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Title: The Shooting of Dan McGrew, A Novel - Based on the Famous Poem of Robert Service
Author: Dana, Marvin Hill, 1867-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Shooting of Dan McGrew, A Novel - Based on the Famous Poem of Robert Service" ***

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    THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGREW

    _A Novel_


    BY
    MARVIN DANA

    Author of WITHIN THE LAW, etc.


    BASED ON THE FAMOUS POEM OF
    ROBERT W. SERVICE

    PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES
    FROM THE PHOTO PLAY

    NEW YORK
    GROSSET & DUNLAP
    PUBLISHERS



    Copyright, 1915, by
    BARSE & HOPKINS



    THE ILLUSTRATIONS SHOWN IN THIS EDITION ARE REPRODUCTIONS OF SCENES
    FROM THE PHOTO-PLAY OF "THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGREW"--SCENARIO BY
    AARON HOFFMAN--PRODUCED AND COPYRIGHTED BY THE POPULAR PLAYS AND
    PLAYERS CO. INC., TO WHOM THE PUBLISHERS DESIRE TO EXPRESS THEIR
    THANKS AND APPRECIATION FOR PERMISSION TO USE THE PICTURES.



[Illustration: EDMUND BREESE AND COMPANY IN "THE SHOOTING OF DAN
McGREW."]



THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGREW


  THE POPULAR PLAYS AND PLAYERS, Inc.

  Scenario by
  AARON HOFFMAN



CAST OF CHARACTERS


    Jim                            EDMUND BREESE
    Dan McGrew                     WILLIAM MORSE
    Lou                            KATHRIN ADAMS
    Nell                             BETTY RIGGS
    Jack Reeves                    WALLACE SCOTT
    Sam Ward                       JAMES JOHNSON
    The Sheriff                      JACK AUSTEN
    Fingie Whalen                    JACK MURRAY
    Caribou Bill                     BILL COOPER
    Harry, the Dog Man                   HIMSELF



THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGREW



CHAPTER I


A clatter of hoofs on the gravel of the driveway. A shout from the rider
as he swung himself down from the saddle:

"Lou!"

A woman came swiftly from the cool shadows of the porch into the
brilliance of the summer sunlight, to meet the man who now advanced
toward her with fond, smiling eagerness.

The two kissed very tenderly, for they were lovers still, after seven
years of married life. The delicate rose of the wife's cheeks deepened a
little under the warmth of the husband's caress, and the graciously
curving lips trembled to a smile of happiness as she looked up into the
strong face of the man she loved. In the slightly rugged features, she
read virility and honesty and loyalty. An exquisite contentment pervaded
her. She felt that the cup of joy was brimming. Husband and child and
home--!

Her train of thought was broken by the man's words, spoken quickly in a
tone that mingled curiously amusement and chagrin:

"Dangerous Dan! He's coming, Lou! He's buried the hatchet, and is coming
to visit us. Dangerous Dan McGrew! Now, what do you think of that?" He
waited for an answer, staring quizzically into the suddenly perturbed
face of his wife.

"My rival!" he added whimsically, albeit a bit complacently.

"Never!" the wife declared with emphasis. A note of harshness had crept
into the music of her voice. "Never your rival, Jim, though he tried to
be." The earnestness of utterance gratified the man, in whom a vague,
latent jealousy stirred at thought of that other who had loved where he
loved. But there was no gratification in the new mood of the woman.
Instead, a subtle dread touched her spirit. The contentment of a moment
before was fled. There was nothing precise, nothing formulated, in her
thoughts. Only, something sinister, menacing, pressed upon her. She
welcomed the distraction afforded by her daughter's appearance on the
scene.

The girl came running from the gardens behind the ranch-house and sprang
into her father's arms with a cry of delight.

To her six years, his frequent rides to the village ten miles away were
in the nature of great events, and she welcomed each return as if from
long and perilous voyaging. Moreover, there was always an added thrill
for Nell in her father's home-coming, because of the mysterious charm in
the gift that never failed. To-day, indeed, the present was destined to
mark her life; even to be of vital import in a crisis of distant years.

No hint of the gravity of things-to-be shadowed the radiant joy of the
child's face, as she was lifted in the man's arms and kissed. There was
only vivid anticipation of the gift that would mark this wonderful hour.

James Maxwell lowered his daughter to the ground, with an affirmative
nod toward his wife.

"Now, Nell," he said in a voice of authority, "stand perfectly still,
and keep your eyes shut, and maybe something will happen."

The girl rested uneasily in an effort of obedience, with her eyes
screwed tight-shut, giggling expectantly.

The mother looked on, smiling again, the momentary depression of her
spirit allayed, if not destroyed, by the scene. She met the man's glance
with understanding in the brown, gold-flecked deeps of her eyes. The
father took from a pocket a small leather case, and opened it, and held
up for his wife's inspection the gold chain and pendant locket, set with
an initial _N_ in tiny pearls. The wife nodded her approval.
Straightway, the chain was adjusted about the child's neck, with the
locket hanging low on the slender breast.

"Now!" the father cried sternly.

On the instant, Nell's dark eyes flashed open in swift inquiry to her
father's face, then, following the direction of his gaze, the proud chin
was drawn in, and she stared down rapturously at the trinket lying on
her bosom. Followed little squeals of bliss, then reverent touching of
the treasure. The secret of the catch baffled her, and the father had to
come to the rescue lest patience become too hardly strained. When the
locket had been opened, she stared into it through long seconds in
wordless pleasure. Finally, she spoke in a hushed voice, as if in the
presence of something very sacred.

"It's you, Daddy!" It was a broken whisper of happiness. Her eyes,
lustrous with glad tears, were lifted adoringly to her father's face for
a moment. Then, again, her glance went to the locket.

"And you, Mamma!" she exclaimed, and turned to regard her mother with
equal love. "Oh, it's just beautiful! Pictures of both of you--Daddy and
Momsy!--all my very own!... And may I really, truly wear it?" Nell's
voice was suddenly become timid, infinitely wistful.

The mother answered, as she stooped and kissed her daughter.

"Yes, darling; it's all your very own, to wear every minute, day and
night, if you want to."

Presently, when the intricacy of the locket's catch had been fully
mastered, Nell stole away to her favorite shady nook in the rose-garden,
to be alone with her delight, while husband and wife ascended the steps
of the porch, and seated themselves at ease in the wicker chairs. The
lattice-work of vines shut off the rays of the westering sun. Blowing
over the stretches of lawn, thick-set with shrubberies and studded with
trees, the soft breeze came refreshingly, and bore to the two the
multiple bland aromas of the generous earth. Beyond the green within
which the mansion stood, rolled rich acres of ripening grain that
undulated beneath the gentle urging of the wind in shimmering waves of
gold. The whole scene was one of peace and prosperity, where a fruitful
soil lavished riches in return for the industry of man. The house itself
was a commodious structure, bountifully equipped with the comforts and
elegancies of living; for James Maxwell was, though still a young man,
one who had achieved a full measure of success from out the fertile
fields of the West, and his culture and that of his wife had given to
their home a refinement unusual in regions so remote. Thus far, their
married life had been almost flawless. The wholesomeness and simplicity
of their life together, blessed with the presence of the child, varied
by occasional visits to the larger centers of civilization, had held
them in tranquil happiness. Yet, this afternoon, there lacked something
of the accustomed serenity between the two. Now, the oppression that had
affected the woman at the mention of Dan McGrew returned to her in some
measure, and, by reason of the sympathy between her and him, a
heaviness weighed on his mood as well, though he concealed it as best
he might, even from himself, and spoke with brisk cheerfulness.

"Yes, Lou, Dangerous Dan McGrew is about to descend upon us--handsome as
ever, I suppose, and with all his wiles still working. I can't cease to
wonder, Lou, how I ever came to win you from him." There was a new
tenderness in his voice as he spoke the final words.

The wife laughed softly.

"Don't fish, Jim," she retorted. "You know perfectly well that Dan never
had a chance with me--not really. He was always a fascinating fellow
enough, but, somehow--" She fell silent, a puzzled frown lining the warm
white of her forehead beneath its coronal of golden hair.

"Yes," the husband agreed; "somehow, there is always that 'but' when one
gets to thinking of Dan." He would have added more, but checked himself,
reluctant to speak ill of one who had been his friend, one whom he had
bested in the struggle for a woman's favor.

The wife had no such scruple. She spoke incisively, and her voice was
harsher than its wont.

"I never trusted him," she said. "I always found myself doubting his
honesty."

Thus encouraged, Jim spoke his mind frankly.

"Dan was always as crooked as a dog's hind leg," he declared, without
any trace of bitterness, but as one stating a fact not to be denied.

"He wrote to you?" Lou inquired, with a suggestion of wondering in her
voice.

"No; it was Tom."

Jim thrust his hand into the breast-pocket of his coat, and brought
forth an envelope, from which he took out and unfolded a single sheet of
typewritten paper. Then he read the letter:

     "_Dear old Chum_:

     "Dan McGrew is back again in his old home after five years. He
     is coming down to see you and his old sweetheart, Lou. He has
     not yet forgiven you for winning her. He seems to have the same
     old unsettled disposition and I think he requires the strong
     hands of a friend to keep him in the straight path.

                                   "Sincerely your old friend,
                                                              "TOM."

"Then you don't know when he will get here?" Lou asked.

Jim shook his head.

"No," he said, rather irritably; "we'll just have to wait for the
visitation to descend upon us, be it sooner or later."

"We shall have to be nice to him, of course," the wife said.

"I'm not specially keen on dry-nursing Dan McGrew," Jim remarked
plaintively. "We were never really intimate, though we were friendly
enough. To tell the truth, Lou, I'm mighty sorry Dan's coming here." His
face was somber as he gazed into his wife's eyes and read in their clear
light sympathy with his own repugnance at the prospect. With an
impatient ejaculation, he sprang to his feet and went into the house,
where he seated himself before the grand piano that occupied the center
of the spacious living-room. In a fierce crashing of dissonances, he
voiced the resentment that was in him. But after a little, indignation
somewhat relieved by such audible interpretation, his fingers flew into
rippling arpeggios, out of which came, at last, a lilting melody,
joyous, yet tender. For Jim Maxwell, lover of music all his days, had a
gift of improvisation, with a sufficient technique for its exercise. To
it he resorted often for the sounding of his deeper moods, and in it
found a never-failing solace. So now, presently, soothed by his own art,
he got up from the piano and went back to the porch, where he faced his
wife, smiling.

Lou smiled in response.

"Thank you, Jim," she said softly. "You scared away all the blue devils
with those dreadful discords. And then you just tempted all sorts of
good fairies to come and hover, and they did. You cheered me up. It's
all right that Dan should come to visit us. Only--"

She broke off, nor did the husband utter any question as to the
uncompleted sentence. But in the hearts of both lurked still something
of the dread which the music had failed entirely to dispel.



CHAPTER II


The time of Dan McGrew's arrival was not long left in doubt; for, on the
third day following Tom's letter, Jim received one from Dan himself.

     _Dear Jim_:

     Am back again in the old home after five years, and have grown
     rich. Am coming right down to see you and my old sweetheart,
     Lou. I can still hardly forgive you for winning her from me,
     but I suppose you're the better man. I am still the same
     rolling stone, ever seeking the gold that seems to get further
     away as I approach. Will reach your place the Tuesday following
     your receipt of this letter.

                                                    Sincerely,
                                                         DAN MCGREW.

So, on the appointed Tuesday, Jim drove in his light, covered buggy to
the town, to meet the through train from the East. With him, mounted on
her pony, went Nell. She wore the precious locket proudly displayed
against her trim khaki coat, and she rode in happy excitement, for the
trip to her was a great adventure, and there was, in addition, the
thrilling novelty of this stranger's coming, who might be a prince in
disguise.

When, at last, the limited roared into the station at Coverdale, and Dan
McGrew swung himself down from the Pullman's steps, Jim went forward and
seized his visitor's hand in a warm clasp.

"It's good to see you again, after all these years," he cried heartily.
At this moment, there was only kindness in his feeling toward the tall,
handsome man who returned his greeting so genially. He meant to be as
friendly as he could to this guest, to be helpful and loyal, so far as
he might, though the other had no claim upon his friendship, and though
he himself had neither liking nor respect for Dan McGrew.

After the first exchange of exclamations between the two, Jim called to
Nell, who had remained standing diffidently at a little distance, her
deeply tanned face, under the dark masses of hair, tense with interest,
as her eyes searched the newcomer in vast curiosity. A great shyness was
upon her as she approached.

"This is my daughter, Nell," Jim said, with manifest pride in the
winsome creature.

"And Lou's!" the other muttered, under his breath. But Jim caught the
words, and was moved to a fleeting pity for the man who had failed in
love.

Nell murmured a stilted phrase in expression of her pleasure at meeting
Mr. McGrew. But as the stranger bent and kissed her, she felt a sudden
instinct of distaste under the caress that both frightened and puzzled
her. For, hitherto in her childish experience, embraces and kisses had
been matters either of pleasure, as in the case of her father and mother
and others dear to her, or of utter indifference, as in the case of
those for whom she cared nothing. Now, for the first time, a kiss was
disagreeable. She felt herself somehow frightened by this fine
gentleman, who might be a prince. She could not understand it.

The child could not have understood even had she been able to look into
the heart of Dangerous Dan McGrew, there to see the black malice that
fouled it.

For such was the fact. There was evil in the mind and in the soul of Dan
McGrew. Through all the years since he had lost Lou Ainsworthy, he had
longed for her. The circumstance that she was married to another man put
no curb on his fierce desire for her. Unlawful passion throbbed in his
blood. It was this that had driven him to the long journey. A man wholly
without scruple, without care for any other than himself, save only the
woman to possess whom he so craved, Dan McGrew was resolved to woo that
woman anew, to win her for himself by any means, no matter how false or
vile.

Thus, it came to pass that, in the days of his dwelling under the roof
of the man whom he was determined to wrong, the visitor played the
hypocrite with his host, aping a manner of bluff, candid
good-fellowship. With the wife, too, he played the hypocrite. He dared
not let her so much as suspect the hot fires that burned in him as he
looked yearningly on her loveliness. He realized, at the outset, that
her devotion to the man of her choice remained unaltered. He knew that
the open confession of his illicit love would move her to scorn and
loathing. Only by guile, and that of the craftiest, could he hope for
triumph over loyalty and love. With the passing days, the task loomed
before him as one almost impossible of achievement. From all that he
knew of Jim's past life and all that he could learn concerning the
husband's reputation in the community, there showed nowhere any least
opportunity for attack. And attack must be made, for only by destroying
the wife's faith could he have any opportunity to gain her favor. It
occurred to him that, in a conspiracy, he would have need of
accomplices. To get some information concerning such as might serve his
end, he often rode alone to the town, while Jim was occupied with ranch
affairs. There, he entered easily into the vulgar dissipations of the
place, making himself hail-fellow-well-met with the riff-raff of the
saloons and dance-houses, both men and women. The occupation was, in
truth, congenial enough to him; for there was a coarseness in his nature
that found satisfaction in loose living. Before he had been a week at
the ranch, he had become known to all the blear-eyed habitués of
Murphy's saloon--to some of the women frequenters there as well, and to
certain men who were not blear-eyed; for they drank little, but played
poker much. With these latter, especially, Dangerous Dan fraternized,
since, like many a wiser man and better, he greatly admired poker--and
his own playing of it.

Dan won the first day, and the second, and the third--as those playing
with him meant that he should. But the stakes were small. Dan himself
fretted because they were so small. It was his own suggestion, his own
insistence, that the stakes should be raised. Immediately, then, Dan's
luck slumped. It worried him only a little at first--more, as the ill
fortune continued.

On the fourth day, Jess, one of the painted women of the place, leaned
over him so closely that the heavy musk of her perfume deadened his
senses. She whispered her admiration of his play. Dan forgot that she
was the wife without the law of Fingie Whalen, who sat across the table
from him, ferret-faced and with slender, agile fingers that touched the
deck of cards always with the soft delicacy of a caress. Jess's praise
fattened Dan's pride in his own skill. He insisted loudly on larger
stakes, which were accepted grudgingly by his fellow players. There were
four others at the table with him. Despite his experience in cities
further East, he had no least suspicion that the odds of the game were
four to one. He lost a most attractive pot on a full house of kings with
treys. The event angered him. A little later, a pot that had been raised
around the board until it was of admirable proportions, was lost by him
to one who held a humble, but efficient, flush.

Dan was not an honest man. His losses irritated him. He believed, by
reason of a certain dexterity in legerdemain, that he could thus cajole
fortune. He misjudged his company. When he possessed himself of four
aces, and held them concealed in his hand, he failed to note the eyes of
Fingie Whalen, which had followed his every movement.

But this same Fingie, being a master of his craft, said nothing until
after the bets had run high and it had come to the show-down. Dan had
forced the betting to a point where the chips and bills and gold on the
table totaled a most respectable sum. He swept the pot toward him, after
a contemptuous glance at the four-of-a-kind which Fingie had offered
against him. His own four aces were indisputably winners.

But Fingie Whalen thrust out an imperative hand in restraint.

"Nothin' doin'!"

In the same instant, his fingers closed in a viselike grip on Dan's left
hand. Dan was the stronger man. But, in the moment of surprise, his
muscles yielded. His hand was pulled forward--it lay open on the table.

Within his palm four cards were lying. With his free hand Fingie flipped
the four cards upon the table. They were inconsiderable--a deuce, a
nine, a pair of sevens.

His trickery thus baldly revealed, Dan would have acted, but he was too
late. As he pulled the automatic from his pocket, the man next him
thrust an elbow forward and the shot went wild. In the next instant, the
pistol had been knocked from his grasp, and four men bore down upon him.
Dan was a strong man, and, whatever his faults, absolutely fearless. He
struck out vigorously, but the slender, silk-ankled foot of Jess caught
him so that he stumbled and missed his blow. The fists of the four beat
him to the floor.

It was then that Jim entered the room. He had business in town, and, on
learning at the ranch-house that his guest had preceded him, he had felt
it incumbent upon him to seek out Dan. He had acted from a rather futile
sense of duty toward the man who, as Tom had put it, required the strong
hands of a friend to keep him in the straight path.

At the hotel, he made inquiry of the clerk:

"Have you seen anything of Mr. McGrew?"

The clerk permitted himself an indulgent grin at the question. He
admired Jim Maxwell, as did all the better element in the community, and
he found himself wondering over the disreputable associations of the
stranger who was the ranch-owner's guest. His answer was prompt:

"You're pretty sure to find him in the back room over to Murphy's.
Usually, when he hits this burg, he sets in a game with the gang over
there."

Jim's face lined grimly. He felt a great distaste for his mission. He
was no precisian. He was not above taking a glass on occasion at
Murphy's bar. But he had no liking for the vicious. The coarse
debauchery of such a place was repulsive to him, as it must be to any
decent man. Nevertheless, he went out of the hotel, and strode rapidly
toward the corner on which stood the rough frame building of the saloon.
As he drew near, the report of a shot came sharply.

"What hell's mess is on now?" he muttered savagely, and broke into a
run. In the next instant, he had leaped through the door to the back
room. He could not see clearly for a few seconds in the gloomy place,
after the glaring sunlight of outdoors. But the evidences of conflict
were plain enough from the sounds of stamping boots upon the boarded
floor, the soft thudding of fists against flesh, the snarling curses,
gaspings and guttural gruntings of the combatants, the shrill screams
and whimperings of women. Then his eyes adjusted themselves to the dim
light, and he made out the form of Dan McGrew, girt about with the
thrashing arms and legs of his assailants. Without any hesitation, Jim
plunged into the fray. His fists shot home in sledge-hammer blows,
against which the four, taken completely by surprise, were defenseless.
As they fell away from their victim, Jim saw the automatic lying where
it had fallen on the floor during the scuffle. Before his adversaries
could rally to the attack, he had pounced upon it, and had sprung back
against the wall of the room, whence he menaced the four, who halted in
fear of the weapon.

"There's been enough of this," Jim declared, and his voice was ominous,
heavy with authority. "I don't know the rights of the fuss, and I don't
care a damn, I guess. But there'll be no murder done here--unless it's
been done already."

There came some profane grumblings from the discomfited quartette, but
they ventured no other opposition to Jim's will, for they feared this
man, and he knew it, and he did not fear them in the least.

"We caught 'im cheatin'--blast 'im!" Fingie affirmed, sullenly.

"I'm not interested in the history of the row," was the contemptuous
retort; "only in the end of it." Jim thrust the revolver in his pocket,
assured that there would be no further trouble; for now the bartender
and Murphy had made a belated appearance on the scene. He stooped over
the beaten man, who had already begun to show signs of returning
consciousness. Presently, in fact, Dan was able to sit up, and to
swallow the brandy Murphy had brought. His injuries, though painful
enough, were superficial, and after a little he was able to clamber into
the buggy, which Jim had hired from the hotel livery for the return to
the ranch.

They had gone a mile from the village, when Dan spoke for the first
time:

"It was all a devilish frame-up to rob me," he asserted. His tone was
vindictive, but, somehow, not quite convincing.

Jim could not keep the scorn from his own voice as he answered:

"You can't complain--you knew what sort they were."

Under the lash of justice in the taunt from the man who had rescued him,
Dan McGrew was silent; but the black malice in his heart seethed still
more fiercely from quickened fires of hate.



CHAPTER III


Jim explained the affair to Lou, with a bitter emphasis that forbade
questioning as to details.

"Dangerous Dan," he said, unable to avoid a sarcastic inflection on the
adjective, "got into a fight at Murphy's. When I arrived, there were
four on top of him."

"And you pulled them off, I suppose," Lou said, her lips curving to a
smile in which amusement blended with admiration for the stalwart man
who had spoken so curtly.

"I can't say that I exactly pulled them off," Jim answered, with a faint
responsive smile. "Anyhow, I managed to get them off him, one way or
another. That's the reason he's here now--worse luck!"

In the days that followed, Dangerous Dan played the hypocrite to
perfection. He went no more to town. With Jim, he was all amiability,
full of reminiscences concerning the long-ago, when they had pranked
together in the devious ways of boys. Indeed, he was so agreeable that
Jim found himself at least tolerant of the company of this guest, for
whom, without any obligation whatsoever, he had assumed some measure of
responsibility. For he remembered always that phrase in the letter Tom
had written him: "And I think he requires the strong hands of a friend
to keep him in the straight path." He felt an onerous responsibility for
the visitor whom fate thrust upon him, though he detested that
responsibility--and the man.

It was the time of the harvest. Jim was busy with overseeing a multitude
of details in the gathering of the crops. Often, he was away from the
house from dawn to dark. Nell, too, was frequently absent, for she
delighted in the activities of men and horses and machines in the
fields. On her pony, she spent hours in her father's company. The
consequence was that Dan McGrew enjoyed unlimited opportunities of
association with his host's wife. Necessarily, the intimacy of their
former relations had its effect on their present intercourse. Indeed,
Dan made a habit of half-jesting, half-sentimental references to that
time when he had wooed so vainly. The phrase was often on his lips:

"Do you remember, Lou, when we were sweethearts--?"

Lou, for her part, undoubtedly found something pleasant in the
situation. Dan showed himself at his best toward her. Since he knew the
utter hopelessness at this time of winning her from her allegiance, he
strove to hide from her any expression of the passion that burned within
him, though the effort taxed his strength of will to the utmost. But,
because of his restraint, Lou was unsuspicious as to the visitor's
designs, and accepted Dan's proffer of innocent friendship. He was an
amiable and entertaining companion, an agreeable variation from the
somewhat monotonous loneliness of the ranch-house; especially at this
season of the year, when husband and daughter alike so constantly
deserted her. Certainly, she knew that her guest was her lover as
well. But the fact did not militate against him in her regard. On the
contrary, it gave piquancy to their companionship. The unvarying manner
of respect for her as his friend's wife lulled suspicion. She
sympathized with him for his failure in attaining the desire of his
heart. A mild feminine vanity found gratification in the presence of one
so humbly devoted. She had no shred of liking for him, in any deeper
sense. Sometimes, indeed, of an evening, when the three were together
under the lights of the living-room, she found herself comparing the two
men. She admitted that, in a superficial way, Dan was perhaps the
handsomer. His features were as clearly cut as those of some Roman
emperor. The eyes, set wide-apart, gave dignity to his expression. There
was in his air always a suggestion of ruthless strength, even of
lawlessness, as of one who would wreak his will, reckless of
consequence. It was that quality which in his boyhood had won him the
name of Dangerous Dan. He had been given over to escapades, to
exploits of daring prowess, to fights against odds for the sheer love of
fighting. In bodily strength and the usual manly qualities, the two men
were well matched. Lou could see little to choose between them. But her
comparison ended always in a great welling of love for her husband.
There was in his expression a kindliness, in no way weakness, that the
other lacked. And there was, too, something subtle, a quality of the
soul, to be felt, though not to be seen or described, by those with whom
he came in contact. It occurred to Lou once, as she thus meditated while
the men talked together, that Jim's love for music, together with his
skill in its interpretation, was characteristic of the difference
between the two; for to Dan, though he was at times swayed easily and
deeply by music, the art meant little to him, made no component part in
his life.

Strangely enough, it was Jim's music that, very directly, precipitated a
crisis in the situation.

It was a day of languorous heat from a sun like molten brass. Jim, a
little weary after hours among his men, found an opportunity for
leisure, and welcomed it. He rode to the ranch-house, and sighed
gratefully as he entered the cool-shaded porch, where he found Lou busy
with some sewing, while Dan lounged at ease over a pipe. The wife
welcomed her husband gladly, and fussed over him, and brought him
lemonade. Jim was listless at first from fatigue, and listened lazily to
the chatting of his wife and their guest, without taking part. But
presently, he felt himself revived, and entered heartily into the talk.
Perceiving his increased animation, Lou made a request.

"If you're not too tired, Jim," she said eagerly, "I wish you would play
over that melody you worked out the day you received Tom's letter. I do
hope you remember it," she continued, with a little catch of anxiety in
her voice. "Bits of it have been running in my head all day."

Jim rose obediently, with a smile for his wife. As their eyes met, Lou
smiled mischievously.

"Perhaps, you will remember it began with a great lot of startling
chords. But you don't need to repeat them."

Jim grinned appreciatively.

"I'm not in the mood for those chords, as you politely term them,
to-day. But I think I have that song still in my head--and in my heart."
The last words were spoken softly.

From the living-room, a moment later, came a ripping charm of arpeggios
that in their sequence told softly of the melody to come. Then, soon,
the air itself sounded in its joyous, lilting rhythm of a passionate
tenderness.

It was plain that the player was telling the truth of his heart. The
music made a rhapsody of love. Deep within it was a whisper of spiritual
things, of things sacred. But, too, the weaving notes made a mesh of
sensuous splendor. There was a voluptuous spell in the throbbing
cadences.

It was the sensual witchery of the music that probed the emotions of Dan
McGrew, and beat them to swirling revolt against the calmness he had
striven to maintain. The finer, nobler meaning of the love-lyric touched
him not at all. But the sorcery of that exquisite voluptuousness
thrilled in his blood. He sat watching the woman, and his eyes were
aflame. The enchantment of the melody was upon her as well. Body and
soul, she responded in her mood to the mood of the player, whom she
loved, even as he loved her. The oval of her cheeks bore a deepened
rose. The red curves of the lips bent to a tremulous smile. The dark
glory of her eyes shone more radiantly, as she stared, unseeing, into
the distance. The lithe, gracious form was become tense in this moment
of absorbed feeling. Never had Dan McGrew seen her so wonderfully alive,
so vibrant of emotion, so beautiful, so desirable, so altogether
adorable. With the beat of the music lashing on desire, the spectacle of
the woman's loveliness fed the flames of longing, until the fires of
his passion consumed utterly the will that would have held them in
control. The music softened at last to a mere breath of beautiful sound.
Then, a clangor of triumphant harmonies--and silence.

Lou rose quickly, and went into the living-room.

In his fevered imagination, Dan McGrew could see the caress between
husband and wife, and, though he continued to sit immobile, staring
dazedly at the spot where a moment before the woman had been, wrath
surged in him against that other man. By so much as his love for the
woman welled in him, by so much the tide of his hate mounted. For a long
time, he sat there, through ages of torture, as it seemed to him. He
heard Jim go out of the house by the back way. Soon afterward, there
came to his ears the clatter of a horse's hoofs on the gravel of the
drive, and he knew that the ranch-owner was off again to the fields,
though he did not look up to see. With mad eagerness, he was awaiting
the woman's return. Reason no longer had any hold on his mood. He was
helpless in the clutch of passion. The music had softened the fibers of
resolve. The allurement of the love-light that had shone from Lou's face
while she sat listening, had drawn his desire of her into a vortex that
held him powerless against its rush. He had no plan of action, no
thought as to what his course should be. He was conscious only of an
intolerable need of this woman. As the minutes passed, and still she did
not return, the longing mastered him completely. He got to his feet,
with unaccustomed awkwardness, and went into the living-room with
shambling steps wholly unlike his usual elastic tread. He moved
falteringly, as might one in the dark in a strange place. For, in truth,
the mists of passion had settled on his spirit, shrouding and blinding
him.

Lou was reclining in a low easy chair, within a nest of cushions. In the
abandonment of her posture, the suave grace of her body's lines, still
maidenly, rather than matronly, despite her full womanhood, were
clearly revealed to the man's avid eyes. On her face was still the
expression of rapturous tenderness that was not for him, which,
nevertheless, had enthralled him. Dan McGrew, in this hour of folly, was
bereft of judgment utterly. The woman there in the chair, who did not
even turn her head toward him as he entered, was a loadstone that drew
toward her irresistibly every atom of the blood racing in his veins. He
went toward her--without any hesitation or faltering now. All the life
in him seemed in this instant to be at its best, potent as never before,
and not to be denied. So, he moved forward lightly and swiftly. Before
the woman had so much as guessed his presence there beside her, he had
stooped and taken her in his arms.

Lou cried out sharply under the shock of fear in the first second, when
the man's arms closed about her. But, in the next instant, as she felt
herself lifted bodily from her place, and crushed against Dan's breast,
a horrible fear beset her that sapped her strength, and left her limp
within the fierce embrace. Her face was suddenly become pallid. She was
half-swooning under the dreadfulness of the thing that had befallen. Dan
rained kisses on the golden masses of her hair, from which the delicate
perfume penetrated his senses, and inflamed him to new madness. He
loosened his clasp upon her body, in order to raise the white face to
his lips. But then, at last, the energies of the woman were suddenly
restored. A hot flush of mingled shame and anger dyed face and throat.
The heavy lids lifted from the dark eyes, which now were blazing. Her
body tensed, then writhed in an abrupt, violent effort for freedom. Her
action caught the man unawares. She slipped from his arms, and darted
behind the chair in which she had been sitting, so that its bulk was
interposed as a barrier between them.

"Oh, you have dared--!" She broke off, choking over the humiliation of
such an outrage against her womanhood. She was pale and flushed by
turns. Her body was racked by convulsive shudderings. She was wounded to
the depths of her being.

Dan, nevertheless, was without compunction at sight of her distress. He
was still crazed by desire of her--a desire only intensified a
thousand-fold by that brief contact of her within his arms. With a great
leap, he was upon her before she could flee again, had caught her
shoulder, wrenched her about, and, for a second time, swung her to his
breast. The shriek she would have uttered was muffled by his lips on her
mouth.

Jim returned early from the fields that afternoon. His heart was fairly
singing with happiness, as he mounted the steps of the house. His love
was overflowing. All things in life were perfect to him. He halted on
the porch, somewhat surprised that neither Lou nor their guest should be
there. He chanced to glance through the window into the living-room. It
was the very moment when Dan McGrew held the woman strained to his
bosom, his mouth on hers. Jim stared, uncomprehending, unbelieving.
Then, horror fell upon him, enveloped him in a black pall of agony--for
his wife lay supine, unresisting, yielding to the kisses that polluted
purity. But, in another second, Lou found strength to twist her lips
aside, and the cry that had been stifled broke from her. Its appeal was
unmistakable in its frantic suffering. Jim heard and understood, and
answered with a roar of rage, as he hurled himself through the door and
upon the man who thus dishonored him. Lou, released as Dan heard Jim's
shout, shrank away, and stood trembling against the wall, while the two
men reeled back and forth in a frenzied grapple. Their strength was so
well matched that neither at the outset could gain an advantage; for
each was keyed to extreme endeavor by the urge of elemental passions at
their full. Then, as their lurching bodies sent a massive chair
volleying to the floor, Jim's hold was loosened. Dan had time to snatch
the automatic from his pocket--but not time to use it. Before his arm
could be raised to fire, Jim had caught his wrist in a grip not to be
broken. A hip-lock threw Dan backward violently against the table that
stood on one side of the room. Strong though it was, the table yielded
under the impact of the two heavy bodies upon it, and went crashing to
the floor, with the two men atop the splintered boards. The force of the
fall stunned Dan for a moment. The automatic dropped from his released
hand. Jim saw, and seized the weapon. Ere Dan could move, he had
scrambled to his feet, where he stood menacing the fallen man. Perhaps
he would have shot his enemy there and then--but Lou interposed. She had
watched with dilated eyes the fight between the men who loved her. Her
whole feeling had been a desperate prayer for her husband's victory: a
prayer made vital by hate against the man who had so grossly insulted
her. Now at the end, however, a softer, feminine emotion compelled her.
She leaped forward, and clung to her husband's arm.

[Illustration: THE TABLE WENT CRASHING TO THE FLOOR, WITH THE TWO MEN
ATOP THE SPLINTERED BOARDS.]

"No, no, Jim!" she implored him. "Don't shoot! Tell him to go.... Oh, my
God! Tell him to go, Jim."

Dan clambered clumsily to his feet. The muzzle of the automatic stared
at him in vicious threat of death. The issue had left him helpless. He
was too weak for further combat, in the reaction from great emotions. He
stood with downcast eyes, swaying a little unsteadily.

Jim spoke, his voice metallic:

"You hear?" he said. "Get out of here, you dog! I'll send your things to
the hotel to-night. Not a word out of you--damn you!--or I'll kill you
in your tracks."

Husband and wife stood rigidly motionless, watching. The beaten man
ventured no rebellion against the decree. He went out of the room with a
stealthy, slinking haste, as though he feared lest the self-restraint of
his victor might fail. But in his heart was neither remorse nor
despair--only a fiercer hatred of the man, a fiercer love of the woman.



CHAPTER IV


On the porch, Dan caught up his hat, which had been lying on the chair,
and hastened to the stables. He did not scruple now to make use, for the
journey to the village, of the horse which he had been accustomed to
ride. As he trotted down the driveway, he encountered Nell, mounted on
her pony. The girl's gypsy-like face was flushed from a brisk canter
under the hot sun, and her black eyes shadowed by the long, curling
lashes, were sparkling with the joy of life. She called out cheerily in
inquiry whether her father was at the house. Dan called a curt, "Yes,"
in answer, without checking his pace. But, as the two came abreast, the
girl's glance took in the haggard fury on the man's face, and the
fearfulness of it fell like a blight on her gladness. She was
terror-stricken, without in the least understanding why. For his part,
Dan McGrew rode on his way with an added curse for this innocent child.

Dan McGrew registered at the hotel in the village, with a careless
announcement to the clerk that the loneliness of the ranch had outworn
his patience, and that his luggage would be along presently. Then, after
he had been fortified with a solitary drink at the bar, he betook
himself to his cell-like room, which was the best the hotel afforded,
and there gave himself over to evil plotting. As a result, when night
had fallen he sent a message by the hotel porter to Fingie Whalen, who
at this hour would doubtless be found somewhere about Murphy's. Under
the circumstances, naturally enough, he deemed it a measure of prudence
not to visit Murphy's, where he would be at the mercy of the men from
whom Jim had saved him. He was sure, however, that Fingie would not
permit any false delicacy to stand in the way of possible gain. He had
decided that he could make use of the gambler, and of the gambler's
painted woman, Jess, and he meant to bribe the pair to his purpose.

Fingie came promptly. Within fifteen minutes from the dispatching of the
porter, there came a heavy knock at Dan's door, and in response to a
summons to enter, the squat form and lowering face of the gambler
appeared. He grinned evilly at Dan, and swaggered forward truculently.

"What in hell are you up to?" he demanded, as he came to a standstill,
facing his host, who remained sprawling in a chair, seemingly quite at
ease. Dan had determined precisely on how to conduct himself in the
interview. So, now, he waved his hand hospitably toward a bottle of
whiskey which, with a jug of water and glasses, stood on the table.

"Help yourself," he exclaimed genially, "and sit down. I want to have a
talk with you."

"You'll have to do some mighty tall talkin' to get rid of them extra
four kyards I seen with my own eyes," Fingie retorted. He approached the
table, however, without any reluctance, where he helped himself
liberally before seating himself.

Dan made his explanations glibly.

"I got on to the fact that I was getting the bad end of a crooked deal
in that card game.... Now, hold your horses!" he commanded, as Fingie
scowled and would have spoken. "I don't mean anything for you to get mad
about. Only, the four of you were doing me up. I had too much of
Murphy's dope, and tried a silly trick. It failed, as it ought to have
failed, and I was in bad. I'm sorry, and I want you to let bygones be
bygones. You bruised me up good and plenty, if that's any satisfaction
to you, and, besides, you got my money. Not quite all of it, however!"
he added suggestively. He noted with satisfaction the increasing
amiability of Fingie's expression, and the avaricious glint in the
ferret eyes of the man at the concluding words.

"What's the game?" Fingie demanded bluntly.

Dan forthwith revealed in detail the work he required to be done. He
felt himself safe in being candid with this accomplice, who was wholly
free from any moral restraints, and who, as he now made known with many
oaths, was still suffering from a swollen jaw, the result of one of
Jim's blows. In fine, the gambler entered into the conspiracy with such
evident zest that Dan was able to make a better bargain than he had
expected for his services and those of his mistress. For an hour, the
two discussed the vicious plot, and then, at Dan's bidding, Fingie went
in quest of the woman, Jess. Presently, he returned with her, and she,
too, was stirred to pleasurable anticipations of the evils to be wrought
through her aid. For, on one occasion, she had cast languishing and
provocative glances on Jim Maxwell, which he had returned with a look in
which pity could not conceal repugnance.

There was a round of drinks for the three, and then Dan made his payment
to the gambler. This done, Jess was seated at the table with writing
materials, and took from Dan's dictation a note, which she wrote in her
natural hand, without any effort toward disguise, and signed with her
own name. When, at last, the worthy pair took their leave, that note
remained in the possession of their host.

Dangerous Dan's activities for the day were not yet completed. Within an
hour, he was astride a horse from the hotel livery, riding rapidly
toward the Maxwell ranch. When he was within a quarter of a mile from
the house, he dismounted, and hid his horse behind some bushes by the
roadside. He went forward on foot cautiously, for it was moonlight, and
objects were clearly discernible. Yet, he had little apprehension of
being observed, for he knew the customs of the place: that, though it
still lacked an hour to midnight, the household would doubtless be fast
asleep. There were dogs, it was true, which ran at large; but with these
Dan had made friends, and they would raise no outcry against him, though
he came with malignant purpose.

Dan, after he reached the lawns that spread before the house, picked his
way so as to keep within the shadows of the trees and shrubberies. He
avoided the gravel of the drive and the walks, going noiselessly over
the turf. The dogs charged upon him, welcoming, but gave no alarm.
Burglary was a thing almost unknown in this region, and the ranch-house,
as Dan knew, was left quite unprotected from thievery--or worse. The
prowler, when he had come to the porch, took off his shoes, and then
crept silently up the steps, and on to a window of the living-room. As
he had anticipated, it was open, though there was a wire screen. Under
Dan's hand, the screen was raised. It slid easily along its grooves, and
in another moment Dan stepped into the room. Enough moonlight fell
through the side windows for him to see his way distinctly. He crossed
to a corner in which was a writing-desk, commonly used by the master of
the house for the keeping of papers not sufficiently important for the
safe. Conspicuous upon it was lying a letter-case of Russia leather. Dan
could distinguish the darker shadow of its outline upon the surface of
oak. With a deft certainty of movement, he took from his pocket the note
he had that night dictated to the gambler's woman, and, opening the
case, thrust it within one of the compartments. Immediately, he retraced
his steps across the room, and climbed out through the window, where he
paused to lower the screen. When he had descended the porch steps, he
sat down on the grass, and put on his shoes again. In due time, he
reached his horse, and rode back to the town, filled with unholy joy
over the success of his expedition.

Dan, like many another conscienceless scoundrel, slept soundly after his
evil work. Yet, he was early astir, for time pressed, and there was
still much to be done toward the accomplishment of his design. He found
the morning clear, to his vast relief, since, had rain come, Jim would
in all likelihood have remained at the ranch-house, thus shutting off
the possibility of Dan's seeing Lou alone, which was his immediate
purpose. At once, then, after he had breakfasted, he mounted and rode to
the ranch-house boldly. He had no lack of courage, and freely ran the
risk of meeting the man whose hospitality he had so abused. That risk,
he knew, must be encountered for the sake of his plan. But he knew,
also, that the chances of an encounter were small with the harvest
requiring the rancher's presence in the fields.

As a matter of fact, when he rode up to the house, he neither saw nor
heard anything of its master. But, even before he dropped from the
saddle, he saw Lou, sitting on the porch with idly folded hands, and
with an expression of deep melancholy casting its shadows over the
delicate loveliness of her face. Dan's heart leaped exultantly. He
wondered if, by any chance, the reflex of her mood from yesterday might
contain some measure of sadness on his account. The slightest feeling of
womanly compassion for the culprit might prove invaluable to him in his
campaign of treachery. He was annoyed for a moment over the presence of
Nell on the porch, playing with a doll. But a second thought caused him
to decide that the child's company at the outset of the interview might
be of benefit to him, as likely to place restraint on the mother's
expression of anger against him.... That he was right in his conjecture,
the issue proved.

At sight of Dan McGrew, riding to the door from which he had been so
ignominiously spurned less than twenty-four hours before, Lou Maxwell
sat in dazed amazement, which swiftly merged in anger, untinged by any
thought of fear. That the man was dangerous, she knew. But she was no
longer to be entrapped by a belief in the self-restraint of this lover.
Moreover, she was on her guard now, not unsuspecting, as yesterday. And,
too, there were servants within call. These things flashed upon her in
the instant of perceiving him. So, she knew that she need not fear
anything from him beyond the insult of his presence. But that he should
dare thus to approach startled and confounded her by the sheer audacity
of the act. She was stupefied by the effrontery of the man as he
dismounted and ascended the steps toward her. She rose, under a sudden
impulse of resentment, and stood regarding him with a level gaze,
wherein was contempt that might have caused a weaker man to quail. But
Dangerous Dan had the courage of his wickedness, and he was not to be
intimidated, or swerved from his design, by her contumely, even though
to win her favor was the dearest purpose of his heart. For the present,
he must withstand stolidly the shafts of her disdain, to the end that he
might entice her to his will against her own.

Dan swept the cap from his head, and stood undaunted, yet with an air of
humility that was disarming. There was something pitiful in the
appealing glance of his eyes, something almost pathetic in the soft tone
of humiliation with which he spoke.

"I want you to forgive me, Lou--if you can forgive me--for a madness I
couldn't help.... I'm sorry."

Somehow, the woman was appeased, despite herself. Her wrath against the
man who had affronted her so mortally was no whit lessened; yet, his
manner of humble contrition touched her, against her will, to a feeling
of compassion. She still loathed him; notwithstanding, her mood was
unmistakably tinctured by commiseration. She hesitated for a moment,
then turned toward Nell, who, with round eyes of wonder, was regarding
her mother and their late visitor.

"Run out in the rose-garden, dear," she said quietly, "and play there
for a little while."

The child went obediently enough, though with obvious reluctance, for
her curiosity was aroused. She had passed from sight around the corner
of the house before Lou spoke again. Then, she did not mince her words:

"You have no right either to ask or to expect forgiveness," she said
sternly. Her voice was very cold, charged with bitter contempt. "You
have shown the kind of a man you really are. Nothing can change that. I
despise you utterly. I hope I shall never set eyes on you again. I do
not wish to hear another word from you. Your presence is hateful to me.
Go! My husband may come at any moment, and, if he finds you here, he'll
kill you on sight, as you deserve."

With the last words, she turned from him, unheeding his exclamation of
remonstrance, and went into the living-room.

Dan did not hesitate to follow her.

"Let me say this much, at least," he pleaded, still with utmost
humility. "I sinned so because I loved you so. I could not hold myself
back. Forgive me, Lou." His voice was tenderly entreating.

The woman faced him resolutely. Her eyes were sparkling with wrath, her
voice shook a little under the throb of emotion.

"You, and your love!" she cried, in disgust. "Faugh! Must I summon the
servants to put you out of the house?"

Dan made an appealing gesture. He answered with a tone of deprecation.

"No, Lou, you need not do that. I'll go in a moment, and never trouble
you again. But, before I go, I must tell you one thing--why I lost my
self-control yesterday. It was because I saw you so tender and fond and
devoted and unsuspecting in your love for a man who is--unworthy!"

Lou started involuntarily, then stood rigid, too astounded for speech.
But, in another moment, she cried out in vehement rebuke:

"How dare you speak like that of Jim!" Her tone was virulent; the
dark-brown eyes, usually so limpidly soft in their light, flashed with
the fires of her anger. "Jim is as clean as you are foul. How dare you
insinuate anything against him! Almost, I wish I hadn't interfered to
save your life yesterday. Oh, you beast! How dare you!"

"Because it's true," Dan retorted. He felt now that the situation was
well within his grasp, and there was an authoritative ring in his voice
that somehow, against her will, caused a chill of apprehension in his
listener. He went on speaking swiftly, with incisive earnestness, as one
not to be denied. "You see, Lou, I know the truth, and you do not. For
example, where is Jim this morning?"

He shot the question at her with such unexpectedness that she answered
involuntarily:

"Why, Jim's out in the fields, of course." She realized suddenly the
insolence of the question, and would have added a scathing rebuke.

But Dan went on imperturbably:

"Of course, you say that, because you do not know. But he was wise
enough to tell you that he must go to town to-day, to attend the meeting
of the directors of the bank."

Lou smiled in derision.

"To-day is the regular weekly meeting," she said, with an inflection of
dawning curiosity, which Dan noted complacently. "He always goes to the
bank-meeting. Why shouldn't he?"

"No reason at all," was the suave response. "But there is every reason
in decency why he should not go to another place, of which you know
nothing." He spoke in a voice that was significant, grave, portentous.
"That's where he is now."

"You mean something--something nasty, I suppose," the wife exclaimed.
Her tone was full of abhorrence for this traducer of the man she loved
and trusted. "I'll listen to none of your lies against Jim, Dan McGrew."

"I chanced on some information in the town last night," Dan persisted,
undismayed by her outbreak. "I have heard gossip before. There's a
woman--one of the sort you good women shrink from. She had been drinking
too much. She let drop something about the rich man who was coming to
visit her to-day, and she said his name was Jim."

Lou felt a tremor of fear. The jealousy that sleeps or wakes in the
heart of all lovers stirred within her for the first time. She sought to
stifle it, ashamed of even a thought of doubt as to her husband's
loyalty. It was monstrous that she should be thus moved by slanderous
accusations of one for whom she had only contempt. Again, she would have
spoken, but the man forestalled her.

"The woman, whose name is Jess, was bragging in her cups that her lover,
Jim, always came when she sent for him. And she said she had written
him--Jim--to visit her to-day."

The speaker's sneering assurance, his malignant emphasis on her
husband's name, filled the measure of the wife's wrath full to
overflowing. She advanced a step, raised her right arm, and with all her
strength struck the palm of her hand across Dan's cheek.

"Liar!" she cried, savagely.

The man did not flinch under the blow. The eyes of the two clashed, and
held steadily. Dan's cheek whitened where the stroke had fallen, then
burned redly. It was the woman's gaze that dropped at last, and Dan
smiled, cynically exultant.

"I don't ask you to believe me," he said impressively. "I only ask you
to open your eyes to the truth. I suppose Jim would take pains to
destroy any note from the woman, Jess. But there's always a chance. Men
get careless when they have wives that are so very trusting." His sharp
eyes perceived a lessening tension in the woman's form, a growing
listlessness in the expression of her face. He knew that there had come
a reaction from the strain of her emotions, that her will was growing
impotent, that now, at last, she would be pliant to his purpose.

He strode to the desk, and drew out the letter-case, while Lou watched
his every movement narrowly, as though she expected some trickery, while
powerless further to combat him. Her loyalty to Jim was no less, but her
powers of resistance had snapped. So, she looked on as Dan fumbled for a
moment among the papers in the letter-case, and then held out to her the
note that the woman had written in his room at the hotel, the night
before.

Lou took it rather gropingly, in mechanical obedience, because of the
utter weariness that was fallen upon her. She read it with eyes that
were dimmed--and again. Then, she stood staring still at the page of
coarse paper with its rudely scrawled lines, with its words of vile
insinuation; but her gaze was unseeing. The man's voice came to her very
faintly, as from a great distance.

"Well?"

"It's all a lie, of course," Lou said, feebly. "But I--don't
understand."

The cynical exultation in Dan's smile grew. At last, he was bold enough
to bring the affair to a crisis.

"Do you dare to ride with me to the town, to test the thing for
yourself?"

"Do I dare?" Lou repeated, arousing in some degree from her apathy.
"What do you mean?"

"I mean just that," he said. His voice was intentionally brutal. "You've
begun already to be afraid of the truth. Do you dare to ride to town
with me, and so test the truth with your own eyes?"

The taunt provoked her to a new anger, to a new strength. Once again,
the slender form grew tense, the head was raised proudly. Her voice came
harshly. There was no note of fear in it now, only a great disdain and
something of cruelty.

"I will ride with you, Dan McGrew," was her answer, "to find my husband,
and I shall tell him what you've said, and he'll kill you. Now, do you
dare?"

"I dare," the man said, quietly. "Let's go."



CHAPTER V


Dan McGrew had plotted with devilish cleverness. He had seized on the
fact of Jim's attendance at the bank-meeting as timely to his purpose.
He had, indeed, made it the pivot about which the details of his
scheming were grouped. As a result of his carefulness in planning,
during the hour of his interview with Lou, Fingie Whalen was stationed
in the street outside Murphy's saloon. He sat on a bench that stood
against the wall of the structure, and smoked incessant cigarettes, the
while his ferret eyes scanned closely the length of the main street,
down which Jim Maxwell must ride on his way to the bank. Just before
him, a saddled horse stood patiently, with the bridle-rein trailing.
Within the saloon, Jess, also, waited--with a drink, as well as a
cigarette, to comfort her in the interval. Thus, it befell that, when
Jim Maxwell came riding briskly into the town, his approach was noted
from afar by eyes hired for the purpose. Instantly, then, Fingie acted.
He sprang up, and darted into the back room of the saloon, where he
called Jess's name, and beckoned. The response of the woman was no less
prompt. She stood up quickly, and hurried out of the place, while Fingie
himself remained to peer anxiously from the window that gave on the
street. There, for a minute, he observed events outside. Afterward, he
lounged against the bar with a gratified smirk.

Jim, as he rode slowly down the main street, idly noted the woman who
hastened out of Murphy's, and mounted astride the horse. He wondered a
little that she did not start away. But, as he drew closer, his keen
eyes perceived that the form of the woman was swaying unsteadily in the
saddle. Alarmed for her safety, though with a suspicion that only excess
of drink ailed her, Jim quickened his horse's pace--too late. Before he
could reach her, the woman lurched, and fell heavily to the ground,
where she lay motionless, evidently stunned, if not more seriously
injured, while the startled horse backed away snuffing.

Jim was on the ground almost as quickly as the woman herself, and was
beside her before the few others in the street who came running. He did
the natural thing under the circumstances, precisely as Dan McGrew had
expected that he would. Since the woman lay with closed eyes, showing no
signs of consciousness, unless in the faint moaning that issued from her
rouged lips, Jim lifted her in his arms, and bore her through the side
door, which Fingie had thoughtfully left ajar, into the back room of
Murphy's saloon.... It was at this moment that the gambler left the
window to lounge unconcernedly against the bar. Jim carried his burden
to one of the round tables which was empty, and placed her gently upon
it, continuing to support her with his arms about the waist and
shoulders.

[Illustration: JIM CARRIED HIS BURDEN TO ONE OF THE ROUND TABLES.]

"Bring brandy!" he called out sharply to the nearest of the occupants of
the room, who now came crowding forward with ejaculations of dismay. The
man addressed was Fingie Whalen himself. He stared down at the woman
with shocked surprise writ large on his sullen features.

"Why, it's Jess!" he mumbled, in a voice that he vainly strove to fill
with distress. "Whatever has she been an' gone, an' done?"

"Get that brandy!" Jim reiterated the command curtly.

"Yes, sir," Fingie answered humbly, and hurried off to the bar. In a
moment, he was back with the liquor, which he held to the woman's lips.
To Jim's relief, Jess swallowed the draft easily enough--to tell the
truth, rather greedily; but of that fact her rescuer was quite unaware,
and from it he augured well.

Jess managed her apparent recovery from the effects of the fall with
such art as she possessed, which, in truth, was not of the highest,
though ample for the beguiling of a man who was honest and kindly and
wholly unsuspecting. Soon, her eyes unclosed a little, and she breathed
more deeply, and the moaning, which had been interrupted by the brandy,
was resumed more vigorously. Through the paint on her cheeks showed the
deeper red of a genuine flush, the natural result of the dram, but a
sure evidence of vitality, none the less. Jim rejoiced over these signs
of restoration, and even smiled on Fingie, as he bade him continue the
chafing of the woman's hands.

"She's not seriously hurt," he remarked, with much satisfaction in his
voice; "though the way she flopped off that horse was enough to jar her
teeth loose." Being ignorant of the fact that Jess had been a member of
a circus troupe before she yielded to the blandishments of the gambler,
Jim wondered mightily that so severe a fall should have had no worse
effect.

Jess opened her eyes wide, and stared up blankly into the face of the
man who held her in his arms.

"Where am I?" she asked, with the languid air of her favorite stage
heroine when swooning.

"It's all right," Jim hastened to explain soothingly, having due regard
to her dazed condition. "You were dizzy for a second, I suspect, and
fell from your horse. But there doesn't seem to be anything much the
matter, and you'll be all right in a jiffy." He addressed Fingie.

"Bring her another nip of the brandy."

The gambler would have remonstrated against this unnecessary
extravagance, but could find no plausible reason for refusal, and Jess,
who was enjoying herself hugely, offered him no assistance. When the
drink had been brought, she swallowed it without too much display of
eagerness, and coughed as a lady should who is unaccustomed to strong
waters. At once thereafter, she straightened up to a sitting posture on
the table, though she still accepted the support of Jim's arms to his
discomfiture, and regarded him with coquettish glances of gratitude,
which were offensive to him, and to Fingie Whalen as well. He tried to
withdraw his arms, but she leaned upon him too heavily, and he was
forced for a few minutes longer to retain her in a passive embrace. But,
as he repeated the effort tentatively, Jess bethought herself that her
recovery had now advanced so far as to make such support unnecessary.
Therefore, to play her part, she withdrew herself, and sat up
unassisted, but with a hand to her brow to indicate that her brain had
not yet wholly cleared.

"Oh, you have been so good to me, Mister!" she gushed. "I shall be
thankful to you to my dying day. Why," she added in a burst of
imagination, "the horse might have stepped on me, if you hadn't been
right there to save me."

"Nothing like that, I'm sure," Jim declared, as amiably as he could
contrive. "The horse seemed to be doing his best not to step on you
without any help from me. You don't owe me any thanks, really."

Jess put out an appealing hand. It was accepted reluctantly by Jim, and,
with his assistance, and that of Fingie on the other side, she got down
from the table totteringly, and sank into a chair, where she sat limply,
with closed eyes, following her rôle devotedly to the end.

"You'll have a drink with us, Mr. Maxwell," Fingie urged, twisting his
lowering features to an expression of affability. "What's past is past
an' done. You sure did give me an almighty swat on the jaw t'other day,
but I ain't one to nuss no grouch, an' Jess here, an' me, we're plumb
grateful for yer kindness to her this mornin'. What'll you have, Mr.
Maxwell? I'll bring it."

Jim shook his head in refusal. He, too, had no wish to nourish a grudge;
but he had no liking for the gambler--less for the woman, whose tawdry
airs nauseated him. He was already a little disgusted, with the episode,
and desirous to end it.

Jess saw the refusal in his face, and was quick to intervene; for
failure now would mean the utter collapse of all their plotting. She
spoke gently, and, in the genuineness of her anxiety, her voice trembled
with appeal:

"Please, sir--please, Mr. Maxwell!" she besought him.

Jim, in spite of his repulsion, was touched by the woman's earnestness.
His sense of chivalry impelled him to yield to a plea so natural and so
ingenuous on her part. He smiled, a bit wryly, in answer to her
imploring look, and nodded assent.

"I'll have a glass of beer," he said to Fingie, and, as the gambler
hurried off to the bar, he seated himself at the table beside Jess.

The woman prattled nervously, made garrulous by the brandy, and by
fatuous ambition to impress this aloof companion with her charms. As a
matter of fact, the conspiracy came perilously near to failure in
consequence of her chatting, which almost drove Jim to flight. His
instinct of politeness, however, conquered inclination, and he remained
in his place, listening with a forced semblance of interest to hide how
desperately he was bored. Yet, throughout, he rested without a faintest
suspicion that this affair was aught beyond the innocent thing it
seemed. To him, the happening was merely a nuisance--nothing more,
nothing in any wise sinister. It did not occur to him to wonder why
Fingie should have volunteered to serve as their waiter. He did not
trouble even to follow the gambler with his eyes, as the fellow went to
the bar.

For that matter, it would have availed Jim nothing, had he watched never
so closely. The card-sharp possessed the dexterity of his trade. Those
long, slender, mobile fingers of his had been fashioned by fate for a
surgeon, a conjurer, a gambler, or a pick-pocket. Not even the keen-eyed
bartender, who was close to him, noticed the tiny vial in Fingie's hand,
as it hovered over the frothing glass of beer on the counter, or saw the
trickle of the colorless drops into the brew. So, the gambler came back
to the table presently, with a tray, on which were two glasses of
brandy--one for himself, of generous size; the other for Jess, so tiny
that she frowned indignantly at sight of it--and the glass of beer for
Jim. The three drank together.... Then, the gambler and his woman
watched avidly for what should befall.

There was no delay. Jim, glad that the ordeal was at last done, would
have risen to leave. But a strange lethargy held him fastbound. A black
cloud descended on his brain; thought ceased. Suddenly, he slumped in
his chair. His arms dropped heavily on the table. His head fell on them.
Fingie and Jess chuckled aloud in gloating over the inert form of the
man. They were not afraid lest he hear them, now.



CHAPTER VI


There was not a word exchanged between Lou and Dan on their ride from
the ranch-house to the town. For his part, the man was filled with
rejoicing over the triumph that he anticipated. He had no fear of
failure. The ingenuity of his plot insured success. Its strength lay in
the seeming simplicity of the events that would lead to the desired
climax. Dan's only doubt had been concerning his ability to hold the
woman to his will, and to make her play her vital part in his
machinations. He had realized that he would have need of all his wit to
secure from her even a hearing of his accusations against the man she
loved. By his arts, he had enticed her into listening, and by reason of
the very indignation thus aroused, he had warped her mood to his
purpose. So, he went forward full of confidence as to the outcome,
exultant, heedless of the misery of the woman who rode by his side.

That misery was poignant. At intervals, wrath flamed high in her, and
she longed for the moment when she should bring the two men face to
face, that the slanderer might receive the punishment he merited from
the one maligned. But, oftener, her emotion dropped into abysses of
despair. There had been something unspeakably revolting to her wifely
instincts in the tawdry phrases of the ill-written note, signed "Your
loving Jess." Her spirit writhed as she recalled the words, so damning
in their explicitness: "Shall expect you at the usual time. Don't let
your trusting Lou keep you away, as I can't do without you." The wife
found herself compelled to fight with all her energies against the demon
of doubt that so hideously beset her. That note had been addressed to
"Dearest Jim." And Jim was her husband's name, and the note had been
lying in his letter-case. And, if these things of themselves were not
enough to sap faith, there was the sneering use of her own name: "Don't
let your trusting Lou keep you away." The distracted wife told herself a
hundred times that her belief in the loyalty of her husband remained
unshaken, but it was not so. She lied to herself, from very horror of
the truth. Only by fierce and incessant denials of the doubt that welled
in her could she repel the assaults of despair. Of the man beside her,
she thought hardly at all, except in the fitful and constantly lessening
flashes of her anger. Her thought was for the husband, with a pitiful
wondering over the hateful mystery that had come to pass. Oh, surely,
there was some simple explanation of it all--there must be! It was a
hoax, a jest, some misunderstanding--anything! But, though she argued
against belief, there remained always in her consciousness the stubborn,
sickening facts, and a great dread lay crushingly upon her spirit. The
agony of suspense grew unbearable. Her quirt rose and fell in a vicious
lash on the flanks of the mare. The astonished thoroughbred leaped and
stretched into a run.... Dan McGrew pressed his own mount forward, to
keep pace.

While the two thus rode toward the town, there was a period of tedious
inaction for Dan's accomplices. In the back room of Murphy's saloon,
Jess remained impatiently in her seat at the table, with the empty
brandy glass before her. She would have liked another drink, but dared
not call for it, since it had been forbidden by her master, because her
part in the sordid drama was not yet finished. Beside her, Jim sat
motionless, his body sprawled clumsily over the table. He had not
stirred since his yielding to the influence of the drug. The only
evidence of life about him was the sound of stertorous breathing. The
habitués of the place had given no heed to him after a few sneering
comments concerning one who would get drunk so early in the day.

Fingie Whalen, after he had seen his drops take effect on the victim,
went out of the saloon, and reëstablished himself on the bench against
the wall, where once again he gave himself over to an unremitting survey
of the main street, down which any one coming from the ranch must pass.
He smoked with nervous rapidity, which increased as minute after minute
passed, and there was still no sight of those for whom he watched. At
the end of an hour, the gambler's impatience had become anxiety. He
began to fear failure at the last, when success had seemed assured. It
might well be that, in spite of Jess's note, Dan McGrew had been unable
to persuade Lou Maxwell into accompanying him. Or--as would be equally
disastrous--they might come too late. Fingie had been as liberal as he
dared in the drugging of the beer, but there is a great difference in
the reactive powers of various men against such poison. He had not been
minded to run any risk of murder. Therefore, he could not tell with
precision when Jim Maxwell would recover consciousness. As the minutes
hurried on, Fingie's fear mounted by leaps and bounds. From time to
time, he left the bench, and peered in through the window, to reassure
himself as to the continued unconsciousness of the drugged man.

Then, at last, as he turned from one of these glimpses through the
window, Fingie Whalen saw in the distance the forms of two riders coming
at a furious gallop. For a second, he stood staring, to make sure that
there was no mistake, that these were in fact those for whom he had
waited with such anxiety. In another moment, he became certain that one
of the two who approached was Dan McGrew. The flapping of a divided
skirt proved that the other rider was a woman. He could no longer doubt
that McGrew had succeeded. There needed now only to set the stage for
the final scene. For the second time that day, Fingie whirled and darted
into the saloon. He caught up from the bar a glass of brandy, which he
had left under the barkeeper's charge, since he had not deemed it safe
on the table within Jess's reach. He moved now without undue haste, in
order to avoid attracting attention to himself and the others concerned.
When he had reached the table at which Jess and their victim were
seated, he put the glass down, with a nod to the woman to indicate that
the end of the play was now at hand. Jess shoved her chair close to that
in which Jim slouched. At the same time, Fingie seized the unconscious
man by the shoulders, and lifted the heavy form upright in the chair.
Jim yielded limply to the procedure--a dead weight in the other's grasp.
He was still unconscious. His face was hot and flushed, the face of one
under the influence of liquor. His breath still came noisily. Fingie,
straining under the weight, tilted the flaccid body over a little way,
until it rested against the shoulder of Jess, who braced herself to
sustain it. Fingie raised Jim's left arm, as the unconscious man reposed
thus against the woman at his right, and laid it about her neck. Thus
the two remained in an embrace, which bore every evidence of fondness
that knew no shame in this public and disreputable place. Jim's head
sagged, until it rested upon the woman's bosom. Her right arm was
wreathed about him, holding him tenaciously, with all her strength, lest
he lurch away from her. With her left hand, she took up the glass of
brandy, which Fingie had brought, and held it close to the lips of the
unconscious man.

[Illustration: JIM'S HEAD SAGGED UNTIL IT RESTED UPON THE WOMAN'S
BOSOM.]

Such was the business of the piece, as it had been arranged beforehand
in each detail by the conspirators. Jess cast a look of inquiry toward
the gambler, to learn whether or not the situation met all the
requirements of the plot. He gave a brief nod, and grunted approval. He
heard the clatter of hoofs in the street outside--a clatter of hoofs of
horses ridden in haste. It ceased just without the door of the saloon.
Fingie walked quietly to the bar. A quick glance about showed that the
attention of none had been attracted to his movements. He grinned evilly
in anticipation.... From the time when he had first sighted the riders,
not more than a half-minute had elapsed. He leaned against the bar, and
stared furtively toward the window that gave on the street.

Dan McGrew drew close alongside Lou, as the pair pounded down the main
street of the town.

"Stop at the corner, this side of the bank," he called to her. "At
Murphy's saloon."

The woman shivered as her ears caught the words. She knew the character
of the notorious place, which catered to the most depraved tastes of the
community. Was it to a resort so ignoble that she must go to refute the
slander against her husband? To refute it! Or--she broke off her
thought, appalled by the terrible alternative. Then, in the following
instant, she found herself already abreast of the saloon. She heard her
companion's brisk command:

"Stop here!"

She obeyed, though, almost, the dread that beat upon her forced her to
flee on, and on--anywhere away from the horror that menaced. She pulled
her mare to a standstill, and got down from the saddle, and let the
bridle-reins trail. She moved as one in a dream--rather, as one in a
nightmare. Yet, now the crisis was upon her, she did not suffer quite so
cruelly. Her feeling was numbed, somehow. It was with a certain
listlessness in her voice that she addressed Dan McGrew, as he stepped
to her side.

"Well?"

"There's no need to go inside," Dan explained. "We can see enough, I
fancy, through the window.... Come!"

Lou followed obediently whither he led. So the two came to the window,
with the dirty glass and its tattered shade raised high, so that
whosoever would might look freely on the squalor within. Dan stepped
forward and peered into the room for a moment, then turned and beckoned
to Lou.... And the wife advanced, as he bade her, and looked over his
shoulder.

Lou's eyes, accustomed to the full glare of the noon-day sun, could at
first distinguish nothing more than a vague litter of weaving shadows
within the murk of the dingy room. Very soon, however, her vision
adjusted itself to the dim interior, so that she began to see
distinctly. Even in this moment of emotional stress, Lou was conscious
of her repugnance at the spectacle of coarsely flaunted vice. She noted
the line of sodden men loafing along the bar, the few others grouped
about the tables with the bedizened and painted women, whose wanton
faces, and more wanton manners, proclaimed their unsavory sort. Yet, her
attention was thus arrested for only a fleeting fraction of a second.
Then her gaze fell on that other table and she saw her husband.

There could be no doubt as to Jim's identity. As she recognized him,
Lou's dark brown eyes dilated before the fearfulness of this thing. For
she saw, as well, every detail of his visible plight. The scene was
etched on her consciousness with the acid of horror, there to remain
indelible throughout the years. She knew, in the first second of seeing,
every feature of the creature within whose arms her husband was lying.
She knew the cut and color of the soiled bodice, with its drapery of
cheap lace over the bosom--on which his loved face reposed. She felt a
nausea. There was nothing lovable now in his face. Instead, it was
bestial, repulsive--the face of a man who had given himself over to
gratification of the beast within him, and who was wallowing in the mire
of his degradation.... So it seemed to Lou Maxwell, as she stood
staring, bereft, upon that scene which to her meant the end of all
things. The life had gone out of her face. A sickness as of death
clutched at her heart. Suddenly her gauntleted hands caught Dan McGrew's
shoulder. Only his quick support saved her from falling. She spoke
dully, in a broken whisper:

"Take me away."



CHAPTER VII


Lou was able to climb to her saddle with Dan's assistance, though she
moved very feebly, and her white, drawn face was that of one who had
been stricken with a mortal hurt. But once safely mounted, with less
strain on her muscles, a little strength flowed back into her, so that
she sat steadily enough as the two started back at a walk over the way
down which they had ridden so furiously. By the time the town was left
well behind, the fresh air and the motion had restored her faculties in
part, both physical and mental. But with the clearing of her brain came
an agony of realization almost unendurable. She urged her horse to its
full speed, fain to put all distance possible between her and the
detestable scene on which she had just looked. Indeed, the instinct of
flight in this crisis of her fate was dominant. Her one desire was to
flee to the ends of the earth, to escape forever from all that had been.

Throughout the years of her life hitherto, Lou had experienced no real
anguish. Her sorrows, great though some of them had seemed to her as
child and woman, had been essentially trivial, over trivial things. She
had never known the ills of poverty. The death of her father had
occurred while yet she, the only child, was too young to grieve deeply
or long. Her mother's death had occurred some years after her marriage,
when she had been weaned from the old home-life. In truth, all her years
had been pleasant ones. The sum of her happiness had been far beyond
that of most. The love between her and her husband had been a beautiful
one, in which she had found supreme content. It had been crowned by the
birth of the child. It had held the promise of serenely joyous years to
come.... And now, the catastrophe! Here was the end of all things. Doubt
of her husband's loyalty had never tainted her devotion. She had
believed utterly in his cleanness, his wholesome manhood. And now, in
an instant, the whole fabric of her life was in shreds, beyond any
possibility of reweaving; befouled beyond any possibility of purifying.
All her happiness had been an illusion, the gracious charm of it only a
mask that covered the ugly truth.

Lou had never a doubt concerning that truth. With her own eyes, she had
witnessed it. She had seen Jim in drunken debauch with the painted
woman, who had boasted that this lover came always at her call. The wife
had seen her husband fondled openly by a wanton in a public place, had
seen the creature holding the glass to that husband's lips. Dan McGrew
had plotted well. By his intrigue, he had destroyed absolutely all her
faith and happiness.

The humiliation of the revelation sharpened the torture. It would not
have been quite so terrible, Lou thought, if Jim had loved some woman of
a decent sort. But the loathesomeness of being scorned for that infamous
woman of the dance-hall--! The wife writhed under the ignominy: that a
being so sordid should have ousted her from her husband's heart. His
infatuation for one so base proved his entire worthlessness. He was but
the gross, soiled caricature of her ideal. The idol of gold which she
had worshiped was shown to be of clay--clay filthy and corrupt.

Dan McGrew realized, to some extent at least, the anguish of the woman
at whose side he rode. Had it been consistent with his purposes, he
would have spared her that suffering. In his way, he sympathized with
her keenly. Yet the fact that her grief was wholly of his making, had no
cause whatsoever except the visible lie which he had built for her eyes
to see--the fact that he alone had thrust the iron into her soul
troubled Dangerous Dan not at all. He had no remorse, though he pitied
her. He was absolutely without compunction for the misery he had
wrought. Dangerous Dan was a strong man, save for his vices. He was a
hard man as well. What he desired, he meant to take, and he was
ruthless and unscrupulous as to the manner of his taking. More than
anything else in the world, he desired to possess for his own Lou
Maxwell. To that end, he had concocted his scheme of villainy. The
woman's present agony was a necessary part in the success of his
plotting. So, though he was sorry for her whom he had thus fearfully
wronged, he felt no vestige of regret--only exultation. In his way, Dan
McGrew loved Lou. His love for her was, indeed, the chief passion of his
life. But his love, like that of many another man, was wholly selfish.
She was necessary to his happiness. That he must destroy her happiness
in order to secure his was of no importance. Moreover, with the egotism
of a strong man, he was confident that he would be able in the days to
come to make her happier than she had ever been before.

Now, on the ride, Dan discreetly kept silence. He could follow well
enough the workings of the woman's mood, and he believed that it would
be unwise at this time to attempt the direction of her thoughts. It
seemed to him certain that under the circumstances she must inevitably
reach the conclusion he desired. There might be danger that a suggestion
from him would provoke suspicion, though this possibility was remote,
after the effectiveness of the scene on which she had looked.
Nevertheless, despite his confidence in a victorious issue of the
affair, Dan was glad when Lou went forward at full speed. He, like
Fingie Whalen, knew that the influence of the drug on Jim Maxwell would
be only of a temporary sort, and that soon the ranch-owner would recover
consciousness. Just how long an interval there might be before the
husband's return to the ranch, Dan could not tell. But, because he was
in a fever of impatience for a rapid development of events, he rejoiced
over the haste in which they rode, and welcomed with a sigh of relief
their arrival at the ranch.

As Lou dismounted, Nell came running from the porch with a rapturous cry
of greeting. The mother dropped to her knees, and gathered the girl into
her arms, with passionate kisses. She realized, with bitter
self-reproach, that in all this time of trial she had had not a single
thought for the daughter whom she so loved. In her humiliation as a wife
she had forgotten her obligation as a mother. Now, abruptly, the
shameful significance to the daughter of what had befallen was borne in
upon Lou's consciousness.

"He is unworthy ever to look on her face again." She was unaware that in
the intensity of her feeling she had spoken aloud with deliberate
emphasis.

Nell, already somewhat perplexed by the ardor of these caresses, became
even a little frightened by the unfamiliar expression on her mother's
face, and by the sternly spoken words, which she did not understand. She
was relieved when, the next moment, she was released, and she hurried
off to her favorite nook in the rose-garden, where she might be alone to
puzzle over the meaning of it all.

Unlike the child, Dan McGrew understood exactly the wife's ejaculation,
and he knew that he had achieved his end. Without invitation, but quite
as a matter of course, he walked at Lou's side as she ascended the steps
and entered the living-room. She accepted his company without
remonstrance, indifferently. It was only after she had sunk down into a
low easy chair, where she lay back wearily with closed eyes, while she
drew off her gauntlets, that Dan McGrew finally dared to address her
explicitly:

"You must leave him, of course," he said gently. His voice was very
grave and kindly. It came with something of a shock to the woman's
ears--she had forgotten him so completely in the self-absorption of her
mood. But, too, there was something soothing to her in the manner of his
utterance. She became aware that here was one to aid her in the
accomplishment of things to be done. She no longer remembered how,
within the hour, she had execrated this man who now stood before her.
She had become oblivious of the insult he had so recently put upon her.
The revelation of her husband's treachery obsessed her mind to the
exclusion of all else. So, she was fully disposed to accept the
assistance of Dan McGrew in this emergency. She was ready to acquiesce
in his suggestions for her guidance in escaping from this place which
her husband had polluted. She sat up in a quick access of energy.

"Yes," she said harshly, "I must leave him--at once." Her animation
grew. Her face, which had been pallid a moment before, was flushed with
eagerness. Her expression became resolute. "I must take Nell away from
him. I don't want him ever to set eyes on her again--he's not fit."

Dan forbore comment. There needed from him no condemnation of the
husband. The wife's conviction as to Jim's guilt was complete. So he
avoided Lou's reference to her husband's culpability, and spoke to the
point:

"You want to get away without seeing him again," he remarked, in a tone
of positiveness, as if the matter admitted of no doubt.

"Yes," the wife answered. "It would be too horrible to see him again!
And for Nell--"

Dan McGrew nodded sympathetically.

"It would only mean a nasty row," he agreed. "You might as well spare
yourself that--and spare the child, too," he concluded, craftily. For he
realized that Lou would fly fast and far for the child's sake, if not
for her own. He detested the necessity of the child's presence in their
flight, but he recognized the fact that it was a necessity, and
therefore to be endured--even, as far as possible, to be turned to
advantage.

"Yes," Lou continued, "we must hurry as fast as we can, for I suppose
there's no telling when Jim might return. And it would be dreadful to
run into him in the town, on the way to the train."

Dan McGrew nodded assent.

"It would, indeed!" he declared. "In the condition he's in now there's
no telling what he might do."

Lou shuddered at the memory of her husband's sodden face, as she had
seen it resting on the breast of the woman in Murphy's saloon.

"We must not meet him!" she declared desperately. "It would be too
terrible to have him see Nell." She pressed her hands to her bosom as if
to hold back the emotion that surged within her. "More dreadful for Nell
to see him. I want her to have a clean memory of her father, whatever he
is."

"We can avoid any danger of meeting him," Dan McGrew asserted, with a
brisk tone of confidence that reassured his listener. "We'll just ride
across country to the main line. Do you know the road? I have only a
general idea."

Lou was all eagerness over the suggestion.

"Yes, yes," she exclaimed excitedly; "that is the way to do it. I know
the road. We must get ready and start at once. But you don't need to go
with us."

Dan McGrew spoke decisively:

"I've got you into this mess, Lou, and it's up to me to see the thing
through. I want to help you in any way I can--and just now you need
help." His tone was firm, yet tender, with a note of devotion in it that
touched the distraught woman. She sprang to her feet and held out both
her hands, which were seized in a warm clasp.

"Thank you, Dan," she said gently. "God knows I need help."

Then, forthwith, she became all animation. She summoned her maid, and
ordered that two small bags which could be carried on horseback should
be packed with necessaries for herself and Nell. At Dan's suggestion,
she sent an order to the stables for Nell's pony and two fresh mounts to
serve for Dan and herself. These things done, it occurred to her that
she must leave some explanation of her departure for her husband on his
return. She seated herself at his desk, and wrote hurriedly and briefly,
in distaste for even this indirect contact with the man who had wronged
her.

     _Dear Jim_:

     I know all. I do not want to be in your path, so am going away.
     You love another, so will perhaps not miss me.

     Good-by, Jim.

     I forgive you.
                                                       LOU.

Lou, when she had set her name to the short form of words, thrust the
sheet into an envelope, which she addressed with the single word, "Jim."
For long seconds she sat staring at the lines she had last traced--that
name which had been through so many years the symbol of her happiness,
which was now become the symbol of vileness and misery. The horror of it
smote her anew, essenced in that name which had been her blessing, which
was now become her curse.

The sound of the hoofs stamping on the gravel before the door aroused
her. The maid came to announce that the horses were in readiness, with
the bags strapped to the saddles. With the maid came Nell, who had
needed no preparation, since she was already in her riding clothes. Lou
took the girl in her arms and kissed the exquisite dark face with a
tenderness that was like a benediction.... She had no least hint that
this was destined to be the last time her lips should touch the soft
roundness of the girlish cheek.

"You are to ride with me this afternoon, Nell," she said. "Don't ask any
questions now. I'll tell you all about it by-and-by. It's a surprise."
She shivered over the words. A surprise--yes, a surprise that meant the
end of all things. So, presently, the three went forth from the
living-room, and across the porch, and down the steps, and got into the
saddles of the waiting horses. Without any exchange of words among them,
they rode away. None of the three looked back--Nell, because she had no
guess as to the sinister meaning of this parting; Dan, because even his
calloused soul felt a twinge of shame over the ruins that he left
behind; Lou, because she could not.



CHAPTER VIII


It was not until late afternoon that Jim slowly struggled back to
consciousness. He was first aware of a deadly nausea, which seemed
billowing through every atom of his being. Then he felt the torture that
stabbed through his brain. In an effort of revolt, he raised his head,
though the movement tried his strength to the utmost. His eyes swept
dimly over the scene, and a dull wonder filled him. Just at first, he
did not recognize the place. Very quickly, however, the acrid odors of
spilled liquors and the reek of cheap perfumes from the women quickened
memory. Suddenly his eyes opened wide, and he saw clearly, with new
consciousness of his surroundings--and of himself. He realized that in
some mysterious fashion, altogether inexplicable to him, he had been
overcome in the back room of Murphy's saloon. His mind went to the
period immediately preceding the blank in memory. He remembered his
presence there along with the woman, Jess, and the gambler, and his
taking a drink with them. Of whatever had followed, he had no knowledge.
Evidently, he had suffered a seizure of some sort. As his faculties were
restored, it occurred to him that he might have been drugged by the
gambler or the woman, for the purpose of robbery. But a hasty
examination showed that his watch and money were untouched. Besides, it
seemed to him, on second thought, preposterous that either of the two
should have dared anything of the kind against him. No, it was certain
that he had been attacked thus without warning by some unexpected
physical ailment. He was rather alarmed by the experience, as strong men
usually are when unaccustomed weakness assails them. He determined to
submit himself to a careful examination at the hands of a competent
physician, on his first visit to the county-seat.

The nausea had subsided in some measure, and the pain in his head, too,
had lessened. But he felt mouth and throat parched. He got up, moving
with difficulty, and, after a few moments of unsteadiness while he held
to the back of a chair for support, he was able to stand firmly enough
and to walk forward to the bar.

"Give me a glass of water," he said to the bar-keeper.

The fellow obeyed with alacrity, for he knew Jim Maxwell to be a man of
importance in the community, and he had been puzzled by the events of
the day--even a little frightened lest trouble come of them. Jim gulped
the water and demanded more. He drank a number of glasses before his
thirst was even partially quenched. The effect was speedy. He felt
strength returning to him. His brain was quite clear again.

The bar-tender, watching narrowly, saw that the ranch-owner was himself
once more. He ventured to speak ingratiatingly, in the hope of
satisfying his curiosity.

"That was quite some snoozle, Mister," he remarked, with a smirk.

"It was nothing of the sort," Jim snapped. "I don't know what it was.
But it was bad enough."

"I thought mebbe as how you'd had a drop too much," the bar-keeper
explained, "an' was jest nacherly sleepin' it off. If we'd knowed you
was sick, we'd have got the Doc in to give you a look-over."

"That's all right," Jim answered. "I'm not blaming you any--unless it
was the drink you gave me that poisoned me."

Presently Jim went out into the street. He found his horse tied to a
ring at the corner of the saloon building. He unhitched it, mounted, and
rode slowly homeward. He was still in distress physically, but his
condition was improving from moment to moment, so that he no longer felt
apprehension as to the outcome. Soon, indeed, he became sufficiently
sure of himself to put his horse to a trot.... As the shadows of evening
drew down, he rode up to the door of his home.

There was a bank of lurid clouds in the west, massed heavily on the
horizon. The air was motionless, weighted with portents of coming storm.
Jim felt the oppressiveness, and in a subtle way it rested upon his mood
as something sinister. A weight of melancholy pressed upon him as he
entered the house. The stillness of the air seemed reënforced in the
quiet of the living-room into which he stepped. There was no sound. He
listened for his wife's greeting. It did not come. He listened for the
pattering steps of Nell, running to welcome him. He did not hear them.
The silence hurt him in some curious way. He had an overwhelming sense
of the absence of those he loved--the absence of wife and child.

He crossed the room to his desk. He slipped the loop of the quirt from
his wrist and let it fall on the desk. The effect of the drug was not
yet assuaged; he was very thirsty. He called to the maid passing through
the hall:

"Bring me a glass of water, Mary."

The girl came quickly with the drink. She and the other servants were in
a ferment of curiosity, full of suspicions and wonderings. There had
been much gossip in the house over the fight between the two men the day
before, which had not passed unobserved. To-day, the wife had suddenly
left her home with the man who had been ordered out of the house. Over
this fact, scandalous tongues were clacking loudly. Mary had made it her
business to be passing in the hall, in order that she might note the
attitude of the master at such a time. So she stood, in eager
expectation, eying her master closely, as he took the glass of water.

But he set the glass back on the tray suddenly, for he saw an envelope
lying on the desk, addressed in the handwriting of the woman he loved:

"Jim."

A foreboding of disaster crashed upon him. He trembled, standing there
with the envelope unopened in his hand. Then he strove to throw off this
craven dread--for which there was no reason. He turned to the maid.

"Where is your mistress?" he asked, quietly.

It was the question for which Mary, and the whole household, had been
waiting.

"Why, sir," she answered falteringly, dismayed now that the matter was
coming to a crisis, "she has gone out--with Miss Nell, sir--and with Mr.
McGrew."

McGrew! The name roared in Jim's brain. The man who had insulted his
wife, whom he had beaten and driven from his home like a whipped cur....
And Lou and Nell had gone with Dan McGrew. He felt a sickness,
inexpressibly more horrible than the physical nausea that had sickened
him there in Murphy's saloon. That Lou should have gone with Dan
McGrew--and Nell! The thing was incredible!

His eyes searched the room, as if looking for wife or child, or for some
clew to explain the mystery. They fell on the envelope, which he still
held in his hand. He tore it open in a frenzy of eagerness.

He read confusedly. But, somehow, the essential meaning beat upon his
brain. He grasped the fact that the woman he loved had gone from him. It
was all a monstrous lie, of course. Yet, there was the horrid truth--she
had gone away. Lou and Nell--the two things in the world--had gone away.
He could not understand. But they had gone.

"Good-by, Jim!"

She had written that, and she had signed it "Lou." There was confusion
in his thoughts. He could not guess the meaning that lay back of what
his wife had written. He only knew that there was some monstrous lie.

The maid's voice came softly. The girl was appalled at the expression on
the man's face as he stood staring down at the sheet of paper in his
hands. It was from a desire to bring things back to the ordinary that
she spoke apologetically:

"Your glass of water, sir."

The words made a mechanical impression on Jim Maxwell's consciousness.
He stretched out his left arm, and his hand, from which he had not yet
pulled off the riding-gauntlet, closed over the glass on the tray. He
raised it toward his lips. His eyes fell on the note once more.

"You love another, so will perhaps not miss me."

The incredible words were there before him. And she had gone--she and
Nell.... With Dan McGrew! The thing was impossible. There was no truth
anywhere. He stared down at the letter, aghast at the horrible conundrum
propounded to him by fate. Lou had gone--with Dan McGrew!... Why?

His eyes held to the note.

"--so I am going away."

The words beat a refrain of dreadfulness in his brain.

"--so I am going away."

His hand, holding the glass of water, clenched fiercely in the reflex of
emotion. The glass was shivered, and the fragments were multiplied as
his passion still sought expression in the violence of that clutch.

[Illustration: HIS HAND CLENCHED FIERCELY IN THE REFLEX OF EMOTION.]

Jim turned to the maid, who had watched his unconscious splintering of
the glass with distended eyes.

"When did they go?" he asked.

Mary answered hurriedly, disconcerted by the obvious distress of her
master.

"It was some hours ago, sir. They went sort of unexpected-like, as it
seemed to me, sir."

Jim reasoned swiftly. Somehow, he sensed a frightful fraud underlying
this mystery. But he knew the need of haste. By some malevolent chance,
his wife had been led into this error of understanding--out of which she
had written:

"I do not want to be in your path, so am going away."

Jim turned to the girl, who was still hovering doubtfully in the
doorway.

"There's been a mistake somewhere, I guess." His voice was quiet, but in
it throbbed a heart-beat of deepest feeling. "Tell the foreman, I want
the boys to ride with me to-night."



CHAPTER IX


As the cavalcade passed from the driveway into the high road, which ran
east and west, Dan McGrew spoke quickly.

"We'll ride toward the town."

Lou turned her horse obediently, according to his direction.

"But why?" she demanded, wonderingly. "We might meet--him."

"That's a risk we must run," was the decisive answer. "When we are well
out of sight of the house, we'll cut around through the fields, and get
back into the road below. So, if they come after us, they'll start the
pursuit in the wrong way."

In this fashion, the matter was carried out. Half an hour later, the
three were back on the high-road, riding in the direction opposite to
that in which they had started. They went forward rapidly through the
hot hours of the afternoon, but not too rapidly, in order that the
horses might hold out for the long journey. Nell, from time to time,
would have questioned her mother over this strange outing. She became a
little petulant, fretful from balked curiosity. But the mother was not
minded to explain as yet. It required all her powers of self-control to
maintain a fair degree of composure in this time of trial. She knew that
any attempt to make plausible explanations to the girl would overtax her
strength, and cause collapse.

Night drew down on the travelers. With its coming, the storm, which had
been threatening in the sultry air, broke furiously. Within the minute,
the three were drenched. Dan was disturbed by the discomfort thus
inflicted on mother and child, as well as himself, but pressed on
stubbornly, since no relief was possible. Presently, however, as he
asked a question concerning roads and distances, Lou had an inspiration:

"We can cut off eight or ten miles by not going through Salisbury, to
which this road runs. We can ford the river, and beyond it's open range
to Hoytsville. Then we'll strike the high-road again."

Dan questioned her closely, and was convinced by her replies.

"I've ridden it often with--with Jim," she said. There was a catch in
her throat at utterance of the name. "I think it would be quite safe,
even in the dark."

Dan agreed as to the advisability of her plan. Presently, then, the
three turned out of the road, and moved toward the river, which, Lou
explained, ran through a little valley just beyond. The rain had ceased
as suddenly as it had begun. The passing of the storm had cleared the
air. The oppressive heat of the afternoon and evening was gone. Now, a
chill breeze was blowing. It pierced the drenched garments of the three,
so that they shivered with cold. Lou became alarmed lest Nell should
suffer some ill consequence from this exposure. As they descended the
slope that ran down to the river-bank, she spoke suddenly.

"Let's stop here for a little rest," she suggested; and her voice was so
anxious that Dan hardly dared refuse. For that matter, he had had
something of the sort in his own mind.

"It's imprudent," he answered; "but, if we must, why, we must, I
suppose."

"I don't think it's really imprudent," Lou maintained. "There are trees
and bushes along the river-bank to hide us and the horses. Anyhow, we're
out of sight from the road. Could you build a fire?"

"If I can find any wood dry enough to burn," was the rather doubtful
response.

They halted on the edge of a grove, which grew close to the river. Dan
led the horses within the concealment of the trees, and tied them as
best he could with his chilled fingers. He had difficulty in finding dry
leaves and branches for the fire, but, in the end, succeeded in making a
blaze. Soon, the three were grouped close around the flame, grateful for
the heat, which relaxed their stiffened muscles, and sent up steaming
vapors from their wet garments. After a little, Dan left the fire for a
look at the river, which was to be forded at this point. He could see
only very indistinctly, for scudding masses of black cloud hid moon and
stars. As nearly as he could make out, the river was about fifty yards
in width, its surface almost flush with the bank on which he stood. In
the darkness of the night, the vaguely seen stream appeared somehow
disquieting, as if in treacherous waiting Dan McGrew, looking on it,
felt a shiver that was not from the cold. He turned away, with an
impatient curse for his moment of weakness. Lou had said that the utmost
depth of water in this shallow creek would not reach to the stirrups.
Yet, despite self-contempt over his feelings, Dan experienced a
depression of spirit for which he could in no wise account, as he
returned to the fire.

It was perhaps an hour after their arrival in the grove that the man's
alert ears caught a thudding of hoofs upon the high-road from which they
had turned aside. He listened and made sure that the riders--for there
were several--were following the road toward Salisbury and Hoytsville,
at full speed. Had they been going in the opposite direction, they could
have been disregarded. But, under the circumstances, their presence
seemed a sure indication that pursuit in the right direction had been
begun. To escape them, it would be necessary to press forward with all
haste, taking advantage of Lou's plan for a shorter distance.

Even while his thoughts were formulating this decision, Dan had taken
prompt measures of precaution against discovery. He had scattered the
glowing embers with thrusts of his feet, and had stamped upon them,
until they were completely extinguished.

"We must ride instantly," he said, in an authoritative voice to Lou, who
acquiesced at once. For she, too, had heard the galloping through the
night and had guessed its meaning.

Dan hurried to unfasten and lead out the horses. When he was come to the
place where he had tied them, he could distinguish in the faint light
only the two larger mounts. Instantly, the apprehension that had been
so formless crystallized in definite fear of a possibility, which, in
the following moment, was proven fact. Dan cursed again over the
clumsiness of his cold-stiffened fingers, which had caused such a
mishap. More than ever, now, he detested the presence of the child with
him and Lou, for it was likely to prove a serious encumbrance in their
further flight. He called softly, but there came no nicker of response
from the pony. He explained to Lou and Nell what had happened, and, at
his request, the girl called, in hope that her pet would hear the
summons and obey her voice, if not another's. But, again, there was no
response. A search, Dan knew, would be useless, since the escaped pony
might be already miles distant, on its way to the ranch.

"I'll take Nell on behind me," Dan announced roughly. "It's the only
way."

Within a minute, Lou and Dan were mounted. Then, Dan bent over, and
swung the girl up to a seat behind him.

"Hold on tight," he commanded.

The girl obeyed passively. What with the cold and the soaking and the
loss of her pony, and this dreadful river which they were about to
enter, and the strangeness of everything, the child was frightened and
miserable. She was sobbing very softly, and the sound irritated Dan
McGrew.

"You lead, Lou," he ordered, "since you know the way. You can see well
enough?" he asked anxiously. "You're sure that you know the way?"

"Yes," was the confident reply. "But the water is higher than I've ever
seen it. Why, it's up level with the bank, almost."

"Is it safe, then?" Dan demanded.

"We must risk it, anyhow," Lou returned. "If we go by the road now,
they'll be waiting for us ahead."

"If the creek's as shallow as you said, I guess we can manage it, all
right," was the man's decision. "There must have been a cloud-burst
somewhere in the mountains where the stream rises. We got the tail end
of the storm--and that was a plenty!" he added savagely. "Let's be off."

Lou led the way as he had bidden her. She rode a furlong down the bank
of the stream, to a point beyond the grove where she and her husband had
entered the water for the crossing. As the horse stepped reluctantly
down the shelving bank into the current, a qualm of dismay stirred in
the woman. She could not doubt that the rush of the water as it came
swirling about the horse's legs was much more violent than it had been
on those other occasions when she had ridden through it. And, too, there
was something strangely dispiriting in the combined effects of the black
tide and the ominous gloom of the night beneath a heaven hidden by the
masses of scurrying clouds. She looked back, as her horse advanced with
laggard pace into the deepening water. She craved the comfort of
companionship in this horrible time and place. Her eyes could make out
only a silhouette that moved a little way behind her. She could not
perceive any detail there in the darkness. But she knew that Dan McGrew
rode close at hand, and with him, though invisible, rode her daughter,
Nell--the one thing dear left to her in all the world. So, she went
forward bravely enough, though her mood was as black as the blackness of
the night that hung upon her in a smothering pall of weariness.

The water deepened and flowed with more fierceness. It reached to the
horse's belly. The steed snorted in affright. Then, it lost its footing,
and sank until only its head, with the nostrils lifted high, was clear
of the water. Lou cried out at the shock, as she found herself immersed
in the coil of waters. But, even as she screamed, she threw herself out
of the saddle, to relieve the mare of her weight, and swam, holding to
the pommel of the saddle. Her horse fought its way forward, breasting
the flood valiantly. At an oblique angle to the force of the current,
the woman and her steed won slowly to the shore.... Her own cry and the
splash of her body, as she threw herself from the saddle, had shut from
the mother's ears another shriek that had broken the silence of the
night.

Dan's mount, troubled by its increased burden, was more reluctant even
than Lou's had been to advance through the lashing currents of the
swollen river. It had held back, in spite of Dan's urging, so that it
was at some distance in the rear, when, at last, it slipped, and
scrambled wildly to regain its footing--only to fail and plunge beneath
the surface, borne down by the weight it carried. It was in the second
before the two riders were finally submerged that Nell voiced her terror
in a shrill cry. The noise of it rang in Dan's ears, confusing him. But
it was strangled in the second of its birth by the enveloping waters. As
he struggled out of the saddle, holding his breath, Dan became aware
that the girl was no longer on the horse. She was not clinging to him.
She had gone from him out into the mystery of the black night and the
hungry river. He realized that her cry had been that of despair, as the
force of the current wrested the child from her hold on horse and man.
Dan's head came above the surface, and he floated easily enough,
supported by a hand on the swimming horse. Even his iron nerves were
shaken by the calamity. There was no further sound out of the stillness
of the night, save the rippling murmur of the water as the horse swam
onward. Dan was aware that he could do nothing toward the girl's rescue.
Already, the hurrying current must have carried her far beyond his
reach. It seemed clear enough that Nell must have lost consciousness at
once after being swept down into the element. Otherwise, she must have
cried out again--and there had come no second cry. Strong man as he was,
Dan McGrew felt himself helpless in the grasp of circumstance. There was
nothing that he could do to avert or to mitigate the tragedy. He could
only go forward helplessly, leaving the unfortunate girl to her fate.
The suddenness, as well as the dreadfulness of the catastrophe, sickened
him. Later on, he might rejoice over this summary removal of one who
must have proved an obstacle in his path. But, just now, his emotion
was of dismay--a dismay strange to his experience. Beyond the natural
horror aroused in him by the accident, Dan McGrew found himself almost
in despair over what must come to pass when the mother should learn of
her daughter's death. He knew well that Nell was the one treasure that
remained in the mother's heart. The loss of this last possession would
rend her being to its depths, and leave her utterly desolate. The first
effect from knowledge of the tragedy would be that the mother would not
go a step further, until after the river had been searched, and her
daughter's body recovered. Such a delay would be fatal to the plotter's
every hope.... At once, Dan McGrew forgot his horror, his despair. He
began again his plotting--to the end that the mother should not learn
the truth too soon.

When, finally, his horse gained a footing, near the other bank of the
river, Dan McGrew had matured a plan to suffice for the moment. Beyond
that, he could not see his way. The future lay in the lap of the gods.

On dry land again, Dan reined in the horse, which welcomed the respite
gladly after its battling with the river. He listened, and soon heard
Lou calling his name. From the sound of her voice, he knew that she was
at some distance from him, further up the stream. He sent a cheery shout
in answer to her hail. Then, he rode forward slowly and cautiously
through the darkness, which was so deep that he could hardly see to pick
a way among the bushes and trees that lined the bank of the creek. And
Dan McGrew blessed fate for that darkness. Lou's voice came again, near
at hand. Now, Dan could perceive the vague outline of her form against
the background of the sky, as she sat her horse on the crest of the
little knoll that rose from the river's brim.

"We're all right," he cried, and his voice was full of content. "But I
don't think much of your easy ford, Lou. It was a nasty crossing." Then
his voice rang sharply, imperiously: "But we must hurry on, if we are to
gain anything for all our trouble."

"And you're all right, then?" Lou asked. There was a note of vast relief
in her voice. "You're all right, you--and Nell?"

Dan McGrew's voice came with an emphasis of sincerity:

"We're all right, Nell and I." Again his voice came insistently:

"Ride on, Lou. We'll follow."

Lou called out once again, and the music of her voice was very tender:

"It will only be for a little longer, Nell. Mother's brave darling!"

Dan's voice came roughly, to cover the lack of any response from the
child.

"Hurry, Lou! Hurry! We'll follow."

Wholly unsuspicious, Lou rode on her way amid the shadows of the night.
She had no least instinct to warn her that now, at last, she had lost
everything her life had held dear. There was still the torture that had
come when she had learned the baseness of her husband. But she could not
guess the last evil that was upon her. So, she rode swiftly through the
night. Always, even when they came into the road at Hoytsville, Dan
rode a little in the rear. Lou looked back from time to time. She could
see the outlines of man and horse. She could not see the form of her
daughter; the bulk of the man hid even its shadow from her eyes. But the
fact that she could not see caused no fear in her, and she rode swiftly,
as contented as one may be when the sweetness of life has changed to
abomination.

It was not till they came to the outskirts of the little city, through
which the main line of the railroad ran, that Lou learned the truth. It
was under the lights of the streets that she turned, and looked, and saw
Dan McGrew close behind her--and saw that there was none clinging at his
back. She stared disbelievingly. Then, a ghastly fear leaped within her.

"Nell!" she cried.

Her voice was strained and shrill, broken with dread. "Nell!" she
repeated, in a tone muffled by terror. "Where is she?" She turned her
horse sharply and reined it to Dan McGrew's side. Motionless, the two
regarded each other through seconds that were as ages.

Finally, Dan McGrew spoke:

"She was torn away when we were swept under," he said; and his voice was
very compassionate. "I did what I could. There was no way to save her.
She only cried out once. She must have gone down immediately."

Lou sat rigid, gazing with eyes that widened and burned in flames under
which the man before her cringed. And then, of a sudden, the fires of
her gaze were quenched. It was as if a black flood rolled over her as
well, and extinguished the very last sparks of her spirit. The lids
slowly fluttered down to closing. Under the blue white of the arc-light,
her face was that of a dead woman. The last blow of fate in that
frightful day had overwhelmed her. She tottered in her saddle. Dan
McGrew, watching fearfully this thing that had come to pass through his
machinations, leaped, and stood, and caught the fainting woman as she
fell.

He remained motionless there for a full minute, with the lifeless body
in his arms. For once, he found himself perplexed, incompetent. But,
abruptly, his thoughts cleared. Something of his usual self-confidence,
so greatly shaken this night, came back to him. He smiled with a cruel,
utterly selfish satisfaction.

"It's the best way out," he muttered to himself. "I'll get her into some
quiet place. She'll need a lot of nursing before she gets over all this.
I'm sorry for Lou, but it had to be; and it's all for the best."

With that monstrous declaration concerning the evil that he had wrought,
Dan McGrew strode forward toward the nearest house, carrying the
unconscious woman in his arms.



CHAPTER X


Jim and his men rode throughout the night in vain. Nowhere could they
come on any trace of the fugitives. There was as yet no telephone
installed in this newly settled region. But their search was thorough.
There were inquiries at the railway stations in the various towns round
about. At none of these had ought been seen of Dan McGrew and woman and
child. Jim found himself baffled in his quest. He could not guess that
the wife who had thus deserted him was lying in a stupor, from which she
aroused only to rave over a lost husband and a dead child. He could not
know that she had broken under the stress of sorrow, and was being
ministered unto by a kindly woman to whom Dan McGrew had told many lies,
in order to enlist her sympathetic aid. Even had his inquiries reached
the very house in which Lou was sheltered, he would still have been
deceived. For he sought a mother and her child: and here was no child.

So, the hunt availed nothing. The three who fled had vanished utterly.
There came not even a rumor as to their whereabouts. They were gone as
completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up.

Nevertheless, Jim was not slow in learning something of the truth. He
was told of Dan's visit at the ranch that fatal day, and of his wife's
accompanying this visitor to the town. Those there were who had seen the
two as they dismounted at Murphy's saloon, and looked in through the
window. Jim, remembering his own experiences of that day in the back
room of the saloon, was aroused to suspicion of the fact. He got from
the bar-keeper details as to what had occurred. The fellow's reference,
jestingly made, to the manner in which Jim and the woman, Jess, had
embraced, gave him a sudden illumination concerning the plot of Dan
McGrew by which his wife had been beguiled.

Straightway, Jim hunted out Fingie Whalen's woman. She would have
denied, but, in the face of the injured husband's rage, she was fairly
terrified into confession. In the end, the woman wrote at Jim's
dictation, even as she had written at the dictation of Dan McGrew. But,
now, she wrote without any smirk of vicious satisfaction--with a face
pallid and with fingers that trembled from fear of the fierce-visaged
man who stood over her in stern and menacing domination. Fingie Whalen,
all his bluster gone, looked on in timid consternation, cringing from
the baleful threat in the eyes of the man mortally wronged.

[Illustration: SHE WOULD HAVE DENIED, BUT WAS FAIRLY TERRIFIED INTO
CONFESSION.]

The painted woman was so moved by the anger of the man whom she had
helped betray, that, for the first time in more years than she would
have cared to tell, she revealed the name with which, back in a quiet
New England village, she had been christened by simple, God-fearing
parents.

This was the note of confession, which the woman wrote at Jim's
command, duly dated, and witnessed by Fingie Whalen and the landlady of
the house, who was summoned for the purpose. Jim realized that these
formalities were extravagant, but, somehow, they seemed necessary to him
just then, to put this evidence of the crime against his home and
happiness beyond cavil of doubt.

     I, Anne Weston, confess to tricking Jim Maxwell and deceiving
     his wife at the instigation of Dan McGrew. McGrew hired Fingie
     Whalen and me to help him fool Mrs. Maxwell. I wrote the note
     signed "Jess." At the time when Mr. Maxwell was due to arrive
     in town, I was all ready, and as he came by fell from my horse
     as if I had fainted. He carried me into the saloon, and then
     Fingie gave him knock-out drops, and we fixed it up so that
     when McGrew came with Mrs. Maxwell and looked in at the window,
     it was as if we were loving together. But it was all a lie,
     worked out by Dan McGrew to make Mrs. Maxwell believe her
     husband was false to her.

                                                        ANNE WESTON.

Jim carried that paper in his pocket. It was the document with which he
would prove to Lou how she had been deluded. But the days passed, and
there came no opportunity to show her the sheet of paper on which Anne
Weston had scrawled her confession. He used every means at his command,
but he was powerless to gain any trace of the woman whom he had loved
and lost through despicable treachery.

It was on the fourth day after Lou had fled her home, that Jim Maxwell
seated himself at the piano in the living-room. Hitherto, he had been so
occupied in the vain effort to find his wife that he had been, in some
measure, unappreciative of the misery that was upon him. Now, when he
had exhausted every resource of activity, he suddenly felt the
desolation of his home--the ruin of his life. With his instinct toward
the musical expression of moods, he took his place before the
instrument.

Then, again, that glorious love-lyric came softly sonorous from the
keys. The lilt of the melody rose and fell with a subtle vigor, instinct
with the joy of life. The delicate tenderness of the music throbbed the
story of a love complete and enduring. There was passion in the rhythm.
It was a passion ennobled and purified by the intricate harmonies woven
around and within it. It was a song of the spirit. It was overlaid with
a splendor of sensuous sound. There was nothing gross--only the fullness
of life.... Jim was playing with exquisite art that song of happiness
which he had improvised on the day he received the news of Dan McGrew's
coming.

Now, after he had followed the melody to its end, the truth, which
during the moments of his playing he had forgotten, crashed upon him in
a discord so horrible that he could not touch the keys to voice
it--could only sit, moveless, listening to the din within his own soul
in an ecstasy of despair.

Often, again, in the years to come, Jim Maxwell played that same melody.
Always, he was searching for the wife whom he had loved and lost. Men
whose eyes were sharp noted him here and there around the world,
because he seemed so uninterested in everything, and because so often
his left hand touched his breast.... In the pocket there, he carried,
ready for Lou's reading, the confession signed by Anne Weston--the woman
Jess.

And, in the years as they passed, Jim Maxwell gained something of
reputation for another thing. He traveled the world over; he had money
enough. His foreman was competent. Even without his personal attendance,
the revenues from the ranch increased year by year. He lived for only
two things: to find Lou and prove to her his innocence--and to kill the
man who had betrayed them. In his search, Jim Maxwell went everywhere.
He was known in the capitals of Europe; he was known in the wild places
of the earth. Men spoke of him, though they had little acquaintance with
him. The reason they spoke of him was because on occasion--it might be
in the parlor of some sailor's lodging-house in Vladivostok, or it might
be in a drawing-room of the Savoy, this man would seat himself at the
piano, and he would play. And, always, he played the self-same melody, a
lilting air of love and tenderness, filled full of the joy of life.
Always, too, the melody was embroidered over with an intricate web of
harmonies, magnificent, yet somber. And, in the end, always, the player
beat suddenly upon the keys a frenzy of discord.



CHAPTER XI


"Then you're quite sure, Jack? You don't mind my being a--nobody?" The
girl's tone was half-playful, half-sad. There was a note of wistfulness
in the musical cadences of her voice.

The young man whom she had addressed answered with an emphasis that left
no doubt as to his sincerity. His clear gray eyes were alight with love,
as he looked into the dark, gypsy-like face of the girl at his side.

"Why, Nell, you're just everybody. You're everything worth while in this
little old world of ours."

"You do say the sweetest things, Jack!" The shadowy eyes that met
tenderly the warm gaze of the lover were lighted with fond appreciation.
Then, of a sudden, the red lips trembled into a mischievous smile, as
she added: "I guess I wouldn't give a snap for a sweetheart who was
tongue-tied when he talked about my charms."

The two were seated in the main room of a small, roughly-built Alaskan
cabin, which stood on the outskirts of a ramshackle village, created
almost in a day by the gold lure's magic. The lovers had been left alone
together on the eve of their wedding-day by the kindness of the girl's
foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ross. It was of these, who, in the tiny
back room, were recalling the distant days of their own courtship, that
Nell now spoke.

"They have been so good to me!" she said musingly. "I've told you that
they were not really and truly my parents. I didn't tell you just how I
came to be with them, because it was such a dreadful time to me. Even
after all these years, I hate thinking of it."

"Don't!" Jack Reeves urged. "What's past is past, and there's no earthly
reason for you to worry yourself over it by telling me."

The girl shook her head.

"I want to tell you, dear," she said simply. Then she fell silent for a
little. The lover, watching the warm olive contour of the cheek against
which the long black lashes swept as her eyes closed in meditation,
rejoiced yet once again in the beauty and the daintiness of this maiden
whom he had found and won for himself here amid the rigors of the
Northland. He noted the slight drooping of the tenderly curving lips,
and longed to kiss away their sadness. Presently Nell went on speaking,
rather rapidly, as if anxious to be done with an unpleasant task, and in
a tone that told of restrained emotion:

"It was twelve years ago that Papa and Mamma Ross found me. You know
Papa Ross is a born pioneer, and Mamma has grown to be just like him.
For years they have been moving with the frontiers. That time they were
camping by a river down below. There had been a heavy storm, and the
river ran high. They heard a cry from somewhere out in the night on the
water. They ran to the bank and looked. But it was dark, and they
couldn't see anything or hear another sound. Rover was with them--a
splendid big Newfoundland." The girl's voice softened. "Rover died two
years ago, just before we came up here. I loved him so!"

"I think I can guess," Jack ventured, as the girl paused. "It was Rover
who saved you--for, of course, it was you out there in the river."

The girl nodded somberly.

"Yes," came her answer, very gently uttered; "I was out there in the
river, drowning. The current swept me along with it. There was a point
of the shore just below where Papa Ross had camped. I was carried into
the eddies there. Somehow, Rover caught a glimpse of my face, or, maybe,
just his instinct guided him. Anyhow, as Papa Ross has told me, Rover
sprang into the river, and, when Papa Ross had followed around the inlet
toward the point, he found the dog trying to drag me out of the water,
up on the bank. Papa Ross carried me to the camp, and there he and Mamma
worked over me for a long time. It was a close call, Papa Ross says,
but finally they got me to breathing again.... And that's about all."

"And so," Jack questioned in some surprise, "you don't know any more
than that?--where you came from, or anything?"

Once again Nell shook her head.

"No, nothing more than that. Papa Ross always thought that I must have
struck my head somehow, there in the water. Anyhow, I was confused when
I came to. I couldn't seem to remember anything exactly--except my name,
Nell. Sometimes I have shadowy memories, but they melt away before I can
get anything definite. So, you see, I'm just a nobody, Jack, as I told
you--just a mystery that came out of the night and the river."

"Everybody to me," the lover declared again; "everything to me." And
now, at last, he took the lithe, slender form of the girl into his arms,
and kissed the sorrowfully drooping lips to smiles again.

But, after a little, when there came a lull in the caresses and murmured
endearments, Jack Reeves spoke a question that was puzzling him:

"But I should think it would have been easy enough to trace you? If
inquiries had been made, surely you might have learned where you came
from, and who you were, and all that?"

But, once again, Nell shook her head, and this time very emphatically.

"Papa Ross did what he could, but it came to nothing. When we got to a
town, he tried to find out about any girl's being lost like that. Nobody
knew of any such case. There was no report of any child's having been
drowned. He did what he could--I'm sure of that. Anyhow, as long as you
don't care, Jack, I don't suppose I need to. But, somehow--" Nell's
voice broke, and she sat silent, absorbed in melancholy reverie. Always,
this mystery was a painful thing to her. Even now, when her happiness
was full, on the eve of her marriage to the man she loved, she was
grieved by the fact that she must come to her husband as a waif, a
creature whose origin was unknown, a nameless bit of flotsam, dragged
from the river by a dog. Then, in another moment, the depression of her
mood was forgotten as she drew away from Jack's embrace, for she heard
Papa Ross stamping heavily about the back room of the cabin--in kindly
warning that he was about to intrude upon the lovers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning broke clear, and when at last the slowly clambering sun
rose to traverse its short circle between the horizons, its slanting
beams seemed full of warmth and good cheer, though the mercury stood at
twenty degrees below zero. There was not a breath of wind, and the chill
air, pure with a purity unknown to lower latitudes, was like the wine of
life. The breath of it in the lungs set the blood a-tingle with
joyousness. And the purity of the air had for its background the visible
purity of the snow-mantle that lay over everything. Beneath the sun, the
white expanse shimmered in prismatic brilliance. Afar, the mountains
loomed in purple masses--the green of conifers seen through the vista
of many miles.

And the day, in its spirit of vigorous life and wholesome gayety, was
suited to the mood of the tiny temporary town, which sprawled here in
the wilderness. For the place was en fête. The hardy men who had thus
ventured into the wilds of the North welcomed the diversion of this
romance among them, which was to culminate to-day in the wedding of Jack
Reeves and Nell Ross at the Dyea Hotel. Public sentiment had insisted
that the nuptials should be celebrated at the hotel. The hotel, truth to
tell, was neither commodious nor imposing. But it was a boarded
structure, the only one in the village, and it was by far the largest,
small though it was. And the citizens were determined that they should
be permitted to assemble in force on this auspicious day, when the
glamour of love was to soften in some degree the austerity of the arctic
land. So, betimes, the men of the community gathered at the hotel to
await the marriage ceremony. A scant half-dozen women, courageous
followers of the men they loved, were there as well. Some had been at
pains to bring heaps of evergreen boughs, and with these the main room
of the hotel--at once lobby, bar and office--was decorated. Caribou Bill
brought a great bank of moss, for which he had dug through six feet of
snow. To it was attached a piece of flaming-red paper, in which tea had
originally been packed, and this paper had been laboriously cut by
Caribou Bill into the shape of two hearts, lovingly joined as one. The
symbol of wedded happiness was established by its smirking inventor on
the central shelf above the bar, where it commanded the enthusiastic
admiration of the populace.

It was noon to the second when Nell Ross and Jack Reeves stood in the
center of the main room of the hotel before the one who was to make them
man and wife. He, too, was at heart a pioneer, and he was, as well, an
earnest worker for the saving of souls. His own preference, with a
roving commission, had brought him to this remote place. He found a
singular pleasure in the fact that his ministrations were required for
the uniting of this winsome maiden and this virile, clean young man. It
was as if the ceremony typified in some fashion the purity and vigor of
life here within the frozen North.... It was noon to the second! The
time-keeper was Harry, the Dog-Man, who carried a Waterbury watch, on
the accuracy of which he would cheerfully have staked his hopes of
eternal happiness. Because of the exactness of his time-piece, which
none cared to deny, he had usurped the office of master of ceremonies.
When he saw the two hands of the watch blent as one upon the hour of
twelve, he raised his arm, and Nell and Jack moved forward within the
little lane walled by the crowd, to stand before the clergyman, who
regarded them with a benevolent smile, in which, unknown to himself, was
something almost of envy in the presence of their youth and happiness
and love.

So, the minister spoke the words that made this pair husband and wife.

There was a noise of snapping dogs outside. A man came into the hotel,
stamping the snow from the high-buckled overshoes worn over his boots of
felt. Behind him came a woman muffled in furs. She looked on the scene
with a certain feminine interest, for she realized at once that a
wedding was in progress; but without any personal concern. Indeed, she
was rather displeased, being weary from a long journey over the snows,
because she saw that she must wait for attention until the ceremony
should be concluded. The man with her shook the hood of the parka from
his head, and stood regarding with cynical amusement the two who had
clasped hands before the clergyman. So he waited while the words were
uttered that made the pair one. The ceremony ended, the husband kissed
the bride; the minister in turn bent and touched his lips to hers, with
a curious stirring of half-forgotten emotions.

Then the crowd surged forward, eager for its prerogative of a kiss. And,
as she turned, Nell saw the man who had just entered, standing there
with that smile of cynical amusement upon his handsome face. The eyes of
the two met and battled. There came to her a strange feeling of dread.
In this, the supreme moment of her life, wherein all had been happiness,
there stirred a feeling of doubt, of evil anticipation.

The man, staring into the face of this beautiful girl upon whose
nuptials he had stumbled by chance, experienced a thrill of emotion
which he could not understand. Some secret monition moved him to an
alarm. He felt an unreasonable disturbance in the presence of this
girl.... Dan McGrew had no suspicion that he had blundered thus on the
child who, years before, had been swept away from him in the darkness of
the river's flood-tide.... Nor did the woman, who stood behind him so
wearily, waiting for the end of this tiresome ceremony, guess that the
gentle girl, blushing there under the storm of kisses claimed by the
crowd, was, in fact, the daughter for whose death she had mourned
through so many years.... Nell did not see the woman at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: "THEY'VE STRUCK IT RICH ON FORGOTTEN CREEK!"]

Of a sudden there came an interruption:

A man leaped through the doorway. He waved his hands and staggered as
one drunken. His voice rose in a raucous shriek:

"They've struck it rich on Forgotten Creek!"

There was a moment of intense stillness. These men had fled from
civilization in pursuit of the will-o'-the-wisp of gold. Now sounded the
clarion call:

"They've struck it rich on Forgotten Creek!"

[Illustration: THESE MEN HAD FLED FROM CIVILIZATION IN PURSUIT OF THE
WILL-'O-THE WISP OF GOLD.]

For long seconds the stillness endured. Then, abruptly, there came a
huge cachinnation. It was the mellow, roaring laughter of Bert Black,
the only negro in this Aladdin village so close up under the Pole. The
company looked at the man expectantly, and he answered the interrogation
in their eyes:

"We-all is just shohly goin' to have a stampede!"

Then, again, the silence held for a little, while each and every man of
them saw the vision of the straggled crowd trailing the waste places,
lured on by the will-o'-the-wisp of gold.



CHAPTER XII


The Fates, in weaving the intricate web of human lives, smile grimly
oftentimes over the curious intermingling of the threads. Often, too,
the incomplete design might well move them to a cruel mirth, but that
they see beyond the seeming tangle of events to the perfecting of their
pattern at the last. So, perhaps, they are content of their task, though
we mortals, with short-sighted eyes, seeing dimly, look on the
happenings of our lives as the blessed or the baneful work of chance.
Thus, now, the Fates had brought here, beneath the flickering of the
Northern Lights, all the actors in the drama of the years agone, when
the happiness of a home had been shattered by a villain's ruthless
passion. Their presence within a short radius of miles had every
appearance of purest chance. Nevertheless, the Fates had brought them
within reach of one another, that thus the seeming snarl in the threads
of these lives might be shown as in fact untangled and woven into a
design just and harmonious and beautiful.

Dan McGrew moved sociably among the men of the village, as they
celebrated the wedding with many jovial libations. He was
hail-fellow-well-met with each and all, for it had come to be a matter
of professional necessity with him to attain a fair measure of
popularity whithersoever he went. He had deteriorated much with the
passage of the years. He had sunk to be a common gambler, and on
occasion had not scrupled at worse methods in pursuit of ill-gotten
gains. To-day his keen eyes were speedily drawn to one of the men, who
was especially lavish in hospitality.

"Who is he?" Dan asked of the bar-tender. "Seems flush, all right."

"That's Sam Ward," was the answer. "He's got a hole somewhere up in the
hills, which nobody don't know nothin' about--'cept it's cussed rich.
Sam blows a pokeful o' dust ev'ry time he hits town."

Dan eyed the fortunate prospector greedily, and his predatory instinct
brought him to a quick decision. He went to Lou, who was sitting,
drearily enough, alone at a table in a corner of the room. He spoke to
her softly, that none might overhear, though of this there was little
danger amid the noise of rollicking gayety.

"There's a chap here I mean to chum up with a bit," Dangerous Dan
explained. "I'll introduce him, and you must be nice enough to him to
make him talk."

The woman nodded assent. For it had come to such a pass. Often, she had
stooped to play decoy for the man in his schemes against his fellows.

Dan McGrew had persistently lied to this woman. By his arts he had
ruined her life. But Lou had still no inkling of the truth. One great
fact was impressed upon her as time passed: This man loved her--and he
was loyal to her. Since she had lost everything dear, it seemed her
duty to give the worthless remnant of her life to the one who thus
esteemed it something precious.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Lou returned to consciousness, after the fever and delirium that
seized her the dreadful night of the flight from home, her first
question was concerning the drowned child.

The man at the bedside met her imploring gaze steadfastly, and spoke his
falsehoods so convincingly that she had never a doubt. The river had
been searched with every care, he declared. The body had not been found.
The bereaved mother had been denied the last pitiful solace of grief--a
place of burial wherein to mourn over the lost.

After the final deprivation, Lou was apathetic. The light had gone out
of her life. She was numb with misery. Her most distinct emotion was a
sort of passive gratitude toward the man who had so frightfully wronged
her. It was in obedience to the promptings of this feeling that Lou
meekly accepted his every suggestion. She did so with the more
readiness because these suggestions were so skillfully contrived as to
seem the epitome of unselfishness.

Thus, for example, there was the matter of divorce. Dan learned that the
kindly woman into whose house he had brought Lou suffered from
nostalgia. She had come out into the West with an eager, improvident
husband, who had died and left her with this tiny home, on which the
mortgage of a few hundreds rested as a burden beyond her strength to
remove. She was sick with longing to go back among the home-folk. Dan's
sympathetic voice and candid, honest eyes won confidence from the lonely
old woman. And, too, she quickly grew fond of the invalid in her house.
Therefore, she had no hesitation in acceding to the proposal made to her
by Dan McGrew: that she should travel to the East with Lou, as nurse and
companion. The money offered to her by Dan McGrew for these services was
enough to ease her declining years. Moreover, there was the added
inducement that, in this manner, she would be able to return to the
place for which she longed.

Lou made no objection to the arrangement. She liked the old woman, and
the instinct of flight was still upon her.... She was only grateful to
the man who was at such pains in her behalf.

In due time, the three were duly established in the East. Dangerous Dan,
in the course of his daily visits to Lou from a lodging he had taken
close at hand, guided her thoughts so craftily that, with no suspicion
of having been influenced, the heart-broken woman decided that she
should get a divorce. Dan had chosen a location in a State where
desertion was a sufficient cause. Lou brought suit, and the issue was
expedited in the courts. She believed that thus she gave to her husband
an opportunity to marry the woman with whom he had become infatuated,
and thus, too, an opportunity to restore in some degree his
self-respect.... She could not guess that, owing to the treachery of the
man on whose advice she relied, her husband had no knowledge whatsoever
of these proceedings. The newspapers, with their formal advertisements
to the defendant in the action instituted in the courts, were never
posted to the address of the ranch-owner.... Dan McGrew saw to that.

Eventually, there came a decree _nisi_. In due time, the divorce was
made absolute. Throughout this interval of delay, the man demonstrated
the firmness of his purpose by the patience with which he waited for the
attainment of his ends.

It was not until a year after her flight from home that Lou became the
wife of Dangerous Dan McGrew.... Why should she not give herself to him
who had so befriended her?

       *       *       *       *       *

The late dawn of the morning after the wedding came on clear, with a
soft wind blowing from the south. Under its gentleness, the sun was able
to thaw the surface of the snow. Then the wind swung to the north.
Within an hour, the crust on the snow, as the Arctic air blew over it,
was strong enough to support a horse. And Dan McGrew and many another
took advantage of the fact. There were a few meagerly fed horses in the
town, remnants from the discontinued Lodestar Mine, which had failed to
pay a profit, after elaborate installation of equipment. They knew that
at the first change of the weather their mounts would become worse than
useless. In the meantime, however, there was a luxury in this form of
travel that appealed. And there were hangers-on in the town, too poor
for a grub-stake, who for a pittance would run on foot with the train,
and afterward take back the horses to the village, when a softer snow
should make them a hindrance rather than a help.

Nell used the voice of wifely authority:

"Why, the idea! Of course I shall go too!" She was all eagerness. For
years she had lived with those who were informed with the spirit of the
frontiers. Her husband, thus far in his battling with the Northland, had
been successful. He had found claims of value. Some of them he had sold;
some of them he had worked. From most of them he had won a deserved
profit. So, when the news of the strike on Forgotten Creek came--even
though it was his wedding-day--Jack Reeves was all agog with
anxiety to be off to this region whither fortune beckoned.... And Nell
would not be left behind. She would follow her husband where fate led.
She would not be denied.

Thus it came about that the bridal pair were among the crowd that surged
in the village street before the Dyea Hotel on the morning after their
wedding. Jack had a team of dogs, the best within hundreds of miles.
They were strong enough to make play of hauling the long sled, laden
with provisions, on which Nell was seated with ease, well-wrapped in
furs, and sheltered beneath a drapery of white--the skin of a polar
bear, which Jack had brought back with him as a trophy of experiences
beneath the Arctic night.

There were in the throng men who had no dogs. They carried on their
backs the small allowance of bacon, beans, flour, tea, coffee, sugar,
tobacco. The adventurers were of all sorts. Some went well supplied.
Others joined in the stampede recklessly. They might starve, or freeze,
out there in the mountains. But they were caught and drawn on by the
lust for riches. Somewhere out there in the cold and the distance gold
was lying. In the sands of the creeks, in the ledges of the mountains,
were the golden flakes, the riches for which each and every one
craved....

[Illustration: THE ADVENTURERS WERE OF ALL SORTS. THEY WERE DRAWN ON BY
THE LUST FOR RICHES.]

The huskies yelped and snarled in fierce rivalry. Harry, the Dog-Man,
snapped his whip with a vicious crack like the report of a gun. The dogs
strained against the breast-straps in their fierce lunge forward. Along
the line was everywhere impetuous, eager movement. The stampede had
begun.

Dangerous Dan McGrew, who rode beside his wife, spoke to her softly, so
that his question would not be overheard by Sam Ward, who rode on her
other side:

"What does he say?"

Lou answered in a whisper:

"He'll leave to-night, when the camp's quiet, for his own claim."



CHAPTER XIII


From a nook on the mountainside, a lone man watched scornfully the long,
thin line of the stampede.

Those same threads spun by the Fates had caught another in their mesh.
In a lonely hut, there in the desolate Northland, Jim Maxwell had his
home. His presence was needful for the weaving of that design by which
right should be realized in the final presentation of life's tapestry.
He had traveled thus far beyond the confines of civilization under the
urge of that immutable purpose which drove him in all his wanderings
throughout the years--to find the man he hated, and the woman he loved.
He had sought vainly over all the world in the usual haunts of men--in
many that were unusual. Never, anywhere, had he found a trace. He had
come into this forbidding land, not for the lure of gold, as the others
had come; but for the lure of vengeance against the man who had
despoiled him, and for the lure of love toward the woman who had his
heart in her keeping.

Then, somehow, Jim Maxwell, when he found himself isolated there in a
cabin amid the loneliness of this land, almost forgot vengeance, almost
forgot love, in the immensity of the peace that brooded over the
snow-clad wastes. In the hut he had built with his own hands, from
spruce timbers, he was snugly sheltered against the austerities of the
clime. He had fuel enough, of his gathering along the wooded slopes of
the foot-hills. In the maw of the sheet-iron stove, which he had packed,
the resinous branches were transmuted into dancing flames, redolent of
warmth and cheer in the tiny room of the hut, though outside the blasts
from the Pole were cold as the ice from which they came.

The day of his daughter's wedding--though he had no least suspicion that
wife, or child, or enemy was within thousands of miles--Jim made a
round of his traps. In making the circuit, he was absorbed, without
thought, for the time being, of the life that had been, without thought
of vengeance, without thought of love. It was only after he had returned
at nightfall to the hut, and had fried his mess of bacon on top of the
red-hot stove, and had boiled his coffee hard, as one must in the North,
where there is need of all the energy from food, that Jim sat down on
his bunk of spruce boughs, ready for sleep--yet, for a moment, wakeful.

Then there sounded softly on his ears that old, old lyric of love. It
was the song that had been played out of the feeling of his heart for
his wife, in the years long gone. It was that improvisation with which
he had told Lou his passion on the day when he had heard that Dan McGrew
was coming to visit them. Now, Jim had no means of audible expression.
Nevertheless, the song welled in him. It thrilled in every atom of his
being. It was that same wonderful, joyous, lilting melody, full of life
at its best. The tenderness of love rang in its cadences. Jim's fingers
tensed--they were hungry to seize the chords, rapacious to pounce on the
notes that voiced this heart-song of a lost happiness.

Jim aroused from the trance of memory. He looked to the fire, and rolled
into the bunk.... He had heard, that day, in a native iglook, of a find
of gold on Forgotten Creek. He recalled the fact drowsily as sleep fell
on him.

"I'll take a look across the valley in the morning," he thought.
"There's sure to be a stampede."

So it came about on the day following the marriage of Nell Ross and Jack
Reeves that there was a watcher who looked out over the valley through
which the long line of dogs and men hurried toward the possible riches
of Forgotten Creek.

Jim seated himself on the trunk of a fallen spruce, high on the
mountainside. From this point, he overlooked the whole length of the
valley. He saw at last the animate line darting out of the distance, and
watched as it became definite, with a smile of cynical amusement....
These were the hunters of gold. And gold--Bah! There were only two
things in the world: love and vengeance.

From his seat on the fallen spruce, Jim Maxwell stared out over the
valley. For hours he sat there. He saw the breaking up of the company,
as its members scattered in various directions, now that they were come
into the region of possible wealth. At the last, the valley showed clear
of the human invaders.... And, just then, Jim Maxwell heard a sound,
which already he had learned to know, there in the Northland. It was a
gentle sound, but with a sibilance that held a threat of danger--like
the hiss of a gigantic serpent.

As he heard, Jim instinctively let out a great shout of fear in the
presence of this peril so close upon him. In the same moment, without
pausing to look up, he dropped from the log on which he had been
sitting, and crowded as closely under it as he could, to make it serve
as a bulwark--though, indeed, he well knew the futility of such a
protection against the avalanche that was now crashing down the slope.
Crouched there beneath the log, Jim awaited the issue with an unuttered
prayer for escape in his heart--if escape should be possible.

[Illustration: CROUCHED THERE BENEATH THE LOG, JIM AWAITED THE ISSUE.]

In another instant the din of the snow-slide burst on his ears in its
full fury. And, along with that thunderous noise, the daylight was
blotted out. In the darkness, the man felt the soft, yet inexorable
weight of the massed snow crushing upon him, holding him as in a vise.
There was a tiny free space still beneath the log, and as yet he had no
lack of air. But he was powerless to stir. He realized that there was no
possibility of digging his way out through the heaped bulk of snow
within which he lay entombed. He could find no room for hope. He
resigned himself to meet the end with what fortitude he might. A wave of
wrath swept through him that he must die thus futilely, with his
vengeance unaccomplished. The emotion passed presently, and in its
stead came a vast and poignant yearning for the woman he loved. By a
fierce effort of will, he fought down such desires, which he deemed
weakness at this time, and strove to look Death in the face calmly, with
resignation and without fear.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack Reeves and his bride, despite the excellence of the young
prospector's dog-team, lagged behind the others in the long line of the
stampede, for the young husband had his own ideas concerning a location
likely to yield the best results, and meant to let the crowd precede
him, in order that he might pursue his course unmarked. So it came about
that, after the straggling procession of gold-hunters had passed from
the sight of Jim Maxwell, the newly married pair entered the valley,
riding at ease behind the leisurely moving dogs. Jim Maxwell, from his
position on the mountainside, held his gaze turned toward where the last
of the stampeders had vanished, and so failed to observe the newcomers.
Thus, when the avalanche swept down upon him, he had no thought that
his wild, instinctive cry for succor could be heard.

But it was. A quarter of a mile away, Jack Reeves heard the despairful
shout; and Nell, too, heard it. Jack's quick gaze, darting in the
direction of the sound, caught a glimpse of moving shadow against the
white surface of the slope, as Jim dropped from the log to take shelter
beneath it. At the same time, there came to Jack's ears the first noise
of the avalanche's descent, and he understood fully how great was the
peril of the unknown, whose cry for help he had heard. He called to his
dogs savagely, and sent them forward toward the slope at speed. Before
he had time to explain to the startled Nell, the rush and roar of the
snow-slide made clear the situation to her, familiar as she was with
this peril of the mountains. Yet, ere the hurtling masses of snow buried
the spot where he had seen the moving shadow, Jack marked its location
precisely by means of an outcropping ledge, just to the right of the
tree-trunk. As he went forward swiftly, he noted with relief that the
slide, which soon ceased, was a comparatively small one, though of a
size sufficient to prove fatal to its victim, unless aided from without.

At the foot of the slope, some distance to the right of the freshly
heaped-up snow, the sled was halted. Jack and Nell put on their
snow-shoes, and, with a couple of spades from the pack, made their way
with some difficulty to the jutting point of the ledge, which still
protruded a little beyond the new covering of snow. A few feet to the
left of this, they began to dig, working with feverish haste. They
progressed rapidly, for the prospector was in the full prime of his
manhood, with muscles like steel, and the girl, if less strong, was in
equally perfect condition, and with training enough in the arduous life
of the frontier to make the toil simple to her.

They had dug down perhaps a score of feet, and had reached, as Jack
judged, almost to the ground, so that he feared lest he might have
mistaken the location, when suddenly Nell rested motionless.

"Listen!" she commanded. Her tense face was radiant.

Jack ceased shoveling, and listened as he had been bidden.

There came a faint, strangely muffled sound. It came again--an
indistinguishable, inarticulate mutter from somewhere under the snow at
their feet.

Jack shouted triumphantly.

"By cricky, Nell," he cried joyously, "we've struck him, sure as sin!"
He raised his voice to its full volume in a cheerful bellow, meant to
reach the ears of the imprisoned man below:

"Buck up, old pal! We'll have you out in a jiffy." Then the bridal pair
betook themselves to shoveling with the enthusiasm inspired by success.

There was no difficulty in the completion of the work of rescue. Very
soon, the excavation reached the log under which Jim Maxwell was
sheltered, and he was able to crawl forth with some difficulty, owing to
cramped and aching muscles, but safe and sound. He was a little dazed
over his escape, when he had resigned himself to hopelessness. It seemed
to him as if a miracle had been wrought in his behalf by the timely
appearance of these two, where he had believed there was none to aid
him. His feeling of wonder was increased by the fact that one of these
two who had saved him from death, and who now stood beside him
supporting him, was a girl, whose dark, lovely face beneath the fur cap
was alight with an almost maternal joy over the deliverance in which she
had shared. The event seemed, somehow, to soften in a certain degree the
nature of the man, embittered by long years of suffering under a
grievous wrong. For almost the first time since the loss he had
sustained at the hands of Dan McGrew, Jim Maxwell felt a warm emotion,
which was close to tenderness. He continued to regard the two
bewilderedly. But his voice, when at last he spoke, was firm, and
vibrant with gratitude:

"You saved me--and I sha'n't forget it." He paused for a moment, then
added whimsically: "I don't know who you are, or how you got
here--unless you're two sure-enough angels, dropped plumb-straight down
from heaven for this special occasion." The half-jesting note left his
voice. "And I'll say just one thing: If you children ever need a friend,
you can call on me, and I sha'n't fail you. In the meantime," he added
briskly, "I want you to be my guests for the night. My cabin is near
by--a little way up the gulch there."

Something in the dignity of his manner as he made the proffer of
hospitality, some refinement of inflection in his tones, caused the
listeners to look with new curiosity on this roughly dressed man, whose
face was almost hidden beneath the thicket of beard. They were moved by
a sudden, compelling respect for this uncouth-appearing dweller in the
waste. It needed but a glance between husband and wife to ensure their
acceptance of the invitation. So, presently, the three rode on together.
They felt a certain unusual kindliness in their relation as host and
guests. They attributed it, as far as they thought of the matter at
all, to the peculiar manner of their meeting.... They could not guess
that strands woven by the Fates had caught them in a mesh for the final
right weaving of a perfect design.



CHAPTER XIV


After the horses had been given up and sent back, Lou, by Dan's
arrangement, continued the journey on the sled of some men who were not
properly of the stampeders, but were bound for Malamute. Dan himself,
hardy as he was, had no difficulty in keeping up the pace with the best
of the travelers on foot. He carried snow-shoes--for which he had no
present need as the crust held--and a light pack on his back. The others
of the stampeders regarded him as one of themselves, without ulterior
purpose beyond the legitimate finding of gold somewhere in the
creek-beds, or within the ledges of the mountains. Only Lou guessed
aught of the evil project cherished by her husband. She had little
compunction, for her sensibilities had become hardened with the passage
of the years, and she had long ceased to regard herself as in any wise
the keeper of Dan's conscience.

Dan himself, as always, had no scruples, though he meant to add yet
another to the list of his crimes. He went warily to his work. He held
Sam Ward under close observation, but so discreetly that the victim of
his watchfulness had no hint of it. As the train straggled out toward
nightfall, Dan contrived to be near his intended victim, though not in
company with him. Because of the information gathered by Lou, that the
miner meant to steal away from the others during the night, Dangerous
Dan had determined to keep a vigil during the hours of darkness, so
that, when the miner slipped away by stealth, thinking himself
unobserved by any one, he would be able to follow as stealthily, and
thus to trace the owner to the secret mine.

To one of Dangerous Dan McGrew's accomplishments the task was very
simple. The night was clear, and he became aware at once when Sam Ward
prepared to set forth. He allowed the miner to proceed for a
considerable distance before following. Against the white surface of
the snow, the moving form was distinguishable for a long way, and, since
it alone in the expanse moved at all, it was not to be mistaken. But,
while the miner was so distinctly visible to his pursuer, Dan McGrew had
little fear of being himself observed, since no eyes were seeking his
presence there. So, separated by a considerable distance, the two men
advanced through the night, ascending at a smart pace from the level
reaches of the valley to the lower slopes of the mountains. Here the
spruce cast black shade, and often gorges lay deep in shadow. Dan was
forced to lessen the distance between himself and the one he followed.
Often, he was hard put to it to keep close enough on his quarry to be
sure of the man's movements, without revealing his own presence on the
trail. Some risks he took, since needs must. But the danger of discovery
did not trouble Dangerous Dan, for he had never lacked courage, whatever
his other vices.

It was in the gray of the dawn when at last Sam Ward halted, with a
grunt of satisfaction, which the listening man, crouched behind a stump
fifty yards away, plainly heard through the motionless chill air. The
miner cast off the pack that he had carried throughout most of the day
and all of the night, and began hasty preparations for pitching camp....
It was evident that Sam Ward had reached his destination.

Assured that this was the end of the journey, Dangerous Dan silently
withdrew to a sheltered nook within the trees, a full quarter of a mile
from the other's camp. Here he built a fire, without any fear of its
light being seen by Sam Ward; for, besides the screen of trees, a high
ridge intervened between the two camps. Dan, owing to the unusual
mildness of the night, did not trouble with piling green logs against
which to stack his fire, but contented himself with selecting a spot
where a steep bank at his back aided in the retention of the heat.

Tired as he was, Dangerous Dan gathered sufficient fuel ready at hand,
so that he might replenish the blaze, arousing instinctively from sleep
as the flames died down. He guessed that the miner would sleep late,
after the fatigue of the trip. But he allowed himself only two hours of
rest; for he had yet much to do, and weariness must await leisure. Dan
McGrew could sacrifice selfish desires for the time being in order to
attain to selfish ends.

The sun was well above the horizon, when Dan McGrew at last arose
reluctantly, and stamped out the dying embers. He rolled up his pack,
but left it where he had camped. He carried a revolver with him, but he
had no intention of using it, lest the report attract the attention of
some chance prospector in the vicinity. He was not quite sure, even,
that he meditated violence--it might not be necessary. But, before
setting forth, he drew from its sheath, hidden within his bosom, a long,
wicked-looking knife, the blade of which he examined approvingly,
testing its edge with a bare thumb. When he had returned the weapon to
its place of concealment, he went forward very cautiously, his feet
leaving hardly a trace of their passage over the snow-crust. He took
advantage of the shelter afforded by bushes and trees, so that his
approach might not be detected. Thus, he came finally to a vantage point
behind a clump of bushes, which grew on a little knoll. Below this,
hardly a score of yards away, was Sam Ward's camp.

The miner was just arousing from sleep, when Dan reached this point of
observation. While the hidden man watched attentively, Sam Ward
replenished the fire, and hastily prepared a breakfast, which he
devoured even more hastily. Forthwith, then, he set about the serious
business of the day. To the watcher's surprise, the miner removed a heap
of firewood, which had been stacked against the sloping bank, some
distance above a tiny frozen stream. When the branches had been thrown
aside, there was revealed an opening through the snow, and on into the
earth itself. It was evident that the miner had already tunneled into
the ledge.

Now, he got dynamite from his pack, and set it carefully where it might
thaw out within the radius of heat from the fire. Thereafter, he crawled
into the tunnel, and was occupied out of the watcher's sight for some
time. On emergence, he examined the dynamite, and, satisfied with its
condition, took it, along with caps and fuse, on his return into the
tunnel. This time, he was gone for only a short interval. Presently,
came a dull rumble as the explosive detonated within the earth. The
miner reëntered the tunnel, carrying a bag. When he brought this forth,
he was staggering under the weight it contained.

[Illustration: DAN McGREW, STARING DOWN WITH HUNGRY EYES, SAW THE MINER.]

Dan McGrew, staring down with hungry eyes, saw the miner pound the
fragments of rock to powder in a roughly contrived mortar, which was set
beside the fire. Dangerous Dan had learned enough of gold-mining to
understand that the miner had chanced on a quartz lead of the richest
sort. Undoubtedly, it was a vein of considerable size which would assay
thousands of dollars to the ton. It was free-milling ore. The rough
method employed by the miner was sufficient to secure the golden
treasure. Now, when he had made an end of crushing the bits of rock, Sam
descended to the creek, where he chopped a hole through the ice, and so,
after great labor, was able to winnow the dust. Dan McGrew was able to
see the golden stream of tiny flakes that the miner at last poured into
his poke, with chuckles of glee. The watcher's steady eyes narrowed and
grew savage, for black envy and avarice filled his heart. Of a sudden,
his vague purpose became crystallized.... He would have this mine for
his own--at any cost.

Dangerous Dan looked over the scene carefully, as he made his plans. The
little stream, above which the miner had encamped, ran straight between
shallow banks out into a broad valley beyond. Dan was sure that he could
advance to a point on the slope where he would be just above his
unsuspecting prey. Thence, he could drop down on the miner, who, all
unconscious of any peril, squatted before the fire gloating over his
treasure. A single blow of the knife would put a term to his ownership
of the mine. Afterward, it would be a simple matter to conceal the body
in some cranny where only the wolves would be likely to scent it out.
And Dan McGrew would have the treasure-house for his own.

His decision made, Dan acted upon it at once. It came about according to
his calculations--with two exceptions:

The first was that, as he leaped upon his victim from behind, some
faintest sound of movement, or some subtle instinct in the victim, gave
warning. Sam Ward sprang to his feet, whirling as he rose. The lust of
gold was in him, too. On the instant, he understood the death that
threatened and the cause of it. He fought for his life and his gold with
all the strength that was in him. He got his hands to his assailant's
throat, and the fingers clutched in a clutch meant to kill. Dangerous
Dan's eyes goggled from his head as he strangled within that grip. But
he did not forget, even in his anguish, either his purpose or his
advantage. He thrust the knife with all his power into the miner's
breast. For a second that seemed to endure for an eternity, Dan was
still held in the vice-like grasp. Then abruptly, there came a gurgling
moan from Sam Ward's lips. The clenched fingers relaxed. Dan thrust the
form of his adversary from him. The haft of the knife, which he still
held in his right hand, was broken from the blade by the wrench of the
inert body, as it fell and went limply sliding down the slope toward the
creek.

[Illustration: HE FOUGHT FOR HIS LIFE AND HIS GOLD WITH ALL THE STRENGTH
THAT WAS IN HIM.]

Dan McGrew gazed on the grim descent with eyes that were dull still from
the deadly grapple. His breath came in sobs. He was triumphant, but he
realized how close he had been to failure.

Then, a minute later, when his brain and his sight were clear again, he
suddenly uttered a frightful curse....

In the wide expanse of the valley into which the creek flowed, a sled
moved rapidly, as the dogs strained in their harness. And it was coming
straight toward the creek--toward the place where he stood. Dangerous
Dan McGrew cursed yet once again--and more horribly. Then, he leaped
down the slope to where the dead body had halted. He stooped over
it--searched with desperate rapidity. A moment later, with the poke of
gold and a few papers from the dead man, Dangerous Dan raced back up the
bank, and on, flying from the spot where he had committed a crime so
great for a reward so small.



CHAPTER XV


The bridal pair were at once astonished and gratified by the
entertainment offered them in this remote wilderness. There was nothing
remarkable in their surroundings at the cabin. The fare provided was of
the simplest. The effect on the two visitors was produced wholly by the
personality of the man himself. As the men sat in easy communion over
their pipes, while Nell listened eagerly, Jim Maxwell, still under the
influence of that softer feeling aroused by gratitude to the two who had
rescued him, relaxed from the usual aloofness toward his fellows, and
talked of many things in a manner of singular charm. Jack Reeves had had
excellent advantages in education, before ever the spirit of adventure
drove him toward the Arctic. As he perceived the extent of the older
man's experience, he plied his host with questions. To these, Jim
responded readily--at first from courtesy, and then, moved by patent
interest on the part of his hearers, with a certain enthusiasm. He found
a long-forgotten pleasure in thus speaking at ease of the things he felt
to sympathetic auditors. In the years of his wandering and suffering,
the man's nature had deepened and mellowed, even though it was shut
within the crust of bitterness. So, to-night, he gave himself
unreservedly to this new mood of genial intercourse. He marveled over
his own changed mood, but indulged it to the full, nevertheless. In a
gentle, unfamiliar fashion, Jim Maxwell was almost happy
to-night--almost happy, for the first time in twelve years.

Nell's presence moved him deeply, though she sat silent for the most
part. Her close attention was a compliment greater than any words she
could have uttered. Jim Maxwell felt this, and yielded to the
inspiration of it. He was by no means unaware of the piquant loveliness
of the girl. His critical appreciation was betrayed by many swift,
penetrating glances at the rapt face. The dusk, lucent beauty of her
eyes especially appealed to him. In them, he glimpsed her soul, full of
the joy of life, a-thrill with expectation of the happiness that
awaited, pure and undaunted by any fear of evil. As he looked on her,
Jim's admiring gaze was always a little wistful. Since the tragedy in
his life, women had had no interest for him, because he had lost her
whom he loved. To-night, somehow, it was different. He felt himself
strangely drawn to this unknown girl. His heart stirred toward her. It
was not an emotion of which even a bridegroom could complain--it was
something utterly untouched by any instinct of sex, something subtle and
exquisite. Jim himself could not understand his feeling in the least.
Only, he yielded to the spell of it with delight.

The host left his guests in possession, when it came the hour for
retiring. He was deaf to their remonstrances, and betook himself to an
outbuilding, which had been his first shelter in this place, before the
making of the cabin.

Left alone with her husband, Nell spoke musingly, very softly:

"What a wonderful man, Jack! He is the sort of man I should like--" She
broke off, staring with vaguely puzzled, unseeing eyes at the glowing
stove.

"Now, what do you mean by that?" the bridegroom demanded, with asperity.

Nell aroused from introspection at the shortness of the husband's tone.
Then she laughed.

"Don't be absurd, goosie!" she bantered. "I actually believe you'd like
to be jealous of the first man I've met on our honeymoon." Her voice
softened. "Well, you needn't be. But he is a dear, all the same."

Something in her tone quelled the young husband's impulse of alarm.
Straightway, he spoke his own admiration, without further jealousy.

"He sure is a wonder," he declared emphatically. "He's one of the sort
who could make himself at home--and make himself the center of
attraction, too--anywhere around the world, with high or low or Jack or
the game."

A little later, he spoke again, reflectively:

"I wonder what he did!"

"What he did!" Nell repeated, bewildered.

"Whether he robbed a bank, or just murdered somebody," Jack explained.

Nell flared.

"He's not that sort!" she flung at him. Then, her eyes grew dreamy
again.

"But," she added--and there was a note of sympathetic tenderness in her
voice--"perhaps it was something that somebody else did."

"Eh?" Jack demanded, perplexed in his turn.

"I mean," Nell said, half-apologetically, "perhaps it was
something--some crime even--some one else did that made Mr. Maxwell come
away off here, to live alone in the mountains. A man like him!"

Next morning, Jack and Nell went on their way, almost regretfully, so
great was the impression made upon both by this man whom they had
rescued from death. Still without haste, Jack drove his dogs over the
level valley-crust. As it drew toward night, he selected for his camp a
point where a few stunted spruce grew a little way up the slope.

"I guess we're alone in our glory," he commented, as his eyes swept the
scene. "Not a stampeder in sight--and I'm glad of it. You see," he
continued, as Nell looked at him inquiringly, "I've been over this way
before. There's a creek flows in here from the other side of the valley.
I was up it once. It showed some prospects. I'd like another look at
it--without any stampeders by. And there's not a one in sight."

"I wonder!" While Jack went to straighten out the over-lively dogs, Nell
took the field-glasses from their case, and amused herself with a
careful scrutiny of this white world over which now lay a purpling
glamour as the sun sank wearily below the horizon.

Suddenly, there was a moving blur, a fleeting black shadow, in the line
of vision. Hitherto, there had been no sign of life anywhere. This trace
of activity, in the stillness of the snow-clad wild, interested her,
even startled her a little, though she had no thought that it could be
more than a glimpse of some stampeder plodding through the distance.

Nell adjusted the glasses, and sought again. Then, in a flash, she saw
clearly--a camp-fire burning, a man squatted close to the flames. There
was nothing out of the ordinary in the scene. It was not the sight of
camp-fire and man beside it that caused Nell's cheek to pale, that
caused her hand to shake, until for a moment the vision was blurred,
that caused the little gasp from her lips. It was another figure thus
revealed there in the far distance that so affected her--another figure
high up on the slope, which moved with a craftiness and stealth that
were in themselves sinister. These were the slinking movements of a
beast of prey. But the figure was that of a man.

Nell called to Jack--softly, as if she feared lest, across the
valley-space, that skulking man might hear her cry.

When Jack came to her, Nell put the glasses in his hands.

"Look there!" she directed, and pointed. Afterward, she sat tensed and
apprehensive in her place on the sled, while her husband stood at her
side, and looked as she had bidden him.

An ejaculation burst from Jack as his eyes caught the action in that
drama across the valley. Through a long minute, and another, he rested
rigid, silent. Suddenly, with an imprecation, he tossed the glasses
toward Nell. He pointed desperately across the valley, then sprang to
the dogs, and straightened them out, his voice so harsh that they
cringed under it.

[Illustration: HE POINTED DESPERATELY ACROSS THE VALLEY.]

"Mush!" he yelled savagely, and the whiplash hissed its message to the
leaders.... They were off at full speed.

"Too late!" Jack groaned, as the dogs bounded forward. "Oh, damn him! I
hope he hangs for it--the dirty murderer!"

It was, indeed, too late. When they were come up the lesser valley,
through which the creek ran, to a point near where the body of Sam Ward
was lying, Jack halted the dogs, and went forward alone. He would not
yield to Nell's pleadings that she be allowed to accompany him. He was
not minded that she should thus look on the assassin's victim.

Jack returned very soon.

"Dead as a door-nail!" he said shortly. His face was a little pale under
the bronze of open-air living. "A knife-blade in his chest--handle
broken off. We've seen the chap. It was Sam Ward. Had a secret mine,
they said."

Jack chose a camp-site close at hand, to which he removed the body of
the murdered man, so that it would be protected from any prowling wolf.
He brought down to his camp the dead man's pack, and he covered the
still and rigid shape decently with one of the blankets that had been
Sam Ward's. He made no attempt to trace the assassin. To have done so
would have been useless in itself, and would have been to risk the like
death. Nor did he make even a cursory search for the secret mine. He had
no wish for personal profit out of this grewsome event. On the contrary,
he was willing to delay his operations in the mountains, in order that
he might deliver the corpse to the authorities, and make known to them
the facts in the case.

"We'll put him on the sled in the morning," he said to Nell, who was
very quiet, and who turned her eyes from time to time fearfully toward a
place just on the edge of the firelight, where flickering shadows danced
grotesquely over a deeper shadow--a shadow huge and misshapen and
menacing.

"We'll take him up to Kalmak. It's a little place on the way to
Malamute. But they have a sheriff, and that's what we need."

And neither he nor his wife, who looked from time to time affrightedly
toward the shadows, had any hint as to the irony that the Fates had put
into the husband's concluding words.



CHAPTER XVI


Dan McGrew, from a point of safe concealment, watched the coming of the
sled with keen interest. He was still furious over the miscarriage in
his plans caused by this arrival. There was no longer possibility of his
holding the secret of the mine for himself. In return for the blood on
his hands, he had gained a single poke of gold-dust. His chief concern
now was the evading of any possible suspicion against himself. His
thoughts were busy with this problem of safety. At his distance, and in
the darkening light, he could not make out the identity of the man who
examined the body of Sam Ward, and afterward removed it. Since Nell did
not leave the sled, he did not guess even that one of the two was a
woman. But it did occur to him that, since the arrival of these persons
had thwarted his evil hopes, it would be fitting that they themselves
should serve his need as the scape-goats of suspicion.

Once this idea had stirred in his brain, Dangerous Dan found little
difficulty in planning the accomplishment of his designs. He remained in
hiding, without venturing even to light a fire though he was hard put to
it to resist the numbing cold. It was not till some hours after
nightfall, when he judged the two in their camp safely asleep, that
Dangerous Dan acted on the plan he had formed.

He crept with the utmost caution down the slope, and made a wide détour,
so as to come near the camp to windward of the point where he heard the
little yelps and whinings of dogs restless in their sleep. The night was
clear, and, even within the shadows of the trees about the camp, Dan
could see distinctly where the sled stood outside the limit of the
firelight. Toward this, with increased care and slowness in the
progress, Dan made his way.

He had almost reached the sled, when he stumbled over what he had deemed
merely a deeper shadow beside it, and sprawled forward. To save himself
from falling, he thrust out his right hand. The palm touched something
cold--with a coldness beyond that of the arctic air. It was the face of
the man whom he had slain, from off which his rough contact had thrust
the blanket. And Dan McGrew knew the thing for what it was.

Strong man that he was, he was sickened. For a little, he stood there
shivering, unnerved by the grisly encounter. But it was only the shock
that had unmanned him. Presently, his courage rose again. He grinned to
himself, standing there in the dark over the dead body. Here was nothing
to be afraid of, he said to himself in brutal disdain of his own
weakness. So, soon, he went on again, quite undismayed, to carry out his
purpose.

Noiselessly, Dangerous Dan fumbled over the pack on the sled for some
minutes. Once, he put a hand in his pocket, and drew forth something,
which he disposed within the wrappings of the pack. Finally, he
readjusted everything, as nearly as he could by the sense of touch, to
the condition in which he had found it. Only, there was something added
to the contents. For once in his life, Dangerous Dan had not been a
robber. Yet, never had his intent been more deadly.

His task thus accomplished, the man withdrew as silently as he had come.
Nevertheless, despite his bravado, he was at pains to tread aside, lest
he brush a second time against that blanketed form.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack and Nell were up and away early. They made good speed with the
grewsome burden on the sled. They ran easily without snow-shoes, for the
crust still held. Jack was distressed that his bride should be unable to
ride luxuriously on their honeymoon. But for this Nell cared not at all.
In her youth and perfect health, the physical activity was, in truth, a
pleasure, rather than a toil. But she was disturbed by the presence of
that grim thing which they escorted. She could not avoid yielding in
some measure to superstition. The radiant joy of her bridal was
quenched by this tragedy that had followed so close upon it, and into
association with which they had been forced by circumstance. Her mood
was oppressed with forebodings. She was all anxiety to reach Kalmak,
where they might be rid of this ill-omened clay. So, she urged Jack
often to increase the pace. And he, for his part, hardly less sensitive
to this malignant influence at such a time, consented readily enough,
hurrying on the dogs with whip and voice.... The train swung into Kalmak
in mid-afternoon--at least an hour sooner than it would have made the
distance with a lighter load.

[Illustration: SHE WAS DISTURBED BY THE PRESENCE OF THAT GRIM THING
WHICH THEY ESCORTED.]

Jack halted the dogs before the very unpretentious structure that was
inappropriately designated the Grand Hotel. At sound of the arrival,
those within hurried forth, eager for any interruption of the day's
monotony. Among the others came a tall, lank man, with a lantern-jawed
face and a drooping, melancholy mustache, whom Jack recognized as Hal
Owens, the sheriff. He himself, however, was not known to Owens, or to
any of those present, nor was Nell, as they were speedily to learn to
their sorrow. Another face in the group was vaguely familiar to both the
young husband and his bride. Jack, for the moment, could not recall
where he had seen this stalwart, handsome man, who stood with a
masterful erectness, emphasized by his frank and fearless gaze. But
Nell, in the instant of seeing the stranger, recollected him perfectly,
though she had seen him but once in a fleeting glance. She remembered
how he had appeared on her wedding-day, and how he had regarded her with
that cynical smile, which had aroused in her an inexplicable sense of
dismay, a fear of mysterious disasters, past or to come. It seemed to
her appropriate enough that now this man should be present to welcome
her and her husband as they brought in their ghastly load. Again, she
experienced a curious repugnance in meeting the steady stare that seemed
to probe into her soul with a mocking amusement. Nell wrenched her eyes
from his, and turned away with a little shudder of revulsion. Then, the
natural buoyancy of her spirits asserted itself. After all, this man,
who affected her so strangely, was nothing to them--could be nothing to
them. And they were at last free of the horrible incubus that had been
thrust upon them. The dead body was now gone out of their charge, was
become the property of the law. She smiled, a little wanly, while her
eyes moved over the roughly garbed cluster of men. She was glad--oh, so
glad!--that miserable interruption of their honeymoon was done and over.

Jack addressed the sheriff briskly, himself almost as anxious as Nell to
have done with this wretched matter.

"This is your business, Sheriff. I've brought in the body of a chap who
got killed out Forgotten Creek way, yesterday afternoon."

The sheriff nodded with what he took to be the dignity befitting his
authority.

"The coroner should set on the corpse," he said gravely, pleased at this
display of his familiarity with legal phrases. "In his absence--bein'
there hain't none--I reckon I'll do the best I kin."

He strode to the sled, and pulled aside the blanket that had concealed
the dead man's face. He turned to the men who had crowded around.

"Anybody know him?" he demanded, authoritatively.

There was a chorus of grunts in negation.

Then, as the others fell silent, Jack spoke again:

"I knew him by sight, though I never spoke to him. His name was Sam
Ward. They said he'd struck it rich--a secret mine somewhere in the
mountains."

"Know anything more about him?" The sheriff's voice was heavy with
responsibility.

Jack made an impatient gesture.

"He was in the stampede that came up to Forgotten Creek day before
yesterday. You know?"

"I know," the sheriff assented. "What else do you know?"

"I know he's dead," Jack snapped. He was heartily sick of this
business, and his temper grew strained. "If you have any doubt about
it," he added sarcastically, "why, I saw him killed."

There was a general start of surprise over this bald announcement. The
sheriff, however, preserved his official composure.

"That ought to help some," was his response. "Supposin' now, you fire
ahead, an' tell all you know about this corpse o' your'n."

"No corpse of mine!" Jack retorted gruffly, more than ever annoyed,
while Nell felt a qualm of new dread at the sheriff's ambiguous words.
But Jack curbed his impatience, and related in detail what he knew
concerning the incidents of the tragedy.

His hearers listened intently. There were features in this murder that
gave it a certain distinction. The fact that it had been witnessed from
such a distance through the field-glasses gave it a charm of novelty
that a mere murder must otherwise have lacked. The men, who had hitherto
been stealing many a sly glance toward the young woman with the dainty
face and glowing eyes, now stared at her with open admiration for the
one who had first seen the assassin's advance upon his victim, and had
guessed his deadly purpose. All those present accepted the truth of the
narrative without question. The young man's frank expression and the
simplicity of his story, strange as it was, carried conviction.
Moreover, it was well-nigh impossible to suspect this beautiful girl of
any complicity in crime. So, the account was accepted by all hearers as
truth, and it occurred to none even to question it.... To none, save
one. And that one was he who, of his own knowledge, best knew that it
was truth. Yet, he would question, and to some purpose--for his own
safety's sake.

The formalities of the occasion thus fully satisfied, the sheriff
ordered the corpse removed to a back room in the hotel, where it was
laid out on the table. Before replacing the blanket, the sheriff
withdrew the blade of the knife from the dead man's breast.

[Illustration: THE FORMALITIES FULLY SATISFIED, THE SHERIFF ORDERED THE
CORPSE REMOVED.]

"It's a clew," he explained, with obvious admiration for his own
sagacity, as he wiped the blackened blood from the blade upon the
blanket.

Dan McGrew had followed the four men who, at the sheriff's direction,
carried the body into the hotel. He was known here, as through most of
the region round about, where he was regarded as an honest gambler--for
his methods had improved in the twelve years since his discomfiture by
Fingie Whalen.

To be here at this time, Dangerous Dan McGrew had employed the resources
of both mind and body. His reasoning had convinced him that Kalmak would
be Jack's destination in the trip. He had been obliged to risk the
correctness of this conclusion in order that he might be free to start
for the village at once, after completing his night-visit to the young
man's camp. Since he must travel on foot, and slowly because of
increasing fatigue, he had need of all the time he could gain for the
journey, in order to reach the scene first. He had succeeded. Even, he
had had time for an hour's sleep, which was craved by every atom in his
body after a day and two nights of almost constant exertion.

So, now, Dan McGrew was on the spot, alert and arrogant with evil
purpose. He stepped close to the sheriff, and spoke so that the others
could not overhear. He knew the harmless vanity of the official, and
meant to play upon it for his own ends, by letting the other take credit
on himself for great shrewdness.

"You think that youngster's story is a bit fishy, I see!" Dan remarked;
and there was deep admiration in his voice.

The sheriff, who had thought nothing of the sort, immediately assumed an
air of suspicion, and nodded assent.

"Fishy--very!" he agreed.

"Of course," Dan continued deprecatingly, as if even to question this
were an impertinence on his part, "you'll search that young man's pack?"

The sheriff nodded glumly.

"It's my sworn duty to do jest that."

Dan sauntered away, well content. He went out of the hotel, and stood
unobtrusively among the other idlers, watching while Jack and Nell,
restored to the best of spirits by the completion of their unpleasant
duty, were now laughing and chatting together as they busied themselves
about the sled.

Presently appeared the sheriff. He approached the sled, and spoke with a
harshness he had not hitherto displayed.

"Young feller, I'll jest take a look through your pack."

Jack and Nell glanced up in amazement at the tone no less than at the
words.

"But what--what the devil do you mean?" Jack demanded, wrathfully.

"Never you mind what I mean, young feller," was the offended retort. The
sheriff threw back the lapel of the heavy outer coat he wore, and showed
a silver shield. "There's my authority," he sternly announced. "I'll
jest take a squint through your belongin's."

Jack and Nell protested, but their protests were in vain. The sheriff in
explanation vouchsafed only a single word, most contemptuously uttered:

"Fishy!"

In the end, the young pair stood by in mute indignation, while the
official search was prosecuted.... They had one consolation in the
presence of this outrage: The search would prove its own absurdity.

The issue came on them like a thunderbolt. From somewhere in the pack,
the sheriff's groping fingers drew forth an object, which he held up
that all might see. It was undoubtedly the bone handle of a large knife.
Without a word, the sheriff reached into a pocket of his coat, and
brought forth the blade which had been in the dead man's breast. Still
without a word, while all looked on in breathless tension, he put blade
and haft together. They fitted perfectly.

The sheriff's mouth, under the drooping mustache, twisted in a
triumphant grin. An amazed consternation held Jack and Nell silent for
the moment in the face of this damning evidence against them. The
sheriff moved forward a step, and laid his hand on Jack's shoulder.

"Young feller," he said heavily, "I arrest you in the name of the law,
for the murder of Sam Ward, deceased. And don't say anythin'," he added,
in paraphrase of the legal formula, "for what you say will be used agin
ye."



CHAPTER XVII


The catastrophe that had thus put an end to the honeymoon, drove the
unfortunate husband and wife almost to despair. The thing was monstrous,
incredible. Nevertheless, it had occurred. Jack raged against the unjust
accusation which Dan McGrew had caused to be laid against him; but
neither his wrath nor his entreaties were powerful enough to create even
a doubt on the part of the public of Kalmak as to his guilt. The
evidence against him was, in fact, incontrovertible. His case was made
the worse, also, by the absence of any one who could vouch for his
character. Given time, he could easily enough summon witnesses in his
behalf, though even then the issue might be uncertain. He had no
plausible explanation to offer concerning the presence of the
knife-handle among his effects. He could only deny all knowledge of how
it came there. And such denial was utterly valueless, as Jack himself
realized with utter discouragement.

As for Nell, there was only a single thing to mitigate her misery, and
of this she was hardly conscious. It was that she herself was not
subjected to the indignity of arrest. In this matter, the chivalry of
the community worked in her behalf. These men of the Northland were not
of a sort to war against women. They left such warfare to a more complex
state of civilization.

But, in truth, no arrest was needed for the unhappy bride. Nothing could
have tempted her to leave the place where her husband was in peril.
Indeed, she was like a thorn in the side of the sheriff's ideas
concerning official strictness and decorum--and rose as well as thorn;
for the winsome loveliness of this suffering girl disturbed him greatly,
so that he was fain to grant her privileges which ill accorded with his
conception of official etiquette. It was owing to this laxness under
Nell's persuasion that she was permitted to interview her husband,
though separated from him by the heavy grating in the cell-door, and
though fretted by the presence of the sheriff himself, who sat within
ear-shot, and forbade secret communication.... Those interviews harrowed
the souls of the lovers, for, though each strove to cheer the other,
neither could understand how this calamity had come to pass. Nell
occupied the intervals between visits to her husband in frantic efforts
to devise some means of proving Jack's innocence, or in pitiable
weeping, shut within her squalid hotel-room.

[Illustration: NELL WAS PERMITTED TO INTERVIEW HER HUSBAND.]

It was in the forenoon of the day following his arrest that the prisoner
had his first glimmer of hope. It came to him while he was surveying for
the thousandth time the roughly-hewn timbers that made the walls of his
cell. He had long ago admitted the uselessness of trying to break out,
inasmuch as he had not even a penknife with which to work. Yet, now, as
his glance roved the tiny room, his eyes lighted with hope.

Forthwith, Jack began plotting escape. He understood that his situation
was most desperate. The sheriff, who from pride in his office had added
the cell to his log-house at his own expense, was fond of sitting on
guard in the adjoining room; not so much for the sake of precaution
against the prisoner's escape, as for pleasure in receiving visitors, in
the full majesty of his office. And Jack had heard some of the
low-spoken remarks of the visitors among themselves. He knew that these
men of primitive emotions looked upon him as a murderer, and were
disposed to end the affair in a lynching-bee. Only the sheriff
interposed between him and such a fate, and the man was by no means
strong enough to stand against a mob. Therefore, Jack was convinced that
the only possibility of safety lay in flight. And that flight must be
made at once, or it would be too late.

Little by little, the details of a plan were evolved. He went over the
matter with every care, knowing well that he risked his life on the
accuracy of each detail in his device. Some ideas he rejected; others,
after much testing and readjustment, were approved. In the end, he
became confident that his method might win success--confident that it
would.

His preparations thus complete up to the point of action, the prisoner
did not delay the action itself. For that matter, the opportunity he
desired at the outset was offered to him almost immediately after he had
decided upon his course.

The sheriff, who was a kindly soul, apart from the sternness compelled
by his ideas of high office, repeated a favor he had already shown the
prisoner, by coming to the grating, and thrusting forward a cigar.

"Smoke up, young feller," he said.

Jack took the cigar with due expressions of gratitude, and he was at
pains to conceal the new hopeful eagerness that filled him.

"And here's the match, young feller," the sheriff continued, as he held
it forth. It was one of the regulations formulated by himself that the
inmates of the jail should not be allowed possession of matches.

Of that regulation, Jack was already aware, and to secure its evasion,
he now acted. As the sheriff turned away, in pursuance of his principle
of not encouraging familiarity on the part of a prisoner, Jack tossed
the match to the floor, where it lay invisible in the light which shone
in from the other room. Then he addressed the sheriff, with becoming
humility.

"I'm sorry, Sheriff, but the match went out."

Dan McGrew, in the sheriff's place, would have demanded the return of
that match. Instead, the official turned back promptly, and gave
another, with which the prisoner succeeded in lighting his cigar. The
sheriff, seated at his table, could not see the captive, who stooped and
picked up from the floor the first match, and put it away in his pocket
with extraordinary care.

Thereafter, still careful to escape observation by the sheriff, Jack got
out a stub of pencil which he had been allowed to retain. He secured a
small fragment of paper from the untidy litter on the floor of the cell.
Then, he hastily scribbled a brief note. This was rolled up into a tiny
cylinder with the writing on the inner side. By liberal moistening with
his tongue he managed to make the roll retain its shape. Having
accomplished all he could for the time being, the prisoner, with the
cylinder in his pocket, awaited the coming of Nell.

The wife's advent was not long delayed. Within the hour, the girl
appeared before the sheriff, softly appealing in voice, more softly
appealing in the gaze of her misty eyes. The official strove to frown,
but only succeeded in smirking shamefacedly.

"I suppose it can't do any harm to let you chin a little," he said
grudgingly. "But remember now," he added, shaking a warning finger at
the visitor, "no whispering, an' keep your hands in plain sight all the
time. An' I'll have my eyes on you, you bet!"

With a murmur of thanks, Nell went forward to the grating, where she
stood with her hands duly exposed against the metal bars. Husband and
wife exchanged greetings as best they could, thus forced to speak aloud
so that the sheriff could hear every word. Yet, without anything said
to warrant it, Nell knew instantly that her husband's mood had changed.
There was a light in his eyes, a smile on his lips. And, too, he nodded
almost imperceptibly, very mysteriously. Nell felt her own spirits rise
in response. They spoke of sending to Malamute for a lawyer. They spoke
of securing proof against the actual murderer--at which the sheriff
smiled.

But the sheriff, though he listened so intently, did not watch with
equal closeness. He glanced over some of the papers lying before him.

It was Jack who watched carefully, for much was now at stake. As he saw
the sheriff's gaze averted, he parted his lips, and with his tongue
pushed forward the tiny cylinder of paper, which on the instant of
Nell's arrival, he had placed in his mouth.

The wife perceived the protruding roll in astonishment. Jack moved his
head forward, puckering his lips as for a kiss. Nell understood. She
turned instinctively. The sheriff's eyes were still on his papers. At
once, then, the girl put her own lips to the opening in the grating,
where Jack's waited. The mouths of the two met in a kiss that lingered.
The sheriff looked up, and saw the kiss. He noted that the hands of the
two were duly exposed, as required by the regulation in such case made
and provided.

[Illustration: THE MOUTHS OF THE TWO MET IN A KISS THAT LINGERED.]

Nell took her departure forthwith. Her murmur of thanks to the sheriff
for his kindness was a trifle indistinct. That excellent officer
observed the fact. Also, he was inclined to believe that the unfortunate
young woman appeared somewhat cheered by her visit to the
murderer--though what there could be cheering in such a situation, the
sheriff could not guess.



CHAPTER XVIII


In the solitude of her bleak chamber, Nell hastened to take from her
mouth the cylinder of paper that Jack had given her. Moist as it was,
when unrolled it lay flat, and the writing on the inner side was
decipherable without difficulty.

The note lacked address or signature, since neither was needed. But the
curt words filled Nell with rapture:

     Have found way to escape. Go to Maxwell, ask him for help. Have
     him somewhere near the village on his side by eleven o'clock
     to-night.

With the reading, Nell took new heart of hope. She could not guess the
means that her husband had devised for his escape from the jail, but the
confident tone in which he had written to her gave promise of success.
Her own part in the plan was simple enough. It only required that she
act promptly in its execution. It occurred to her that Mr. Maxwell might
be absent from the cabin, following the line of his traps. The thought
of possible delay in the performance of her mission struck a chill to
the eager wife's heart. At once, then, she was in a fever of impatience
to be off and away.

Nell made her preparations swiftly. At her order, the dogs were
harnessed to the sled, and were ready at the door of the hotel, as she
issued forth. The news that the murderer's bride was about to start out,
spread through the village like wild-fire. The sheriff himself appeared
on the scene, as Nell was at the point of departure. He shook his head
dolefully; but, to the girl's immense relief, he did not offer to detain
her.

[Illustration: THE DOGS WERE READY--AT THE DOOR OF THE HOTEL--AS SHE
ISSUED FORTH.]

"I dunno," he remarked doubtfully, "what you git by goin', an' I dunno
neither what you'd git by stayin', fer the matter o' that.

"Anyhow, a wife can't testify agin her husband, so I hain't got any
call to hang on to ye."

That was his valedictory.

Nell wasted neither words nor smiles on the assembly. She had no kindly
feeling toward these men, who had dared accuse her husband of crime. Her
sole response to the sheriff's statement was a crack of the whip and a
lively cry to the dogs, which leaped forward with a speed and surety of
movement in the splendidly muscled bodies that made the watchers exclaim
admiringly.

There was now no leisurely progress, such as had been that with which
she and her husband had traversed the miles together, before death
brought tragedy to their bridal-journey. Nell, in two years of her
living in the North, had learned the management of these animals, on
which transportation over the snowy expanses of the Arctic so depends.
She knew well how to get from her team every ounce of speed, and she did
not spare them in the least. The crust still held, so that the going was
of the best. Mechanically, with the instinct that develops quickly in
those who live among the wilds, Nell had noted each salient detail of
the route followed by her and Jack. So, now, she was sure of her course,
and drove the dogs at full speed on and on, following the levels of
interwoven valleys with never a hint of hesitation.

It was late afternoon when, at last, Nell found herself passing along
the valley where they had lingered behind the line of the stampede. Hope
mounted higher here; for only a few miles still separated her from the
man whose aid she sought.

In turn, despair smote her at thought of the possibility that this Mr.
Maxwell might be absent--might even not return that night. She had a
dreadful vision of Jack, escaped from his prison, yet helpless, without
dogs or supplies, doomed to perish in the cold. She resolved that,
should other help be wanting, she herself would return alone to meet
him. She took a little encouragement from this determination, until it
occurred to her that there were limits to the endurance of the dogs.
Then, again, desolation fell on her. But, at least, they would be
together!... Thus, her thoughts rioted in the stress of anxiety.

Anxiety became an anguished suspense, when, finally, she saw the tiny
bulk of the cabin, showing darkly against the white of the valley-slope.
As the dogs raced nearer, she stared with fierce eagerness to catch some
sign of life. She was in terror when she made sure that no smoke issued
from the chimney. One does not sit at home fireless in the Far North. A
great fear was on her as she halted the dogs before the cabin-door, and
none came forth to greet her.

Nell's misery, like that of most persons in this world of mistaken
ideas, was of her own making. Hardly had she clambered down stiffly from
the sled, when the cabin-door swung open, and Jim Maxwell stepped out.
At sight of his visitor, whom he recognized in the first glance, he
uttered an ejaculation of astonishment, and advanced toward her quickly.
His thought on seeing her alone thus before his cabin was that some
serious accident must have befallen her husband. He was deeply concerned
over the girl's plight, and sympathy showed in his face with a sincerity
of feeling that touched the girl deeply--so deeply, indeed, that for a
few seconds after he was come to her, she could only stand wordless,
with her hands in his firm clasp, her eyes glowing with the gratitude
and the relief with which his presence inspired her.

Jim Maxwell's voice was softer than it had been in more than a decade of
years.

"Why, child, what's the matter?" he asked soothingly. "Whatever it is,
we'll make it come out all right. Tell me about it."

Nell choked down her emotion, and presently regained a fair degree of
self-control.

"Oh, I'm so glad--so glad you're here, Mr. Maxwell!" Her voice throbbed
with feeling. It stirred to a new life a joy long dead in the man's
bosom--joy in the realization that some one wanted him. It had been
twelve years since any one had wanted him.

"Tell me," he repeated. His tone was even gentler than before. The
warmth of it cheered the girl like a draft of rich wine.

Nell fumbled at her bosom for a moment, and drew forth the note that
Jack had written. She held it out, and Jim Maxwell took it from her, and
read it through with growing astonishment.

[Illustration: JIM MAXWELL TOOK THE NOTE FROM HER AND READ IT THROUGH
WITH GROWING ASTONISHMENT.]

After he had scanned it for a second time, he looked up at the expectant
girl, with a puzzled, though no less kindly, glance.

"But what does it all mean?" he asked. "I suppose the note is from your
husband?"

"Yes," assented Nell hurriedly. "He's going to escape."

Jim patted the girl's hand reassuringly.

"Now, just take it easy," he counseled. "You must remember that I don't
know a thing about it. So, you're going to tell me everything that's
happened, and what your husband is going to escape from."

The calmness of the speaker's voice quieted Nell's excitement, and she
proceeded to relate without confusion an outline of what had occurred.

"Poor little girl!" her listener said tenderly, when the narrative was
concluded. "Well, he did right to send word to me. I owe you two more
than I can pay. And don't you worry, my dear. This cloud will pass
quickly. The sunshine will be all the brighter after the shadow." His
manner changed, and he spoke briskly. "Now, you get into the cabin. I'd
only just got back from my line and kindled the fire when you came. The
stove, I guess, is about white-hot by now. I'll attend to the dogs."

Nell went obediently, full of happy reliance on the strength of this
man, who was at once so courteous and so kind. She smiled over her
distress of a few minutes before. Now, a thick column of smoke rose into
the still air from the cabin-chimney.

Inside the tiny room, Nell glanced about her with a curious sense of
contentment. There was something homelike in the aspect of the place,
despite its bareness. It was plainly, even roughly, furnished with a few
tables and chairs besides the stove and bunk. The only decorations were
the skins that hung on the log-walls. An oil-lamp was on a small table
in a corner. On the large table in the opposite corner were some tins of
meat, a saucepan, a few pieces of heavy crockery, and the like. Nell
could not interpret the strange effect wrought upon her by these
surroundings. She had felt it, in some measure, on the occasion of her
first visit to the cabin. Now, however, its force seemed vastly
stronger. She puzzled over it in vain. She tried to think it was the
sense of relief that so affected her. But she knew that this was not the
explanation. She had that inexplicable feeling of being at home. There
was no visible cause. Whatever the reason, it lay beneath the surface of
things. It was something in the atmosphere, some psychic quality.

It seemed to Nell that the impression made upon her by this room in the
cabin was intensified by the entrance of the dweller there, who greeted
her with his friendly, gentle smile. Indeed, the kindliness of that
smile and the look in the grave eyes touched the girl anew to
thankfulness that this man would devote himself to her service in the
time of need. She thought to herself that Mr. Maxwell must always have
been a very kindly man to all, because he smiled so easily,
notwithstanding the sadness of his face in repose. She could not know
that, through two-thirds of the years measuring her span of life, Jim
Maxwell had not smiled at all.

"First," Jim commanded, "throw off the outside things, and make yourself
at home. You're going to stay awhile."

Nell would have protested. But the man raised a monitory hand.

"It's no use your arguing about it," he said; and Nell recognized the
masterful note in his voice, though he spoke as gently as before. She
was rebellious, but she listened patiently while he went on to explain.

"You see, my dear, this is men's work. There might be a hitch somewhere.
There might even be a bit of a mix-up. You'd only be in the way then,
young lady. We may have our hands full, without you on them. Probably
everything will be all right. Anyhow, we'll do our best, and to do it we
mustn't be hampered by the presence of a non-combatant. We'll come
straight here as fast as my dogs can bring us. That will give you a
chance to rest up. You'll just have to wait here till we come. I don't
say that that isn't the hardest part of the whole job. But that's
woman's work--waiting."

Jim had spoken thus frankly and at length, in the hope of avoiding
useless discussion of a matter concerning which discussion could avail
nothing, and he succeeded; for Nell yielded at once, very meekly.

"You're right, of course," she said, unhappily. "And you're right, too,
about my having the hardest part in just sitting here with my hands
folded, while I don't know what is happening to Jack."

"Better unfold them," Jim suggested with a chuckle, "and rustle yourself
some grub." He waved his hand toward the larger table. "The larder is
quite at your service. As for me, I'll get ready and start at once.
That'll get me to the edge of Kalmak soon after dark, so that I'll be
all ready and waiting--just like you!--for whatever's to happen."

"Yes," Nell said, and again there was the emphasis of anxiety in her
voice, "you must start at once. You must be there, ready for Jack when
he comes."

Yet, in spite of this decision on the part of both that the man should
start immediately, it was ordained by the Fates that there should be
some delay; for this was an hour fraught with momentous things for the
two thus cast together in the solitary cabin on the mountainside.

It was as Jim Maxwell began his preparations for the journey that he
chanced--or that he was guided--to stand close to the girl, facing her.
His eyes were caught by a golden gleam, which seemed pulsing, as it
moved in the rhythm of her breathing. His gaze rested there idly at
first. And then, a moment later, his attention was drawn to a more
careful scrutiny--just why, he did not know. Perhaps, as some maintain,
a secret, tenuous vibration emanated from the metal, and moved to
response a sleeping memory of old associations in the man's soul.
Whatever the cause, Jim Maxwell's eyes were seized and held fast by the
locket lying on Nell's breast.

Of a sudden, he started violently. He thrust his head forward, with a
movement so abrupt, almost threatening in its seeming, that the girl, in
her turn, was startled, and withdrew a step, half-fearful.

"I want to see that locket you are wearing." Jim Maxwell spoke in a tone
that Nell had not heard before. It rang with a note of command not to be
denied. She gazed affrighted at the change in his face. The kindliness
was fled from it. It was imperious, ruthless, with a trace of underlying
savagery. The young wife was dazed by the metamorphosis in the man on
whom depended now her husband's rescue. And she was afraid, as well--no
longer with a doubtful fear, but with a real terror before the
expression in that heavily lined face, out of which the eyes stared at
her with a cruel insistence.

"I want to see that locket you are wearing," he repeated harshly, and
held out his right hand with the palm upward to receive it.

Without a word, Nell took off the chain from her neck, and dropped it
with the locket into the waiting palm. Then, she moved a little aside,
shrinking from the new being with whom she found herself. But, after a
few seconds, she forgot her own emotion, her alarm, her anxiety in
behalf of her husband. For she was looking on the soul of a man, bared
in agony. So great and so terrible was that revelation that, very
quickly, she turned her gaze aside that she might not see.

Jim Maxwell remained with his eyes fixed on the little locket, which
bore for an ornament an initial _N_ traced in tiny pearls. He could not
doubt. It was the locket that he had caused to be made for his daughter,
for Nell--his little girl! Presently, he would open it, to see if the
pictures of Lou and of himself were still within. But, in this first
burst of emotion, he could only stand moveless there, racked by all the
torments of memory. It was the tearing open of wounds, which, though
they had never healed, had ceased to bleed. Now, they bled afresh, and
it seemed to him that his soul was drowning in the blood.

The fierceness of his first emotion passed. Suddenly, it was as if a
cloud lifted from his brain, and he became aware of himself standing
there in the cabin. A moment before--or was it ages?--he had been in
heaven--and in hell. Now, he was back in the cabin in the wilderness.
And he was glad to be there, for it was home....

Again, his attention was caught by the gleam of the gold within his
hands. He recognized the locket. But, at last, he was able to accept its
presence with some degree of calm.

Jim Maxwell turned to the girl, and addressed her gently enough, but
still with that dominant tone which would brook no denial.

"Where did you get this locket?"

"I have had it always," she answered. None could doubt her truth as she
spoke, with the clear eyes meeting her questioner's stern gaze
squarely.

The severity of the man's expression yielded a little.

"Who gave it to you?"

"I do not know."

Jim frowned at this check.

"But you must know," he insisted.

Nell shook her head resolutely.

"I do not remember who gave it to me," she repeated. "But I don't
remember anything about myself when I was a very little girl. I've had
the locket always, just as far back as I can remember."

"How far back can you remember?" It was a perfunctory question.

"Papa and Mamma Ross, who saved me from the river, guessed that I was
five or six years old. They decided on calling it six."

"And you had the locket then?"

Nell nodded assent again.

"And how old are you now?"

"I'm just eighteen."

As his brain took in the figures, and made a mechanical calculation, Jim
Maxwell's form, which had relaxed a little, grew tense again. His eyes
searched the girl's face with a strange hunger in the intensity of the
gaze. Twelve years! Twelve years ago, this girl here before him, who
knew nothing as to her life prior to that time, had been saved from a
river. And she had worn the locket that he had caused to be fashioned
for his daughter, Nell. And twelve years ago his wife and his daughter,
Nell, had vanished. The incredible crowded in his thoughts. Could mother
and child, by an evil stroke of fate, have been caught somewhere in
treacherous waters? Could one have perished, and the other have escaped?
Could this girl, who stood there wondering at him--could she be that
child, his little Nell, grown to this splendid womanhood? The thoughts
electrified him. Was it possible that there was still left for him in
life this supreme consolation--a creature whom he might love with all
his heart, who would love him in return?

But Jim Maxwell dared not believe. He was afraid of hope, lest it become
despair to destroy him. Yet, the chief influences that wrought upon him
were his own desire that this miracle might be truth, and the new and
singular yearning of his heart toward Nell.

Presently, Jim Maxwell approached the girl where she was standing a
little aloof. He reached out and put his hand on her arm. The girl
started at his touch, but, for some reason she could not understand, she
did not shrink from him now. He spoke very softly; and in his voice
there was a music that penetrated to the girl's soul.

[Illustration: THE GIRL STARTED AT HIS TOUCH BUT SHE DID NOT SHRINK FROM
HIM NOW.]

"You are my daughter--my little Nell!... God has given you back to me."

The girl did not doubt. As with the man, her own yearning bore witness.
She offered no resistance, but yielded with a reverent joy to the
caress, as her father turned her about until she faced him, then stooped
and kissed her on the forehead.



CHAPTER XIX


In the tedious hours of waiting after parting from Nell, Jack Reeves was
infinitely cheered by the consciousness that he would have for an ally
in this crisis one such as Jim Maxwell. Often, there came into the
prisoner's thought a memory of how he had last seen the trapper. He had
turned for a look back as the sled dropped to the level of the valley.
The solitary dweller in that wild place had been standing erect and
motionless before the cabin--a splendid figure of a man, posed in
unconscious majesty.

[Illustration: A SPLENDID FIGURE OF A MAN, POSED IN UNCONSCIOUS
MAJESTY.]

There was, of course, the risk that Jim Maxwell might be away from the
cabin and so not available to render assistance. That risk, however,
could not be avoided, since there was no one else to whom appeal might
be made. But Jack was able to hold an optimistic frame of mind. Somehow
the effect made upon him by the stranger whom he and Nell had rescued
from death was such that he felt a certain confidence as to the outcome
of his plan, merely because it depended vitally on the coöperation of
Jim Maxwell. Jack was sure that he could have secured this assistance,
even had there been no sense of obligation to bind the stranger to his
service. With Jim Maxwell's obvious and profound gratitude for having
been rescued from death, there could be no doubt concerning his response
to the prisoner's call for help.

Though he was busy with thoughts concerning his projected flight, Jack
found the day dragging endlessly. It seemed an eternity before at last
the shadows lengthened into night. Then, indeed, when patience was least
needed, it became most difficult. Now that the time was so near at hand,
the minutes crawled with a sluggishness that was exasperating. It seemed
to Jack that the sheriff purposed to sit in the adjoining room
throughout the night. It was only when he looked at his watch that the
fretting captive learned how anxiety deceived him, for it yet lacked a
half-hour of the official's usual retiring time.

Finally, since all things have an end, the sheriff stood up, and, after
an amiable but formal good-night, went out into the living-quarters of
the house. Followed an hour that was still more laggard than any of
those that had preceded it in this most laggard day. Jack had decided
that there could be no need of waiting until late at night before making
his attempt. There were only two classes among the citizens of the town.
One went to bed early; the other went very late--if at all. The prisoner
hoped that the first class would sleep too soundly to have any knowledge
of his undertaking until too late to thwart it; that the second class
would be too drunk for serious interference.

When he deemed it time to begin his preparations for escape, Jack
gathered the most inflammable parts of the litter on the floor. There
was more than sufficient for his purpose, since the sheriff, however
great his other official virtues, was by no manner of means a tidy
person. This collection of fragments of paper and wood was stacked
against the partition that separated the cell from the outer room,
midway on one side of the door. The prisoner was at pains to use only
paper and splinters, which would burn with little smoke. He had chosen
the only possible point of attack for his purpose. The other three walls
of the cell were of heavy timbers, which could have been set on fire
only with difficulty, and, once well alight, would have assuredly
roasted to death any one in the place, since there could have been no
possibility of breaking through them.

The situation was different as to the wall in which the door was set.
This was made of boards, instead of logs. They were too heavy to be
broken through by blows from the heavy chair, which was the only tool
available to the prisoner. Jack had conceived the possibility of setting
fire to some of the lower boards, and thus weakening them to a point
where they would yield to his attack. So, now, when he had placed his
kindling in position, he made ready with the match.

Never was a match struck more carefully. It was the only one, and on its
aid at the outset the whole attempt of escape rested. Jack breathed a
prayer of thanksgiving as the match sputtered and flared to a steady
flame. Next moment paper and sticks were burning briskly. The fire
mounted, lapping gently at the boards of the wall.

Jack, kneeling closely, watched earnestly. There was nothing more for
him to do now; he had only to wait for his servant, the fire, to prepare
the way. He shuddered a little at the thought that the servant might
become the master--that in the end he might perish miserably in a
fire-trap of his own devising.

He stood up, and, by an effort of will, thrust the thought from him,
lest fear drain him of the energy needed for the flight to come. He
forced himself to think of anything else, rather than of a failure so
horrible--of Nell, who would be waiting for him in a mood of hope and
despair intermingled; of Jim Maxwell, who would be ready in this time of
need. He pictured the trapper with his dogs, waiting patiently on the
snow where the spruce shadows fell.

[Illustration: THE TRAPPER, WITH HIS DOGS, WAITING PATIENTLY ON THE
SNOW.]

The flame rose higher and higher. The dry boards in the partition were
smoking. Little lines of sparks ran over the rough surface, then died.
The smoke from the boards grew heavier. The acrid odor filled the cell.
Jack coughed and dropped again to his knees, in order to avoid the worst
of the fumes. The heat increased, but it was not sufficient to cause any
particular discomfort. Jack had vastly more fear that the increasing
volume of smoke might overcome him before he should have opportunity for
carrying out his project. Presently, however, he was greatly heartened
by observing that there was draft which carried the greater part of the
smoke out of the cell through the grating in the door. As he looked, he
saw that the other room was filled already with dense clouds of smoke.
He took further comfort from the fact that the fumes were not
apparently escaping into the main body of the house, where they might
have given the alarm.

In the cell, the lower boards of the partition had burst into flame. The
heat from them was now so great that Jack crawled away from it into the
farthest corner. The tiny room was like an oven, and to add to the
discomfort of it and the deadly danger, the smoke thickened visibly,
notwithstanding the current passing out through the door.

Jack realized, with a thrill of horror, that here was a duel--a duel to
the death. It was a duel between him and those fiercely darting flames.
Rather, it was a duel between him and those blazing boards in the
partition--a duel of endurance between him and them. Which would be the
first to yield? If the boards should hold out the longer, then he--!
Jack shuddered once again, with a wry smile over the irony of fate.
Here, in this rigorous climate, men went often hand-in-hand with a Death
whose scythe was edged with ice. Jack had contemplated the possibility
of being some time struck down by the numbing cold. It had never
occurred to him that in this Arctic land he might die in a hell of his
own stoking.

The stifling prisoner dared hope that at last the blaze had weakened the
boards sufficiently for his purpose. Whether or no, his suffering drove
him to action. The heat was intolerable now. Sweat poured from him. The
pungent smoke blinded him, and bit cruelly at throat and lungs. Still
without rising to his feet, Jack laid hold of the chair, which was just
beside him, and hobbled clumsily toward the partition, pushing the chair
before him.

Even this comparatively slight exertion caused the perspiration to gush
in new abundance, and here, closer to the flame, the temperature was
well-nigh unbearable. Jack's head swam. He felt his senses failing. It
was only by a tremendous effort that he regained control of himself. He
was aware of his mortal peril. Any least weakening or faltering now
would mean his destruction. It was, indeed, a duel to the death--a duel
of endurance between him and a foe that knew no mercy.

Jack realized, as well, that there could be no delay in the issue. He
must act at once, if he were to act at all. A minute later would be
forever too late. His brain was reeling. His agonized flesh could not
longer withstand the strain. He felt his energies flow out of him like
water.... What he would do must be done instantly--or not at all.

Jack drew a long breath, sprang up, swung the chair, and brought it
crashing against the boards of the partition where the flames burned
most furiously. The wall did not break, though it seemed to yield a
little under the blow. But, before he could try another assault,
dizziness sent him staggering away from the unbearable heat and smoke of
that spot. He dropped to the floor, where he lay stretched at full
length, panting in choking breaths. For a few seconds he was in the grip
of despair. He felt himself impotent, doomed to shameful death in this
furnace-hole.

Nevertheless, the spirit of the young man, albeit fainting, was not
dead. It aroused presently. And it quickened the flesh. Once again Jack
acted. His brain was dulled. He was hardly conscious of thought. The
whole strength of his being was concentrated in his will to make a last,
supreme effort. Again, after a deep breath, he leaped to his feet,
seized the chair and hurled it against the center of the flaming mass
with every atom of his strength.

In the interval since his first attempt, the fire that threatened him
with death had, notwithstanding, been working in his behalf, weakening
still more the boards, his enemies in this duel of endurance. The heavy
chair burst through the blazing barrier and fell noisily in the other
room.

Joy surged in the prisoner. Under the stimulus of it, he forgot pain and
feebleness. He rushed at the flaming wall and kicked clear a larger
opening. Then he plunged through the flames.

Jack fell headlong on the floor of the sheriff's office. By instinct,
he remained prostrate, with his face against the floor, else he must
have strangled. But instinct urged him onward. He crept toward the
window, which, fortunately, was on the side of the room where he had
fallen. His eyes were shut fast now, for the smoke had blinded him. But
his groping hand, upraised, found the window-sash. Once more Jack held
his scant breath as he got to his feet. He drove his elbows through the
panes. The zero air enwrapped him. The touch of it was bliss. It brought
blessed life to the seared lungs. Jack took one great breath of it. Then
he put a foot to the window-ledge, drew himself up and went through,
amid the noise of rending glass and wood. Without an instant of pause,
or a single glance backward, he was off, plowing his way through the
heaped-up snow, which bordered the clear space beyond the buildings. In
another minute he was on the solid crust. Thus he ran on in a line
parallel with the one street of the village, but behind the buildings
that straggled there. He passed the last of these, and saw before him
the white reaches of the valley, without sign of life anywhere,
beckoning him on to freedom. His stride quickened and he went forward
jubilantly.

[Illustration: WITHOUT AN INSTANT PAUSE, HE WAS OFF, PLOWING HIS WAY
THROUGH THE SNOW.]

A hail came to Jack's ears. He looked in the direction of the sound and
saw, a little to the right of the trail, a ghostly silhouette, even as
he had pictured it--the trapper, with his dogs, waiting patiently on the
snow where the spruce shadows fell.



CHAPTER XX


Nell, standing before the cabin-door, peered for the hundredth time that
night across the valley. Her eyes seemed to catch in the far distance a
hint of movement, a flickering shadow out there in the dim light of snow
beneath starlight. It was gone in the same instant. It must have been a
trickery of vision. No! there it was again--a shadow that moved, a
tiniest speck, but real. Nell's hands went to her bosom convulsively. It
could be none other than Mr. Maxwell--her father--coming there. Did he
come alone? She stood with straining eyes in a torment of doubt. Soon
she was able to make out that only one figure ran with the moving sled.
It was as if the heart died in her. Then, in the next moment, she
thought that she could distinguish vaguely the outlines of another form
on the sled. She was a-tremble with hope. The sled rushed toward her up
the slope, the wearied dogs mending their pace in the frantic delight of
home-coming. It was certainty now. Nell could see the man on the sled.
He waved a hand to her. A cry of rapture burst from her lips. Within the
minute, she was clasped to her husband's breast--all sorrows forgot.

Presently, when the first excitement of the reunion was over, and the
three were together in the cheery warmth of the cabin, Jack told his
story very briefly, whereat Nell paled and trembled as she realized how
near to death this night had been the man she loved. But, when the
fugitive finished the story with his arrival at the point where Jim
Maxwell waited, Nell suddenly rose and went to the older man and threw
herself on his breast and kissed him.

[Illustration: WHEN THE FIRST EXCITEMENT OF THE REUNION WAS OVER, JACK
TOLD HIS STORY.]

"Father, if it hadn't been for you--!"

Jack regarded the scene in amazement, not untinged by disapproval.
Gratitude was all very well, but it need not express itself too
extravagantly. Then he almost forgot the embrace in wonder over the
word--"father!"

"Eh?" he questioned confusedly. "You've adopted him? That is, he's
adopted you?"

"Oh!" Nell exclaimed, drawing away from her father to regard him with
consternation. "Didn't you tell him?"

Jim Maxwell smiled very tenderly.

"No, I didn't tell him. I thought maybe you'd like to do that yourself,
dear."

Nell kissed her father again, with such enthusiasm that Jack's
disapproval returned with increased bitterness.

"You're a darling, Father," she declared happily. In the reaction from
her suffering, she was bubbling over with girlish gayety. "I'd just love
to tell him. It will be such fun to see his eyes pop out."

It was fun--and something deeper and sweeter. Jack, for his part,
welcomed the fact of this new relationship with the man so curiously and
intimately brought into his life. He rejoiced for his own sake, and he
rejoiced more for Nell's; since now she need no longer mourn over being
a nameless waif, though the mystery of her life was only partly
explained.

The hands of the two met in a warm clasp, and their eyes met no less
warmly in a firm, honest gaze of mutual liking and respect.

"I reckon I've done a pretty good day's work," Jim said, with a
whimsical smile to mask his emotion. "I've got a daughter and a son,
too--both in one day. And I didn't have anybody before--not for twelve
years." There was a pathetic intensity in his voice, which touched the
two hearers to a new appreciation of this man's great loneliness. Then
Jim Maxwell shrugged his shoulders, as if he would cast off the mood of
emotion. He spoke rapidly now, with incisive directness.

"You must get across the Border as fast as you can. I'll tell you some
short cuts." He had driven his dogs often to Malamute, and knew the ways
by which the fugitives might gain advantage over their pursuers. "You've
had an hour here, and it would be risky to wait any longer before
starting out. They may be after you any minute."

[Illustration: HE HAD OFTEN DRIVEN HIS DOGS TO MALAMUTE.]

"They may think I've been burned up in the fire," Jack suggested.

Jim shook his head in dissent.

"No. Those logs would take a good bit of burning. Somebody would give
the alarm, and they'd tumble out to see the fire, and they'd see that
window you'd smashed through."

"And I had to wade through some loose snow," Jack added. "They'd find my
tracks fast enough."

"Tracks leading this way! I tell you, there's no time to be lost. You
know the trails to Malamute. Make it as quick as you can. From there,
strike across the Border."

He was interrupted by Nell, who exclaimed impulsively:

"But, Father, what about you? I can't bear the thought of leaving you
now, when I've just found you after all these years."

Jim Maxwell smiled down on his daughter with deep fondness.

"When you're in Canada, write to me here--to Kalmak, telling me where
you will be, and I'll join you very soon."

He turned to Jack and gave explicit directions as to how the route to
Malamute might be shortened profitably. When he was sure that the young
man had understood, he turned again to Nell.

"I'm not quite so poor as I look, little girl," he said, smiling. "When
I join you I'll have a wedding-present ready for you--for you, and for
the boy here." His glance went affectionately to Jack, who returned it
with like affection.

Preparations for the departure of the two were speedily made. The
farewells were uttered; father and daughter kissed tenderly; the men
shook hands heartily. Then the dogs, in fine fettle after ample food and
rest, leaped forward with joyous energy. The night was clear enough to
see the way distinctly; there was no danger of mistaking the trail. On
and on they flew over the frozen surface of the snow, following the
valleys that trended to the east. Warmly clad and habituated to icy
airs, the two did not suffer any discomfort from the bitter cold of the
wind created by their rapid motion through the night. On the contrary,
it set their blood tingling with the joy of life. Both were gloriously
happy. The starlight was as noon-day since they had come out of the
valley of the shadow.

Thus they went forward swiftly, Nell stretched at ease, Jack riding and
running by turns. In the twilight of dawn, they came on a native family
comfortably encamped, and here they halted for an hour, that the dogs
might be fed and rested, and that they, too, might eat and rest. They
basked contentedly in the cheery heat from the flames, and at last took
leave of their stolid hosts almost reluctantly. Then, once again, they
went skimming over the waste, as the pale-yellow sun crept languidly
above the horizon. The slanting beams set all the scene a-shimmer with
prismatic radiance from the snow crystals. Hitherto, the two had been
content with silence, happy in the knowledge that they were together
and that the speeding miles put peril far behind. Now, however, with the
quickening life of day, the placid mood came to an end. They became
lively, garrulous, demonstrative. Nell insisted that Jack should
rehearse for her anew every detail of his escape from the jail. The
husband, in turn, demanded a full account of how father and daughter had
become known to each other. Both were curious to know the story of Jim
Maxwell's life. They could not forbear many speculations as to the
nature of the events that had driven this man, whom Jack liked and
esteemed, and whom Nell had already grown to love, to isolate himself
thus in the desolate North. But they could only guess, since the father
had told nothing of himself, except the single fact of his relationship
to Nell.

They made Malamute in mid-afternoon. Jack halted the dogs in front of
the chief structure in the place, which, though nominally only a saloon,
was in fact the hotel and trading post.

"Don't get out, Nell," Jack directed. "I'll have to get directions here
for the next stage in the journey. Maybe we'll have to stay for the
night, and maybe we won't. I'll be back in a minute." With that he
hurried off and entered the saloon.

As the door swung open to admit the newcomer, the few men straggling
along the bar, or lounging at the tables, looked up in mild curiosity to
see who this might be. Only one showed any especial interest in the
stranger. This single exception was a man who sat by a table placed
against the wall at right angles to the bar. He had been lazily busy
over a game of solitaire, while the woman seated across the table from
him looked on listlessly. At Jack's entrance, he had looked up with
languid attention. On the instant, he was transformed. All the
indifference of his expression vanished. His face showed first an
unbounded amazement, then rage. Finally, another emotion--hardly fear,
but a furtive anxiety closely akin to fear. He watched covertly as the
escaped prisoner went up to the bar, where, after ordering a drink, he
began questioning the bartender concerning the most direct route to the
Border.

Having secured the information he required, Jack went back to Nell, who
sat waiting on the sled, snug within her furs.

[Illustration: JACK WENT BACK TO NELL, WHO SAT ON THE SLED, SNUG WITHIN
HER FURS.]

"We'd better stay here for the night," he explained, "and make an early
start in the morning."

Nell got down from the sled obediently and accompanied her husband into
the saloon, where arrangements for their entertainment were speedily
concluded. It was only after the two had gone upstairs to the room
assigned them that the man, who had held his head bent low over the
spread-out cards of the solitaire game during their presence, looked up
and beckoned to a tall, rough-featured individual standing alone at one
end of the bar. This was the sheriff of Malamute. As he came near, Dan
McGrew spoke, and his voice rasped.

"Did you recognize that chap with the girl?"

"Never laid eyes on him before," the official averred. "What about it?"

"When I was down at Kalmak the other day," Dangerous Dan answered
impressively, "they arrested that fellow for murder. He's broken jail."

The sheriff grinned contentedly.

"Then right here's where he breaks in again. I'll see to that. You're
sure there's no mistake?"

"No mistake!" was the terse assurance. "I'll swear to his identity if
necessary. But probably there'll be somebody after him pretty soon, as
they'd figure he'd take this way for the Border."

"I thought you were going in the morning," the sheriff objected. "I'll
have to have you for a witness, if nobody else turns up."

"Oh, I'll stay, all right!" Dan laughed.

And the Fates must have laughed with him, and at him, in mockery; for,
in this last malignant act, Dangerous Dan McGrew worked evil against
himself and none other.... Lou, looking on apathetically, wondered why
Dan should be so eager to deliver over a fugitive from justice. He was
not usually so intolerant of crime!



CHAPTER XXI


Jim Maxwell, left alone in his cabin, had company a-plenty in thronging
thoughts. His mood, on the whole, was nearer to one of happiness than
any he had known before in the years since the wrecking of his home. The
discovery of his daughter had filled him with pure delight. Had she been
other than she was, this recovery of her would still have filled him
with gladness. To find her so lovely and so winsome in her personality
moved him to proud exaltation. He looked forward to companionship with
her in the years to come, and thanked Providence for this assuagement of
past loneliness and sorrow. He was grateful, too, for the fact that she
had entrusted her life's happiness to one who seemed worthy, so far as
any man might be, of such a treasure. Since he had no son of his own,
Jim Maxwell rejoiced over this gift of his daughter's bringing to him.

Nevertheless, it was in this connection that the otherwise happy father
found ground for anxiety, and that anxiety pressed upon him heavily. His
understanding of the circumstances, which was wider than that of the
young persons involved, made him appreciate the evil consequence that
must ensue from the present situation. Either Jack would escape across
the Border, or he would not. In the latter contingency, there would be
immediate peril of his life on being brought back to Kalmak; for Jim had
been told, what Nell had not, of the probable lynching by men impatient
of the law's delay. But, with the fugitive's escape safely accomplished,
there would remain always a stigma on the young man's reputation.
Throughout his life, he would go in constant danger of being pointed out
as a jail-breaker and murderer. Jim Maxwell would not tolerate such a
fate for one near and dear to him, and dearest to his daughter. He made
a last round of his traps, bringing them in and storing them in the
cabin preparatory to his departure. And in his progress over the miles,
his thoughts were grappling always with the problems by which he was
confronted. It was not until nightfall, as he sat smoking cozily in the
warm comfort of the cabin, which had been blest by his daughter's
presence, that he at last reached a decision. He had little fear of a
lynching in case of Jack's recapture; for he meant to take a hand
himself in coming events, and he believed that the sheriff at Kalmak,
though he knew the official to be of a spineless sort, would make a
stand against the mob with his backing. So he dismissed any immediate
concern over the retaking of the escaped prisoner. There remained,
however, the matter of the stigma. He would not let his son-in-law,
Nell's husband, whom she loved, be thus branded by the world. There was
only one means of prevention. The young man's innocence must be proved.
With the evidence against him such as it was, that innocence could be
established in a single way, and in none other--by proving the identity
of Sam Ward's actual slayer. Since this was so, Jim Maxwell decided that
he himself must bend every energy to tracing out the truth concerning
the crime of which Jack Reeves stood accused. Before he slept that
night, he resolved that with the dawn he would start for Kalmak, there
to begin his work.

In the morning, then, Jim Maxwell set forth on his quest. On arrival at
Kalmak, he halted his dogs before the Grand Hotel, where he judged, from
a slight acquaintance with the sheriff, that he would find the official
in the bar-room. In this he was proven right; for, on entering the
saloon, the first person his gaze encountered was the sheriff himself,
who stood at the end of the bar facing the door, with an expression of
profound melancholy upon his horse-like face. Jim, with only a nod to
the others, went straight to the sheriff, whom he greeted with an
assumption of deference, since he was well aware of the fellow's pet
vanity.

"And what's new?" he asked innocently, after he had given an order to
the bar-tender.

The sheriff could hardly pause to drain his glass, so eager was he to
pour out his woes to one who had not yet heard them. There was nothing
in the narrative that increased the stock of information already
possessed by the questioner. It was not until Jim Maxwell had pursued a
cross-examination for some time that there came a revelation of
importance. This, when it did come, crashed on him like a thunderbolt.

"Have there been any other strangers in the place lately?" he demanded,
desirous of any clew to the possible murderer.

"Nary one," the sheriff responded dismally. "It's been dull as
ditch-water all winter hereabouts. Hain't anybody come in for a
month--leastways, only Dan McGrew, and he ain't a stranger exactly--not
by a long shot!"

Dan McGrew! The name screamed in Jim Maxwell's brain. Dan McGrew,
here--within reach of his two hands!

He stood motionless, unhearing, unseeing. Beneath the concealing beard,
his cheeks were bloodless. His thoughts were chaos. The despair of the
years seemed crystallized in this new anguish over the fact that the
enemy had been here, almost within his grasp, and he had not known. He
seemed to realize as never before the monstrousness of the crime
committed against him. Hate more savage than he had known hitherto
filled his heart with its black flood. It seemed the final crushing blow
of fate, that the wrecker of his home should have come so nearly within
his power and then have escaped unscathed. For, somehow, he sensed
details given by the sheriff concerning Dan McGrew's going from Kalmak,
though he heard not a word of the babbling voice.

Presently, Jim Maxwell aroused from this trance of rage. He found
himself weak and shaken, and his tone was husky as he ordered more
drinks for himself and for the gratified sheriff. He gulped the raw
liquor hurriedly, and welcomed the sting of it. He regained his usual
stern composure soon, and, immediately then, his thoughts took a new
turn. He resumed the prosecution of his inquiries with increased
eagerness. It may have been that the association of ideas drove him on.
Dan McGrew was to him the epitome of crime. The presence of Dan McGrew
in the neighborhood struck him as of possible significance. He was
without a shred of evidence, in the matter of Sam Ward's death, against
the man he hated. Yet, he felt a strange conviction that here was the
clew for which he had been searching.... The sheriff was highly pleased
by the manifest interest of this trapper, who, in their previous
meetings, had shown no trace of geniality.

"You say this Dan McGrew--" Jim stumbled a little over the name--"was
here when this Reeves chap came in?"

"Blew in that very self-same day, jest a little while before the
murderer got here."

"I suppose he hadn't heard of the murder until he got here?" Jim
suggested.

The sheriff shook his head.

"We didn't any of us know a thing about Sam Ward having been killed,
until the young feller drove up and told that cussed yarn about seein'
the murder through his glasses. The nerve of him! And he'd got away with
it, too, if it hadn't been for Dan McGrew puttin' it into my head to
search his pack."

The listener started perceptibly at this information.

"Oh, it was Dan McGrew who first directed suspicion against this young
man, was it?"

The sheriff was deeply chagrined by his inadvertent revelation of the
truth. He attempted to hedge.

"Why, not exactly. Maybe he was the first to speak right out plain, but
I'd been thinkin' jest that same thing."

Jim did not care to press the point. He had no wish to wound the
sheriff's sensibilities, at least while further information might be
extracted from the man. But he regarded this news concerning the part
Dan McGrew had played in the affair as of vital importance. While the
sheriff maundered on, he rapidly reviewed the details of the case, so
far as he knew them.

The murderer, according to Jack's account, must have seen the approach
of the bridal pair. The fact was, indeed, proven by his hasty flight
from the scene of the crime. Thereafter, he might have watched, and
probably had watched, the arrival of the sled, and he doubtless had been
aware that the newcomers camped on the creek for the night. Already, in
previous study of the questions involved, Jim had arrived at these
conclusions, which established a plausible explanation for the presence
of the knife-handle in Jack's pack. Certainly, it could have been no
difficult feat for the assassin to secrete this evidence during the
night encampment. As certainly, there could have been no other
opportunity. Nor could there be any doubt as to the motive for the
action. It had been for the purpose of fixing guilt upon the innocent,
that the guilty might go free.

Now, in addition to these conclusions already established, there
appeared another and salient fact.

The person who first suggested the searching of the pack wherein the
knife-handle lay concealed had been Dan McGrew. The inference was
undeniable. It was made stronger still by the correlated fact that Dan
McGrew had arrived at Kalmak only shortly before the coming of the
alleged murderer. By further questioning, Jim drew from the loquacious
sheriff additional data. Dangerous Dan had arrived on foot. He had
talked of having been in the stampede; but he had given no precise
account of his movements, nor had he explained the reason for his coming
to Kalmak, over which the sheriff had puzzled. The day following his
arrival, he had set out for Malamute with a hired outfit.

A rapid survey of all these circumstances brought Jim Maxwell to the
conviction that Dangerous Dan McGrew had added murder to his other
crimes. The evidence was by no means conclusive, but it was sufficient
to any one reasoning from the facts. Jim, sure of Jack's innocence,
regarded the guilt of Dan McGrew as actually established. There remained
the necessity of final proof, which would brand the murderer as such
before the world and clear the innocent from unjust suspicion.

It was reasonable to suppose that the slayer of Sam Ward had taken to
himself, in payment for his crime, anything of value on the dead man's
body. Thus there was a possibility, even a probability, that Dangerous
Dan McGrew now carried with him some tangible evidence that would serve
to convict him. This evidence must be secured. In no other way could the
innocence of Jack Reeves be proclaimed to the world. And Dangerous Dan
had gone to Malamute. Jim smiled slowly, staring fixedly, as if his gaze
reached out across the miles. The sheriff, though hardly a coward,
shrank a little from some strange quality in that look.

Jim Maxwell, in truth, was wondering as to his exact purpose in going to
Malamute. Was it to save Jack Reeves, or was it to kill Dangerous Dan
McGrew? Both, perhaps.

He put a last question to the sheriff, who was puzzled by it--not the
less so by reason of a certain hesitation in the questioner's voice as
he spoke.

"There wasn't any--any woman with this--Dan McGrew?"

"Nope! He's been here three or four times for a game with the boys. He's
square, Dan is. An' I hain't never seen him look at nary one of the
gals."

Jim Maxwell turned away abruptly from the sheriff, without a word in
parting. The careless words screeched in his brain, mocking devils of
derision:

"He's square, Dan is."

Jim Maxwell set his face homeward, and urged the dogs to their best
speed, for he had much to do and time pressed. He reached the cabin with
the first shadows of dusk, and, after attending to the dogs, busied
himself in collecting important papers, which must be carried with him,
since he could hazard no guess as to when he might return to the cabin,
if ever. His skins were to be left behind, though their total value was
a considerable sum. He had put out his line of traps for the solace
afforded by occupation, rather than for profit from the pelts. He would
leave them with no regret over the loss involved. He cared little for
money at any time--now, not at all. The only consideration was that he
must travel fast and light.

With the dawn Jim Maxwell was off. At the last, he experienced a pang of
regret over leaving this humble dwelling, where, though he had
companioned so long with misery, he had, nevertheless, found soothing
from the serenity and the silence, and where, in the end, he had found a
daughter and a daughter's love. But this regret at parting from the
familiar place was, after all, a trivial thing compared with the desire
to hasten from it to the accomplishment of the work that awaited. He was
obsessed by the purpose to avenge his own wrongs and those of his
children, as he had already come to term Nell and Jack in his thoughts.
The object of that vengeance was Dan McGrew. In these hours of pursuit
after the man who had injured him and his so foully, his mood was all of
fierce hatred. The tenderness that had stirred and wakened in his heart
with the recognition of his daughter now slept again. A fury of rage
filled him. This nearness to his enemy inflamed every passionate memory
of wrong. Usually considerate of every creature, he was now merciless,
and sent the dogs forward at top speed, cursing them when they lagged.

As the day advanced, heavy gray clouds covered the whole face of the
heavens. The light wind which had been blowing from the east, veered to
the north soon after mid-day, and quickened. It quickened more and more.
Presently it was blowing a gale. And it came icy cold from the floes
within the Circle. Jim, under the numbing touch, was compelled to go
afoot oftener, in order to make the sluggish blood bestir itself. Yet
his action was almost automatic, the result of habit formed in like
experiences. He was hardly conscious of the changed conditions. Though
his flesh felt the ice-lash of the air and fought against it, the brain
inhibited sensation. His thought was all of the task that awaited. The
chill of the body was nothing to him. He knew only the hot wrath that
throbbed in his blood. He gave no heed, even when the powdery snow came
in almost level flight. It was solely the slackening pace of the dogs
that had power to arouse him. Sorely reluctant, he gave them a breathing
spell, and fed them. He desired no food for himself. He was sustained by
the spirit of vengeance which was flaming within him. He was not afraid
of the cold, which grew momently more deadly; nor of the snow, though it
fell so thickly that, when the journey was resumed, the dogs attained
hardly half their former speed. The flakes flew in masses so dense that
it was difficult to tell whether the darkness were of its own making or
the night were come. He could still distinguish the peaks by which he
set his course, and, since he went to his destination, nothing else
mattered at all--except that the dogs dawdled. He cursed them again. His
voice went out to them by turns raucously savage and imploring.

The dogs ran floundering through the snow, which deepened dangerously
fast. Ever afterward, Jim Maxwell believed that, somehow, the power of
righteousness had gone with him, triumphing in his behalf over the
elements that would have barred his way. It seemed, indeed, that only a
miracle could have carried him safely through the cold and storm. He had
expected, by unsparing driving of the dogs, to reach Malamute well
before dark. He himself now had no sense of time, only as it meant delay
in coming face to face with Dan McGrew. As a matter of fact, it was ten
o'clock at night when his eyes picked out faint yellow gleams twinkling
through the snow-wrack, which he knew to be the lighted windows of the
Malamute saloon. The dogs understood that they were come to the
journey's end. They strained at the breast-straps in a last desperate
burst of speed, and then, unbidden, halted before the door of the saloon
and dropped on their bellies, panting and slavering. Jim Maxwell with
difficulty stirred his cold-stiffened muscles and clambered down from
the sled. He stood dazed for a full minute, as if not yet fully
conscious that he had reached the end of the way, that the hour of
vengeance had at last struck.

Then, suddenly, Jim Maxwell straightened himself and squared his
shoulders. He walked to the door of the saloon and opened it with a
steady hand and stepped within, shaking the snow from his parka as he
went. He halted just inside and stood quietly. At his entrance, silence
had fallen on the noisy room and the eyes of all were turned on him.

[Illustration: HE HALTED JUST INSIDE AND STOOD QUIETLY.]



CHAPTER XXII


For a time Jim Maxwell stood there without movement, blinking
confusedly, while his body drank in the steaming warmth. The men in the
room regarded the newcomer with frank stares of curiosity. He was
unknown to any of them. They guessed him to be a miner just in from the
creeks, dog-tired from his fight with the storm. Without being told, one
of the hangers-on of the saloon hurried out to care for the dogs, since
their owner seemed almost helpless. Very soon, in fact, a suspicion grew
in the minds of the observers that something more than the cold had
affected this stranger.

"Full of hooch!" was the verdict.

Presently, Jim's vision cleared. He cast one piercing glance about the
room. He saw Dangerous Dan McGrew sitting at a table along the wall, a
little way to his left. He had schooled himself for the sight. There
was no betrayal of the emotion that shook his soul at first sight of the
man who had robbed him of wife and child and happiness. He even noted
with a savage satisfaction something constrained in the pose of his
enemy, who sat half-turned toward him, a card suspended in mid-air. Dan
McGrew had seen him--that was certain. And it was certain, too, that Dan
McGrew would not make the opening move. Jim Maxwell was content. His foe
hesitated--and hesitation is weakness. He had no doubt as to his own
strength. He believed it adequate for every demand upon it.

He vaunted himself too soon. His eyes passed beyond the man he hated to
the one who sat on the opposite side of the table. A darkness fell upon
his spirit. He gazed steadily enough, for he had no power even to shift
the direction of his eyes. There was no outward sign of the convulsion
in his soul. He remained looking steadfastly at the woman who had been
his wife, at the woman whom he had loved and lost. None of the
onlookers dreamed that the sight of her meant anything to this stranger.
It was natural that he should consider her attentively--she was a
handsome woman, in a place where women were rare.

Jim Maxwell's heart died within him. He had tried so often throughout
the years to believe that the wife, who had been tricked into deserting
him, had at least never been beguiled into aught unfitting her
womanhood. Now, he saw before him the damning proof that she had given
herself to vileness, to Dangerous Dan McGrew, whom presently he would
kill....

But the sight of her dear face! Notwithstanding all the horror, to see
her once again in the flesh before his eyes was a rapture exquisite, yet
torturing. Her face was the loved symbol of all his happiness. It was,
as well, the symbol of all hideousness, which had swallowed up
happiness. As he beheld her thus, ravening emotion devoured his
strength. Suddenly he felt his knees sag. His eyelids fell of their own
weight, so that sight of her was shut out. The shock of darkness, after
the glory of her face, startled him to realization of his surroundings
and steadied him. He asserted his will once again. He straightened and
shuffled toward the bar. But he did not open his eyes until he had
fairly turned his back on the pair at the table by the wall. Those
observing him sniggered and mumbled again of hooch, when he lurched
against the bar, and clung to it for support as a drunken man might....
Jim Maxwell was drunken--drunken with grief and hate and love.

After a little he recovered some measure of composure. He drew from his
pocket a buckskin bag, and poured some gold-pieces on the bar.

"Drinks for the house!" he commanded.

The bartender busied himself in dispensing this hospitality to the
crowd, which surged forward thirstily at the welcome summons. The
Rag-time Kid, a wan-faced youth with a cigarette dangling from his lower
lip, who performed noisily on the piano which stood against one wall,
left his instrument and came forward hastily. Jim saw that drinks were
served to Dangerous Dan McGrew and the woman opposite him, as well as
the few others that were seated at the tables. He nodded curtly when the
company raised their glasses toward him before drinking. His manner,
however, was so singular and so remote that none ventured to address him
directly. They eyed him askance. They speculated among themselves
concerning who the man might be; for now, in some mysterious fashion,
they had come to perceive that this was not one of the ordinary miners
from the creeks, with the mud of the bottoms still matted in his beard.
But they could make no definite surmise to account for him. In some
vague way, they felt the portentousness of his presence among them. It
was as if he stood enveloped in an atmosphere of tragedy. They looked at
him furtively, confused, wondering, half-fearful, at his aspect. They no
longer deemed him merely a drunken man. But what he was, they could by
no means understand. They drank again, for his money still lay on the
bar. They raised their glasses toward him. But the mystery of his
coming remained unsolved, and it grew more burdensome as minutes passed,
pressing heavily upon their spirits. Jim Maxwell drank with the others
the first time and the second. He might, perhaps, have drained a third
glass, but, while he delayed, his eyes chanced to fall on the piano, for
the wan-faced youth with the cigarette dangling from his lower lip, was
still enjoying his respite and was making merry at the bar. It had been
a long time since Jim had touched the keys, but now, in the travail of
his soul, it seemed to him that in music he might find surcease for the
warring emotions within his breast. He went toward the piano, striding
firmly. When he was come to it, he threw off parka and cap and seated
himself and laid his hands noiselessly on the keys in a touch gentle and
fond as a caress.

As the first soft chord sounded, the pallid youth at the bar started as
if struck. He wheeled, and thereafter gazed unfalteringly toward the man
at the piano.

It had been long since Jim Maxwell had played. At the outset, his hands
moved slowly, almost hesitatingly, for the muscles were still a little
numb from the cold of outdoors. But they grew elastic quickly, and a
great series of clanging harmonies echoed through the squalid room. The
others looked now with the wan-faced youth, whose cigarette had fallen
unheeded. There came the dainty scamper of cadenzas, a crashing chord,
and silence. The youth, who played himself, though not like this,
understood that the stranger had made ready. He waited, tremulous with
eagerness; for he loved his art, although he debased it. He muttered to
himself:

"God! how that man can play!"

Jim Maxwell's fingers sought the keys again, weaving strange harmonies.
And through them ran a thread of melody. The listeners could not
understand, though the spell of it held them. Only, they knew somehow
that the one who played was a man, full of a man's passions--the
primitive passions of love and hate. There was a harshness in the
dissonances that told of bitter sorrows; there was a charm in the thread
of melody that was all truth and tenderness.

[Illustration: JIM MAXWELL'S FINGERS SOUGHT THE KEYS AGAIN, WEAVING
STRANGE HARMONIES.]

Those who heard saw visions, each according to his kind. In this
improvisation, Jim interpreted his thronging emotions. The coldness and
the desolation of the North were made audible. Through sound itself, he
made these dwellers in the lonely places realize again the silence of
solitary wastes. The music cried out in sudden anguished longing, then
broke in discords, like shrieks for vengeance. Some of the listeners
stirred uneasily, uncomprehendingly, yet thrilled--for the soul is more
intelligent than the brain. The Rag-time Kid shivered.

Dan McGrew, the cards of his solo-game unheeded on the table before him,
watched the man at the piano with steady gaze. His face was
expressionless. He had recognized Jim Maxwell at first sight, and he
knew that the time of reckoning was at hand. He was dismayed, for he had
come in the course of years to believe that they two would never meet.
Now that they were met, he was ready for whatever might befall. But he
dared do nothing to precipitate the crisis. He must wait to be accused
or attacked. If he could have followed his desire, he would have shot
down the man he had wronged--would have shot him in the back,
remorselessly, in cold blood. That he could not do. The code of the
frontier forbids such murder. At such an act, these men about him would
show no mercy beyond the short shrift of a rope. He could only await the
issue with what patience he might, cursing inaudibly, so poised that he
could draw at a second's warning.

Lou had not recognized Jim Maxwell on his entrance. She had given only a
glance at this bearded stranger. She was infinitely weary of life. She
hated this vulgar place, reeking with rank tobacco-smoke and the fumes
of liquors. She felt, even through an apathy that had become habitual
with her, shame from the leering glances of these men, who took her for
the gambler's light-o'-love. She felt herself degraded more and more at
her manner of life and by the associations thrust upon her. She knew the
evil spirit of the man she had married, which daily and hourly she was
compelled to tolerate. The life was become almost unendurable. Yet, she
continued the sordid existence, partly because she lacked the courage to
break away from him, partly because she could condone the wickedness of
Dan McGrew to some extent in appreciation of his loyalty to her. She
could not doubt the reality of his love for her. That his love was
utterly selfish, she knew. But he gave her all that he could. The
woman's instinct toward martyrdom made her feel it a duty not to desert
him. Now, after the coming of the stranger, she felt, rather than saw,
the change in Dan McGrew, and she wondered over it dully. Not for a
moment did she suspect that her husband's emotion was connected with the
advent of the bearded man, toward whom she glanced so idly.... Love,
often, is not so shrewd as hate.

Her eyes followed Jim Maxwell as he went to the piano. She was still
listless, wholly unsuspecting that aught impended. Even the first softly
sounded notes did not arouse her. It was not until her ears caught the
delicate thread of melody that her heart heard it, and answered, and she
knew that this was the man she loved. Her hands clutched at her bosom in
a spasmodic gesture. She swayed in her chair for a moment, then relaxed
limply, and sat huddled in the corner between the table and the wall,
her face ghastly beneath the rouge. But, lifeless as she seemed, she was
listening through every atom of her being. In the varying phases of the
music, she lived again the blisses and the torments. And, too, it was
borne in upon her that, as she had suffered in the years since their
parting, even so had he, who thus wove in sound the fabric of their
lives. Yet, she could not believe that this man still loved her, though
the music that grew under his fingers was like the talking together of
their souls. A great wonder dawned in her, a greater fear, still greater
hope. Could it be that the scales had fallen from his eyes, that he had
freed himself from a degrading passion, that he had returned to his
allegiance, that he loved her--her! Her body shook as with a palsy from
the riot in her heart.

Abruptly, the music ceased. Then, in another instant, there came a
series of noble chords, sonorous and serene. Followed the tripping dance
of arpeggios, which deftly hinted of a melody to come. The Rag-time Kid
quivered in ecstatic anticipation of something splendid, nor was he
disappointed.

There sounded a lilting melody, a-throb with the joy of life. The notes
rang with the calls of passion; they trembled into the sighings of
exquisite tenderness. There was rapture in the magnificent harmonies
that marched with this melody. It was like a song of two hearts glorious
in the fulfillment of their love, with all the universe chanting praise
of their happiness. It was the lyric of love triumphant.

The man at the piano raised his arms high, and brought his hands down on
the keys in a great swoop. The flames in the smoking-oil lamps leaped
and quivered at the devil's din of the discord. The nerves of those that
heard leaped and quivered. The player got up from the stool. His eyes
swept the staring faces, and he smiled--a smile like a curse.

"You don't know who I am, boys," he said. His voice, resonant, yet
softly modulated, was very gentle--dangerously gentle the listeners
might have thought, had they known him well.

Dan McGrew knew him well. He understood that the crisis was upon him. He
shifted very slightly in his chair, that he might have greater freedom
of movement when the need came. He darted a single glance at his wife,
and saw her sitting erect again, gazing at the player with dilated eyes
in which showed the hunger of a soul. Dan McGrew cursed beneath his
breath, and did not look again. Instead, he held his whole attention on
the man who had spoken, and who now spoke once more:

"I haven't anything to say to you, except that"--the voice deepened and
roughened savagely--"one of you is a hound of hell! His name is--Dan
McGrew!"

Two shots rang out, which almost blent as one--almost, not quite. The
crowd scattered and dropped to the floor. The lights went out.

[Illustration: TWO SHOTS RANG OUT, WHICH ALMOST BLENT AS ONE.]



CHAPTER XXIII


Word had been sent to the sheriff of Kalmak of Jack Reeves' capture at
Malamute, and he at once set forth to bring his prisoner back. He
arrived hardly an hour in advance of Jim Maxwell. He took formal
possession of the accused, and forthwith made it clear that he was not
minded to run any risk of a second escape.

"That young feller ain't in no way safe in a jail," he explained to his
brother official. "There's no tellin' what didoes he'd be up to--he's
that ornery. I'll jest take him along with me to the saloon over night,
an' I'll set up with him, an' nuss him like he was a baby."

Despite all arguments to the contrary, the sheriff had his way, and
started to the saloon-hotel, where the distracted bride had already
established herself. The officer and his captive were hardly a rod from
the door, when the shots rang out, and, almost in the same second, the
lights were extinguished. The sheriff uttered an excited exclamation,
and hurried forward with his prisoner. They were just within the door,
when the bartender, who had so discreetly shot out the lights, produced
new chimneys and leisurely set the oil lamps going again.

As his eyes fell on the form stretched out upon the floor near the
piano, Jack Reeves uttered a cry of alarm, and sprang forward. Kneeling,
he caught Jim Maxwell's hand in his. He could not speak in the first
shock of emotion, for he believed that the man was dead, who lay there
so still and white, with closed eyes, and the blood trickling from a
wound in his head.

Nell, in an adjoining room, had been shaken with fear at the noise of
firing. But, in the stillness that followed, she heard a cry of distress
in her husband's voice. She forgot fear then, and rushed into the saloon
and to his side. The sight of her father there struck her dumb and
motionless with horror. Thus it came about that she and her husband were
passive spectators of the great heart-drama that now developed.

There was another in the group. It was Lou. Before the shots were fired,
she had sprung to her feet, and forward, as if to forbid the deadly
work. She had been too late. But she had plunged on, heedless of the
weapons, reckless of her own life. The instinct of love had guided her
through the sudden blackness. So, when the lights burned again, she was
there on her knees, crooning heart-broken words to the ears that did not
hear. She had no thought whatsoever of that other form which lay stark,
crumpled on the floor by the table she had left. She supported Jim in
her arms, with a passion of tenderness and mourning; for she, too,
believed him dead, and it seemed to her that all the misery that had
gone before were as nothing to this anguish over finding him, only to
lose him forever. Then, of a sudden, Lou gave a gasp of pure
rapture--for Jim Maxwell had opened his eyes, and lay staring placidly
at the smoke-begrimed ceiling. She bent and kissed the bearded face,
then raised a countenance that was transfigured. It was years younger in
that illumination of joy.

[Illustration: JIM MAXWELL HAD OPENED HIS EYES AND LAY STARING
PLACIDLY.]

Nell, watching in startled wonder, recognized the face in the locket.
She knew this woman to be her mother. She could understand nothing else.
But there on the floor at her father's side was the mother whom she had
never known. The mystery appalled her. Yet, a tremulous happiness
stirred in her heart over this meeting, so unexpected, so inexplicable,
so fraught with amazing possibilities.

Jim Maxwell spoke, very low, so that Lou held her ear close to listen.

"Get it from the pocket inside my shirt," he commanded.

"But your wound, Jim dearest," Lou pleaded. "Don't bother about anything
else, whatever it is."

"Get it!" Jim repeated.

Lou yielded to the authority in his voice, and searched as he had
bidden. She drew forth a bit of oil-skin, which she opened. In it was a
sheet of notepaper, folded twice, and worn through along the creases.

"Read it," Jim directed her; and Lou read obediently, though slowly
through scalding tears:

"I, Anne Weston, confess to tricking Jim Maxwell and deceiving his wife
at the instigation of Dan McGrew."

That first sentence gave her understanding of the lie that had wrecked
her life. She read on to the end of Anne Weston's confession, and knew
for the first time the entire infamy of the man whose treachery had
robbed her of home and husband and child. Hate flared in her. She turned
to look behind her, and saw the ungainly heap on the floor, which was
all that was left of Dangerous Dan McGrew. And she was glad!... She
turned again to the man she loved.

"Forgive me, Jim--oh, forgive me, dearest!" she murmured.

"I've nothing to forgive," was the answer. "A scoundrel fooled
you--that's all. You couldn't help but believe your own eyes. But he's
paid at last, I guess. Hasn't he?"

"He's dead!" Lou replied; and there was no sorrow in her voice.

"And I'm alive!" Jim declared contentedly. "He only creased me." He sat
up suddenly by his own strength. For the first time, he appeared to
notice his daughter and Jack Reeves. He spoke briskly now, and his voice
had its accustomed firmness.

"Help me up, Jack," he bade his son-in-law. And then, a minute later,
when he stood firmly on his feet again, he turned to Lou, and spoke
softly.

"I'm going to make you very happy, to make up for what you have
suffered. And I'll start by giving you back the daughter you lost twelve
years ago." He nodded toward the girl, who approached.

"Nell," he ordered, "I want you to take this lady to your room, and tell
her who you are. Go now, both of you, and have a talk. Jack and I will
come soon. We have something to attend to first."

The women yielded to the masterful air of the man they both loved, and
went away together to that talk in which there would be many kisses and
the mingling of happy tears.

No sooner were the women gone than Jim Maxwell faced the sheriff of
Kalmak, who, throughout the excitement, had kept his attention
unswervingly fixed on the prisoner, with an eye to possible didoes. But
before Jim Maxwell could speak, he was interrupted by the local
official, who detached himself from the group about the body of Dan
McGrew, and now approached.

"You got him, stranger," he remarked to Jim, in a congratulatory tone.
"And he mighty near got you. Pretty shootin' by cripes! And I suppose,
Mister, you understand you're my prisoner?"

"Certainly," was the indifferent answer. "But I sha'n't try to get away,
and there's something I want to have attended to right now. It has to do
with my son-in-law, Jack Reeves here, who is accused of a crime he
didn't commit. I want to prove his innocence, and there's a chance I
may be able to do it. Dan McGrew killed Sam Ward. I know it. I want
everybody else to know it. I'm hoping that somewhere among his things,
or on him, there'll be the proof to connect him with the crime."

The sheriff of Kalmak protested against the possibility, and spoke
concerning Jack's possession of the knife-handle. In answer, Jim made
clear the reasoning by which he had come to suspect his enemy of Sam
Ward's murder.

"And, anyhow," he concluded, "you'd search this dead man's effects. I'm
only asking that you do it now, and in my presence. He had the
opportunity to do the killing, and the circumstances must appear
suspicious against him to you, though you didn't know him for the dog he
was. It's an idiotic idea that this boy of mine, who was on his
honeymoon, would stop off to kill a man he didn't know, for a pinch of
dust he didn't need."

The Malamute official nodded assent.

"You're talkin' sense, Mister," he agreed. "I reckon Hal Owens thinks
the same as I do." He regarded the sheriff of Kalmak inquiringly, who
found himself exceedingly confused over this new turn to an affair
already finally determined in his own mind. He vouchsafed a nod of
acquiescence, but ventured nothing further. "And that being so," the
other went on, "why, we'll just naturally take a squint at the corpse
and his goods and chattels, and get a line, if so be, on what's what."
Having thus spoken, he led the way to where the body of Dan McGrew was
lying by the table; and with him went Jim Maxwell; and Jack Reeves and
his guard followed them.

The Malamute sheriff, as became his authority, made the examination of
the dead man's clothing. He went through the pockets painstakingly,
sorting the articles, and laying each in turn on the table, while Jim
Maxwell looked on with a close scrutiny that nothing escaped. But the
collection of miscellany grew little by little without showing anything
in the least significant. No one of the various objects disclosed could
by any ingenuity be claimed as evidence that Dan McGrew had perpetrated
the crime of which Jack Reeves stood accused. The hope that had sprung
up in the young man's breast at Jim Maxwell's utterance quickly died.
But Jim himself did not despair. Sure of his enemy's guilt, he was sure,
too, that somehow it would be brought to light.

The searcher came at last to a pocket inside the waistcoat. In it was a
tiny book, bound in paste-board covers. On the outside of the front
cover were printed words and written. The sheriff gave a glance at
these, and shouted exultantly:

"We've got him--cuss him!" And then he added, in a tone of disgust: "And
to think of him carryin' the goods on him like that!" He handed the book
to Jim Maxwell, who read in a glance, with Jack looking over his
shoulder:

"The Tacoma Savings Bank, in account with Sam Ward."

Jack's captor, also, who throughout had kept his hold on the prisoner's
arm, read, and abruptly took his hand away. His voice revealed how
great was the injury done to his dignity:

"The damn' skunk! An' him a-leadin' me on! I wish he'd come to life for
five minutes, an' I'd show him that Hal Owens ain't to be made a fool
of." And the sheriff's flashing eyes and scowling brows showed that he
meant it.

Without a word, Jim Maxwell turned to his son-in-law, and put out his
hand, and the two men shook hands joyously, yet with a certain gravity.

"This will be glorious news for Nell," Jack said, happily. Then the
gladness went out of his face. "Now, we must think about you." He
grinned ruefully. "I'll have to be trying to do for you what you've done
for me."

The sheriff of Malamute regarded the young man jovially.

"Now, don't you worry a mite--not a mite, my lad," he said genially,
clapping Jack Reeves on the back. "We'll have a court a-sittin' in this
blessed saloon in about five minutes, with a judge and a jury all
regular. From what the boys have been a tellin' me, it seems perfectly
clear that the prisoner just naturally shot Dan McGrew in self-defense."
He beamed good-naturedly on Jim. "I calculate, the sooner you're tried,
the better you'd like it, and have the thing off your mind like."

His prisoner smiled in return.

"It can't be too quickly to suit me," he declared. As a matter of fact,
the amiable manner of the officer, as well as the suggestion itself,
afforded Jim Maxwell immense relief. Until within the hour, he had had
no concern as to his fate. He had determined to take the law in his own
hands in order to rid the world of a scoundrel. He had not troubled to
think that his act might involve himself in destruction. But a change
had been wrought in his attitude. That change had had its origin in the
discovery of Lou. Her presence had turned his thoughts at the very
outset to new hopes of happiness. He himself had scarcely realized
this, until, with the approach of the sheriff, he awoke to appreciation
of the fact that he stood in peril of his life. He had not been able to
guess what the mood of these men might be toward him, a stranger to
them, who had come among them to kill one whom they did know. Though he
concealed it, he had experienced a considerable trepidation concerning
the outcome. He was gratified accordingly now over the sheriff's
announcement, which manifested the kindly disposition of the crowd
toward him.... He turned to Jack.

"Go to Nell and her mother," he directed, "and keep them away from here.
Tell Nell that your innocence has been proved." As the young man turned
away, half in reluctance half in eagerness, Jim addressed the sheriff
gravely:

"And now, sir, I am at your service."

The trial was of record shortness, but, in its way, it was formal, and
it had the sanction of the law. There were no pleas, only the taking of
evidence and the rendering of the verdict, on which the jury decided
without leaving their places.

The verdict was justifiable homicide in self-defense.



CHAPTER XXIV


Jim thanked the court and the jury for their treatment of him, and shook
hands heartily with each man of them. As he turned away, the barkeeper
called to him:

"Hey, Mr. Maxwell! There's money comin' to you!"

Jim went toward the bar, smiling.

"Use it, and if you need more, I'll pay."

He turned toward the crowd in the saloon. "You're my guests to-night,
boys, and I want you to whoop it up. You're all friends of mine.
Perhaps, I'll look in again by-and-by. But I must go now. I was alone
when I came here, but, thank God!"--his voice grew suddenly husky--"I'm
not alone now."

In the adjoining room, the others were waiting for him anxiously. As he
entered, Jack sprang to his feet.

"They've acquitted you!" he cried.

Jim nodded assent.

"I've been acquitted according to the law." His voice was grave, yet
with an undernote of jubilation. "My conscience never accused me, I
guess. Somehow, it seemed to me that I had to do what I did. And what
about you? What's your verdict?"

Nell threw herself into her father's arms, and clung to him. He held her
close, inexpressibly comforted by this contact with his own flesh and
blood.

"As if any one could doubt that you did right!" she exclaimed,
scornfully.

"I've heard the story," Jack interrupted. His voice was quivering with
sympathetic anger. "Shooting was too good a death for this Dan McGrew."

"And you?" Jim spoke more softly now, with his eyes fixed on the woman,
who had not risen. His voice was very wistful. His eyes were even more
wistful, as they searched that dear face, which, though weary and worn,
was still so beautiful.

The great, dark eyes, brilliant as a girl's in this hour of excitement,
met his in frank adoration.

"Jim," she said, and the music of her voice seemed sweeter than he had
ever heard it before, "you were right to kill him, of course. But
whatever you do, always, will be right to me--just because you do it. I
doubted you once, Jim. Never again!" She rose now, and came to him. And,
at her coming, a feminine instinct caused Nell to slip from her father's
embrace. Her mother stepped close, and raised her lips.

"Kiss me, Jim." Her voice was no more than a whisper, but it went
echoing through all the chambers of the man's heart. He folded his arms
about her with a reverent gentleness, yet strongly, as if he would never
let her go. Then, he bent his head, and kissed her on the lips.... It
was the sacrament of a new life in the old love.

Thereafter, the four talked of many things. Nell was compelled to tell
again the story of her escape from the river. The mother was deeply
stirred by gratitude to the kindly pair who had rescued and ministered
unto her daughter through so many years. She turned to Jim, all
eagerness, her eyes aglow, her lips curving in the gracious smile he
knew so well.

"Oh, can't we go to visit them, and thank them? We must!"

Jim nodded.

"Yes," he answered, "we must, indeed. We owe them more than we can ever
repay. We're proud of our daughter, and we bless them for it. Yes, we
must tell them so. We'll help them in a material way, but we can never
pay them our debt."

"Nell and I," Jack remarked, after a little interval of silence, "have
about decided that we've had enough excitement for one honeymoon. We're
ready to hike back. What about you folks going with us?"

Jim looked at Lou, who returned his glance in kind. The desire of the
two was one. They nodded in silent acceptance of the suggestion. Then,
for the first time in those many years, Jim Maxwell laughed gayly.

"Your daughter can chaperon you, Lou," he said.

She blushed like a girl.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, in embarrassment. "I had forgotten!"

All four, for the first time, were thinking of the complications that
had arisen in this most curious situation; but a certain shyness held
them silent. It was not until the younger pair had said good-night, and
had gone to their room, that Lou at last spoke openly of the thing that
was most in her thoughts. It was now that Jim learned of the divorce
granted to his wife, of her marriage to Dangerous Dan McGrew. The news
stunned him with its unexpectedness. But, too, it afforded him a mighty
relief. There remained, however, the astounding fact that Lou was not
his wife.

"Why," he ejaculated, "we'll have to be married over again."

"Yes," Lou assented, in some confusion. "It's not proper, of course,
but--" She broke off, regarding Jim with puzzled eyes.

"There's nothing conventional about this affair," was the man's brisk
comment. "For that matter, this is not a land of conventions, of the
sort they set such store by down below. They go here by the right and
wrong of things in themselves. That way is a good deal simpler, and, in
most cases, it's a good deal better, I guess. By right, Lou, you're my
wife. I'll make you so legally the first minute possible. It's right I
should. Conventions don't go."

"I'm glad, Jim," Lou answered happily.

"There's the minister that married Nell and Jack. He'll be there where
we're going to visit Papa and Mamma Ross. Nell says he's a fine old
chap. It would be nice to be married by the minister that married Nell.
What do you think?"

"Oh, splendid!" Lou agreed, with enthusiasm. She smiled and dimpled.
"Why, Jim, I saw him. He has such a good face! Jim, you don't know! I
saw Nell married--my own daughter, and I never knew it!" She told the
story.

"In the morning, we'll hit a good pace on the trail," Jim said,
decisively, "and get to that parson as fast as ever we can."

"Yes," Lou said again.

       *       *       *       *       *

The morrow broke fair and warmer after the storm. The four were off
early, with the whole town turned out to do them honor at their parting.
Afterward, the cheering populace would attend the obsequies of Dan
McGrew.

The going was slow; whereat Jim Maxwell fretted hugely. But there was no
other flaw in his perfect happiness, or in that of the woman who sat
with her face turned so that she might look up often into the bearded
one of the man as he ran behind the sled. Both were content. Already,
yesterday was remote, with all its loneliness and grief. This was a new
day, in a new life, the beginning of a happiness that would abide. The
sorrows they had known had cleansed and strengthened them, and made them
ready for a finer joy in their love. They spoke little together, for
there was small need of words between them. Neither needed to tell the
other of the torment endured during the years of separation. Neither
wished to remember the evil that was gone. Why should they mourn when
the cup of gladness was brimming at their lips? The past was dead. The
scars from the old wounds would remain always. But they were hidden, and
the wounds were healed by love's magic, and would ache no more. They set
their faces to the future, where life shone radiant.

[Illustration: HE POINTED OUT--OVER THE BROAD-SWEEPING WHITENESS OF THE
VALLEY--TOWARD THE SOUTHERN HORIZON.]

On the crest of the hill, Jim halted the dogs for a brief rest. He
pointed out over the broad-sweeping whiteness of the valley toward the
southern horizon.

"Down there, Lou," he said, and his voice rang with a tender joyousness,
"down there our home is waiting for us."

And the woman echoed very softly:

"Our home."


THE END


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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:


Inconsistent punctuation corrected e.g. "," vs "."

Inconsistencies retained such as:

  (1) bartender used five times, bar-tender used three times.
  (2) barkeeper used two times, bar-keeper used two times.

On Page 296 "babby" changed to "baby".

On Page 304 "acquiesence" replaced with "acquiescence".

End of book advertisements:

  "War field" changed to "Warfield"
  "copyrighed" changed to "copyrighted"





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