of a bayonet.

It came again.

The heavy-jowled man who had taken the adventure as a jest at first, and
who had rolled himself in his great coat like a hibernating woodchuck,
unloosed his voice in a rumble of joy.

"It's the whistle!" he announced. "The damned thing's coming at last!"



CHAPTER III


David came up quietly to the door of the smoking compartment where he
had left Father Roland. The Little Missioner was huddled in his corner
near the window. His head hung heavily forward and the shadows of his
black Stetson concealed his face. He was apparently asleep. His hands,
with their strangely developed joints and fingers, lay loosely upon his
knees. For fully half a minute David looked at him without moving or
making a sound, and as he looked, something warm and living seemed to
reach out from the lonely figure of the wilderness preacher that filled
him with a strangely new feeling of companionship. Again he made no
effort to analyze the change in himself; he accepted it as one of the
two or three inexplicable phenomena this night and the storm had
produced for him, and was chiefly concerned in the fact that he was no
longer oppressed by that torment of aloneness which had been a part of
his nights and days for so many months. He was about to speak when he
made up his mind not to disturb the other. So certain was he that Father
Roland was asleep that he drew away from the door on the tips of his
toes and reëntered the coach.

He did not stop in the first or second car, though there were plenty of
empty seats and people were rousing themselves into more cheerful
activity. He passed through one and then the other to the third coach,
and sat down when he came to the seat he had formerly occupied. He did
not immediately look at the woman across the aisle. He did not want her
to suspect that he had come back for that purpose. When his eyes did
seek her in a casual sort of way he was disappointed.

She was almost covered in her coat. He caught only the gleam of her
thick, dark hair, and the shape of one slim hand, white as paper in the
lampglow. He knew that she was not asleep, for he saw her shoulders
move, and the hand shifted its position to hold the coat closer about
her. The whistling of the approaching engine, which could be heard
distinctly now, had no apparent effect on her. For ten minutes he sat
staring at all he could see of her--the dark glow of her hair and the
one ghostly white hand. He moved, he shuffled his feet, he coughed; he
made sure she knew he was there, but she did not look up. He was sorry
that he had not brought Father Roland with him in the first place, for
he was certain that if the Little Missioner had seen the grief and the
despair in her eyes--the hope almost burned out--he would have gone to
her and said things which he had found it impossible to say when the
opportunity had come to him. He rose again from his seat as the powerful
snow-engine and its consort coupled on to the train. The shock almost
flung him off his feet. Even then she did not raise her head.

A second time he returned to the smoking compartment.

Father Roland was no longer huddled down in his corner. He was on his
feet, his hands thrust deep down into his trousers pockets, and he was
whistling softly as David came in. His hat lay on the seat. It was the
first time David had seen his round, rugged, weather-reddened face
without the big Stetson. He looked younger and yet older; his face, as
David saw it there in the lampglow, had something in the ruddy glow and
deeply lined strength of it that was almost youthful. But his thick,
shaggy hair was very gray. The train had begun to move. He turned to the
window for a moment, and then looked at David.

"We are under way," he said. "Very soon I will be getting off."

David sat down.

"It is some distance beyond the divisional point ahead--this cabin where
you get off?" he asked.

"Yes, twenty or twenty-five miles. There is nothing but a cabin and two
or three log outbuildings there--where Thoreau, the Frenchman, has his
fox pens, as I told you. It is not a regular stop, but the train will
slow down to throw off my dunnage and give me an easy jump. My dogs and
Indian are with Thoreau."

"And from there--from Thoreau's--it is a long distance to the place you
call home?"

The Little Missioner rubbed his hands in a queer rasping way. The
movement of those rugged hands and the curious, chuckling laugh that
accompanied it, radiated a sort of cheer. They were expressions of more
than satisfaction. "It's a great many miles to my own cabin, but it's
home--all home--after I get into the forests. My cabin is at the lower
end of God's Lake, three hundred miles by dogs and sledge from
Thoreau's--three hundred miles as straight north as a _niskuk_ flies."

"A _niskuk_?" said David.

"Yes--a gray goose."

"Don't you have crows?"

"A few; but they're as crooked in flight as they are in morals. They're
scavengers, and they hang down pretty close to the line of rail--close
to civilization, where there's a lot of scavenging to be done, you
know."

For the second time that night David found a laugh on his lips.

"Then--you don't like civilization?"

"My heart is in the Northland," replied Father Roland, and David saw a
sudden change in the other's face, a dying out of the light in his eyes,
a tenseness that came and went like a flash at the corners of his mouth.
In that same moment he saw the Missioner's hand tighten, and the fingers
knot themselves curiously and then slowly relax.

One of these hands dropped on David's shoulder, and Father Roland became
the questioner.

"You have been thinking, since you left me a little while ago?" he
asked.

"Yes. I came back. But you were asleep."

"I haven't been asleep. I have been awake every minute. I thought once
that I heard a movement at the door but when I looked up there was no
one there. You told me to-day that you were going west--to the British
Columbia mountains?"

David nodded. Father Roland sat down beside him.

"Of course you didn't tell me why you were going," he went on. "I have
made my own guess since you told me about the woman, David. Probably you
will never know just why your story has struck so deeply home with me
and why it seemed to make you more a son to me than a stranger. I have
guessed that in going west you are simply wandering. You are fighting in
a vain and foolish sort of way to run away from something. Isn't that
it? You are running away--trying to escape the one thing in the whole
wide world that you cannot lose by flight--and that's memory. You can
_think_ just as hard in Japan or the South Sea Islands as you can on
Fifth Avenue in New York, and sometimes the farther away you get the
more maddening your thoughts become. It isn't travel you want, David.
It's blood--_red_ blood. And for putting blood into you, and courage,
and joy of just living and breathing, there's nothing on the face of the
earth like--_that_!"

He reached an arm past David and pointed to the night beyond the car
window.

"You mean the storm, and the snow----"

"Yes; storm, and snow, and sunshine, and forests--the tens of thousands
of miles of our Northland that you've seen only the edges of. That's
what I mean. But, first of all"--and again the Little Missioner rubbed
his hands--"first of all, I'm thinking of the supper that's waiting for
us at Thoreau's. Will you get off and have supper with me at the
Frenchman's, David? After that, if you decide not to go up to God's Lake
with me, Thoreau can bring you and your luggage back to the station with
his dog team. Such a supper--or breakfast--it will be! I can smell it
now, for I know Thoreau--his fish, his birds, the tenderest steaks in
the forests! I can hear Thoreau cursing because the train hasn't come,
and I'll wager he's got fish and caribou tenderloin and partridges just
ready for a final turn in the roaster. What do you say? Will you get off
with me?"

"It is a tempting offer to a hungry man, Father."

The Little Missioner chuckled elatedly.

"Hunger!--that's the real medicine of the gods, David, when the belt
isn't drawn too tight. If I want to know the nature and quality of a man
I ask about his stomach. Did you ever know a man who loved to eat who
wasn't of a pretty decent sort? Did you ever know of a man who loved
pie--who'd go out of his way to get pie--that didn't have a heart in him
bigger than a pumpkin? I guess you didn't. If a man's got a good stomach
he isn't a grouch, and he won't stick a knife into your back; but if he
eats from habit--or necessity--he isn't a beautiful character in the
eyes of nature, and there's pretty sure to be a cog loose somewhere in
his makeup. I'm a grub-scientist, David. I warn you of that before we
get off at Thoreau's. I love to eat, and the Frenchman knows it. That's
why I can smell things in that cabin, forty miles away."

He was rubbing his hands briskly and his face radiated such joyous
anticipation as he talked that David unconsciously felt the spirit of
his enthusiasm. He had gripped one of Father Roland's hands and was
pumping it up and down almost before he realized what he was doing.

"I'll get off with you at Thoreau's," he exclaimed, "and later, if I
feel as I do now, and you still want my company, I'll go on with you
into the north country!"

A slight flush rose into his thin cheeks and his eyes shone with a
freshly lighted enthusiasm. As Father Roland saw the change in him his
hands closed over David's.

"I knew you had a splendid stomach in you from the moment you finished
telling me about the woman," he cried exultantly. "I knew it, David. And
I do want your company--I want it as I never wanted the company of
another man!"

"That is the strange part of it," replied David, a slight quiver in his
voice. He drew away his hands suddenly and with a jerk brought himself
to his feet. "Good God! look at me!" he cried. "I am a wreck,
physically. It would be a lie if you told me I am not. See these
hands--these arms! I'm down and out. I'm weak as a dog, and the stomach
you speak of is a myth. I haven't eaten a square meal in a year. Why do
you want me as a companion? Why do you think it would be a pleasure for
you to drag a decrepit misfit like myself up into a country like yours?
Is it because of your--your code of faith? Is it because you think you
may save a soul?"

He was breathing deeply. As he excoriated himself and bared his weakness
the hot blood crept slowly into his face.

"Why do you want me to go?" he demanded. "Why don't you ask some man
with red blood in his veins and a heart that hasn't been burned out? Why
have you asked me?"

Father Roland made as if to speak, and then caught himself. Again for a
passing flash there came that mysterious change in him, a sudden dying
out of the enthusiasm in his eyes, and a grayness in his face that came
and went like a shadow of pain. In another moment he was saying:

"I'm not playing the part of the good Samaritan, David. I've got a
personal and a selfish reason for wanting you with me. It may be
possible--just possible, I say--that I need you even more than you will
need me." He held out his hand. "Let me have your checks and I'll go
ahead to the baggage car and arrange to have your dunnage thrown off
with mine at the Frenchman's."

David gave him the checks, and sat down after he had gone. He began to
realize that, for the first time in many months, he was taking a deep
and growing interest in matters outside his own life. The night and its
happenings had kindled a strange fire within him, and the warmth of this
fire ran through his veins and set his body and his brain tingling
curiously. New forces were beginning to fight his own malady. As he sat
alone after Father Roland had gone, his mind had dragged itself away
from the East; he thought of a woman, but it was the woman in the third
coach back. Her wonderful eyes haunted him--their questing despair, the
strange pain that seemed to burn like glowing coals in their depths. He
had seen not only misery and hopelessness in them; he had seen tragedy;
and they troubled him. He made up his mind to tell Father Roland about
her when he returned from the baggage car, and take him to her.

And who was Father Roland? For the first time he asked himself the
question. There was something of mystery about the Little Missioner that
he found as strange and unanswerable as the thing he had seen in the
eyes of the woman in the third car back. Father Roland had not been
asleep when he looked in and saw him hunched down in his corner near the
window, just as a little later he had seen the woman crumpled down in
hers. It was as if the same oppressing hand had been upon them in those
moments. And why had Father Roland asked him of all men to go with him
as a comrade into the North? Following this he asked himself the still
more puzzling question: Why had he accepted the invitation?

He stared out into the night, as if that night held an answer for him.
He had not noticed until now that the storm had ceased its beating
against the window. It was not so black outside. With his face close to
the glass he could make out the dark wall of the forest. From the rumble
of the trucks under him he knew that the two engines were making good
time. He looked at his watch. It was a quarter of twelve. They had been
travelling for half an hour and he figured that the divisional point
ahead would be reached by midnight. It seemed a very short time after
that when he heard the tiny bell in his watch tinkle off the hour of
twelve. The last strokes were drowned in a shrill blast of the engine
whistle, and a moment later he caught the dull glow of lights in the
hollow of a wide curve the train was making.

Father Roland had told him the train would wait at this point fifteen
minutes, and even now he heard the clanging of handbells announcing the
fact that hot coffee, sandwiches, and ready-prepared suppers were
awaiting the half-starved passengers. The trucks grated harshly, the
whirring groan of the air-brakes ran under him like a great sigh, and
suddenly he was looking down into the face of a pop-eyed man who was
clanging a bell, with all the strength of his right arm, under his
window, and who, with this labour, was emitting a husky din of
"Supper--supper 'ot an' ready at the Royal" in his vain effort to drown
the competition of a still more raucous voice that was bellowing: "'Ot
steaks _an'_ liver'n onions at the Queen Alexandry!" As David made no
movement the man under his window stretched up his neck and yelled a
personal invitation, "W'y don't you come out and eat, old chap? You've
got fifteen minutes an' mebby 'arf an 'our; supper--supper 'ot an' ready
at the Royal!" Up and down the length of the dimly lighted platform
David heard that clangor of bells, and as if determined to capture his
stomach or die, the pop-eyed man never moved an inch from his window,
while behind him there jostled and hurried an eager and steadily growing
crowd of hungry people.

David thought again of the woman in the third coach back. Was she
getting off here, he wondered? He went to the door of the smoking
compartment and waited another half minute for Father Roland. It was
quite evident that his delay was occasioned by some difficulty in the
baggage car, a difficulty which perhaps his own presence might help to
straighten out. He hesitated between the thought of joining the
Missioner and the stronger impulse to go back into the third coach. He
was conscious of a certain feeling of embarrassment as he returned for
the third time to look at her. He was not anxious for her to see him
again unless Father Roland was with him. His hesitancy, if it was not
altogether embarrassment, was caused by the fear that she might quite
naturally regard his interest in a wrong light. He was especially
sensitive upon that point, and had always been. The fact that she was
not a young woman, and that he had seen her dark hair finely threaded
with gray, made no difference with him in his peculiarly chivalric
conception of man's attitude toward woman. He did not mean to impress
himself upon her; this time he merely wanted to see whether she had
roused herself, or had left the car. At least this was the trend of his
mental argument as he entered the third coach.

The car was empty. The woman was gone. Even the old man who had hobbled
in on crutches at the last station had hobbled out again in response to
the clanging bells. When he came to the seat where the woman had been,
David paused, and would have turned back had he not chanced to look out
through the window. He was just in time to catch the quick upturn of a
passing face. It was _her_ face. She saw him and recognized him; she
seemed for a moment to hesitate; her eyes were filled again with that
haunting fire; her lips trembled as if about to speak; and then, like a
mysterious shadow, she drifted out of his vision into darkness.

For a space he remained in his bent and staring attitude, trying to
pierce the gloom into which she had disappeared. As he drew back from
the window, wondering what she must think of him, his eyes fell to the
seat where she had been sitting, and he saw that she had left something
behind.

It was a very thin package, done up in a bit of newspaper and tied with
a red string. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It was
five or six inches in width and perhaps eight in length, and was not
more than half an inch in thickness. The newspaper in which the object
was wrapped was worn until the print was almost obliterated.

Again he looked out through the window. Was it a trick of his eyes, he
wondered, or did he see once more that pale and haunting face in the
gloom just beyond the lampglow? His fingers closed a little tighter upon
the thin packet in his hand. At least he had found an excuse; if she was
still there--if he could find her--he had an adequate apology for going
to her. She had forgotten something; it was simply a matter of courtesy
on his part to return it. As he alighted into the half foot of snow on
the platform he could have given no other reason for his action. His
mind could not clarify itself; it had no cohesiveness of purpose or of
emotion at this particular juncture. It was as if a strange and magnetic
undertow were drawing him after her. And he obeyed the impulse. He began
seeking for her, with the thin packet in his hand.



CHAPTER IV


David followed where he fancied he had last seen the woman's face and
caught himself just in time to keep from pitching over the edge of the
platform. Beyond that there was a pit of blackness. Surely she had not
gone there.

Two or three of the bells were still clanging, but with abated
enthusiasm; from the dimly lighted platform, grayish-white in the
ghostly flicker of the oil lamps, the crowd of hungry passengers was
ebbing swiftly in its quest of food and drink; a last half-hearted
bawling of the virtue to be found in the "hot steak _an_' liver'n onions
at the Royal Alexandry" gave way to a comforting silence--a silence
broken only by a growing clatter of dishes, the subdued wheezing of the
engines, and the raucous voice of a train-man telling the baggage-man
that the hump between his shoulders was not a head but a knot kindly
tied there by his Creator to keep him from unravelling. Even the promise
of a fight--at least of a blow or two delivered in the gray gloom of the
baggage-man's door--did not turn David from his quest. When he returned,
a few minutes later, two or three sympathetic friends were nursing the
baggage-man back into consciousness. He was about to pass the group when
some one gripped his arm, and a familiar and joyous chuckle sounded in
his ear. Father Roland stood beside him.

"Dear Father in Heaven, but it was a _terrible_ blow, David!" cried the
Little Missioner, his face dancing in the flare of the baggage-room
lamps. "It was a tre_men_dous blow--straight out from his shoulders like
a battering ram, and hard as rock! It put him to sleep like a baby. Did
you see it?"

"I didn't," said David, staring at the other in amazement.

"He deserved it," explained Father Roland. "I love to see a good, clean
blow when it's delivered in the right, David. I've seen the time when a
hard fist was worth more than a preacher and his prayers." He was
chuckling delightedly as they turned back to the train. "The baggage is
arranged for," he added. "They'll put us off together at the
Frenchman's."

David had slipped the thin packet into his pocket. He no longer felt so
keenly the desire to tell Father Roland about the woman--at least not at
the present time. His quest had been futile. The woman had disappeared
as completely as though she had actually floated away into that pit of
darkness beyond the far end of the platform. He had drawn but one
conclusion. This place--Graham--was her home; undoubtedly friends had
been at the station to meet her; even now she might be telling them, or
a husband, or a grown-up son, of the strange fellow who had stared at
her in such a curious fashion. Disappointment in not finding her had
brought a reaction. He had an inward and uncomfortable feeling of having
been very silly, and of having allowed his imagination to get the better
of his common sense. He had persuaded himself to believe that she had
been in very great distress. He had acted honestly and with chivalric
intentions. And yet, after what had passed between him and Father Roland
in the smoking compartment--and in view of his failure to establish a
proof of his own convictions--he was determined to keep this particular
event of the night to himself.

A loud voice began to announce that the moment of departure had arrived,
and as the passengers began scrambling back into their coaches, Father
Roland led the way to the baggage car.

"They're going to let us ride with the dunnage so there won't be any
mistake or time lost when we get to Thoreau's," he said.

They climbed up into the warm and lighted car, and after the baggage-man
in charge had given them a sour nod of recognition the first thing that
David noticed was his own and Father Roland's property stacked up near
the door. His own belongings were a steamer trunk and two black morocco
bags, while Father Roland's share of the pile consisted mostly of boxes
and bulging gunny sacks that must have weighed close to half a ton. Near
the pile was a pair of scales, shoved back against the wall of the car.
David laughed queerly as he nodded toward them. They gave him a rather
satisfying inspiration. With them he could prove the incongruity of the
partnership that had already begun to exist between him and the
Missioner. He weighed himself, with Father Roland looking on. The scales
balanced at 132.

"And I'm five feet nine in height," he said, disgustedly; "it should be
160. You see where I'm at!"

"I knew a 200-pound pig once that worried himself down to ninety
because the man who kept him also kept skunks," replied Father Roland,
with his odd chuckle. "Next to small-pox and a bullet through your
heart, worry is about the blackest, man-killingest thing on earth,
David. See that bag?"

He pointed to one of the bulging gunny sacks.

"That's the antidote," he said. "It's the best medicine I know of in the
grub line for a man who's lost his grip. There's the making of three men
in that sack."

"What is it?" asked David, curiously.

The Missioner bent over to examine a card attached to the neck of the
bag.

"To be perfectly accurate it contains 110 pounds of beans," he answered.

"Beans! Great Heavens! I loathe them!"

"So do most down-and-outs," affirmed Father Roland, cheerfully. "That's
one reason for the peculiar psychological value of beans. They begin to
tell you when you're getting weaned away from a lobster palate and a
stuffed-crab stomach, and when you get to the point where you want 'em
on your regular bill of fare you'll find more fun in chopping down a
tree than in going to a grand opera. But the beans must be _cooked_
right, David--browned like a nut, juicy to the heart of 'em, and
seasoned alongside a broiling duck or partridge, or a tender rabbit.
Ah!"

The Little Missioner rubbed his hands ecstatically.

David's rejoinder, if one was on his lips, was interrupted by a violent
cursing. The train was well under way, and the baggage-man had sat down
to a small table with his back toward them. He had leaped to his feet
now, his face furious, and with another demoniac curse he gave the coal
skuttle a kick that sent it with a bang to the far end of the car. The
table was littered with playing cards.

"Damn 'em--they beat me this time in ten plays!" he yelled. "They've got
the devil in 'em! If they was alive I'd jump on 'em! I've played this
game of solitaire for nineteen years--I've played a million games--an'
damned if I ever got beat in my life as it's beat me since we left
Halifax!"

"Dear Heaven!" gasped Father Roland. "Have you been playing all the way
from Halifax?"

The solitaire fiend seemed not to hear, and resuming his seat with a low
and ominous muttering, he dealt himself another hand. In less than a
minute he was on his feet again, shaking the cards angrily under the
Little Missioner's nose as though that individual were entirely
accountable for his bad luck.

"Look at that accursed trey of hearts!" he demanded. "First card, ain't
it? First card!--an' if it had been the third, 'r the sixth, 'r the
ninth, 'r anything except that confounded Number One, I'd have slipped
the game up my sleeve. Ain't it enough to wreck any honest man's soul? I
ask you--ain't it?"

"Why don't you change the trey of hearts to the place that suits you?"
asked David, innocently. "It seems to me it would be very easy to move
it to third place in the deck if you want it there."

The baggage-man's bulging eyes seemed ready to pop as he stared at
David, and when he saw that David really meant what he had said a look
of unutterable disgust spread over his countenance. Then he grinned--a
sickly and malicious sort of grin.

"Say, mister, you've never played solitaire, have you?" he asked.

"Never," confessed David.

Without another word the baggage-man hunched himself over his table,
dealt himself another hand, and not until the train began slowing up for
Thoreau's place did he rise from his seat or cease his low mutterings
and grumblings. In response to the engineer's whistle he jumped to his
feet and rolled back the car door.

"Now step lively!" he demanded. "We've got no orders to stop here and
we'll have to dump this stuff out on the move!"

As he spoke he gave the hundred and ten pounds of beans a heave out into
the night. Father Roland jumped to his assistance, and David saw his
steamer trunk and his hand-bags follow the beans.

"The snow is soft and deep, an' there won't be any harm done," Father
Roland assured him as he tossed out a 50-pound box of prunes.

David heard sounds now: a man's shout, a fiendish tonguing of dogs, and
above that a steady chorus of yapping which he guessed came from the
foxes. Suddenly a lantern gleamed, then a second and a third, and a
dark, bearded face--a fierce and piratical-looking face--began running
along outside the door. The last box and the last bag went off, and with
a sudden movement the train-man hauled David to the door.

"Jump!" he cried.

The face and the lantern had fallen behind, and it was as black as an
abyss outside. With a mute prayer David launched himself much as he had
seen the bags and boxes sent out. He fell with a thud in a soft blanket
of snow. He looked up in time to see the Little Missioner flying out
like a curious gargoyle through the door; the baggage-man's lantern
waved, the engineer's whistle gave a responding screech, and the train
whirred past. Not until the tail-light of the last coach was receding
like a great red firefly in the gloom did David get up. Father Roland
was on his feet, and down the track came two of the three lanterns on
the run.

It was all unusually weird and strangely interesting to David. He was
breathing deeply. There was a warmth in his body which was new to him.
It struck him all at once, as he heard Father Roland crunching through
the snow, that he was experiencing an entirely new phase of life--a life
he had read about at times and dreamed of at other times, but which he
had never come physically in contact with. The yapping of the foxes, the
crying of the dogs, those lanterns hurrying down the track, the
blackness of the night, and the strong perfume of balsam in the cold
air--an odour that he breathed deep into his lungs like the fumes of an
exhilarating drink--quickened sharply a pulse that a few hours before he
thought was almost lifeless. He had no time to ask himself whether he
was enjoying these new sensations; he felt only the thrill of them as
Thoreau and the Indian came up out of the night with their lanterns. In
Thoreau himself, as he stood a moment later in the glow of the lanterns,
was embodied the living, breathing spirit of this new world into which
David's leap out of the baggage car had plunged him. He was picturesquely
of the wild; his face was darkly bearded; his ivory-white teeth  shining
as he smiled a welcome; his tricoloured, Hudson's Bay coat of wool,
with its frivolous red fringes, thrown open at the throat; the bushy
tail of his fisher-skin cap hanging over a shoulder--and with these
things his voice rattling forth, in French and half Indian, his joy
that Father Roland was not dead but had arrived at last. Behind him
stood the Indian--his face without expression, dark, shrouded--a bronze
sphinx of mystery. But his eyes shone as the Little Missioner greeted
him--shone so darkly and so full of fire that for a moment David was
fascinated by them. Then David was introduced.

"I am happy to meet you, m'sieu," said the Frenchman. His race was
softly polite, even in the forests, and Thoreau's voice, now mildly
subdued, came strangely from the bearded wildness of his face. The grip
of his hand was like Father Roland's--something David had never felt
among his friends back in the city. He winced in the darkness, and for a
long time afterward his fingers tingled.

It was then that David made his first break in the etiquette of the
forests; a fortunate one, as time proved. He did not know that shaking
hands with an Indian was a matter of some formality, and so when Father
Roland said, "This is Mukoki, who has been with me for many years,"
David thrust out his hand. Mukoki looked him straight in the eye for a
moment, and then his blanket-coat parted and his slim, dark hand reached
out. Having received his lesson from both the Missioner and the
Frenchman, David put into his grip all the strength that was in him--the
warmest hand-shake Mukoki had ever received in his life from a white
man, with the exception of his master, the Missioner.

The next thing David heard was Father Roland's voice inquiring eagerly
about supper. Thoreau's reply was in French.

"He says the cabin is like the inside of a great, roast duck," chuckled
the Missioner. "Come, David. We'll leave Mukoki to gather up our
freight."

A short walk up the track and David saw the cabin. It was back in the
shelter of the black spruce and balsam, its two windows that faced the
railroad warmly illumined by the light inside. The foxes had ceased
their yapping, but the snarling and howling of dogs became more
bloodthirsty as they drew nearer, and David could hear an ominous
clinking of chains and snapping of teeth. A few steps more and they were
at the door. Thoreau himself opened it, and stood back.

"_Après vous, m'sieu_," he said, his white teeth shining at David. "It
would give me bad luck and possibly all my foxes would die, if I went
into my house ahead of a stranger."

David went in. An Indian woman stood with her back to him, bending over
a table. She was as slim as a reed, and had the longest and sleekest
black hair he had ever seen, done in two heavy braids that hung down her
back. In another moment she had turned her round, brown face, and her
teeth and eyes were shining, but she spoke no word. Thoreau did not
introduce his wild-flower wife. He had opened his cabin door, and had
let David enter before him, which was accepting him as a friend in his
home, and therefore, in his understanding of things, an introduction was
unnecessary and out of place. Father Roland chuckled, rubbed his hands
briskly, and said something to the woman in her own language that made
her giggle shyly. It was contagious. David smiled. Father Roland's face
was crinkled with little lines of joy. The Frenchman's teeth gleamed. In
the big cook-stove the fire snapped and crackled and popped. Marie
opened the stove door to put in more wood and her face shone rosy and
her teeth were like milk in the fire-flash. Thoreau went to her and laid
his big, heavy hand fondly on her sleek head, and said something in soft
Cree that brought another giggle into Marie's throat, like the curious
note of a bird.

In David there was a slow and wonderful awakening. Every fibre of him
was stirred by the cheer of this cabin builded from logs rough-hewn out
of the forest; his body, weakened by the months of mental and physical
anguish which had been his burden, seemed filled with a new strength.
Unconsciously he was smiling and his soul was rising out of its dark
prison as he saw Thoreau's big hand stroking Marie's shining hair. He
was watching Thoreau when, at a word from Marie, the Frenchman suddenly
swung open the oven door and pulled forth a huge roasting pan.

At sight of the pan Father Roland gave a joyous cry, and he rubbed his
hands raspingly together. The rich aroma of that pan! A delicious whiff
of it had struck their nostrils even before the cabin door had
opened--that and a perfume of coffee; but not until now did the
fragrance of the oven and the pan smite them with all its potency.

"Mallards fattened on wild rice, and a rabbit--my favourite--a rabbit
roasted with an onion where his heart was, and well peppered," gloated
the Little Missioner. "Dear Heaven! was there ever such a mess to put
strength into a man's gizzard, David? And coffee--this coffee of
Marie's! It is more than ambrosia. It is an elixir which transforms a
cup into a fountain of youth. Take off your coat, David; take off your
coat and make yourself at home!"

As David stripped off his coat, and followed that with his collar and
tie, he thought of his steamer trunk with its Tuxedo and dress-coat, its
piqué shirts and poke collars, its suede gloves and kid-topped patent
leathers, and he felt the tips of his ears beginning to burn. He was
sorry now that he had given the Missioner the check to that trunk.

A minute later he was sousing his face in a big tin wash-basin, and then
drying it on a towel that had once been a burlap bag. But he had noticed
that it was clean--as clean as the pink-flushed face of Marie. And the
Frenchman himself, with all his hair, and his beard, and his rough-worn
clothing, was as clean as the burlap towelling. Being a stranger,
suddenly plunged into a life entirely new to him, these things impressed
David.

When they sat down to the table--Thoreau sitting for company, and Marie
standing behind them--he was at a loss at first to know how to begin.
His plate was of tin and a foot in diameter, and on it was a three-pound
mallard duck, dripping with juice and as brown as a ripe hazel-nut. He
made a business of arranging his sleeves and drinking a glass of water
while he watched the famished Little Missioner. With a chuckle of
delight Father Roland plunged the tines of his fork hilt deep into the
breast of the duck, seized a leg in his fingers, and dismembered the
luscious anatomy of his plate with a deft twist and a sudden pull. With
his teeth buried in the leg he looked across at David. David had eaten
duck before; that is, he had eaten of the family _anas boschas_
disguised in thick gravies and highbrow sauces, but this duck that he
ate at Thoreau's table was like no other duck that he had ever tasted in
all his life. He began with misgivings at the three-pound carcass, and
he ended with an entirely new feeling of stuffed satisfaction. He
explored at will into its structure, and he found succulent morsels
which he had never dreamed of as existing in this particular bird, for
his experience had never before gone beyond a leg of duck and thinly
carved slices of breast of duck, at from eighty cents to a dollar and a
quarter an order. He would have been ashamed of himself when he had
finished had it not been that Father Roland seemed only at the
beginning, and was turning the vigour of his attack from duck to rabbit
and onion. From then on David kept him company by drinking a third cup
of coffee.

When he had finished Father Roland settled back with a sigh of content,
and drew a worn buckskin pouch from one of the voluminous pockets of his
trousers. Out of this he produced a black pipe and tobacco. At the same
time Thoreau was filling and lighting his own. In his studies and
late-hour work at home David himself had been a pipe smoker, but of late
his pipe had been distasteful to him, and it had been many weeks since
he had indulged in anything but cigars and an occasional cigarette. He
looked at the placid satisfaction in the Little Missioner's face, and
saw Thoreau's head wreathed in smoke, and he felt for the first time in
those weeks the return of his old desire. While they were eating, Mukoki
and another Indian had brought in his trunk and bags, and he went now to
one of the bags, opened it, and got his own pipe and tobacco. As he
stuffed the bowl of his English briar, and lighted the tobacco, Father
Roland's glowing face beamed at him through the fragrant fumes of his
Hudson's Bay Mixture.

Against the wall, a little in shadow, so that she would not be a part of
their company or whatever conversation they might have, Marie had seated
herself, her round chin in the cup of her brown hand, her dark eyes
shining at this comfort and satisfaction of men. Such scenes as this
amply repaid her for all her toil in life. She was happy. There was
content in this cabin. David felt it. It impinged itself upon him, and
through him, in a strange and mysterious way. Within these log walls he
felt the presence of that spirit--the joy of companionship and of
life--which had so terribly eluded and escaped him in his own home of
wealth and luxury. He heard Marie speak only once that night--once, in a
low, soft voice to Thoreau. She was silent with the silence of the Cree
wife in the presence of a stranger, but he knew that her heart was
throbbing with the soft pulse of happiness, and for some reason he was
glad when Thoreau nodded proudly toward a closed door and let him know
that she was a mother. Marie heard him, and in that moment David caught
in her face a look that made his heart ache--a look that should have
been a part of his own life, and which he had missed.

A little later Thoreau led the way into the room which David was to
occupy for the night. It was a small room, with a sapling partition
between it and the one in which the Missioner was to sleep. The fox
breeder placed a lamp on the table near the bed, and bade David
good-night.

It was past two o'clock, and yet David felt at the present moment no
desire for sleep. After he had taken off his shoes and partially
undressed, he sat on the edge of his bed and allowed his mind to sweep
back over the events of the last few hours. Again he thought of the
woman in the coach--the woman with those wonderful, dark eyes and
haunting face--and he drew forth from his coat pocket the package which
she had forgotten. He handled it curiously. He looked at the red string,
noted how tightly the knot was tied, and turned it over and over in his
hands before he snapped the string. He was a little ashamed at his
eagerness to know what was within its worn newspaper wrapping. He felt
the disgrace of his curiosity, even though he assured himself there was
no reason why he should not investigate the package now when all
ownership was lost. He knew that he would never see the woman again, and
that she would always remain a mystery to him unless what he held in his
hands revealed the secret of her identity.

A half minute more and he was leaning over in the full light of the
lamp, his two hands clutching the thing which the paper had disclosed
when it dropped to the floor, his eyes staring, his lips parted, and his
heart seeming to stand still in the utter amazement of the moment!



CHAPTER V


David held in his hands a photograph--the picture of a girl. He had half
guessed what he would find when he began to unfold the newspaper
wrapping and saw the edge of gray cardboard. In the same breath had come
his astonishment--a surprise that was almost a shock. The night had been
filled with changes for him; forces which he had not yet begun to
comprehend had drawn him into the beginning of a strange adventure; they
had purged his thoughts of _himself_; they had forced upon him other
things, other people, and a glimpse or two of another sort of life; he
had seen tragedy, and happiness--a bit of something to laugh at; and he
had felt the thrill of it all. A few hours had made him the bewildered
and yet passive object of the unexpected. And now, as he sat alone on
the edge of his bed, had come the climax of the unexpected.

The girl in the picture was not dead--not merely a lifeless shadow put
there by the art of a camera. She was alive! That was his first
thought--his first impression. It was as if he had come upon her
suddenly, and by his presence had startled her--had made her face him
squarely, tensely, a little frightened, and yet defiant, and ready for
flight. In that first moment he would not have disbelieved his eyes if
she had moved, if she had drawn away from him and disappeared out of the
picture with the swiftness of a bird. For he--some one--had startled
her; some one had frightened her; some one had made her afraid, and yet
defiant; some one had roused in her that bird-like impulse of flight
even as the camera had clicked.

He bent closer into the lampglow, and stared. The girl was standing on a
flat slab of rock close to the edge of a pool. Behind her was a carpet
of white sand, and beyond that a rock-cluttered gorge and the side of a
mountain. She was barefooted. Her feet were white against the dark rock.
Her arms were bare to the elbows, and shone with that same whiteness. He
took these things in one by one, as if it were impossible for the
picture to impress itself upon him all at once. She stood leaning a
little forward on the rock slab, her dress only a little below her
knees, and as she leaned thus, her eyes flashing and her lips parted,
the wind had flung a wonderful disarray of curls over her shoulder and
breast. He saw the sunlight in them; in the lampglow they seemed to
move; the throb of her breast seemed to give them life; one hand seemed
about to fling them back from her face; her lips quivered as if about to
speak to him. Against the savage background of mountain and gorge she
stood out clear-cut as a cameo, slender as a reed, wild, palpitating,
beautiful. She was more than a picture. She was life. She was
there--with David in his room--as surely as the woman had been with him
in the coach.

He drew a deep breath and sat back on the edge of his bed. He heard
Father Roland getting into his creaky bed in the adjoining room. Then
came the Missioner's voice.

"Good-night, David."

"Good-night, Father."

For a space after that he sat staring blankly at the log of his room.
Then he leaned over again and held the photograph a second time in the
lampglow. The first strange spell of the picture was broken, and he
looked at it more coolly, more critically, a little disgusted with
himself for having allowed his imagination to play a trick on him. He
turned it over in his hands, and on the back of the cardboard mount he
saw there had been writing. He examined it closely, and made out faintly
the words, "Firepan Creek, Stikine River, August...." and the date was
gone. That was all. There was no name, no word that might give him a
clue as to the identity of the mysterious woman in the coach, or her
relationship to the strange picture she had left in her seat when she
disappeared at Graham.

Once more his puzzled eyes tried to find some solution to the mystery of
this night in the picture of the girl herself, and as he looked,
question after question pounded through his head. What had startled her?
Who had frightened her? What had brought that hunted look--that
half-defiance--into her poise and eyes, just as he had seen the strange
questing and suppressed fear in the eyes and face of the woman in the
coach? He made no effort to answer, but accepted the visual facts as
they came to him. She was young, the girl in the picture; almost a child
as he regarded childhood. Perhaps seventeen, or a month or two older; he
was curiously precise in adding that month or two. Something in the
_woman_ of her as she stood on the rock made it occur to him as
necessary. He saw, now, that she had been wading in the pool, for she
had dropped a stocking on the white sand, and near it lay an object
that was a shoe or a moccasin, he could not make out which. It was
while she had been wading--alone--that the interruption had come; she
had turned; she had sprung to the flat rock, her hands a little
clenched, her eyes flashing, her breast panting under the smother of her
hair; and it was in this moment, as she stood ready to fight--or
fly--that the camera had caught her.

Now, as he scanned this picture, as it lived before his eyes, a faint
smile played over his lips, a smile in which there was a little humour
and much irony. He had been a fool that day, twice a fool, perhaps three
times a fool. Nothing but folly, a diseased conception of things, could
have made him see tragedy in the face of the woman in the coach, or have
induced him to follow her. Sleeplessness--a mental exhaustion to which
his body had not responded in two days and two nights--had dulled his
senses and his reason. He felt an unpleasant desire to laugh at himself.
Tragedy! A woman in distress! He shrugged his shoulders, and his teeth
gleamed in a cold smile at the girl in the picture. Surely there was no
tragedy or mystery in her poise on that rock! She had been bathing,
alone, hidden away as she thought; some one had crept up, had disturbed
her, and the camera had clicked at the psychological moment of her
bird-like poise when she was not yet decided whether to turn in flight
or remain and punish the intruder with her anger. It was quite clear to
him. Any girl caught in the same way might have betrayed the same
emotions. But--Firepan Creek--Stikine River.... And she was wild. She
was a creature of those mountains and that wild gorge, wherever they
were--and beautiful--slender as a flower--lovelier than....

David set his lips tight. They shut off a quick breath, a gasp, the
sharp surge of a sudden pain. Swift as his thoughts there had come a
transformation in the picture before his eyes--a drawing of a curtain
over it, like a golden veil; and then _she_ was standing there, and the
gold had gathered about her in the wonderful mantle of her
hair--shining, dishevelled hair--a bare, white arm thrust upward through
its sheen, and _her_ face--taunting, unafraid--_laughing at him_! Good
God! could he never kill that memory? Was it upon him again to-night,
clutching at his throat, stifling his heart, grinding him into the agony
he could not fight--that vision of her--_his wife?_ That girl on her
rock, so like a slender flower! That woman in her room, so like a golden
goddess! Both caught--unexpectedly! What devil-spirit had made him pick
up this picture from the woman's seat? What....

His fingers tightened upon the photograph, ready to tear it into bits.
The cardboard ripped an inch--and he stopped suddenly his impulse to
destroy. The girl was looking at him again from out of the
picture--looking at him with clear, wide eyes, surprised at his
weakness, startled by the fierceness of his assault upon her, wondering,
amazed, questioning him! For the first time he saw what he had missed
before--that _questioning_ in her eyes. It was as if she were on the
point of asking him something--as if her voice had just come from
between her parted lips, or were about to come. And for _him;_ that was
it--for _him!_

His fingers relaxed. He smoothed down the torn edge of the cardboard, as
if it had been a wound in his own flesh. After all, this inanimate thing
was very much like himself. It was lost, a thing out of place, and out
of home; a wanderer from now on depending largely, like himself, on the
charity of fate. Almost gently he returned it to its newspaper wrapping.
Deep within him there was a sentiment which made him cherish little
things which had belonged to the past--a baby's shoe, a faded ribbon, a
withered flower that _she_ had worn on the night they were married; and
memories--memories that he might better have let droop and die.
Something of this spirit was in the touch of his fingers as he placed
the photograph on the table.

He finished undressing quietly. Before he turned in he placed a hand on
his head. It was hot, feverish. This was not unusual, and it did not
alarm him. Quite often of late these hot and feverish spells had come
upon him, nearly always at night. Usually they were followed the next
day by a terrific headache. More and more frequently they had been
warning him how nearly down and out he was, and he knew what to expect.
He put out his light and stretched himself between the warm blankets of
his bed, knowing that he was about to begin again the fight he
dreaded--the struggle that always came at night with the demon that
lived within him, the demon that was feeding on his life as a leech
feeds on blood, the demon that was killing him inch by inch. Nerves
altogether unstrung! Nerves frayed and broken until they were bleeding!
Worry--emptiness of heart and soul--a world turned black! And all
because of _her_--the golden goddess who had laughed at him in her room,
whose laughter would never die out of his ears. He gritted his teeth;
his hands clenched under his blankets; a surge of anger swept through
him--for an instant it was almost hatred. Was it possible that she--that
woman who had been his wife--could chain him now, enslave his thoughts,
fill his mind, his brain, his body, _after what had happened?_ Why was
it that he could not rise up and laugh and shrug his shoulders, and
thank God that, after all, there had been no children? Why couldn't he
do that? _Why? Why?_

A long time afterward he seemed to be asking that question. He seemed to
be crying it out aloud, over and over again, in a strange and mysterious
wilderness; and at last he seemed to be very near to a girl who was
standing on a rock waiting for him; a girl who bent toward him like a
wonderful flower, her arms reaching out, her lips parted, her eyes
shining through the glory of her windswept hair as she listened to his
cry of "_Why? Why?_"

He slept. It was a deep, cool sleep; a slumber beside a shadowed pool,
with the wind whispering gently in strange tree tops, and water rippling
softly in a strange stream.



CHAPTER VI


Sunshine followed storm. The winter sun was cresting the tree tops when
Thoreau got out of his bed to build a fire in the big stove. It was nine
o'clock, and bitterly cold. The frost lay thick upon the windows, with
the sun staining it like the silver and gold of old cathedral glass, and
as the fox breeder opened the cabin door to look at his thermometer he
heard the snap and crack of that cold in the trees outside, and in the
timbers of the log walls. He always looked at the thermometer before he
built his fire--a fixed habit in him; he wanted to know, first of all,
whether it had been a good night for his foxes, and whether it had been
too cold for the furred creatures of the forest to travel. Fifty degrees
below zero was bad for fisher and marten and lynx; on such nights they
preferred the warmth of snug holes and deep windfalls to full stomachs,
and his traps were usually empty. This morning it was forty-seven
degrees below zero. Cold enough! He turned, closed the door, shivered.
Then he stopped halfway to the stove, and stared.

Last night, or rather in that black part of the early day when they had
gone to bed, Father Roland had warned him to make no noise in the
morning; that they would let David sleep until noon; that he was sick,
worn out, and needed rest. And there he stood now in the doorway of his
room, even before the fire was started--looking five years younger than
he looked last night, nodding cheerfully.

Thoreau grinned.

"_Boo-jou, m'sieu_," he said in his Cree-French. "My order was to make
no noise and to let you sleep," and he nodded toward the Missioner's
room.

"The sun woke me," said David. "Come here. I want you to see it!"

Thoreau went and stood beside him, and David pointed to the one window
of his room, which faced the rising sun. The window was covered with
frost, and the frost as they looked at it was like a golden fire.

"I think that was what woke me," he said. "At least my eyes were on it
when I opened them. It is wonderful!"

"It is very cold, and the frost is thick," said Thoreau. "It will go
quickly after I have built a fire, m'sieu. And then you will see the
sun--the real sun."

David watched him as he built the fire. The first crackling of it sent a
comfort through him. He had slept well, so soundly that not once had he
roused himself during his six hours in bed. It was the first time he had
slept like that in months. His blood tingled with a new warmth. He had
no headache. There was not that dull pain behind his eyes. He breathed
more easily--the air passed like a tonic into his lungs. It was as if
those wonderful hours of sleep had wrested some deadly obstruction out
of his veins. The fire crackled. It roared up the big chimney. The
jack-pine knots, heavy with pitch, gave to the top of the stove a rosy
glow. Thoreau stuffed more fuel into the blazing firepot, and the glow
spread cheerfully, and with the warmth that was filling the cabin there
mingled the sweet scent of the pine-pitch and burning balsam. David
rubbed his hands. He was rubbing them when Marie came into the room,
plaiting the second of her two great ropes of shining black hair. He
nodded. Marie smiled, showing her white teeth, her dark eyes clear as a
fawn's. He felt within him a strange rejoicing--for Thoreau. Thoreau was
a lucky man. He could see proof of it in the Cree woman's face. Both
were lucky. They were happy--a man and woman together, as things should
be.

Thoreau had broken the ice in a pail and now he filled the wash-basin
for him. Ice water for his morning ablution was a new thing for David.
But he plunged his face into it recklessly. Little particles of ice
pricked his skin, and the chill of the water seemed to sink into his
vitals. It was a sudden change from water as hot as he could stand--to
this. His teeth clicked as he wiped himself on the burlap towelling.
Marie used the basin next, and then Thoreau. When Marie had dried her
face he noted the old-rose flush in her cheeks, the fire of rich, red
blood glowing under her dark skin. Thoreau himself blubbered and spouted
in his ice-water bath like a joyous porpoise, and he rubbed himself on
the burlap until the two apple-red spots above his beard shone like the
glow that had spread over the top of the stove. David found himself
noticing these things--very small things though they were; he discovered
himself taking a sudden and curious interest in events and things of no
importance at all, even in the quick, deft slash of the Frenchman's long
knife as he cut up the huge whitefish that was to be their breakfast. He
watched Marie as she wallowed the thick slices in yellow corn-meal, and
listened to the first hissing sputter of them as they were dropped into
the hot grease of the skillet. And the odour of the fish, taken only
yesterday from the net which Thoreau kept in the frozen lake, made him
hungry. This was unusual. It was unexpected as other things that had
happened. It puzzled him.

He returned to his room, with a suspicion in his mind that he should put
on a collar and tie, and his coat. He changed his mind when he saw the
photograph in its newspaper wrapping on the table. In another moment it
was in his hands. Now, with day in the room, the sun shining, he
expected to see a change. But there was no change in her; she was there,
as he had left her last night; the question was in her eyes, unspoken
words still on her lips. Then, suddenly, it swept upon him where he had
been in those first hours of peaceful slumber that had come to
him--beside a quiet, dark pool--gently whispering forests about him--an
angel standing close to him, on a rock, shrouded in her hair--watching
over him. A thrill passed through him. Was it possible?... He did not
finish the question. He could not bring himself to ask whether this
picture--some strange spirit it might possess--had reached out to him,
quieted him, made him sleep, brought him dreams that were like a healing
medicine. And yet....

He remembered that in one of his leather bags there was a magnifying
glass, and he assured himself that he was merely curious--most casually
curious--as he hunted it out from among his belongings and scanned the
almost illegible writing on the back of the cardboard mount. He made out
the date quite easily now, impressed in the cardboard by the point of a
pencil. It was only a little more than a year old. It was unaccountable
why this discovery should affect him as it did. He made no effort to
measure or sound the satisfaction it gave him--this knowledge that the
girl had stood so recently on that rock beside the pool. He was
beginning to personalize her unconsciously, beginning to think of her
mentally as the Girl. She was a bit friendly. With her looking at him
like that he did not feel quite so alone with himself. And there could
not be much of a change in her since that yesterday of a year ago, when
some one had startled her there.

It was Father Roland's voice that made him wrap up the picture again,
this time not in its old covering, but in a silk handkerchief which he
had pawed out of his bag, and which he dropped back again, and locked
in. Thoreau was telling the Missioner about David's early rising when
the latter reappeared. They shook hands, and the Missioner, looking
David keenly in the eyes, saw the change in him.

"No need to tell me you had a good night!" he exclaimed.

"Splendid," affirmed David.

The window was blazing with the golden sun now; it shot through where
the frost was giving way, and a ray of it fell like a fiery shaft on
Marie's glossy head as she bent over the table. Father Roland pointed to
the window with one hand on David's arm.

"Wait until you get out into _that_," he said. "This is just a
beginning, David--just a beginning!"

They sat down to breakfast, fish and coffee, bread and potatoes--and
beans. It was almost finished when David split open his third piece of
fish, white as snow under its crisp brown, and asked quite casually:

"Did you ever hear of the Stikine River, Father?"

Father Roland sat up, stopped his eating, and looked at David for a
moment as though the question struck an unusual personal interest in
him.

"I know a man who lived for a great many years along the Stikine," he
replied then. "He knows every mile of it from where it empties into the
sea at Point Rothshay to the Lost Country between Mount Finlay and the
Sheep Mountains. It's in the northern part of British Columbia, with its
upper waters reaching into the Yukon. A wild country. A country less
known than it was sixty years ago, when there was a gold rush up over
the old telegraph trail. Tavish has told me a lot about it. A queer
man--this Tavish. We hit his cabin on our way to God's Lake."

"Did he ever tell you," said David, with an odd quiver in his
throat--"Did he ever tell you of a stream, a tributary stream, called
Firepan Creek?"

"Firepan Creek--Firepan Creek," mumbled the Little Missioner. "He has
told me a great many things, this Tavish, but I can't remember that.
_Firepan Creek_! Yes, he did! I remember, now. He had a cabin on it one
year, the year he had small-pox. He almost died there. I want you to
meet Tavish, David. We will stay overnight at his cabin. He is a strange
character--a great object lesson." Suddenly he came back to David's
question. "What do you want to know about Stikine River and Firepan
Creek?" he asked.

"I was reading something about them that interested me," replied David.
"A _very_ wild country, I take it, from what Tavish has told you.
Probably no white people."

"Always, everywhere, there are a few white people," said Father Roland.
"Tavish is white, and he was there. Sixty years ago, in the gold rush,
there must have been many. But I fancy there are very few now. Tavish
can tell us. He came from there only a year ago this last September."

David asked no more questions. He turned his attention entirely to his
fish. In that same moment there came an outburst from the foxes that
made Thoreau grin. Their yapping rose until it was a clamorous demand.
Then the dogs joined in. To David it seemed as though there must be a
thousand foxes out in the Frenchman's pens, and at least a hundred dogs
just beyond the cabin walls. The sound was blood-curdling in a way. He
had heard nothing like it before in all his life; it almost made one
shiver to think of going outside. The chorus kept up for fully a minute.
Then it began to die out, and David could hear the chill clink of
chains. Through it all Thoreau was grinning.

"It's two hours over feeding time for the foxes, and they know it,
m'sieur," he explained to David. "Their outcry excites the huskies, and
when the two go together--_Mon Dieu_! it is enough to raise the dead."
He pushed himself back from the table and rose to his feet. "I am going
to feed them now. Would you like to see it, m'sieu?"

Father Roland answered for him.

"Give us ten minutes and we shall be ready," he said, seizing David by
the arm, and speaking to Thoreau. "Come with me, David. I have something
waiting for you."

They went into the Little Missioner's room, and pointing to his tumbled
bed, Father Roland said:

"Now, David, strip!"

David had noticed with some concern the garments worn that morning by
Father Roland and the Frenchman--their thick woollen shirts, their
strange-looking, heavy trousers that were met just below the knees by
the tops of bulky German socks, turned over as he had worn his more
fashionable hosiery in the college days when golf suits, bulldog pipes,
and white terriers were the rage. He had stared furtively at Thoreau's
great feet in their moose-hide moccasins, thinking of his own vici kids,
the heaviest footwear he had brought with him. The problem of outfitting
was solved for him now, as he looked at the bed, and as Father Roland
withdrew, rubbing his hands until they cracked, David began undressing.
In less than a quarter of an hour he was ready for the big outdoors.
When the Missioner returned to give him a first lesson in properly
"stringing up" his moccasins, he brought with him a fur cap very similar
to that worn by Thoreau. He was amazed to find how perfectly it fitted.

"You see," said Father Roland, pleased at David's wonder, "I always take
back a bale of this stuff with me, of different sizes; it comes in
handy, you know. And the cap...."

He chuckled as David surveyed as much as he could see of himself in a
small mirror.

"The cap is Marie's work," he finished. "She got the size from your hat
and made it while we were asleep. A fine fisher-coat that--Thoreau's
best. And a good fit, eh?"

"Marie ... did this ... for me?" demanded David.

The Missioner nodded.

"And the pay, Father...."

"Among friends of the forests, David, never speak of pay."

"But this skin! It is beautiful--valuable...."

"And it is yours," said Father Roland. "I am glad you mentioned payment
to me, and not to Thoreau or Marie. They might not have understood, and
it would have hurt them. If there had been anything to pay, _they_ would
have mentioned it in the giving; _I_ would have mentioned it. That is a
fine point of etiquette, isn't it?"

Slowly there came a look into David's face which the other did not at
first understand. After a moment he said, without looking at the
Missioner, and in a voice that had a curious hard note in it:

"But for this ... Marie will let me give her something in return--a
little something I have no use for now? A little gift--my thanks--my
friendship...."

He did not wait for the Missioner to reply, but went to one of his two
leather bags. He unlocked the one in which he had placed the photograph
of the girl. Out of it he took a small plush box. It was so small that
it lay in the palm of his hand as he held it out to Father Roland.

Deeper lines had gathered about his mouth.

"Give this to Marie--for me."

Father Roland took the box. He did not look at it. Steadily he gazed
into David's eyes.

"What is it?" he asked.

"A locket," replied David. "It belonged to _her_. In it is a
picture--her picture--the only one I have. Will you--please--destroy the
picture before you give the locket to Marie?"

Father Roland saw the quick, sudden throb in David's throat. He gripped
the little box in his hand until it seemed as though he would crush it,
and his heart was beating with the triumph of a drum. He spoke but one
word, his eyes meeting David's eyes, but that one word was a whisper
from straight out of his soul, and the word was:

"_Victory!_"



CHAPTER VII


Father Roland slipped the little plush box into his pocket as he and
David went out to join Thoreau. They left the cabin together, Marie
lifting her eyes from her work in a furtive glance to see if the
stranger was wearing her cap.

A wild outcry from the dogs greeted the three men as they appeared
outside the door, and for the first time David saw with his eyes what he
had only heard last night. Among the balsams and spruce close to the
cabin there were fully a score of the wildest and most savage-looking
dogs he had ever beheld. As he stood for a moment, gazing about him,
three things impressed themselves upon him in a flash: it was a glorious
day, it was so cold that he felt a curious sting in the air, and not one
of those long-haired, white-fanged beasts straining at their leashes
possessed a kennel, or even a brush shelter. It was this last fact that
struck him most forcefully. Inherently he was a lover of animals, and he
believed these four-footed creatures of Thoreau's must have suffered
terribly during the night. He noticed that at the foot of each tree to
which a dog was attached there was a round, smooth depression in the
snow, where the animal had slept. The next few minutes added to his
conviction that the Frenchman and the Missioner were heartless masters,
though open-handed hosts. Mukoki and another Indian had come up with two
gunny sacks, and from one of these a bushel of fish was emptied out
upon the snow. They were frozen stiff, so that Mukoki had to separate
them with his belt-axe; David fancied they must be hard as rock. Thoreau
proceeded to toss these fish to the dogs, one at a time, and one to each
dog. The watchful and apparently famished beasts caught the fish in
mid-air, and there followed a snarling and grinding of teeth and
smashing of bones and frozen flesh that made David shiver. He was half
disgusted. Thoreau might at least have boiled the fish, or thawed them
out. A fish weighing from one and a half to two pounds was each dog's
allotment, and the work--if this feeding process could be called
work--was done. Father Roland watched the dogs, rubbing his hands with
satisfaction. Thoreau was showing his big, white teeth, as if proud of
something.

"Not a bad tooth among them, _mon Père_," he said. "Not one!"

"Fine--fine--but a little too fat, Thoreau. You're feeding them too well
for dogs out of the traces," replied Father Roland.

David gasped.

"Too _well_!" he exclaimed. "They're half starved, and almost frozen!
Look at the poor devils swallow those fish, ice and all! Why don't you
cook the fish? Why don't you give them some sort of shelter to sleep
in?"

Father Roland and the Frenchman stared at him as if they did not quite
catch his meaning. Then a look of comprehension swept over the
Missioner's face. He chuckled, the chuckle grew, it shook his body, and
he laughed--laughed until the forest flung back the echoes of his
merriment, and even the leathery faces of the Indians crinkled in
sympathy. David could see no reason for his levity. He looked at
Thoreau. His host was grinning broadly.

"God bless my soul!" said the Little Missioner at last. "Starved? Cold?
_Boil_ their fish? Give 'em _beds_!" He stopped himself as he saw a
flush rising in David's face. "Forgive me, David," he begged, laying a
hand on the other's arm. "You can't understand how funny that was--what
you said. If you gave those fellows the warmest kennels in New York
City, lined with bear skins, they wouldn't sleep in them, but would come
outside and burrow those little round holes in the snow. That's their
nature. I've felt sorry for them, like you--when the thermometer was
down to sixty. But it's no use. As for the fish--they want 'em fresh or
frozen. I suppose you might educate them to eat cooked meat, but it
would be like making over a lynx or a fox or a wolf. They're mighty
comfortable, those dogs, David. That bunch of eight over there is mine.
They'll take us north. And I want to warn you, don't put yourself in
reach of them until they get acquainted with you. They're not pets, you
know; I guess they'd appreciate petting just about as much as they would
boiled fish, or poison. There's nothing on earth like a husky or an
Eskimo dog when it comes to lookin' you in the eye with a friendly and
lovable look and snapping your hand off at the same time. But you'll
like 'em, David. You can't help feeling they're pretty good comrades
when you see what they do in the traces."

Thoreau had shouldered the second gunny sack and now led the way into
the thicker spruce and balsam behind the cabin. David and Father Roland
followed, the latter explaining more fully why it was necessary to keep
the sledge dogs "hard as rocks," and how the trick was done. He was
still talking, with the fingers of one hand closed about the little
plush box in his pocket, when they came to the first of the fox pens. He
was watching David closely, a little anxiously--thrilled by the touch of
that box. He read men as he read books, seeing much that was not in
print, and feeling by a wonderful intuitive power emotions not visible
in a face, and he believed that in David there were strange and
conflicting forces struggling now for mastery. It was not in the
surrender of the box that he had felt David's triumph, but in the
voluntary sacrifice of what that box contained. He wanted to rid himself
of the picture, and quickly. He was filled with apprehension lest David
should weaken again, and ask for its return. The locket meant nothing.
It was a bauble--cold, emotionless, easily forgotten; but the other--the
picture of the woman who had almost destroyed him--was a deadly menace,
a poison to David's soul and body as long as it remained in his
possession, and the Little Missioner's fingers itched to tear it from
the velvet casket and destroy it.

He watched his opportunity. As Thoreau tossed three fish over the high
wire netting of the first pen the Frenchman was explaining to David why
there were two female foxes and one male in each of his nine pens, and
why warm houses partly covered with earth were necessary for their
comfort and health, while the sledge dogs required nothing more than a
bed of snow. Father Roland seized this opportunity to drop back toward
the cabin, calling in Cree to Mukoki. Five seconds after the cabin
concealed him from David he had the plush box out of his pocket; another
five and he had opened it and the locket itself was in his hand. And
then, his breath coming in a sudden, hissing spurt between his teeth, he
was looking upon the face of the woman. Again in Cree he spoke to
Mukoki, asking him for his knife. The Indian drew it from his sheath and
watched in silence while Father Roland accomplished his work of
destruction. The Missioner's teeth were set tight. There was a strange
gleam of fire in his eyes. An unspoken malediction rose out of his soul.
The work was done! He wanted to hurl the yellow trinket, shaped so
sacrilegiously in the image of a heart, as far as he could fling it into
the forest. It seemed to burn his fingers, and he held for it a personal
hatred. But it was for Marie! Marie would prize it, and Marie would
purify it. Against her breast, where beat a heart of his beloved
Northland, it would cease to be a polluted thing. This was his thought
as he replaced it in the casket and retraced his steps to the fox pens.

Thoreau was tossing fish into the last pen when Father Roland came up.
David was not with him. In answer to the Missioner's inquiry he nodded
toward the thicker growth of the forest where as yet his axe had not
scarred the trees.

"He said that he would walk a little distance into the timber."

Father Roland muttered something that Thoreau did not catch, and then, a
sudden brightness lighting up his eyes:

"I am going to leave you to-day."

"To-day, _mon Père_!" Thoreau made a muffled exclamation of
astonishment. "To-day? And it is fairly well along toward noon!"

"He cannot travel far." The Missioner nodded in the direction of the
unthinned timber. "It will give us four hours, between noon and dark. He
is soft. You understand? We will make as far as the old trapping shack
you abandoned two winters ago over on Moose Creek. It is only eight
miles, but it will be a bit of hardening for him. And, besides...."

He was silent for a moment, as if turning a matter over again in his own
mind.

"I want to get him away."

He turned a searching, quietly analytic gaze upon Thoreau to see whether
the Frenchman would understand without further explanation.

The fox breeder picked up the empty gunny sack.

"We will begin to pack the sledge, _mon Père_. There must be a good
hundred pounds to the dog."

As they turned back to the cabin Father Roland cast a look over his
shoulder to see whether David was returning.

Three or four hundred yards in the forest David stood in a mute and
increasing wonder. He was in a tiny open, and about him the spruce and
balsam hung still as death under their heavy cloaks of freshly fallen
snow. It was as if he had entered unexpectedly into a wonderland of
amazing beauty, and that from its dark and hidden bowers, crusted with
their glittering mantles of white, snow naiads must be peeping forth at
him, holding their breath for fear of betraying themselves to his eyes.
There was not the chirp of a bird nor the flutter of a wing--not the
breath of a sound to disturb the wonderful silence. He was encompassed
in a white, soft world that seemed tremendously unreal--that for some
strange reason made him breathe very softly, that made him stand without
a movement, and made him listen, as though he had come to the edge of
the universe and that there were mysterious things to hear, and possibly
to see, if he remained very quiet. It was the first sensation of its
kind he had ever experienced; it was disquieting, and yet soothing; it
filled him with an indefinable uneasiness, and yet with a strange
yearning. He stood, in these moments, at the inscrutable threshold of
the great North; he felt the enigmatical, voiceless spirit of it; it
passed into his blood; it made his heart beat a little faster; it made
him afraid, and yet daring. In his breast the spirit of adventure was
waking--had awakened; he felt the call of the Northland, and it alarmed
even as it thrilled him. He knew, now, that this was the beginning--the
door opening to him--of a world that reached for hundreds of miles up
there. Yes, there were thousands of miles of it, many thousands; white,
as he saw it here; beautiful, terrible, and deathly still. And into this
world Father Roland had asked him to go, and he had as good as pledged
himself!

Before he could think, or stop himself, he had laughed. For an instant
it struck him like mirth in a tomb, an unpleasant, soulless sort of
mirth, for his laugh had in it a jarring incredulity, a mocking lack of
faith in himself. What right had _he_ to enter into a world like that?
Why, even now, his legs ached because of his exertion in furrowing
through a few hundred steps of foot-and-a-half snow!

But the laugh succeeded in bringing him back into the reality of
things. He started at right angles, pushed into the maze of white-robed
spruce and balsam, and turned back in the direction of the cabin over a
new trail. He was not in a good humour. There possessed him an ingrowing
and acute feeling of animosity toward himself. Since the day--or
night--fate had drawn that great, black curtain over his life, shutting
out his sun, he had been drifting; he had been floating along on
currents of the least resistance, making no fight, and, in the
completeness of his grief and despair, allowing himself to disintegrate
physically as well as mentally. He had sorrowed with himself; he had
told himself that everything worth having was gone; but now, for the
first time, he cursed himself. To-day--these few hundred yards out in
the snow--had come as a test. They had proved his weakness. He had
degenerated into less than a man! He was....

He clenched his hands inside his thick mittens, and a rage burned within
him like a fire. Go with Father Roland? Go up into that world where he
knew that the one great law of life was the survival of the fittest?
Yes, he _would go_! This body and brain of his needed their
punishment--and they should have it! He would go. And his body would
fight for it, or die. The thought gave him an atrocious satisfaction. He
was filled with a sudden contempt for himself. If Father Roland had
known, he would have uttered a paean of joy.

Out of the darkness of the humour into which he had fallen, David was
suddenly flung by a low and ferocious growl. He had stepped around a
young balsam that stood like a seven-foot ghost in his path, and found
himself face to face with a beast that was cringing at the butt of a
thick spruce. It was a dog. The animal was not more than four or five
short paces from him, and was chained to the tree. David surveyed him
with sudden interest, wondering first of all why he was larger than the
other dogs. As he lay crouched there against his tree, his ivory fangs
gleaming between half-uplifted lips, he looked like a great wolf. In the
other dogs David had witnessed an avaricious excitement at the approach
of men, a hungry demand for food, a straining at leash ends, a whining
and snarling comradeship. Here he saw none of those things. The big,
wolf-like beast made no sound after that first growl, and made no
movement. And yet every muscle in his body seemed gathered in a tense
readiness to spring, and his gleaming fangs threatened. He was
ferocious, and yet shrinking; ready to leap, and yet afraid. He was like
a thing at bay--a hunted creature that had been prisoned. And then David
noticed that he had but one good eye. It was bloodshot, balefully alert,
and fixed on him like a round ball of fire. The lids had closed over his
other eye; they were swollen; there was a big lump just over where the
eye should have been. Then he saw that the beast's lips were cut and
bleeding. There was blood on the snow; and suddenly the big brute
covered his fangs to give a racking cough, as though he had swallowed a
sharp fish-bone, and fresh blood dripped out of his mouth on the snow
between his forepaws. One of these forepaws was twisted; it had been
broken.

"You poor devil!" said David aloud.

He sat down on a birch log within six feet of the end of the chain, and
looked steadily into the big husky's one bloodshot eye as he said
again:

"You poor devil!"

Baree, the dog, did not understand. It puzzled him that this man did not
carry a club. He was used to clubs. So far back as he could remember the
club had been the one dominant thing in his life. It was a club that had
closed his eye. It was a club that had broken one of his teeth and cut
his lips, and it was a club that had beat against his ribs
until--now--the blood came up into his throat and choked him, and
dripped out of his mouth. But this man had no club, and he looked
friendly.

"You poor devil!" said David for the third time.

Then he added, dark indignation in his voice:

"What, in God's name, has Thoreau been doing to you?"

There was something sickening in the spectacle--that battered, bleeding,
broken creature huddling there against the tree, coughing up the red
stuff that discoloured the snow. Loving dogs, he was not afraid of them,
and forgetting Father Roland's warning he rose from the log and went
nearer. From where he stood, looking down, Baree could have reached his
throat. But he made no movement, unless it was that his thickly haired
body was trembling a little. His one red eye looked steadily up at
David.

For the fourth time David spoke;

"You poor, God-forsaken brute!"

There was friendliness, compassion, wonderment in his voice, and he held
down a hand that he had drawn from one of the thick mittens. Another
moment and he would have bent over, but a cry stopped him so sharply and
suddenly that he jumped back.

Thoreau stood within ten feet of him, horrified. He clutched a rifle in
one hand.

"Back--back, m'sieu!" he cried sharply. "For the love of God, jump
back."

He swung his rifle into the crook of his arm. David did not move, and
from Thoreau he looked down coolly at the dog. Baree was a changed
beast. His one eye was fastened upon the fox breeder. His bared,
bleeding lips revealed inch-long fangs between which there came now a
low and menacing snarl. The tawny crest along his spine was like a
brush; from a puzzled toleration of David his posture and look had
changed into deadly hatred for Thoreau, and fear of him. For a moment
after his first warning the Frenchman's voice seemed to stick in his
throat as he saw what he believed to be David's fatal disregard of his
peril. He did not speak to him again. His eyes were on the dog. Slowly
he raised his rifle; David heard the click of the hammer--and Baree
heard it. There was something in the sharp, metallic thrill of it that
stirred his brute instinct. His lips fell over his fangs, he whined, and
then, on his belly, he dragged himself slowly toward David!

It was a miracle that Thoreau the Frenchman looked upon then. He would
have staked his very soul--wagered his hopes of paradise against a
_babiche_ thread--that what he saw could never have happened between
Baree and man. In utter amazement he lowered his gun. David, looking
down, was smiling into that one, wide-open, bloodshot eye of Baree's,
his hand reaching out. Foot by foot Baree slunk to him on his belly, and
when at last he was at David's feet he faced Thoreau again, his
terrible teeth snarling, a low, rumbling growl in his throat. David
reached down and touched him, even as he heard the fox breeder make an
incoherent sound in his beard. At the caress of his hand a great shudder
passed through Baree's body, as if he had been stung. That touch was the
connecting link through which passed the electrifying thrill of a man's
soul reaching out to a brute instinct.

Baree had found a man friend!

When David stepped away from him to Thoreau's side as much of the
Frenchman's face as was not hidden under his beard was of a curious
ashen pallor. He seemed to make a struggle before he could get his
voice.

And then: "M'sieu, I tell you it is incredible! I cannot believe what I
have seen. It was a miracle!"

He shuddered. David was looking at him, a bit puzzled. He could not
quite comprehend the fear that had possessed him. Thoreau saw this, and
pointing to Baree--a gesture that brought a snarl from the beast--he
said:

"He is bad, m'sieu, _bad_! He is the worst dog in all this country. He
was born an outcast--among the wolves--and his heart is filled with
murder. He is a quarter wolf, and you can't club it out of him. Half a
dozen masters have owned him, and none of them has been able to club it
out of him. I, myself, have beaten him until he lay as if dead, but it
did no good. He has killed two of my dogs. He has leaped at my throat. I
am afraid of him. I chained him to that tree a month ago to keep him
away from the other dogs, and since then I have not been able to unleash
him. He would tear me into pieces. Yesterday I beat him until he was
almost dead, and still he was ready to go at my throat. So I am
determined to kill him. He is no good. Step a little aside, m'sieu,
while I put a bullet through his head!"

He raised his rifle again. David put a hand on it.

"I can unleash him," he said.

Before the other could speak, he had walked boldly to the tree. Baree
did not turn his head--did not for an instant take his eye from Thoreau.
There came the click of the snap that fastened the chain around the body
of the spruce, and David stood with the loose end of the chain in his
hand.

"There!"

He laughed a little proudly.

"And I didn't use a club," he added.

Thoreau gasped "_Mon Dieu_!" and sat down on the birch log as though the
strength had gone from his legs.

David rattled the chain and then re-fastened it about the spruce. Baree
was still watching Thoreau, who sat staring at him as if the beast had
suddenly changed his shape and species.

In David's breast there was the thrill of a new triumph. He had done it
unconsciously, without fear, and without feeling that there had been any
great danger. In those few minutes something of his old self had
returned into him; he felt a new excitement pumping the blood through
his heart, and he felt the warm glow of it in his body. Baree had
awakened something within him--Baree and the _club_. He went to Thoreau,
who had risen from the log. He laughed again, a bit exultantly.

"I am going north with Father Roland," he said. "Will you let me have
the dog, Thoreau? It will save you the trouble of killing him."

Thoreau stared at him blankly for a moment before he answered.

"That dog? You? Into the North?" He shot a look full of hatred and
disgust at Baree. "Would you risk it, m'sieu?"

"Yes. It is an adventure I would very much like to try. You may think it
strange, Thoreau, but that dog--ugly and fierce as he is--has found a
place with me. I like him. And I fancy he has begun to like me."

"But look at his eye, m'sieu----"

"Which eye?" demanded David. "The one you have shut with a club?"

"He deserved it," muttered Thoreau. "He snapped at my hand. But I mean
the other eye, m'sieu--the one that is glaring at us now like a red
bloodstone with the heart of a devil in it! I tell you he is a quarter
wolf...."

"And the broken paw. I suppose that was done by a club, too?"
interrupted David.

"It was broken like that when I traded for him a year ago, m'sieu. I
have not maimed him. And ... yes, you may have the beast! May the saints
preserve you!"

"And his name?"

"The Indian who owned him as a puppy five years ago called him Baree,
which among the Dog Ribs means Wild Blood. He should have been called
The Devil."

Thoreau shrugged his shoulders, as though the matter and its
consequences were now off his hands, and turned in the direction of the
cabin. As he followed the Frenchman, David looked back at Baree. The big
husky had risen from the snow. He was standing at the full length of
his chain, and as David disappeared among the spruce a low whine that
was filled with a strange yearning followed him. He did not hear the
whine, but there came to him distinctly a moment later the dog's racking
cough, and he shivered, and his eyes burned into Thoreau's broad back as
he thought of the fresh blood-clots that were staining the white snow.



CHAPTER VIII


Much to Thoreau's amazement Father Roland made no objection to David's
ownership of Baree, and when the Frenchman described with many
gesticulations of wonder what had happened between that devil-dog and
the man, he was still more puzzled by the look of satisfaction in the
Little Missioner's face. In David there had come the sudden awakening of
something which had for a long time been dormant within him, and Father
Roland saw this change, and felt it, even before David said, when
Thoreau had turned away with a darkly suggestive shrug of his shoulders:

"That poor devil of a beast is down and out, _mon Père_. I have never
been so bad as that; never. Kill him? Bah! If this magical north country
of yours will make a man out of a human derelict it will surely work
some sort of a transformation in a dog that has been clubbed into
imbecility. Will it not?"

It was not the David of yesterday or the day before that was speaking.
There was a passion in his voice, a deep contempt, a half taunt, a
tremble of anger. There was a flush in his cheeks, too, and a spark of
fire in his eyes. In his heart Father Roland whispered to himself that
this change in David was like a conflagration, and he rejoiced without
speaking, fearing that words might quench the effect of it.

David was looking at him as if he expected an answer.

"What an accursed fool a man is to waste his soul and voice in
lamentation--especially his voice," he went on harshly, his teeth
gleaming for an instant in a bitter smile. "One ought to act and not
whine. That beast back there is ready to act. He would tear Thoreau's
jugular out if he had half a chance. And I ... why, I sneaked off like a
whipped cur. That's why Baree is better than I am, even though he is
nothing more than a four-footed brute. In that room I should have had
the moral courage that Baree has; I should have killed--killed them
both!" He shrugged his shoulders. "I am quite convinced that it would
have been justice, _mon Père_. What do you think?"

The Missioner smiled enigmatically.

"The soul of many a man has gone from behind steel bars to heaven or I
vastly miss my guess," he said. "But--we don't like the thought of steel
bars, do we, David? Man-made laws and justice don't always run tandem.
But God evens things up in the final balance. You'll live to see that.
He's back there now, meting out your vengeance to them. _Your_
vengeance. Do you understand? And you won't be called to take a hand in
the business." Suddenly he pointed toward the cabin, where Thoreau and
Mukoki were already at work packing a sledge. "It's a glorious day. We
start right after dinner. Let us get your things in a bundle."

David made no answer, but three minutes later he was on his knees
unlocking his trunk, with Father Roland standing close beside him.
Something of the humour of the situation possessed him as he flung out,
one by one, the various articles of his worthless apparel, and when he
had all but finished he looked up into the Missioner's face. Father
Roland was staring into the trunk, an expression of great surprise in
his countenance which slowly changed to one of eager joy. He made a
sudden dive, and stood back with a pair of boxing gloves in his hands.
From the gloves he looked at David, and then back at the gloves,
fondling them as if they had been alive, his hands almost trembling at
the smooth touch of them, his eyes glowing like the eyes of a child that
had come into possession of a wonderful toy. David reached into the
trunk and produced a second pair. The Missioner seized upon them.

"Dear Heaven, what a gift from the gods!" he chortled. "David, you will
teach me to use them?" There was almost anxiety in his manner as he
added, "You know how to use them well, David?"

"My chief pastime at home was boxing," assured David. There was a touch
of pride in his voice. "It is a scientific recreation. I loved it--that,
and swimming. Yes, I will teach you."

Father Roland went out of the room a moment later, chuckling
mysteriously, with the four gloves hugged against the pit of his
stomach.

David followed a little later, all his belongings in one of the leather
bags. For some time he had hesitated over the portrait of the Girl;
twice he had shut the lock on it; the third time he placed it in the
big, breast pocket inside the coat Father Roland had provided for him,
making a mental apology for that act by assuring himself that sooner or
later he would show the picture to the Missioner, so would want it near
at hand. Father Roland had disposed of the gloves, and introduced David
to the rest of his equipment when he came from the cabin. It was very
business-like, this accoutrement that was to be the final physical touch
to his transition; it did not allow of skepticism; about it there was
also a quiet and cold touch of romance. The rifle chilled David's bare
fingers when he touched it. It was short-barrelled, but heavy in the
breech, with an appearance of indubitable efficiency about it. It looked
like an honest weapon to David, who was unaccustomed to firearms--and
this was more than he could say for the heavy, 38-calibre automatic
pistol which Father Roland thrust into his hand, and which looked and
felt murderously mysterious. He frankly confessed his ignorance of these
things, and the Missioner chuckled good-humouredly as he buckled the
belt and holster about his waist and told him on which hip to keep the
pistol, and where to carry the leather sheath that held a long and
keen-edged hunting knife. Then he turned to the snow shoes. They were
the long, narrow, bush-country shoe. He placed them side by side on the
snow and showed David how to fasten his moccasined feet in them without
using his hands. For three quarters of an hour after that, out in the
soft, deep snow in the edge of the spruce, he gave him his first lesson
in that slow, swinging, _out_-stepping stride of the north-man on the
trail. At first it was embarrassing for David, with Thoreau and the
Indians grinning openly, and Marie's face peering cautiously and
joyously from the cabin door. Three times he entangled his feet
hopelessly and floundered like a great fish in the snow; then he caught
the "swing" of it and at the end of half an hour began to find a
pleasurable exhilaration, even excitement, in his ability to skim over
the feathery surface of this great white sea without so much as sinking
to his ankle bones. When he slipped the shoes off and stood them up
beside his rifle against the cabin, he was panting. His heart was
pounding. His lungs drank in the cold, balsam-scented air like a suction
pump and expelled each breath with the sibilancy of steam escaping from
a valve.

"Winded!" he gasped. And then, gulping for breath as he looked at Father
Roland, he demanded: "How the devil am I going to keep up with you
fellows on the trail? I'll go bust inside of a mile!"

"And every time you go bust we'll load you on the sledge," comforted the
Missioner, his round face glowing with enthusiastic approval. "You've
done finely, David. Within a fortnight you'll be travelling twenty miles
a day on snow shoes."

He suddenly seemed to think of something that he had forgotten and
fidgeted with his mittens in his hesitation, as if there lay an
unpleasant duty ahead of him. Then he said:

"If there are any letters to write, David ... any business matters...."

"There are no letters," cut in David quickly. "I attended to my affairs
some weeks ago. I am ready."

With a frozen whitefish he returned to Baree. The dog scented him before
the crunch of his footsteps could be heard in the snow, and when he came
out from the thick spruce and balsam into the little open, Baree was
stretched out flat on his belly, his gaunt gray muzzle resting on the
snow between his forepaws. He made no movement as David drew near,
except that curious shivers ran through his body, and his throat
twitched. Thoreau would have analyzed that impassive posture as one of
waiting and watchful treachery; David saw in it a strange yearning, a
deep fear, a hope. Baree, outlawed by man, battered and bleeding as he
lay there, felt for perhaps the first time in his life the thrilling
presence of a friend--a man friend. David approached boldly, and stood
over him. He had forgotten the Frenchman's warning. He was not afraid.
He leaned over and one of his mittened hands touched Baree's neck. A
tremor shot through the dog that was like an electric shock; a snarl
gathered in his throat, broke down, and ended in a low whine. He lay as
if dead under the weight of David's hand. Not until David had ceased
talking to him, and had disappeared once more in the direction of the
cabin, did Baree begin devouring the frozen whitefish.

Father Roland meditated in some perplexity when it came to the final
question of Baree.

"We can't put him in with the team," he protested. "All my dogs would be
dead before we reached God's Lake."

David had been thinking of that.

"He will follow me," he said confidently. "We'll simply turn him loose
when we're ready to start."

The Missioner nodded indulgently. Thoreau, who had overheard, shrugged
his shoulders contemptuously. He hated Baree, the beast that would not
yield to a club, and he muttered gruffly:

"And to-night he will join the wolves, m'sieu, and prey like the very
devil on my traps. There will be only one cure for that--a
fox-bait!--poison!"

And the last hour seemed to prove that what Thoreau had said was true.
After dinner the three of them went to Baree, and David unfastened the
chain from the big husky's collar. For a few moments the dog did not
seem to sense his freedom; then, like a shot--so unexpectedly that he
almost took David off his feet--he leaped over the birch log and
disappeared in the forest. The Frenchman was amused.

"The wolves," he reminded softly. "He will be with them to-night,
m'sieu--that outlaw!"

Not until the crack of Mukoki's long, caribou-gut whip had set the
Missioner's eight dogs tense and alert in their traces did Father Roland
return for a moment into the cabin to give Marie the locket. He came
back quickly, and at a signal from him Mukoki wound up the 9-foot lash
of his whip and set out ahead of the dogs. They followed him slowly and
steadily, keeping the broad runners of the sledge in the trail he made.
The Missioner dropped in immediately behind the sledge, and David behind
him. Thoreau spoke a last word to David, in a voice intended for his
ears alone.

"It is a long way to God's Lake, m'sieu, and you are going with a
strange man--a strange man. Some day, if you have not forgotten Pierre
Thoreau, you may tell me what it has been a long time in my heart to
know. The saints be with you, m'sieu!"

He dropped back. His voice rolled after them in a last farewell, in
French, and in Cree, and as David followed close behind the Missioner he
wondered what Thoreau's mysterious words had meant, and why he had not
spoken them until that final moment of their departure. "A strange man!
The saints be with you!" That last had seemed to him almost a warning.
He looked at Father Roland's broad back; for the first time he noticed
how heavy and powerful his shoulders were for his height. Then the
forest swallowed them--a vast, white, engulfing world of silence and
mystery. What did it hold for him? What did it portend? His blood was
stirred by an unfamiliar and subdued excitement. An almost unconscious
movement carried one of his mittened hands to his breast pocket. Through
the thickness of his coat he could feel it--the picture. It did not seem
like a dead thing. It beat with life. It made him strangely unafraid of
what might be ahead of him.

Back at the door of the cabin Thoreau stood with one of his big arms
encircling Marie's slim shoulders.

"I tell you it is like taking the life of a puppy, _ma cherie_," he was
saying. "It is inconceivable. It is bloodthirsty. And yet...."

He opened the door behind them.

"They are gone," he finished. "_Ka Sakhet_--they are gone--and they will
not come back!"



CHAPTER IX


In spite of the portentous significance of this day in his life David
could not help seeing and feeling in his suddenly changed environment,
as he puffed along behind Father Roland, something that was neither
adventure nor romance, but humour. A whimsical humour at first, but
growing grimmer as his thoughts sped. All his life he had lived in a
great city, he had been a part of its life--a discordant note in it, and
yet a part of it for all that. He had been a fixture in a certain lap of
luxury. That luxury had refined him. It had manicured him down to a fine
point of civilization. A fine point! He wanted to laugh, but he had need
of all his breath as he _clip-clip-clipped_ on his snow shoes behind the
Missioner. This was the last thing in the world he had dreamed of, all
this snow, all this emptiness that loomed up ahead of him, a great world
filled only with trees and winter. He disliked winter; he had always
possessed a physical antipathy for snow; romance, for him, was environed
in warm climes and sunny seas. He had made a mistake in telling Father
Roland that he was going to British Columbia--a great mistake.
Undoubtedly he would have kept on. Japan had been in his mind. And now
here he was headed straight for the north pole--the Arctic Ocean. It was
enough to make him want to laugh. Enough to make any sane person laugh.
Even now, only half a mile from Thoreau's cabin, his knees were
beginning to ache and his ankles were growing heavy. It was ridiculous.
Inconceivable, as the Frenchman had said to Marie. He was soft. He was
only half a man. How long would he last? How long before he would have
to cry quits, like a whipped boy? How long before his legs would crumple
up under him, and his lungs give out? How long before Father Roland,
hiding his contempt, would have to send him back?

A sense of shame--shame and anger--swept through him, heating his brain,
setting his teeth hard, filling him again with a grim determination. For
the second time that day his fighting blood rose. It surged through his
veins in a flood, beating down the old barriers, clearing away the
obstructions of his doubts and his fears, and filling him with the
_desire_ to go on--the desire to fight it out, to punish himself as he
deserved to be punished, and to win in the end. Father Roland, glancing
back in benignant solicitude, saw the new glow in David's eyes. He saw,
also, his parted lips and the quickness of his breath. With a sharp
command he stopped Mukoki and the dogs.

"Half a mile at a time is enough for a beginner," he said to David.
"Back off your shoes and ride the next half mile."

David shook his head.

"Go on," he said, tersely, saving his wind. "I'm just finding myself."

Father Roland loaded and lighted his pipe. The aroma of the tobacco
filled David's nostrils as they went on. Clouds of smoke wreathed the
Little Missioner's shoulders as he followed the trail ahead of him. It
was comforting, that smoke. It warmed David with a fresh desire. His
exertion was clearing out his lungs. He was inhaling balsam and spruce,
a mighty tonic of dry forest air, and he felt also the craving to smoke.
But he knew that he could not afford the waste of breath. His snow shoes
were growing heavier and heavier, and back of his knees the tendons
seemed preparing to snap. He kept on, at last counting his steps. He was
determined to make a mile. He was ready to groan when a sudden twist in
the trail brought them out of the forest to the edge of a lake whose
frozen surface stretched ahead of them for miles. Mukoki stopped the
dogs. With a gasp David floundered to the sledge and sat down.

"Finding myself," he managed to say. "Just--finding myself!"

It was a triumph for him--the last half of that mile. He knew it. He
felt it. Through the white haze of his breath he looked out over the
lake. It was wonderfully clear, and the sun was shining. The surface of
the lake was like an untracked carpet of white sprinkled thickly with
tiny diamonds where the sunlight fell on its countless billions of snow
crystals. Three or four miles away he could see the dark edge of the
forest on the other side. Up and down the lake the distance was greater.
He had never seen anything like it. It was marvellous--like a dream
picture. And he was not cold as he looked at it. He was warm, even
uncomfortably warm. The air he breathed was like a new kind of fuel. It
gave him the peculiar sensation of feeling _larger_ inside; he seemed to
drink it in; it expanded his lungs; he could feel his heart pumping
with an audible sound. There was nothing in the majesty and wonder of
the scene about him to make him laugh, but he laughed. It was
exultation, an involuntary outburst of the change that was working
within him. He felt, suddenly, that a dark and purposeless world had
slipped behind him. It was gone. It was as if he had come out of a dark
and gloomy cavern, in which the air had been vitiated and in which he
had been cramped for breath--a cavern which fluttered with the uneasy
ghosts of things, poisonous things. Here was the sun. A sky blue as
sapphire. A great expanse. A wonder-world. Into this he had escaped!

That was the thought in his mind as he looked at Father Roland. The
Little Missioner was looking at him with an effulgent satisfaction in
his face, a satisfaction that was half pride, as though he had achieved
something that was to his own personal glory.

"You've beat me, David," he exulted. "The first time I had snow shoes on
I didn't make one half that distance before I was tangled up like a fish
in a net!" He turned to Mukoki. "_Mey-oo iss e chikao!_" he cried.
"Remember?" and the Indian nodded, his leathery face breaking into a
grin.

David felt a new pleasure at their approbation. He had evidently done
well, exceedingly well. And he had been afraid of himself! Apprehension
gave way to confidence. He was beginning to experience the exquisite
thrill of fighting against odds.

He made no objection this time when Father Roland made a place for him
on the sledge.

"We'll have four miles of this lake," the Missioner explained to him,
"and the dogs will make it in an hour. Mukoki and I will both break
trail."

As they set off David found his first opportunity to see the real
Northland in action--the clean, sinuous movement of the men ahead of
him, the splendid eagerness with which the long, wolfish line of beasts
stretched forth in their traces and followed in the snow-shoe trail.
There was something imposing about it all, something that struck deep
within him and roused strange thoughts. This that he saw was not the
mere labour of man and beast; it was not the humdrum toil of life, not
the daily slaving of living creatures for existence--for food, and
drink, and a sleeping place. It had risen above that. He had seen ships
and castles rise up from heaps of steel and stone; achievements of
science and the handiwork of genius had interested and sometimes amazed
him, but never had he looked upon physical effort that thrilled him as
did this that he was looking upon now. There was almost the spirit of
the epic about it. They _were_ the survival of the fittest--these men
and dogs. They had gone through the great test of life in the raw, as
the pyramids and the sphinx had outlived the ordeals of the centuries;
they were different; they were proven; they were of another kind of
flesh and blood than he had known--and they fascinated him. They stood
for more than romance and adventure, for more than tragedy or possible
joy; they were making no fight for riches--no fight for power, or fame,
or great personal achievement. Their struggle in this great, white
world--terrible in its emptiness, its vastness, and its mercilessness
for the weak--was simply a struggle that they might _live_.

The thought staggered him. Could there be joy in that--in a mere
existence without the thousand pleasures and luxuries and excitements
that he had known? He drank deeply of the keen air as he asked himself
the question. His eyes rested on the shaggy, undulating backs of the big
huskies; he noted their half-open jaws, the sharp alertness of their
pointed ears, the almost joyous unction with which they entered into
their task, their eagerness to keep their load close upon the heels of
their masters. He heard Mukoki's short, sharp, and unnecessary commands,
his _hi-yi's_ and his _ki-yi's_, as though he were crying out for no
other reason than from sheer physical exuberance. He saw Father Roland's
face turned backward for a moment, and it was smiling. They were
happy--now! Men and beasts were happy. And he could see no reason for
their happiness except that their blood was pounding through their
veins, even as it was pounding through his own. That was it--the blood.
The heart. The lungs. The brain. All were clear--clear and unfettered in
that marvellous air and sunlight, washed clean by the swift pulse of
life. It was a wonderful world! A glorious world! He was almost on the
point of crying aloud his discovery.

The thrill grew in him as he found time now to look about. Under him the
broad, steel runners of the sledge made a cold, creaking sound as they
slipped over the snow that lay on the ice of the lake; he heard the
swift _tap_, _tap_, _tap_ of the dogs' feet, their panting breath that
was almost like laughter, low throat whines, and the steady swish of the
snow shoes ahead. Beyond those sounds a vast silence encompassed him. He
looked out into it, east and west to the dark rims of forest, north and
south over the distance of that diamond-sprinkled _tundra_ of unbroken
white. He drew out his pipe, loaded it with tobacco, and began to smoke.
The bitterness of the weed was gone. It was delicious. He puffed
luxuriously. And then, suddenly, as he looked at the purplish bulwarks
of the forest, his mind swept back. For the first time since that night
many months ago he thought of the Woman--the Golden Goddess--without a
red-hot fire in his brain. He thought of her coolly. This new world was
already giving back to him a power of analysis, a perspective, a
healthier conception of truths and measurements. What a horrible blot
they had made in his life--that man and that woman! What a foul trick
they had played him! What filth they had wallowed in! And he--he had
thought her the most beautiful creature in the world, an angel, a thing
to be worshipped. He laughed, almost without sound, his teeth biting
hard on the stem of his pipe. And the world he was looking upon laughed;
the snow diamonds, lying thickly as dust, laughed; there was laughter in
the sun, the warmth of chuckling humour in those glowing walls of
forest, laughter in the blue sky above.

His hands gripped hard.

In this world he knew there could not be another woman such as she.
Here, in all this emptiness and glory, her shallow soul would have
shrieked in agony; she would have shrivelled up and died. It was too
clean. Too white. Too pure. It would have frightened her, tortured her.
She could not have found the poison she required to give her life. Her
unclean desires would have driven her mad. So he arraigned her,
terribly, without malice, and without pity. And then, like the quieting
touch of a gentle hand in his brain, came the thought of the other
woman--the Girl--whose picture he carried in his pocket. This was _her_
world that he was entering. She was up there--somewhere--and he looked
over the barriers of the forest to the northwest. Hundreds of miles
away. A thousand. It was a big world, so vast that he still could not
comprehend it. But she was there, living, breathing, _alive_! A sudden
impulse made him draw the picture from his pocket. He held it down
behind a bale, so that Father Roland would not chance to see it if he
looked back. He unwrapped the picture, and ceased to puff at his pipe.
The Girl was wonderful to-day, under the sunlight and the blue halo of
the skies, and she wanted to speak to him. That thought always came to
him first of all when he looked at her. She wanted to speak. Her lips
were trembling, her eyes were looking straight into his, the sun above
him seemed to gleam in her hair. It was as if she knew of the thoughts
that were in his mind, and of the fight he was making; as though through
space she had seen him, and watched him, and wanted to cry out for him
the way to come. There was a curious tremble in his fingers as he
restored the picture to his pocket. He whispered something. His pipe had
gone out. In the same moment a sharp cry from Father Roland startled
him. The dogs halted suddenly. The creaking of the sledge runners
ceased.

Father Roland had turned his face down the lake, and was pointing.

"Look!" he cried.

David jumped from the sledge and stared back over their trail. The
scintillating gleams of the snow crystals were beginning to prick his
eyes, and for a few moments he could see nothing new. He heard a muffled
ejaculation of surprise from Mukoki. And then, far back--probably half a
mile--he saw a dark object travelling slowly toward them. It stopped. It
was motionless as a dark rock now. Close beside him the Little Missioner
said:

"You've won again, David. Baree is following us!"

The dog came no nearer as they watched. After a moment David pursed his
lips and sent back a curious, piercing whistle. In days to come Baree
was to recognize that call, but he gave no attention to it now. For
several minutes they stood gazing back at him. When they were ready to
go on David for a third time that day put on his snow shoes. His task
seemed less difficult. He was getting the "swing" of the shoes, and his
breath came more easily. At the end of half an hour Father Roland halted
the team again to give him a "winding" spell. Baree had come nearer. He
was not more than a quarter of a mile behind. It was three o'clock when
they struck off the lake into the edge of the forest to the northwest.
The sun had grown cold and pale. The snow crystals no longer sparkled so
furiously. In the forest there was gathering a gray, silent gloom. They
halted again in the edge of that gloom. The Missioner slipped off his
mittens and filled his pipe with fresh tobacco. The pipe fell from his
fingers and buried itself in the soft snow at his feet. As he bent down
for it Father Roland said quite audibly:

"_Damn!_"

He was smiling when he rose. David, also, was smiling.

"I was thinking," he said--as though the other had demanded an
explanation of his thoughts--"what a curious man of God you are, _mon
Père_!"

The Little Missioner chuckled, and then he muttered, half to himself as
he lighted the tobacco, "True--very true." When the top of the bowl was
glowing, he added: "How are your legs? It is still a good mile to the
shack."

"I am going to make it or drop," declared David.

He wanted to ask a question. It had been in his mind for some time, and
he burned with a strange eagerness to have it answered. He looked back,
and saw Baree circling slowly over the surface of the lake toward the
forest. Casually he inquired:

"How far is it to Tavish's, _mon Père_?"

"Four days," said the Missioner. "Four days, if we make good time, and
another week from there to God's Lake. I have paid Tavish a visit in
five days, and once Tavish made God's Lake in two days and a night with
seven dogs. Two days and a night! Through darkness he came--darkness and
a storm. That is what fear will do, David. Fear drove him. I have
promised to tell you about it to-night. You must know, to understand
him. He is a strange man--a very strange man!"

He spoke to Mukoki in Cree, and the Indian responded with a sharp
command to the dogs. The huskies sprang from their bellies and strained
forward in their traces. The Cree picked his way slowly ahead of them.
Father Roland dropped in behind him. Again David followed the sledge. He
was struck with wonder at the suddenness with which the sun had gone
out. In the thick forest it was like the beginning of night. The deep
shadows and darkly growing caverns of gloom seemed to give birth to new
sounds. He heard the _whit_, _whit_, _whit_, of something close to him,
and the next moment a great snow owl flitted like a ghostly apparition
over his head; he heard the patter of snow as it fell from the bending
limbs; from out of a patch of darkness two trees, rubbing slightly
against each other, emitted a shivering wail that startled him--it had
seemed so like the cry of a child. He was straining his ears so tensely
to hear, and his eyes to see, that he forgot the soreness of his knees
and ankles. Now and then the dogs stopped while Mukoki and the Missioner
dragged a log or a bit of brushwood from their path. During one of these
intervals there came to them, from a great distance, a long, mournful
howl.

"A wolf!" said Father Roland, his face a gray shadow as he nodded at
David. "Listen!"

From behind them came another cry. It was Baree.

They went on, circling around the edge of a great windfall. A low wind
was beginning to move in the tops of the spruce and cedar, and soft
splashes of snow fell on their heads and shoulders, as if unseen and
playful hands were pelting them from above. Again and again David caught
the swift, ghostly flutter of the snow owls; three times he heard the
wolf-howl; once again Baree's dismal, homeless cry; and then they came
suddenly out of the thick gloom of the forest into the twilight gray of
a clearing. Twenty paces from them was a cabin. The dogs stopped. Father
Roland fumbled at his big silver watch, and held it close up to his
eyes.

"Half-past four," he said. "Fairly good time for a beginner, David!"

He broke into a cheerful whistle. The dogs were whining and snapping
like joyous puppies as Mukoki unfastened them. The Cree himself was
voluble in a chuckling and meaningless way. There was a great
contentment in the air, an indefinable inspiration that seemed to lift
the gloom. David could not understand it, though in an elusive sort of
way he felt it. He did not understand until Father Roland said, across
the sledge, which he had begun to unpack:

"Seems good to be on the trail again, David."

That was it--the trail! This was the end of a day's achievement. He
looked at the cabin, dark and unlighted in the open, with its big white
cap of snow. It looked friendly for all its darkness. He was filled with
the desire to become a partner in the activities of Mukoki and the
Missioner. He wanted to help, not because he placed any value on his
assistance, but simply because his blood and his brain were imposing new
desires upon him. He kicked off his snow shoes, and went with Mukoki to
the door of the cabin, which was fastened with a wooden bolt. When they
entered he could make out things indistinctly--a stove at first, a
stool, a box, a small table, and a bunk against the wall. Mukoki was
rattling the lids of the stove when Father Roland entered with his arms
filled. He dropped his load on the floor, and David went back to the
sledge with him. By the time they had brought its burden into the cabin
a fire was roaring in the stove, and Mukoki had hung a lighted lantern
over the table. Then Father Roland seized an axe, tested its keen edge
with his thumb, and said to David: "Let's go cut our beds before it's
too dark." Cut their beds! But the Missioner's broad back was
disappearing through the door in a very purposeful way, and David
caught up a second axe and followed. Young balsams twice as tall as a
man were growing about the cabin, and from these Father Roland began
stripping the branches. They carried armfuls into the cabin until the
one bunk was heaped high, and meanwhile Mukoki had half a dozen pots and
kettles and pans on the glowing top of the sheet-iron stove, and thick
caribou steaks were sizzling in a homelike and comforting way. A little
later David ate as though he had gone hungry all day. Ordinarily he
wanted his meat well done; to-night he devoured an inch-and-a quarter
sirloin steak that floated in its own gravy, and was red to the heart of
it. When they had finished they lighted their pipes and went out to feed
the dogs a frozen fish apiece.

An immense satisfaction possessed David. It was like something soft and
purring inside of him. He made no effort to explain things. He was
accepting facts, and changes. He felt bigger to-night, as though his
lungs were stretching themselves, and his chest expanding. His fears
were gone. He no longer saw anything to dread in the white wilderness.
He was eager to go on, eager to reach Tavish's. Ever since Father Roland
had spoken of Tavish that desire had been growing within him. Tavish had
not only come from the Stikine River; he had lived on Firepan Creek. It
was incredible that he should not know of the Girl: who she was; just
where she lived; why she was there. White people were few in that far
country. Tavish would surely know of her. He had made up his mind that
he would show Tavish the picture, keeping to himself the manner in which
he had come into possession of it. The daughter of a friend, he would
tell them--both Father Roland and Tavish. Or of an acquaintance. That,
at least, was half truth.

A dozen things Father Roland spoke about that night before he alluded to
Tavish. David waited. He did not want to appear too deeply interested.
He desired to have the thing work itself out in a fortuitous sort of
way, governed, as he was, by a strong feeling that he could not explain
his position, or his strange and growing interest in the Girl, if the
Missioner should by any chance discover the part he had played in the
haunting though incidental encounter with the woman on the train.

"Fear--a great fear--his life is haunted by it," said Father Roland,
when at last he began talking about Tavish. He was seated on a pile of
balsams, his legs stretched out flat on the floor, his back to the wall,
and he smoked thoughtfully as he looked at David. "A coward? I don't
know. I have seen him jump at the snap of a twig. I have seen him
tremble at nothing at all. I have seen him shrink at darkness, and then,
again, he came through a terrible darkness to reach my cabin that night.
Mad? Perhaps. It is hard to believe he is a coward. Would a coward live
alone, as he does? That seems impossible, too. And yet he is afraid.
That fear is always close at his heels, especially at night. It follows
him like a hungry dog. There are times when I would swear it is not fear
of a living thing. That is what makes it--disturbing. It is
weird--distressing. It makes one shiver."

The Missioner was silent for some moments, as if lost in a reverie. Then
he said, reflectively:

"I have seen strange things. I have had many penitents. My ears have
heard much that you would not believe. It has all come in my long day's
work in the wilderness. But never, never have I seen a fight like this
that is being made by Tavish--a fight against that mysterious fear, of
which he will not speak. I would give a year of my life--yes, even
more--to help him. There is something about him that is lovable, that
makes you want to cling to him, be near him. But he will have none of
that. He wants to be alone with his fear. Is it not strange? I have
pieced little things together, and that night--when terror drove him to
my cabin--he betrayed himself, and I learned one thing. He is afraid of
a _woman_!"

"A woman!" gasped David.

"Yes, a woman--a woman who lives--or lived--up in the Stikine River
country you mentioned to-day."

David's heart stirred strangely.

"The Stikine River, or--or--Firepan Creek?" he asked.

It seemed a long time to him before Father Roland answered. He was
thinking deeply, with his eyes half closed, as though striving to recall
things that he had forgotten.

"Yes--it was on the Firepan. I am sure of it," he said slowly. "He was
sick--small-pox, as I told you--and it was on the Firepan. I remember
that. And whoever the woman was, she was there. A woman! And he--afraid!
Afraid, even _now_, with her a thousand miles away, if she lives. Can
you account for it? I would give a great deal to know. But he will say
nothing. And--it is not my business to intrude. Yet I have guessed. I
have my own conviction. It is terrible."

He spoke in a low voice, looking straight at David.

"And that conviction, Father?" David barely whispered.

"Tavish is afraid of some one who is _dead_."

"Dead!"

"Yes, a woman--or a girl--who is dead; dead in the flesh, but living in
the spirit to haunt him. It is that. I know it. And he will not bare his
soul to me."

"A girl ... who is dead ... on Firepan Creek. Her spirit...."

A cold, invisible hand was clutching at David's throat. Shadows hid his
face, or Father Roland would have seen. His voice was strained. He
forced it between his lips.

"Yes, her spirit," came the Missioner's answer, and David heard the
scrape of his knife as he cleaned out the bowl of his pipe. "It haunts
Tavish. It is with him always. _And he is afraid of it!_"

David rose slowly to his feet and went toward the door, slipping on his
coat and cap. "I'm going to whistle for Baree," he said, and went out.
The white world was brilliant under the glow of a full moon and a
billion stars. It was the most wonderful night he had ever seen, and yet
for a few moments he was as oblivious of its amazing beauty, its almost
startling vividness, as though he had passed out into darkness.

"A girl ... Firepan ... dead ... haunting Tavish...."

He did not hear the whining of the dogs. He was again piecing together
in his mind that picture--the barefooted girl standing on the rock,
disturbed, startled, terrified, poised as if about to fly from a great
danger. What had happened after the taking of that picture? Was it
Tavish who had taken it? Was it Tavish who had surprised her there? Was
it Tavish--Tavish--Tavish....?

His mind could not go on. He steadied himself, one hand clutching at the
breast of his coat, where the picture lay.

The cabin door opened behind him. The Missioner came out. He coughed,
and looked up at the sky.

"A splendid night, David," he said softly. "A splendid night!"

He spoke in a strange, quiet voice that made David turn. The Little
Missioner was facing the moon. He was gazing off into that wonder-world
of forests and snow and stars and moonlight in a fixed and steady gaze,
and it seemed to David that he aged, and shrank into smaller form, and
that his shoulders drooped as if under a weight. And all at once David
saw in his face what he had seen before when in the coach--a
forgetfulness of all things but one, the lifting of a strange curtain,
the baring of a soul; and for a few moments Father Roland stood with his
face turned to the light of the skies, as if preoccupied by an
all-pervading and hopeless grief.



CHAPTER X


It was Baree who disturbed the silent tableau in the moonlight. David
was staring at the Missioner, held by the look of anguish that had
settled so quickly and so strangely in his face, as if this bright night
with its moon and stars had recalled to him a great sorrow, when they
heard again the wolf-dog's howl out in the forest. It was quite near.
David, with his eyes still on the other, saw Father Roland start, as if
for an instant he had forgotten where he was. The Missioner looked his
way, and straightened his shoulders slowly, with a smile on his lips
that was strained and wan as the smile of one worn out by an arduous
toil.

"A splendid night," he repeated, and he raised a naked hand to his head,
as if slowly brushing away something from before his eyes. "It was a
night like this--this--fifteen years ago...."

He stopped. In the moonlight he brought himself together with a jerk. He
came and laid a hand on David's shoulder.

"That was Baree," he said. "The dog has followed us."

"He is not very far in the forest," answered David.

"No. He smells us. He is waiting out there for you."

There was a moment's silence between them as they listened.

"I will take him a fish," said David, then. "I am sure he will come to
me."

Mukoki had hoisted the gunny sack full of fish well up against the roof
of the cabin to keep it from chance marauders of the night, and Father
Roland stood by while David lowered it and made a choice for Baree's
supper. Then he reëntered the cabin.

It was not Baree who drew David slowly into the forest. He wanted to be
alone, away from Father Roland and the quiet, insistent scrutiny of the
Cree. He wanted to think, ask himself questions, find answers for them
if he could. His mind was just beginning to rouse itself to the
significance of the events of the past day and night, and he was like
one bewildered by a great mystery, and startled by visions of a possible
tragedy. Fate had played with him strangely. It had linked him with
happenings that were inexplicable and unusual, and he believed that they
were not without their meaning for him. More or less of a fatalist, he
was inspired by the sudden and disturbing thought that they had happened
by inevitable necessity.

Vividly he saw again the dark, haunting eyes of the woman in the coach,
and heard again the few low, tense words with which she had revealed to
him her quest of a man--a man by the name of Michael O'Doone. In her
presence he had felt the nearness of tragedy. It had stirred him deeply,
almost as deeply as the picture she had left in her seat--the picture
hidden now against his breast--like a thing which must not be betrayed,
and which a strange and compelling instinct had made him associate in
such a startling way with Tavish. He could not get Tavish out of his
mind; Tavish, the haunted man; Tavish the man who had fled from the
Firepan Creek country at just about the time the girl in the picture had
stood on the rock beside the pool; Tavish, terror-driven by a spirit of
the dead! He did not attempt to reason the matter, or bare the folly of
his alarm. He did not ask himself about the improbability of it all, but
accepted without equivocation that strong impression as it had come to
him--the conviction that the girl on the rock and the woman in the coach
were in some way identified with the flight of Tavish, the man he had
never seen, from that far valley in the northwest mountains.

The questions he asked himself now were not to establish in his own mind
either the truth or the absurdity of this conviction. He was determining
with himself whether or not to confide in Father Roland. It was more
than delicacy that made him hesitate; it was almost a personal shame.
For a long time he had kept within his breast the secret of his own
tragedy and dishonour. That it was _his_ dishonour, almost as much as
the woman's, had been his own conviction; and how, at last, he had come
to reveal that corroding sickness in his soul to a man who was almost a
stranger was more than he could understand. But he had done just that.
Father Roland had seen him stripped down to the naked truth in an hour
of great need, and he had put out a hand in time to save him. He no
longer doubted this last immeasurable fact. Twenty times since then,
coldly and critically, he had thought of the woman who had been his
wife, and slowly and terribly the enormity of her crime had swept
further and further away from him the anguish of her loss. He was like a
man risen from a sick bed, breathing freely again, tasting once more
the flavour of the air that filled his lungs. All this he owed to Father
Roland, and because of this--and his confession of only two nights
ago--he felt a burning humiliation at the thought of telling the
Missioner that another face had come to fill his thoughts, and stir his
anxieties. And what less could he tell, if he confided in him at all?

He had gone a hundred yards or more into the forest, and in a little
open space, lighted up like a tiny amphitheatre in the glow of the moon,
he stopped. Suddenly there came to him, thrilling in its promise, a key
to the situation. He would wait until they reached Tavish's. And then,
in the presence of the Missioner, he would suddenly show Tavish the
picture. His heart throbbed uneasily as he anticipated the possible
tragedy--the sudden betrayal--of that moment, for Father Roland had
said, like one who had glimpsed beyond the ken of human eyes, that
Tavish was haunted by a vision of the dead. The dead! Could it be that
she, the girl in the picture....? He shook himself, set his lips tight
to get the thought away from him. And the woman--the woman in the coach,
the woman who had left in her seat this picture that was growing in his
heart like a living thing--who was she? Was her quest one of
vengeance--of retribution? Was Tavish the man she was seeking? Up in
that mountain valley--where the girl had stood on that rock--had his
name been Michael O'Doone?

He was trembling when he went on, deeper into the forest. But of his
determination there was no longer a doubt. He would say nothing to
Father Roland until Tavish had seen the picture.

Until now he had forgotten Baree. In the disquieting fear with which
his thoughts were weighted he had lost hold of the fact that in his hand
he still carried the slightly curved and solidly frozen substance of a
fish. The movement of a body near him, so unexpected and alarmingly
close that a cry broke from his lips as he leaped to one side, roused
him with a sudden mental shock. The beast, whatever it was, had passed
within six feet of him, and now, twice that distance away, stood like a
statue hewn out of stone levelling at him the fiery gleam of a solitary
eye. Until he saw that one eye, and not two, David did not breathe. Then
he gasped. The fish had fallen from his fingers. He stooped, picked it
up, and called softly:

"Baree!"

The dog was waiting for his voice. His one eye shifted, slanting like a
searchlight in the direction of the cabin, and turned swiftly back to
David. He whined, and David spoke to him again, calling his name, and
holding out the fish. For several moments Baree did not move, but eyed
him with the immobility of a half-blinded sphinx. Then, suddenly, he
dropped on his belly and began crawling toward him.

A spatter of moonlight fell upon them as David, crouching on his heels,
gave Baree the fish, holding for a moment to the tail of it while the
hungry beast seized its head between his powerful jaws with a grinding
crunch. The power of those jaws sent a little shiver through the man so
close to them. They were terrible--and splendid. A man's leg-bone would
have cracked between them like a pipe stem. And Baree, with that power
of death in his jaws, had a second time crept to him on his belly--not
fearingly, in the shadow of a club, but like a thing tamed into slavery
by a yearning adoration. It was a fact that seized upon David with a
peculiar hold. It built up between them--between this down-and-out beast
and a man fighting to find himself--a comradeship which perhaps only the
man and the beast could understand. Even as he devoured the fish Baree
kept his one eye on David, as though fearing he might lose him again if
he allowed his gaze to falter for an instant. The truculency and the
menace of that eye were gone. It was still bloodshot, still burned with
a reddish fire, and a great pity swept through David, as he thought of
the blows the club must have given. He noticed, then, that Baree was
making efforts to open the other eye; he saw the swollen lid flutter,
the muscle twitch. Impulsively he put out a hand. It fell unflinchingly
on Baree's head, and in an instant the crunching of the dog's jaw had
ceased, and he lay as if dead. David bent nearer. With the thumb and
forefinger of his other hand he gently lifted the swollen lid. It caused
a hurt. Baree whined softly. His great body trembled. His ivory fangs
clicked like the teeth of a man with ague. To his wolfish soul,
trembling in a body that had been condemned, beaten, clubbed almost to
the door of death, that hurt caused by David's fingers was a caress. He
understood. He saw with a vision that was keener than sight. Faith was
born in him, and burned like a conflagration. His head dropped to the
snow; a great, gasping sigh ran through him, and his trembling ceased.
His good eye closed slowly as David gently and persistently massaged the
muscles of the other with his thumb and forefinger. When at last he rose
to his feet and returned to the cabin, Baree followed him to the edge of
the clearing.

Mukoki and the Missioner had made their beds of balsam boughs, two on
the floor and one in the bunk, and the Cree had already rolled himself
in his blanket when David entered the shack. Father Roland was wiping
David's gun.

"We'll give you a little practice with this to-morrow," he promised. "Do
you suppose you can hit a moose?"

"I have my doubts, _mon Père_."

Father Roland gave vent to his curious chuckle.

"I have promised to make a marksman of you in exchange for your--your
trouble in teaching me how to use the gloves," he said, polishing
furiously. There was a twinkle in his eyes, as if a moment before he had
been laughing to himself. The gloves were on the table. He had been
examining them again, and David found himself smiling at the childlike
and eager interest he had taken in them. Suddenly Father Roland rubbed
still a little faster, and said:

"If you can't hit a moose with a bullet you surely can hit me with these
gloves--eh?"

"Yes, quite positively. But I shall be merciful if you, in turn, show
some charity in teaching me how to shoot."

The Little Missioner finished his polishing, set the rifle against the
wall, and took the gloves in his hands.

"It is bright--almost like day--outside," he said a little yearningly.
"Are you--tired?"

His hint was obvious, even to Mukoki, who stared at him from under his
blanket. And David was not tired. If his afternoon's work had fatigued
him his exhaustion was forgotten in the mental excitement that had
followed the Missioner's story of Tavish. He took a pair of the gloves
in his hands, and nodded toward the door.

"You mean...."

Father Roland was on his feet.

"If you are not tired. It would give us a better stomach for sleep."

Mukoki rolled from his blanket, a grin on his leathery face. He tied the
wrist laces for them, and followed them out into the moonlit night, his
face a copper-coloured gargoyle illuminated by that fixed and joyous
grin. David saw the look and wondered if it would change when he sent
the Little Missioner bowling over in the snow, which he was quite sure
to do, even if he was careful. He was a splendid boxer. In the days of
his practice he had struck a terrific blow for his weight. At the
Athletic Club he had been noted for a subtle strategy and a cleverness
of defence that were his own. But he felt that he had grown rusty during
the past year and a half. This thought was in his mind when he tapped
the Missioner on the end of his ruddy nose. They squared away in the
moonlight, eight inches deep in the snow, and there was a joyous and
eager light in Father Roland's eyes. The tap on his nose did not dim it.
His teeth gleamed, even as David's gloves went _plunk_, _plunk_, against
his nose again. Mukoki, still grinning like a carven thing, chuckled
audibly. David pranced carelessly about the Little Missioner, poking him
beautifully as he offered suggestions and criticism.

"You should protect your nose, _mon Père_"--_plunk_! "And the pit of
your stomach"--_plunk_! "And also your ears"--_plunk_, _plunk_! "But
especially your nose, _mon Père_"--_plunk_, _plunk_!

"And sometimes the tip of your jaw, David," gurgled Father Roland, and
for a few moments night closed in darkly about David.

When he came fully into his senses again he was sitting in the snow,
with the Little Missioner bending over him anxiously, and Mukoki
grinning down at him like a fiend.

"Dear Heaven, forgive me!" he heard Father Roland saying. "I didn't mean
it so hard, David--I didn't! But oh, man, it was such a chance--such a
beautiful chance! And now I've spoiled it. I've spoiled our fun."

"Not unless you're--tired," said David, getting up on his feet. "You
took me at a disadvantage, _mon Père_. I thought you were green."

"And you were pulverizing my nose," apologized Father Roland.

They went at it again, and this time David spared none of his caution,
and offered no advice, and the Missioner no longer posed, but became
suddenly as elusive and as agile as a cat. David was amazed, but he
wasted no breath to demand an explanation. Father Roland was parrying
his straight blows like an adept. Three times in as many minutes he felt
the sting of the Missioner's glove in his face. In straight-away boxing,
without the finer tricks and artifice of the game, he was soon convinced
that the forest man was almost his match. Little by little he began to
exert the cleverness of his training. At the end of ten minutes Father
Roland was sitting dazedly in the snow, and the grin had gone from
Mukoki's face. He had succumbed to a trick--a swift side step, a feint
that had held in it an ambush, and the seat of the Little Missioner's
faculties had rocked. But he was gurgling joyously when he rose to his
feet, and with one arm he hugged David as they returned to the cabin.

"Only one other man has given me a jolt like that in many a year," he
boasted, a bit proudly. "And that was Tavish. Tavish is good. He must
have lived long among fighting men. Perhaps that is why I think so
kindly of him. I love a fighting man if he fights honourably with either
brain or brawn, even more than I despise a coward."

"And yet this Tavish, you say, is pursued by a great fear. Can he be so
much of a fighting man, in the way you mean, and still live in terror
of...."

"_What?_"

That single word broke from the Missioner like the sharp crack of a
whip.

"Of _what_ is he afraid?" he repeated. "Can you tell me? Can you guess
more than I have guessed? Is one a coward because he fears whispers that
tremble in the air and sees a face in the darkness of night that is
neither living nor dead? Is he?"

For a long time after he had gone to bed David lay wide awake in the
darkness, his mind working until it seemed to him that it was prisoned
in an iron chamber from which it was making futile efforts to escape. He
could hear the steady breathing of Father Roland and Mukoki, who were
asleep. His own eyes he could close only by forced efforts to bring upon
himself the unconsciousness of rest. Tavish filled his mind--Tavish and
the girl--and along with them the mysterious woman in the coach. He
struggled with himself. He told himself how absurd it all was, how
grotesquely his imagination was employing itself with him--how
incredible it was that Tavish and the girl in the picture should be
associated in that terrible way that had occurred to him. But he failed
to convince himself. He fell asleep at last, and his slumber was filled
with fleeting visions. When he awoke the cabin was filled with the glow
of the lantern. Father Roland and Mukoki were up, and a fire was
crackling in the stove.

The four days that followed broke the last link in the chain that held
David Raine to the life from which he was fleeing when the forest
Missioner met him in the Transcontinental. They were four wonderful
days, in which they travelled steadily northward; days of splendid
sunshine, of intense cold, of brilliant stars and a full moon at night.
The first of these four days David travelled fifteen miles on his snow
shoes, and that night he slept in a balsam shelter close to the face of
a great rock which they heated with a fire of logs, so that all through
the cold hours between darkness and gray dawn the boulder was like a
huge warming-stone. The second day marked also the second great stride
in his education in the life of the wild. Fang and hoof and padded claw
were at large again in the forests after the blizzard, and Father Roland
stopped at each broken path that crossed the trail, pointing out to him
the stories that were written in the snow. He showed him where a fox had
followed silently after a snow-shoe rabbit; where a band of wolves had
ploughed through the snow in the trail of a deer that was doomed, and in
a dense run of timber where both moose and caribou had sought refuge
from the storm he explained carefully the slight difference between the
hoofprints of the two. That night Baree came into camp while they were
sleeping, and in the morning they found where he had burrowed his round
bed in the snow not a dozen yards from their shelter. The third morning
David shot his moose. And that night he lured Baree almost to the side
of their campfire, and tossed him chunks of raw flesh from where he sat
smoking his pipe.

He was changed. Three days on the trail and three nights in camp under
the stars had begun their promised miracle-working. His face was
darkened by a stubble of beard, his ears and cheek bones were reddened
by exposure to cold and wind; he felt that in those three days and
nights his muscles had hardened, and his weakness had left him. "It was
in your mind--your sickness," Father Roland had told him, and he
believed it now. He began to find a pleasure in that physical
achievement which he had wondered at in Mukoki and the Missioner. Each
noon when they stopped to boil their tea and cook their dinner, and each
night when they made camp, he had chopped down a tree. To-night it had
been an 8-inch jack pine, tough with pitch. The exertion had sent his
blood pounding through him furiously. He was still breathing deeply as
he sat near the fire, tossing bits of meat out to Baree. They were sixty
miles from Thoreau's cabin, straight north, and for the twentieth time
Father Roland was telling him how well he had done.

"And to-morrow," he added, "we'll reach Tavish's."

It had grown upon David that to see Tavish had become his one great
mission in the North. What adventure lay beyond that meeting he did not
surmise. All his thoughts had centred in the single desire to let Tavish
look upon the picture. To-night, after the Missioner had joined Mukoki
in the silk tent buried warmly under the mass of cut balsam, he sat a
little longer beside the fire, and asked himself questions which he had
not thought of before. He would see Tavish. He would show him the
picture. And--what then? Would that be the end of it? He felt, for a
moment, uncomfortable. Beyond Tavish there was a disturbing and
unanswerable problem. The Girl, if she still lived, was a thousand miles
from where he was sitting at this moment; to reach her, with that
distance of mountain and forest between them, would be like travelling
to the end of the world. It was the first time there had risen in his
mind a definite thought of going to her--if she were alive. It startled
him. It was like a shock. Go to her? Why? He drew forth the picture from
his coat pocket and stared at the wonder-face of the Girl in the light
of the blazing logs. _Why?_ His heart trembled. He lifted his eyes to
the grayish film of smoke rising between him and the balsam-covered
tent, and slowly he saw another face take form, framed in that
wraith-like mist of smoke--the face of a golden goddess, laughing at
him, taunting him. _Laughing--laughing_!... He forced his gaze from it
with a shudder. Again he looked at the picture of the Girl in his hand.
"_She knows. She understands. She comforts me._" He whispered the words.
They were like a breath rising out of his soul. He replaced the picture
in his pocket, and for a moment held it close against his breast.

The next day, as the swift-thickening gloom of northern night was
descending about them again, the Missioner halted his team on the crest
of a boulder-strewn ridge, and pointing down into the murky plain at
their feet he said, with the satisfaction of one who has come to a
journey's end:

"There is Tavish's."



CHAPTER XI


They went down into the plain. David strained his eyes, but he could see
nothing where Father Roland had pointed except the purplish sea of
forest growing black in the fading twilight. Ahead of the team Mukoki
picked his way slowly and cautiously among the snow-hidden rocks, and
with the Missioner David flung his weight backward on the sledge to keep
it from running upon the dogs. It was a thick, wild place and it struck
him that Tavish could not have chosen a spot of more sinister aspect in
which to hide himself and his secret. A terribly lonely place it was,
and still as death as they went down into it. They heard not even the
howl of a dog, and surely Tavish had dogs. He was on the point of
speaking, of asking the Missioner why Tavish, haunted by fear, should
bury himself in a place like this, when the lead-dog suddenly stopped
and a low, lingering whine drifted back to them. David had never heard
anything like that whine. It swept through the line of dogs, from throat
to throat, and the beasts stood stiff-legged and stark in their traces,
staring with eight pairs of restlessly blazing eyes into the wall of
darkness ahead. The Cree had turned, but the sharp command on his lips
had frozen there. David saw him standing ahead of the team as silent and
as motionless as rock. From him he looked into the Missioner's face.
Father Roland was staring. There was a strange suspense in his
breathing. And then, suddenly, the lead-dog sat back on his haunches and
turning his gray muzzle up to the sky emitted a long and mournful howl.
There was something about it that made David shiver. Mukoki came
staggering back through the snow like a sick man.

"_Nipoo-win Ooyoo!_" he said, his eyes shining like points of flame. A
shiver seemed to be running through him.

For a moment the Missioner did not seem to hear him. Then he cried:

"Give them the whip! Drive them on!"

The Cree turned, unwinding his long lash.

"_Nipoo-win Ooyoo!_" he muttered again.

The whip cracked over the backs of the huskies, the end of it stinging
the rump of the lead-dog, who was master of them all. A snarl rose for
an instant in his throat, then he straightened out, and the dogs lurched
forward. Mukoki ran ahead, so that the lead-dog was close at his heels.

"What did he say?" asked David.

In the gloom the Missioner made a gesture of protest with his two hands.
David could no longer see his face.

"He is superstitious," he growled. "He is absurd. He would make the very
devil's flesh creep. He says that old Beaver has given the death howl.
Bah!"

David could _feel_ the other's shudder in the darkness. They went on for
another hundred yards. With a low word Mukoki stopped the team. The dogs
were whining softly, staring straight ahead, when David and the
Missioner joined the Cree.

Father Roland pointed to a dark blot in the night, fifty paces beyond
them. He spoke to David.

"There is Tavish's cabin. Come. We will see."

Mukoki remained with the team. They could hear the dogs whining as they
advanced. The cabin took shape in their faces--grotesque, dark,
lifeless. It was a foreboding thing, that cabin. He remembered in a
flash all that the Missioner had told him about Tavish. His pulse was
beating swiftly. A shiver ran up his back, and he was filled with a
strange dread. Father Roland's voice startled him.

"Tavish! Tavish!" it called.

They stood close to the door, but heard no answer. Father Roland stamped
with his foot, and scraped with his toe on the ground.

"See, the snow has been cleaned away recently," he said. "Mukoki is a
fool. He is superstitious. He made me, for an instant--afraid."

There was a vast relief in his voice. The cabin door was unbolted and he
flung it open confidently. It was pitch dark inside, but a flood of warm
air struck their faces. The Missioner laughed.

"Tavish, are you asleep?" he called.

There was no answer. Father Roland entered.

"He has been here recently. There is a fire in the stove. We will make
ourselves at home." He fumbled in his clothes and found a match. A
moment later he struck it, and lighted a tin lamp that hung from the
ceiling. In its glow his face was of a strange colour. He had been under
strain. The hand that held the burning match was unsteady. "Strange,
very strange," he was saying, as if to himself. And then:
"Preposterous! I will go back and tell Mukoki. He is shivering. He is
afraid. He believes that Tavish is in league with the devil. He says
that the dogs know, and that they have warned him. Queer. Monstrously
queer. And interesting. Eh?"

He went out. David stood where he was, looking about him in the blurred
light of the lamp over his head. He almost expected Tavish to creep out
from some dark corner; he half expected to see him move from under the
dishevelled blankets in the bunk at the far end of the room. It was a
big room, twenty feet from end to end, and almost as wide, and after a
moment or two he knew that he was the only living thing in it, except a
small, gray mouse that came fearlessly quite close to his feet. And then
he saw a second mouse, and a third, and about him, and over him, he
heard a creeping, scurrying noise, as of many tiny feet pattering. A
paper on the table rustled, a series of squeaks came from the bunk, he
felt something that was like a gentle touch on the toe of his moccasin,
and looked down. The cabin was alive with mice! It was filled with the
restless movement of them--little bright-eyed creatures who moved about
him without fear, and, he thought, expectantly. He had not moved an inch
when Father Roland came again into the cabin. He pointed to the floor.

"The place is alive with them!" he protested.

Father Roland appeared in great good humour as he slipped off his
mittens and rubbed his hands over the stove.

"Tavish's pets," he chuckled. "He says they're company. I've seen a
dozen of them on his shoulders at one time. Queer. Queer."

His hands made the rasping sound as he rubbed them. Suddenly he lifted a
lid from the stove and peered into the fire-box.

"He put fuel in here less than an hour ago," he said. "Wonder where he
can be mouching at this hour. The dogs are gone." He scanned the table.
"No supper. Pans clean. Mice hungry. He'll be back soon. But we won't
wait. I'm famished."

He spoke swiftly, and filled the stove with wood. Mukoki began bringing
in the dunnage. The uneasy gleam was still in his eyes. His gaze was
shifting and restless with expectation. He came and went noiselessly,
treading as though he feared his footsteps would awaken some one, and
David saw that he was afraid of the mice. One of them ran up his sleeve
as they were eating supper, and he flung it from him with a strange,
quick breath, his eyes blazing.

"_Muche Munito!_" he shuddered.

He swallowed the rest of his meat hurriedly, and after that took his
blankets, and with a few words in Cree to the Missioner left the cabin.

"He says they are little devils--the mice," said Father Roland, looking
after him reflectively. "He will sleep near the dogs. I wonder how far
his intuition goes? He believes that Tavish harbours bad spirits in this
cabin, and that they have taken the form of mice. Pooh! They're cunning
little vermin. Tavish has taught them tricks. Watch this one feed out of
my hand!"

Half a dozen times they had climbed to David's shoulders. One of them
had nestled in a warm furry ball against his neck, as if waiting. They
were certainly companionable--quite chummy, as the Missioner said. No
wonder Tavish harboured them in his loneliness. David fed them and let
them nibble from his fingers, and yet they gave him a distinctly
unpleasant sensation. When the Missioner had finished his last cup of
coffee he crumbled a thick chunk of bannock and placed it on the floor
back of the stove. The mice gathered round it in a silent, hungry,
nibbling horde. David tried to count them. There must have been twenty.
He felt an impulse to scoop them up in something, Tavish's water pail
for instance, and pitch them out into the night. The creatures became
quieter after their gorge on bannock crumbs. Most of them disappeared.

For a long time David and the Missioner sat smoking their pipes, waiting
for Tavish. Father Roland was puzzled and yet he was assured. He was
puzzled because Tavish's snow shoes hung on their wooden peg in one of
the cross logs and his rifle was in its rack over the bunk.

"I didn't know he had another pair of snow shoes," he said. "Still, it
is quite a time since I have seen him--a number of weeks. I came down in
the early November snow. He is not far away or he would have taken his
rifle. Probably setting a few fresh poison-baits after the storm."

They heard the sweep of a low wind. It often came at night after a
storm, usually from off the Barrens to the northwest. Something thumped
gently against the outside of the cabin, a low, peculiarly heavy and
soft sort of sound, like a padded object, with only the log wall
separating it from the bunk. Their ears caught it quite distinctly.

"Tavish hangs his meat out there," the Missioner explained, observing
the sudden direction of David's eyes. "A haunch of moose, or, if he has
been lucky, of caribou. I had forgotten Tavish's cache or we might have
saved our meat."

He ran a hand through his thick, grayish hair until it stood up about
his head like a brush.

David tried not to reveal his restlessness as they waited. At each new
sound he hoped that what he heard was Tavish's footsteps. He had quite
decidedly planned his action. Tavish would enter, and of course there
would be greetings, and possibly half an hour or more of smoking and
talk before he brought up the Firepan Creek country, unless, as might
fortuitously happen, Father Roland spoke of it ahead of him. After that
he would show Tavish the picture, and he would stand well in the light
so that it would be impressed upon Tavish all at once. He noticed that
the chimney of the lamp was sooty and discoloured, and somewhat to the
Missioner's amusement he took it off and cleaned it. The light was much
more satisfactory then. He wandered about the cabin, scrutinizing, as if
out of curiosity, Tavish's belongings. There was not much to discover.
Close to the bunk there was a small battered chest with riveted steel
ribs. He wondered whether it was unlocked, and what it contained. As he
stood over it he could hear plainly the _thud, thud, thud_, of the thing
outside--the haunch of meat--as though some one were tapping fragments
of the Morse code in a careless and broken sort of way. Then, without
any particular motive, he stepped into the dark corner at the end of the
bunk. An agonized squeak came from under his foot, and he felt
something small and soft flatten out, like a wad of dough. He jumped
back. An exclamation broke from his lips. It was unpleasant, though the
soft thing was nothing more than a mouse.

"Confound it!" he said.

Father Roland was listening to the slow, pendulum-like _thud_, _thud_,
_thud_, against the logs of the cabin. It seemed to come more distinctly
as David crushed out the life of the mouse, as if pounding a protest
upon the wall.

"Tavish has hung his meat low," he said concernedly. "Quite careless of
him, unless it is a very large quarter."

He began slowly to undress.

"We might as well turn in," he suggested. "When Tavish shows up the dogs
will raise bedlam and wake us. Throw out Tavish's blankets and put your
own in his bunk. I prefer the floor. Always did. Nothing like a good,
smooth floor...."

He was interrupted by the opening of the cabin door. The Cree thrust in
his head and shoulders. He came no farther. His eyes were afire with the
smouldering gleam of garnets. He spoke rapidly in his native tongue to
the Missioner, gesturing with one lean, brown hand as he talked. Father
Roland's face became heavy, furrowed, perplexed. He broke in suddenly,
in Cree, and when he ceased speaking Mukoki withdrew slowly. The last
David saw of the Indian was his shifting, garnet-like eyes, disappearing
like beads of blackish flame.

"_Pest!_" cried the Little Missioner, shrugging his shoulders in
disgust. "The dogs are uneasy. Mukoki says they smell death. They sit on
their haunches, he says, staring--staring at nothing, and whining like
puppies. He is going back with them to the other side of the ridge. If
it will ease his soul, let him go."

"I have heard of dogs doing that," said David.

"Of course they will do it," shot back Father Roland unhesitatingly.
"Northern dogs always do it, and especially mine. They are accustomed to
death. Twenty times in a winter, and sometimes more, I care for the
dead. They always go with me, and they can smell death in the wind. But
here--why, it is absurd! There is nothing dead here--unless it is that
mouse, and Tavish's meat!" He shook himself, grumbling under his breath
at Mukoki's folly. And then: "The dogs have always acted queerly when
Tavish was near," he added in a lower voice. "I can't explain why; they
simply do. Instinct, possibly. His presence makes them uneasy. An
unusual man, this Tavish. I wish he would come. I am anxious for you to
meet him."

That his mind was quite easy on the score of Tavish's physical
well-being he emphasized by falling asleep very shortly after rolling
himself up in his blankets on the floor. During their three nights in
camp David had marvelled at and envied the ease with which Father Roland
could drop off into profound and satisfactory slumber, this being, as
his new friend had explained to him, the great and underlying virtue of
a good stomach. To-night, however, the Missioner's deep and regular
breathing as he lay on the floor was a matter of vexation to him. He
wanted him awake. He wanted him up and alive, thoroughly alive, when
Tavish came. "Pounding his ear like a tenderfoot," he thought, "while I,
a puppy in harness, couldn't sleep if I wanted to." He was nervously
alert. He filled his pipe for the third or fourth time and sat down on
the edge of the bunk, listening for Tavish. He was certain, from all
that had been said, that Tavish would come. All he had to do was wait.
There had been growing in him, a bit unconsciously at first, a feeling
of animosity toward Tavish, an emotion that burned in him with a
gathering fierceness as he sat alone in the dim light of the cabin,
grinding out in his mental restlessness visions of what Tavish might
have done. Conviction had never been stronger in him. Tavish, if he had
guessed correctly, was a fiend. He would soon know. And if he was right,
if Tavish had done that, if up in those mountains....

His eyes blazed and his hands were clenched as he looked down at Father
Roland. After a moment, without taking his eyes from the Missioner's
recumbent form, he reached to the pocket of his coat which he had flung
on the bunk and drew out the picture of the Girl. He looked at it a long
time, his heart growing warm, and the tense lines softening in his face.

"It can't be," he whispered. "She is alive!"

As if the wind had heard him, and was answering, there came more
distinctly the sound close behind him.

_Thud! Thud! Thud!_

There was a silence, in which David closed his fingers tightly about the
picture. And then, more insistently:

_Thud! Thud! Thud!_

He put the picture back into his pocket, and rose to his feet.
Mechanically he slipped on his coat. He went to the door, opened it
softly, and passed out into the night. The moon was above him, like a
great, white disc. The sky burned with stars. He could see now to the
foot of the ridge over which Mukoki had gone, and the clearing about the
cabin lay in a cold and luminous glory. Tavish, if he had been caught in
the twilight darkness and had waited for the moon to rise, would be
showing up soon.

He walked to the side of the cabin and looked back. Quite distinctly he
could see Tavish's meat, suspended from a stout sapling that projected
straight out from under the edge of the roof. It hung there darkly, a
little in shadow, swinging gently in the wind that had risen, and
tap-tap-tapping against the logs. David moved toward it, gazing at the
edge of the forest in which he thought he had heard a sound that was
like the creak of a sledge runner. He hoped it was Tavish returning. For
several moments he listened with his back to the cabin. Then he turned.
He was very close to the thing hanging from the sapling. It was swinging
slightly. The moon shone on it, and then--Great God! A face--a human
face! A face, bearded, with bulging, staring eyes, gaping mouth--a grin
of agony frozen in it! And it was tapping, tapping, tapping!

He staggered back with a dreadful cry. He swayed to the door, groped
blindly for the latch, stumbled in clumsily, like a drunken man. The
horror of that lifeless, grinning face was in his voice. He had awakened
the Missioner, who was sitting up, staring at him.

"Tavish ..." cried David chokingly; "Tavish--is dead!" and he pointed to
the end of the cabin where they could hear again that _tap-tap-tapping_
against the log wall.



CHAPTER XII


Not until afterward did David realize how terribly his announcement of
Tavish's death must have struck into the soul of Father Roland. For a
few seconds the Missioner did not move. He was wide awake, he had heard,
and yet he looked at David dumbly, his two hands gripping his blanket.
When he did move, it was to turn his face slowly toward the end of the
cabin where the thing was hanging, with only the wall between. Then,
still slowly, he rose to his feet.

David thought he had only half understood.

"Tavish--is dead!" he repeated huskily, straining to swallow the
thickening in his throat. "He is out there--hanging by his neck--dead!"

_Dead!_ He emphasized that word--spoke it twice.

Father Roland still did not answer. He was getting into his clothes
mechanically, his face curiously ashen, his eyes neither horrified nor
startled, but with a stunned look in them. He did not speak when he went
to the door and out into the night. David followed, and in a moment they
stood close to the thing that was hanging where Tavish's meat should
have been. The moon threw a vivid sort of spotlight on it. It was
grotesque and horrible--very bad to look at, and unforgettable. Tavish
had not died easily. He seemed to shriek that fact at them as he swung
there dead; even now he seemed more terrified than cold. His teeth
gleamed a little. That, perhaps, was the worst of it all. And his hands
were clenched tight. David noticed that. Nothing seemed relaxed about
him.

Not until he had looked at Tavish for perhaps sixty full seconds did
Father Roland speak. He had recovered himself, judging from his voice.
It was quiet and unexcited. But in his first words, unemotional as they
were, there was a significance that was almost frightening.

"At last! She made him do that!"

He was speaking to himself, looking straight into Tavish's agonized
face. A great shudder swept through David. _She!_ He wanted to cry out.
He wanted to know. But the Missioner now had his hands on the gruesome
thing in the moonlight, and he was saying:

"There is still warmth in his body. He has not been long dead. He hanged
himself, I should say, not more than half an hour before we reached the
cabin. Give me a hand, David!"

With a mighty effort David pulled himself together. After all, it was
nothing more than a dead man hanging there. But his hands were like ice
as he seized hold of it. A knife gleamed in the moonlight over Tavish's
head as the Missioner cut the rope. They lowered Tavish to the snow, and
David went into the cabin for a blanket. Father Roland wrapped the
blanket carefully about the body so that it would not freeze to the
ground. Then they entered the cabin. The Missioner threw off his coat
and built up the fire. When he turned he seemed to notice for the first
time the deathly pallor in David's face.

"It shocked you--when you found it there," he said. "_Ugh!_ I don't
wonder. But I ... David, I didn't tell you I was expecting something
like this. I have feared for Tavish. And to-night when the dogs and
Mukoki signalled death I was alarmed--until we found the fire in the
stove. It didn't seem reasonable then. I thought Tavish would return.
The dogs were gone, too. He must have freed them just before he went out
there. Terrible! But justice--justice, I suppose. God sometimes works
His ends in queer ways, doesn't He?"

"What do you mean?" cried David, again fighting that thickening in his
throat. "Tell me, Father! I must know. Why did he kill himself?"

His hand was clutching at his breast, where the picture lay. He wanted
to tear it out, in this moment, and demand of Father Roland whether this
was the face--the girl's face--that had haunted Tavish.

"I mean that his fear drove him at last to kill himself," said Father
Roland in a slow, sure voice, as if carefully weighing his words before
speaking them. "I believe, now, that he terribly wronged some one, that
his conscience was his fear, and that it haunted him by bringing up
visions and voices until it drove him finally to pay his debt. And up
here conscience is _mitoo aye chikoon_--the Little Brother of God. That
is all I know. I wish Tavish had confided in me, I might have saved
him."

"Or--punished," breathed David.

"My business is not to punish. If he had come to me, asking help for
himself and mercy from his God, I could not have betrayed him."

He was putting on his coat again.

"I am going after Mukoki," he said. "There is work to be done, and we
may as well get through with it by moonlight. I don't suppose you feel
like sleep?"

David shook his head. He was calmer now, quite recovered from the first
horror of his shock, when the door closed behind Father Roland. In the
thoughts that were swiftly readjusting themselves in his mind there was
no very great sympathy for the man who had hanged himself. In place of
that sympathy the oppression of a thing that was greater than
disappointment settled upon him heavily, driving from him his own
personal dread of this night's ghastly adventure, and adding to his
suspense of the last forty-eight hours a hopelessness the poignancy of
which was almost like that of a physical pain. Tavish was dead, and in
dying he had taken with him the secret for which David would have paid
with all he was worth in this hour. In his despair, as he stood there
alone in the cabin, he muttered something to himself. The desire
possessed him to cry out aloud that Tavish had cheated him. A strange
kind of rage burned within him and he turned toward the door, with
clenched hands, as if about to rush out and choke from the dead man's
throat what he wanted to know, and force his glazed and staring eyes to
look for just one instant on the face of the girl in the picture. In
another moment his brain had cleared itself of that insane fire. After
all, would Tavish kill himself without leaving something behind? Would
there not be some kind of an explanation, written by Tavish before he
took the final step? A confession? A letter to Father Roland? Tavish
knew that the Missioner would stop at his cabin on his return into the
North. Surely he would not kill himself without leaving some work for
him--at least a brief accounting for his act!

He began looking about the cabin again, swiftly and eagerly at first,
for if Tavish had written anything he would beyond all doubt have placed
the paper in some conspicuous place: pinned it at the end of his bunk,
or on the wall, or against the door. They might have overlooked it, or
possibly it had fallen to the floor. To make his search surer David
lowered the lamp from its bracket in the ceiling and carried it in his
hand. He went into dark corners, scrutinized the floor as well as the
walls, and moved garments from their wooden pegs. There was nothing.
Tavish had cheated him again! His eyes rested finally on the chest. He
placed the lamp on a stool, and tried the lid. It was unlocked. As he
lifted it he heard voices indistinctly outside. Father Roland had
returned with Mukoki. He could hear them as they went to where Tavish
was lying with his face turned up to the moon.

On his knees he began pawing over the stuff in the chest. It was a third
filled with odds and ends--little else but trash; tangled ends of
_babiche_, a few rusted tools, nails and bolts, a pair of half-worn shoe
packs--a mere litter of disappointing rubbish. The door opened behind
him as he was rising to his feet. He turned to face Mukoki and the
Missioner.

"There is nothing," he said, with a gesture that took in the room. "He
hasn't left any word that I can find."

Father Roland had not closed the door.

"Mukoki will help you search. Look in his clothing on the wall. Tavish
must surely have left--something."

He went out, shutting the door behind him. For a moment he listened to
make sure that David was not going to follow him. He hurried then to the
body of Tavish, and stripped off the blanket. The dead man was terrible
to look at, with his open glassy eyes and his distorted face, and the
moonlight gleaming on his grinning teeth. The Missioner shuddered.

"I can't guess," he whispered, as if speaking to Tavish. "I can't
guess--quite--what made you do it, Tavish. But you haven't died without
telling me. I know it. It's there--in your pocket."

He listened again, and his lips moved. He bent over him, on one knee,
and averted his eyes as he searched the pockets of Tavish's heavy coat.
Against the dead man's breast he found it, neatly folded, about the size
of foolscap paper--several pages of it, he judged, by the thickness of
the packet. It was tied with fine threads of _babiche_, and in the
moonlight he could make out quite distinctly the words, "For Father
Roland, God's Lake--Personal." Tavish, after all, had not made himself
the victim of sudden fright, of a momentary madness. He had planned the
affair in a quite business-like way. Premeditated it with considerable
precision, in fact, and yet in the end he had died with that stare of
horror and madness in his face. Father Roland spread the blanket over
him again after he had placed the packet in his own coat. He knew where
Tavish's pick and shovel were hanging at the back of the cabin and he
brought these tools and placed them beside the body. After that he
rejoined David and the Cree.

They were still searching, and finding nothing.

"I have been looking through his clothes--out there," said the
Missioner, with a shuddering gesture which intimated that his task had
been as fruitless as their own. "We may as well bury him. A shallow
grave, close to where his body lies. I have placed a pick and a shovel
on the spot." He spoke to David: "Would you mind helping Mukoki to dig?
I would like to be alone for a little while. You understand. There are
things...."

"I understand, Father."

For the first time David felt something of the awe of this thing that
was death. He had forgotten, almost, that Father Roland was a servant of
God, so vitally human had he found him, so unlike all other men of his
calling he had ever known. But it was impressed upon him now, as he
followed Mukoki. Father Roland wanted to be alone. Perhaps to pray. To
ask mercy for Tavish's soul. To plead for its guidance into the Great
Unknown. The thought quieted his own emotions, and as he began to dig in
the hard snow and frozen earth he tried to think of Tavish as a man, and
not as a monster.

In the cabin Father Roland waited until he heard the beat of the pick
before he moved. Then he fastened the cabin door with a wooden bolt and
sat himself down at the table, with the lamp close to his bent head and
Tavish's confession in his hands. He cut the _babiche_ threads with his
knife, unfolded the sheets of paper and began to read, while Tavish's
mice nosed slyly out of their murky corners wondering at the new and
sudden stillness in the cabin and, it may be, stirred into restlessness
by the absence of their master.

       *       *       *       *       *

The ground under the snow was discouragingly hard. To David the digging
of the grave seemed like chipping out bits of flint from a solid block,
and he soon turned over the pick to Mukoki. Alternately they worked for
an hour, and each time that the Cree took his place David wondered what
was keeping the Missioner so long in the cabin. At last Mukoki intimated
with a sweep of his hands and a hunch of his shoulders that their work
was done. The grave looked very shallow to David, and he was about to
protest against his companion's judgment when it occurred to him that
Mukoki had probably digged many holes such as this in the earth, and had
helped to fill them again, so it was possible he knew his business.
After all, why did people weigh down one's last slumber with six feet of
soil overhead when three or four would leave one nearer to the sun, and
make not quite so chill a bed? He was thinking of this as he took a last
look at Tavish. Then he heard the Indian give a sudden grunt, as if some
one had poked him unexpectedly in the pit of the stomach. He whirled
about, and stared.

Father Roland stood within ten feet of them, and at sight of him an
exclamation rose to David's lips and died there in an astonished gasp.
He seemed to be swaying, like a sick man, in the moonlight, and impelled
by the same thought Mukoki and David moved toward him. The Missioner
extended an arm, as if to hold them back. His face was ghastly, and
terrible--almost as terrible as Tavish's, and he seemed to be
struggling with something in his throat before he could speak. Then he
said, in a strange, forced voice that David had never heard come from
his lips before:

"Bury him. There will be--no prayer."

He turned away, moving slowly in the direction of the forest. And as he
went David noticed the heavy drag of his feet, and the unevenness of his
trail in the snow.



CHAPTER XIII


For two or three minutes after Father Roland had disappeared in the
forest David and Mukoki stood without moving. Amazed and a little
stunned by the change they had seen in the Missioner's ghastly face, and
perplexed by the strangeness of his voice and the unsteadiness of his
walk as he had gone away from them, they looked expectantly for him to
return out of the shadows of the timber. His last words had come to them
with metallic hardness, and their effect, in a way, had been rather
appalling: "There will be--no prayer." Why? The question was in Mukoki's
gleaming, narrow eyes as he faced the dark spruce, and it was on David's
lips as he turned at last to look at the Cree. There was to be no prayer
for Tavish! David felt himself shuddering, when suddenly, breaking the
silence like a sinister cackle, an exultant exclamation burst from the
Indian, as though, all at once, understanding had dawned upon him. He
pointed to the dead man, his eyes widening.

"Tavish--he great devil," he said. "_Mon Père_ make no prayer.
_Mey-oo!_" and he grinned in triumph, for had he not, during all these
months, told his master that Tavish was a devil, and that his cabin was
filled with little devils? "Mey-oo," he cried again, louder than before.
"A devil!" and with a swift, vengeful movement he sprang to Tavish,
caught him by his moccasined feet, and to David's horror flung him
fiercely into the shallow grave. "A devil!" he croaked again, and like a
madman began throwing in the frozen earth upon the body.

David turned away, sickened by the thud of the body and the fall of the
clods on its upturned face--for he had caught a last unpleasant glimpse
of the face, and it was staring and grinning up at the stars. A feeling
of dread followed him into the cabin. He filled the stove, and sat down
to wait for Father Roland. It was a long wait. He heard Mukoki go away.
The mice rustled about him again. An hour had passed when he heard a
sound at the door, a scraping sound, like the peculiar drag of claws
over wood, and a moment later it was followed by a whine that came to
him faintly. He opened the door slowly. Baree stood just outside the
threshold. He had given him two fish at noon, so he knew that it was not
hunger that had brought the dog to the cabin. Some mysterious instinct
had told him that David was alone; he wanted to come in; his yearning
gleamed in his eyes as he stood there stiff-legged in the moonlight.
David held out a hand, on the point of enticing him through the door,
when he heard the soft crunching of feet in the snow. A gray shadow,
swift as the wind, Baree disappeared. David scarcely knew when he went.
He was looking into the face of Father Roland. He backed into the cabin,
without speaking, and the Missioner entered. He was smiling. He had, to
an extent, recovered himself. He threw off his mittens and rasped his
hands over the fire in an effort at cheerfulness. But there was
something forced in his manner, something that he was making a terrific
fight to keep under. He was like one who had been in great mental
stress for many days instead of a single hour. His eyes burned with the
smouldering glow of a fever; his shoulders hung loosely as though he had
lost the strength to hold them erect; he shivered, David noticed, even
as he rubbed his hands and smiled.

"Curious how this has affected me, David," he said apologetically. "It
is incredible, this weakness of mine. I have seen death many scores of
times, and yet I could not go and look on his face again. Incredible!
Yet it is so. I am anxious to get away. Mukoki will soon be coming with
the dogs. A devil, Mukoki says. Well, perhaps. A strange man at best. We
must forget this night. It has been an unpleasant introduction for you
into our North. We must forget it. We must forget Tavish." And then, as
if he had omitted a fact of some importance, he added: "I will kneel at
his graveside before we go."

"If he had only waited," said David, scarcely knowing what words he was
speaking, "if he had waited until to-morrow, only, or the next day...."

"Yes; if he had waited!"

The Missioner's eyes narrowed. David heard the click of his jaws as he
dropped his head so that his face was hidden.

"If he had waited," he repeated, after David, "if he had only waited!"
And his hands, spread out fan-like ever the stove, closed slowly and
rigidly as if gripping at the throat of something.

"I have friends up in that country he came from," David forced himself
to say, "and I had hoped he would be able to tell me something about
them. He must have known them, or heard of them."

"Undoubtedly," said the Missioner, still looking at the top of the
stove, and unclenching his fingers as slowly as he had drawn them
together, "but he is dead."

There was a note of finality in his voice, a sudden forcefulness of
meaning as he raised his head and looked at David.

"Dead," he repeated, "and buried. We are no longer privileged even to
guess at what he might have said. As I told you once before, David, I am
not a Catholic, nor a Church-of-England man, nor of any religion that
wears a name, and yet I accepted a little of them all into my own creed.
A wandering Missioner--and I am such a one--must obliterate to an extent
his own deep-souled convictions and accept indulgently all articles of
Christian faith; and there is one law, above all others, which he must
hold inviolate. He must not pry into the past of the dead, nor speak
aloud the secrets of the living. Let us forget Tavish."

His words sounded a knell in David's heart. If he had hoped that Father
Roland would, at the very last, tell him something more about Tavish,
that hope was now gone. The Missioner spoke in a voice that was almost
gentle, and he came to David and put a hand on his shoulder as a father
might have done with a son. He had placed himself, in this moment,
beyond the reach of any questions that might have been in David's mind.
With eyes and touch that spoke a deep affection he had raised a barrier
between them as inviolable as that law of his creed which he had just
mentioned. And with it had come a better understanding.

David was glad that Mukoki's voice and the commotion of the dogs came to
interrupt them. They gathered up hurriedly the few things they had
brought into the cabin and carried them to the sledge. David did not
enter the cabin again but stood with the dogs in the edge of the timber,
while Father Roland made his promised visit to the grave. Mukoki
followed him, and as the Missioner stood over the dark mound in the
snow, David saw the Cree slip like a shadow into the cabin, where a
light was still burning. Then he noticed that Father Roland was
kneeling, and a moment later the Indian came out of the cabin quietly,
and without looking back joined him near the dogs. They waited.

Over Tavish's grave Father Roland's lips were moving, and out of his
mouth strange words came in a low and unemotional voice that was not
much above a whisper:

"... and I thank God that you did not tell me before you died, Tavish,"
he was saying. "I thank God for that. For if you had--I would have
killed you!"

As he came back to them David noticed a flickering of light in the
cabin, as though the lamp was sputtering and about to go out. They put
on their snow shoes, and with Mukoki breaking the trail buried
themselves in the moonlit forest.

Half an hour later they halted on the summit of a second ridge. The Cree
looked back and pointed with an exultant cry. Where the cabin had been a
red flare of flame was rising above the tree tops. David understood what
the flickering light in the cabin had meant. Mukoki had spilled Tavish's
kerosene and had touched a match to it so that the little devils might
follow their master into the black abyss. He almost fancied he could
hear the agonized squeaking of Tavish's pets.

       *       *       *       *       *

Straight northward, through the white moonlight of that night, Mukoki
broke their trail, travelling at times so swiftly that the Missioner
commanded him to slacken his pace on David's account. Even David did not
think of stopping. He had no desire to stop so long as their way was
lighted ahead of them. It seemed to him that the world was becoming
brighter and the forest gloom less cheerless as they dropped that evil
valley of Tavish's farther and farther behind them. Then the moon began
to fade, like a great lamp that had burned itself out of oil, and
darkness swept over them like huge wings. It was two o'clock when they
camped and built a fire.

So, day after day, they continued into the North. At the end of his
tenth day--the sixth after leaving Tavish's--David felt that he was no
longer a stranger in the country of the big snows. He did not say as
much to Father Roland, for to express such a thought to one who had
lived there all his life seemed to him to be little less than a bit of
sheer imbecility. Ten days! That was all, and yet they might have been
ten months, or as many years for that matter, so completely had they
changed him. He was not thinking of himself physically--not a day passed
that Father Roland did not point out some fresh triumph for him there.
His limbs were nearly as tireless as the Missioner's; he knew that he
was growing heavier; and he could at last chop through a tree without
winding himself. These things his companions could see. His appetite
was voracious. His eyes were keen and his hands steady, so that he was
doing splendid practice shooting with both rifle and pistol, and each
day when the Missioner insisted on their bout with the gloves he found
it more and more difficult to hold himself in. "Not so hard, David,"
Father Roland frequently cautioned him, and in place of the first joyous
grin there was always a look of settled anxiety in Mukoki's face as he
watched them. The more David pummelled him, the greater was the Little
Missioner's triumph. "I told you what this north country could do for
you," was his exultant slogan; "I told you!"

Once David was on the point of telling him that he could see only the
tenth part of what it had done for him, but the old shame held his
tongue. He did not want to bring up the old story. The fact that it had
existed, and had written itself out in human passion, remained with him
still as a personal and humiliating degradation. It was like a scar on
his own body, a repulsive sore which he wished to keep out of sight,
even from the eyes of the man who had been his salvation. The growth of
this revulsion within him had kept pace with his physical improvement,
and if at the end of these ten days Father Roland had spoken of the
woman who had betrayed him--the woman who had been his wife--he would
have turned the key on that subject as decisively as the Missioner had
banned further conversation or conjecture about Tavish. This was,
perhaps, the best evidence that he had cut out the cancer in his breast.
The Golden Goddess, whom he had thought an angel, he now saw stripped of
her glory. If she had repented in that room, if she had betrayed fear
even, a single emotion of mental agony, he would not have felt so sure
of himself. But she had laughed. She was, like Tavish, a devil. He
thought of her beauty now as that of a poisonous flower. He had
unwittingly touched such a flower once, a flower of wonderful waxen
loveliness, and it had produced a pustular eruption on his hand. She was
like that. Poisonous. Treacherous. A creature with as little soul as
that flower had perfume. It was this change in him, in his conception
and his memory of her, that he would have given much to have Father
Roland understand.

During this period of his own transformation he had observed a curious
change in Father Roland. At times, after leaving Tavish's cabin, the
Little Missioner seemed struggling under the weight of a deep and gloomy
oppression. Once or twice, in the firelight, it had looked almost like
sickness, and David had seen his face grow wan and old. Always after
these fits of dejection there would follow a reaction, and for hours the
Missioner would be like one upon whom had fallen a new and sudden
happiness. As day added itself to day, and night to night, the periods
of depression became shorter and less frequent, and at last Father
Roland emerged from them altogether, as though he had been fighting a
great fight, and had won. There was a new lustre in his eyes. David
wondered whether it was a trick of his imagination that made him think
the lines in the Missioner's face were not so deep, that he stood
straighter, and that there was at times a deep and vibrant note in his
voice which he had not heard before.

During these days David was trying hard to make himself believe that no
reasonable combination of circumstances could have associated Tavish
with the girl whose picture he kept in the breast pocket of his coat.
He succeeded in a way. He tried also to dissociate the face in the
picture from a living personality. In this he failed. More and more the
picture became a living thing for him. He found a great comfort in his
possession of it. He made up his mind that he would keep it, and that
its sweet face, always on the point of speaking to him, should go with
him wherever he went, guiding him in a way--a companion. He found that,
in hours when the darkness and the emptiness of his life oppressed him,
the face gave him new hope, and he saw new light. He ceased to think of
it as a picture, and one night, speaking half aloud, he called her
Little Sister. She seemed nearer to him after that. Unconsciously his
hand learned the habit of going to his breast pocket when they were
travelling, to make sure that she was there. He would have suffered
physical torment before he would have confided all this to any living
soul, but the secret thought that was growing more and more in his heart
he told to Baree. The dog came into their camps now, but not until the
Missioner and Mukoki had gone to bed. He would cringe down near David's
feet, lying there motionless, oblivious of the other dogs and showing no
inclination to disturb them. He was there on the tenth night, looking
steadily at David with his two bloodshot eyes, wondering what it was
that his master held in his hands. From the lips and eyes of the Girl,
trembling and aglow in the firelight, David looked at Baree. In the
bloodshot eyes he saw the immeasurable faith of an adoring slave. He
knew that Baree would never leave him. And the Girl, looking at him as
steadily as Baree, would never leave him. There was a tremendous thrill
in the thought. He leaned over the dog, and with a tremulous stir in
his voice, he whispered:

"Some day, boy, we may go to her."

Baree shivered with joy. David's voice, whispering to him in that way,
was like a caress, and he whined softly as he crept an inch or two
nearer to his master's feet.

That night Father Roland was restless. Hours later, when he was lying
snug and warm in his own blankets, David heard him get up, and watched
him as he scraped together the burned embers of the fire and added
fresh fuel to them. The flap of the tent was back a little, so that he
could see plainly. It could not have been later than midnight. The
Missioner was fully dressed, and as the fire burned brighter David
could see the ruddy glow of his face, and it struck him that it
looked singularly boyish in the flame-glow. He did not guess what
was keeping the Missioner awake until a little later he heard him
among the dogs, and his voice came to him, low and exultingly, and
as boyish as his face  had seemed: "We'll be home to-morrow,
boys--_home_!" That word--home--sounded oddly enough to David up here
three hundred miles from civilization. He fancied that he heard the
dogs shuffling in the snow, and the satisfied rasping of their master's
hands.

Father Roland did not return into the tent again that night. David fell
asleep, but was roused for breakfast at three o'clock, and they were
away before it was yet light. Through the morning darkness Mukoki led
the way as unerringly as a fox, for he was now on his own ground. As
dawn came, with a promise of sun, David wondered in a whimsical sort of
way whether his companions, both dogs and men, were going mad. He had
not as yet experienced the joy and excitement of a northern homecoming,
nor had he dreamed that it was possible for Mukoki's leathern face to
break into wild jubilation. As the first rays of the sun shot over the
forests, he began, all at once, to sing, in a low, chanting voice that
grew steadily louder; and as he sang he kept time in a curious way with
his hands. He did not slacken his pace, but kept steadily on, and
suddenly the Little Missioner joined him in a voice that rang out like
the blare of a bugle. To David's ears there was something familiar in
that song as it rose wildly on the morning air.

         "Pa sho ke non ze koon,
              Ta ba nin ga,
          Ah no go suh nuh guk,
              Na quash kuh mon;
          Na guh mo yah nin koo,
          Pa sho ke non ze koon,
          Pa sho ke non ze koon,
              Ta ba nin go."

"What is it?" he asked, when Father Roland dropped back to his side,
smiling and breathing deeply. "It sounds like a Chinese puzzle, and yet
..."

The Missioner laughed. Mukoki had ended a second verse.

"Twenty years ago, when I first knew Mukoki, he would chant nothing but
Indian legends to the beat of a tom-tom," he explained. "Since I've had
him he has developed a passion for 'mission singing'--for hymns. That
was 'Nearer, my God, to Thee.'"

Mukoki, gathering wind, had begun again.

"That's his favourite," explained Father Roland. "At times, when he is
alone, he will chant it by the hour. He is delighted when I join in with
him. It's 'From Greenland's Icy Mountains.'"

         "Ke wa de noong a yah jig,
              Kuh ya 'gewh wah bun oong,
          E gewh an duh nuh ke jig,
              E we de ke zhah tag,
          Kuh ya puh duh ke woo waud
              Palm e nuh sah wunzh eeg,
          Ke nun doo me goo nah nig
              Che shuh wa ne mung wah."

At first David had felt a slight desire to laugh at the Cree's odd
chanting and the grotesque movement of his hands and arms, like two pump
handles in slow and rhythmic action, as he kept time. This desire did
not come to him again during the day. He remembered, long years ago,
hearing his mother sing those old hymns in his boyhood home. He could
see the ancient melodeon with its yellow keys, and the ragged hymn book
his mother had prized next to her Bible; and he could hear again her
sweet, quavering voice sing those gentle songs, like unforgettable
benedictions--the same songs that Mukoki and the Missioner were chanting
now, up here, a thousand miles away. That was a long time ago--a very,
very long time ago. She had been dead many years. And he--he must be
growing old. Thirty-eight! And he was nine then, with slender legs and
tousled hair, and a worship for his mother that had mellowed and perhaps
saddened his whole life. It was a long time ago. But the songs had
lived. They must be known over the whole world--those songs his mother
used to sing. He began to join in where he could catch the tunes, and
his voice sounded strange and broken and unreal to him, for it was a
long time since those boyhood days, and he had not lifted it in song
since he had sung then--with his mother.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was growing dusk when they came to the Missioner's home on God's
Lake. It was almost a château, David thought when he first saw it, built
of massive logs. Beyond it there was a smaller building, also built of
logs, and toward this Mukoki hurried with the dogs and the sledge. He
heard the welcoming cries of Mukoki's family and the excited barking of
dogs as he followed Father Roland into the big cabin. It was lighted,
and warm. Evidently some one had been keeping it in readiness for the
Missioner's return. They entered into a big room, and in his first
glance David saw three doors leading from this room: two of them were
open, the third was closed. There was something very like a sobbing note
in Father Roland's voice as he opened his arms wide, and said to David:

"Home, David--your home!"

He took off his things--his coat, his cap, his moccasins, and his thick
German socks--and when he again spoke to David and looked at him, his
eyes had in them a mysterious light and his words trembled with
suppressed emotion.

"You will forgive me, David--you will forgive me a weakness, and make
yourself at home--while I go alone for a few minutes into ... that ...
room?"

He rose from the chair on which he had seated himself to strip off his
moccasins and faced the closed door. He seemed to forget David after he
had spoken. He went to it slowly, his breath coming quickly, and when he
reached it he drew a heavy key from his pocket. He unlocked the door.
It was dark inside, and David could see nothing as the Missioner
entered. For many minutes he sat where Father Roland had left him,
staring at the door.

"A strange man--a very strange man!" Thoreau had said. Yes, a strange
man! What was in that room? Why its unaccountable silence? Once he
thought he heard a low cry. For ten minutes he sat, waiting. And
then--very faintly at first, almost like a wind soughing through distant
tree tops and coming ever nearer, nearer, and more distinct--there came
to him from beyond the closed door the gently subdued music of a
violin.



CHAPTER XIV


In the days and weeks that followed, this room beyond the closed door,
and what it contained, became to David more and more the great mystery
in Father Roland's life. It impressed itself upon him slowly but
resolutely as the key to some tremendous event in his life, some vast
secret which he was keeping from all other human knowledge, unless,
perhaps, Mukoki was a silent sharer. At times David believed this was
so, and especially after that day when, carefully and slowly, and in
good English, as though the Missioner had trained him in what he was to
say, the Cree said to him:

"No one ever goes into that room, m'sieu. And no man has ever seen _mon
Père's_ violin."

The words were spoken in a low monotone without emphasis or emotion, and
David was convinced they were a message from the Missioner, something
Father Roland wanted him to know without speaking the words himself. Not
again after that first night did he apologize for his visits to the
room, nor did he ever explain why the door was always locked, or why he
invariably locked it after him when he went in. Each night, when they
were at home, he disappeared into the room, opening the door only enough
to let his body pass through; sometimes he remained there for only a few
minutes, and occasionally for a long time. At least once a day, usually
in the evening, he played the violin. It was always the same piece that
he played. There was never a variation, and David could not make up his
mind that he had ever heard it before. At these times, if Mukoki
happened to be in the Château, as Father Roland called his place, he
would sit like one in a trance, scarcely breathing until the music had
ceased. And when the Missioner came from the room his face was always
lit up in a kind of halo. There was one exception to all this, David
noticed. The door was never unlocked when there was a visitor. No other
but himself and Mukoki heard the sound of the violin, and this fact, in
time, impressed David with the deep faith and affection of the Little
Missioner. One evening Father Roland came from the room with his face
aglow with some strange happiness that had come to him in there, and
placing his hands on David's shoulders he said, with a yearning and yet
hopeless inflection in his voice:

"I wish you would stay with me always, David. It has made me younger,
and happier, to have a son."

In David there was growing--but concealed from Father Roland's eyes for
a long time--a strange insistent restlessness. It ran in his blood, like
a thing alive, whenever he looked at the face of the Girl. He wanted to
go on.

And yet life at the Château, after the first two weeks, was anything but
dull and unexciting. They were in the heart of the great trapping
country. Forty miles to the north was a Hudson's Bay post where an
ordained minister of the Church of England had a mission. But Father
Roland belonged to the forest people alone. They were his "children,"
scattered in their shacks and tepees over ten thousand square miles of
country, with the Château as its centre. He was ceaselessly on the move
after that first fortnight, and David was always with him. The Indians
worshipped him, and the quarter-breeds and half-breeds and occasional
French called him "_mon Père_" in very much the same tone of voice as
they said "Our Father" in their prayers. These people of the trap-lines
were a revelation to David. They were wild, living in a savage
primitiveness, and yet they reverenced a divinity with a conviction that
amazed him. And they died. That was the tragedy of it. They died--too
easily. He understood, after a while, why a country ten times as large
as the state of Ohio had altogether a population of less than
twenty-five thousand, a fair-sized town. Their belts were drawn too
tight--men, women, and little children--their belts too tight. That was
it! Father Roland emphasized it. Too much hunger in the long, terrible
months of winter, when to keep body and soul together they trapped the
furred creatures for the hordes of luxurious barbarians in the great
cities of the earth. Just a steady, gnawing hunger all through the
winter--hunger for something besides meat, a hunger that got into the
bones, into the eyes, into arms and legs--a hunger that brought
sickness, and then death.

That winter he saw grown men and women die of measles as easily as flies
that had devoured poison. They were over at Metoosin's, sixty miles to
the west of the Château, when Metoosin returned to his shack with
supplies from a Post. Metoosin had taken up lynx and marten and mink
that would sell the next year in London and Paris for a thousand
dollars, and he had brought back a few small cans of vegetables at
fifty cents a can, a little flour at forty cents a pound, a bit of cheap
cloth at the price of rare silk, some tobacco and a pittance of tea, and
he was happy. A half season's work on the trap-line and his family could
have eaten it all in a week--if they had dared to eat as much as they
needed.

"And still they're always in the debt of the Posts," the Missioner said,
the lines settling deeply on his face.

And yet David could not but feel more and more deeply the thrill, the
fascination, and, in spite of its hardships, the recompense of this life
of which he had become a part. For the first time in his life he clearly
perceived the primal measurements of riches, of contentment and of
ambition, and these three things that he saw stripped naked for his eyes
many other things which he had not understood, or in blindness had
failed to see, in the life from which he had come. Metoosin, with that
little treasure of food from the Post, did not know that he was poor, or
that through many long years he had been slowly starving. He was rich!
He was a great trapper! And his Cree wife I-owa, with her long, sleek
braid and her great, dark eyes, was tremendously proud of her lord, that
he should bring home for her and the children such a wealth of things--a
little flour, a few cans of things, a few yards of cloth, and a little
bright ribbon. David choked when he ate with them that night. But they
were happy! That, after all, was the reward of things, even though
people died slowly of something which they could not understand. And
there were, in the domain of Father Roland, many Metoosins, and many
I-owas, who prayed for nothing more than enough to eat, clothes to cover
them, and the unbroken love of their firesides. And David thought of
them, as the weeks passed, as the most terribly enslaved of all the
slaves of Civilization--slaves of vain civilized women; for they had
gone on like this for centuries, and would go on for other generations,
giving into the hands of the great Company their life's blood which, in
the end, could be accounted for by a yearly dole of food which, under
stress, did not quite serve to keep body and soul together.

It was after a comprehension of these things that David understood
Father Roland's great work. In this kingdom of his, running
approximately fifty miles in each direction from the Château--except to
the northward, where the Post lay--there were two hundred and
forty-seven men, women, and children. In a great book the Little
Missioner had their names, their ages, the blood that was in them, and
where they lived; and by them he was worshipped as no man that ever
lived in that vast country of cities and towns below the Height of Land.
At every tepee and shack they visited there was some token of love
awaiting Father Roland; a rare skin here, a pair of moccasins there, a
pair of snow shoes that it had taken an Indian woman's hands weeks to
make, choice cuts of meat, but mostly--as they travelled along--the
thickly furred skins of animals; and never did they go to a place at
which the Missioner did not leave something in return, usually some
article of clothing so thick and warm that no Indian was rich enough to
buy it for himself at the Post. Twice each winter Father Roland sent
down to Thoreau a great sledge load of these contributions of his
people, and Thoreau, selling them, sent back a still greater sledge load
of supplies that found their way in this manner of exchange into the
shacks and tepees of the forest people.

"If I were only rich!" said Father Roland one night at the Château, when
it was storming dismally outside. "But I have nothing, David. I can do
only a tenth of what I would like to do. There are only eighty families
in this country of mine, and I have figured that a hundred dollars a
family, spent down there and not at the Post, would keep them all in
comfort through the longest and hardest winter. A hundred dollars, in
Winnipeg, would buy as much as an Indian trapper could get at the Post
for a thousand dollars' worth of fur, and five hundred dollars is a good
catch. It is terrible, but what can I do? I dare not buy their furs and
sell them for my people, because the Company would blacklist the whole
lot and it would be a great calamity in the end. But if I had money--if
I could do it with my own...."

David had been thinking of that. In the late January snow two teams went
down to Thoreau in place of one. Mukoki had charge of them, and with him
went an even half of what David had brought with him--fifteen hundred
dollars in gold certificates.

"If I live I'm going to make them a Christmas present of twice that
amount each year," he said. "I can afford it. I fancy that I shall take
a great pleasure in it, and that occasionally I shall return into this
country to make a visit."

It was the first time that he had spoken as though he would not remain
with the Missioner indefinitely. But the conviction that the time was
not far away when he would be leaving him had been growing within him
steadily. He kept it to himself. He fought against it even. But it
grew. And, curiously enough, it was strongest when Father Roland was in
the locked room playing softly on the violin. David never mentioned the
room. He feigned an indifference to its very existence. And yet in spite
of himself the mystery of it became an obsession with him. Something
within it seemed to reach out insistently and invite him in, like a
spirit chained there by the Missioner himself, crying for freedom. One
night they returned to the Château through a blizzard from the cabin of
a half-breed whose wife was sick, and after their supper the Missioner
went into the mystery-room. He played the violin as usual. But after
that there was a long silence. When Father Roland came out, and seated
himself opposite David at the small table on which their books were
scattered, David received a shock. Clinging to the Missioner's shoulder,
shimmering like a polished silken thread in the lampglow, was a long,
shining hair--a woman's hair. With an effort David choked back the word
of amazement in his throat, and began turning over the pages of a book.
And then suddenly, the Missioner saw that silken thread. David heard his
quick breath. He saw, without raising his eyes, the slow, almost
stealthy movement of his companion's fingers as he plucked the hair from
his arm and shoulder, and when David looked up the hair was gone, and
one of Father Roland's hands was closed tightly, so tightly that the
veins stood out on it. He rose from the table, and again went into the
room beyond the locked door. David's heart was beating like an unsteady
hammer. He could not quite account for the strange effect this incident
had upon him. He wanted more than ever to see that room beyond the
locked door.

February--the Hunger Moon--of this year was a month of great storm in
the Northland. This meant sickness, and a great deal of travel for
Father Roland. He and David were almost ceaselessly on the move, and its
hardships gave the finishing touches to David's education. The
wilderness, vast and empty as it was, no longer held a dread for him. He
had faced its bitterest storms; he had slept with the deep snow under
his blankets; he had followed behind the Missioner through the blackest
nights, when it had seemed as though no human soul could find its way;
and he had looked on death. Once they ran swiftly to it through a night
blizzard; again it came, three in a family, so far to the west that it
was out of Father Roland's beaten trails; and again he saw it in the
Madonna-like face of a young French girl, who had died clutching a cross
to her breast. It was this girl's white face, sweet as a child's and
strangely beautiful in death, that stirred David most deeply. She must
have been about the age of the girl whose picture he carried next his
heart.

Soon after this, early in March, he had definitely made up his mind.
There was no reason now why he should not _go on_. He was physically
fit. Three months had hardened him until he was like a rock. He believed
that he had more than regained his weight. He could beat Father Roland
with either rifle or pistol, and in one day he had travelled forty miles
on snow shoes. That was when they had arrived just in time to save the
life of Jean Croisset's little girl, who lived over on the Big Thunder.
The crazed father had led them a mad race, but they had kept up with
him. And just in time. There had not been an hour to lose. After that
Croisset and his half-breed wife would have laid down their lives for
Father Roland--and for him. For the forest people had begun to accept
him as a part of Father Roland; more and more he could see their growing
love for him, their gladness when he came, their sorrow when he left,
and it gave him what he thought of as a sort of _filling_ satisfaction,
something he had never quite fully experienced before in all his life.
He knew that he would come back to them again some day--that, in the
course of his life, he would spend a great deal of time among them. He
assured Father Roland of this.

The Missioner did not question him deeply about his "friends" in the
western mountains. But night after night he helped him to mark out a
trail on the maps that he had at the Château, giving him a great deal of
information which David wrote down in a book, and letters to certain
good friends of his whom he would find along the way. As the slush snow
came, and the time when David would be leaving drew nearer, Father
Roland could not entirely conceal his depression, and he spent more time
in the room beyond the locked door. Several times when about to enter
the room he seemed to hesitate, as if there were something which he
wanted to say to David. Twice David thought he was almost on the point
of inviting him into the room, and at last he came to believe that the
Missioner wanted him to know what was beyond that mysterious door, and
yet was afraid to tell him, or ask him in. It was well along in March
that the thing happened which he had been expecting. Only it came in a
manner that amazed him deeply. Father Roland came from the room early
in the evening, after playing his violin. He locked the door, and as he
put on his cap he said:

"I shall be gone for an hour, David. I am going over to Mukoki's cabin."

He did not ask David to accompany him, and as he turned to go the key
that he had held in his hand dropped to the floor. It fell with a quite
audible sound. The Missioner must have heard it, and would have
recovered it had it slipped from his fingers accidentally. But he paid
no attention to it. He went out quickly, without glancing back.

For several minutes David stared at the key without moving from his
chair near the table. It meant but one thing. He was invited to go into
that room--_alone_. If he had had a doubt it was dispelled by the fact
that Father Roland had left a light burning in there. It was not chance.
There was a purpose to it all: the light, the audible dropping of the
heavy key, the swift going of the Missioner. David made himself sure of
this before he rose from his chair. He waited perhaps five minutes. Then
he picked up the key.

At the door, as the key clicked in the lock, he hesitated. The thought
came to him that if he was making a mistake it would be a terrible
mistake. It held his hand for a moment. Then, slowly, he pushed the door
inward and followed it until he stood inside. The first thing that he
noticed was a big brass lamp, of the old style, brought over from
England by the Company a hundred years ago, and he held his breath in
anticipation of something tremendous impending. At first he saw nothing
that impressed him forcibly. The room was a disappointment in that
first glance. He could see nothing of its mystery, nothing of that
strangeness, quite indefinable even to himself, which he had expected.
And then, as he stood there staring about with wide-open eyes, the truth
flashed upon him with a suddenness that drew a quick breath from his
lips. He was standing in a _woman's room_! There was no doubt.

It looked very much as though a woman had left it only recently. There
was a bed, fresh and clean, with a white counterpane. She had left on
that bed a--nightgown; yes, and he noticed that it had a frill of lace
at the neck. And on the wall were her garments, quite a number of them,
and a long coat of a curious style, with a great fur collar. There was a
small dresser, oddly antique, and on it were a brush and comb, a big red
pin cushion, and odds and ends of a woman's toilet affairs. Close to the
bed were a pair of shoes and a pair of slippers, with unusually high
heels, and hanging over the edge of the counterpane was a pair of long
stockings. The walls of the room were touched up, as if by a woman's
hands, with pictures and a few ornaments. Where the garments were
hanging David noticed a pair of woman's snow shoes, and a woman's
moccasins under a picture of the Madonna. On the mantel there was a tall
vase filled with the dried stems of flowers. And then came the most
amazing discovery of all. There was a second table between the lamp and
the bed, and it was set for two! Yes, for _two_! No, for _three_! For, a
little in shadow, David saw a crudely made high-chair--a baby's
chair--and on it were a little knife and fork, a baby spoon, and a
little tin plate. It was astounding. Perfectly incredible. And David's
eyes sought questingly for a door through which a woman might come and
go mysteriously and unseen. There was none, and the one window of the
room was so high up that a person standing on the ground outside could
not look in.

And now it began to dawn upon David that all these things he was looking
at were old--very old. In the Château the Missioner no longer ate on tin
plates. The shoes and slippers must have been made a generation ago. The
rag carpet under his feet had lost its vivid lines of colouring. Age
impressed itself upon him. This was a woman's room, but the woman had
not been here recently. And the child had not been here recently.

For the first time his eyes turned in a closer inspection of the table
on which stood the big brass lamp. Father Roland's violin lay beside it.
He made a step or two nearer, so that he could see beyond the lamp, and
his heart gave a sudden jump. Shimmering on the faded red cloth of the
table, glowing as brightly as though it had been clipped from a woman's
head but yesterday, was a long, thick tress of hair! It was dark, richly
dark, and his second impression was one of amazement at the length of
it. The tress was as long as the table--fully a yard down the woman's
back it must have hung. It was tied at the end with a bit of white
ribbon.

David drew slowly back toward the door, stirred all at once by a great
doubt. Had Father Roland meant him to look upon all this? A lump rose
suddenly in his throat. He had made a mistake--a great mistake. He felt
now like one who had broken into the sanctity of a sacred place. He had
committed sacrilege. The Missioner had not dropped the key purposely. It
must have been an accident. And he--David--was guilty of a great
blunder. He withdrew from the room, and locked the door. He dropped the
key where he had found it on the floor, and sat down again with his
book. He did not read. He scarcely saw the lines of the printed page. He
had not been in his chair more than ten minutes when he heard quick
footsteps, followed by a hand at the door, and Father Roland came in. He
was visibly excited, and his glance shot at once to the room which David
had just left. Then his eyes scanned the floor. The key was gleaming
where it had fallen, and with an exclamation of relief the Missioner
snatched it up.

"I thought I had lost my key," he laughed, a bit nervously; then he
added, with a deep breath: "It's snowing to-night. A heavy snow, and
there will be good sledging for a few days. God knows I don't want you
to leave me, but if it must be--we should take advantage of this snow.
It will be the last. Mukoki and I will go with you as far as the
Reindeer Lake country, two hundred miles northwest. David--_must_ you
go?"

It seemed to David that two tiny fists were pounding against his breast,
where the picture lay.

"Yes, I must go," he said. "I have quite made up my mind to that. I must
go."



CHAPTER XV


Ten days after that night when he had gone into the mystery-room at the
Château, David and Father Roland clasped hands in a final farewell at
White Porcupine House, on the Cochrane River, 270 miles from God's Lake.
It was something more than a hand-shake. The Missioner made no effort to
speak in these last moments. His team was ready for the return drive and
he had drawn his travelling hood close about his face. In his own heart
he believed that David would never return. He would go back to
civilization, probably next autumn, and in time he would forget. As he
said, on their last day before reaching the Cochrane, David's going was
like taking a part of his heart away. He blinked now, as he dropped
David's hand--blinked and turned his eyes. And David's voice had an odd
break in it. He knew what the Missioner was thinking.

"I'll come back, _mon Père_," he called after him, as Father Roland
broke away and went toward Mukoki and the dogs. "I'll come back next
year!"

Father Roland did not look back until they were started. Then he turned
and waved a mittened hand. Mukoki heard the sob in his throat. David
tried to call a last word to him, but his voice choked. He, too, waved a
hand. He had not known that there were friendships like this between
men, and as the Missioner trailed steadily away from him, growing
smaller and smaller against the dark rim of the distant forest, he felt
a sudden fear and a great loneliness--a fear that, in spite of himself,
they would not meet again, and the loneliness that comes to a man when
he sees a world widening between himself and the one friend he has on
earth. His one friend. The man who had saved him from himself, who had
pointed out the way for him, who had made him fight. More than a friend;
a father. He did not stop the broken sound that came to his lips. A low
whine answered it, and he looked down at Baree, huddled in the snow
within a yard of his feet. "My god and master," Baree's eyes said, as
they looked up at him, "I am here." It was as if David had heard the
words. He held out a hand and Baree came to him, his great wolfish body
aquiver with joy. After all, he was not alone.

A short distance from him the Indian who was to take him over to Fond du
Lac, on Lake Athabasca, was waiting with his dogs and sledge. He was a
Sarcee, one of the last of an almost extinct tribe, so old that his hair
was of a shaggy white, and he was so thin that he looked like a
famine-stricken Hindu. "He has lived so long that no one knows his age,"
Father Roland had said, "and he is the best trailer between Hudson's Bay
and the Peace." His name was Upso-Gee (the Snow Fox), and the Missioner
had bargained with him for a hundred dollars to take David from White
Porcupine House to Fond du Lac, three hundred miles farther northwest.
He cracked his long caribou-gut whip to remind David that he was ready.
David had said good-bye to the factor and the clerk at the Company store
and there was no longer an excuse to detain him. They struck out across
a small lake. Five minutes later he looked back. Father Roland, not much
more than a speck on the white plain now, was about to disappear in the
forest. It seemed to David that he had stopped, and again he waved his
hand, though human eyes could not have seen the movement over that
distance.

Not until that night, when David sat alone beside his campfire, did he
begin to realize fully the vastness of this adventure into which he had
plunged. The Snow Fox was dead asleep and it was horribly lonely. It was
a dark night, too, with the shivering wailing of a restless wind in the
tree tops; the sort of night that makes loneliness grow until it is like
some kind of a monster inside, choking off one's breath. And on
Upso-Gee's tepee, with the firelight dancing on it, there was painted in
red a grotesque fiend with horns--a medicine man, or devil chaser; and
this devil chaser grinned in a bloodthirsty manner at David as he sat
near the fire, as if gloating over some dreadful fate that awaited him.
It _was_ lonely. Even Baree seemed to sense his master's oppression, for
he had laid his head between David's feet, and was as still as if
asleep. A long way off David could hear the howling of a wolf and it
reminded him shiveringly of the lead-dog's howl that night before
Tavish's cabin. It was like the death cry that comes from a dog's
throat; and where the forest gloom mingled with the firelight he saw a
phantom shadow--in the morning he found that it was a spruce bough,
broken and hanging down--that made him think again of Tavish swinging in
the moonlight. His thoughts bore upon him deeply and with foreboding.
And he asked himself questions--questions which were not new, but which
came to him to-night with a new and deeper significance. He believed
that Father Roland would have gasped in amazement and that he would have
held up his hands in incredulity had he known the truth of this
astonishing adventure of his. An astonishing adventure--nothing less. To
find a girl. A girl he had never seen, who might be in another part of
the world, when he had got to the end of his journey--or married. And if
he found her, what would he say? What would he do? Why did he want to
find her? "God alone knows," he said aloud, borne down under his gloom,
and went to bed.

Small things, as Father Roland had frequently said, decide great events.
The next morning came with a glorious sun; the world again was white and
wonderful, and David found swift answers to the questions he had asked
himself a few hours before. Each day thereafter the sun was warmer, and
with its increasing promise of the final "break-up" and slush snows,
Upso-Gee's taciturnity and anxiety grew apace. He was little more
talkative than the painted devil chaser on the blackened canvas of his
tepee, but he gave David to understand that he would have a hard time
getting back with his dogs and sledge from Fond du Lac if the thaw came
earlier than he had anticipated. David marvelled at the old warrior's
endurance, and especially when they crossed the forty miles of ice on
Wollaston Lake between dawn and darkness. At high noon the snow was
beginning to soften on the sunny slopes even then, and by the time they
reached the Porcupine, Snow Fox was chanting his despairing prayer
nightly before that grinning thing on his tepee. "Swas-tao (the thaw)
she kam dam' queek," he said to David, grimacing his old face to
express other things which he could not say in English. And it did. Four
days later, when they reached Fond du Lac, there was water underfoot in
places, and Upso-Gee turned back on the home trail within an hour.

This was in April, and the Post reminded David of a great hive to which
the forest people were swarming like treasure-laden bees. On the last
snow they were coming in with their furs from a hundred trap-lines. Luck
was with David. On the first day Baree fought with a huge malemute and
almost killed it, and David, in separating the dogs, was slightly bitten
by the malemute. A friendship sprang up instantly between the two
masters. Bouvais was a Frenchman from Horseshoe Bay, fifty miles from
Fort Chippewyan, and a hundred and fifty straight west of Fond du Lac.
He was a fox hunter. "I bring my furs over here, m'sieu," he explained,
"because I had a fight with the factor at Fort Chippewyan and broke out
two of his teeth," which was sufficient explanation. He was delighted
when he learned that David wanted to go west. They started two days
later with a sledge heavily laden with supplies. The runners sank deep
in the growing slush, but under them was always the thick ice of Lake
Athabasca, and going was not bad, except that David's feet were always
wet. He was surprised that he did not take a "cold." "A cold--what is
that?" asked Bouvais, who had lived along the Barrens all his life.
David described a typical case of sniffles, with running at eyes and
nose, and Bouvais laughed. "The only cold we have up here is when the
lungs get touched by frost," he said, "and then you die--the following
spring. Always then. The lungs slough away." And then he asked: "Why
are you going west?"

David found himself face to face with the question, and had to answer.
"Just to toughen up a bit," he replied. "Wandering. Nothing else to do."
And after all, he thought later, wasn't that pretty near the truth? He
tried to convince himself that it was. But his hand touched the picture
of the Girl, in his breast pocket. He seemed to feel her throbbing
against it. A preposterous imagination! But it was pleasing. It warmed
his blood.

For a week David and Baree remained at Horseshoe Bay with the Frenchman.
Then they went on around the end of the lake toward Fort Chippewyan.
Bouvais accompanied them, out of friendship purely, and they travelled
afoot with fifty-pound packs on their shoulders, for in the big, sunlit
reaches the ground was already growing bare of snow. Bouvais turned back
when they were ten miles from Fort Chippewyan, explaining that it was a
nasty matter to have knocked two teeth down a factor's throat, and
particularly down the throat of the head factor of the Chippewyan and
Athabasca district. "And they went down," assured Bouvais. "He tried to
spit them out, but couldn't." A few hours later David met the factor and
observed that Bouvais had spoken the truth; at least there were two
teeth missing, quite conspicuously. Hatchett was his name. He looked it;
tall, thin, sinewy, with bird-like eyes that were shifting this way and
that at all times, as though he were constantly on the alert for an
ambush, or feared thieves. He was suspicious of David, coming in alone
in this No Man's Land with a pack on his back; a white man, too, which
made him all the more suspicious. Perhaps a possible free trader looking
for a location. Or, worse still, a spy of the Company's hated
competitors, the Revilon Brothers. It took some time for Father Roland's
letter to convince him that David was harmless. And then, all at once,
he warmed up like a birch-bark taking fire, and shook David's hand three
times within five minutes, so hungry was he for a white man's
companionship--an _honest_ white man's, mind you, and not a scoundrelly
competitor's! He opened four cans of lobsters, left over from Christmas,
for their first meal, and that night beat David at seven games of
cribbage in a row. He wasn't married, he said; didn't even have an
Indian woman. Hated women. If it wasn't for breeding a future generation
of trappers he would not care if they all died. No good. Positively no
good. Always making trouble, more or less. That's why, a long time ago,
there was a fort at Chippewyan--sort of blockhouse that still stood
there. Two men, of two different tribes, wanted same woman; quarrelled;
fought; one got his blamed head busted; tribes took it up; raised hell
for a time--all over that rag of a woman! Terrible creatures, women
were. He emphasized his belief in short, biting snatches of words, as
though afraid of wearing out his breath or his vocabulary or both. Maybe
his teeth had something to do with it. Where the two were missing he
carried the stem of his pipe, and when he talked the stem clicked, like
a Castanet.

David had come at a propitious moment--a "most propichus moment,"
Hatchett told him. He had done splendidly that winter. His bargains with
the Indians had been sharp and exceedingly profitable for the Company
and as soon as he got his furs off to Fort McMurray on their way to
Edmonton he was going on a long journey of inspection, which was his
reward for duty well performed. His fur barges were ready. All they were
waiting for was the breaking up of the ice, when the barges would start
up the Athabasca, which meant _south_; while he, in his big war canoe,
would head up the Peace, which meant _west_. He was going as far as
Hudson's Hope, and this was within two hundred and fifty miles of where
David wanted to go. He proved that fact by digging up an old Company
map. David's heart beat an excited tattoo. This was more than he had
expected. Almost too good to be true. "You can _work_ your way up there
with me," declared Hatchett, clicking his pipe stem. "Won't cost you a
cent. Not a dam' cent. Work. Eat. Smoke. Fine trip. Just for company. A
man needs company once in a while--decent company. Ice will go by middle
of May. Two weeks. Meanwhile, have a devil of a time playing cribbage."

They did. Cribbage was Hatchett's one passion, unless another
was--beating the Indians. "Rascally devils," he would say, driving his
cribbage pegs home. "Always trying to put off poor fur on me for good.
Deserve to be beat. And I beat 'em. Dam-if-I-don't."

"How did you lose your teeth?" David asked him at last. They were
playing late one night.

Hatchett sat up in his chair as if stung. His eyes bulged as he looked
at David, and his pipe stem clicked fiercely.

"Frenchman," he said. "Dirty pig of a Frenchman. No use for 'em. None.
Told him women were no good--all women were bad. Said he had a woman.
Said I didn't care--all bad just the same. Said the woman he referred to
was his wife. Told him he was a fool to have a wife. No warning--the
pig! He biffed me. Knocked those two teeth out--_down_! I'll get him
some day. Flay him. Make dog whips of his dirty hide. All Frenchmen
ought to die. Hope to God they will. Starve. Freeze."

In spite of himself David laughed. Hatchett took no offense, but the
grimness of his long, sombre countenance remained unbroken. A day or two
later he discovered Hatchett in the act of giving an old, white-haired,
half-breed cripple a bag of supplies. Hatchett shook himself, as if
caught in an act of crime.

"I'm going to kill that old Dog Rib soon as the ground's soft enough to
dig a grave," he declared, shaking a fist fiercely after the old Indian.
"Beggar. A sneak. No good. Ought to die. Giving him just enough to keep
him alive until the ground is soft."

After all, Hatchett's face belied his heart. His tongue was like a
cleaver. It ripped things generally--was terrible in its threatening,
but harmless, and tremendously amusing to David. He liked Hatchett. His
cadaverous countenance, never breaking into a smile, was the oddest mask
he had ever seen a human being wear. He believed that if it once broke
into a laugh it would not straighten back again without leaving a
permanent crack. And yet he liked the man, and the days passed swiftly.

It was the middle of May before they started up the Peace, three days
after the fur barges had gone down the Athabasca. David had never seen
anything like Hatchett's big war canoe, roomy as a small ship, and light
as a feather on the water. Four powerful Dog Ribs went with them,
making six paddles in all. When it came to a question of Baree, Hatchett
put down his foot with emphasis. "What! Make a dam' passenger of a dog?
Never. Let him follow ashore--or die."

This would undoubtedly have been Baree's choice if he had had a voice in
the matter. Day after day he followed the canoe, swimming streams and
working his way through swamp and forest. It was no easy matter. In the
deep, slow waters of the Lower Peace the canoe made thirty-five miles a
day; twice it made forty. But Hatchett kept Baree well fed, and each
night the dog slept at David's feet in camp. On the sixth day they
reached Fort Vermilion, and Hatchett announced himself like a king. For
he was on inspection. Company inspection, mind you. Important! A week
later they arrived at Peace River landing, two hundred miles farther
west, and on the twentieth day came to Fort St. John, fifty miles from
Hudson's Hope. From here David saw his first of the mountains. He made
out their snowy peaks clearly, seventy miles away, and with his finger
on a certain spot on Hatchett's map his heart thrilled. He was almost
there! Each day the mountains grew nearer. From Hudson's Hope he fancied
that he could almost see the dark blankets of timber on their sides.
Hatchett grunted. They were still forty miles away. And Mac Veigh, the
factor at Hudson's Hope, looked at David in a curious sort of way when
David told him where he was going.

"You're the first white man to do it," he said--an inflection of doubt
in his voice. "It's not bad going up the Finly as far as the Kwadocha.
But from there...."

He shook his head. He was short and thick, and his jaw hung heavy with
disapproval.

"You're still seventy miles from the Stikine when you end up at the
Kwadocha," he went on, thumbing the map. "Who the devil will you get to
take you on from there? Straight over the backbone of the Rockies. No
trails. Not even a Post there. Too rough a country. Even the Indians
won't live in it." He was silent for a moment, as if reflecting deeply.
"Old Towaskook and his tribe are on the Kwadocha," he added, as if
seeing a glimmer of hope. "_He might._ But I doubt it. They're a lazy
lot of mongrels, Towaskook's people, who carve things out of wood, to
worship. Still, he _might_. I'll send up a good man with you to
influence him, and you'd better take along a couple hundred dollars in
supplies as a further inducement."

The man was a half-breed. Three days later they left Hudson's Hope, with
Baree riding amidships. The mountains loomed up swiftly after this, and
the second day they were among them. After that it was slow work
fighting their way up against the current of the Finly. It was
tremendous work. It seemed to David that half their time was spent amid
the roar of rapids. Twenty-seven times within five days they made
portages. Later on it took them two days to carry their canoe and
supplies around a mountain. Fifteen days were spent in making eighty
miles. Easier travel followed then. It was the twentieth of June when
they made their last camp before reaching the Kwadocha. The sun was
still up; but they were tired, utterly exhausted. David looked at his
map and at the figures in the notebook he carried. He had come close to
fifteen hundred miles since that day when he and Father Roland and
Mukoki had set out for the Cochrane. Fifteen hundred miles! And he had
less than a hundred more to go! Just over those mountains--somewhere
beyond them. It looked easy. He would not be afraid to go alone, if old
Towaskook refused to help him. Yes, alone. He would find his way,
somehow, he and Baree. He had unbounded confidence in Baree. Together
they could fight it out. Within a week or two they would find the Girl.

And then...?

He looked at the picture a long time in the glow of the setting sun.



CHAPTER XVI


It was the week of the Big Festival when David and his half-breed
arrived at Towaskook's village. Towaskook was the "farthest east" of the
totem-worshippers, and each of his forty or fifty people reminded David
of the devil chaser on the canvas of the Snow Fox's tepee. They were
dressed up, as he remarked to the half-breed, "like fiends." On the day
of David's arrival Towaskook himself was disguised in a huge bear head
from which protruded a pair of buffalo horns that had somehow drifted up
there from the western prairies, and it was his special business to
perform various antics about his totem pole for at least six hours
between sunrise and sunset, chanting all the time most dolorous
supplications to the squat monster who sat, grinning, at the top. It was
"the day of good hunting," and Towaskook and his people worked
themselves into exhaustion by the ardour of their prayers that the game
of the mountains might walk right up to their tepee doors to be killed,
thus necessitating the smallest possible physical exertion in its
capture. That night Towaskook visited David at his camp, a little up the
river, to see what he could get out of the white man. He was monstrously
fat--fat from laziness; and David wondered how he had managed to put in
his hours of labour under the totem pole. David sat in silence, trying
to make out something from their gestures, as his half-breed, Jacques,
and the old chief talked.

Jacques repeated it all to him after Towaskook, sighing deeply, had
risen from his squatting posture, and left them. It was a terrible
journey over those mountains, Towaskook had said. He had been on the
Stikine once. He had split with his tribe, and had started eastward with
many followers, but half of them had died--died because they would not
leave their precious totems behind--and so had been caught in a deep
snow that came early. It was a ten-day journey over the mountains. You
went up above the clouds--many times you had to go above the clouds. He
would never make the journey again. There was one chance--just one. He
had a young bear hunter, Kio, his face was still smooth. He had not won
his spurs, so to speak, and he was anxious to perform a great feat,
especially as he was in love with his medicine man's daughter
Kwak-wa-pisew (the Butterfly). Kio might go, to prove his valour to the
Butterfly. Towaskook had gone for him. Of course, on a mission of this
kind, Kio would accept no pay. That would go to Towaskook. The two
hundred dollars' worth of supplies satisfied him.

A little later Towaskook returned with Kio. He was exceedingly youthful,
slim-built as a weazel, but with a deep-set and treacherous eye. He
listened. He would go. He would go as far as the confluence of the
Pitman and the Stikine, if Towaskook would assure him the Butterfly.
Towaskook, eyeing greedily the supplies which Jacques had laid out
alluringly, nodded an agreement to that. "The next day," Kio said, then,
eager now for the adventure. "The next day they would start."

That night Jacques carefully made up the two shoulder packs which David
and Kio were to carry, for thereafter their travel would be entirely
afoot. David's burden, with his rifle, was fifty pounds. Jacques saw
them off, shouting a last warning for David to "keep a watch on that
devil-eyed Kio."

Kio was not like his eyes. He turned out, very shortly, to be a
communicative and rather likable young fellow. He was ignorant of the
white man's talk. But he was a master of gesticulation; and when, in
climbing their first mountain, David discovered muscles in his legs and
back that he had never known of before, Kio laughingly sympathized with
him and assured him in vivid pantomime that he would soon get used to
it. Their first night they camped almost at the summit of the mountain.
Kio wanted to make the warmth of the valley beyond, but those new
muscles in David's legs and back declared otherwise. Strawberries were
ripening in the deeper valleys, but up where they were it was cold. A
bitter wind came off the snow on the peaks, and David could smell the
pungent fog of the clouds. They were so high that the scrub twigs of
their fire smouldered with scarcely sufficient heat to fry their bacon.
David was oblivious of the discomfort. His blood ran warm in hope and
anticipation. He was almost at the end of his journey. It had been a
great fight, and he had won. There was no doubt in his mind now. After
this he could face the world again.

Day after day they made their way westward. It was tremendous, this
journey over the backbone of the mountains. It gave one a different
conception of men. They like ants on these mountains, David
thought--insignificant, crawling ants. Here was where one might find a
soul and a religion if he had never had one before. One's littleness, at
times, was almost frightening. It made one think, impressed upon one
that life was not much more than an accident in this vast scale of
creation, and that there was great necessity for a God. In Kio's eyes,
as he sometimes looked down into the valleys, there was this thing; the
thought which perhaps he couldn't analyze, the great truth which he
couldn't understand, but felt. It made a worshipper of him--a devout
worshipper of the totem. And it occurred to David that perhaps the
spirit of God was in that totem even as much as in finger-worn rosaries
and the ivory crosses on women's breasts.

Early on the eleventh day they came to the confluence of the Pitman and
the Stikine rivers, and a little later Kio turned back on his homeward
journey, and David and Baree were alone. This aloneness fell upon them
like a thing that had a pulse and was alive. They crossed the Divide and
were in a great sunlit country of amazing beauty and grandeur, with wide
valleys between the mountains. It was July. From up and down the valley,
from the breaks between the peaks and from the little gullies cleft in
shale and rock that crept up to the snow lines, came a soft and droning
murmur. It was the music of running water. That music was always in the
air, for the rivers, the creeks, and the tiny streams, gushing down from
the snow that lay eternally up near the clouds, were never still. There
were sweet perfumes as well as music in the air. The earth was bursting
with green; the early flowers were turning the sunny slopes into
coloured splashes of red and white and purple--splashes of violets and
forget-me-nots, of wild asters and hyacinths. David looked upon it all,
and his soul drank in its wonders. He made his camp, and he remained in
it all that day, and the next. He was eager to go on, and yet in his
eagerness he hesitated, and waited. It seemed to him that he must become
acquainted with this empty world before venturing farther into
it--alone; that it was necessary for him to understand it a little, and
get his bearings. He could not lose himself. Jacques had assured him of
that, and Kio had pantomimed it, pointing many times at the broad,
shallow stream that ran ahead of him. All he had to do was to follow the
river. In time, many weeks, of course, it would bring him to the white
settlement on the ocean. Long before that he would strike Firepan Creek.
Kio had never been so far; he had never been farther than this junction
of the two streams, Towaskook had informed Jacques. So it was not fear
that held David. It was the _aloneness_. He was taking a long mental
breath. And, meanwhile, he was repairing his boots, and doctoring
Baree's feet, bruised and sore by their travel over the shale of the
mountain tops.

He thought that he had experienced the depths of loneliness after
leaving the Missioner. But here it was a much larger thing. This night,
as he sat under the stars and a great white moon, with Baree at his
feet, it engulfed him; not in a depressing way, but awesomely. It was
not an unpleasant loneliness, and yet he felt that it had no limit, that
it was immeasurable. It was as vast as the mountains that shut him in.
Somewhere, miles to the east of him now, was Kio. That was all. He knew
that he would never be able to describe it, this loneliness--or
aloneness; one man, and a dog, with a world to themselves. After a
time, as he looked up at the stars and listened to the droning sound of
the waters in the valley, it began to thrill him with a new kind of
intelligence. Here was peace as vast as space itself. It was not
troubled by the struggling existence of men, and women, and it seemed to
him that he must remain very still under the watchfulness of those
billions of sentinels in the sky, with the white moon floating under
them. The second night he made himself and Baree a small fire. The third
morning he shouldered his pack and went on.

Baree kept close at his master's side, and the eyes of the two were
constantly on the alert. They were in a splendid game country, and David
watched for the first opportunity that would give Baree and himself
fresh meat. The white sand bars and gravelly shores of the stream were
covered with the tracks of the wild dwellers of the valley and the
adjoining ranges, and Baree sniffed hungrily whenever he came to the
warm scent of the last night's spoor. He was hungry. He had been hungry
all the way over the mountains. Three times that day David saw a caribou
at a distance. In the afternoon he saw a grizzly on a green slope.
Toward evening he ran into luck. A band of sheep had come down from a
mountain to drink, and he came upon them suddenly, the wind in his
favour. He killed a young ram. For a full minute after firing the shot
he stood in his tracks, scarcely breathing. The report of his rifle was
like an explosion. It leaped from mountain to mountain, echoing,
deepening, coming back to him in murmuring intonations, and dying out at
last in a sighing gasp. It was a weird and disturbing sound. He fancied
that it could be heard many miles away. That night the two feasted on
fresh meat.

It was their fifth day in the valley when they came to a break in the
western wall of the range, and through this break flowed a stream that
was very much like the Stikine, broad and shallow and ribboned with
shifting bars of sand. David made up his mind that it must be the
Firepan, and he could feel his pulse quicken as he started up it with
Baree. He must be quite near to Tavish's cabin, if it had not been
destroyed. Even if it had been burned on account of the plague that had
infested it, he would surely discover the charred ruins of it. It was
three o'clock when he started up the creek, and he was--inwardly--much
agitated. He grew more and more positive that he was close to the end of
his adventure. He would soon come upon life--human life. And then? He
tried to dispel the unsteadiness of his emotions, the swiftly growing
discomfort of a great anxiety. The first, of course, would be Tavish's
cabin, or the ruins of it. He had taken it for granted that Tavish's
location would be here, near the confluence of the two streams. A hunter
or prospector would naturally choose such a position.

He travelled slowly, questing both sides of the stream, and listening.
He expected at any moment to hear a sound, a new kind of sound. And he
also scrutinized closely the clean, white bars of sand. There were
footprints in them, of the wild things. Once his heart gave a sudden
jump when he saw a bear track that looked very much like a moccasin
track. It was a wonderful bear country. Their signs were everywhere
along the stream, and their number and freshness made Baree restless.
David travelled until dark. He had the desire to go on even then. He
built a small fire instead, and cooked his supper. For a long time after
that he sat in the moonlight smoking his pipe, and still listening. He
tried not to think. The next day would settle his doubts. The Girl? What
would he find? He went to sleep late and awoke with the summer dawn.

The stream grew narrower and the country wilder as he progressed. It was
noon when Baree stopped dead in his tracks, stiff-legged, the bristles
of his spine erect, a low and ominous growl in his throat. He was
standing over a patch of white sand no larger than a blanket.

"What is it, boy?" asked David.

He went to him casually, and stood for a moment at the edge of the sand
without looking down, lighting his pipe.

"What is it?"

The next moment his heart seemed rising up into his throat. He had been
expecting what his eyes looked upon now, and he had been watching for
it, but he had not anticipated such a tremendous shock. The imprint of a
moccasined foot in the sand! There was no doubt of it this time. A human
foot had made it--one, two, three, four, five times--in crossing that
patch of sand! He stood with the pipe in his mouth, staring down,
apparently without power to move or breathe. It was a small footprint.
Like a boy's. He noticed, then, with slowly shifting eyes, that Baree
was bristling and growling over another track. A bear track, huge,
deeply impressed in the sand. The beast's great spoor crossed the outer
edge of the sand, following the direction of the moccasin tracks. It
was thrillingly fresh, if Baree's bristling spine and rumbling voice
meant anything.

David's eyes followed the direction of the two trails. A hundred yards
upstream he could see where gravel and rock were replaced entirely by
sand, quite a wide, unbroken sweep of it, across which those clawed and
moccasined feet must have travelled if they had followed the creek. He
was not interested in the bear, and Baree was not interested in the
Indian boy; so when they came to the sand one followed the moccasin
tracks and the other the claw tracks. They were not at any time more
than ten feet apart. And then, all at once, they came together, and
David saw that the bear had crossed the sand last and that his huge paws
had obliterated a part of the moccasin trail. This did not strike him as
unusually significant until he came to a point where the moccasins
turned sharply and circled to the right. The bear followed. A little
farther--and David's heart gave a sudden thump! At first it might have
been coincidence, a bit of chance. It was chance no longer. It was
deliberate. The claws were on the trail of the moccasins. David halted
and pocketed his pipe, on which he had not drawn a breath in several
minutes. He looked at his rifle, making sure that it was ready for
action. Baree was growling. His white fangs gleamed and lurid lights
were in his eyes as he gazed ahead and sniffed. David shuddered. Without
doubt the claws had overtaken the moccasins by this time.

It was a grizzly. He guessed so much by the size of the spoor. He
followed it across a bar of gravel. Then they turned a twist in the
creek and came to other sand. A cry of amazement burst from David's
lips when he looked closely at the two trails again.

_The moccasins were now following the grizzly!_

He stared, for a few moments disbelieving his eyes. Here, too, there was
no room for doubt. The feet of the Indian boy had trodden in the tracks
of the bear. The evidence was conclusive; the fact astonishing. Of
course, it was barely possible....

Whatever the thought might have been in David's mind, it never reached a
conclusion. He did not cry out at what he saw after that. He made no
sound. Perhaps he did not even breathe. But it was there--under his
eyes; inexplicable, amazing, not to be easily believed. A third time the
order of the mysterious footprints in the sand was changed--and the
grizzly was now following the boy, obliterating almost entirely the
indentures in the sand of his small, moccasined feet. He wondered
whether it was possible that his eyes had gone bad on him, or that his
mind had slipped out of its normal groove and was tricking him with
weirdly absurd hallucinations. So what happened in almost that same
breath did not startle him as it might otherwise have done. It was for a
brief moment simply another assurance of his insanity; and if the
mountains had suddenly turned over and balanced themselves on their
peaks their gymnastics would not have frozen him into a more speechless
stupidity than did the Girl who rose before him just then, not twenty
paces away. She had emerged like an apparition from behind a great
boulder--a little older, a little taller, a bit wilder than she had
seemed to him in the picture, but with that same glorious hair sweeping
about her, and that same questioning look in her eyes as she stared at
him. Her hands were in that same way at her side, too, as if she were on
the point of running away from him. He tried to speak. He believed,
afterward, that he even made an effort to hold out his arms. But he was
powerless. And so they stood there, twenty paces apart, staring as if
they had met from the ends of the earth.

Something happened then to whip David's reason back into its place. He
heard a crunching--heavy, slow. From around the other end of the boulder
came a huge bear. A monster. Ten feet from the girl. The first cry
rushed out of his throat. It was a warning, and in the same instant he
raised his rifle to his shoulder. The girl was quicker than he--like an
arrow, a flash, a whirlwind of burnished tresses, as she flew to the
side of the great beast. She stood with her back against it, her two
hands clutching its tawny hair, her slim body quivering, her eyes
flashing at David. He felt weak. He lowered his rifle and advanced a few
steps.

"Who ... what ..." he managed to say; and stopped. He was powerless to
go on. But she seemed to understand. Her body stiffened.

"I am Marge O'Doone," she said defiantly, "and this is my bear!"



CHAPTER XVII


She was splendid as she stood there, an exquisite human touch in the
savageness of the world about her--and yet strangely wild as she faced
David, protecting with her own quivering body the great beast behind
her. To David, in the first immensity of his astonishment, she had
seemed to be a woman; but now she looked to him like a child, a very
young girl. Perhaps it was the way her hair fell in a tangled riot of
curling tresses over her shoulders and breast; the slimness of her; the
shortness of her skirt; the unfaltering clearness of the great, blue
eyes that were staring at him; and, above all else, the manner in which
she had spoken her name. The bear might have been nothing more than a
rock to him now, against which she was leaning. He did not hear Baree's
low growling. He had travelled a long way to find her, and now that she
stood there before him in flesh and blood he was not interested in much
else. It was a rather difficult situation. He had known her so long, she
had been with him so constantly, filling even his dreams, that it was
difficult for him to find words in which to begin speech. When they did
come they were most commonplace; his voice was quiet, with an assured
and protecting note in it.

"My name is David Raine," he said. "I have come a great distance to find
you."

It was a simple and unemotional statement of fact, with nothing that was
alarming in it, and yet the girl shrank closer against her bear. The
huge brute was standing without the movement of a muscle, his small
reddish eyes fixed on David.

"I won't go back!" she said. "I'll--fight!"

Her voice was clear, direct, defiant. Her hands appeared from behind
her, and her little fists were clenched. With a swift movement she
tossed her hair back from about her face. Her eyes were blue, but dark
as thunder clouds in their gathering fierceness. She was like a child,
and yet a woman. A ferocious little person. Ready to fight. Ready to
spring at him if he approached. Her eyes never left his face.

"I won't go back!" she repeated. "I won't!"

He was noticing other things about her. Her moccasins were in tatters.
Her short skirt was torn. Her shining hair was in tangles. As she swept
it back from her face he saw under her eyes the darkness of exhaustion;
in her cheeks a wanness, which he did not know just then was caused by
hunger, and by her struggle to get away from something. On the back of
one of her clenched hands was a deep, red scratch. The look in his face
must have given the girl some inkling of the truth. She leaned a little
forward, quickly and eagerly, and demanded:

"Didn't you come from the Nest? Didn't they send you--after me?"

She pointed down the narrow valley, her lips parted as she waited for
his answer, her hair rioting over her breast again as she bent toward
him.

"I've come fifteen hundred miles--from that direction," said David,
swinging an arm toward the backward mountains. "I've never been in this
country before. I don't know where the Nest is, or what it is. And I'm
not going to take you back to it unless you want to go. If some one is
coming after you, and you're bound to fight. I'll help you. Will that
bear bite?"

He swung off his pack and put down his gun. For a moment the girl stared
at him with widening eyes. The fear went out of them slowly. Her hand
unclenched, and suddenly she turned to the big grizzly and clasped her
bared arms about the shaggy monster's neck.

"Tara, Tara, it isn't one of them!" she cried. "It isn't one of
them--and we thought it was!"

She whirled on David with a suddenness that took his breath away. It was
like the swift turning of a bird. He had never seen a movement so quick.

"Who are you?" she flung at him, as if she had not already heard his
name. "Why are you here? What business have you going up there--to the
Nest?"

"I don't like that bear," said David dubiously, as the grizzly made a
slow movement toward him.

"Tara won't hurt you," she said. "Not unless you put your hands on me,
and I scream. I've had him ever since he was a baby and he has never
hurt any one yet. But--he will!" Her eyes glowed darkly again, and her
voice had a strange, hard little note in it. "I've been ... training
him," she added. "Tell me--why are you going to the Nest?"

It was a point-blank, determined question, with still a hint of
suspicion in it; and her eyes, as she asked it, were the clearest,
steadiest, bluest eyes he had ever looked into.

He was finding it hard to live up to what he had expected of himself.
Many times he had thought of what he would say when he found this girl,
if he ever did find her; but he had anticipated something a little more
conventional, and had believed that it would be quite the easiest matter
in the world to tell who he was, and why he had come, and to tell it all
convincingly and understandably. He had not, in short, expected the sort
of little person who stood there against her bear--a very difficult
little person to approach easily and with assurance--half woman and half
child, and beautifully wild. She was not disappointing. She was greatly
appealing. When he surveyed her in a particularizing way, as he did
swiftly, there was an exquisiteness about her that gave him pleasureable
thrills. But it was all wild. Even her hair, an amazing glory of tangled
curls, was wild in its disorder; she seemed palpitating with that
wildness, like a fawn that had been run into a corner--no, not a fawn,
but some beautiful creature that could and would fight desperately if
need be. That was his impression. He was undergoing a smashing of his
conceptions of this girl as he had visioned her from the picture, and a
readjustment of her as she existed for him now. And he was not
disappointed. He had never seen anything quite like this Marge O'Doone
and her bear. _O'Doone!_ His mind had harked back quickly, at her
mention of that name, to the woman in the coach of the Transcontinental,
the woman who was seeking a man by the name of Michael O'Doone. Of
course the woman was her mother. Her name, too, must have been O'Doone.

Very slowly the girl detached herself from her bear, and came until she
stood within three steps of David.

"Tara won't hurt you," she assured him again, "unless I scream. He would
tear you to pieces, then."

If she had betrayed a sudden fear at his first appearance, it was gone
now. Her eyes were like dark rock-violets and again he thought them the
bluest and most fearless eyes he had ever seen. She was less a child
now, standing so close to him; her slimness made her appear taller than
she was. David knew that she was going to question him, and before she
could speak he asked:

"Why are you afraid of some one coming after you from the Nest, as you
call it?"

"Because," she replied with quiet fearlessness, "I am running away from
it."

"Running away!" he gasped. "How long...."

"Two days."

He understood now--her ragged moccasins, her frayed skirt, her tangled
hair, the look of exhaustion about her. It came upon him all at once
that she was standing unsteadily, swaying slightly like the slender stem
of a flower stirred by a breath of air, and that he had not noticed
these things because of the steadiness and clearness of her wonderful
eyes. He was at her side in an instant. He forgot the bear. His hand
seized hers--the one with the deep, red scratch on it--and drew her to a
flat rock a few steps away. She followed him, keeping her eyes on him in
a wondering sort of way. The grizzly's reddish eyes were on David. A few
yards away Baree was lying flat on his belly between two stones, his
eyes on the bear. It was a strange scene and rather weirdly incongruous.
David no longer sensed it. He still held the girl's hand as he seated
her on the rock, and he looked into her eyes, smiling confidently. She
was, after all, his little chum--the Girl who had been with him ever
since that first night's vision in Thoreau's cabin, and who had helped
him to win that great fight he had made; the girl who had cheered and
inspired him during many months, and whom he had come fifteen hundred
miles to see. He told her this. At first she possibly thought him a
little mad. Her eyes betrayed that suspicion, for she uttered not a word
to break in on his story; but after a little her lips parted, her breath
came a little more quickly, a flush grew in her cheeks. It was a
wonderful thing in her life, this story, no matter if the man was a bit
mad, or even an impostor. He at least was very real in this moment, and
he had told the story without excitement, and with an immeasurable
degree of confidence and quiet tenderness--as though he had been
simplifying the strange tale for the ears of a child, which in fact he
had been endeavouring to do; for with the flush in her cheeks, her
parted lips, and her softening eyes, she looked to him more like a child
now than ever. His manner gave her great faith. But of course she was,
deep in her trembling soul, quite incredulous that he should have done
all these things for _her_--incredulous until he ended his story with
that day's travel up the valley, and then, for the first time, showed to
her--as a proof of all he had said--the picture.

She gave a little cry then. It was the first sound that had broken past
her lips, and she clutched the picture in her hands and stared at it;
and David, looking down, could see nothing but that shining disarray of
curls, a rich and wonderful brown, in the sunlight, clustering about her
shoulders and falling thickly to her waist. He thought it indescribably
beautiful, in spite of the manner in which the curls and tresses had
tangled themselves. They hid her face as she bent over the picture. He
did not speak. He waited, knowing that in a moment or two all that he
had guessed at would be clear, and that when the girl looked up she
would tell him about the picture, and why she happened to be here, and
not with the woman of the coach, who must have been her mother.

When at last she did look up from the picture her eyes were big and
staring and filled with a mysterious questioning.

David, feeling quite sure of himself, said:

"How did it happen that you were away up here, and not with your mother
that night when I met her on the train?"

"She wasn't my mother," replied the girl, looking at him still in that
strange way. "My mother is dead."



CHAPTER XVIII


After that quietly spoken fact that her mother was dead, David waited
for Marge O'Doone to make some further explanation. He had so firmly
convinced himself that the picture he had carried was the key to all
that he wanted to know--first from Tavish, if he had lived, and now from
the girl--that it took him a moment or two to understand what he saw in
his companion's face. He realized then that his possession of the
picture and the manner in which it had come into his keeping were
matters of great perplexity to her, and that the woman whom he had met
in the Transcontinental held no significance for her at all, although he
had told her with rather marked emphasis that this woman--whom he had
thought was her mother--had been searching for a man who bore her own
name, O'Doone. The girl was plainly expecting him to say something, and
he reiterated this fact--that the woman in the coach was very anxious to
find a man whose name was O'Doone, and that it was quite reasonable to
suppose that _her_ name was O'Doone, especially as she had with her this
picture of a girl bearing that name. It seemed to him a powerful and
utterly convincing argument. It was a combination of facts difficult to
get away from without certain conclusions, but this girl who was so near
to him that he could almost feel her breath did not appear fully to
comprehend their significance. She was looking at him with wide-open,
wondering eyes, and when he had finished she said again:

"My mother is dead. And my father is dead, too. And my aunt is dead--up
at the Nest. There isn't any one left but my uncle Hauck, and he is a
brute. And Brokaw. He is a bigger brute. It was he who made me let him
take this picture--two years ago. I have been training Tara to kill--to
kill any one that touches me, when I scream."

It was wonderful to watch her eyes darken, to see her pupils grow big
and luminous. She did not look at the picture clutched in her hands, but
straight at him.

"He caught me there, near the creek. He _frightened_ me. He _made_ me
let him take it. He wanted me to take off my...."

A flood of wild blood rushed into her face. In her heart was a fury.

"I wouldn't be afraid now--not of him alone," she cried. "I would
scream--and fight, and Tara would tear him into pieces. Oh, Tara knows
how to do it--_now_! I have trained him."

"He compelled you to let him take the picture," urged David gently. "And
then...."

"I saw one of the pictures afterward. My aunt had it. I wanted to
destroy it, because I hated it, and I hated him. But she said it was
necessary for her to keep it. She was sick then. I loved her. She would
put her arms around me every day. She used to kiss me, nights, when I
went to bed. But we were afraid of Hauck--I don't call him 'uncle.'
_She_ was afraid of him. Once I jumped at him and scratched his face
when he swore at her, and he pulled my hair. _Ugh_, I can feel it now!
After that she used to cry, and she always put her arms around me
closer than ever. She died that way, holding my head down to her, and
trying to say something. But I couldn't understand. I was crying. That
was six months ago. Since then I've been training Tara--to kill."

"And why have you trained Tara, little girl?"

David took her hand. It lay warm and unresisting in his, a firm, very
little hand. He could feel a slight shudder pass through her.

"I heard--something," she said. "The Nest is a terrible place. Hauck is
terrible. Brokaw is terrible. And Hauck sent away somewhere up
there"--she pointed northward--"for Brokaw. He said--I belonged to
Brokaw. What did he mean?"

She turned so that she could look straight into David's eyes. She was
hard to answer. If she had been a woman....

She saw the slow, gathering tenseness in David's face as he looked for a
moment away from her bewildering eyes--the hardening muscles of his
jaws; and her own hand tightened as it lay in his.

"What did Hauck mean?" she persisted. "Why do I belong to Brokaw--that
great, red brute?"

The hand he had been holding he took between both his palms in a gentle,
comforting way. His voice was gentle, too, but the hard lines did not
leave his face.

"How old are you, Marge?" he asked.

"Seventeen," she said.

"And I am--thirty-eight." He turned to smile at her. "See...." He raised
a hand and took off his hat. "My hair is getting gray!"

She looked up swiftly, and then, so suddenly that it took his breath
away, her fingers were running back through his thick blond hair.

"A little," she said. "But you are not old."

She dropped her hand. Her whole movement had been innocent as a child's.

"And yet I am _quite_ old," he assured her. "Is this man Brokaw at the
Nest, Marge?"

She nodded.

"He has been there a month. He came after Hauck sent for him, and went
away again. Then he came back."

"And you are now running away from him?"

"From all of them," she said. "If it were just Brokaw I wouldn't be
afraid. I would let him catch me, and scream. Tara would kill him for
me. But it's Hauck, too. And the others. They are worse since Nisikoos
died. That is what I called her--Nisikoos--my aunt. They are all
terrible, and they all frighten me, especially since they began to build
a great cage for Tara. Why should they build a cage for Tara, out of
small trees? Why do they want to shut him up? None of them will tell me.
Hauck says it is for another bear that Brokaw is bringing down from the
Yukon. But I know they are lying. It is for Tara." Suddenly her fingers
clutched tightly at his hand, and for the first time he saw under her
long, shimmering lashes the darkening fire of a real terror. "Why do I
belong to Brokaw?" she asked again, a little tremble in her voice. "Why
did Hauck say that? Can--can a man--buy a girl?"

The nails of her slender fingers were pricking his flesh. David did not
feel their hurt.

"What do you mean?" he asked, trying to keep his voice steady. "Did that
man--Hauck--sell you?"

He looked away from her as he asked the question. He was afraid, just
then, that something was in his face which he did not want her to see.
He began to understand; at least he was beginning to picture a very
horrible possibility.

"I--don't--know," he heard her say, close to his shoulder. "It was night
before last I heard them quarrelling, and I crept close to a door that
was a little open, and looked in. Brokaw had given my uncle a bag of
gold, a little sack, like the miners use, and I heard him swear at my
uncle, and say: 'That's more than she is worth but I'll give in. _Now_
she's mine!' I don't know why it frightened me so. It wasn't Brokaw. I
guess it was the terrible look in that man's face--my uncle's. Tara and
I ran away that night. Why do you suppose they want to put Tara in a
cage? Do you think Brokaw was buying _Tara_ to put into that cage? He
said 'she,' not 'he'."

He looked at her again. Her eyes were not so fearless now.

"Was he buying Tara, or me?" she insisted.

"Why do you have that thought--that he was buying _you_?" David asked.
"Has anything--happened?"

A second time a fury of blood leapt into her face and her lashes
shadowed a pair of blazing stars.

"He--that red brute--caught me in the dark two weeks ago, and held me
there--and kissed me!" She fairly panted at him, springing to her feet
and standing before him. "I would have screamed, but it was in the
house, and Tara couldn't have come to me. I scratched him, and fought,
but he bent my head back until it hurt. He tried it again the day he
gave my uncle the gold, but I struck him with a stick, and got away. Oh,
I _hate_ him! And he knows it. And my uncle cursed me for striking him!
And that's why ... I'm running away."

"I understand," said David, rising and smiling at her confidently, while
in his veins his blood was running like little streams of fire. "Don't
you believe, now, all that I've told you about the picture? How it tried
so hard to talk to me, and tell me to hurry? It got me here just about
in time, didn't it? It'll be a great joke on Brokaw, little girl. And
your uncle Hauck. A great joke, eh?" He laughed. He felt like laughing,
even as his blood pounded through him at fever heat. "You're a little
brick, Marge--you and your bear!"

It was the first time he had thought of the bear since Marge had
detached herself from the big beast to come to him, and as he looked in
its direction he gave a startled exclamation.

Baree and the grizzly had been measuring each other for some time. To
Baree this was the most amazing experience in all his life, and
flattened out between the two rocks he was at a loss to comprehend why
his master did not either run or shoot. He wanted to jump out, if his
master showed fight, and leap straight at that ugly monster, or he
wanted to run away as fast as his legs would carry him. He was shivering
in indecision, waiting a signal from David to do either one or the
other. And Tara was now moving slowly toward the dog! His huge head was
hung low, swinging slightly from side to side in a most terrifying way;
his great jaws were agape, and the nearer he came to Baree the smaller
the dog seemed to grow between the rocks. At David's sudden cry the girl
had turned, and he was amazed to hear her laughter, clear and sweet as a
bell. It was funny, that picture of the dog and the bear, if one was in
the mood to see the humour of it!

"Tara won't hurt him," she hurried to say, seeing David's uneasiness.
"He loves dogs. He wants to play with ... what is his name?"

"Baree. And mine is David."

"Baree--David. See!"

Like a bird she had left his side and in an instant, it seemed, was
astride the big grizzly, digging her fingers into Tara's thick
coat--smiling back at him, her radiant hair about her like a cloud,
filled with marvellous red-and-gold fires in the sun.

"Come," she said, holding out a hand to David. "I want Tara to know you
are our friend. Because"--the darkness came into her eyes again--"I have
been _training him_, and I want him to know he must not hurt _you_."

David went to them, little fancying the acquaintance he was about to
make, until Marge slipped off her bear and put her two arms
unhesitatingly about his shoulders, and drew him down with her close in
front of Tara's big head and round, emotionless eyes. For a thrilling
moment or two she pressed her face close to his, looking all the time
straight at Tara, and talking to him steadily. David did not sense what
she was saying, except that in a general way she was telling Tara that
he must never hurt this man, no matter what happened. He felt the warm
crush of her hair on his neck and face. It billowed on his breast for a
moment. The girl's hand touched his cheek, warm and caressing. He made
no movement of his own, except to rise rigidly when she unclasped her
arms from about his shoulders.

"There; he won't hurt you now!" she exclaimed in triumph.

Her cheeks were flaming, but not with embarrassment. Her eyes were as
clear as the violets he had crushed under his feet in the mountain
valleys. He looked at her as she stood before him, so much like a child,
and yet enough of a woman to make his own cheeks burn. And then he saw a
sudden changing expression come into her face. There was something
pathetic about it, something that made him see again what he had
forgotten--her exhaustion, the evidences of her struggle. She was
looking at his pack.

"We haven't had anything to eat since we ran away," she said simply.
"I'm hungry."

He had heard children say "I'm hungry" in that same voice, with the same
hopeful and entreating insistence in it; he had spoken those words
himself a thousand times, to his mother, in just that same way, it
seemed to him; and as she stood there, looking at his pack, he was
filled with a very strong desire to crumple her close in his arms--not
as a woman, but as a child. And this desire held him so still for a
moment that she thought he was waiting for her to explain.

"I fastened our bundle on Tara's back and we lost it in the night coming
up over the mountain," she said. "It was so steep that in places I had
to catch hold of Tara and let him drag me up."

In another moment he was at his pack, opening it, and tossing things to
right and left on the white sand, and the girl watched him, her eyes
very bright with anticipation.

"Coffee, bacon, bannock, and potatoes," he said, making a quick
inventory of his small stock of provisions.

"Potatoes!" cried the girl.

"Yes--dehydrated. See? It looks like rice. One pound of this equals
fourteen pounds of potatoes. And you can't tell the difference when it's
cooked right. Now for a fire!"

She was darting this way and that, collecting small dry sticks in the
sand before he was on his feet. He could not resist standing for a
moment and watching her. Her movements, even in her quick and eager
quest of fuel, were the most graceful he had ever seen in a human being.
And yet she was tired! She was hungry! And he believed that her feet,
concealed in those rock-torn moccasins, were bruised and sore. He went
down to the stream for water, and in the few moments that he was gone
his mind worked swiftly. He believed that he understood, perhaps even
more than the girl herself. There was something about her that was so
sweetly childish--in spite of her age and her height and her amazing
prettiness that was not all a child's prettiness--that he could not feel
that she had realized fully the peril from which she was fleeing when he
found her. He had guessed that her dread was only partly for herself and
that the other part was for Tara, her bear. She had asked him in a sort
of plaintive anxiety and with rather more of wonderment and perplexity
in her eyes than fear, whether she belonged to Brokaw, and what it all
meant, and whether a man could buy a girl. It was not a mystery to him
that the "red brute" she had told him about should want her. His
puzzlement was that such a thing could happen, if he had guessed right,
among men. Buy her? Of course down there in the big cities such a thing
had happened hundreds and thousands of times--were happening every
day--but he could not easily picture it happening up here, where men
lived because of their strength. There must surely be other men at the
Nest than the two hated and feared by the girl--Hauck, her uncle, and
Brokaw, the "red brute."

She had built a little pile of sticks and dry moss ready for the touch
of a match when he returned. Tara had stretched himself out lazily in
the sun and Baree was still between the two rocks, eyeing him
watchfully. Before David lighted the fire he spread his one blanket out
on the sand and made the Girl sit down. She was close to him, and her
eyes did not leave his face for an instant. Whenever he looked up she
was gazing straight at him, and when he went down to the creek for
another pail of water he felt that her eyes were still on him. When he
turned to come back, with fifty paces between them, she smiled at him
and he waved his hand at her. He asked her a great many questions while
he prepared their dinner. The Nest, he learned, was a free-trading
place, and Hauck was its proprietor. He was surprised when he learned
that he was not on Firepan Creek after all. The Firepan was over the
range, and there were a good many Indians to the north and west of it.
Miners came down frequently from the Taku River country and the edge of
the Yukon, she said. At least she thought they were miners, for that is
what Hauck used to tell Nisikoos, her aunt. They came after whisky.
Always whisky. And the Indians came for liquor, too. It was the chief
article that Hauck, her uncle, traded in. He brought it from the coast,
in the winter time--many sledge loads of it; and some of those "miners"
who came down from the north carried away much of it. If it was summer
they would take it away on pack horses. What would they do with so much
liquor, she wondered? A little of it made such a beast of Hauck, and a
beast of Brokaw, and it drove the Indians wild. Hauck would no longer
allow the Indians to drink it at the Nest. They had to take it away with
them--into the mountains. Just now there was quite a number of the
"miners" down from the north, ten or twelve of them. She had not been
afraid when Nisikoos, her aunt, was alive. But now there was no other
woman at the Nest, except an old Indian woman who did Hauck's cooking.
Hauck wanted no one there. And she was afraid of those men. They all
feared Hauck, and she knew that Hauck was afraid of Brokaw. She didn't
know why, but he was. And she was afraid of them all, and hated them
all. She had been quite happy when Nisikoos was alive. Nisikoos had
taught her to read out of books, had taught her things ever since she
could remember. She could write almost as well as Nisikoos. She said
this a bit proudly. But since her aunt had gone, things were terribly
changed. Especially the men. They had made her more afraid, every day.

"None of them is like you," she said with startling frankness, her eyes
shining at him. "I would love to be with you!"

He turned, then, to look at Tara dozing in the sun.



CHAPTER XIX


They ate, facing each other, on a clean, flat stone that was like a
table. There was no hesitation on the girl's part, no false pride in the
concealment of her hunger. To David it was a joy to watch her eat, and
to catch the changing expressions in her eyes, and the little
half-smiles that took the place of words as he helped her diligently to
bacon and bannock and potatoes and coffee. The bright glow went only
once out of her eyes, and that was when she looked at Tara and Baree.

"Tara has been eating roots all day," she said, "But what will he eat?"
and she nodded at the dog.

"He had a whistler for breakfast," David assured her. "Fat as butter. He
wouldn't eat now anyway. He is too much interested in the bear." She had
finished, with a little sigh of content, when he asked: "What do you
mean when you say that you have trained Tara to kill? Why have you
trained him?"

"I began the day after Brokaw did that--held me there in his arms, with
my head bent back. _Ugh!_ he was terrible, with his face so close to
mine!" She shuddered. "Afterward I washed my face, and scrubbed it hard,
but I could still _feel_ it. I can feel it now!" Her eyes were darkening
again, as the sun darkens when a thunder cloud passes under it. "I
wanted to make Tara understand what he must do after that, so I stole
some of Brokaw's clothes and carried them up to a little plain on the
side of the mountain. I stuffed them with grass, and made a ... what do
you call it? In Indian it is _issena-koosewin_...."

"A dummy," he said.

She nodded.

"Yes, that is it. Then I would go with it a little distance from Tara,
and would begin to struggle with it, and scream. The third time, when
Tara saw me lying under it, kicking and screaming, he gave it a blow
with his paw that ripped it clean in two! And after that...."

Her eyes were glorious in their wild triumph.

"He would tear it into bits," she cried breathlessly. "It would take me
a whole day to mend it again, and at last I had to steal more clothes. I
took Hauck's this time. And soon they were gone, too. That is just what
Tara will do to a man--when I fight and scream!"

"And a little while ago you were ready to jump at me, and fight and
scream!" he reminded her, smiling across their rock table.

"Not after you spoke to me," she said, so quickly that the words seemed
to spring straight from her heart. "I wasn't afraid then. I was--glad.
No, I wouldn't scream--not even if you held me like Brokaw did!"

He felt the warm blood rising under his skin again. It was impossible to
keep it down. And he was ashamed of it--ashamed of the thought that for
an instant was in his mind. The soul of the wild, little mountain
creature was in her eyes. Her lips made no concealment of its thoughts
or its emotions, pure as the blue skies above them and as ungoverned by
conventionality as the winds that shifted up and down the valleys. She
was a new sort of being to him, a child-woman, a little wonder-nymph
that had grown up with the flowers. And yet not so little after all. He
had noticed that the top of her shining head came considerably above his
chin.

"Then you will not be afraid to go back to the Nest--with me?" he asked.

"No," she said with a direct and amazing confidence. "But I'd rather run
away with you." Then she added quickly, before he could speak: "Didn't
you say you came all that way--hundreds of miles--to find _me_? Then why
must we go back?"

He explained to her as clearly as he could, and as reason seemed to
point out to him. It was impossible, he assured her, that Brokaw or
Hauck or any other man could harm her now that he was here to take care
of her and straighten matters out. He was as frank with her as she had
been with him. Her eyes widened when he told her that he did not believe
Hauck was her uncle, and that he was certain the woman whom he had met
that night on the Transcontinental, and who was searching for an
O'Doone, had some deep interest in her. He must discover, if possible,
how the picture had got to her, and who she was, and he could do this
only by going to the Nest and learning the truth straight from Hauck.
Then they would go on to the coast, which would be an easy journey. He
told her that Hauck and Brokaw would not dare to cause them trouble, as
they were carrying on a business of which the provincial police would
make short work, if they knew of it. They held the whip hand, he and
Marge. Her eyes shone with increasing faith as he talked.

She had leaned a little over the narrow rock between them so that her
thick curls fell in shining clusters under his eyes, and suddenly she
reached out her arms through them and her two hands touched his face.

"And you will take me away? You promise?"

"My dear child, that is just what I came for," he said, feigning to be
surprised at her questions. "Fifteen hundred miles for just that. _Now_
don't you believe all that I've told you about the picture?"

"Yes," she nodded.

She had drawn back, and was looking at him so steadily and with such
wondering depths in her eyes that he found himself compelled for an
instant to turn his own gaze carelessly away.

"And you used to talk to it," she said, "and it seemed _alive_?"

"Very much alive, Marge."

"And you _dreamed_ about me?"

He _had_ said that, and he felt again that warm rise of blood. He felt
himself in a difficult place. If she had been older, or even younger....

"Yes," he said truthfully.

He feared one other question was quite uncomfortably near. But it didn't
come. The girl rose suddenly to her feet, flung back her hair, and ran
to Tara, dozing in the sun. What she was saying to the beast, with her
arms about his shaggy neck, David could only guess. He found himself
laughing again, quietly of course, with his back to her, as he picked up
their dinner things. He had not anticipated such an experience as this.
It rather unsettled him. It was amusing--and had a decided thrill to
it. Undoubtedly Hauck and Brokaw were rough men; from what she had told
him he was convinced they were lawless men, engaged in a very wide
"underground" trade in whisky. But he believed that he would not find
them as bad as he had pictured them at first, even though the Nest was a
horrible place for the girl. Her running away was the most natural thing
in the world--for her. She was an amazingly spontaneous little creature,
full of courage and a fierce determination to fight some one, but
probably to-day or to-morrow she would have been forced to turn
homeward, quite exhausted with her adventure, and nibbling roots along
with Tara to keep herself alive. The thought of her hunger and of the
dire necessity in which he had found her, drove the smile from his lips.
He was finishing his pack when she left the bear and came to him.

"If we are to get over the mountain before dark we must hurry," she
said. "See--it is a big mountain!"

She pointed to a barren break in the northward range, close up to the
snow-covered peaks.

"And it's cold up there when night comes," she added.

"Can you make it?" David asked. "Aren't you tired? Your feet sore? We
can wait here until morning...."

"I can climb it," she cried, with an excitement which he had not seen in
her before. "I can climb it--and travel all night--to tell Brokaw and
Hauck I don't belong to them any more, and that we're going away! Brokaw
will be like a mad beast, and before we go I'll scratch his eyes out!"

"Good Lord!" gasped David under his breath.

"And if Hauck swears at me I'll scratch _his_ out!" she declared,
trembling in the glorious anticipation of her vengeance. "I'll ... I'll
scratch _his_ out, anyway, for what he did to Nisikoos!"

David stared at her. She was looking away from him, her eyes on the
break between the mountains, and he noticed how tense her slender body
had become and how tightly her hands were clenched.

"They won't dare to touch me or swear at me when you are there," she
added, with sublime faith.

She turned in time to catch the look in his face. Swiftly the excitement
faded out of her own. She touched his arm, hesitatingly.

"Wouldn't ... you want me ... to scratch out their eyes?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"It wouldn't do," he said. "We must be very careful. We mustn't let them
know you ran away. We must tell them you climbed up the mountain, and
got lost."

"I never get lost," she protested.

"But we must tell them that just the same," he insisted. "Will you?"

She nodded emphatically.

"And now, before we start, tell me why they haven't followed you?"

"Because I came over the mountain," she replied, pointing again toward
the break. "It's all rock, and Tara left no marks. They wouldn't think
we'd climb over the range. They've been looking for us in the other
valley if they have hunted for us at all. We were going to climb over
_that_ range, too." She turned so that she was pointing to the south.

"And then?"

"There are people over there. I've heard Hauck talk about them."

"Did you ever hear him speak of a man by the name of Tavish?" he asked,
watching her closely.

"Tavish?" She pursed her lips into a red "O," and little lines gathered
thoughtfully between her eyes. "Tavish? No-o-o, I never have."

"He lived at one time on Firepan Creek. Had small-pox," said David.

"That is terrible," the girl shuddered. "The Indians die of it up here.
Hauck says that my father and mother died of small-pox, before I could
remember. It is all like a dream. I can see a woman's face sometimes,
and I can remember a cabin, and snow, and lots of dogs. Are you ready to
go?"

He shouldered his pack, and as he arranged the straps Marge ran to Tara.
At her command the big beast rose slowly and stood before her, swinging
his head from side to side, his jaws agape. David called to Baree and
the dog came to him like a streak and stood against his leg, snarling
fiercely.

"Tut, tut," admonished David, softly, laying a hand on Baree's head.
"We're all friends, boy. Look here!"

He walked straight over to the grizzly and tried to induce Baree to
follow him. Baree came half way and then sat himself on his haunches and
refused to budge another inch, an expression so doleful in his face that
it drew from the girl's lips a peal of laughter in which David found it
impossible not to join. It was delightfully infectious; he was laughing
more with her than at Baree. In the same breath his merriment was cut
short by an unexpected and most amazing discovery. Tara, after all, had
his usefulness. His mistress had vaulted astride of him, and was nudging
him with her heels, leaning forward so that with one hand she was
pulling at his left ear. The bear turned slowly, his finger-long claws
clicking on the stones, and when his head was in the right direction
Marge released his ear and spoke sharply, beating a tattoo with her
heels at the same time.

"_Neah_, Tara, _Neah_!" she cried.

After a moment's hesitation, in which the grizzly seemed to be getting
his bearings, Tara struck out straight for the break between the
mountains, with his burden. The girl turned and waved a beckoning hand
at David.

"_Pao_! you must hurry!" she called to him, laughing at the astonishment
in his face.

He had started to fill his pipe, but for the next few minutes he forgot
that the pipe was in his hand. His eyes did not leave the huge beast,
ambling along a dozen paces ahead of him, or the slip of a girl who rode
him. He had caught a glimpse of Baree, and the dog's eyes seemed to be
bulging. He half believed that his own mouth was open when the girl
called to him. What had happened was most startlingly unexpected, and
what he stared at now was a wondrous sight! Tara travelled with the
rolling, slouching gait typical of the wide-quartered grizzly, and the
girl was a sinuous part of him--by all odds the most wonderful thing in
the world to David at this moment. Her hair streamed down her back in a
cascade of sunlit glory. She flung back her head, and he thought of a
wonderful golden-bronze flower. He heard her laugh, and cry out to Tara,
and when the grizzly climbed up a bit of steep slide she leaned forward
and became a part of the bear's back, her curls shimmering in the thick
ruff of Tara's neck. As he toiled upward in their wake, he caught a
glimpse of her looking back at him from the top of the slide, her eyes
shining and her lips smiling at him. She reminded him of something he
had read about Leucosia, his favorite of the "Three Sirens," only in
this instance it was a siren of the mountains and not of the sea that
was leading him on to an early doom--if he had to keep up with that
bear! His breath came more quickly. In ten minutes he was gasping for
wind, and in despair he slackened his pace as the bear and his rider
disappeared over the crest of the first slope. She was waving at him
then, fully two hundred yards up that infernal hill, and he was sure
that she was laughing. He had almost reached the top when he saw her
sitting in the shade of a rock, watching him as he toiled upward. There
was a mischievous seriousness in the blue of her eyes when he reached
her side.

"I'm sorry, _Sakewawin_," she said, lowering her eyes until they were
hidden under the silken sheen of her long lashes, "I couldn't make Tara
go slowly. He is hungry, and he knows that he is going home."

"And I thought you had sore feet," he managed to say.

"I don't ride him going _down_ a mountain," she explained, thrusting out
her ragged little feet. "I can't hang on, and I slip over his head. You
must walk ahead of Tara. That will hold him back."

He tried this experiment when they continued their ascent, and Tara
followed so uncomfortably close that at times David could feel his warm
breath against his hand. When they reached the second slope the girl
walked beside him. For a half mile it was not a bad climb and there was
soft grass underfoot. After that came the rock and shale, and the air
grew steadily colder. They had started at one o'clock and it was five
when they reached the first snow. It was six when they stood at the
summit. Under them lay the valley of the Firepan, a broad, sun-filled
sweep of scattered timber and green plain, and the girl pointed into it,
north and west.

"Off there is the Nest," she said. "We could almost see it if it weren't
for that big, red mountain."

She was very tired, though she had ridden Tara at least two thirds of
the distance up the mountains. In her eyes was the mistiness of
exhaustion, and as a chill wind swept about them she leaned against
David, and he could feel that her endurance was nearly gone. As they had
come up to the snow line he had made her put on the light woollen shirt
he carried in his pack; and the big handkerchief, in which he had so
long wrapped the picture, he had fastened scarf-like about her head, so
she was not cold. But she looked pathetically childlike and out of
place, standing here beside him at the very top of the world, with the
valley so far down that the clumps of timber in it were like painted
splashes. It was a half mile down to the first bit of timber--a small
round patch of it in a narrow dip--and he pointed to it encouragingly.

"We'll camp there and have supper. I believe it is far enough down for a
fire. And if it is impossible for you to ride Tara--I'm going to carry
you!"

"You can't, _Sakewawin_" she sighed, letting her head touch his arm for
a moment. "It is more difficult to carry a load down a mountain than up.
I can walk."

Before he could stop her she had begun to descend. They went down
quickly--three times as quickly as they had climbed the other side--and
when, half an hour later, they reached the timber in the dip, he felt as
if his back were broken. The girl had persistently kept ahead of him,
and with a little cry of triumph she dropped down at the foot of the
first balsam they came to. The pupils of her eyes were big and dark as
she looked up at him, quivering with the strain of the last great
effort, and yet she tried to smile at him.

"You may carry me--some time--but not down a mountain," she said, and
laid her head wearily on the pillow of her arm, so that her face was
concealed from him. "And now--please get supper, _Sakewawin_."

He spread his blanket over her before he began searching for a camp
site. He noticed that Tara was already hunting for roots. Baree followed
close at his master's heels. Quite near, David found a streamlet that
trickled down from the snow line, and to a grassy plot on the edge of
this he dragged a quantity of dry wood and built a fire. Then he made a
thick couch of balsam boughs and went to his little companion. In the
half hour he had been at work she had fallen asleep. Utter exhaustion
was in the limpness of her slender body as he raised her gently in his
arms. The handkerchief had slipped back over her shoulder and she was
wonderfully sweet, and helpless, as she lay with her head on his breast.
She was still asleep when he placed her on the balsams, and it was dark
when he awakened her for supper. The fire was burning brightly. Tara had
stretched himself out in a huge, dark bulk in the outer glow of it.
Baree was close to the fire. The girl sat up, rubbed her eyes, and
stared at David.

"_Sakewawin_," she whispered then, looking about her in a moment's
bewilderment.

"Supper," he said, smiling. "I did it all while you were napping, little
lady. Are you hungry?"

He had spread their meal so that she did not have to move from her
balsams, and he had brought a short piece of timber to place as a rest
at her back, cushioned by his shoulder pack and the blanket. After all
his trouble she did not eat much. The mistiness was still in her eyes,
so after he had finished he took away the timber and made of the balsams
a deep pillow for her, that she might lie restfully, with her head well
up, while he smoked. He did not want her to go to sleep. He wanted to
talk. And he began by asking how she had so carelessly run away with
only a pair of moccasins on her feet and no clothes but the thin
garments she was wearing.

"They were in Tara's pack, _Sakewawin_," she explained, her eyes glowing
like sleepy pools in the fireglow. "They were lost."

He began then to tell her about Father Roland. She listened, growing
sleepier, her lashes drooping slowly until they formed dark curves on
her cheeks. He was close enough to marvel at their length, and as he
watched them, quivering in her efforts to keep awake and listen to him,
they seemed to him like the dark petals of two beautiful flowers closing
slumbrously for the night. It was a wonderful thing to see them open
suddenly and find the full glory of the sleep-filled eyes on him for an
instant, and then to watch them slowly close again as she fought
valiantly to conquer her irresistible drowsiness, the merest dimpling
of a smile on her lips. The last time she opened them he had her picture
in his hands, and was looking at it, quite close to her, with the fire
lighting it up. For a moment he thought the sight if it had awakened her
completely.

"Throw it into the fire," she said. "Brokaw made me let him take it, and
I hate it. I hate Brokaw. I hate the picture. Burn it."

"But I must keep it," he protested. "Burn it! Why it's...."

"You won't want it--after to-night."

Her eyes were closing again, heavily, for the last time.

"Why?" he asked, bending over her.

"Because, _Sakewawin_ ... you have me ... now," came her voice, in
drowsy softness; and then the long lashes lay quietly against her
cheeks.



CHAPTER XX


He thought of her words a long time after she had fallen asleep. Even in
that last moment of her consciousness he had found her voice filled with
a strange faith and a wonderful assurance as it had drifted away in a
whisper. He would not want the picture any more--because he had _her_!
That was what she had said, and he knew it was her soul that had spoken
to him as she had hovered that instant between consciousness and
slumber. He looked at her, sleeping under his eyes, and he felt upon him
for the first time the weight of a sudden trouble, a gloomy
foreboding--and yet, under it all, like a fire banked beneath dead ash,
was the warm thrill of his possession. He had spread his blanket over
her, and now he leaned over and drew back her thick curls. They were
warm and soft in his fingers, strangely sweet to touch, and for a moment
or two he fondled them while he gazed steadily into the childish
loveliness of her face, dimpled still by that shadow of a smile with
which she had fallen asleep. He was beginning to feel that he had
accepted for himself a tremendous task, and that she, not much more than
a child, had of course scarcely foreseen its possibilities. Her faith in
him was a pleasurable thing. It was absolute. He realized it more as the
hours dragged on and he sat alone by the fire. So great was it that she
was going back fearlessly to those whom she hated and feared. She was
returning not only fearlessly but with a certain defiant satisfaction.
He could fancy her saying to Hauck, and the Red Brute: "I've come back.
Now touch me if you dare!" What would he have to do to live up to that
surety of her confidence in him? A great deal, undoubtedly. And if he
won for her, as she fully expected him to win, what would he do with
her? Take her to the coast--put her into a school somewhere down south?
That was his first notion. For to him she looked more than ever like a
child as she lay asleep on her bed of balsams.

He tried to picture Brokaw. He tried to see Hauck in his mental vision,
and he thought over again all that the girl had told him about herself
and these men. As he looked at her now--a little, softly breathing thing
under his gray blanket--it was hard for him to believe anything so
horrible as she had suggested. Perhaps her fears had been grossly
exaggerated. The exchange of gold between Hauck and the Red Brute had
probably been for something else. Even men engulfed in the brutality of
the trade they were in would not think of such an appalling crime. And
then--with a fierceness that made his blood boil--came the thought of
that time when Brokaw had caught her in his arms, and had held her head
back until it _hurt_--and had kissed her! Baree had crept between his
knees, and David's fingers closed so tightly in the loose skin of his
neck that the dog whined. He rose to his feet and stood gazing down at
the girl. He stood there for a long time without moving or making a
sound.

"A little woman," he whispered to himself at last. "Not a child."

From that moment his blood was hot with a desire to reach the Nest. He
had never thought seriously of physical struggle with men except in the
way of sport. His disposition had always been to regard such a thing as
barbarous, and he had never taken advantage of his skill with the gloves
as the average man might very probably have done. To fight was to lower
one's self-respect enormously, he thought. It was not a matter of
timidity, but of very strong conviction--an entrenchment that had saved
him from wreaking vengeance--in the hour when another man would have
killed. But there, in that room in his home, he had stood face to face
with a black, revolting sin. There had been nothing left to shield,
nothing to protect. Here it was different. A soul had given itself into
his protection, a soul as pure as the stars shining over the mountain
tops, and its little keeper lay there under his eyes sleeping in the
sweet faith that it was safe with him. A little later his fingers
tingled with an odd thrill as he took his automatic out of his pack,
loaded it carefully, and placed it in his pocket where it could be
easily reached. The act was a declaration of something ultimately
definite. He stretched himself out near the fire and went to sleep with
the force of this declaration brewing strangely within him.

He was awake with the summer dawn and the sun was beginning to tint up
the big red mountain when they began the descent into the valley. Before
they started he loaned the girl his comb and single military brush, and
for fifteen minutes sat watching her while she brushed the tangles out
of her hair until it fell about her in a thick, waving splendour. At the
nape of her neck she tied it with a bit of string which he found for
her, and after that, as they travelled downward, he observed how the
rebellious tresses, shimmering and dancing about her, persisted in
forming themselves into curls again. In an hour they reached the valley,
and for a few moments they sat down to rest, while Tara foraged among
the rocks for marmots. It was a wonderful valley into which they had
come. From where they sat, it was like an immense park. Green slopes
reached almost to the summits of the mountains, and to a point half way
up these slopes--the last timber line--clumps of spruce and balsam trees
were scattered over the green as if set there by hands of men. Some of
these timber patches were no larger than the decorative clumps in a city
park, and others covered acres and tens of acres; and at the foot of the
slopes on either side, like decorative fringes, were thin and unbroken
lines of forest. Between these two lines of forest lay the open valley
of soft and undulating meadow, dotted with its purplish bosks of
buffalo-, willow-, and mountain-sage, its green coppices of wild rose
and thorn, and its clumps of trees. In the hollow of the valley ran a
stream.

And this was her home! She was telling him about it as they sat there,
and he listened to her, and watched her bird-like movements, without
breaking in to ask questions which the night had shaped in his mind. She
pointed out gray summits on which she had stood. Off there, just visible
in the gray mist of early sunshine, was the mountain where she had found
Tara five years ago--a tiny cub who must have lost his mother. Perhaps
the Indians had killed her. And that long, rock-strewn slide, so steep
in places that he shuddered when he thought of what she had done, was
where she and Tara had climbed over the range in their flight. She
chose the rocks so that Tara would leave no trail. He regarded that
slide as conclusive evidence of the very definite resolution that must
have inspired her. A fit of girlish temper would not have taken her up
that rock slide, and in the night. He thought it time to speak of what
was weighing upon his mind.

"Listen to me, Marge," he said, pointing toward the red mountain ahead
of them. "Off there, you say, is the Nest. What are we going to do when
we arrive there?"

The little lines gathered between her eyes again as she looked at him.

"Why--tell them," she said.

"Tell them what?"

"That you've come for me, and that we're going away, _Sakewawin_."

"And if they object? If Brokaw and Hauck say you cannot go?"

"We'll go anyway, _Sakewawin_."

"That's a pretty name you've given me," he mused, thinking of something
else. "I like it."

For the first time she blushed--blushed until her face was like one of
the wild roses in those prickly copses of the valley.

And then he added:

"You must not tell them too much--at first, Marge. Remember that you
were lost, and I found you. You must give me time to get acquainted with
Hauck and Brokaw."

She nodded, but there was a moment's anxiety in her eyes, and he saw for
an instant the slightest quiver in her throat.

"You won't--let them--keep me? No matter what they say--you won't let
them keep me?"

He jumped up with a laugh and tilted her chin so that he looted straight
into her eyes; and her faith filled them again in a flood.

"No--you're going with me," he promised. "Come. I'm quite anxious to
meet Hauck and the Red Brute!"

It seemed singular to David that they met no one in the valley that day,
and the girl's explanation that practically all travel came from the
north and west, and stopped at the Nest, did not fully satisfy him. He
still wondered why they did not encounter one of the searching parties
that must have been sent out for her--until she told him that, since
Nisikoos died, she and Tara had gone quite frequently into the mountains
and remained all night, so that perhaps no search had been made for her
after all. Hauck had not seemed to care. More frequently than otherwise
he had not missed her. Twice she had been away for two nights and two
days. It was only because Brokaw had given that gold to Hauck that she
had feared pursuit. If Hauck had bought her....

She spoke of that possible sale as if she might have been the merest
sort of chattel. And then she startled him by saying:

"I have known of those white men from the north buying Indian girls. I
have seen them sold for whisky. _Ugh!_" She shuddered. "Nisikoos and I
overheard them one night. Hauck was selling a girl for a little sack of
gold--like _that_. Nisikoos held me more tightly than ever, that night.
I don't know why. She was terribly afraid of that man--Hauck. Why did
she live with him if she was afraid of him? Do you know? _I_ wouldn't.
I'd run away."

He shook his head.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you, my child."

Her eyes turned on him suddenly.

"Why do you call me that--a child?"

"Because you're not a woman; because you're so very, very young, and I'm
so very old," he laughed.

For a long time after that she was silent as they travelled steadily
toward the red mountain.

They ate their dinner in the sombre shadow of it. Most of the afternoon
Marge rode her bear. It was sundown when they stopped for their last
meal. The Nest was still three miles farther on, and the stars were
shining brilliantly before they came to the little, wooded plain in the
edge of which Hauck had hidden away his place of trade. When they were
some hundred yards away they came over a knoll and David saw the glow of
fires. The girl stopped suddenly and her hand caught his arm. He counted
four of those fires in the open. A fifth glowed faintly, as if back in
timber. Sounds came to them--the slow, hollow booming of a tom-tom, and
voices. They could see shadows moving. The girl's fingers were pinching
David's arm.

"The Indians have come in," she whispered.

There was a thrill of uneasiness in her words. It was not fear. He could
see that she was puzzled, and that she had not expected to find fires or
those moving shadows. Her eyes were steady and shining as she looked at
him. It seemed to him that she had grown taller, and more like a woman,
as they stood there. Something in her face made him ask:

"Why have they come?"

"I don't know," she said.

She started down the knoll straight for the fires. Tara and Baree filed
behind them. Beyond the glow of the camp a dark bulk took shape against
the blackness of the forest. David guessed that it was the Nest. He made
out a deep, low building, unlighted so far as he could see. Then they
entered into the fireglow. Their appearance produced a strange and
instant quiet. The beating of the tom-tom ceased. Voices died. Dark
faces stared--and that was all. There were about fifty of them about the
fires, David figured. And not a white man's face among them. They were
all Indians. A lean, night-eyed, sinister-looking lot. He was conscious
that they were scrutinizing him more than they were the girl. He could
almost feel the prick of their eyes. With her head up, his companion
walked between the fires and beyond them, looking neither to one side
nor the other. They turned the end of the huge log building and on this
side it was glowing dimly with light, and David faintly heard voices.
The girl passed swiftly into a hollow of gloom, calling softly to Tara.
The bear followed her, a grotesque, slowly moving hulk, and David
waited. He heard the clink of a chain. A moment later she returned to
him.

"There is a light in Hauck's room," she said. "His council room, he
calls it--where he makes bargains. I hope they are both there,
_Sakewawin_--both Hauck and Brokaw." She seized his hand, and held it
tightly as she led him deeper into darkness. "I wonder why so many of
the Indians are in? I did not know they were coming. It is the wrong
time of year for--a crowd like that!"

He felt the quiver in her voice. She was quite excited, he knew. And yet
not about the Indians, nor the strangeness of their presence. It was her
_triumph_ that made her tremble in the darkness, a wonderful
anticipation of the greatest event that had ever happened in her life.
She hoped that Hauck and Brokaw were in that room! She would confront
them there, with _him_. That was it. She felt her bondage--her
prisonment--in this savage place was ended; and she was eager to find
them, and let them know that she was no longer afraid, or alone--no
longer need obey or fear them. He felt the thrill of it in the hot,
fierce little clasp of her hand. He saw it glowing in her eyes when they
passed through the light of a window. Then they turned again, at the
back of the building. They paused at a door. Not a ray of light broke
the gloom here. The stars seemed to make the blackness deeper. Her
fingers tightened.

"You must be careful," he said. "And--remember."

"I will," she whispered.

It was his last warning. The door opened slowly, with a creaking sound,
and they entered into a long, gloomy hall, illumined by a single oil
lamp that sputtered and smoked in its bracket on one of the walls. The
hall gave him an idea of the immensity of the building. From the far end
of it, through a partly open door, came a reek of tobacco smoke, and
loud voices--a burst of coarse laughter, a sudden volley of curses that
died away in a still louder roar of merriment. Some one closed the door
from within. The girl was staring toward the end of the hall, and
shuddering.

"That is the way it has been--growing worse and worse since Nisikoos
died," she said. "In there the white men who come down from the north,
drink, and gamble, and quarrel. They are always quarrelling. This room
is ours--Nisikoos' and mine." She touched with her hand a door near
which they were standing. Then she pointed to another. There were half a
dozen doors up and down the hall. "And that is Hauck's."

He threw off his pack, placed it on the floor, with his rifle across it.
When he straightened, the girl was listening at the door of Hauck's
room. Beckoning to him she knocked on it lightly, and then opened it.
David entered close behind her. It was a rather large room--his one
impression as he crossed the threshold. In the centre of it was a table,
and over the table hung an oil lamp with a tin reflector. In the light
of this lamp sat two men. In his first glance he made up his mind which
was Hauck and which was Brokaw. It was Brokaw, he thought, who was
facing them as they entered--a man he could hate even if he had never
heard of him before. Big. Loose-shouldered. A carnivorous-looking giant
with a mottled, reddish face and bleary eyes that had an amazed and
watery stare in them. Apparently the girl's knock had not been heard,
for it was a moment before the other man swung slowly about in his chair
so that he could see them. That was Hauck. David knew it. He was almost
a half smaller than the other, with round, bullish shoulders, a thick
neck, and eyes wherein might lurk an incredible cruelty. He popped half
out of his seat when he saw the girl, and a stranger. His jaws seemed to
tighten with a snap. A snap that could almost be heard. But it was
Brokaw's face that held David's eyes. He was two thirds drunk. There
was no doubt about it, if he was any sort of judge of that kind of
imbecility. One of his thick, huge hands was gripping a bottle. Hauck
had evidently been reading him something out of a ledger, a Post ledger,
which he held now in one hand. David was surprised at the quiet and
unemotional way in which the girl began speaking. She said that she had
wandered over into the other valley and was lost when this stranger
found her. He had been good to her, and was on his way to the settlement
on the coast. His name was....

She got no further than that. Brokaw had taken his devouring gaze from
her and was staring at David. He lurched suddenly to his feet and leaned
over the table, a new sort of surprise in his heavy countenance. He
stretched out a hand. His voice was a bellow.

"McKenna!"

He was speaking directly at David--calling him by name. There was as
little doubt of that as of his drunkenness. There was also an
unmistakable note of fellowship in his voice. McKenna! David opened his
mouth to correct him when a second thought occurred to him in a mildly
inspirational way. Why not McKenna? The girl was looking at him, a bit
surprised, questioning him in the directness of her gaze. He nodded, and
smiled at Brokaw. The giant came around the table, still holding out his
big, red hand.

"Mac! God! You don't mean to say you've forgotten...."

David took the hand.

"Brokaw!" he chanced.

The other's hand was as cold as a piece of beef. But it possessed a
crushing strength. Hauck was staring from one to the other, and suddenly
Brokaw turned to him, still pumping David's hand.

"McKenna--that young devil of Kicking Horse, Hauck! You've heard me
speak of him. McKenna...."

The girl had backed to the door. She was pale. Her eyes were shining,
and she was looking straight at David when Brokaw released his hand.

"Good-night, _Sakewawin_!" she said.

It was very distinct, that word--_Sakewawin_! David had never heard it
come quite so clearly from her lips. There was something of defiance and
pride in her utterance of it--and intentional and decisive emphasis to
it. She smiled at him as she went through the door, and in that same
breath Hauck had followed her. They disappeared. When David turned he
found Brokaw backed against the table, his hands gripping the edge of
it, his face distorted by passion. It was a terrible face to look
into--to stand before, alone in that room--a face filled with menace and
murder. So sudden had been the change in it that David was stunned for a
moment. In that space of perhaps a quarter of a minute neither uttered a
sound. Then Brokaw leaned slowly forward, his great hands clenched, and
demanded in a hissing voice:

"What did she mean when she called you that--_Sakewawin_? What did she
mean?"

It was not now the voice of a drunken man, but the voice of a man ready
to kill.



CHAPTER XXI


"_Sakewawin!_ What did she mean when she called you that?"

It was Brokaw's voice again, turning the words round but repeating them.
He made a step toward David, his hands clenched more tightly and his
whole hulk growing tense. His eyes, blazing as if through a very thin
film of water--water that seemed to cling there by some strange
magic--were horrible, David thought. _Sakewawin!_ A pretty name for
himself, he had told the girl--and here it was raising the very devil
with this drink-bloated colossus. He guessed quickly. It was decidedly a
matter of guessing quickly and of making prompt and satisfactory
explanation--or, a throttling where he stood. His mind worked like a
race-horse. "Sakewawin" meant something that had enraged Brokaw. A
jealous rage. A rage that had filled his aqueous eyes with a lurid
glare. So David said, looking into them calmly, and with a little
feigned surprise:

"Wasn't she speaking to you, Brokaw?"

It was a splendid shot. David scarcely knew why he made it, except that
he was moved by a powerful impulse which just now he had not time to
analyze. It was this same impulse that had kept him from revealing
himself when Brokaw had mistaken him for someone else. Chance had thrown
a course of action into his way and he had accepted it almost
involuntarily. It had suddenly occurred to him that he would give much
to be alone with this half-drunken man for a few hours--as McKenna. He
might last long enough in that disguise to discover things. But not with
Hauck watching him, for Hauck was four fifths sober, and there was a
depth to his cruel eyes which he did not like. He watched the effect of
his words on Brokaw. The tenseness left his body, his hands unclenched
slowly, his heavy jaw relaxed--and David laughed softly. He felt that he
was out of deep water now. This fellow, half filled with drink, was
wonderfully credulous. And he was sure that his watery eyes could not
see very well, though his ears had heard distinctly.

"She was looking at you, Brokaw--straight at you--when she said
good-night," he added.

"You sure--sure she said it to me, Mac?"

David nodded, even as his blood ran a little cold.

A leering grin of joy spread over Brokaw's face.

"The--the little devil!" he said, gloatingly.

"What does it mean?" David asked. "_Sakewawin_--I had never heard it."
He lied calmly, turning his head a bit out of the light.

Brokaw stared at him a moment before answering.

"When a girl says that--it means--_she belongs to you_," he said. "In
Indian it means--_possession_! Dam' ... of course you're right! She said
it to me. She's mine. She belongs to me. I own her. And I thought...."

He caught up the bottle and turned out half a glass of liquor, swaying
unsteadily:

"Drink, Mac?"

David shook his head.

"Not now. Let's go to your shack if you've got one. Lots to talk
about--old times--Kicking Horse, you know. And this girl? I can't
believe it! If it's true, you're a lucky dog."

He was not thinking of consequences--of to-morrow. To-night was all he
asked for--alone with Brokaw. That mountain of flesh, stupefied with
liquor, was no match for him now. To-morrow he might hold the whip hand,
if Hauck did not return too soon.

"Lucky dog! Lucky dog!" He kept repeating that. It was like music in
Brokaw's ears. And such a girl! An angel! He couldn't believe it!
Brokaw's face was like a red fire in his exultation, his lustful joy,
his great triumph. He drank the liquor he had proffered David, and drank
a second time, rumbling in his thick chest like some kind of animal. Of
course she was an angel! Hadn't he, and Hauck, and that woman who had
died, made her grow into an angel--just for him? She belonged to him.
Always had belonged to him, and he had waited a long time. If she had
ever called any other man that name--Sakewawin--he would have killed
him. Certain. Killed him dead. This was the first time she had ever
called him that. Lucky dog? You bet he was. They'd go to his shack--and
talk. He drank a third time. He rolled heavily as they entered the hall,
David praying that they would not meet Hauck. He had his victim. He was
sure of him. And the hall was empty. He picked up his gun and pack, and
held to Brokaw's arm as they went out into the night. Brokaw staggered
guidingly into a wall of darkness, talking thickly about lucky dogs.
They had gone perhaps a hundred paces when he stopped suddenly, very
close to something that looked to David like a section of tall fence
built of small trees. It was the cage. He jumped at that conclusion
before he could see it clearly in the clouded starlight. From it there
came a growling rumble, a deep breath that was like air escaping from a
pair of bellows, and he saw faintly a huge, motionless shape beyond the
stripped and upright sapling trunks.

"Grizzly," said Brokaw, trying to keep himself on an even balance. "Big
bear-fight to-morrow, Mac. My bear--her bear--a great fight! Everybody
in to see it. Nothing like a bear-fight, eh? S'prise her, won't
it--pretty little wench! When she sees her bear fighting mine? Betchu
hundred dollars my bear kills Tara!"

"To-morrow," said David. "I'll bet to-morrow. Where's the shack?"

He was anxious to reach that, and he hoped it was a good distance away.
He feared every moment that he would hear Hauck's voice or his footsteps
behind them, and he knew that Hauck's presence would spoil everything.
Brokaw, in his cups, was talkative--almost garrulous. Already he had
explained the mystery of the cage, and the Indians. The big fight was to
take place in the cage, and the Indians had come in to see it. He found
himself wondering, as they went through the darkness, how it had all
been kept from the girl, and why Brokaw should deliberately lower
himself still more in her esteem by allowing the combat to occur. He
asked him about it when they entered the shack to which Brokaw guided
him, and after they had lighted a lamp. It was a small, gloomy,
whisky-smelling place. Brokaw went directly to a box nailed against the
wall and returned with a quart flask that resembled an army canteen,
and two tin cups. He sat down at a small table, his bloated, red face in
the light of the lamp, that queer animal-like rumbling in his throat, as
he turned out the liquor. David had heard porcupines make something like
the same sound. He pulled his hat lower over his eyes to hide the gleam
of them as Brokaw told him what he and Hauck had planned. The bear in
the cage belonged to him--Brokaw. A big brute. Fierce. A fighter. Hauck
and he were going to bet on his bear because it would surely kill Tara.
Make a big clean-up, they would. Tara was soft. Too easy living. And
they needed money because those scoundrels over on the coast had failed
to get in enough whisky for their trade. The girl had almost spoiled
their plans by going away with Tara. And he--Mac--was a devil of a good
fellow for bringing her back! They'd pull off the fight to-morrow. If
the girl--that little bird-devil that belonged to him--didn't like
it....

He brought the canteen down with a bang, and shoved one of the cups
across to David.

"Of course, she belongs to you," said David, encouragingly,
"but--confound you--I can't believe it, you old dog! I can't believe
it!" He leaned over and gave Brokaw a jocular slap, forcing a laugh out
of himself. "She's too pretty for you. Prettiest kid I ever saw! How did
it happen? Eh? You--_lucky_--dog!"

He was fairly trembling as he saw the red fire of satisfaction, of
gloating pleasure, deepen in Brokaw's face.

"She hasn't belonged to you very long, eh?"

"Long time, long time," replied Brokaw, pausing with his cup half way to
his mouth. "Years ago."

Suddenly he lowered the cup so forcefully that half the liquor in it was
spilled over the table. He thrust his huge shoulders and red face toward
David, and in an instant there was a snarl on his thick lips.

"Hauck said she didn't," he growled. "What do you think of that,
Mac?--said she didn't belong to me any more, an' I'd have to pay for her
keep! Gawd, I did. I gave him a lot of gold!"

"You were a fool," said David, trying to choke back his eagerness. "A
fool!"

"I should have killed him, shouldn't I, Mac--killed him an' _took_ her?"
cried Brokaw huskily, his passion rising as he knotted his huge fists on
the table. "Killed him like you killed the Breed for that long-haired
she-devil over at Copper Cliff!"

"I--don't--know," said David, slowly, praying that he might not say the
wrong thing now. "I don't know what claim you had on her, Brokaw. If I
knew...."

He waited. Brokaw did not seem altogether like a drunken man now, and
for a moment he feared that discovery had come. He leaned over the
table. The watery film seemed to drop from his eyes for an instant and
his teeth gleamed wolfishly. David was glad the lamp chimney was black
with soot, and that the rim of his hat shadowed his face, for it seemed
to him that Brokaw's vision had grown suddenly better.

"I should have killed him, an' took her," repeated Brokaw, his voice
heavy with passion. "I should have had her long ago, but Hauck's woman
kept her from me. She's been mine all along, ever since...." His mind
seemed to lag. He drew his hulking shoulders back slowly. "But I'll
have her to-morrow," he mumbled, as if he had suddenly forgotten David
and was talking to himself. "To-morrow. Next day we'll start north.
Hauck can't say anything now. I've paid him. She's mine--mine
now--to-night! By...."

David shuddered at what he saw in the brute's revolting face. It was the
dawning of a sudden, terrible idea. To-night! It blazed there in his
eyes, grown watery again. Quickly David turned out more liquor, and
thrust one of the cups into Brokaw's hand. The giant drank. His body
sank into piggish laxness. For a moment the danger was past. David knew
that time was precious. He must force his hand.

"And if Hauck troubles you," he cried, striking the table a blow with
his fist, "I'll help you settle for him, Brokaw! I'll do it for old
time's sake. I'll do to him what I did to the Breed. The girl's yours.
She's belonged to you for a long time, eh? Tell me about it,
Brokaw--tell me before Hauck comes!"

Could he never make that bloated fiend tell him what he wanted to know?
Brokaw stared at him stupidly, and then all at once he started, as if
some one had pricked him into consciousness, and a slow grin began to
spread over his face. It was a reminiscent, horrible sort of leer, not a
smile--the expression of a man who gloats over a revolting and
unspeakable thing.

"She's mine--been mine ever since she was a baby," he confided, leaning
again over the table. "Good friend, give her to me, Mac--good friend but
a dam' fool," he chuckled. He rubbed his huge hands together and turned
out more liquor. "Dam' fool!" he repeated. "Any man's a dam' fool to
turn down a pretty woman, eh, Mac? An' she was pretty, he says. _My_
girl's mother, you know. She must have been pretty. It was off there--in
the bush country--years ago. The kid you brought in to-day was a baby
then--alone with her mother. Ho, ho! deuced easy--deuced easy! But he
was a darn' fool!"

He drank with incredible slowness, it seemed to David. It was torture to
watch him, with the fear, every instant, that Hauck would come.

"What happened?" he urged.

"Bucky--my friend--in love with that woman, O'Doone's wife," resumed
Brokaw. "Dead crazy, Mac. Crazier'n you were over the Breed's woman,
only he didn't have the nerve. Just moped around--waiting--keeping out
of O'Doone's way. Trapper, O'Doone was--or a Company runner. Forgot
which. Anyway he went on a long trip, in winter, and got laid up with a
broken leg long way from home. Wife and baby alone, an' Bucky sneaked up
one day and found the woman sick with fever. Out of her head! Dead out,
Bucky says--an' my Gawd! If she didn't think he was her husband come
back! That easy, Mac--an' he lacked the nerve! Crazy in love with her,
he was, an' didn't dare play the part. Told me it was conscience. Bah!
it wasn't. He was afraid. Scared. A fool. Then he said the fever must
have touched him. Ho, ho! it was funny. He was a scared fool. Wish _I'd_
been there, Mac; wish _I_ had!"

His eyes half closed, gleaming in narrow, shining slits. His chin
dropped on his chest. David prodded him on.

"Bucky got her to run away with him," continued Brokaw. "Her and the
kid, while she was still out of her head. Bucky even got her to write a
note, he said, telling O'Doone she was sick of him an' was running away
with another man. Bucky didn't give his own name, of course. An' the
woman didn't know what she was doing. They started west with the kid,
and all the time Bucky was _afraid_! He dragged the woman on a sledge,
and snow covered their trail. He hid in a cabin a hundred miles from
O'Doone's, an' it was there the woman come to her senses. Gawd! it must
have been exciting! Bucky says she was like a mad woman, and that she
ran screeching out into the night, leaving the kid with him. He followed
but he couldn't find her. He waited, but she never came back. A snow
storm covered her trail. Then Bucky says _he_ went mad--the fool! He
waited till spring, keeping that kid, and then he made up his mind to
get it back to Papa O'Doone in some way. He sneaked back where the cabin
had been, and found nothing but char there. It had been burned. Oh, the
devil, but it was funny! And after all this trouble he hadn't dared to
take O'Doone's place with the woman. Conscience? Bah! He was a fool. You
don't get a pretty woman like that very often, eh, Mac?" Unsteadily he
tilted the flask to turn himself out another drink. His voice was
thickening. David rejoiced when he saw that the flask was empty.

"Dam'!" said Brokaw, shaking it.

"Go on," insisted David. "You haven't told me how you came by the girl,
Brokaw?"

The watery film was growing thicker over Brokaw's eyes. He brought
himself back to his story with an apparent effort.

"Came west, Bucky did--with the kid," he went on. "Struck my cabin, on
the Mackenzie, a year later. Told me all about it. Then one day he
sneaked away and left her with me, begging me to put her where she'd be
safe. I did. Gave her to Hauck's woman, and told her Bucky's story.
Later, Hauck came over here and built this place. Three years ago I come
down from the Yukon, and saw the kid. Pretty? Gawd, she was! Almost a
woman. And she was _mine_. I told 'em so. Mebby the woman would have
cheated me, but I had Hauck on the hip because I saw him kill a man when
he was drunk--a white man from Fort MacPherson. Helped him hide the
body. And then--oh, it was funny!--I ran across Bucky! He was living in
a shack a dozen miles from here, an' he didn't know Marge was the
O'Doone baby. I told him a big lie--told him the kid died, an' that I'd
heard the woman had killed herself, and that O'Doone was in a lunatic
asylum. Mebby he did have a conscience, the fool! Guess he was a little
crazy himself. Went away soon after that. Never heard of him since. An'
I've been hanging round until the girl was old enough to live with a
man. Ain't I done right, Mac? Don't she belong to me? An' to-morrow...."

His head rolled. He recovered himself with an effort, and leaned heavily
against the table. His face was almost barren of human expression. It
was the face of a monster, unlighted by reason, stripped of mind and
soul. And David, glaring into it across the table, questioned him once
more, even as he heard the crunch of footsteps outside, and knew that
Hauck was coming--coming in all probability to unmask him in the part he
had played. But Hauck was too late. He was ready to fight now, and as
he held himself prepared for the struggle he asked that question.

"And this man--Bucky; what was his other name, Brokaw?"

Brokaw's thick lips moved, and then came his voice, in a husky whisper:

"Tavish!"



CHAPTER XXII


The next instant Hauck was at the open door. He did not cross the
threshold at once, but stood there for perhaps twenty seconds--his gray,
hard face looking in on them with eyes in which there was a cold and
sinister glitter. Brokaw, with the fumes of liquor thick in his brain,
tried to nod an invitation for him to enter; his head rolled grotesquely
and his voice was a croak. David rose slowly to his feet, thrusting back
his chair. From contemplating Brokaw's sagging body, Hauck's eyes were
levelled at him. And then his lips parted. One would not have called it
a smile. It revealed to David a deadly animosity which the man was
trying to hide under the disguise of that grin, and he knew that Hauck
had discovered that he was not McKenna. Swiftly David shot a glance at
Brokaw. The giant's head and shoulders lay on the table, and he made a
sudden daring effort to save a little more time for himself.

"I'm sorry," he said. "He's terribly drunk."

Hauck nodded his head--he kept nodding it, that cold glitter in his
eyes, the steady, insinuating grin still there.

"Yes, he's drunk," he said, his voice as hard as a rock. "Better come to
the house. I've got a room for you. There's only one bunk in
here--McKenna."

He dragged out the name slowly, a bit tauntingly it seemed to David.
And David laughed. Might as well play his last card well, he thought.

"My name isn't McKenna," he said. "It's David Raine. He made a mistake,
and he's so drunk I haven't been able to explain."

Without answering, Hauck backed out of the door. It was an invitation
for David to follow. Again he carried his pack and gun with him through
the darkness, and Hauck uttered not a word as they returned to the Nest.
The night was brighter now, and David could see Baree close at his
heels, following him as silently as a shadow. The dog slunk out of sight
when they came to the building. They did not enter from the rear this
time. Hauck led the way to a door that opened into the big room from
which had come the sound of cursing and laughter a little before. There
were ten or a dozen men in that room, all white men, and, upon entering,
David was moved by a sudden suspicion that they were expecting him--that
Hauck had prepared them for his appearance. There was no liquor in
sight. If there had been bottles and glasses on the tables, they had
been cleared away--but no one had thought to wipe away certain liquid
stains that David saw shimmering wetly in the glow of the three big
lamps hanging from the ceiling. He looked the men over quickly as he
followed the free trader. Never, he thought, had he seen a rougher or
more unpleasant-looking lot. He caught more than one eye filled with the
glittering menace he had seen in Hauck's. Not a man nodded at him, or
spoke to him. He passed close to one raw-boned individual, so close that
he brushed against him, and there was an unconcealed and threatening
animosity in this man's face as he glared up at him. By the time he had
passed through the room his suspicion had become a conviction. Hauck had
purposely put him on parade, and there was a deep and sinister
significance in the attitude of these men.

They passed through the hall into which he and Marge had entered from
the opposite side of the Nest, and Hauck paused at the door of a room
almost opposite to the one which the girl had said belonged to her.

"This will be your room while you are our guest," he said. The glitter
in his eyes softened as he nodded at David. He tried to speak a bit
affably, but David felt that his effort was rather unsuccessful. It
failed to cover the hard note in his voice and the curious twitch of his
upper lip--a snarl almost--as he forced a smile. "Make yourself at
home," he added. "We'll have breakfast in the morning with my niece." He
paused for a moment and then said, looking keenly at David: "I suppose
you tried hard to make Brokaw understand he had made a mistake, and that
you wasn't McKenna? Brokaw is a good fellow when he isn't drunk."

David was glad that he turned away without waiting for an answer. He did
not want to talk with Hauck to-night. He wanted to turn over in his mind
what he had learned from Brokaw, and to-morrow act with the cool
judgment which was more or less characteristic of him. He did not
believe even now that there would be anything melodramatic in the
outcome of the affair. There would be an unpleasantness, of course; but
when both Hauck and Brokaw were confronted with a certain situation, and
with the peculiarly significant facts which he now held in his
possession, he could not see how they would be able to place any very
great obstacle in the way of his determination to take Marge from the
Nest. He did not think of personal harm to himself, and as he entered
his room, where a lamp had been lighted for him, his mind had already
begun to work on a plan of action. He would compromise with them. In
return for the loss of the girl they should have his promise--his oath,
if necessary--not to reveal the secret of the traffic in which they were
engaged, or of that still more important affair between Hauck and the
white man from Fort MacPherson. He was certain that, in his drunkenness,
Brokaw had spoken the truth, no matter what he might deny to-morrow.
They would not hazard an investigation, though to lose the girl now, at
the very threshold of his exultant realization, would be like taking the
earth from under Brokaw's feet. In spite of the tenseness of the
situation David found himself chuckling with satisfaction. It would be
unpleasant--very--he repeated that assurance to himself; but that
self-preservation would be the first law of these rascals he was equally
positive, and he began thinking of other things that just now were of
more thrilling import to him.

It was Tavish, then--that half-mad hermit in his mice-infested
cabin--who had been at the bottom of it all! Tavish! The discovery did
not amaze him profoundly. He had never been able to dissociate Tavish
from the picture, unreasoning though he confessed himself to be, and now
that his mildly impossible conjectures had suddenly developed into
facts, he was not excited. It was another thought--or other
thoughts--that stirred him more deeply, and brought a heat into his
blood. His mind leaped back to that scene of years ago, when Marge
O'Doone's mother had run shrieking out in the storm of night to escape
Tavish. _But she had not died!_ That was the thought that burned in
David's brain now. She had lived. She had searched for her
husband--Michael O'Doone; a half-mad wanderer of the forests at first,
she may have been. She had searched for years. And she was still
searching for him when he had met her that night on the
Transcontinental! For it was she--Marge O'Doone, the mother, the wife,
into whose dark, haunting eyes he had gazed from out the sunless depths
of his own despair! _Her_ mother. Alive. Seeking a Michael
O'Doone--seeking--seeking....

He was filled with a great desire to go at once to the Girl and tell her
this wonderful new fact that had come into her life, and he found
himself suddenly at the door of his room, with his fingers on the latch.
Standing there, he shrugged his shoulders, laughing softly at himself as
he realized how absurdly sensational he was becoming all at once.
To-morrow would be time. He filled and lighted his pipe, and in the
whitish fumes of his tobacco he could picture quite easily the gray,
dead face of Tavish, hanging at the end of his meat rack. Pacing
restlessly back and forth across his room, he recalled the scenes of
that night, and of days and nights that had followed. Brokaw had given
him the key that was unlocking door after door. "Guess he was a little
crazy," Brokaw had said, speaking of Tavish as he had last known him on
the Firepan. Crazy! Going mad! And at last he had killed himself. Was it
possible that a man of Tavish's sort could be haunted for so long by
spectres of the past? It seemed unreasonable. He thought of Father
Roland and of the mysterious room in the Château, where he worshipped at
the shrine of a woman and a child who were gone.

He clenched his hands, and stopped himself. What had leapt into his mind
was as startling to his inner consciousness as the unexpected flash of
magnesium in a dark room. It was unthinkable--impossible; and yet,
following it, he found himself face to face with question after question
which he made no effort to answer. He was dazed for a moment as if by
the terrific impact of a thing which had neither weight nor form.
Tavish, the woman, the girl--Father Roland! Absurd. He shook himself,
literally shook himself, to get rid of that wildly impossible idea. He
drove his mind back to the photograph of the girl--and the woman. How
had she come into possession of the picture which Brokaw had taken? What
had Nisikoos tried to say to Marge O'Doone in those last moments when
she was dying--whispered words which the girl had not heard because she
was crying, and her heart was breaking? Did Nisikoos know that the
mother was alive? Had she sent the picture to her when she realized that
the end of her own time was drawing near? There was something
unreasonable in this too, but it was the only solution that came to him.

He was still pacing his room when the creaking of the door stopped him.
It was opening slowly and steadily and apparently with extreme caution.
In another moment Marge O'Doone stood inside. He had not seen her face
so white before. Her eyes were big and glowing darkly--pools of
quivering fear, of wild and imploring supplication. She ran to him, and
clung to him with her hands at his shoulders, her face close to his.

"_Sakewawin_--dear _Sakewawin_--we must go; we must hurry--to-night!"

She was trembling, fairly shivering against him, with one hand touching
his face now, and he put his arms about her gently.

"What is it, child?" he whispered, his heart choking suddenly. "What has
happened?"

"We must run away! We must hurry!"

At the touch of his arms she had relaxed against his breast. The last of
her courage seemed gone. She was limp, and terrified, and was looking up
at him in such a strange way that he was filled with alarm.

"I didn't tell him anything," she whispered, as if afraid he would not
believe her. "I didn't tell him you weren't that man--Mac--McKenna. He
heard you and Brokaw go when you passed my room. Then he went to the
men. I followed--and listened. I heard him telling them about you--that
you were a spy--that you belonged to the provincial police...."

A sound in the hall interrupted her. She grew suddenly tense in his
arms, then slipped from them and ran noiselessly to the door. There were
shuffling steps outside, a thick voice growling unintelligibly. The
sounds passed. Marge O'Doone was whiter still when she faced David.

"Hauck--and Brokaw!" She stood there, with her back to the door. "We
must hurry, _Sakewawin_. We must go--to-night!"

David looked at her. A spy? Police? Quite the first thing for Hauck to
suspect, of course. That law of self-preservation again--the same law
that would compel them to give up the girl to him to-morrow. He found
himself smiling at his frightened little companion, backed there against
the door, white as death. His calmness did not reassure her.

"He said--you were a spy," she repeated, as if he must understand what
that meant. "They wanted to follow you to Brokaw's cabin--and--and kill
you!"

This was coming to the bottom of her fear with a vengeance. It sent a
mild sort of a shiver through him, and corroborated with rather
disturbing emphasis what he had seen in the men's faces as he passed
among them.

"And Hauck wouldn't let them? Was that it?" he asked.

She nodded, clutching a hand at her throat.

"He told them to do nothing until he saw Brokaw. He wanted to be
certain. And then...."

His amazing and smiling composure seemed to choke back the words on her
lips.

"You must return to your room, Marge," he said quickly. "Hauck has now
seen Brokaw and there will be no trouble such as you fear. I can promise
you that. To-morrow we will leave the Nest openly--and with Hauck's and
Brokaw's permission. But should they find you here now--in my room--I am
quite sure we should have immediate trouble on our hands. I've a great
deal to tell you--much that will make you glad, but I half expect
another visit from Hauck, and you must hurry to your room."

He opened the door slightly, and listened.

"Good-night," he whispered, putting a hand for an instant to her hair.

"Good night, _Sakewawin_."

She hesitated for just a moment at the doors and then, with the faintest
sobbing breath, was gone. What wonderful eyes she had! How they had
looked at him in that last moment! David's fingers were trembling a
little as he locked his door. There was a small mirror on the table and
he held it up to look at himself. He regarded his reflection with grim
amusement. He was not beautiful. The scrub of blond beard on his face
gave him rather an outlawish appearance. And the gray hair over his
temples had grown quite conspicuous of late, quite conspicuous indeed.
Heredity? Perhaps--but it was confoundedly remindful of the fact that he
was thirty-eight!

He went to bed, after placing the table against the door, and his
automatic under his pillow--absurd and unnecessary details of caution,
he assured himself. And while Marge O'Doone sat awake close to the door
of her room all night, with a little rifle that had belonged to Nisikoos
across her lap, David slept soundly in the amazing confidence and
philosophy of that perilous age--thirty-eight!



CHAPTER XXIII


A series of sounds that came to him at first like the booming of distant
cannon roused David from his slumber. He awoke to find broad day in his
room and a knocking at his door. He began to dress, calling out that he
would open it in a moment, and was careful to place the automatic in his
pocket before he lifted the table without a sound to its former position
in the room. When he flung open the door he was surprised to find Brokaw
standing there instead of Hauck. It was not the Brokaw of last night. A
few hours had produced a remarkable change in the man. One would not
have thought that he had been recently drunk. He was grinning and
holding out one of his huge hands as he looked into David's face.

"Morning, Raine," he greeted affably. "Hauck sent me to wake you up for
the fun. You've got just time to swallow your breakfast before we put on
the big scrap--the scrap I told you about last night, when I was drunk.
Head-over-heels drunk, wasn't I? Took you for a friend I knew. Funny.
You don't look a dam' bit like him!"

David shook hands with him. In his first astonishment Brokaw's manner
appeared to him to be quite sincere, and his voice to be filled with
apology. This impression was gone before he had dropped his hand, and he
knew why Hauck's partner had come. It was to get a good look at him--to
make sure that he was not McKenna; and it was also with the strategic
purpose of removing whatever suspicions David might have by an outward
show of friendship. For this last bit of work Brokaw was crudely out of
place. His eyes, like a bad dog's, could not conceal what lay behind
them--hatred, a deep and intense desire to grip the throat of this man
who had tricked him; and his grin was forced, with a subdued sort of
malevolence about it. David smiled back.

"You _were_ drunk," he said. "I had a deuce of a time trying to make you
understand that I wasn't McKenna."

That amazing lie seemed for a moment to daze Brokaw. David realized the
audacity of it, and knew that Brokaw would remember too well what had
happened to believe him. Its effect was what he was after, and if he had
had a doubt as to the motive of the other's visit that doubt disappeared
almost as quickly as he had spoken. The grin went out of Brokaw's face,
his jaws tightened, the red came nearer to the surface in the bloodshot
eyes. As plainly as if he were giving voice to his thought he was
saying: "You lie!" But he kept back the words, and as David noted
carelessly the slow clenching and unclenching of his hands, he believed
that Hauck was not very far away, and that it was his warning and the
fact that he was possibly listening to them, that restrained Brokaw from
betraying himself completely. As it was, the grin returned slowly into
his face.

"Hauck says he's sorry he couldn't have breakfast with you," he said.
"Couldn't wait any longer. The Indian's going to bring your breakfast
here. You'd better hurry if you want to see the fun."

With this he turned and walked heavily toward the end of the hall.
David glanced across at the door of Marge's room. It was closed. Then he
looked at his watch. It was almost nine o'clock! He felt like swearing
as he thought of what he had missed--that breakfast with Hauck and the
Girl. He would undoubtedly have had an opportunity of seeing Hauck alone
for a little while--a quarter of an hour would have been enough; or he
could have settled the whole matter in Marge's presence. He wondered
where she was now. In her room?

Approaching footsteps caused him to draw back deeper into his own and a
moment later his promised breakfast appeared, carried on a big Company
_keyakun_, by an old Indian woman--undoubtedly the woman that Marge had
told him about. She placed the huge plate on his table and withdrew
without either looking at him or uttering a sound. He ate hurriedly, and
finished dressing himself after that. It was a quarter after nine when
he went into the hall. In passing Marge's door he knocked. There came no
response from within. He turned and passed through the big room in which
he had seen so many unfriendly faces the night before. It was empty now.
The stillness of the place began to fill him with uneasiness, and he
hurried out into the day. A low tumult of sound was in the air,
unintelligible and yet thrilling. A dozen steps brought him to the end
of the building and he looked toward the cage. For a space after that he
stood without moving, filled with a sudden, sickening horror as he
realized his helplessness in this moment. If he had not overslept, if he
had talked with Hauck, he might have prevented this monstrous thing that
was happening--he might have demanded that Tara be a part of their
bargain. It was too late now. An excited and yet strangely quiet crowd
was gathered about the cage--a crowd so tense and motionless that he
knew the battle was on. A low, growling roar came to him, and again he
heard that tumult of human voices, like a great gasp rising
spontaneously out of half a hundred throats, and in response to the
sound he gave a sudden cry of rage. Tara was already battling for his
life--Tara, that great, big-souled brute who had learned to follow his
little mistress like a protecting dog, and who had accepted _him_ as a
friend--Tara, grown soft and lazy and unwarlike because of his voluntary
slavery, had been offered to the sacrifice which Brokaw had told him was
inevitable!

And the Girl! Where was she? He was unconscious of the fact that his
hand was gripping hard at the automatic in his pocket. For a space his
brain burned red, seething with a physical passion, a consuming anger
which, in all his life, had never been roused so terrifically within
him. He rushed forward and took his place in the thin circle of watching
men. He did not look at their faces. He did not know whether he stood
next to white men or Indians. He did not see the blaze in their eyes,
the joyous trembling of their bodies, their silent, savage exultation in
the spectacle.

He was looking at the cage.

It was 20 feet square--built of small trees almost a foot in diameter,
with 18-inch spaces between--and out of it came a sickening, grinding
smash of jaws. The two beasts were down, a ton of flesh and bone, in
what seemed to him to be a death embrace. For a moment he could not tell
which was Tara and which was Brokaw's grizzly. They separated in that
same breath, gained their feet, and stood facing each other. They must
have been fighting for some minutes. Tara's jaws were foaming with blood
and out of the throat of Brokaw's bear there rolled a rumbling, snarling
roar that was like the deep-chested bellow of an angry bull. With that
roar they came together again, Tara waiting stolidly and with panting
sides for the rush of his enemy. It was hard for David to see what was
happening in that twisting contortion of huge bodies, but as they rolled
heavily to one side he saw a great red splash of blood where they had
lain. It looked as if some one had poured it there out of a pail.

Suddenly a hand fell on his shoulder. He looked round. Brokaw was
leering at him.

"Great scrap, eh?"

There was a look in his red face that revealed the pitiless savagery of
a cat. David's clenched hand was as hard as iron and his brain was
filled with a wild desire to strike. He fought to hold himself in.

"Where is--the Girl?" he demanded.

Brokaw's face revealed his hatred now, the taunting triumph of his power
over this man who was a spy. He bared his yellow teeth in an exultant
grin.

"Tricked her," he snarled. "Tricked her--like you tricked me! Got the
Indian woman to steal her clothes, an' she's up there in her
room--alone--_an' naked_! An' she won't have any clothes until I say so,
for she's mine--body and soul...."

David's clenched hand shot out, and in his blow was not alone the
cumulated force of all his years of training but also of the one great
impulse he had ever had to kill. In that instant he wanted to strike a
man dead--a red-visaged monster, a fiend; and his blow sent Brokaw's
huge body reeling backward, his head twisted as if his neck had been
broken. He had not time to see what happened after that blow. He did not
see Brokaw fall. A piercing interruption--a scream that startled every
drop of blood in his body--turned him toward the cage. Ten paces from
him, standing at the inner edge of that circle of astounded and
petrified men, was the Girl! At first he thought she was standing naked
there--naked under the staring eyes of the fiends about him. Her white
arms gleamed bare, her shoulders and breast were bare, her slim, satiny
body was naked to the waist, about which she had drawn tightly--as if in
a wild panic of haste--an old and ragged skirt! It was the Indian
woman's skirt. He caught the glitter of beads on it, and for a moment he
stared with the others, unable to move or cry out her name. And then a
breath of wind flung back her hair and he saw her face the colour of
marble. She was like a piece of glistening statuary, without a quiver of
life that his eyes could see, without a movement, without a breath. Only
her hair moved, stirred by the air, flooded by the sun, floating about
her shoulders and down her bare back in a lucent cloud of red and gold
fires--and out of this she was staring at the cage, stunned into that
lifeless and unbreathing posture of horror by what she saw. David did
not follow her eyes. He heard the growl and roar and clashing jaws of
the fighting beasts; they were down again; one of the 6-inch trees that
formed the bars of the cage snapped like a walking stick as their great
bodies lurched against it; the earth shook, the very air seemed to
tremble with the terrific force of the struggle--and only the Girl was
looking at that struggle. Every eye was on her now, and David sprang
suddenly forth from the circle of men, calling her name.

Ten paces separated them; half that distance lay between the Girl and
the cage. With the swiftness of an arrow sprung from the bow she had
leaped into life and crossed that space. In a tenth part of a second
David would have been at her side. He was that tenth of a second too
late. A gleaming shaft, she had passed between the bars and a tumult of
horrified voices rose above the roar of battle as the girl sprang at the
beasts with her naked hands.

Her voice came to David in a scream.

"Tara--Tara--Tara----"

His brain reeled when he saw her down--down!--with her little fists
pummelling at a great, shaggy head; and in him there was the sickening
weakness of a drunken man as he squeezed through that 18-inch aperture
and almost fell at her side. He did not know that he had drawn his
automatic; he scarcely realized that as fast as his fingers could press
the trigger he was firing shot after shot, with the muzzle of his pistol
so close to the head of Tara's enemy that the reports of the weapon were
deadened as if muffled under a thick blanket. It was a heavy weapon. A
stream of lead burned its way into the grizzly's brain. There were
eleven shots and he fired them all in that wild, blood-red frenzy; and
when he stood up he had the girl close in his arms, her naked breast
throbbing pantingly against him. The clasp of his hands against her
warm flesh cleared his head, and while Tara was rending at the throat
of his dying foe, David drew her swiftly out of the cage and flung about
her the light jacket he had worn.

"Go to your room," he said. "Tara is safe. I will see that no harm comes
to him now."

The cordon of men separated for them as he led her through. The crowd
was so silent that they could hear Tara's low throat-growling. And then,
breaking that silence in a savage cry, came Brokaw's voice.

"Stop!"

He faced them, huge, terrible, quivering with rage. A step behind him
was Hauck, and there was no longer in his face an effort to conceal his
murderous intentions. Close behind Hauck there gathered quickly his
white-faced whisky-mongers like a pack of wolves waiting for a lead-cry.
David expected that cry to come from Brokaw. The Girl expected it, and
she clung to David's shoulders, her bloodless face turned to the danger.

It was Brokaw who gave the signal to the men.

"Clear out the cage!" he bellowed. "This damned spy has killed my bear
and he's got to fight me! Do you understand? Clear out the cage!"

He thrust his head and bull shoulders forward until his foul, hot breath
touched their faces, and his red neck was swollen like the neck of a
cobra with the passion of his jealousy and hatred.

"And in that fight--I'm going to kill you!" he hissed.

It was Hauck who put his hands on the Girl.

"Go with him," whispered David, as her arms tightened about his
shoulders. "You must go with him, Marge--if I am to have a chance!"

Her face was against him. She was talking, low, swiftly, for his ears
alone--with Hauck already beginning to pull her away.

"I will go to the house. When you see me at that window, fall on your
face. I have a rifle--I will shoot him dead--from the window...."

Perhaps Hauck heard. David wondered as he caught the glitter in his eyes
when he drew the Girl away. He heard the crash of the big gate to the
cage, and Tara, ambled out and took his way slowly and limpingly toward
the edge of the forest. When he saw the Girl again, he was standing in
the centre of the cage, his feet in a pool of blood that smeared the
ground. She was struggling with Hauck, struggling to break from him and
get to the house. And now he knew that Hauck had heard, and that he
would hold her there, and that her eyes would be on him while Brokaw was
killing him. For he knew that Brokaw would fight to kill. It would not
be a square fight. It would be murder--if the chance came Brokaw's way.
The thought did not frighten him. He was growing strangely calm in these
moments. He realized the advantage of being unencumbered, and he
stripped off his shirt, and tightened his belt. And then Brokaw entered.
The giant had stripped himself to the waist, and he stood for a moment
looking at David, a monster with the lust of murder in his eyes. It was
frightfully unequal--this combat. David felt it, he was blind if he did
not see it, and yet he was still unafraid. A great silence fell. Cutting
it like a knife came the Girl's voice:

"_Sakewawin--Sakewawin...._"

A brutish growl rose out of Brokaw's chest. He had heard that cry, and
it stung him like an asp.

"To-night, she will be with me," he taunted David and lowered his head
for battle.



CHAPTER XXIV


David no longer saw the horde of faces beyond the thick bars of the
cage. His last glance, shot past the lowered head and hulking shoulders
of his giant adversary, went to the Girl. He noticed that she had ceased
her struggling and was looking toward him. After that his eyes never
left Brokaw's face. Until now it had not seemed that Brokaw was so big
and so powerful, and, sizing up his enemy in that moment before the
first rush, he realized that his one hope was to keep him from using his
enormous strength at close quarters. A clinch would be fatal. In
Brokaw's arms he would be helpless; he was conscious of an unpleasant
thrill as he thought how easy it would be for the other to break his
back, or snap his neck, if he gave him the opportunity. Science! What
would it avail him here, pitted against this mountain of flesh and bone
that looked as though it might stand the beating of clubs without being
conquered! His first blow returned his confidence, even if it had
wavered slightly. Brokaw rushed. It was an easy attack to evade, and
David's arm shot out and his fist landed against Brokaw's head with a
sound that was like the crack of a whip. Hauck would have gone down
under that blow like a log. Brokaw staggered. Even he realized that this
was science--the skill of the game--and he was grinning as he advanced
again. He could stand a hundred blows like that--a grim and ferocious
Achilles with but one vulnerable point, the end of his jaw. David waited
and watched for his opportunity as he gave ground slowly. Twice they
circled about the blood-spattered arena, Brokaw following him with
leisurely sureness, and yet delaying his attack as if in that steady
retreat of his victim he saw torture too satisfying to put an end to at
once. David measured his carelessness, the slow almost unguarded
movement of his great body, his unpreparedness for a _coup de main_--and
like a flash he launched himself forward with all the weight of his body
behind his effort.

It missed the other's jaw by two inches, that catapeltic blow--striking
him full in the mouth, breaking his yellow teeth and smashing his thick
lips so that the blood sprang out in a spray over his hairy chest, and
as his head rocked backward David followed with a swift left-hander, and
a second time missed the jaw with his right--but drenched his clenched
fist in blood. Out of Brokaw there came a cry that was like the low roar
of a beast; a cry that was the most inhuman sound David had ever heard
from a human throat, and in an instant he found himself battling not for
victory, not for that opportunity he twice had missed, but for his life.
Against that rushing bulk, enraged almost to madness, the ingenuity of
his training alone saved him from immediate extinction. How many times
he struck in the 120 seconds following his blow to Brokaw's mouth he
could never have told. He was red with Brokaw's blood. His face was warm
with it. His hands were as if painted, so often did they reach with
right and left to Brokaw's gory visage. It was like striking at a
monstrous thing without the sense of hurt, a fiend that had no brain
that blows could sicken, a body that was not a body but an enormity that
had strangely taken human form. Brokaw had struck him once--only
once--in those two minutes, but blows were not what he feared now. He
was beating himself to pieces, literally beating himself to pieces as a
ship might have hammered itself against a reef, and fighting with every
breath to keep himself out of the fatal clinch. His efforts were costing
him more than they were costing his antagonist. Twice he had reached his
jaw, twice Brokaw's head had rocked back on his shoulders--and then he
was there again, closing in on him, grinning, dripping red to the soles
of his feet, unconquerable. Was there no fairness out there beyond the
bars of the cage? Were they all like the man he was fighting--devils? An
intermission--only half a minute. Enough to give him a chance. The slow,
invincible beast he was hammering almost had him as his thoughts
wandered. He only half fended the sledge-like blow that came straight
for his face. He ducked, swung up his guard like lightning, and was
saved from death by a miracle. That blow would have crushed in his
face--killed him. He knew it. Brokaw's huge fist landed against the side
of his head and grazed off like a bullet that had struck the slanting
surface of a rock. Yet the force of it was sufficient to send him
crashing against the bars--and _down_.

In that moment he thanked God for Brokaw's slowness. He had a clear
recollection afterward of almost having spoken the words as he lay dazed
and helpless for an infinitesimal space of time. He expected Brokaw to
end it there. But Brokaw stood mopping the blood from his face, as if
partly blinded by it, while from beyond the cage there came a swiftly
growing rumble of voices. He heard a scream. It was the scream--the
agonized cry--of the Girl, that brought him to his feet while Brokaw was
still wiping the hot flow from his dripping jaw. It was that cry that
cleared his brain, that called out to him in its despair that he _must_
win, that all was lost for her as well as for himself if he was
vanquished--for more positively than at any other time during the fight
he felt now that defeat would mean death. It had come to him definitely
in the savage outcry of joy when he was down. There was to be no mercy.
He had read the ominous decree. And Brokaw....

He was like a madman as he came toward him again. There was no longer
the leer on his face. There was in his battered and swollen countenance
but one emotion. Blood and hurt could not hide it. It blazed like fires
in his half-closed eyes. It was the desire to kill. The passion which
quenches itself in the taking of life, and every fibre in David's brain
rose to meet it. He knew that it was no longer a matter of blows on his
part--it was like the David of old facing Goliath with his bare hands.
Curiously the thought of Goliath came to him in these flashing moments.
Here, too, there must be trickery, something unexpected, a deadly
stratagem, and his brain must work out his salvation quickly. Another
two or three minutes and it would be over one way or the other. He made
his decision. The tricks of his own art were inadequate, but there was
still one hope--one last chance. It was the so-called "knee-break" of
the bush country, a horrible thing, he had thought, when Father Roland
had taught it to him. "Break your opponent's knees," the Missioner had
said, "and you've got him." He had never practised it. But he knew the
method, and he remembered the Little Missioner's words--"when he's
straight facing you, with all your weight, like a cannon ball!" And
suddenly he shot himself out like that, as Brokaw was about to rush upon
him--a hundred and sixty pounds of solid flesh and bone against the
joints of Brokaw's knees!

The shock dazed him. There was a sharp pain in his left shoulder, and
with that shock and pain he was conscious of a terrible cry as Brokaw
crashed over him. He was on his feet when Brokaw was on his knees.
Whether or not they were really broken he could not tell. With all the
strength in his body he sent his right again and again to the bleeding
jaw of his enemy. Brokaw reached up and caught him in his huge arms, but
that jaw was there, unprotected, and David battered it as he might have
battered a rock with a hammer. A gasping cry rose out of the giant's
throat, his head sank backward--and through a red fury, through blood
that spattered up into his face, David continued to strike until the
arms relaxed about him, and with a choking gurgle of blood in his
throat, Brokaw dropped back limply, as if dead.

And then David looked again beyond the bars. The staring faces had drawn
nearer to the cage, bewildered, stupefied, disbelieving, like the faces
of stone images. For a space it was so quiet that it seemed to him they
must hear his panting breath and the choking gurgle that was still in
Brokaw's throat. The victor! He flung back his shoulders and held up his
head, though he had great desire to stagger against one of the bars and
rest. He could see the Girl and Hauck--and now the girl was standing
alone, looking at him. She had seen him! She had seen him beat that
giant beast, and a great pride rose in his breast and spread in a joyous
light over his bloody face. Suddenly he lifted his hand and waved it at
her. In a flash she was coming to him. She would have broken her way
through the cordon of men, but Hauck stopped her. He had seen Hauck
talking swiftly to two of the white men. And now Hauck caught the girl
and held her back. David knew that he was dripping red and he was glad
that she came no nearer. Hauck was telling her to go to the house, and
David nodded, and with a movement of his hand made her understand that
she must obey. Not until he saw her going did he pick up his shirt and
step out among the men. Three or four of the whites went to Brokaw. The
rest stared at him still in that amazed silence as he passed among them.
He nodded and smiled at them, as though beating Brokaw had not been such
a terrible task after all. He noticed there was scarcely an expression
in the faces of the Indians. And then he found himself face to face with
Hauck, and a step or two behind Hauck were the two white men he had
talked to so hurriedly. One of them was the man David had brushed
against in passing through the big room. There was a grin in his face
now. There was a grin in Hauck's face, and a grin in the face of the
third man, and to David's astonishment Hauck thrust out his hand.

"Shake, Raine! I'd have bet a thousand to fifty you were loser, but
there wasn't a dollar going your way. A great fight!"

He turned to the other two.

"Take Raine to his room, boys. Help 'im wash up. I've got to see to
Brokaw--an' this crowd."

David protested. He was all right. He needed only water and soap, both
of which were in his room, but Hauck insisted that it wasn't square, and
wouldn't look right, if he didn't have friends as well as Brokaw. Brokaw
had forced the affair so suddenly that none of them had had time or
thought to speak an encouraging or friendly word before the fight.
Langdon and Henry would go with him now. He walked between the two to
the Nest, and entered his room with them. Langdon, the tall man who had
looked hatred at him last night, poured water into a tin basin while
Henry, the smaller man, closed his door. They appeared quite
companionable, especially Langdon.

"Didn't like you last night," he confessed frankly. "Thought you was one
of them damned police, running your nose into our business mebby."

He stood beside David, with the pail of water in his hand, and as David
bent over the basin Henry was behind him. He had drawn something from
his pocket, and was edging up close. As David dipped his hands in the
water he looked up into Langdon's face, and he saw there a strange and
unexpected change--that deadly malignity of last night. In that moment
the object in Henry's hand fell with terrific force on his head and he
crumpled down over the basin. He was conscious of a single agonizing
pain, like a hot iron thrust suddenly through him, and then a great and
engulfing pit of darkness closed about him.



CHAPTER XXV


In that chaotic night in which he was drifting, David experienced
neither pain nor very much of the sense of life. And yet, without seeing
or feeling, he seemed to be living. All was dead within him but that
last consciousness, which is almost the spirit; he might have been
dreaming, and minutes, hours, or even years might have passed in that
dream. For a long time he seemed to be sinking through the blackness;
and then something stopped him, without jar or shock, and he was rising.
He could hear nothing at first. There was a vast silence about him, a
silence as deep and unbroken as the abysmal pit in which he seemed to be
floating. After that he felt himself swaying and rocking, as though
tossed gently on the billows of a sea. This was the first thought that
took shape in his struggling brain--he was at sea; he was on a ship in
the heart of a black night, and he was alone. He tried to call out, but
his tongue seemed gone. It seemed a long time before day broke, and then
it was strange day. Little needles of light pricked his eyes; silver
strings shot like flashes of wave-like lightning through the darkness,
and he began to feel, and to hear. A dozen hands seemed holding him down
until he could move neither arms nor feet. He heard voices. There
appeared to be many of them at first, an unintelligible rumble of
voices, and then very swiftly they became two.

He opened his eyes. The first thing that he observed was a bar of
sunlight against the eastern wall of his room. That bit of sunlight was
like a magnet thrown there to reassemble the faculties that had drifted
away from him in the dark night of his unconsciousness. It tried to tell
him, first of all, that it was afternoon--quite late in the afternoon.
He would have sensed that fact in another moment or two, but something
came between him and the radiance flung by the westward slant of the
sun. It was a face, two faces--first Hauck's and then Brokaw's! Yes,
Brokaw was there! Staring down at him. A fiend still. And almost
unrecognizable. He was no longer stripped, and he was no longer bloody.
His countenance was swollen; his lips were raw, one eye was closed--but
the other gleamed like a devil's. David tried to sit up. He managed with
an effort, and balanced himself on the edge of his cot. His head was
dizzy, and he felt clumsy and helpless as a stuffed bag. His hands were
tied behind him, and his feet were bound. He thought Hauck looked like
an exultant gargoyle as he stood there with a horrible grin on his face,
and Brokaw....

It was Brokaw who bent over him, his thick fingers knotting, his open
eyes fairly livid.

"I'm glad you ain't dead, Raine."

His voice was husky, muffled by the swollen thickness of his battered
lips.

"Thanks," said David. The dizziness was leaving him, but there was a
steady pain in his head. He tried to smile. "Thanks!" It was rather
idiotic of him to say that. Brokaw's hands were moving slowly toward his
throat when Hauck drew him back.

"I won't touch him--not now," he growled. "But to-night--oh, God!"

His knuckles snapped.

"You--liar! You--spy! You--sneak!" he cursed through his broken teeth.
David saw where they _had_ been--a cavity in that cruel, battered mouth.
"And you think, after that...."

Again Hauck tried to draw him away. Brokaw flung off his hands angrily.

"I won't touch him--but I'll _tell_ him, Hauck! The devil take me body
and soul if I don't! I want him to know...."

"You're a fool!" cried Hauck. "Stop, or by Heaven!..."

Brokaw opened his mouth and laughed, and David saw the havoc of his
blows.

"You'll do _what_, Hauck? Nothing--that's what you'll do! Ain't I told
him you killed that _napo_ from MacPherson? Ain't I told him enough to
set us both swinging?" He bent over David until his breath struck his
face. "I'm glad you didn't die, Raine," he repeated, "because I want to
see you when you shuffle off. We're only waiting for the Indians to go.
Old Wapi starts with his tribe at sunset. I'm sorry, but we can't get
the heathen away any earlier because he says it's good luck to start a
journey at sunset in the moulting moon. You'll start yours a little
later--as soon as they're out of sound of a rifle shot. You can't trust
Indians, eh? You made a hit with old Wapi, and it wouldn't do to let him
know we're going to send you where you sent my bear. Eh--would it?"

"You mean--you're going to murder me?" said David

"If standing you up against a tree and putting a bullet through your
heart is murder--yes," gloated Brokaw.

"Murder--" repeated David.

He seemed powerless to say more than that. An overwhelming dizziness was
creeping over him, the pain was splitting his head, and he swayed
backward. He fought to recover himself, to hold himself up, but that
returning sickness reached from his brain to the pit of his stomach, and
with a groan he sank face downward on the cot. Brokaw was still talking,
but he could no longer understand his words. He heard Hauck's sharp
voice, their retreating footsteps, the opening and closing of the
door--fighting all the time to keep himself from falling off into that
black and bottomless pit again. It was many minutes before he drew
himself to a sitting posture on the edge of his cot, this time slowly
and guardedly, so that he would not rouse the pain in his head. It was
there. He could feel it burning steadily and deeply, like one of his
old-time headaches.

The bar of sunlight was gone from the wall, and through the one small
window in the west end of his room he saw the fading light of day
outside. It was morning when he had fought Brokaw; it was now almost
night. The wash-basin was where it had fallen when Henry struck him. He
saw a red stain on the floor where he must have dropped. Then again he
looked at the window. It was rather oddly out of place, so high up that
one could not look in from the outside--a rectangular slit to let in
light, and so narrow that a man could not have wormed his way through
it. He had seen nothing particularly significant in its location last
night, or this morning, but now its meaning struck him as forcibly as
that of the pieces of _babiche_ thong that bound his wrists and ankles.
A guest might be housed in this room without suspicion and at the turn
of a key be made a prisoner. There was no way of escape unless one broke
down the heavy door or cut through the log walls.

Gradually he was overcoming his sensation of sickness. His head was
clearing, and he began to breathe more deeply. He tried to move his
cramped arms. They were without feeling, lifeless weights hung to his
shoulders. With an effort he thrust out his feet. And then--through the
window--there came to him a low, thrilling sound.

It was the muffled _boom_, _boom_, _boom_ of a tom-tom.

Wapi and his Indians were going, and he heard now a weird and growing
chant, a savage paean to the wild gods of the Moulting Moon. A gasp rose
in his throat. It was almost a cry. His last hope was going--with Wapi
and his tribe! Would they help him if they knew? If he shouted? If he
shrieked for them through that open window? It was a mad thought, an
impossible thought, but it set his heart throbbing for a moment. And
then--suddenly--it seemed to stand still. A key rattled, turned; the
door opened--and Marge O'Doone stood before him!

She was panting--sobbing, as if she had been running a long distance.
She made no effort to speak, but dropped at his feet and began sawing at
the caribou _babiche_ with a knife. She had come prepared with that
knife! He felt the bonds snap, and before either had spoken she was at
his back, and his hands were free. They were like lead. She dropped the
knife then, and her hands were at his face--dark with dry stain of
blood, and over and over again she was calling him by the name she had
given him--_Sakewawin_. And then the tribal chant of Wapi and his people
grew nearer and louder as they passed into the forest, and with a
choking cry the Girl drew back from David and stood facing him.

"I--must hurry," she said, swiftly. "Listen! They are going! Hauck or
Brokaw will go as far as the lake with Wapi, and the one who does not go
will return _here_. See, _Sakewawin_--I have brought you a knife! When
he comes--you must kill him!"

The chanting voices had passed. The paean was dying away in the
direction of the forest.

He did not interrupt her. With hand clutched at her breast she went on.

"I waited--until all were out there. They kept me in my room and left
Marcee--the old Indian woman--to watch me. When they were all out to see
Wapi off, I struck her over the head with the end of Nisikoos' rifle.
Maybe she is dead. Tara is out there. I know where to find him when it
is dark. I will make up a pack and within an hour we must go. If Hauck
comes to your room before then, or Brokaw, kill him with the knife,
_Sakewawin_! If you don't--they will kill you!"

Her voice broke in a gasp that was like a sob. He struggled to rise;
stood swaying before her, his legs unsteady as stilts under him.

"My gun, Marge--my pistol!" he demanded, trying to reach out his arms.
"If I had them now...."

"They must have taken them," she interrupted. "But I have Nisikoos'
rifle, _Sakewawin_! Oh--I must hurry! They won't come to my room, and
Marcee is perhaps dead. As soon as it is dark I will unlock your door.
And if one of them comes before then, you must kill him! You must! You
must!"

She backed to the door, and now she opened it, and was gone. A key
clicked in the lock again, he heard her swift footsteps in the hall, and
a second door opened and closed.

For a few minutes he stood without moving, a little dazed by the
suddenness with which she had left him. She had not been in his room
more than a minute or two. She had been terribly frightened, terribly
afraid of discovery before her work was done. On the floor at his feet
lay the knife. _That_ was why she had come, _that_ was what she had
brought him! His blood began to tingle. He could feel it resuming its
course through his numbed legs and arms, and he leaned over slowly, half
afraid that he would lose his balance, and picked up the weapon. The
chanting of Wapi and his people was only a distant murmur; through the
high window came the sound of returning voices--voices of white men.

There swept through him the wild thrill of the thought that once more
the fight was up to him. Marge O'Doone had done her part. She had struck
down the Indian woman Hauck had placed over her as a guard--had escaped
from her room, unbound him, and put a knife into his hands. The rest was
_his_ fight. How long before Brokaw or Hauck would come? Would they give
him time to get the blood running through his body again? Time to gain
strength to use his freedom--and the knife? He began walking slowly
across the room, pumping his arms up and down. His strength returned
quickly. He went to the pail of water and drank deeply with a consuming
thirst. The water refreshed him, and he paced back and forth more and
more swiftly, until he was breathing steadily and he could harden his
muscles and knot his fists. He looked at the knife. It was a horrible
necessity--the burying of that steel in a man's back, or his heart! Was
there no other way, he wondered? He began searching the room. Why hadn't
Marge brought him a club instead of a knife, or at least a club along
with the knife? To club a man down, even when he was intent on murder,
wasn't like letting out his life in a gush of blood.

His eyes rested on the table, and in a moment he had turned it over and
was wrenching at one of the wooden legs. It broke off with a sharp snap,
and he held in his hand a weapon possessing many advantages over the
knife. The latter he thrust into his belt with the handle just back of
his hip. Then he waited.

It was not for long. The western mountains had shut out the last
reflections of the sun. Gloom was beginning to fill his room, and he
numbered the minutes as he stood, with his ear close to the door,
listening for a step, hopeful that it would be the Girl's and not
Hauck's or Brokaw's. At last the step came, advancing from the end of
the hall. It was a heavy step, and he drew a deep breath and gripped the
club. His heart gave a sudden, mighty throb as the step stopped at his
door. It was not pleasant to think of what he was about to do, and yet
he realized, as he heard the key in the lock, that it was a grim and
terrible necessity. He was thankful there was only one. He would not
strike too hard--not in this cowardly way--from ambush. Just enough to
do the business sufficiently well. It would be easy--quite. He raised
his club in the thickening dusk, and held his breath.

The door opened, and Hauck entered, and stood with his back to David.
Horrible! Strike a man like that--and with a club! If he could use his
hands, choke him, give him at least a quarter chance. But it had to be
done. It was a sickening thing. Hauck went down without a groan--so
silently, so lifelessly that David thought he had killed him. He knelt
beside him for a few seconds and made sure that his heart was beating
before he rose to his feet. He looked out into the hall. The lamps had
not been lighted--probably that was one of the old Indian woman's
duties. From the big room came a sound of voices--and then, close to
him, from the door across the way, there came a small trembling voice:

"Hurry, _Sakewawin_! Lock the door--and come!"

For another instant he dropped on his knees at Hauck's side. Yes it was
there--in his pocket--a revolver! He possessed himself of the weapon
with an exclamation of joy, locked the door, and ran across the hall.
The Girl opened her door for him, and closed it behind him as he sprang
into her room. The first object he noticed was the Indian woman. She was
lying on a cot, and her black eyes were levelled at them like the eyes
of a snake. She was trussed up so securely, and was gagged so thoroughly
that he could not restrain a laugh as he bent over her.

"Splendid!" he cried softly. "You're a little brick, Marge--you surely
are! And now--what?"

With his revolver in his hand, and the Girl trembling under his arm, he
felt a ridiculous desire to shout out at the top of his voice to his
enemies letting them know that he was again ready to fight. In the
gloom the Girl's eyes shone like stars.

"Who--was it?" she whispered.

"Hauck."

"Then it was Brokaw who went with Wapi. Langdon and Henry went with him.
It is less than two miles to the lake, and they will be returning soon.
We must hurry! Look--it is growing dark!"

She ran from his arms to the window and he followed her.

"In--fifteen minutes--we will go, Sakewawin. Tara is out there in the
edge of the spruce." Her hand pinched his arm. "Did you--kill him?" she
breathed.

"No. I broke off a leg from the table and stunned him."

"I'm glad," she said, and snuggled close to him shiveringly. "I'm glad,
_Sakewawin_."

In the darkness that was gathering about them it was impossible for him
not to take her in his arms. He held her close, bowing his head so that
for an instant her warm face touched his own; and in those moments while
they waited for the gloom to thicken he told her in a low voice what he
had learned from Brokaw. She grew tense against him as he continued, and
when he assured her he no longer had a doubt her mother was alive, and
that she was the woman he had met on the coach, a cry rose out of her
breast. She was about to speak when loud footsteps in the hall made her
catch her breath, and her fingers clung more tightly at his shoulders.

"It is time," she whispered. "We must go!"

She ran from him quickly and from under the cot where the Indian lay
dragged forth a pack. He could not see plainly what she was doing now.
In a moment she had put a rifle in his hands.

"It belonged to Nisikoos," she said. "There are six shots in it, and
here are all the cartridges I have."

He took them in his hand and counted them as he dropped them into his
pocket. There were eleven in all, including the six in the chamber.
"Thirty-twos," he thought, as he seized them up with his fingers. "Good
for partridges--and short range at men!" He said, aloud: "If we could
get my rifle, Marge...."

"They have taken it," she told him again. "But we shall not need it.
_Sakewawin_," she added, as if his voice had revealed to her the thought
in his mind; "I know of a mountain that is all rock--not so far off as
the one Tara and I climbed--and if we can reach that they will not be
able to trail us. If they should find us...."

She was opening the window.

"What then?" he asked.

"Nisikoos once killed a bear with that gun," she replied.

The window was open, and she was waiting. They thrust out their heads
and listened, and when he had assured himself that all was clear he
dropped out the pack. He lifted Marge down then and followed her. As his
feet struck the ground the slight shock sent a pain through his head
that wrung a low cry from him, and for a moment he leaned with his back
against the wall, almost overcome again by the sickening dizziness. It
was not so dark that the Girl did not see the sudden change in him. Her
eyes filled with alarm.

"A little dizzy," he explained, trying to smile at her. "They gave me a
pretty hard crack on the head, Marge. This air will set me right--soon."

He picked up the pack and followed her. In the edge of the spruce a
hundred yards from the Nest, Tara had been lying all the afternoon,
nursing his wounds.

"I could see him from my window," whispered Marge.

She went straight to him and began talking to him in a low voice. Out of
the darkness behind Tara came a growl.

"Baree, by thunder!" muttered David in amazement.

"He's made up with the bear, Marge! What do you think of that?"

At the sound of his voice Baree came to him and flattened himself at his
feet. David laid a hand on his head.

"Boy!" he whispered softly. "And they said you were an outlaw, and would
join the wolves...."

He saw the dark bulk of Tara rising out of the gloom, and the Girl was
at his side.

"We are ready, _Sakewawin_."

He spoke to her the thought that had been shaping itself in his mind.

"Why wouldn't it be better to join Wapi and his Indians?" he asked,
remembering Brokaw's words.

"Because--they are afraid of Hauck," she replied quickly. "There is but
one way, _Sakewawin_--to follow a narrow trail Tara and I have made,
close to the foot of the range, until we come to the rock mountain.
Shall we risk the bundle on Tara's back?"

"It is light. I will carry it."

"Then give me your hand, _Sakewawin_."

There was again in her voice the joyous thrill of freedom and of
confidence; he could hear for a moment the wild throb of her heart in
its exultation at their escape, and with her warm little hand she
gripped his fingers firmly and guided him into a sea of darkness. The
forest shut them in. Not a ray fell upon them from out of the pale sky
where the stars were beginning to glimmer faintly. Behind them he could
hear the heavy, padded footfall of the big grizzly, and he knew that
Baree was very near. After a little the Girl said, still in a whisper:

"Does your head hurt you now, _Sakewawin_?"

"A bit."

The trail was widening. It was quite smooth for a space, but black.

She pressed his fingers.

"I believe all you have told me," she said, as if making a confession.
"After you came to me in the cage--and the fight--I believed. You must
have loved me a great deal to risk all that for me."

"Yes, a great deal, my child," he answered.

Why did that dizziness persist in his head, he wondered? For a moment he
felt as if he were falling.

"A very great deal," he added, trying to walk steadily at her side, his
own voice sounding unreal and at a great distance from him. "You see--my
child--I didn't have anything to love but your picture...."

What a fool he was to try and make himself heard above the roaring in
his head! His words seemed to him whispers coming across a great space.
And the bundle on his shoulders was like a crushing weight bearing him
down! The voice at his side was growing fainter. It was saying things
which afterward he could not remember, but he knew that it was talking
about the woman he had said was her mother, and that he was answering it
while weights of lead were dragging at his feet. Then suddenly, he had
stepped over the edge of the world and was floating in that vast, black
chaos again. The voice did not leave him. He could hear it sobbing,
entreating him, urging him to do something which he could not
understand; and when at last he did begin to comprehend it he knew also
that he was no longer walking with weights at his feet and a burden on
his shoulders, but was on the ground. His head was on her breast, and
she was no longer speaking to him, but was crying like a child with a
heart utterly broken. The deathly sickness was gone as quickly as it had
stricken him, and he struggled upward, with her arms helping him.

"You are hurt--hurt--" he heard her moaning. "If I can only get you on
Tara, _Sakewawin_, on Tara's back--there--a step...." and he knew that
was what she had been saying over and over again, urging him to help
himself if he could, so that she could get him to Tara. He reached out
his hand and buried it in the thick hair of the grizzly, and he tried to
speak laughingly so that she would not know his fears.

"One is often dizzy--like that--after a blow," he said, "I guess--I can
walk now."

"No, no, you must ride Tara," she insisted. "You are hurt--and you must
ride Tara, _Sakewawin_. You must!"

She was lifting at his arms with all her strength, her breath hot and
panting in his face, and Tara stood without moving a muscle of his giant
body, as if he, too, were urging upon him in this dumb manner the
necessity of obeying his mistress. Even then David would have
remonstrated but he felt once more that appalling sickness creeping
over him, and he raised himself slowly astride the grizzly's broad back.
The Girl picked up the bundle and rifle and Tara followed her through
the darkness. To David the beast's great back seemed a wonderfully safe
and comfortable place, and he leaned forward with his fingers clutched
deeply in the long hair of the ruff about the bear's bulking shoulders.

The Girl called back to him softly:

"You are all right, _Sakewawin_?"

"Yes, it is so comfortable that I feel I may fall asleep," he replied.

Out in the starlight she would have seen his drooping head, and his
words would have had a different meaning for her. He was fighting with
himself desperately, and in his heart was a great fear. He must be badly
hurt, he thought. There came to him a distorted but vivid vision of an
Indian hurt in the head, whom he and Father Roland had tried to save.
Without a surgeon it had been impossible. The Indian had died, and he
had had those same spells of sickness, the sickness that was creeping
over him again in spite of his efforts to fight it off. He had no very
clear notion of the movement of Tara's body under him, but he knew that
he was holding on grimly, and that every little while the Girl called
back to him, and he replied. Then came the time when he failed to
answer, and for a space the rocking motion under him ceased and the
Girl's voice was very near to him. Afterward motion resumed. It seemed
to him that he was travelling a great distance. Altogether too far
without a halt for sleep, or at least a rest. He was conscious of a
desire to voice protest--and all the time his fingers were clasped in
Tara'a mane in a sort of death grip.

In her breast Marge's heart was beating like a hunted thing, and over
and over again she sobbed out a broken prayer as she guided Tara and his
burden through the night. From the forest into the starlit open; from
the open into the thick gloom of forest again--into and out of starlight
and darkness, following that trail down the valley. She was no longer
thinking of the rock mountain, for it would be impossible now to climb
over the range into the other valley. She was heading for a cabin. An
old and abandoned cabin, where they could hide. She tried to tell David
about it, many days after they had begun that journey it seemed to him.

"Only a little longer, _Sakewawin_," she cried, with her arm about him
and her lips close to his bent head. "Only a little longer! They will
not think to search for us there, and you can sleep--sleep...."

Her voice drifted away from him like a low murmur in the tree tops--and
his fingers still clung in that death-grip in the mane at Tara's neck.

And still many other days later they came to the cabin. It was amazing
to him that the Girl should say:

"We are only five miles from the Nest, _Sakewawin_, but they will not
hunt for us here. They will think we have gone farther--or over the
mountains!"

She was putting cold water to his face, and now that there was no longer
the rolling motion under him he was not quite so dizzy. She had unrolled
the bundle and had spread out a blanket, and when he stretched himself
out on this a sense of vast relief came over him. In his confused
consciousness two or three things stood out with rather odd clearness
before he closed his eyes, and the last was a vision of the Girl's face
bending over him, and of her starry eyes looking down at him, and of her
voice urging him gently:

"Try to sleep, _Sakewawin_--try to sleep...."

It was many hours later when he awoke. Hands seemed to be dragging him
forcibly out of a place in which he was very comfortable, and which he
did not want to leave, and a voice was accompanying the hands with an
annoying insistency--a voice which was growing more and more familiar to
him as his sleeping senses were roused. He opened his eyes. It was day,
and Marge was on her knees at his side, tugging at his breast with her
hands and staring wildly into his face.

"Wake, _Sakewawin_--wake, wake!" he heard her crying. "Oh, my God, you
must wake! _Sakewawin--Sakewawin_--they have found our trail--and I can
see them coming up the valley!"



CHAPTER XXVI


Scarcely had David sensed the Girl's words of warning than he was on his
feet. And now, when he saw her, he thanked God that his head was clear,
and that he could fight. Even yesterday, when she had stood before the
fighting bears, and he had fought Brokaw, she had not been whiter than
she was now. Her face told him of their danger before he had seen it
with his own eyes. It told him that their peril was appallingly near and
there was no chance of escaping it. He saw for the first time that his
bed on the ground had been close to the wall of an old cabin which was
in a little dip in the sloping face of the mountain. Before he could
take in more, or discover a visible sign of their enemies, Marge had
caught his hand and was drawing him to the end of the shack. She did not
speak as she pointed downward. In the edge of the valley, just beginning
the ascent, were eight or ten men. He could not determine their exact
number for as he looked they were already disappearing under the face of
the lower dip in the mountain. They were not more than four or five
hundred yards away. It would take them a matter of twenty minutes to
make the ascent to the cabin.

He looked at Marge. Despairingly she pointed to the mountain behind
them. For a quarter of a mile it was a sheer wall of red sandstone.
Their one way of flight lay downward, practically into the faces of
their enemies.

"I was going to rouse you before it was light, _Sakewawin_," she
explained in a voice that was dead with hopelessness. "I kept awake for
hours, and then I fell asleep. Baree awakened me, and now--it is too
late."

"Yes, too late to _run_!" said David.

A flash of fire leaped into her eyes.

"You mean...."

"We can fight!" he cried. "Good God, Marge--if only I had my own rifle
now!" He thrust a hand into his pocket and drew forth the cartridges she
had given him. "Thirty-twos! And only eleven of them! It's got to be a
short range for us. We can't put up a running fight for they'd keep out
of range of this little pea-shooter and fill me as full of holes as a
sieve!"

She was tugging at his arm.

"The cabin, _Sakewawin_!" she exclaimed with sudden inspiration. "It has
a strong bar at the door, and the clay has fallen in places from between
the logs leaving openings through which you can shoot!"

He was examining Nisikoos' rifle.

"At 150 yards it should be good for a man," he said. "You get Tara and
the pack inside, Marge. I'm going to try to get two or three of our
friends as they come up over the knoll down there. They won't be looking
for bullets this early in the game and I'll have them at a disadvantage.
If I'm lucky enough to get Hauck and Brokaw...."

His eyes had selected a big rock twenty yards from the cabin from which
he could overlook the slope to the first dip below them, and as Marge
darted from him to get Tara into the cabin he crouched behind the
boulder and waited. He figured that it was not more than 150 yards to
the point where their pursuers would first appear, and he made up his
mind that he would wait until they were nearer than that before he
opened fire. Not one of those eleven precious cartridges must be wasted,
for he could count on Hauck's revolver only at close quarters. It was no
longer a time for doubt or indecision. Brokaw and Hauck were
deliberately pushing the fight to a finish, and not to beat them meant
death for himself and a fate for the Girl which made him grip his rifle
more tightly as he waited. He looked behind him and saw Marge leading
Tara into the cabin. Baree had crept up beside him and lay flat on the
ground close to the rock. A moment or two later the Girl reappeared and
ran across the narrow open space to David, and crouched down close to
him.

"You must go into the cabin, Marge," he remonstrated. "They will
probably begin shooting...."

"I'm going to stay with you, _Sakewawin_."

Her face was no longer white. A flush had risen into her cheeks, her
eyes shone as she looked at him--and she smiled. A child! His heart rose
chokingly in his throat. Her face was close to his, and she whispered:

"Last night I kissed you, _Sakewawin_. I thought you were dying. Before
you, I have kissed Nisikoos. Never any one else."

Why did she say that, with that wonderful glow in her eyes? Couldn't be
that she saw death climbing up the mountain? Was it because she wanted
him to know--before that? A child!

She whispered again:

"And you--have never kissed me, _Sakewawin_. Why?"

Slowly he drew her to him, until her head lay against his breast, her
shining eyes and parted lips turned up to him, and he kissed her on the
mouth. A wild flood of colour rushed into her face and her arms crept up
about his shoulders. The glory of her radiant hair covered his breast.
He buried his face in it, and for a moment crushed her so close that she
did not breathe. And then again he kissed her mouth, not once but a
dozen times, and then held her back from him and looked into her face
that was no longer the face of a child, but of a woman.

"Because...." he began, and stopped.

Baree was growling. David peered down the slope.

"They are coming!" he said. "Marge, you must creep back to the cabin!"

"I am going to stay with you, _Sakewawin_. See, I will flatten myself
out like this--with Baree."

She snuggled herself down against the rock and again David peered from
his ambush. Their pursuers were well over the crest of the dip, and he
counted nine. They were advancing in a group and he saw that both Hauck
and Brokaw were in the rear and that they were using staffs in their
toil upward, and did not carry rifles. The remaining seven were armed,
and were headed by Langdon, who was fifteen or twenty yards in advance
of his companions. David made up his mind quickly to take Langdon first,
and to follow up with others who carried rifles. Hauck and Brokaw,
unarmed with guns, were least dangerous just at present. He would get
Brokaw with his fifth shot--the sixth if he made a miss with the fifth.

A thin strip of shale marked his 100-yard dead-line, and the instant
Langdon set his foot on this David fired. He was scarcely conscious of
the yell of defiance that rang from his lips as Langdon whirled in his
tracks and pitched down among the men behind him. He rose up boldly from
behind the rock and fired again. In that huddled and astonished mass he
could not miss. A shriek came up to him. He fired a third time, and he
heard a joyous cry of triumph beside him as their enemies rushed for
safety toward the dip from which they had just climbed. A fourth shot,
and he picked out Brokaw. Twice he missed! His gun was empty when Brokaw
lunged out of view. Langdon remained an inanimate blotch on the strip of
shale. A few steps below him was a second body. A third man was dragging
himself on hands and knees over the crest of the _coulée_. Three--with
six shots! And he had missed Brokaw! Inwardly David groaned as he caught
the Girl by the arm and hurried with her into the cabin, followed by
Baree.

They were not a moment too soon. From over the edge of the _coulée_ came
a fusillade of shots from the heavy-calibre weapons of the mountain men
that sent out sparks of fire from the rock.

As he thrust the remaining five cartridges into the chamber of Nisikoos'
rifle, David looked about the cabin. In one of the farther corners the
huge grizzly sat on his quarters as motionless as if stuffed. In the
centre of the single room was an old box stove partly fallen to pieces.
That was all. Marge had dropped the sapling bar across the door, and
stood with her back against it. There was no window, and the closing of
the door had shut out most of the light. He could see that she was
breathing quickly, and the wonderful light that had come into her eyes
behind the rock was still glowing at him in the half gloom. It gave him
fresh confidence to see her standing like that, looking at him in that
way, telling him without words that a thing had come into her life which
had lifted her above fear. He went to her and took her in his arms
again, and again he kissed her sweet mouth, and felt her heart beating
against him, and the warm thrill of her arms clinging to him.

A splintering crash sent him reeling back into the centre of the cabin
with Marge in his arms. The crash had come simultaneously with the
report of a rifle, and both saw where the bullet had passed through the
door six inches above David's head, carrying a splinter as large as his
arm with it. He had not thought of the door. It was the cabin's
vulnerable point, and he sprang out of line with it as a second bullet
crashed through and buried itself in the log wall at their backs. Baree
growled. A low rumble rose in Tara's throat, but he did not move.

In each of the four log walls were the open chinks which Marge had told
him about, and he sprang to one of these apertures that was wide enough
to let the barrel of his rifle through and looked in the direction from
which the two shots had come. He was in time to catch a movement among
the rocks on the side of the mountain about two hundred yards away, and
a third shot tore its way through the door, glanced from the steel top
of the stove, and struck like a club two feet over Tara's back. There
were two men up there among the rocks, and their first shots were
followed by a steady bombardment that fairly riddled the door. David
could see their heads and shoulders and the gleam and faint puffs of
their rifles, but he held his fire. Where were the other four, he
wondered? Without doubt Hauck and Brokaw were now armed with the rifles
of the men who had fallen, so he had six to deal with. Cautiously he
thrust the muzzle of his rifle through the crack, and watched his
chance, aiming a foot and a half above the spot where a pair of
shoulders and a head would appear in a moment. His chance came, and he
fired. The head and shoulders disappeared, and exultantly he swung his
rifle a little to the right and sent another shot as the second man
exposed himself. He, too, disappeared, and David's heart was thumping
wildly in the thought that his bullets had reached their marks when both
heads appeared again and a hail of lead spattered against the cabin. The
men among the rocks were no longer aiming at the door, but at the spot
from which he had fired, and a bullet ripped through so close that a
splinter stung his face, and he felt the quick warm flow of blood down
his cheek. When the Girl saw it her face went as white as death.

"I can't get them with this rifle, Marge," he groaned. "It's wild--wild
as a hawk! Good God!..."

A crash of fire had come from behind the cabin, and another bullet,
finding one of the gaping cracks, passed between them with a sound like
the buzz of a monster bee. With a sudden cry he caught her in his arms
and held her tight, as if in his embrace he would shield her.

"Is it possible--they would kill _you_ to get me?"

He loosed his hold of her, sprang to the broken stove, and began
dragging it out of the line of fire that came through the door. The Girl
saw his peril and sprang to help him. He had no time to urge her back.
In ten seconds he had the stove close to the wall, and almost forcibly
he made her crouch down behind it.

"If you expose yourself for one second I swear to Heaven I'll stand up
there against the door until I'm shot!" he threatened. "I will, so help
me God!"

His brain was afire. He was no longer cool or self-possessed. He was
blind with a wild rage, with a mad desire to reach in some way, with his
vengeance, the human beasts who were bent on his death even if it was to
be gained at the sacrifice of the Girl. He rushed to the side of the
cabin from which the fresh attack had come, and glared through one of
the embrasures between the logs. He was close to Tara, and he heard the
low, steady thunder that came out of the grizzly's chest. His enemies
were near on this side. Their fire came from the rocks not more than a
hundred yards away, and all at once, in the heat of the great passion
that possessed him now, he became suddenly aware that they knew the only
weapon he possessed was Nisikoos' little rifle--and Hauck's revolver.
Probably they knew also how limited his ammunition was. And they were
exposing themselves. Why should he save his last three shots? When they
were gone and he no longer answered their fire they would rush the
cabin, beat in the door, and then--the revolver! With that he would tear
out their hearts as they entered. He saw Hauck, fired and missed. A man
stood up within seventy yards of the cabin a moment later, firing as
fast as he could pump the lever of his gun, and David drove one of
Nisikoos' partridge-killers straight into his chest. He fired a second
time at Hauck--another miss! Then he flung the useless rifle to the
floor as he sprang back to Marge.

"Got one. Five left. Now--damn 'em--let then come!"

He drew Hauck's revolver. A bullet flew through one of the cracks, and
they heard the soft thud of it as it struck Tara. The growl in the
grizzly's throat burst forth in a roar of thunder. The terrible sound
shook the cabin, but Tara still made no movement, except now to swing
his head with open, drooling jaws. In response to that cry of animal
rage and pain a snarl had come from Baree. He had slunk close to Tara.

"Didn't hurt him much," said David, with the fingers of his free hand
crumpling the Girl's hair. "They'll stop shooting in a minute or two,
and then...."

Straight into his eyes from that farther wall a splinter hurled itself
at him with a hissing sound like the plunge of hot iron into water. He
had a lightning impression of seeing the bullet as it tore through the
clay between two of the logs; he knew that he was struck, and yet he
felt no pain. His mind was acutely alive, yet he could not speak. His
words had been cut off, his tongue was powerless--it was like a shock
that had paralyzed him. Even the Girl did not know for a moment or two
that he was hit. The thud of his revolver on the floor filled her eyes
with the first horror of understanding, and she sprang to his side as he
swayed like a drunken man toward Tara. He sank down on the floor a few
feet from the grizzly, and he heard the Girl moaning over him and
calling him by name. The numbness left him, slowly he raised a hand to
his chin, filled with a terrible fear. It was there--his jaw, hard,
unsmashed, but wet with blood. He thought the bullet had struck him
there.

"A knockout," were the first words, spoken slowly and thickly, but with
a great gasp of relief. "A splinter hit me on the jaw.... I'm all
right...."

He sat up dizzily, with the Girl's arm about him. In the three or four
minutes of forgetfulness neither had noticed that the firing had ceased.
Now there came a tremendous blow at the door. It shook the cabin. A
second blow, a third--and the decaying saplings were crashing inward!
David struggled to rise, fell back, and pointed to the revolver.

"Quick--the revolver!"

Marge sprang to it. The door crashed inward as she picked it up, and
scarcely had she faced about when their enemies were rushing in, with
Henry and Hauck in their lead, and Brokaw just behind them. With a last
effort David fought to gain his feet. He heard a single shot from the
revolver, and then, as he rose staggeringly, he saw Marge fighting in
Brokaw's arms. Hauck came for him, the demon of murder in his face, and
as they went down he heard scream after scream come from the Girl's
lips, and in that scream the agonizing call of "_Tara! Tara! Tara!_"
Over him he heard a sudden roar, the rush of a great body--and with that
thunder of Tara's rage and vengeance there mingled a hideous, wolfish
snarl from Baree. He could see nothing. Hauck's hands were at his
throat.

But the screams continued, and above them came now the cries of
men--cries of horror, of agony, of death; and as Hauck's fingers
loosened at his neck he heard with the snarling and roaring and
tumult the crushing of great jaws and the thud of bodies. Hauck
was rising, his face blanched with a strange terror. He was half
up when a gaunt, lithe body shot at him like a stone flung from a
catapult and Baree's inch-long fangs sank into his thick throat
and tore his head half from his body in one savage, snarling snap
of the jaws. David raised himself and through the horror of what he
saw the Girl ran to him--unharmed--and clasped her arms about him,
her lips sobbing all the time--"_Tara--Tara--Tara_...." He turned
her face to his breast, and held it there. It was ghastly. Henry was
dead. Hauck was dead. And Brokaw was dead--a thousand times dead--with
the grizzly tearing his huge body into pieces.

Through that pit of death David stumbled with the Girl. The fresh air
struck their faces. The sun of day fell upon them. The green grass and
the flowers of the mountain were under their feet. They looked down the
slope, and saw, disappearing over the crest of the _coulée_, two men who
were running for their lives.



CHAPTER XXVII


It may have been five minutes that David held the Girl in his arms,
staring down into the sunlit valley into which the last two of Hauck's
men had fled, and during that time he did not speak, and he heard only
her steady sobbing. He drew into his lungs deep breaths of the
invigorating air, and he felt himself growing stronger as the Girl's
body became heavier in his embrace, and her arms relaxed and slipped
down from his shoulders. He raised her face. There were no tears in her
eyes, but she was still moaning a little, and her lips were quivering
like a crying child's. He bent his head and kissed them, and she caught
her breath pantingly as she looked at him with eyes which were limpid
pools of blue out of which her terror was slowly dying away. She
whispered his name. In her look and in that whisper there was
unutterable adoration. It was for _him_ she had been afraid. She was
looking at him now as one saved to her from the dead, and for a moment
he strained her still closer, and as he crushed his face to hers he felt
the warm, sweet caress of her lips, and the thrilling pressure of her
hands, at his blood-stained cheeks. A sound from behind made him turn
his head, and fifty feet away he saw the big grizzly ambling cumbrously
from the cabin. They could hear him growling as he stood in the
sunshine, his head swinging slowly from side to side like a huge
pendulum--in his throat the last echoing of that ferocious rage and
hate that had destroyed their enemies. And in the same moment Baree
stood in the doorway, his lips drawn back and his fangs gleaming, as if
he expected other enemies to face him.

Quickly David led Marge beyond the boulder from behind which he had
opened the fight, and drew her down with him into a soft carpet of
grass, thick with the blue of wild violets, with the big rock shutting
out the cabin from their vision.

"Rest here, little comrade," he said, his voice low and trembling with
his worship of her, his hands stroking back her wonderful hair. "I must
return to the cabin. Then--we will go."

"Go!"

She repeated the word in the strangest, softest whisper he had ever
heard, as if in it all at once she saw the sun and stars, the day and
night, of her whole life. She looked from his face down into the valley,
and into his face again.

"We--will go," she repeated, as he rose to his feet.

She shivered when he left her, shuddered with a terrible little cry
which she tried to choke back even as she visioned the first glow of
that wonderful new life that was dawning for her. David knew why. He
left her without looking down into her eyes again, anxious to have these
last terrible minutes over. At the open door of the cabin he hesitated,
a little sick at what he knew he would see. And yet, after all, it was
no worse than it should be; it was justice. He told himself this as he
stepped inside.

He tried not to look too closely, but the sight, after a moment,
fascinated him. If it had not been for the difference in their size he
could not have told which was Hauck and which was Brokaw, for even on
Hauck, Tara had vented his rage after Baree had killed him. Neither bore
very much the semblance of a man just now--it seemed incredible that
claw and fang could have worked such destruction, and he went suddenly
back to the door to see that the Girl was not following him. Then he
looked again. Henry lay at his feet across the fallen saplings of the
battered door, his head twisted completely under him--or gone. It was
Henry's rifle he picked up. He searched for cartridges then. It was a
sickening task. He found nearly fifty of them on the three, and went out
with the pack and the rifle. He put the pack over his shoulders before
he returned to the rock, and paused only for a moment, when he rejoined
the Girl. With her hand in his he struck down into the valley.

"A great justice has overtaken them," he said, and that was all he told
her about the cabin, and she asked him no questions.

At the edge of the green meadows they stopped where a trickle of water
from the mountain tops had formed a deep pool. David followed this
trickle a little up the _coulée_ it had worn in the course of ages,
found a sheltered spot, and stripped himself. To the waist he was
covered with the stain and grime of battle. In the open pool Marge
bathed her face and arms, and then sat down to finish her toilet with
David's comb and brush. When he returned to her she was a radiant glory,
hidden to her waist in the gold and brown fires of her disentangled
hair. It was wonderful. He stood a step off and looked at her, his heart
filled with a wonderful joy, his lips silent. The thought surged upon
him now in an overmastering moment of exultation that she belonged to
him, not for to-day, or to-morrow, but for all time; that the mountains
had given her to him; that among the flowers and the wild things that
"great, good God," of whom Father Roland had spoken so often, had
created her for him; and that she had been waiting for him here, pure as
the wild violets under his feet. She did not see him for a space, and he
watched her as she ran out her glowing tresses under the strokes of his
brush.

And once--ages ago it seemed to him now--he had thought that another
woman was beautiful, and that another woman's glory was her hair! He
felt his heart singing. She had not been like this. No. Worlds separated
those two--that woman and this God-crowned little mountain flower who
had come into his heart like the breath of a new life, opening for him
new visions that reached even beyond the blue skies. And he wondered
that she should love him. She looked up suddenly and saw him standing
there. Love? Had he in all his life dreamed of the look that was in her
face now? It made his heart choke him. He held open his arms, silently,
as she rose to her feet, and she came to him in all that burnished glory
of her unbound hair; and he held her close in his arms, kissing her soft
lips, her flushed cheeks, her blue eyes, the warm sweetness of her hair.
And her lips kissed him. He looked out over the valley. His eyes were
open to its beauty, but he did not see; a vision was rising before him,
and his soul was breathing a prayer of gratitude to the Missioner's God,
to the God of the totem-worshippers over the ranges, to the God of all
things. It may be that the Girl sensed his voiceless exaltation, for up
through the soft billows of her hair that lay crumpled on his breast
she whispered:

"You love me a great deal, my _Sakewawin_?"

"More than life," he replied.

Her voice roused him. For a few moments he had forgotten the cabin, had
forgotten that Brokaw and Hauck had existed, and that they were now
dead. He held her back from him, looking into her face out of which all
fear and horror had gone in its great happiness; a face filled with the
joyous colour sent surging there by the wild beating of her heart, eyes
confessing their adoration without shame, without concealment, without a
droop of the long lashes behind which they might have hidden. It was
wonderful, that love shining straight out of their blue, marvellous
depths!

"We must go now," he said, forcing himself to break the spell. "Two have
escaped, Marge. It is possible, if there are others at the Nest...."

His words brought her back to the thing they had passed through. She
glanced in a startled way over the valley, then shook her head.

"There are two others," she said. "But they will not follow us,
_Sakewawin_. If they should, we shall be over the mountain."

She braided her hair as he adjusted his pack. His heart was like a
boy's. He laughed at her in joyous disapproval.

"I like to see it--unbound," he said. "It is beautiful. Glorious."

It seemed to him that all the blood in her body leaped into her face at
his words.

"Then--I will leave it that way," she cried softly, her words trembling
with happiness and her fingers working swiftly in the silken plaits of
her braid. Unconfined, her hair shimmered about her again. And then, as
they were about to set off, she ran up to him with a little cry, and
without touching him with her hands raised her face to his.

"Kiss me," she said. "Kiss me, my _Sakewawin_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was noon when they stood under the topmost crags of the southward
range, and under them they saw once more the green valley, with its
silvery stream, in which they had met that first day beside the great
rock. It seemed to them both a long time ago, and the valley was like a
friend smiling up at them its welcome and its gladness that they had at
last returned. Its drone of running waters, the whispering music of the
air, and the piping cries of the marmots sunning themselves far below,
came up to them faintly as they rested, and as the Girl sat in the
circle of David's arm, with her head against his breast, she pointed off
through the blue haze miles to the eastward.

"Are we going that way?" she asked.

He had been thinking as they had climbed up the mountain. Off there,
where she was pointing, were his friends, and hers; between them and
that wandering tribe of the totem people on the Kwadocha there were no
human beings. Nothing but the unbroken peace of the mountains, in which
they were safe. He had ceased to fear their immensity--was no longer
disturbed by the thought that in their vast and trackless solitude he
might lose himself forever. After what had passed, their gleaming peaks
were beckoning to him, and he was confident that he could find his way
back to the Finley and down to Hudson's Hope. What a surprise it would
be to Father Roland when they dropped in on him some day, he and Marge!
His heart beat excitedly as he told her about it, described the great
distance they must travel, and what a wonderful journey it would be,
with that glorious country at the end of it.... "We'll find your mother,
then," he whispered. They talked a great deal about her mother and
Father Roland as they made their way down into the valley, and whenever
they stopped to rest she had new questions to ask, and each time there
was that trembling doubt in her voice. "I wonder whether it's _true_."
And each time he assured her that it was.

"I have been thinking that it was Nisikoos who sent to her that picture
you wanted to destroy," he said once. "Nisikoos must have known."

"Then why didn't she tell me?" she flashed.

"Because, it may be that she didn't want to lose you--and that she
didn't send the picture until she knew that she was not going to live
very long."

The girl's eyes darkened, and then--slowly--there came back the softer
glow into them.

"I loved--Nisikoos," she said.

It was sunset when they began making their first camp in a cedar
thicket, where David shot a porcupine for Tara and Baree. After their
supper they sat for a while in the glow of the stars, and after that
Marge snuggled down in her cedar bed and went to sleep. But before she
closed her eyes she put her arms about his neck and kissed him
good-night. For a long time after that he sat awake, thinking of the
wonderful dream he had dreamed all his life, and which at last had come
true.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day after day they travelled steadily into the east and south. The
mountains swallowed them, and their feet trod the grass of many strange
valleys. Strange--and yet now and then David saw something he had seen
once before, and he knew that he had not lost the trail. They travelled
slowly, for there was no longer need of haste; and in that land of
plenty there was more of pleasure than inconvenience in their foraging
for what they ate. In her haste in making up the contents of the pack
Marge had seized what first came to her hands in the way of provisions,
and fortunately the main part of their stock was a 20-pound sack of
oatmeal. Of this they made bannock and cakes. The country was full of
game. In the valleys the black currants and wild raspberries were
ripening lusciously, and now and then in the pools of the lower valleys
David would shoot fish. Both Tara and Baree began to grow fat, and with
quiet joy David noticed that each day added to the wonderful beauty and
happiness in the Girl's face, and it seemed to him that her love was
enveloping him more and more, and there never was a moment now that he
could not see the glow of it in her eyes. It thrilled him that she did
not want him out of her presence for more than a few minutes at a time.
He loved to fondle her hair, and she had a sweet habit of running her
fingers through his own, and telling him each time how she loved it
because it was a little gray; and she had a still sweeter way of
holding one of his hands in hers when she was sitting beside him, and
pressing it now and then to her soft lips.

They had been ten days in the mountains when, one evening, sitting
beside him in this way, she said, with that adorable and almost childish
ingenuousness which he loved in her:

"It will be nice to have Father Roland marry us, _Sakewawin_!" And
before he could answer, she added: "I will keep house for you two at the
Château."

He had been thinking a great deal about it.

"But if your mother should live down there--among the cities?" he asked.

She shivered a little, and nestled to him.

"I wouldn't like it, _Sakewawin_--not for long. I love _this_--the
forest, the mountains, the skies." And then, suddenly she caught
herself, and added quickly: "But anywhere--_anywhere_--if you are there,
_Sakewawin_!"

"I too, love the forests, the mountains, and the skies," he whispered.
"We will have them with us always, little comrade."

It was the fourteenth day when they descended the eastern slopes of the
Divide, and he knew that they were not far from the Kwadocha and the
Finley. Their fifteenth night they camped where he and the Butterfly's
lover had built a noonday fire; and this night, though it was warm and
glorious with a full moon, the Girl was possessed of a desire to have a
fire of their own, and she helped to add fuel to it until the flames
leaped high up into the shadows of the spruce, and drove them far back
with its heat. David was content to sit and smoke his pipe while he
watched her flit here and there after still more fuel, now a shadow in
the darkness, and then again in the full fireglow. After a time she grew
tired and nestled down beside him, spreading her hair over his breast
and about his face in the way she knew he loved, and for an hour after
that they talked in whispering voices that trembled with their
happiness. When at last she went to bed, and fell asleep, he walked a
little way out into the clear moonlight and sat down to smoke and listen
to the murmur of the valley, his heart too full for sleep. Suddenly he
was startled by a voice.

"David!"

He sprang up. From the shadow of a dwarf spruce half a dozen paces from
him had stepped the figure of a man. He stood with bared head, the light
of the moon streaming down upon him, and out of David's breast rose a
strange cry, as if it were a spirit he saw, and not a man.

"David!"

"My God--Father Roland!"

They sprang across the little space between them, and their hands
clasped. David could not speak. Before he found his voice, the Missioner
was saying:

"I saw the fire, David, and I stole up quietly to see who it was. We are
camped down there not more than a quarter of a mile. Come! I want you to
see...."

He stopped. He was excited. And to David his face seemed many years
younger there in the moonlight, and he walked with the spring of youth
as he caught his arm and started down the valley. A strange force held
David silent, an indefinable feeling that something tremendous and
unexpected was impending. He heard the other's quick breath, caught the
glow in his eyes, and his heart was thrilled. They walked so swiftly
that it seemed to him only a few moments when they came to a little
clump of low trees, and into these Father Roland led David by the hand,
treading lightly now.

In another moment they stood beside someone who was sleeping. Father
Roland pointed down, and spoke no word.

It was a woman. The moonlight fell upon her, and shimmered in the thick
masses of dark hair that streamed about her, concealing her face. David
choked. It was his heart in his throat. He bent down. Gently he lifted
the heavy tresses, and stared into the sleeping face that was under
them--the face of the woman he had met that night on the
Transcontinental!

Over him he heard a gentle whisper.

"My wife, David!"

He staggered back, and clutched Father Roland by the shoulders, and his
voice was almost sobbing in its excitement as he cried, whisperingly:

"Then you--you are Michael O'Doone--the father of Marge--and
Tavish--Tavish...."

His voice broke. The Missioner's face had gone white. They went back
into the moonlight again, so that they should not awaken the woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out there, so close that they seemed to be in each other's arms, the
stories were told, David's first--briefly, swiftly; and when Michael
O'Doone learned that his daughter was in David's camp, he bowed his face
in his hands and David heard him giving thanks to his God. And then he,
also, told what had happened--briefly, too, for the minutes of this
night were too precious to lose. In his madness Tavish had believed that
his punishment was near--believed that the chance which had taken him so
near to the home of the man whose life he had destroyed was his last
great warning, and before killing himself he had written out fully his
confession for Michael O'Doone, and had sworn to the innocence of the
woman whom he had stolen away.

"And even as he was destroying himself, God's hand was guiding my
Margaret to me," explained the Missioner. "All those years she had been
seeking for me, and at last she learned at Nelson House about Father
Roland, whose real name no man knew. And at almost that same time, at Le
Pas, there came to her the photograph you found on the train, with a
letter saying our little girl was alive at this place you call the Nest.
Hauck's wife sent the letter and picture to the Royal Northwest Mounted
Police, and it was sent from inspector to inspector, until it found her
at Le Pas. She came to the Château. We were gone--with you. She
followed, and we met as Metoosin and I were returning. We did not go
back to the Château. We turned about and followed your trail, to seek
our daughter. And now...."

Out of the shadow of the trees there broke upon them suddenly the
anxious voice of the woman.

"Napao! where are you?"

"Dear God, it is the old, sweet name she called me so many years ago,"
whispered Michael O'Doone. "She is awake. Come!"

David held him back a moment.

"I will go to Marge," he said quickly. "I will wake her. And you--bring
her mother. Understand, dear Father? Bring her up there, where Marge is
sleeping...."

The voice came again:

"_Napao--Napao!_"

"I am coming; I am coming!" cried the Missioner.

He turned to David.

"Yes--I will bring her--up there--to your camp."

And as David hurried away, he heard the sweet voice saying:

"You must not leave me alone, _Napao_--never, never, never, so long as
we live...."

       *       *       *       *       *

On his knees, beside the Girl, David waited many minutes while he gained
his breath. With his two hands he crumpled her hair; and then, after a
little, he kissed her mouth, and then her eyes; and she moved, and he
caught the sleepy whisper of his name.

"Wake," he cried softly. "Wake, little comrade!"

Her arms rose up out of her dream of him and encircled his neck.

"_Sakewawin_," she murmured. "Is it morning?"

He gathered her in his arms.

"Yes, a glorious day, little comrade. Wake!"


                          THE END


       *       *       *       *       *

BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM
  THE HONOR OF THE BIG SNOWS
  THE GOLD HUNTERS
  THE WOLF HUNTERS
  THE DANGER TRAIL
  PHILIP STEELE
  THE GREAT LAKES
  FLOWER OF THE NORTH
  ISOBEL
  KAZAN
  GOD'S COUNTRY--AND THE WOMAN
  THE HUNTED WOMAN
  THE GRIZZLY KING
  BAREE, SON OF KAZAN

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note: Punctuation normalized.

Page 254, "spood" changed to "stood" (he stood without moving).

Page 287, "thus" changed to "this" (bullets this early in the game).

Page 294, "inpression" changed to "impression" (lightning impression).





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