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Title: Sergeant Silk the Prairie Scout
Author: Leighton, Robert, 1859-1934
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 "Sergeant Silk the Prairie Scout" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SERGEANT SILK

                     *    *    *    *    *

_A New Series of Popular Books for Boys and Girls_

THE WARWICK REWARDS.

Price 2s. each.

TITLES FOR BOYS.

THE TREASURES OF ASSHUR                Oswald Dallas
THE SECRET OF THE SWORD             Draycott M. Dell
THE LUCK OF ST. BONIFACE            L. P. Douthwaite
THE LIFE OF THE SCHOOL             R. A. H. Goodyear
HIS BROTHER AT ST. CONCORD'S       R. A. H. Goodyear
TODDY NOTT, SCHOOLBOY                    Alfred Judd
THE PERILS OF PETERKIN               Robert Leighton
SERGEANT SILK                        Robert Leighton
THE BRAVEST BOY IN THE CAMP          Robert Leighton
THE CLEVEREST CHAP IN THE SCHOOL     Robert Leighton
THE TREASURE HUNTERS                     John Mackie
BULLY, FAG AND HERO              Charles J. Mansford
PREFECT AND FAG                  Charles J. Mansford
THE BOY SKIPPER                       W. C. Metcalfe
AFTER SCHOOL                          Robert Overton

TITLES FOR GIRLS.

KITTY LANDON'S GIRLHOOD                 J. Armstrong
POLLY OF LADY GAY COTTAGE               Emma C. Dowd
THE STRAWBERRY GIRLS                 Helen M. Duffus
THE NEW GIRL AT ST. MALTBY  Jessie Leckie Herbertson
THREE BOLD EXPLORERS                       Ida Gandy
A HANDFUL OF REBELS                 Raymond Jacberns
UNCLE HAL                            Lady Macalister
THE GIRLS OF ST. BEDE'S            Geraldine Mockler
THE COMING OF CARLINA                 L. E. Tiddeman
THE ADVENTURES OF JASMIN              L. E. Tiddeman
TRIXY AND HER TRIO                    L. E. Tiddeman
THE FORTUNES OF JOYCE                 L. E. Tiddeman
A REBEL AT SCHOOL                          May Wynne
ANGELA GOES TO SCHOOL                      May Wynne
THE SECRET OF CARRICK SCHOOL               May Wynne

                     *    *    *    *    *


[Frontispiece: uncaptioned picture illustrating scene in Chap. IV
(Sergeant Silk with prisoner galloping away from brush fire)]


SERGEANT SILK THE PRAIRIE SCOUT

by

ROBERT LEIGHTON

Author of "The Cleverest Chap in the School," "The
Bravest Boy in the Camp," etc.



Jarrolds
Publishers (London) Ltd.



CONTENTS


CHAP.                                   PAGE

   I 'LIKE A DESTITUTE TRAMP'              9

  II THE BAG OF GOLD                      20

 III THE MYSTERY OF GREY WOLF FOREST      33

  IV THE FUGITIVE AND HIS PURSUER         55

   V NICK-BY-NIGHT                        75

  VI THE SURPRISE VISIT                   92

 VII LOCOMOTIVE 99                       105

VIII THREE MOOSE CROSSING                115

  IX RED DERRICK                         129

   X THE OUTSIDE PASSENGERS              141

  XI MAPLE LEAF'S SCAR                   156

 XII A PERILOUS MOMENT                   169

XIII THE MAN WHO WAS GLAD                189

 XIV IN THE POWER OF HIS PRISONER        198

  XV THE GREAT JAM AT STONE PINE RAPIDS  209

 XVI THE MAN THAT THE WOLVES SPARED      221



SERGEANT SILK



CHAPTER I

'LIKE A DESTITUTE TRAMP'


"If you ask me, there's nothing like riding across the open prairie for
quickening a fellow's eyesight," remarked the Honourable Percy Rapson,
breaking a long spell of silence. "There's so little to be seen, anyhow,
except the grass and the flowers, that he's bound to catch sight of
anything unusual."

Sergeant Silk smiled at his companion's boyish enthusiasm for the
open-air life of the plains. Percy had been sent out to Western Canada
to learn farming, but there was no doubt that he was learning a lot that
had no direct connection with agriculture. Owing largely to his
friendship with Sergeant Silk, of the North-West Mounted Police, he was
learning to be manly and self-reliant, and he was beginning to know so
much scout-craft that his remark concerning the quickening of his powers
of observation was quite justified.

"That is so," the sergeant acknowledged. "The prairie teaches you a lot.
It's like being on the sea, where everything that isn't water or sky
attracts your attention. I'm bound to say that your own eyesight is
improving wonderfully by practice. You don't miss a great deal. What do
you make of the stranger that we're coming up to?"

Percy glanced at the red-coated soldier policeman in sharp surprise.

"Stranger?" he repeated inquiringly. "I haven't noticed one. Where?"

Silk returned the boy's glance with a curious lift of the eyebrows.

"Why, I supposed it was your spotting him that prompted your remark
about eyesight," he said lightly. And he pointed towards a clump of
bushes some little distance in advance of them across the fresh green
prairie grass. "He's sitting hunched up alongside of that patch of
cactus scrub in front of us, with his head in his hands, as if he had
something tremendously serious to think about. Ah, he's moving now. He
hears us. What's he mooching around here for, I wonder?"

"You appear to know him?" said Percy.

Sergeant Silk nodded.

"I know him, yes. It's a chap named Charlie Fortescue."

Percy saw the stranger plainly now, a slightly built, rather
good-looking young fellow, dressed as an ordinary plainsman, standing
upright and looking expectantly towards the two riders who were
approaching him. He waited until they came to a halt in front of him.

Sergeant Silk dropped his bridle rein over the horn of his saddle and
slowly regarded the man from the toes of his boots to the crown of his
wide felt hat.

"Something gone wrong, Charlie?" he casually inquired. "Where's your
pony? What are you doing hanging around here, like a destitute tramp?"

Charlie shrugged his shoulders.

"That's sure what I am, Sergeant," he answered with an awkward attempt
at a smile, "a destitute tramp."

"Eh?" exclaimed Silk. He evidently did not believe him. "D'you mind
explaining? I don't understand--unless you mean that you've had a
disagreement with old man Crisp?"

"You've hit the mark, first shot," said Charlie. "But it's something
more than a mere disagreement. I've quitted the ranch. I'm not going
back--ever."

"That's bad," reflected Sergeant Silk, taking out his pipe to indicate
that he had leisure enough to listen to the explanation that he had
invited. "Real bad, it is. You were such friends, he and you. He was
shaping to take you into partnership, and--well, there's that pretty
daughter of his. I've heard you were likely to marry her. Surely you
haven't broken off with Dora, as well as her father?"

"I'm afraid so," Charlie gloomily answered. "I couldn't expect her to
marry a man whom her father has accused of committing a crime."

"A crime?" Sergeant Silk looked at him in perplexity. "A crime?" he
repeated. "That's the way of the wind, is it? Tell me about it."

Charlie Fortescue nibbled nervously at an end of his moustache.

"The worst of it is," he presently began to explain, "I haven't been
able to prove my innocence. Appearances are against me."

He raised his dark eyes appealingly to the red-coated soldier policeman,
and his face brightened as with a new hope. Percy Rapson was conscious
that it was the face of a man of good class. It was almost aristocratic
in its refinement of feature. And the tone of his voice was that of an
educated Englishman as he added--

"Perhaps you can help me, Silk. You're a member of the North-West
Mounted Police and accustomed to dealing with crimes. Perhaps you can
try to get at the root of this one?"

Sergeant Silk struck a match and held the flame to the bowl of his pipe.

"Why, cert'nly," he said. "It is in my line. I shall be glad if I can
clear you of suspicion. What are the circumstances? You may say whatever
you like before my chum here--the Honourable Percy Rapson, late of Eton
College, now of Rattlesnake Ranch."

He dismounted, and Percy followed his example. The three of them stood
close together.

"You were right about my wishing to marry Dora Crisp," Fortescue
resumed. "We've been engaged for a long time. We were to have been
married next month. I had been saving up, on the quiet. But I never told
Sam or Dora anything about it. I was keeping it for a surprise, see? I
didn't want to say anything until I had saved off my own bat a sum equal
to the pile that Sam had put aside to give her as her dowry.

"One day last week the old man sent me to Banff to look at a new
reaping machine attachment he thought of buying, and he asked me also to
call at the bank and cash a cheque for him. I drew the money--it was two
hundred pounds in gold--and delivered it to him safely.

"'It's for Dora,' he told me, when, having carefully counted it, he
swept it into a chamois leather bag and tied the bag round with a wisp
of red tape. Then, signing to me to go with him, he went into the
harness-room, and I watched him as he cunningly hid the bag of gold in a
ventilation hole in the wall; high up, where it couldn't be seen or
easily reached. 'It'll be safe there, Charlie,' he said with
satisfaction. 'We'll let it stop there until the wedding morning.
There's only you and me who know where it is. It's sure safe up there.'"

Sergeant Silk shook his head.

"I shouldn't have thought so," he said. "When was it missed?"

"It was last night that it was stolen," Fortescue explained. "Stolen!
and I--_I_ was accused of being the thief; though I'd never touched it,
never even looked at it."

"And your own savings," pursued Silk. "Were they stolen, too?"

"No. That's where the whole complication came in," returned Charlie.
"You see, Sam didn't know that I had any money of my own. He believed
that I'd sent all that I saved home to my mother in England, and that I
was really hard up, as I'd half pretended to be. And this morning, when
he rushed into the house, wildly declaring that he'd been robbed, it was
his belief that I was in want of money that made him so sure that I, and
I alone, was the thief. No one else knew where the gold had been hidden.
Who else could have taken it? He had heard me go downstairs in the
middle of the night, and it was useless my protesting I'd only gone down
to discover why the horses were restless in the stable, and why one of
the dogs had barked.

"The more I protested, the more annoyed he grew. He was just mad with
rage against me. He wouldn't listen to me when I asked him if it was
likely that I, his future son-in-law, should steal money that was
intended for my own sweetheart--money that was to go to the making of my
own home. Nothing I could say would convince him. And at last he went so
far as to demand that I should let him search my room and boxes, see?"

Charlie was anxiously watching Sergeant Silk's face as he spoke. But it
betrayed no sign either of belief or of doubt.

"It wasn't until that moment that I realised how awkward was my
situation," he went on. "I must have looked some guilty. I was certainly
flustered. And very naturally; because, you see, my own money, my
savings, which I kept upstairs in my trunk, happened also to be in
English gold; and what was more suspicious and difficult to explain, it
was the same in amount as the sum that had been stolen--two hundred
pounds exactly; two hundred sovereigns. And I was supposed to be as poor
as a church rat."

Sergeant Silk was puffing vigorously at his pipe, but he paused to say,
very quietly--

"That was awkward, real awkward for you, Charlie. But, of course, you
let him search your room? You didn't hide anything? You explained how
you happened to have money of your own?"

"I hid nothing," declared Charlie. "But his finding and counting the
money seemed to be the final proof of my guilt, and I wasn't able to
show how any one else could be guilty."

"That's the important point," urged Silk. "You've got to prove that
somebody else than yourself--one of the ranch hands, one of the farm
servants, or even some stranger, had discovered where that money was
hidden and could have stolen it. You say the horses were restless; you
say a dog barked. Did that mean nothing? Say, you'd better leave this
affair in my hands. I'll ride along to the ranch right now and have a
jaw with Sam Crisp. Are you coming back with me?"

Charlie Fortescue's face went very red under its sunburn. He shook his
head resolutely.

"No," he objected. "I'm not going back. Sam Crisp believes me guilty.
He has denounced me as a contemptible thief; and in Dora's hearing, too.
I couldn't face Dora. I shall never look into her eyes or take her hand
in mine again until her father owns that I'm guiltless. Go yourself, if
you will. I've told you everything. I'm not going back. If I'm wanted,
either to be arrested as a thief or apologised to as an honest man,
you'll not have much difficulty in finding me."

Sergeant Silk mounted to the saddle.

"Very well," he agreed. "So long!"



CHAPTER II

THE BAG OF GOLD


During the further ride over the narrow stretch of prairie that they
were crossing towards the foothills, Silk was uncommonly silent,
volunteering no opinion concerning Charlie Fortescue. Percy began to
believe that his companion regarded the case as of no especial interest
or importance. Even when questioned, the sergeant gave him little
satisfaction.

"Haven't you made up your mind about it?" Percy asked abruptly.

"Well, you see," returned Silk, "we've heard only one side of the story
as yet, and you can't always go by first impressions. What's your own
opinion, Percy?"

"Seems to me things look rather rocky against Charlie," Percy observed.
"The evidence is dead against him, and that yarn of his about saving up
on the quiet isn't very convincing--especially when he wants you to
believe that the money he'd collected was so exactly the same amount
that Sam Crisp had saved. Two hundred pounds; neither more nor less.
It's too much of a coincidence, too much like a story made up after the
event. Assuming that Sam Crisp didn't rob himself, it's perfectly clear
that Charlie took the money, since no one else knew where it was
hidden."

"That remains to be seen, however," rejoined Silk. "I happen to have
been inside of Crisp's harness-room. I happen to have noticed the hole
in the wall that Charlie referred to; and it isn't the first time that
it has been used as a hiding-place for articles of value, by others, as
well as Sam Crisp himself. It was foolish of him to leave a bag of
sovereigns there. He almost deserves to have lost it. He might as well
have left it on the front doorstep."

"Then you don't seriously believe that Charlie Fortescue was the
thief?" questioned Percy.

Sergeant Silk did not answer, but spurred his horse to a canter, which
was continued until they came beyond a bluff of birches and in sight of
Crisp's homestead, lying in the midst of its blossoming orchards and
far-stretching fields of green wheat.

"That rain last night has done a heap of good to the old man's crops,"
he remarked as he drew to a halt at the ford before crossing the swollen
creek.

He was looking down at the moist ground of the sloping bank, where there
were the impressions of a man's boots.

"I suppose you're thinking that Charlie must have got a wetting, wading
across here on foot?" said Percy.

"No. I was thinking of the man who crossed a few hours in advance of him
on horseback," returned Silk. "He appears to have been in something of a
hurry, by the look of those hoof-marks. Be careful in the middle of the
stream. Follow my lead."

At the farther side of the creek he dismounted, giving his bridle to
Percy to hold.

Percy watched him as he strode away in the direction of a clump of dwarf
oaks, pausing now and again to examine the ground. He went in among the
trees and was out of sight for several minutes, and when again he
appeared he was walking along the cart track by the edge of Crisp's
orchard. Percy joined him with their two horses.

"What's that you've got in your hand?" he inquired, as the sergeant
raised his foot to the stirrup and swung himself into the saddle.

"Looks like some fellow's cloth cap," said Silk, holding the thing
suspended between a finger and thumb. "I found it over there, hanging
from a tree branch. I guess the owner lost it while he was making his
way through the bush. He couldn't find it, anyhow, for all his searching
and groping about the ground."

"Do you mean he was blind?" Percy exclaimed.

"Blind? No!" Silk smiled. "I mean he lost it--had it brushed off his
head--when it was dark night. If it had been daylight, he'd have seen it
dangling from the twig that caught it as he passed."

"And why have you brought it away with you?" Percy was curious to know.
"It doesn't look worth restoring to its owner. I should have let it
hang."

"I suppose you would," nodded Silk. "But although it's only a worn-out
cloth cap, heavy with rain, I'm interested in it--very much interested.
I've learnt a lot about its owner already."

"I don't see how," said Percy. "What do you know about him, anyhow?"

Sergeant Silk thrust the cap under his arm and took the rein in his
fingers.

"Not more than you could have found out yourself," he answered. "I
followed his trail and discovered that he'd left his pony hitched to a
tree, back of the bluff there, while he went on foot through the orchard
towards Crisp's homestead, coming back the same way. It was when he was
returning that he lost his cap; and, not finding it, he mounted and rode
away. He's a tall man. He has coarse red hair, and he has lost the
forefinger of his left hand."

Percy stared at his companion in surprise.

"Did you discover all that in the few minutes you've been prowling over
there in the bush?" he asked.

"Why, cert'nly," Silk intimated, touching his broncho's flank with his
heel.

"How do you know he is tall?" Percy interrogated.

"Simply because the branch that swept off his cap was high--on a level
with my own head."

"How about the colour of his hair?"

"Oh, well," returned the sergeant, "that's only an inference made from
the fact that I found two or three red hairs clinging to the lining of
his cap. It's likely that the rest of his hair is the same colour. But
the only thing I'm certain about is that he has only three fingers on
his left hand. You see, he'd been groping about, searching for his cap,
leaving his traces on the ground made moist by the rain, and the
impressions of his left hand in the mud always showed the absence of a
finger."

"I see," nodded Percy. "And what does your discovery amount to? Do you
connect this chap with the robbery of Sam Crisp's bag of gold?"

"Well," returned Silk, "it's a kind of proof that some one was prowling
around the ranch in the middle of the night. Certainly he appears to
have wanted to keep his visit a secret. But maybe Sam will explain. I
see he's waiting to receive us."

The ranch master met them on the grassy clearing in front of his
dwelling.

"Glad to see you, Sergeant," he began. "Say, if you'd happened along a
few hours earlier you might have had the job of taking a thief
red-handed."

"Indeed?" said Silk, assuming ignorance of his meaning.

Sam Crisp then proceeded to tell him of the theft of his bag of gold,
showing that he had not the slightest doubt that Charlie Fortescue was
the culprit.

"Did you wish to give him into custody?" the sergeant inquired.

"Dunno 'bout that," demurred Sam. "You see, having proved him guilty, I
kinder took the law into my own hands and fired the ungrateful scoundrel
off the premises. In a way, I'm satisfied. I've escaped having a thief
and a liar for son-in-law. I've saved Dora from having a mean, low-down
impostor for husband. And I've got possession of the stolen money that
he'd hidden away in the bottom of his trunk. No, I'm well rid of him,
and I don't reckon that his being in prison would do me any sort of
good."

Sergeant Silk looked at him keenly.

"Doesn't it occur to you that he may be innocent?" he asked very
quietly. "Could no one else have got into the harness-room?"

"Impossible! Absolutely impossible!" protested Sam. "What's the good of
supposing any such thing? The money was found in Charlie's box, and if
he denied his guilt until he was blue in the face, I wouldn't believe
him."

"So?" reflected Silk. "Well, just as a matter of form, I'll have a look
round in the harness-room, before going on. Give my respects to Miss
Dora."

Percy Rapson accompanied him to the now open doorway of the little room.
On the threshold Silk paused, examined the blurred footmarks on the
moist earthen floor, glanced at the ventilation hole high up in the wall
just below the rafters, then shook his head.

"I'm afraid Sam is right," he muttered as he turned away. "Unless----"
He touched Percy's elbow. "Come round to the back of this shanty," he
said.

Percy watched him searching along the ground and saw him stand still,
looking down at some curious marks on a bare patch of wet soil.

"Do you see? Do you understand?" Silk asked in an eager voice. "Some
chap has been crawling round here on all fours. See the round marks of
his knees--the sharp grooves made by the toes of his boots, and--and the
impressions of his hands?"

"My hat!" cried Percy. "Why, the left hand has only three fingers!"

"Seems we're on his trail," smiled the sergeant. "D'you see that dirty
old packing-case? Just lift it and put it against the wall. So, that's
right. Now stand on it and see if you can reach up to where you see that
loose slate. Ah!" he exclaimed as Percy obeyed him, "I see you're not
tall enough. And neither is Charlie Fortescue. Let me show you."

He took Percy's place on the box, and, standing on his toes, reached to
the slate, moved it, and thrust his hand in at the opening.

"Say, there wasn't any need for Sam Crisp to lock the door when his bag
of gold could be reached from the outside," he declared. "The man who
took it has left his mark on the wall, see, with his muddy hand. It
doesn't matter to us how he found out that the money was there. He has
stolen it and carried it off. And I guess I know where we shall find
him. Come along! Let's hustle!"

Late in the afternoon of that same day Sergeant Silk and Percy Rapson
rode into a logging camp among the mountains and put up their horses for
the night. Work for the day was not yet over, and Percy was glad of the
opportunity of watching the lumber-men who were busily felling and
trimming the immense trees, and hauling the great logs along the
skidways.

The forest glades were filled with the shrieking of steam saws, the
panting of donkey-engines, and the thudding blows of axe and adze.

Percy was fascinated by the unfamiliar sight of a gigantic log coming
jerkily up a steep incline, butting at boulders, colliding with trees,
ploughing deep furrows in the earth and smashing and crashing through
the thicket.

"Keep clear of that cable, mister," one of the men warned him. "It might
break. You see, when it's hauling a ten-ton log at full steam, and the
log fouls a rock, something's sure to give, and it's usually the cable.
It wouldn't be nice for you to be hit by one of the flying ends."

Percy did not look round at the man; neither did he stand back, and the
warning had hardly been repeated when there came an ominous, jarring,
crunching noise, followed by a sound that was like the firing of a great
gun. Something resembling a coiled snake whistled through the air
towards him, and in the same instant he was seized from behind and flung
bodily backward.

When he rose to his feet, unhurt, he saw what had happened. The man who
had saved him--a tall, red-bearded man--had been struck on the back of
the head by a flying end of the broken cable. Sergeant Silk was kneeling
at his side. Percy saw him take hold of the dead man's left hand and
noticed that the hand had no forefinger.

"It's Dick Ashton," murmured one of the men who had gathered round.
"Poor Dick, he's done for, sure. And him only just come in for a
fortune. Went to draw it from the bank only yesterday. Wonder if he got
it, eh? He seemed some satisfied with himself when he rode into camp
this morning, hatless and covered with mud."

Sergeant Silk unbuttoned Dick's vest and there fell out a chamois
leather bag, which sent forth the unmistakable jingle of coins. As the
sergeant took possession of it, he glanced upward at Percy Rapson.

"I think we have proved that Charlie Fortescue is innocent," he said.
"Don't you?"

"Yes," Percy nodded. "But I wouldn't tell any of Dick's chums, here,
anything about it, eh? You'll keep it quiet, won't you?"

"Why, cert'nly!" agreed Silk.



CHAPTER III

THE MYSTERY OF GREY WOLF FOREST


There were two boys in the household of Rattlesnake Ranch--Percy Rapson,
who had come out from England to learn farming, and Dan Medlicott, the
sixteen-year-old son of the ranch mistress. They were different in many
ways, these two, as might be expected when one had been brought up in an
English public school and the other had spent the whole of his life in
the wilds of Western Canada. But there was one thing in which they were
entirely alike: they both had a tremendous respect and admiration for
Sergeant Silk.

He was their hero, and they were proud to count him also as their
friend. They admired him especially because he was such a splendid
horseman; he could manage any horse you liked to offer him, and could
subdue even the wildest of bucking bronchos. He was a sure shot, too,
with rifle and revolver, and an extraordinarily fine swimmer. He
excelled in all the outdoor exercises that appeal to most boys, and as
for pluck and endurance, he was a constant marvel.

Most of all, they respected him for his knowledge of woodcraft and his
skill in scouting. He knew all the secrets of the plains, he could tell
you the name of every flower and tree and bird and beast, and for
following up a trail, for seeing and hearing and smelling and drawing
correct conclusions from every little sign that any one else would pass
by unnoticed, he was quite as clever as any Indian.

Naturally, his work as a member of the Mounted Police and his duty of
going on lonely patrol over prairie and mountain, gave him plenty of
opportunity for exercising these powers, and somehow he had the luck of
being always at hand when there was any danger to be faced, or when a
man of fearless courage and ready resource was wanted to carry out some
perilous adventure.

"I don't believe Silk knows the meaning of real danger," said Percy
Rapson one day when he and Dan Medlicott were discussing one of the
sergeant's exploits that they had just heard of. "I wonder what he's got
up his sleeve to-day. You may bet he's got something. He always has when
he's more than usually quiet, as he is now."

"You might ask him," urged Dan. "He's out there on the verandah."

"It would look too inquisitive," objected Percy.

"Well, if you don't, I will," Dan resolved. "I'll go right now, while
he's alone."

Sergeant Silk had called in at the homestead on his way along the trail
to the depot of the North-West Mounted Police at Canmore, and had been
induced by Mrs. Medlicott to stay to supper and give his pony a needed
rest.

The meal was over, and he was now on the point of going round to saddle
the mare and resume his lonely journey, lingering only, as it appeared,
to smoke a pipe. But since coming out into the verandah he had, as his
young friends had noticed, suddenly become unaccountably morose.

He was standing with his shoulder against a post of the verandah when
Dan went out to him.

"Say, Sergeant," said Dan, making a successful grab at a mosquito that
buzzed about his head, "you're gloomy, all of a sudden, aren't you?
Anything gone wrong?"

Silk turned his calm, blue eyes upon the boy beside him.

"Can't say that anything has gone particularly wrong, Dannie," he
answered slowly. "At least, not with myself. I'm just a bit puzzled,
that's all, trying to figure out a problem that occurred to me this
afternoon as I rode along through the forest trail." He blew a cloud of
tobacco smoke into the midst of the mosquitoes. "Dare say you could help
me, some. Two heads are better than one, you know."

Dan Medlicott laughed his free, boyish laugh.

"I'm afraid mine isn't a whole lot of good alongside of yours," he
said. "What's your difficulty?"

Sergeant Silk did not answer immediately. But presently he opened a
button in the front of his brown canvas tunic, and, thrusting in his
hand, drew forth something which looked like a long parcel, in wrappings
of dirty white cloth.

Dan watched him unwinding the wrappings. They were ominously stained
with ragged smears of a dull red colour.

"My!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "What have you got there? A dagger!"

"Looks so," Silk nodded as the cloth dropped to his feet. He laid the
weapon across his left hand and held it for the boy's inspection. "What
d'you think of it?" he asked.

Dan bent over it without touching it. The weapon had a long, slender,
double-edged blade, which tapered to a very sharp point. The handle was
of ivory, decorated with bands of tarnished silver, wrought in a curious
Oriental design.

"What a wicked-looking weapon!" he declared, drawing back with a
shudder.

Silk closed his fingers over the haft.

"Ever seen anything like it before!" he inquired.

Dan shook his head.

"Never."

"Neither have I," said the sergeant. "At least, not in Canada. It's the
sort of thing you might come across in a museum. I'd say it was of
Moorish workmanship. Dare say some Bedouin Arab once carried it in his
waist-belt, riding across the desert, as we ride across the plains with
our revolvers."

"You're going to keep it as a curiosity, I suppose?" Dan surmised.
"Where did you pick it up? Buy it? Have it given you?"

"Found it," returned the soldier policeman, puffing slowly at his pipe.
"Found it 'way back in the forest. What I'm trying to figure out is the
problem of who left it there, yesterday, see?"

"Yesterday?" repeated Dan, in wonder at this precision as to time.

"Yes. You see, there's no rust on it. It's too clean and bright to have
been there more than a few hours. Besides----"

"Those red stains on the cloth wrappings----" Dan interrupted. "What are
they?"

Silk glanced behind him through the open window of the room, where Maple
Leaf, the kitchen girl, was clearing the supper table. Maple Leaf was an
Indian, and she had sharp ears. He lowered his voice as he resumed in
response to his companion's inquiry--

"Not much need to ask what they are. Of course, they're blood. You see,
I found the dagger sticking in the trunk of a soft maple tree. The long
blade had been driven clean through a man's chest, between the ribs,
pinning him against the tree. Who killed him, and why, I have yet to
find out. One sure thing is that, whoever it was, he hated his victim so
badly, so vindictively, that he wanted him to stay there where he was,
fastened with his back against the tree, while the knife should hold
him."

"Who was the victim--the dead man?" Dan asked abruptly. "You knew him?"

Silk nodded. There were not many inhabitants of the province of Alberta
whom he did not know, at least by sight.

"Oh, yes!" he responded. "It was a French half-breed, Henri Jolicoeur, of
Hilton's Jump--the same who won the cup at Regina races last spring,
beating Flying Feather, the Iroquois Indian."

Dan Medlicott looked up sharply.

"Those two have always been rivals in horsemanship," he reminded the
sergeant. "I shouldn't wonder a bit if it was that same Indian who
killed poor Henri, out of revenge."

Sergeant Silk shook his head.

"It wasn't an Indian who did it," he decided. "No Indian would have left
so valuable a weapon behind. An Indian would have robbed his victim of
everything that was worth stealing, and would probably have taken his
scalp. He would almost certainly have appropriated the poor chap's
horse. No; it wasn't an Indian."

Dan Medlicott then asked--

"Would a white man--a Canadian--have been any more likely to leave the
dagger behind as evidence against himself?"

"I don't feel sure that a white man would use such a weapon in any
case," returned Silk. "He'd be much more likely to use his revolver,
openly. But, even allowing that the criminal may have been a white
Canadian, the dagger may not have been his own. It may have been the
property of some one else, who had nothing to do with this crime, and
his leaving it behind would provide a convenient false clue, drawing
suspicion away from himself."

"Yes, I see," admitted Dan. And, after a pause, he added: "I expect they
had a struggle--a fight--back there in the forest?"

"No. There was no struggle," Silk argued. "It was done stealthily,
suddenly."

Dan Medlicott did not ask for an explanation of this theory; but he
waited, knowing that one would come.

"I've figured it out this way," the sergeant presently resumed. "The
two men met each other on the forest trail and decided to make camp
together. They hobbled their ponies, and went on foot in among the trees
to fix up their camping place. They made a fire beside a stream, boiled
some water, and made tea. I saw the ashes of their fire, the tea leaves,
and some bacon rind. I found a crust of bread, with teeth marks on it.
They were very even teeth; not the teeth of Henri Jolicoeur, which were
crooked and broken."

"They seem to have been friendly enough, anyway," remarked Dan, "eating
together and meaning to camp together."

"Yes," acknowledged the sergeant, "but, at the same time, there was
treachery in the mind of one of them. When they had finished eating they
went aside from the fire and sat together on a bank under the maple
tree, where they remained for a long time, smoking cigarettes. Henri
never suspected what was coming. But the other knew. He was nervous,
very nervous."

"Eh?" interrupted Dan Medlicott. "Nervous? How on earth did you make
such a discovery as that?"

Silk took his pipe from his mouth and knocked out the tobacco ash on
the rail of the verandah.

"Well," he answered. "For one thing, it was shown by the fact that,
having spoilt a cigarette paper, he tore it up into little bits. For
another thing, he used quite a heap of matches to keep his cigarettes
alight, and he chewed the ends of his cigarettes to tatters. He was
restless, too, always moving, cutting the dry grass and ferns with his
spurs, and digging his heels into the parched ground. They were high
heels, like those of a cowboy's boots."

"An Indian would have worn moccasins, and no spurs," said Dan.

"Why, cert'nly," assented his companion. "It's clear he wasn't an
Indian. I'm inclined to think he was a half-breed, the same as Henri
himself. Still, I'm puzzled."

"I don't wonder," nodded Dan. "You don't seem to have got any clue
that's of much value, except the weapon. What has become of Henri's
horse? It wasn't stolen, you say."

"No. The fellow was too cunning to risk being discovered in possession
of his victim's broncho. He left it hobbled in the forest, where I found
it. It's there now, in charge of one of my men--Trooper Collins."

Silk had wrapped the dagger in its windings of dirty cloth, and now he
thrust it back under the cover of his tunic.

"Will you do me a favour, Dannie?" he asked, as he went down the steps.

"I'll do anything you wish," returned Dan, accompanying him along the
garden path. "What do you want me to do?"

"To ride to Hilton's Jump to-night," said Silk, "and break the news to
Marie Jolicoeur about what has happened to her son. And perhaps while you
are there in the half-breeds' village you might be able to discover who
were Henri's enemies. I can trust you to be discreet."

Dan said nothing of this affair to Percy Rapson, leaving Percy to guess
what he liked concerning his reason for going out on horseback after
Silk had said good-night and ridden off alone along the trail.

On the next morning Sergeant Silk was back again at Rattlesnake Ranch,
on the same chestnut mare. He had had no sleep, but if he was fatigued
the fact was not betrayed in his appearance, for his eyes were as
brightly alert as always. He had shaved. His dark moustache had its
usual curl, and his brown canvas uniform--even to the shine on his long
boots and the gleam of newly-polished brass in buttons and
cartridges--was as tidy as if he were going on parade.

Dan Medlicott met him as he approached the homestead.

"I see you did not fail to go to Hilton's Jump last night," the sergeant
smiled.

Dan looked at him queerly.

"How do you know?" he asked.

Silk glanced down at the feet of Dan's pony.

"By the mud on your broncho's fetlocks," he answered. "You took the
short cut by the edge of the marsh, and you didn't give yourself time to
groom your plug this morning. Well, have you any news? Did you see Marie
Jolicoeur?"

"Yes. She was in an awful state about it. Henri was her only support.
Of course, she wanted to know everything, and I told her as much as I
could. When I spoke about the dagger and described it, she screamed and
rushed excitedly to a corner cupboard and flung it open and brought out
an old leather scabbard, which she dropped on the table. It was empty,
but I saw in a moment that it was ornamented with the same sort of
silver bands as those on the handle of the dagger you showed me."

"Ah!" cried Silk. "That is significant. It means that it was with his
own weapon that Henri Jolicoeur was killed."

"Yes," Dan agreed. "His mother saw him handling the dagger, day before
yesterday, but she didn't know he'd taken it out with him."

"I see," nodded the sergeant. "It was probably snatched from his
belt--and used--while he stood up beside the maple tree. In that case it
isn't of much further use as a clue. Did you discover the name of his
enemy? He must, after all, have been afraid of being attacked."

"It seems he had several enemies," said Dan Medlicott. "There was Dick
Transom for one, who hated him like poison, and Emile Guyot for another,
who owed him a grudge on account of some gambling affair."

"It wasn't Transom," promptly decided Sergeant Silk. "Dick Transom has
lost one of his front teeth. And it wasn't Emile Guyot, for he is in
prison at Moose Jaw. Any others?"

"Henri's mother believes it was Flying Feather," Dan went on. "They had
a bad quarrel just after the races in the spring. But I assured her that
it wasn't an Indian who did it. The only other enemies of Henri's that
she could think of were Pierre Roche and Adolf Simon, both of them
half-breeds; but she didn't reckon it could be either of them who took
her son's life."

Silk repeated the two names thoughtfully as he turned to remount.

"Pierre Roche?--Adolf Simon? Let's see! Yes. Thank you, Dan; I was
right about two heads being better than one. You have put me on a new
scent. I hope you haven't mentioned either of these men to any one
else?"

"Not I," Dan assured him, adding, as the soldier policeman leapt into
his saddle: "Aren't you coming into the house to have some breakfast?"

Silk shook his head.

"I am on duty," he answered. "I am off to Pincher's Creek. That is where
Adolf Simon and Pierre Roche usually hang out."

"Then it's one of them that you suspect?" said Dan.

"I did not say so," smiled Silk, touching his pony's side with his
spurred heel.

He rode through the stifling heat of the summer noon across the parched
prairie and among the winding valleys of the foothills, arriving at
Pincher's Creek in the early evening, covered with dust, but with his
well-cared-for broncho as free from fatigue as he was himself.

No one guessed what he had come for. The ranchers and cowboys supposed
that his purpose was only to make one of his periodical patrol visits to
inquire into any complaints that they might have to make, and to see
that the settlers' homesteads were guarded against fire, as the law
required them to be.

Silk made the tour of the far-stretching cornfields, where the men were
at work harvesting the ripe grain, and when the labours in the fields
were over and he had taken supper with the ranch-master's family, he
strolled down to the bunkhouse, where most of the hands fed and slept.
He entered very casually, and was greeted as a friend.

At first he gave his attentions to the white men, but presently he
approached a group of Indians and half-breeds. Amongst the latter he had
seen Adolf Simon, one of the men against whom his suspicions were
directed. Adolf was now seated at the end of a bench, rolling a
cigarette, while he chattered volubly in Canadian French to his
companions.

"Say, Adolf, are you making that fag for me?" Silk inquired.

The half-breed looked up and smiled, showing his white and even teeth
under a small, black moustache.

"Oh! but yes, if m'sieur will accept," he answered gaily, as he
delicately held forth the cigarette ready to be licked. "_Voilà!_"

Sergeant Silk took it and ran the tip of his tongue along the edge of
the paper, smoothing it down neatly and nipping off the shreds of
tobacco which protruded from the ends. He crumpled the fragments between
a finger and thumb and sniffed at them critically.

"Ah! you no like such tabac," said Adolf. "It ees no good for mek de
cigarette; only good for pipe, eh?"

"I dare say it smokes all right," nodded Silk, striking a match.

He was not concerned whether the tobacco were good or bad. What he
wished to discover was whether it was the same quality as the tobacco in
the cigarettes smoked by Henri Jolicoeur and his enemy at the foot of the
maple tree in Grey Wolf Forest. He quickly assured himself that it was
different. It was darker and coarser. He noticed also that the paper
used by Adolf was yellow instead of white.

As he lighted the cigarette Silk glanced down at Adolf's feet. They were
clad in very much worn moccasins. Already he had decided that Adolf
Simon was not the criminal of whom he was in search. Nevertheless, he
put his judgment to the proof. Watching the half-breed's face, he
casually asked--

"Say, Adolf, have you seen anything of your friend Henri Jolicoeur,
lately?"

Adolf's countenance betrayed no agitation at this abrupt mention of a
name which would certainly have disturbed his conscience had he been
guilty.

"Henri Jolicoeur?" he repeated, pausing in rolling another cigarette. "He
is no friend of mine. I tink you mek meestek, Sergeant. Once--long tam
since--we was _bons camarades_, but since two, tree month we 'ave
nevaire speak. We 'ave not meet. Dere is no occasion, you un'erstand."

"In that case," returned the soldier policeman, "it is needless for me
to ask you anything about him. I shall probably get all the information
I require from Pierre Roche. Pierre is on the ranch here, isn't he."

Adolf sent a very long, slow jet of tobacco smoke into the air and
watched it fade.

"Not since four day," he responded, meeting Silk's keen scrutiny. "He
'ave mek heemself absent on private affair."

Presently, when Silk went out of the bunkhouse, Adolf followed him at a
distance and overtook him as he came within sight of the lighted windows
of the homestead.

"Pardon, Sergeant," he began mysteriously. "Why you come here, nosing
round? I tink you come for de special police duty, eh? Is not dat so?"

"It is possible," admitted Silk. "But is there anything wonderful in
that? Why are you anxious about my being here--on special police duty?"

Adolf shrugged his shoulders.

"You spek of Henri Jolicoeur, of Pierre Roche," he went on. "You savee
dey was enemy, hating each oder lak de poison--what? You 'ave discover
som'ting."

Sergeant Silk stood facing the half-breed looking into his dark, alert
eyes, wondering if he were to be trusted.

"Why, cert'nly," he nodded. "I have discovered something. I have
discovered the dead body of Henri Jolicoeur in Grey Wolf Forest."

"So?" ejaculated Adolf, with less surprise than might have been
expected. "_Tiens! tiens!_ And you 'ave come for try mek de arrest of
Pierre Roche? Dat is ver' queek, certainly. You 'ave lose no tam. But
dere is no use you come 'ere. He no come back to Pincher's Creek. It ees
de las' place he come to."

"You appear to have no doubt of his guilt, anyway, Adolf," observed
Silk.

"But what would you?" rejoined the half-breed. "Was it not hees
intention? Many tam I hear heem say he will tek de life of Henri
Jolicoeur. Yes, many tam. And now he 'ave tek it! Well, M'sieu', it will
be ver' interesting suppose you catch heem. You are clever tracker,
Sergeant Silk. You catch many criminal. But you no catch Pierre Roche.
It is impossible, absolutely. You nevaire catch heem--nevaire. He 'ave
too many friend. He ees too cunning--cunning as de fox."

"There can be no harm in trying," Silk smiled. "Canada is a large
country, and there are many places where a hunted criminal may hide
successfully--for a while. But Pierre Roche will not escape."

"We shall see," laughed Adolf, turning on his heel.



CHAPTER IV

THE FUGITIVE AND HIS PURSUER


Sergeant Silk had at least the satisfaction that he had now discovered
the identity of the man who had taken the life of Henri Jolicoeur, and
that same night, without resting, he hastened to the nearest police
depot to telegraph his report to head-quarters at Regina. He waited for
a reply, which came in the early morning, intimating that Pierre Roche
must be captured, dead or alive. The whole Force would see to it that he
was caught and brought to justice.

Roche had long been suspected as a persistent law breaker, but he had
never yet been convicted. More than half an Indian, he had all the
Redskin's cunning in covering his traces and evading detection; but now
the evidence against him was more than a mere suspicion.

A whole troop of the Mounted Police turned out in pursuit of him. They
were posted to guard all passes through the Rocky Mountains, and a
district of ninety square miles was combed over incessantly by strong
patrols. His escape seemed almost impossible. The district, however, was
one of foothills, bush, winding gorges, tracts of boulders, and, to the
eastward, rolling prairie, where the fugitive's friends, the Piegan and
Blood tribes, were using every subtlety of Indian craft to hide him and
outwit the police.

Day after day went by, and no positive trace of the criminal was found.
The only hint of his whereabouts was given in the fact that Sergeant
Silk, the most energetic of his pursuers, was constantly encountering
unexpected dangers. This was particularly so whenever he rode alone
unattended by scouts.

Artful traps were laid for him. He was misled by a hundred rumours that
took him far astray into lonely places. False trails were set to lure
him into hidden pitfalls and ambuscades.

Once, in the darkness, his horse bolted for a cause unknown until he
found an Indian arrow sticking in her buttock. Once his saddle and
bridle were stolen while he slept in the shelter of a friendly ranch
house.

It did not take him long to realise that he was himself being dogged and
shadowed by the very man he was pursuing and against whom he had given
information. His every movement seemed to be known almost before it was
made. A man less bravely watchful might have gone in fear of his life;
but Silk only welcomed the signs which proved that he was still upon the
fugitive's trail.

At Lee's Crossing one dark night he went out swinging his lantern,
sniffing the warm air, bound for the stable, when he saw a sudden blaze
revealing a dark face behind the horse trough, while a bullet ripped
through his sleeve.

Silk ran back to the house, grabbed his gun, and returned, only to hear
a horse galloping away in the night. The creature was his own favourite
mare, and the man who had stolen her--the man whose face he had seen in
the flash from the gun barrel--was Pierre Roche.

On a borrowed mustang, heavier and less swift of foot than his own
stolen troop horse, Sergeant Silk went off in pursuit. He knew by the
direction taken that Roche was making for the refuge of the Indian
Reservation at Minnewanka, thirty odd miles away across the mountains.

There were two possible trails. He realised that the fugitive would take
the shorter one over the steep shoulder of Minnewanka Peak, and that he
would give the mare a rest before ascending. By taking the longer,
though somewhat easier, trail through One Tree Cañon, it might be
possible to head him off. This is what Silk did, and he urged his horse
forward at almost reckless speed.

It was early dawn when he came out from the gloom of the gulch at the
point where the trails crossed and examined the dewy grass for signs.
There were no hoof marks to be seen, and, satisfied that he had gained
his object, he waited under the shadow of a great boulder, watching and
listening.

In less than an hour's time he heard the familiar sound of his mare's
hoofs, carried towards him by the morning breeze, and soon afterwards
his keenly searching eyes distinguished against the rosy glow of the sky
the form of a horseman riding slowly over the ridge of one of the nearer
hills.

The sound of pattering hoofs came clearer and clearer from the farther
valley, and at length, when Pierre Roche came again into sight, hardly a
hundred yards away, Silk moved out and halted in the middle of the
trail, drawing his revolver.

"Stop, or I fire!" he cried aloud, confronting the fugitive.

His instructions were to shoot at sight, but he held his weapon in front
of him, hesitating to fire, wanting, for the sake of a great tradition,
to make the usual arrest, the taking of an outlaw alive and uninjured.

Roche's rifle lay across the saddle, and he held the reins Indian
fashion with the right hand; but when Silk, riding boldly up to him,
grabbed him by the shoulder, he swerved, touching the trigger with his
left.

Silk knocked the gun upward, and the bullet, meant for his body, tore
through the rim of his hat, grazing his ear.

"Hands up!" he commanded, keeping a watchful eye upon the now desperate
half-breed. "Drop that gun!"

Roche stared into the threatening muzzle of the shining weapon that was
levelled at his forehead. He knew that it was futile to resist one of
the resolute Riders of the Plains. For an instant he glanced around to
see if the sergeant were alone, fearing, perhaps, that he had companions
waiting in ambush. His fingers were twitching at the lock of his
repeating rifle, but he saw that it was no use, and he sullenly obeyed,
letting his weapon fall heavily to the ground as he slowly raised his
empty hands above his head.

Sergeant Silk brought the two horses closer together, took possession of
his prisoner's knife and pistol, and leisurely drew out a pair of
handcuffs, which shone like burnished silver in the sunlight.

At sight of them Pierre Roche swayed in his saddle, then began to
struggle in an attempt to break away, but the cold ring of a revolver
muzzle was pressed against his neck, his right arms was seized by a hand
stronger than his own, and the handcuffs were smartly clasped upon his
wrists.

"Now you will go with me," said Sergeant Silk.

He dismounted to pick up the gun and his hat and to examine his mare to
assure himself that she had suffered no harm at the hands of her strange
rider.

"You tek me to de prison for steal your cayuse?" Roche panted
agitatedly.

Silk nodded.

"For stealing my mare, yes," he answered, bringing his hat into its
proper shape, "and for an offence yet more serious than your old game of
horse stealing. And you may consider yourself lucky that I did not shoot
you at sight just now."

"It is probable you tek me to Bankhead?" questioned the half-breed. "It
is de nearest depot of de police."

"It is the nearest, sure," returned the sergeant. "But as the way to it
lies across the neighbourhood of your Indian friends, who would no doubt
attempt to rescue you, I take you to a stronger lock-up, see? I take you
to Fort Canmore."

"But dat was a two-day journey," exclaimed Roche, "across de prairie!"

"If it were twenty days it would be all the same to me, now that I have
you," Silk retorted.

He tied the mare's bridle over her neck, fastened a rope to the bit
ring, and led her behind the heavy bay mustang, which he continued to
ride.

As the sun rose above the hills the air became oppressively hot, and
Pierre Roche appealed many times to have his hands liberated, if only
that he might wipe the perspiration from his forehead and fend off the
midges and mosquitoes; but all that the police sergeant would do for his
comfort was to give him a drink of water whenever they came to a creek,
and, at midday, to let him dismount for a rest and to feed him with a
share of the remaining contents of his haversack.

By the afternoon they had left the foothills behind in the blue
distance, and were ambling slowly, wearily, over the parched prairie,
miles and miles away from any human habitation.

So fatigued were they and their ponies that even before sundown Sergeant
Silk resolved to halt and make camp for the night beside a water hole in
the hollow of a coulee, where a few dwarf elder trees afforded a meagre
shelter.

On dismounting Roche flung himself down in the long grass, apparently to
sleep, while Silk attended to the horses. He had taken off his tunic,
and laid it neatly folded with his belt and the firearms on a tiny
knoll. Once he glanced round at his prisoner, and saw that he was lying
exhausted, with his face downwards, across his manacled hands.

Having no fear of him, Silk went on with his work of driving stakes in
the dry ground, by which to tether the horses by trail ropes. His back
was turned to the half-breed, but in a pause of his hammering he heard a
slight movement behind him.

He wheeled sharply round, and, to his amazement, saw that Pierre Roche
had crawled forward, caught up one of the loaded revolvers, and was
holding it with both hands, aiming at him point-blank.

With quick instinct Silk gripped his hammer to fling at the man, but
even as he raised his arm there was a flash. The bullet went wide of its
intended mark, but struck the shoulder of the bay mustang, which reared,
kicked and whinnied with pain.

"Say, my boy, you've done yourself no good by that silly trick," cried
the sergeant. "How d'you suppose you could have mounted and ridden away
with the handcuffs on if you'd killed me? You'd sure have died here of
hunger and thirst, and that wouldn't have been anyways nice."

"_Tiens!_ Is dat so?" returned Roche in surprise.

"Why, cert'nly, you brainless cariboo. Don't you understand that you're
helpless without me to look after you?"

As a precaution against the repetition of any such attempt upon his
life, Silk now took one of the ropes and tied it tightly about his
prisoner's legs and body, leaving him lying there unable to stir hand or
foot. Then he went to examine the wounded bay.

The wound was much more serious than he had supposed, and he was
occupied for a long time in trying to extract the bullet and staunch the
flow of blood from the animal's chest. Darkness came over the prairie
before he had finished, and he had no lantern. All that he could do was
to plug the wound with his handkerchief and wait for daylight, snatching
a few hours' rest meanwhile.

Before lying down he saw that his mare was secure. There was no need for
him to concern himself further with Pierre Roche, who could do no harm.
So he wound his watch, took a drink of water, glanced at his prisoner,
spread his blanket, and curled himself up to sleep.

The difficulties and anxieties of his situation, isolated here on the
desolate prairie in charge of a desperate criminal and a wounded horse,
without food or the immediate hope of getting any, did not prevent him
from sleeping soundly. He had had no rest on the previous night, and had
been in the saddle for a score of hours, and he yielded to his fatigue.

He awoke with a start. There was a dry, choking sensation in his throat,
which made him cough. His mare was snorting impatiently and tugging
violently at her halter.

A strange, weird moaning filled the air, like the sound of distant waves
breaking against a rocky coast.

Silk sat up, staring about him wonderingly. All was dark around,
excepting in the east, where there was a rosy flickering glow in the
sky. He could see Pierre Roche lying near him, still sleeping soundly.

He leapt to his feet and strode up to the wounded horse. It lay
motionless on its side, and, as he bent over it and touched it, he found
that it was dead.

He turned away from it and stood staring upward at the sky, sniffing
curiously, agitatedly, at the warm air. It was heavily charged with
nipping, pungent mist. Flocks of prairie birds were in flight--sage
hens, sand owls, linnets--all winging their way westward.

Silk knew the awful meaning of these signs. He ran up the sloping side
of the hollow coulee, and when he reached its rim his worst fears were
realised. The prairie was on fire!

Far back the whole wide expanse was wrapped in a vast rolling cloud of
grey-brown smoke. The rising sun shone dimly through it, red as the
flames beneath, that curled and leapt and twisted like a long ocean
wave, sending up a spray of sparks into the overhanging gloom.

He heard the fierce crackling of the burning grass as the fiery tide
swept towards him, devouring all in its way. He saw the wild creatures
of the prairie bunched together in a moving mass--elks and antelopes
first, then a host of the smaller fry--all bounding along, friend and
foe alike, in a frantic stampede.

He was cool, as he always was, in the face of danger; but he knew the
value of every moment now, and he ran back to his prisoner.

"Quick! Quick!" he cried, awakening him with a rough shake as he began
to untie the rope with which the half-breed was bound. "The prairie's on
fire! Look at the smoke! Quick; get to your feet. We've no time to lose.
There's only one horse--my mare. The other's done for, see? You killed
it--as you meant to kill me."

"Holy!" exclaimed Pierre Roche. His bronzed face had become suddenly
livid. His dark eyes showed the abject terror that had come over him.
"Only one horse? Yours? Den you will abandon me? You will tek your
revenge so?"

A ghost of a smile played about the lips of Sergeant Silk. He turned
away without answering, and the crackle of the advancing flames grew
louder, the hot breath of the burning prairie grew hotter and hotter,
the smoke more dense and choking. He went up to his mare, caressed her
as he loosened her halter from the bit ring.

"All right, my beauty," he said very tenderly. "Be brave, keep cool. It
all depends upon you. But you can do it, eh? At least you'll try."

He flung the saddle over her back and fastened the cinches. Then he led
her to where Pierre Roche stood, with a foot across the two revolvers,
while he frantically tried to squeeze his wrists from the handcuffs.

"Steady there! Steady!" cried Silk. "What's your game?" He gave him a
shove backward, took up his own revolver, slipped it into his holster,
and then flung the other away.

"So?" objected Roche. "You refuse me even de satisfaction for shoot
myself? You leave me here, handcuffed, for de flames?" He made a step
forward. "Pardon," he said, "but will you not do me de favour for shoot
me yourself? It is more queek, less 'orrible. And for your revenge it is
all de same. I die anyway. What?"

Silk was not listening to him. He glanced round apprehensively as a
shower of black dust and smouldering grass blades fell from the midst of
the heavy pall of rolling smoke. Then he stretched out his hands and
caught hold of his prisoner in his strong arms, lifted him bodily, and
flung him across the mare's back, holding him there while he seized the
reins, raised a foot to the stirrup, and leapt up behind him.

"Go!" he cried, when his seat was secure. "Go, my beauty!"

With a snort and a shake of her mane the mare went forward, dashed up
the slope, gained the level, and plunged off with a long, racing stride
to mingle with the panic-stricken crowd of bellowing, screeching
creatures of the prairie in the mad stampede for escape.

Mile after mile she galloped with her double burden, making never a
pause or a break, while the fire, with its terrible crackle and moaning,
came closer and closer, and the blinding, choking reek swept by in a
thickening cloud.

Silk had no need to use spur or reins. He let her go her own
instinctive way, and only strove to keep his awkward seat in the saddle
and to hold grimly, desperately to the man lying helpless across his
knees. Once only he tightened the reins to check the mare's headlong
flight as they came to the brink of a creek. Then, with coaxing,
affectionate words, he bade her go warily, guiding her through the
shallows, where a struggling crowd of coyotes, rabbits, and prairie dogs
wallowed or swam or sank exhausted.

At the farther side of the sluggish stream Silk dismounted, trusting
that the fire would not yet leap the water.

"Reckon we can take breath for a while," he said to his moaning
prisoner. "Say, I'll just fix you in a more comfortable position and
give you a drink. Guess you're needing it. I'd take the handcuffs off
you, only I'm afraid you can hardly be trusted, even now. What do you
say?"

As he brought a hatful of water and held it up, the half-breed dipped
his face in it, and then looked down at him appealingly.

"Sergeant," he pleaded, leaning over and holding out his swollen hands
and exhibiting the bruised wrists, "you tek dem off. You 'ave pity, eh?"

Silk shook his head and emptied his hat upon the mare's face.

"Do you think you deserve so much pity?" he asked. "If I took them off
you'd only try to escape."

Pierre Roche drew back his hands and awkwardly moved his body as if he
meant to slip to the ground.

Silk stopped him.

"Stay where you are," he ordered sternly. "What are you up to?"

"I go no more," returned the half-breed. "I was coward. I no deserve any
pity. It ees true. Listen, Sergeant. You was de mos' brave man I ever
know. It ees not good you reesk you good life for me any longer. You
leave me. You go on alone. I remain. I die. I gif myself to de flame. It
ees bes' you go alone, see?"

Sergeant Silk recognised that the man was sincere in his curious
entreaty to be left to his fate.

But he shook his head gravely.

"No," he responded. "I must do my duty. I cannot go without my
prisoner, and, though you were the worst sinner that ever breathed, I
could not bring myself to abandon you to _that_!"

He nodded in the direction of the fiercely advancing flames. A spark
nipped his cheek. Round about him he saw tiny jets of smoke rising from
among the dry herbage.

"It's coming," he said. "The water won't stop it. Quick!" he cried.
"Your wrists!" He seized the handcuffs and adroitly whipped them free.
"There!" he nodded, "I trust you, see? You could dash off without me
now."

Pierre Roche drew a deep breath of relief. He looked down into the
sergeant's eyes.

"Dat is true," he acknowledged. "But I give you my parole. I go wid you.
I am you prisoner. I no try for mek my escape. No. I go to my
punishment. Quick! Quick!"

He held out his blue and swollen hands to help the soldier policeman to
mount.

The mare sped on again, panting hoarsely, snorting, swaying sometimes,
but never faltering, never slackening her onward rush, until, at last,
she reached safety on a wide stretch of blackened earth, where a
previous fire had stripped the prairie.

And late on the following morning Sergeant Silk rode into Canmore and
delivered up his prisoner at the barracks.

"Ah!" declared the commandant with satisfaction. "I am glad it was you
who arrested the rascal, Sergeant. And single-handed, too. You look some
jaded. I hope you have had no difficulties?"

"No, sir," returned Silk, "nothing to speak of."



CHAPTER V

NICK-BY-NIGHT


Percy Rapson discovered the lumbering wagon by the cloud of dust which
rose above the pine-trees half-way along the valley. He reined in his
broncho and waited on the ridge of the hill until his two companions in
the uniform of the North-West Mounted Police should rejoin him.

The loud crack of a teamster's whip had told him that there were
strangers on the trail beyond this intervening hill.

"There goes the outfit that made the track we've been following up all
the afternoon," he announced, pointing in the direction of the cloud of
white dust. "Whose is it, I wonder?" he questioned, speaking more
particularly to the one who wore a triple chevron on the arm of his
faded red tunic. "Looks rather unusual, doesn't it, Silk?"

Sergeant Silk drew down the wide brim of his hat, to shield his eyes
from the glare of the setting sun, and contemplated the distant vehicle
with its white canvas roof and its plodding team of mules.

"I expect it's a party of prospectors going west to the diggings,"
remarked Trooper Medlicott, riding up to his side.

Sergeant Silk shook his head.

"It isn't that," he decided. "It's not the best time of the year to
start for the diggings, winter coming on. And besides, a woman--a
girl--would hardly be going alone on a journey like that."

Young Rapson looked at him sharply.

"A girl?" he repeated wonderingly. "But you can't possibly see her, all
this way off! How do you know?"

"Come to that, I don't know--with any certainty," Silk returned. "And,
of course, as you say, I couldn't see her all this distance off, even if
she were not hidden under the awning. Who could?"

"But you never say things like that at random," pursued Rapson. "You've
always got a good reason for everything you do and say."

"Exactly," Silk nodded. "But it's only my surmise that there's a girl in
that wagon. I don't insist that she's alone. There's the teamster and
the off man taking charge of the outfit, even if their passenger had no
other companion than her dog. She's young," he went on, as if speaking
to himself, "and I guess she has fair hair. A bit of an artist, I
believe. Paints landscapes. I'm inclined to promise that if you were to
overhaul her fixings, Percy, you'd find she has a sketch of Minnewanka
Peak in her portfolio."

"My hat!" exclaimed Percy. "Say, you're clever to have figured out all
that!"

The sergeant shrugged his shoulders.

"Clever? Not at all," he protested. "I've only found out what you or
Medlicott or any one else might have discovered equally well. It's quite
simple. I merely happened to notice a few little things back along the
trail where we halted to have our grub. You noticed yourself that
somebody'd been camping there in front of us, didn't you?"

"Yes," Rapson signified. "I couldn't help seeing the ashes of their
bivouac fire; and, of course, I've noticed the track of their wagon
wheels all along the trail, as well as the footmarks of a rather big
dog. But I fail to understand how you can make out all that information
about the girl having fair hair and bein' an artist."

Sergeant Silk smiled as he turned to lead the way down the slope of the
hill trail into the valley.

"That's only because you don't smoke a pipe that needs occasional
cleaning out," he responded. "Mine needed cleaning, see? and while you
and Bob Medlicott were down at the creek, watering the horses, I looked
about for a stalk of sage-grass or something that would go into the
stem. I found just the very thing I wanted--a hair-pin. You'll allow
that a hair-pin is peculiarly a feminine piece of furniture. It's
reasonable to infer that it wasn't a man who lost it; and since the one
I picked up was made of gilt wire, I guess it wasn't the property of a
woman with black hair. What? Don't you agree with me?"

Percy Rapson was laughing.

"It's too ridiculously obvious to be disputed," he acknowledged. "But,"
he added inquiringly, "how about the supposed sketch of Minnewanka Peak?
That's a corker!"

Silk pushed back his hat.

"For one thing," he explained, "she sharpened a black-lead pencil,
leaving the chips lying around, close beside the marks in the soil where
her easel and camp-stool had stood, the dog sitting near. She had thrown
away a bit of rag on which she had cleaned her paint-brushes. She'd used
more azure blue than any other colour, and, say, I don't know anything
quite so blue as Minnewanka Peak, of which she had an excellent view
from where she had propped her easel."

"Rather a jolly idea, that--touring about Canada takin' sketches of the
scenery," observed Percy Rapson. "I've often wished to be an artist. Do
you suppose that she would let us have a look at her sketches, Silk?"

"There'd be no great harm in your asking her," the sergeant answered.
"But we shall hardly have time to loiter around. You see, Medlicott and
I are on special duty. We're not here to occupy our time with strangers;
unless, of course, we can be of some help to them. We've got to follow
up the trail of Nick-By-Night and his gang, and hale them off to
prison--if we're lucky enough to lay hands on them."

Percy Rapson glanced forward to the cloud of dust.

"Risky for an unprotected girl to be travellin' about when there are
such characters as Nick-By-Night on the trail," he said. "I wonder
nobody warned her against the possibility of bein' held-up by bandits."

"There is certainly that danger," Silk said with a tone of anxiety in
his voice. "It was only half-a-dozen miles beyond where we are now that
the bandits, as you call them, escaped from the patrol a week ago.
Nick's secret hiding-place is somewhere over the hills there, on Ghost
Pine Creek."

"Then that is where you are bound for?" Percy Rapson inquired. He had
met the two Riders of the Plains unexpectedly, earlier in the day, and
had continued to ride in their company, intending to break off from them
on reaching the cross trail leading to his home at Rattlesnake Ranch.

"Exactly," Silk answered.

"Are you going to allow me to stand in with you?" the boy asked.

The sergeant shook his head.

"It would hardly be wise," he responded. "You might get hurt. There's
sure to be some shooting, and I don't figure that I shall need you to
identify him. I shall know him when I see him."

"You ought to," rejoined Percy. "You've seen him before."

"Eh?" Sergeant Silk looked aside at him in curious surprise. "I've seen
him before, you say? When? Where?"

"Six months ago," Rapson answered, "at Calgary Races. I was there at
the time, only you didn't know me very well then. It was in the Golden
Bar saloon. I dare say you would have arrested him then, only there was
a nasty scuffle; you were wounded, and he gave you the slip."

Silk checked his mare's pace and stared at his young friend in a puzzled
manner.

"Do you mean that swell mobsman with the diamond ring?" he questioned.
"The chap who was playing three-card monte? Was _that_ Nick-By-Night?"

"That's the chap, sure," Rapson informed him. "He'd done me out of two
pounds by that sharper's trick of his, and I'd followed him and his gang
of confederates into the saloon to try to get my money back. You
remember what happened?"

"I am not likely to forget," answered the sergeant, "since apart from
the wound, which was not worth mention, it was the one occasion in my
experience on which I have known the excitement of pitting my
common-sense against the skill of a professional swindler."

Percy recalled the exciting incident to his own memory now as he
followed the red-coated officer down the trail. He pictured to himself
the noisy saloon, thronged with racing men, cowboys, ranchers, idlers
from the town and the outlying homesteads, with a sprinkling of Indians
and half-breeds.

He saw a tall, lithe, blue-eyed man, dressed as a rancher, in corduroys,
blue shirt, and wide felt hat, slowly threading his way, as though
without definite aim, among the little tables at which men sat drinking,
smoking, gambling. Percy did not recognise him at first in his disguise,
never before having seen him out of his smart uniform of the Mounted
Police; but presently he overheard a half-breed muttering--

"_Parbleu!_ yes; it ees Sergean' Seelk! He shape for mek de arrest of
Monsieur Cutlaire. What?"

Rapson watched the sergeant saunter up to the table at which the
card-sharper now sat with a couple of companions as flashily dressed as
himself.

"Say, stranger, what kind of a lay-out d'you call this?" Silk inquired
in a slow, drawling voice, without removing the cigarette from his lips.

The sleek, clean-shaven, flashily dressed man with the diamond ring
looked up at him without suspicion, evidently supposing that he was what
he appeared to be--a careless, good-natured, easy-going rancher out for
a holiday; a likely victim to be gulled and fleeced.

"What sort of eyesight have you got, cully?" the gambler asked, holding
up three cards with their faces outwards, so that the newcomer might see
them.

"Oh, I dunno," said Silk, trying to look stupid. "Pretty middlin', I
reckon. Why?"

"Say, now," went on the three-card man, "d'you reckon you could locate
the king when I throw them out, this way?"

"Why, cert'nly," declared Silk, pointing at one of the cards. "It's that
one."

"My!" ejaculated the dealer in pretended surprise. "So it is! You're
not such a cariboo as you look. But I bet you five dollars you can't do
it a second time."

"Right you are," Silk agreed, producing a five-dollar bill. "Show your
money."

For a second time he was allowed to pick out the king and to take
possession of the stakes. The table was now surrounded by a pressing
crowd of onlookers, including Percy Rapson, who tried to attract the
sergeant's attention and to caution him against the certainty of being
swindled; but Silk held his face down, shadowed by his wide felt hat,
all his attention upon the game.

"You've got the eyes of a lynx," commented the dealer encouragingly.
"You'll sure make your pile at this rate. Try once more!"

The cards were thrown again, and again the supposed rancher won. He made
a clever show of becoming eager, though he knew that he was only being
decoyed to a final plunge. When he had won twenty dollars and the
watching crowd had drawn closer, he laughed and glanced across at the
sharper.

"Say, do you put any limit on this here game?" he asked.

"How far will you go?" questioned the dealer. "You're twenty dollars to
the good already. You're shaping to break me."

Sergeant Silk hesitated and looked swiftly back over his shoulder. He
wanted to delay operations until one or more of his chums of the Mounted
Police should come in to his support, as had been planned in case of
trouble.

"How much do you bet?" invited the sharper.

Silk leant forward, fumbling at his belt pocket.

"Fifty dollars," he readily answered.

The man with the diamond ring made a pretence of hesitation. Silk
deliberately counted out ten five-dollar bills and held them between his
fingers on the table.

"All right," the gambler assented, taking up what appeared to be the
same three cards. "I don't mind running the risk, just for once on the
off-chance of my luck taking a turn."

And he began to make passes with the three pieces of pasteboard.

"Wait a bit, though," objected Silk very calmly. "I don't see your own
stake. Here is my money. Where's yours?"

"Oh, that's all serene," said the other. "My credit's good for anything
in this emporium."

"May be so," demurred Silk. "All the same," he insisted firmly, "I
expect to see your money alongside of mine."

There was some quibbling, but after consulting with one of his
confederates the gambler yielded and reluctantly counted the money in
gold from a bulky canvas bag that he drew from his breast pocket.
Probably Silk was the only stranger present who was aware that the coins
were counterfeit.

"That ought to satisfy you," sneered the trickster, as he dealt out the
three cards.

Very coolly and without an instant's hesitation Sergeant Silk bent over
and placed his hand upon the card nearest to him, drawing it an inch or
two towards him, but not turning it up.

"This is the king," he declared positively, for the first time looking
the gamester straight in the eye.

"Ah, so that's your fancy, is it?" The professional swindler leant back
with a satisfied smile. "Well, suppose you just turn it over and let
every one see."

Silk's steel-blue eyes flashed for an instant. He knew that with his
next move there was going to be trouble.

"No," he cried. "You will turn over the other two."

With an oath the swindler refused, betraying by his agitation that for
once he had met his match.

"That's not the way this game is played," he objected in confusion.
"Show us your king."

"It's the way that I intend to see it played," declared Silk very calmly
but firmly. And with his forefinger he adroitly flicked the two cards
over, face upward. "You see," he cried, "neither of yours is a king.
Therefore mine is bound to be."

Utterly confounded, and dreading the consequences if the third card
should now be revealed, the swindler tried to shuffle out of his awkward
position by giving in.

"In that case, you win," he said.

Sergeant Silk quietly pocketed the hundred dollars with one hand, while
with the other he still retained the third card.

The gambler snatched at it.

"Give me that card!" he demanded, dreading that any one should see it.

Silk laughed and stood up.

"Not before the company have seen it," he retorted, and turning the card
over he cried: "See, boys, it's the three of diamonds! The king is up
his sleeve!"

His voice, the accusing flash of his eyes, his whole attitude, revealed
him in his true identity to the crowd, who now recognised him through
his disguise as a well-known officer of the Mounted Police. There was a
cry--

"It's Silk--Sergeant Silk!"

In the wild confusion that followed his exposure of the cheat, Percy
Rapson did not see exactly what happened. All that he knew was that the
unmasked card-sharper and his confederates were fighting their way out
of the saloon, that one or two pistol shots were fired, and that
Sergeant Silk had been flung to the floor with blood upon his face.

"So that was Nick-By-Night, was it?" Silk now asked of Rapson as they
rode into the valley. "How do you know?"

"I found out only this morning," Percy explained. "I was at Hilton's
Jump and heard two fellows talking about him in Canadian French. They
called him Nick Cutler, and Cutler was the name by which Pierre Roche
referred to the card-sharper in the Golden Bar. I expect he has heaps of
aliases and disguises. Anyhow, you'll know him when you see him, won't
you?"

"Why, cert'nly," nodded Silk, "thanks to you. You see, I never forget a
face."

"Say, Sergeant," interposed Constable Medlicott, "that outfit in front
of us has pulled up. I guess they're intending to make camp for the
night."

"Do you suppose they've spotted us?" questioned Percy Rapson.

"It's likely," said Silk. "What if they have?"

"Well," returned Percy, looking serious, "I was thinkin' it might be a
trap. It's quite possible that the man you're trackin'--Nick-By-Night--is
in that wagon with some of his gang, lying in wait for you, and that he
planted that hair-pin and the other signs to decoy you."

Silk smiled.

"It's 'cute of you to hit upon such a notion," he said, "but, you see,
it was by the merest chance that we halted where we did; and besides,
the innocent hair-pin was dropped there quite early in the morning,
before I myself knew we were coming on this trail. Just in case there is
any trickery, however, I will ride on in advance, and if I find that the
wagon is occupied by a gang of armed bandits, I'll sound my whistle. You
two will wait right here."



CHAPTER VI

THE SURPRISE VISIT


He touched his mare's flank with his heel and went off at an easy gallop
down the trail. As he drew near to the wagon he saw that the two men in
charge of it had unharnessed the mules and were taking them to a
neighbouring stream. A large deerhound appeared from behind the vehicle,
followed by a girl. The hound barked at the approaching horseman.

"Quiet, Don! Quiet!" the girl called.

She stood waiting. Silk observed that she was dressed in dark serge and
wore a green felt sun hat, which did not wholly conceal her very fair
hair. He also noticed that she carried an artist's canvas and a portable
easel.

"How do, officer?" the girl said in response to his salutation, as he
drew to a halt in front of her. "The sight of your uniform is like a
rainbow. It signifies hope."

"Hope?" he smiled. "Hope of what?"

"Hope that you are here to protect a lone and defenceless wayfarer from
danger," she answered him. "My teamster alarms me with the news that
there is a notorious highwayman prowling around in these parts.
Naturally the presence of a member of the Mounted Police is reassuring."
She glanced at the stripes on his arm. "Won't you dismount, Sergeant?"
she asked.

Sergeant Silk slipped from his saddle.

"I'm glad to know that you have been warned," he said. "I can't deny
that the warning is reasonable. As a matter of fact, we are at present
hunting for that same highwayman."

"I hope you will catch him," the girl urged. "One hardly expects to be
troubled by such characters in peaceful, law-abiding Alberta. I hope
sincerely that he will be arrested. Do you think he will be, Sergeant?
Shall I be safe, camping here?"

"You need not be afraid," Silk assured her. "Whatever else happens,
Nick-By-Night shall not be allowed to interrupt your sketching tour."

The girl looked at him in amused wonder.

"My sketching tour?" she repeated. "You have not taken long to discover
that I am an artist."

"The fact is obvious," he rejoined quickly, indicating the canvas that
she held in her left hand. Its back was towards him, and he could not
see what she had painted; but he added at a venture: "You made a picture
of Minnewanka Mountain this morning."

"How do you know?" she asked in surprise. "Were you there? Did you see
me at work?" She turned the canvas and held it for his inspection. "It
is only a rough sketch," she explained. "I haven't come out West on a
sketching tour. It is only my amusement. I am on my way to pay a
surprise visit to my brother on his ranch at Mosquito Crossing. I am
going to live with him, I hope, and help him with housekeeping. Perhaps
you know him?"

Sergeant Silk had glanced aside at a packing-case that lay on the grass
near one of the wheels of the wagon. She saw that he was reading what
was written on the address label: "Miss K. Grey, Mosquito Crossing, Red
Deer River, Alberta."

An expression of perplexity came upon his face.

"I did not know that any one of the name of Grey had a ranch near
Mosquito Crossing," he said. "There was Andrew Grey, who ran a fruit
farm near Medicine Hat; but he was too old to be a brother of yours, and
besides----"

He broke off.

"My brother's name is Jim," Miss Grey explained.

"When did you last hear from him?" Silk inquired.

"Oh, months and months ago--six months, at least. It is because he
hasn't written to me that I have come out to take him by surprise."

"I see," Silk nodded. "But many changes may happen in six months. I
guess you had better have announced your intention. He might then have
met you and saved you some trouble. Surprise visits aren't any more
successful in Alberta than anywhere else. They're a mistake."

The fair-haired girl stared at him in alarm.

"Do you mean that something has happened to Jim?" she cried. "Do you
mean that I shall not find him--that he has gone away--or that he is
dead?"

Sergeant Silk shook his head.

"I did not say so," he responded. "I do not happen to know him, that is
all that I can tell you. But, you see, there are many people in the
Province of Alberta whom I do not know. Your brother is just one of
them. Nevertheless, I hope I may find him for you."

"You are very kind to trouble about me," the girl told him. "I've no
doubt you will find Jim, if any one can. For the present, however, I am
more concerned about my personal safety from those highwaymen. You see,
Sergeant, I haven't even a pistol to defend myself with."

Sergeant Silk took out a cigarette as he said--

"The situation would only be awkward if Nick-By-Night chanced to come
along this trail and discover your outfit. It certainly wouldn't be nice
if he were to take a fancy to your mules and leave you stranded in a
lonesome place like this. But, I repeat, you need not be afraid."

He lighted his cigarette, raised his hand to a half-salute, and strode
up to his broncho, while Miss Grey climbed the steps at the rear of the
wagon with her easel and picture.

Silk looked down upon the dusty trail where the marks of his mare's
hoofs showed amid the smaller footprints of the four mules.

"Guess we'd be wise not to disturb that track, Beauty," he decided,
speaking to the mare as if she were a human.

Without giving any explanation to the girl, without even telling her
that he was leaving her, he leapt into his saddle and rode down to the
stream where the two wagon men were watering the mules. He spoke to the
older of them, bidding him keep a big fire burning and to see that the
mules were well secured. Then he entered the shallow stream and followed
its current to a point near to where he had left his two companions,
when he whistled to them and signed to them to come down to him.

"It's all right, Percy, my boy," he announced as they joined him. "I
have interviewed the owner of the innocent hair-pin and seen her picture
of Minnewanka Peak. It's great! I find she is some scared about
Nick-By-Night. She's got some fixings that would be worth his stealing,
and--well, if you two chaps see no objection, I figure we may as well
hang around hereabout until morning."

"Joining Miss Hair-pin's encampment?" questioned Percy.

"Not exactly," Silk answered, "but keeping an eye on it from ambush."

"Why did you come back along the bed of the stream?" Percy wanted to
know. "Why did you bring us off the trail?"

"Just a whim of mine," smiled the sergeant. "I didn't want to make a
return track. I wanted you two to leave the hoof-marks of two horses
leading off the trail. There'll be a full moon to-night, and if any
one--any bandit or highwayman--should follow on our traces, he'll think
just what I mean him to think, that two of us have gone off on a side
track, leaving the wagon unprotected."

"Say, you wouldn't take such elaborate precautions if you didn't suspect
that something was goin' to happen," declared Percy. "But, of course,
you couldn't well leave a mere girl in such a situation."

"That is what I thought," said Silk. "We will lie in our blankets within
close call."

He led his companions back on the far side of the stream, and they took
up a position, well concealed, between the water and Miss Grey's camp
fire, hobbling their horses beside them. They had food in their
haversacks, and when they had taken supper the sergeant claimed first
turn for a sleep.

At midnight he was on watch alone, sitting with his back against a
tree-trunk and his carbine across his knees, while Medlicott and Rapson
rested. The moon was shining brightly, making everything almost as clear
as in daylight. All was quiet excepting for the occasional movement of
one of the horses, the croaking of bull frogs, and the harsh chirping of
night insects. Suddenly a new sound fell upon his ear. He put forth his
hand and touched Trooper Medlicott.

"You awake, Bob?"

"I am listening," whispered Medlicott. "There's two of 'em. They're
coming this way on the trail of the wagon. They've passed the place
where we forked off."

"Maybe they're a couple of our own boys," said Silk. "But whoever they
are, they'll sure pull up near the camp fire to nose around. Follow me
up. Bring Rapson; but keep him well in the rear. There's the deerhound
barking!"

He tightened the cinches of his saddle, and, mounting, rode up very
cautiously towards the fire. His overcoat covered his red tunic, and the
two teamsters, who were awake and on their feet, neither saw nor heard
him as he moved stealthily among the black shadows of the trees
bordering the trail between the wagon and the approaching horsemen.

Nearer and nearer they came. For a long time Silk listened to the sound
of their horses' hoofs, watching for them to cross into a wide stretch
of moonlit grass. Trooper Medlicott was now close behind him. Percy
Rapson was far back.

"Here they come!" whispered Sergeant Silk. "Be ready to give chase.
They're both masked."

He rode boldly out to meet them, halting in the middle of the trail and
raising his carbine.

"Who goes?" he cried. "Pull up, or I fire!"

The two masked riders dragged their horses round and made off by the way
they had come. They were in the full light. Silk fired two shots in
quick succession. One of the horses staggered, went down on its knees,
and rolled over. The other dashed on. Silk fired again, then put spurs
to his broncho and rode off in pursuit, with Medlicott following.

"Look to the one that's fallen!" he cried.

Percy Rapson rode out also, to help Medlicott. The man who had been
thrown had broken a leg and could not move. Medlicott quickly disarmed
him and left him in charge of Percy, who stood over him until the two
policemen returned with their captive riding between them.

"This chap's plug is done for, Sergeant," Percy reported.

"I'm sorry for that," Silk regretted. "Help him to mount yours and lead
him to the wagon. I must see to that broken leg of his. We shall stop
here until daybreak."

Their two prisoners were led into the circle of light made by the camp
fire. The one with the broken limb was put to lie on a blanket until he
could be properly attended to. The other was secured against escape by
means of a trail rope, which was bound about his wrists and ankles.
Percy Rapson watched this operation with interest, admiring the skill
with which Sergeant Silk tied the knots and combined absolute security
with freedom to move. It was not until the last knot was tied that the
man's mask was removed.

"That's him, sure enough!" declared Percy when the outlaw's face was
revealed. "That's the chap who tried to swindle you, Sergeant--Nick
Cutler--Nick-By-Night!"

The prisoner was writhing curiously, bending forward, and staring
towards the wagon. Sergeant Silk turned to see what he was looking at so
intently, and beheld Miss Grey standing in the firelight, wrapped about
in a rich fur coat.

"I am sorry to have disturbed you," Silk said to her apologetically.
"But, you see, we have caught your highwayman. Say, you had better get
back into the wagon and finish your sleep."

She did not seem to hear him. Her eyes were fixed in blank amazement
upon his prisoner's face. Silk moved aside and she made a step forward,
pointing a trembling hand at the man writhing in his ropes.

"Jim!" she cried. "Jim!"

The captured outlaw drew back as if from a blow.

"Kitty!" he faltered. "Kitty! You--_here?_"

The girl waved her hand to dismiss him from her sight, then turned to
the tall soldier policeman who stood near her, betraying no surprise at
the strange recognition.

"It's all right, Sergeant," she murmured brokenly. "You have found my
brother for me, as you said you would."



CHAPTER VII

LOCOMOTIVE 99


The millionaire was seated close to the open window of the luxurious
Pullman car that waited in Macleod Station. He was looking across the
platform at a tall man in a red tunic.

"Fine, handsome chaps, these North-West Mounted Police," he remarked to
his fellow-passenger. "Look, Colonel, look at that one on the platform!
Quite a picture of soldierly bearing; fit to be an officer in the Guards
so far as outward appearance goes! Just a trifle too tidy, perhaps; too
consciously elegant; too much as if he were intended as an ornament
rather than for serious active service. There's not a crease or a flaw
in his scarlet tunic, see! Hat set on at the right angle, not a strap
out of place or a button that doesn't shine enough to dazzle your eyes.
Even the way he carries his overcoat and holds his carbine in the crook
of his arm makes one think he'd studied the effect in front of a
looking-glass. Indeed, the only departure from military precision that I
can detect is his wearing his chin-strap at the back of his head instead
of in the regulation manner."

There was no response to these criticisms, and the millionaire went on
after taking one or two puffs at his very large cigar--

"Do you suppose, now, Colonel, that he could do any serious business
with that service revolver of his? You'd think by the cartridges in his
bandolier that it was intended for use. And do you suppose that a dandy
such as he is could do any real good in a scrimmage?"

The passenger on the other side of the dining-table sipped at his cup of
black coffee.

"I don't only suppose, Sir George," he answered slowly, glancing out
through the open window. "I happen to know. The man you're looking at
isn't always dressed as if he had just come out of a bandbox to parade
his elegance and his good figure on a railroad platform. I have seen him
looking very different, riding out on the lone patrol. If he is clean
and tidy now, it is because he hates slovenliness of any kind, and,
perhaps, too, because he likes to hide the fact that the one purpose of
his existence is to do his duty with efficiency. You ask if he could do
any serious business with his revolver. My dear Sir George, that chap is
considered the best shot in all Canada. He is that, just as surely as he
is the best all-round scout, the best rider, and the bravest man in the
Dominion. I could tell you a lot about him, but I see by the twinkle in
his eye that he knows we are talking of him, and he hates to be noticed.
Ah, he's coming this way."

Sir George produced his box of cigars as the soldier policeman strode
across the platform towards the waiting cars. The Colonel rose from his
seat and leant his elbows on the frame of the window.

"How d'you do, Sergeant Silk?" he said in greeting, extending his hand.
"Say, it seems queer to see you on foot and not in the saddle. You're
off duty, I suppose?"

"No, Colonel," returned Silk, "not exactly. My broncho is in the horse
box at the rear. I'm going on by this train."

"Have a cigar, Sergeant," urged Sir George.

Silk took one, biting off the end with his sharp, even teeth, as cleanly
as if he had cut it with a knife.

"Won't you come in along with us?" the millionaire invited.

Silk shook his head.

"No, thank you, sir. I go third-class, and I may have to jump off
between stations." He glanced at the Colonel. "I'm going west to see if
I can find out something of the affair that happened along the line last
night," he explained. "Perhaps you heard of it? No? Well, you see, the
7.42 was held up by a gang of train robbers, who managed to board her
while she was side-tracked, waiting for the limited express to pass. The
engine-driver was killed in the scuffle, and the conductor was badly
hurt. I'm going as far as Hill Crest to have a word with the conductor,
if he is well enough to be examined."

"It is to be hoped there's no danger of those train thieves paying us a
visit to-night," said the millionaire anxiously. "I should hardly have
expected to meet such gentry in Canada."

Sergeant Silk shook his head and smiled as he struck a match to light
his cigar.

"They were caught, sir," he said, enjoying the aroma. "We happened--my
broncho and I--to drop on them as they were escaping with the swag; and
they are here in Macleod, safe under lock and key."

"What?" exclaimed the millionaire. "A gang of armed desperadoes, you
say, caught--arrested--by you and your horse alone?"

Silk dropped the extinguished match and carefully trod it under foot.
Experienced prairie rider as he was, he was always cautious about fire.

"You've got to allow something for my being in uniform," he smiled.
"Law-breakers out here have a wholesome dread of the Mounted Police."

Touching the wide brim of his hat with a forefinger, he turned away,
striding along the platform with a military clink of spurs.

He went towards the front of the waiting train, where the engine had
just been coupled and was being oiled up for the run along the branch
line from Macleod to Crow's Nest Pass. The district superintendent stood
by and was reprimanding the engine-driver, who had evidently been making
some complaint about his job.

"What's the matter with you that you register for rest?" the
superintendent wanted to know. "You know we're short handed, Ted
Chennell bein' killed. You've got ter take Ted's place. You've only been
at work twenty hours. There's Tom Morden has been on his engine
twenty-eight hours, and Tom ain't askin' for rest yet. Say, some of you
fellows ought to get a job clerkin' in a drug store. This yer train's
got to go. You're the only available man to take her, and that's
straight."

Sergeant Silk puffed for a few moments at his cigar before speaking.

"Seems to me, Mr. Garside," he remarked casually, "that Halkett and his
engine are about on a par. They're both promising candidates for
hospital."

The superintendent looked round at him in surprise, resenting his
interference.

"What's the matter with the engine?" he snapped. "Ain't she good enough?
What's wrong with her? I allow you knows a lot about hosses, Sergeant.
Thar's not many men in the Prairie Provinces knows as much. But come to
locomotive engines, all that you know wouldn't take up much room on a
news-sheet. I reckon I can give you points and get in front of you every
time. What's the matter with 99, anyhow? You ain't overhauled her."

Sergeant Silk shifted his carbine to his other arm.

"I happen to have had a look at her this morning when she was lying in
the siding," he responded lightly, regarding number 99 as if she were a
horse, "and with all deference to your greater experience, Mr. Garside,
I'd say that, like Halkett, she is suffering from overwork. She wants
rest. She's needing a tonic. She ought to be put out to grass. Her truck
centre castings are weak; her driving wheel tyres have grooves in them
half-an-inch deep; the coupling pin of the tender is worn loose; she
wants a new throttle latch-spring, and some of her tubes are leaky.
She's wheezing now as if she had congestion of the lungs. Dare say she'd
do credit drawing freight wagons; but for passenger cars--well, it's
your business, not mine."

Mr. Garside stood with his feet apart and his hands on his hips,
critically watching Sergeant Silk through the narrowed slits of his
watery eyes.

"If you know such an almighty lot about locomotives, Sergeant," he said,
"and if you calculate as Joe Halkett ain't fit and capable to manage his
own business, pr'aps you'll condescend to take the train along yourself.
She's scheduled to start in three minutes from now, and there's no time
to change either engine or driver, see?"

Sergeant Silk looked at the superintendent sharply.

"Are you serious?" he questioned. "Do you really mean it?"

"Sure!" nodded the superintendent. "I allow there's some truth in what
you say. She ain't just in the best of health, and there's room in the
cab if you'll take charge. You can at least keep an eye on that throttle
latch-spring, and keep Joe from droppin' asleep so as he don't run past
the switches when the limited is comin' along behind."

Silk glanced upward into the cab, where Joe Halkett stood awaiting the
signal to start.

Joe was looking exceedingly green and ill. He was a tallish fellow, wiry
and muscular, with a hard face, dark hair, and sharp, peery eyes. He was
reputed to be one of the best drivers in the Canadian Pacific Railway
service; it was said that he could manage a cranky engine better than
any other engineer west of Winnipeg. But Silk had already noticed that
there was something queer about his manner this evening. There was a
curious light in his peery eyes and a curious look on his face that did
not inspire confidence.

In spite of the roar made by the steam escaping from the safety valve,
Joe had heard the superintendent's suggestion that the soldier policeman
should ride in the cab, and he signed beckoningly with a backward toss
of his head while Silk hesitated.

"You may as well come along, Sergeant," he pleaded. "I tell you
straight, I ain't fit fer duty to-night, and I'd sooner take on any
other trip than this one to Crow's Nest. It ain't my reg'lar line, and
I'm some scared. I'm all of a tremble. I'd oughter be home in bed. Ask
Dick if I oughtn't."

Dick, his fireman, paused in his work of shovelling coal into the
fire-box.

"This yer train ain't anyways safe, Joe drivin'," he said, as the
superintendent turned on his heel and strode back towards the rear of
the train. "Dunno what's come over him."

Sergeant Silk needed no urging. He caught at the rail, mounted the
footplate, and swung himself into the cab.



CHAPTER VIII

THREE MOOSE CROSSING


"All right, Joe," he said soothingly, putting on his overcoat to shield
his tunic from grease and coal. "Just you do the best you can, and don't
worry. I guess you'll feel well enough once you're started. There goes
your signal!"

With a loud clang of the engine bell the train moved out of the station,
slowly at first, but gathering speed as it left the little town with its
flour mills and grain elevators behind.

Silk seated himself on the box and continued smoking his cigar. He was
not long in discovering that his judgment of the locomotive had been
accurate. She was certainly cranky. Her rods moved jerkily, and there
was a constant rattling of loose bolts. The wheel tyres were so badly
ground down in parts by the use of brakes that you might almost have
believed that she had square wheels. With every revolution as the flat
spots hit the metals, she dropped with a noisy thud, and then when she
went over them she would raise herself bodily again, while the tender
rammed her so spitefully that the worn coupling bolts were strained
almost to breaking-point.

"Say, Joe," said the sergeant, "this is about as comfortable as riding a
bucking broncho. How long have your wheels been like this?"

Joe Halkett looked round at him blankly, stupidly, and answered in a
mazed way--

"Ever since last winter. They was ground down wrestlin' with the
snow-plough in Crow's Nest Pass."

Silk glanced at the gauge.

"You're not getting much speed out of her," he said, "considering the
amount of steam you're using."

"She's just obstinate," said Joe. "Obstinate an' wilful. You can't coax
her nohow. I'm sick and tired of tinkerin' with her."

"She's wuss to-night than usual," declared Dick. "Reckon it's that
heavy private car as takes it out of her. We've got all we c'n do ter
fetch Three Moose siding 'fore the limited hustles along."

It was not a stopping train and it was only necessary to watch that the
signals were shown for clear at the few stations that came at infrequent
intervals along the line.

Joe Halkett appeared to be working very well. He had got the train
adjusted to its gait, and the cars were thumping over the frogs and
switches at a reasonable pace, labouring, panting, and grunting when
mounting a steep gradient, but settling down again when there was a
stretch of good running ground ahead. It was mostly cultivated prairie
land, but now and again the track was through gloomy pine forests or
deep mountain defiles.

Dusk had already deepened into darkness when they were rattling along
the track across the Piegan Indian Reservation, and Halkett had somehow
worked up his engine to such easy going that Sergeant Silk began to
believe that he had exaggerated the disabilities of both locomotive and
engineer, and that he might just as well have been enjoying the greater
comfort of one of the passenger cars, or been seated luxuriously in the
private Pullman spinning yarns with the Colonel and Sir George.

In the darkness Silk did not perceive the change that had come upon
Halkett's face. It was only when Joe chanced to lean over into the light
from the open fire-box that he saw the look of terror that had come into
it. It was a look like that of a man who had got some terrible secret on
his soul and was driven half mad by it.

"Joe? What's the matter?" Silk cried, starting to his feet. He glanced
round at the fireman.

Dick had just come back from the water tank.

"Say, Sergeant," he gasped, "the water's runnin' low, an' we've passed
the plug. We've got ter go back!"

Silk was alarmed. He knew well that one of the important things for an
engine-driver to do is to figure out at what plugs he can fill his tank
most advantageously, and that it is a high crime to run short of water.

"Are you certain sure we've passed it?" he asked sharply. He had leapt
to the lever to stop the train, and whistle for brakes.

The fireman nodded.

"Yes," he answered. "We've got ter push back. It's a good three mile."

"But we can't push back," Silk protested. "There's not time, and we
shall not have enough steam. There's the limited express to think of.
How far on is the next water plug?"

"'Bout the same distance," Dick told him. "We're half ways between."

"Then we'll pull ahead," decided the sergeant.

"She'll bust, sure, if we do," declared Joe Halkett, rousing himself to
a realisation of the situation. "Thar' ain't enough power ter carry her
through, draggin' such a weight, and, say, thar's no switch near hand,
where we kin side-track ter let the limited run past."

The train had stopped. Sergeant Silk stood still, hardly daring to take
the responsibility. But even in the matter of managing an engine he
proved himself to be a person of ready resource. He whistled for the
conductor.

"Jump down and cut the engine loose, Dick," he ordered. And without
questioning the motive, Dick obeyed.

By the time that the engine and tender had been uncoupled from the
foremost car, the guard had come through the corridors from the brake
van to know what had happened.

"All right; don't alarm the passengers," cried Silk. "We're short of
water. We've run past the plug. I'm going on with the engine alone to
the next plug to get some. Climb up to the roof of the head car with a
lamp and signal us back, see?"

Leaving the conductor to guess how it chanced that the locomotive was
in charge of a sergeant of police, he opened the throttle valve and
started off along the line at the highest speed that he could get out of
the cranky old kettle, arriving at the hydrant with an empty tank and a
dangerously exhausted boiler.

Halkett and Dick helped him, and almost before the tank was filled they
had started on the back journey. Many precious minutes had been lost,
but the engine had returned to the waiting train with a quarter of an
hour to spare in which to reach Three Moose siding and get out of the
way of the express.

"D'you reckon we can do it, Joe?" Silk asked with a quick glance at the
engineer.

Halkett had abandoned his duty. He sat on a corner of the tool-box and
was staring about him like a man in a fever, with a sort of wild gleam
in his eyes, as if some mortal terror had taken hold of him and was
tormenting him. He held a long-spouted oilcan in his hand, and the oil
was dripping to his feet.

"Can we do it?" Silk repeated. And looking at Joe more attentively he
began to realise that the man's strange agitation of mind was due to
something quite apart from the danger of being run into by the express.

"We can't get to the switch on time," Joe roused himself to say in a
voice that was hoarse and unnatural. "You c'n try as you like; but,
clever as you are, you'll never get this yer engine to pass Three Moose
Crossing. Thar's blood on the track, see? The place is haunted--haunted
by the ghost of a dead man."

"He's sure mad, now," muttered Dick. "Say, Sergeant, you'd best leave
him and take charge. We might git inter the siding if we start right
now."

Sergeant Silk snatched the oilcan from Joe Halkett's grip and handed it
to the fireman.

"Look here, Dick," he commanded, "take this can and run back to the tail
of the train and grease the metals. Oil first one rail and then the
other. D'you understand? It's our only chance. Let the oil run about a
car's length on the top of each rail, and come back again quick as you
can."

Before Dick returned, panting and perspiring, with the empty can, Silk
was ready to start, with his hand on the throttle valve. He blew the
whistle, and with a snort, a grunt, and a noisy rattle, the engine moved
on, now wholly under the sergeant's control.

"It's no use," Joe Halkett muttered with an insane laugh. "She'll never
go past that crossin'."

"What do you mean?" Silk demanded. "Three Moose Crossing?" he repeated.
And then, as if suddenly recollecting something, he looked down at Joe's
face in the light from the fire-box; looked at it searchingly,
wonderingly. "What do you know about Three Moose Crossing?" he asked
with curious directness. "You were not on your engine that night--the
night that Steve Bagshott was killed. What has it got to do with you?"

Halkett laughed--a ghastly, hollow laugh--then dropped into silence,
while Silk forced the engine to fuller speed. But as the train dashed
through the darkness, Halkett became more and more excited.

"The ghost'll be there, sure!" he repeated again and again.

"Well, and if it is," returned Silk, with his eye watchfully on the
gauge, "I don't care for any of your ghosts. I don't care if there's a
hundred of them so long as this train goes safe."

"But it can't go safe," cried Halkett, rising to his feet and laying a
trembling hand on the sergeant's arm.

The train was covering the miles at terrific speed now as it went down
the gradient. But it was not the speed that made Halkett shake like a
reed and drove the blood from his cheeks.

"Sergeant," he said in a thick whisper as he clutched more tightly at
Silk's arm, "that man who was run over--Steve Bagshott--wasn't killed by
accident."

"What do you mean?" Silk cried. "What has come over you to-night?"

Joe bent his face forward. His hot breath was on the sergeant's cheek.

"He wasn't killed by accident," he repeated hoarsely. "He was murdered!
That's why he haunts the crossing. He can't rest."

"Murdered?"

"Yes," Joe nodded grimly. Then, loosening his grip, he went to the side
of the cab and peered forward into the darkness. "We're gettin' near,"
he muttered. "We're gettin' near the place, but we can't go on. She
can't go safe over the crossing to-night."

Sergeant Silk blew the whistle, asking for a signal. He did not know
that he was still many miles from the siding. He turned to speak to the
fireman, who was at work among the coals. When he looked back again, Joe
Halkett had slipped forward and had raised his hand to shut off steam.

"Stop!" shouted Silk, seizing his arm. "Do you think you can play with
this train? She's going on, and at the same speed, until I get a signal,
though there were a score of haunted crossings in the way. Stand back!"

He thrust the man aside. But Joe renewed his grip. His hard face was
working with terror and his eyes were starting out of his head.

"I murdered him!" he panted. And by the light of the fireman's lamp
Silk could see great beads of agony on his forehead. He went on jerkily,
his voice rising sharp and wild as he told his fearful story of a brutal
vengeance.

But Sergeant Silk flung him aside, not heeding him, thinking only that
the fate of the racing train and the lives of scores of human beings
depended upon what happened in the next few minutes.

"I dragged him to the crossing," Joe went on. "I laid him across the
line. There was a train due in three minutes. This train--this engine.
They thought it was accident. You--_you_--thought so, too. But it
wasn't. I did it--I!"

His voice rose to a shriek. Then he crept to Silk's side.

"Sergeant, there's death ahead and death behind," he cried, and with a
leap forward he seized the lever.

"Let go!" Silk shouted, flinging him backward among the coals. "Lay hold
of him, Dick," he ordered. "The express must be coming on behind. But
that oil has delayed her, sure."

Once again he whistled for a signal, and this time one came, telling
him that the switch was open. He slowed down cautiously. He had passed
the crossing, and now with a sudden turn from the straight track, the
engine panted into the siding, safe from all possible harm.

"Oh, stopping again, are we?" said the millionaire in the private car.
"We've run short of water again, I suppose. I wonder that your railway
companies don't introduce those water troughs on the permanent way, such
as we have in England."

"We do, on some lines," returned the Colonel. "But I don't fancy it's
water this time. Listen! Yes, I thought so. We've gone into a side track
to let the limited express go past. Dear me, she must have been
exceedingly close on our heels! But our engine-driver--a man named
Halkett, is a magnificent fellow. Quite the best driver on the line, I
believe."

When the express had rushed by, he lowered the window and looked out.
Some one was walking along the line towards the rear of the train.

"I say, there!" the Colonel called out. "Are we going to stop here very
long?"

"No, Colonel; no!" came the answer. "We're changing engines, that's all.
I'm going along to have a word with my mare. I reckon she's missing me."

"Oh, it's you, Silk, is it?" laughed the Colonel. "I didn't know you
with your overcoat on. Won't you come in along with us here? Sir George
is anxious to have a yarn with you, and I'm sure you'll be more
comfortable here than in that third-class."

"Thank you, Colonel," returned Silk, "but I've changed my plans. I've
got to go back to Macleod with a man who is rather ill. Good-night!"

He said nothing of who the man was, and no one on the train knew then
or even afterwards anything of the danger that they had escaped. But
that was Sergeant Silk's way.



CHAPTER IX

RED DERRICK


If there was one thing more than another that Percy Rapson and Dan
Medlicott coveted, it was an opportunity to accompany Sergeant Silk on
one of his police expeditions on the Rattlesnake patrol. But such an
opportunity came very seldom, and it was quite an exceptional
circumstance that Dan happened to be able to make himself of use on the
occasion when Red Derrick was captured in White Wolf Gulch.

The way it all happened was this--

Two men were riding along the trail, one on a piebald broncho, the
other on a black mustang. They were on their way to the meeting place
appointed by their leader, Red Derrick. Everything had been well
planned, but they were not fully certain that they were safe, and they
were both nervously anxious. As they came out from the gloom of a pine
forest into the open, the man on the piebald broncho looked searchingly
into the night darkness over his left shoulder. Then he shifted his grip
on the reins and glanced uneasily at his companion.

"Say, Bill," he inquired, "you plumb sure as we ain't bein' follered?"

Bill Allison's hand went as by instinct to his revolver.

"Follered, Hen?" he questioned, looking around and listening. "Did you
see anythin'?--hear anythin'?"

"Well," returned Hen, "I just notioned a while ago as I caught the clip
of a horse's hoof agin a stone, way back thar. Might ha' bin a' echo.
Dessay it was."

"Couldn't ha' bin anythin' else," Bill assured him. "Thar's no Injuns
messin' around. Th' Mounted P'lice is busy somewhere else. Nobody knows
where we are, or where we're goin'--nobody, 'cept Red Derrick hisself.
No, pard, we ain't bein' follered. Guess you're right 'bout its bein' a'
echo."

He jabbed his pony's flank with a spurred heel and the two broke into a
quicker pace. For a couple of miles or so they continued riding side by
side, along the indistinct trail, neither speaking. But within the gloom
of a dark, wooded bluff they slowed down, turned abruptly from the
beaten track, and pursued their way quietly, stealthily, in single file,
through the long grass, descending into the hollow of a secluded coulee,
where they came to a halt.

"Jim said as he'd show a light," said Bill. "Watch for it over yonder.
D'ye make out the old shack?"

He pointed across the coulee to a small log hut, so overgrown with
tangled creepers that in the darkness it could hardly be distinguished
from the surrounding bush.

Hen Faxon nodded.

"Queer sort of a crib ter bring us to," he observed, preparing to
dismount. "Makes a fellow feel some scared. Why couldn't Jim ha' done
the business when he was along east yesterday?"

Bill gave a sneering little laugh.

"Pr'aps you've an idea as he'd bin wiser ter discuss the biz in the
public saloon at Hickory Crossing, with a crowd of ranchers an'
cowpunchers, and maybe one of the Mounted P'lice fer audience?" he
suggested. "But Jim Derrick ain't that sort. He ain't no novice
tenderfoot ter let any trampoosin' stranger know what cards he holds.
And I reckon he holds a straight flush this game, see?"

"Um!" muttered Hen.

The two men dismounted and hobbled their ponies.

"We'll wait here till he gives a sign," said Bill, taking out his pipe.

They lay in the grass, smoking, with their eyes directed towards the
dark shape of the dilapidated, deserted log cabin, which was their
appointed meeting-place. After a long time of waiting, Bill Allison's
broncho threw up its head and stood alert with twitching ears.

"Reckon Jim's thar now," decided Bill. "Yes, he's strikin' a light,
see! Leave the ponies where they are."

He stood up and led the way across the coulee. Red Derrick met them at
the ruined doorway.

"Yo're punctual, boys," he said. "Thought I heard you comin' t'other
way. Everythin' all right?"

"Yep," Bill answered, following within the hut to where Derrick's
lighted candle burnt in the neck of a bottle among the rank weeds that
grew about the broken hearthstone.

"Sure?"

Bill nodded emphatically.

"It's all serene," he answered. "Nobody seen us start, and we ain't set
eyes on a livin' human all along the trail."

"Good," said Derrick. "Y'see, I was some afraid as that all-fired,
double-barrelled detective, Sergeant Silk, might ha' gotten wind of
suthin'. Thar ain't a whole lot as he don't ferret out somehow. Say, he
ain't been spyin' around any, has he?"

"Haven't seen him for weeks," reported Hen Faxon.

"Reckon he's gone off on another patrol," said Bill. "Anyhow, he ain't
liable t' ha' gotten wind of this yer game we're startin' on, and that's
sure."

"Then we're safe ter pull it off," declared Red Derrick, "and we kin lay
our plans right now. But first, I suspicion you two boys is some dry,
eh? Say, thar's suthin' in the shape of liquid refreshment here."

He opened his haversack and produced a bottle and a tin pannikin, and
each of the three took a long drink in his turn. One of the fallen roof
timbers served as a seat for Derrick and Allison. Hen Faxon seated
himself on the earthen floor, with his back against one of the upright
logs of the wall.

As he did so he was half-conscious of a rustling movement at the other
side of the timber against which he leant. He drew himself forward an
inch or two and looked round.

"Guess thar's a lynx or a fox or some sich critter sniffin' around
outside," he muttered. He put his ear to a gap in the wall and listened.
"Dessay it was only my fancy," he decided. "I'm some scared to-night.
Allus am when thar's a risky job on hand. Give us another drink, Jim."

The sound which had disturbed him was not repeated, and his two
companions paid no regard to his remark. Even if he had been correct in
his surmise as to the cause of the rustling movement, there would be no
possible danger in the circumstance of a fox or a lynx or any other
species of wild creature sniffing around.

Nevertheless, Hen Faxon's sharp hearing had not altogether deceived him,
and had his eyesight been as keen--had he put an eye instead of an ear
to the open seam between the pine logs at his back--he might even in the
darkness have discovered that the actual intruder was much more
formidable and dangerous than was any prowling four-footed beast.

"Well, boys," began Red Derrick, pulling vigorously at his pipe. "I
figure thar's no p'ticler need fer me ter say a whole lot. You've both
of you got as much savee as I have how the thing's got ter be pulled
off, and it's up to us ter pull it off successful. Y'see that thar stage
coach is bound ter keep schedule time. Alf Bulger'll see to it. Alf's
our trump card. He'll join on and take charge of the stage, as per
usual, at Soldier's Knee, drivin' his team clean into our arms, so ter
speak. He'll be due along the Rattlesnake section an hour before
sundown. Just when it's gettin' tolerable dark, he'll enter White Wolf
Gulch. That's our point, see? That's whar we're shapin' ter hold him up
and collar the boodle."

"Say, thar ain't no doubt 'bout that boodle bein' on board, is there?"
Hen Faxon leant forward to inquire.

Red Derrick looked at him severely across the flickering candle-light.

"Not a ghost of a doubt," he said. "Not a shadder. That's the one thing
more sartin than anythin' else in the whole biz. Fifty thousand dollars'
worth. That's the value, 'cordin' ter Alf, and I reckon Alf should know,
him bein' stage driver and in the company's confidence. And say, boys,
you've got ter see as Alf don't get scratched."

"Any passengers?" inquired Bill Allison.

Derrick shrugged his broad shoulders.

"What odds if thar is?" he retorted. "We kin deal with 'em, sure--three
of us, droppin' on 'em unawares, and Alf helpin' us. Nat'rally thar'll
be the messenger in charge of the boodle," he explained, "some
quill-drivin', white-collared bank clerk from Ottawa. Don't figure as he
need count for a lot. He ain't liable ter be anyways handy with a gun;
and Tom Mason'll see as the skunk's shooter is empty. Soon as Alf enters
the gulch, drivin' slow, he'll give us the signal. He'll crack his whip
ter let us know as everythin's serene. Then the fun'll begin."

"We got ter fire in the air, then?" questioned Bill Allison. "We got ter
do nothin' but fill the atmosphere with yells an' smoke? Seems easy!"

"The more noise we makes the better," returned Red Derrick. "But we've
got ter do more'n make a clatter. Y'see, Alf Bulger c'n hardly make out
as he's been held up by a gang of desperate road agents if we don't give
him the evidence of a considerable pepperin' of bullet holes in the
panels of his coach. As fer Mister Bank-clerk, if he shows fight--well,
you kin leave him t' me. Savvy? Him and any other passengers, while you
two make off with the swag."

His two confederates signified their understanding of the bold scheme by
which the stage coach was to be held up and robbed: and they had now
only to discuss the details of their plan of attack.

While they discussed, they proceeded to empty the bottle of what Derrick
had called liquid refreshment, and it was perhaps because of his anxiety
to secure his full share of the drink that Hen Faxon failed to detect a
repetition of the faint rustling sound outside the hut which had
previously caught his attention. It is more probable, however, that the
movement was so slight that even if he had been listening for it he
could not have known that it was anything more than the mere whispering
of the wind in the surrounding brush.

No Indian scout, skilled in the art of taking cover, could have
accomplished his purpose more silently than did the man who had
stealthily crawled up to the rear of the ruined shanty to watch and
listen.

Keeping still as a rock, lying at full length along the ground with an
eye at a knot-hole in one of the timbers, hardly breathing lest he
should betray his presence, he had heard every word that had been
spoken; and now, knowing that he could discover nothing further, he was
stealing away to make prompt use of his secret.

Very slowly, very silently, inch by inch, he crawled on hands and knees
through the tangled brushwood and rank grass, working his way up the
rising ground until he came to the edge of the coulee. Then he rose to
his feet, looked back to assure himself that he had not been seen, and
strode quickly but very cautiously through a belt of trees to where his
horse was waiting, watching him as he approached.

"Quiet!" he whispered as he drew near, and the animal seemed to
understand, for it made no movement, no slightest sound, but stood
rigidly still until the rider had swung himself into the saddle.

"Steady, girlie!" he muttered. "No need to hurry, just yet."

He unbuttoned his military coat and under its cover dexterously struck a
match on the milled edge of his watch. The tiny flame gleamed only for a
moment upon his scarlet tunic, but in that moment he had seen the dial
of his watch, with the fingers pointing to a quarter to eleven.

"Good!" he decided, as he seized the bridle rein. "We can take it easy,
and yet get to Rattlesnake Ranch before sunrise."



CHAPTER X

THE OUTSIDE PASSENGERS


"Stage comin' along, boys. Fifteen minutes inside of scheduled time."

The hotel at Soldier's Knee was thronged with ranchers and cowboys who
had come into the little settlement to attend the stock market.

Some of the men were gambling at the card-tables, some were drinking at
the bar, others stood in groups discussing the prospects of their crops
of fruit and corn or the work of the lumber camps, and the air of the
saloon was dense with pungent tobacco smoke and strong language. It was
one seated on the sill of the open window who reported the coming of the
mail.

"'Tain't often we sees sich a crowd of passengers this time of year," he
added.

"Passengers? A crowd?"

Alf Bulger emptied his glass, took up his long-lashed driving-whip, and
strode towards the door, looking more like a western cowboy than a
coach-driver, with his buckskin jacket and wide-rimmed hat, his leather
leggings, and his brace of formidable-looking revolvers. He was to take
charge of the express from Soldier's Knee east as far as Kananaskis, and
he was naturally personally interested in the announcement concerning
passengers.

"A crowd, eh?" he repeated in a tone of surprise.

Usually it did not greatly matter to him whether there were few
passengers or many, or, indeed, if there were none at all. The
Government mail-bags were his principal freight. Passengers were, as a
rule, a secondary consideration.

He silently watched the lumbering coach approaching along the trail in a
cloud of white dust, and he drew a deep breath of relief when he
discovered that what his neighbour had announced as a crowd resolved
itself into three individuals.

"Say, Alf," observed a young rancher at his elbow. "You'll need ter be
on your Sunday best behaviour this trip. I see one of your passengers is
a parson, and--yes, a female woman alongside of him. Guess she's his
daughter. I allow she's the one as leads off with the camp meetin'
hymns. A woman's voice fetches the boys every time. Wonder if they're
shapin' to hold a revival meetin' in Soldier's Knee while the team's
bein' changed!"

"Maybe they're figgerin' ter settle down right here," suggested Alf, his
wish being father to the thought. "Thar's a consid'rable stock of
all-round iniquity for 'em to work upon. What d'you make of the third
passenger? Kinder commercial traveller, by the cut of him, I'd say."

"Yep. Guess that's his mark. I've seen him before, along this trail.
Seen him a week ago, on the westbound stage. Comes from Ottawa."

"Ah!" nodded Alf Bulger with satisfaction. He, too, had seen the
passenger before and knew him to be the bank messenger whom he had
expected. "A nice, harmless, meek an' mild sort of chap. Looks as if he
didn't know a pistol from an infant's feedin' bottle."

When the coach came to a halt in front of the hotel, Bulger strode
forward to superintend the changing of the horses. While he did so he
paid curious regard to his three passengers.

The elderly gentleman in clerical attire and blue goggles appeared to be
sleepy or ill, or to be so well accustomed to travelling that the
arrival at a new stopping-place had no interest for him. His girl
companion was equally indifferent to her surroundings, excepting that
she leant forward on the rail of the driver's seat to inspect the new
team of horses.

As for the meek and mild young man at the rear, his attention was
divided between cleaning his eyes of dust and guarding the heavy box on
the seat beside him, as if he feared that it might mysteriously vanish
if he were so much as to lift his elbow from its iron-clamped lid.

"Say, misters," Bulger called up. "Thar's time fer you ter git down if
you wants suthin' t' eat. Thar's not many sich tip-top hotels along the
trail."

It was the girl who answered, without lifting the thick blue gauze veil
that hid her face.

"Thank you, driver," she said, "but we had refreshments at the last
stopping-place, and we've lots of sandwiches. What's the name of this
place?"

"Soldier's Knee, miss," answered Bulger.

"Dear me, what strange, outlandish names they do give to these
stations!" the girl remarked. "Why Soldier's Knee instead of elbow, or
ankle?"

Bulger shook his head and grinned.

"Dunno, missy," he responded. "Y'see, I warn't present at the
christenin'."

The meek and mild young man leant over and spoke to him.

"If it's no trouble, driver," he said, "I wish you would order a cup of
tea for me."

Bulger looked up at him with calculating curiosity, giving an eye at
the same time to the strong box.

"Guess you'd best jump down an' have it at the bar," he suggested. "That
yer dressin' case of yourn ain't got wings, I reckon. Still, if you'd
ruther take it in the open air, I'll oblige."

And so deciding he disappeared into the saloon.

The girl turned half round, speaking for the first time to the man
behind her.

"You are wise to keep your seat, stranger," she said softly.

He looked at her sharply, almost with suspicion.

"Why?" he questioned, glancing with even greater suspicion at her
strangely silent and morose companion with the blue goggles.

"Oh, I don't just know," she returned lightly. "I suppose you have your
orders not to let that box be out of your sight."

The young man went very red and was obviously confused.

"What do you know about the box?" he asked pointedly.

"Nothing but what I have observed," she replied. "It looks a kinder
ordinary box for carrying samples. But the canvas is worn at the corner,
and I can see an iron band. When the coach lurched, crossing the divide,
the box was so heavy that the seat creaked under its weight. Guess it
ain't likely to be packed with feathers. I've seen the address label,
too, and you wouldn't be takin' feathers to a bank in Ottawa. And,
again, you're carryin' a six-shooter. I caught sight of it when you
opened your coat to look at the time, a while back. Say, now, is it
loaded, that pistol of yours? I do hope it won't explode, and me sittin'
so near! But it ought to be loaded."

"Lucy!" Her companion in clerical attire spoke to her reprovingly.
"Don't be so inquisitive. What does it matter to you whether the
gentleman's pistol is loaded or not?"

"All right, dad," objected Lucy rather rudely. "Keep your hair on. It
would matter a heap if we was to be attacked by Indians or--or road
agents; and I should be a lot more comfortable if I knew it was loaded.
I'm not just sure that it is."

The young man behind her appeared suddenly to be anxious on the same
point, for he thrust his hand under the front of his coat and withdrew
it quickly, staring in blank amazement at the weapon that it held.

"You minx!" he cried to the girl accusingly. "This is some conjuring
trick of yours! This isn't my pistol at all. Mine was loaded--this is
empty!"

Very smartly, very calmly, the girl's clerical companion laid a firm
hand upon the weapon and took possession of it.

"Say nothing, Mr. Gaskell," he whispered. "I'll give it you back before
we start. Here's the driver with your cup of tea. Don't drink it, d'you
hear? It's liable to be drugged."

Alf Bulger climbed up by the wheel and handed Mr. Gaskell the steaming
cup of tea. Gaskell paid him for it, thanked him, and raised the cup to
his lips, alternately blowing into it and smelling at it, but not
drinking.

"I believe you're right, sir," he said in an undertone when the driver
had gone away, "but it beats me to know how you guessed it would be
drugged. Do you mind emptying it over the far side?"

"Shove it under the seat to cool," Lucy suggested. "Dad's sure to throw
it on somebody's head if he empties it. He's some absent-minded, see?"

During the further time of waiting, Gaskell was occupied in closely
watching his two travelling companions. He had already decided that
there was something very queer about them, and he was more than a little
suspicious.

The girl's voice, for one thing, had made him suspicious. It was more
like the voice of a boy than of a girl, and her back hair, although
hidden by the thick folds of her veil, seemed to be extraordinarily
short. As for the man beside her, whom she called her "dad," it was
difficult to make him out in any way, or to be sure of him.

In spite of his clerical attire, his long, grey beard, and his general
appearance of a respectable clergyman, it was yet possible to believe
that he was an impostor--a wolf in sheep's clothing, a disguised bandit,
who had boarded this coach with the secret purpose of taking forcible
possession of the treasure chest.

Looking at him very attentively, Gaskell became aware that the man's
eyes behind their blue spectacles were extraordinarily alert, that his
face was much younger than he had at first thought, and that his grey
beard contrasted rather strangely with the darkness of his hair.
Unquestionably he was disguised.

Gaskell became more and more nervous and desperately anxious for the
safety of the treasure that he was guarding.

What if this strong-handed stranger and his girl companion should turn
upon him and upon the driver in some lonely part of the trail, and,
overpowering them both, make off with the strong box?

The driver, it was true, was armed, but then this man and the girl
might also be prepared with weapons. And they might even have
accomplices waiting for them at an appointed spot.

What puzzled Gaskell was that the stranger knew his name, and had warned
him against drinking the tea, as if he were in some way anxious to
protect him. But the fact remained that he had taken possession of his
revolver.

Gaskell leant forward and touched his neighbour's arm. It was
exceedingly muscular.

"Kindly give me back my pistol," he requested.

To his surprise, the weapon was politely handed back to him, with the
remark--

"Why, cert'nly. You see, I have loaded it for you. You may need it later
on. Keep it handy. Don't speak, either to me or the driver; and if
anything happens, do what I tell you. I will see you through."

Gaskell leant back in his seat, wondering more than ever, but
comfortably confident that whatever his travelling companions might be,
they certainly had no designs against him. He resolved to trust them,
while watching them carefully.

After the coach had started, they paid no further attention to him.
Neither did they speak to each other or to the driver.

Nothing suspicious occurred until they were galloping at a steady pace
along the old buffalo trail between Hilton's Jump and Rattlesnake Ranch,
when the girl with her veil partly lifted, and her eyes fixed upon the
distant homestead, took out a large white handkerchief and waved it
three times over her head. Was this a signal to some confederate? It
seemed to be, yet nothing came of it. Gaskell's eyes were not keen
enough to see a girl standing on the far-off verandah steps.

At sunset the team was changed at Mosquito Crossing. At full dusk the
coach was rattling across the prairie trail, and an hour afterwards it
was again among the hills, making for White Wolf Gulch.

As they entered the mouth of the gloomy defile the pace was slackened.

The driver cracked his whip with two cracks which sounded like pistol
shots, and were echoed repeatedly from the cliffs; but he still held in
his team.

Gaskell then became aware that something was going to happen. The
supposed clergyman threw off his black coat and false beard and stood
up, revealing himself in the familiar military uniform of the North-West
Mounted Police. He bent forward and pressed the cold ring of a revolver
muzzle against the driver's neck.

"Go ahead, Bulger!" he commanded. "Keep hold of those reins. Drop them
and you'll be dropped yourself. I've got you, sure."

Bulger turned and caught a dim glimpse of the soldier policeman's face,
glowering at him above the scarlet tunic.

"Silk! Sergeant Silk!" he cried, aghast at the sight.

Sergeant Silk took no notice of his consternation.

"Keep him at it Dannie," he ordered.

And Dan Medlicott, who lived on Rattlesnake Ranch, and had long been a
friend of Sergeant Silk, having thrown off his disguising veil and hat
and cloak, covered the driver with his revolver.

"And now, Mr. Gaskell," the Sergeant added, "stand by to defend that
box. If any one touches it, shoot."

The four horses increased their pace to a quick trot, and the coach
lumbered on.

                     *    *    *    *    *

Halfway through the gulch three masked horsemen rode out from their
ambush and waited for the approaching vehicle to slow down and stop.
Instead of stopping, as they expected, Bulger, urged by Dan Medlicott,
whipped up his team to a full racing gallop. Three shots flashed from
the darkness. The bullets rattled against the coach and there was a
smashing of glass as three further shots rang out.

Sergeant Silk replied to them very deliberately, showing himself to the
men as he fired down upon them. He knew each one of the three, even in
the dim light.

He saw Bill Allison's hat fall upon the trail, saw Hen Faxon's pistol
drop from a shattered hand, while the third man, Red Derrick himself,
plunged headlong from his saddle and rolled over, narrowly escaping the
wheels as the coach dashed by.

"It's Sergeant Silk!" cried Bill Allison, in his surprise firing three
harmless shots in quick succession.

Then Sergeant Silk sat down, calmly putting away his weapons, and
adjusting his Stetson hat to complete his uniform.

"Your strong box is quite safe now, Mr. Gaskell," he said in his slow,
level voice as he drew out his pipe. "Those three chaps will be arrested
inside another hour. As for Bulger, here, their accomplice, he is
already my prisoner."

"But you must have discovered their plot!" cried Gaskell. "You must have
known all along that the rascals would be lying in wait for the coach!"

"Why, cert'nly," smiled Silk. "That is why I--why Lucy and I are here,
your fellow-passengers."



CHAPTER XI

MAPLE LEAF'S SCAR


"I say, Maple Leaf," Percy Rapson declared with boyish frankness,
"you're lookin' awfully charmin' at this moment, standin' there peelin'
those apples with the light of the settin' sun on you! I don't think you
ever realise how good-lookin' you are. If I were an artist, I should
want to paint a picture of you; only you should be dressed in fringed
and beaded buckskins, and wear a feathered head-dress like a war-chief's
daughter. Of course, I should never be able to do you justice, but your
portrait would look rippin' fine on the top of a chocolate box."

The Indian girl's naturally ruddy cheeks took on a deeper tinge, which
was not wholly due to the rosy glow from the western sky.

"Maple Leaf is glad that you are not an artist," she responded with
dignity and a slightly contemptuous curl of her lip.

Percy stood near to her in the kitchen at Rattlesnake Ranch. He had one
of a litter of bull pups on the dresser beside him, and was tempting the
fat, ungainly animal to take more nourishment than it needed from a
saucer of milk. He looked at the girl very closely and his eyes
lingered, not for the first time, upon a curious scar in the smooth skin
of her right temple. It was a long, very straight scar, that ran into
the midst of the ebony black hair above her ear.

"Maple Leaf!" he said, after a considerable pause.

"Well?" She glanced aside at him.

"I've often wanted to ask you," he went on. "How did you get that wound
on your temple? It's like the cut of a knife. It must have been a good
deal more than a scratch to leave a mark like that. How was it done?"

Maple Leaf continued with her work of peeling and quartering apples.
She had turned her back to him.

"Don't you want to tell me?" he asked. "Indians are usually proud of
their wounds. At least, the men are, the chiefs and warriors and braves.
I don't know about the women. Perhaps you got yours in some childish
accident?"

"I have never told any one," she answered. And then, after a pause, she
added: "And I am not going to. It is my secret. It is no business of
yours."

Percy laughed awkwardly, feeling the rebuff, and took up his wriggling
bull pup.

"All right," he said, knowing by experience that Maple Leaf was like the
rest of her race and that wild horses couldn't drag from her anything
that she did not wish to tell. "You can keep your secret, for all I
care. But I could easily find out if I wanted, you know. I could even
ask Sergeant Silk. I daresay Silk knows. There isn't much that he
doesn't know about you and every one else on the Rattlesnake patrol."

She turned sharply and her dark eyes flashed. But only for an instant.

"You had better not ask Sergeant Silk," she said in a slow, level
voice, which had in it something of warning. "He knows. Yes, he knows.
But he would not tell you."

She watched him go out into the back garden towards the shed which he
used as a kennel. When he was out of sight, she put forth her hand to
the plate rack and drew a small square of looking-glass from behind a
cracked dish.

Propping the mirror against the shelf, she drew aside the strands of
black hair from above her ear in such a way that the scar was revealed
more clearly, running upward and backward from her temple.

"Yes," she nodded with a smile of satisfaction at her own reflection,
"it is still there. It will always be there. Maple Leaf is not sorry.
She is glad. It helps her to remember."

She put the mirror back in its hiding-place and went to the door and
looked out across the ripening cornfields and the more distant prairie
to the blue foothills behind which the sun was sinking.

It was just such an evening as this, she reflected. And she recalled
one by one the incidents of the adventure in which she had taken so
prominent a part.

It had happened that her father, The Moose That Walks, and her brother,
Rippling Water, had been absent many days from Mrs. Medlicott's ranch,
where they lived and worked. The crops were not yet ready for
harvesting, and there was not much for them to do on the farm lands,
whereas the beaver were plentiful on the creeks and in their best
condition; so the father and son had gone trapping on the head waters of
the Bow River.

They had left word at the ranch that if they did not return within a
stated time it would mean that they were having good luck, and that
Maple Leaf was to go to them with some further supplies of the white
man's food--tea, sugar, flour, with rifle cartridges, not forgetting
tobacco.

So Maple Leaf had filled her saddle-bags, mounted her pony, and gone
off on the trail alone to the trappers' dug-out on far-away Butterfly
Creek.

It was a long and lonesome journey among the mountains, occupying two
days; but she had the Indians' instinct for finding her way through
unfamiliar places, and she reached her destination without adventure.

It was as she had expected. The Moose That Walks and Rippling Water had
met with good luck. Their traps had yielded a rich harvest. Some
hundreds of beautiful beaver skins had been dried and packed, and there
were more to be taken. Now that fresh supplies of food and tobacco had
come, it would be possible to continue trapping with success for many
days.

"It is good medicine," said The Moose That Walks. "We will sleep seven
more sleeps and then return with many beaver skins to our white friends.
With the sun's rising you will go back, my daughter, for it is not well
that you should be away when there is work to be done."

"And, say!" added Rippling Water, observing that she had come unarmed
with any other weapon than the knife in her belt. "Don't you reckon that
you'd be some wiser to carry a loaded gun along with you? You might need
it, see? There's no knowing."

He offered her his own revolver, but the girl shook her head decisively.

"What d'you suppose I could want with a loaded gun?" she objected.
"Nobody's going to touch me. There's no road-agents to rob me, even if I
was worth robbing; and there's no grizzly bears or hungry wolves
prowling around, this time of year. No, Rip. I'm safe enough. Don't you
worry."

She had no fear, because she knew of no possible danger, and she started
on her backward journey as confident of her personal safety as if she
were riding among the familiar cornfields and orchards of Rattlesnake
Ranch instead of in the gloomy wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

She had abundance of food and a good, sure-footed horse. She knew the
landmarks and could not well go astray. In the noon-day heat she would
halt at the side of some shady creek to rest; at night she would seek
out some friendly shelter where she could build a fire, and, wrapping
her blanket about her, sleep as comfortably and securely as in her
little room under the roof at the Medlicott homestead.

Leaving the mountains behind, she crossed a belt of old sand-drift
overgrown with pine. Beyond that, for a score of miles or so, there was
no bush, but only a swell of golden grass rolling away to violet
distances.

Late in the afternoon she came to Emerald Cañon, where, sunk three
hundred feet below the plains, there was a chain of pools and an acre or
so of green meadow starred with the ashes of old camp fires.

In this secluded cañon Maple Leaf hobbled her broncho and made camp for
the night within sound of a high cascade of water, which fell noisily
into a pool darkened by overhanging trees.

She shared her solitude with a family of little foxes at play on a
grassy knoll and with a crane, which stood on one leg at the water's
edge.

She watched the crane, wondering how long it would remain motionless in
that position, and as she watched, a waft of smoke from her fire drifted
towards the bird, which rose into the air and flapped lazily away into
the blue gloom.

Suddenly as she followed its flight the girl's quick eyes were drawn
upward to the rim of the shadowed cañon, where a waving line of ripened
grass glowed orange against the sky, and she became aware of a filmy
cloud of dust, which rose from the high plain beyond.

She clasped her fingers tightly, drew back into the shadow, and crouched
there, listening, watching.

The dust cloud thickened, and above the deep murmur of the waterfall she
caught the unmistakable sound of the tramping of horses and the rumble
of wagon wheels.

She thought of Indians and of the need of concealing her fire, lest they
should discover her and perhaps steal her pony.

Earlier in the day she had come upon the marks of horses' hoofs in the
prairie dust. The horses had not all been shod, and she had known by
this that their riders were Indians. She began to wish that she had
taken the loaded gun which Rippling Water had offered her. But her
anxiety quickly left her.

Presently a mounted man came out upon the edge of the ravine. The
sunlight shone warmly upon his chestnut horse and flamed upon his
scarlet tunic. He had come to a halt not half-a-mile away from her, and
he was looking down towards the drifting mist of her wood fire. For a
moment he glanced back over his shoulder, then moved onward in her
direction, followed, after a while, by some twenty riders, each with a
carbine poised across the horn of his stock saddle. They were a troop of
the North-West Mounted Police.

At a word of command the riders dismounted to lead their horses, while
behind them there appeared five wagons, each with a driver and an off
man. A pair of troopers in the rear waited for the dust to settle before
they followed down the breakneck hill into the hollow of the cañon.

Maple Leaf watched them winding down the rocky slopes. Some wore suits
of brown canvas, some were dressed in fringed deer-skin with grey
flannel shirts or old red jackets, with long boots, sombrero hats, belts
glittering with brass cartridges, and big revolvers at their sides.

Hard-featured, weather-beaten, dusty, great big men they were, all
having the same clear, far-searching eyes, the same pride of bearing,
and the same swaggering gallantry and wild grace in their masterly
horsemanship.

The trooper who had first appeared in sight waited for a while and spoke
to the officer in command, then went on in advance of his companions.
Even at a distance as he approached, Maple Leaf made out that he had a
sergeant's triple chevron on the arm of his dusty red tunic. When he
reached the level ground he vaulted into his saddle and rode across the
long grass straight for the trees where her fire still burned smokily.

"Yes," she said to herself with a thrill of satisfaction. "It's sure
Sergeant Silk." And he in his turn was as quick to recognise the Indian
girl who did the chores at Rattlesnake Ranch.

"How do, Maple Leaf?" he cried in greeting, drawing rein in front of her
as she stood up. "Alone, eh? We came upon your trail 'way back there on
the plains. Been west somewhere near Butterfly Creek, I reckon?"

"Yes," she responded. "Been along to take things to father and Rip."

He glanced at her pony nibbling at the fresh grass, then at the
preparations she had made for her bivouac.

"Say, aren't you a bit afraid to be camping out all alone so far from
home?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Why should I be?" she returned. "There's no danger. What could happen?"

"You might lose your pony, for one thing," he smiled. "For another
thing, there are Indians knocking about--hostile Indians, who have
broken bounds. That is why we are here." He nodded in the direction of
his companions of the Mounted Police. "We are out on their trail, to
drive them back into their Reservation. There might be danger from them,
even for you, who are yourself an Indian; though there's not much to be
afraid of while our fellows are at hand to look after you."

"I shall be all right," she assured him.

"Have you everything you want?" he inquired. "I'll bring you some cooked
meat presently, and an extra blanket. It'll be cold after sundown. And
in the morning you may as well fall in with our outfit, see? We shall be
going along the Rattlesnake trail, after we've rounded up the Indians."

"I should only hinder you," she replied. "I'm not needing any sort of
help. I shall not take any. I am going to quit."

Sergeant Silk had already moved to go away, and amid the roar of the
neighbouring waterfall he did not hear her last words.



CHAPTER XII

A PERILOUS MOMENT


When he returned to his comrades the teamsters had brought their wagons
down the hill, the mounted men had formed up and were unsaddling. The
wagons made a second line in their rear, and a rope was stretched from
wheel to wheel, to which each trooper tied his horse before the teams
were unharnessed.

Three of the men had chosen a spot by some bushes where an iron bar was
set on a pair of uprights five feet apart, and before the sound of the
axes had ceased in the bush three full kettles were swinging over a
roaring fire.

A bell tent was pitched for the officer in command; the horses were
watered, groomed, and fed, then at a merry call from the bugle there was
a dash to the wagons for plates and cups, while knives were whipped from
belt or bootleg ready for a general assault on fried bacon, hard
biscuit, and scalding tea.

After the meal, when the men were beginning to cut up their plug tobacco
and load their pipes, Sergeant Silk gathered some food into a blanket
and filled a flagon with hot tea. His chums watched him, curious
concerning his preparations.

"You going out on scout duty then, Sergeant?" one of them inquired.

"This grub isn't for myself," he explained, nodding in the direction of
Maple Leaf's camp beyond a projecting corner of the ravine. "I'm taking
it to a girl bivouacking alone farther up the cañon."

"Alone?" one of them exclaimed in surprise. "Must be an Indian. No white
girl would camp out all alone in a place like this."

"That's so," nodded Silk. "She's just an Indian--the chore girl from
Rattlesnake Ranch, daughter of The Moose That Walks. Guess you know her,
most of you. She once saved me from being scalped and roasted. I owe her
some special attention."

"Say, Sergeant," suggested a trooper from the far side of the fire,
"mightn't you have brought her into camp? We'd have fixed up a nice,
homelike, comfortable room for her in one of the wagons. And I'd have
mounted guard outside to keep away the mosquitoes. No mosquito'll go
near any one else while I'm around."

Sergeant Silk had saddled his broncho and was about to mount when he
turned sharply at the sound of hoofs.

"Here's Denis Murphy coming in," he announced. "I'll wait and hear if
he's seen anything of those Redskins. Something has kept him."

Murphy was descending from the heights by the tracks made by the wagon
wheels. As he approached along the level ground the commanding officer
strode out from his tent, smoking a cigar. Murphy came to a halt in
front of him and saluted.

"I've struck the trail of those Indians, sir," he reported. "Three
miles beyond the far end of the cañon, west by south. I calculate
there's between thirty and forty of them--bucks, on the warpath."

"How do you make out that they are bucks?" questioned the commandant.
"You didn't see them?"

"I didn't see them, sir," Murphy answered, "but I found no marks of any
teepee poles, and I reckon they're the lot we're looking for."

"No doubt," nodded the officer, puffing at his cigar. He turned to Silk.
"You had better persuade that girl to come into camp, Sergeant," he
said. "And then I shall want you to go out scouting, and discover where
the Redskins have located themselves for the night. Take Stikeman along
with you and send him back with the girl."

"Yes, sir," returned Silk.

He mounted, taking his carbine with him, and Trooper Stikeman followed,
carrying the blanket of provisions.

They went down the ravine at an easy trot with their faces to the west,
where the sun was setting in a glory of red and gold. When they came
within sound of the waterfall, the sergeant looked about for Maple
Leaf's pony and the smoke from her camp fire, but he saw neither.

"Seems to me the girl has vamoosed," he said uneasily. "I see no sign of
her."

He led the way to the trees and halted over the blackened ashes of the
fire. In their midst was a large, round stone, with a smaller stone
beside it. "Yes," he ruminated, "she's quitted and left that sign to let
us know that she has made westward, out of the cañon. Say, Stikeman,
you'd best turn back to camp and tell the major I've gone on the girl's
trail."

He started off at once at a hand gallop, knowing that Maple Leaf could
get out of the ravine only by one way, for the sides were too steep for
any pony to climb.

But when he came out upon the open plain he slowed down, riding to and
fro, searching until he came upon the trail indicated by a faint line to
be seen through the tall grasses. He followed the track quickly and
unerringly, always looking for it forty or fifty yards ahead.

Once he drew rein and listened. From behind him came the notes of a
bugle sounding First Post. As they ceased he heard the regular quick pad
of hoofs in advance of him, borne to him by the evening breeze. The
sound died away as the breeze fell, but it had told him the direction in
which the girl had gone, and that she was not far away from him.

He urged his broncho forward, hardly needing to watch the trail, and at
length, just for a moment, he caught sight of Maple Leaf as she crossed
the crest of an old sand-drift and went over into the hollow beyond.

He expected to see her reappear on the next slope, but as he reached the
top of the drift he discovered her still in the hollow, seated quietly
on her horse in the midst of a colony of prairie dogs, amusing herself
watching the lively little animals as they scampered about, barked, and
peeped out at her from their burrows.

She seemed to be aware that he had been following her, for she turned
without surprise and raised her hand in salute to the brim of her wide
hat.

"How!" she called to him in Indian greeting.

Sergeant Silk rode up to her, carefully guiding his horse among the dog
holes.

"You've given me a needless journey," he said to her reprovingly. "Why
did you strike camp? You were safe and comfortable back there in Emerald
Cañon. Here you can be neither comfortable nor safe."

She looked at him with a frown of annoyance.

"There's no occasion for you to worry about me," she objected. "I'm all
right left alone. I'm no tenderfoot. You needn't have come after me.
Don't just know why you did."

"I've come to take you back to our outfit," he explained. "The major
sent me. You're to come back right now." He paused a moment, looking
about him curiously, almost as if he were conscious of some impending
danger. "Come," he urged, "we must get into camp before dark. I've got
to go out on a big scout."

She glanced at him inquiringly.

"You going to be out on duty all night, then?" she questioned.

"Why, cert'nly," he answered, "or until I have located those Indians."

"I'll come," she decided promptly. "My pony is some tired; but he'll put
on a hustle. Say, what are you looking like that for?"

His eyes were roving searchingly to and fro across the prairie. He was
gripping his reins tightly with one hand, while with the other he was
fingering the stock of his carbine poised in front of him.

"Listen!" he said, sitting very still in his saddle.

Then suddenly he swung over, leapt from his horse, and threw the reins
over the mare's head, so that she would stand. Swiftly he went round to
Maple Leaf's side.

"Here, jump down!" he commanded. "Quick!"

The girl looked at him amazed, but obediently slipped to the ground.

Sergeant Silk caught at her broncho's bridle, drew the bit down to
within a span of the animal's hoofs, and secured both fetlocks together
with the double loop. In the same way he shackled the feet of his own
mare. Leaving the two horses hobbled, he strode a dozen quick paces
away, with his carbine across the crook of his left arm. Maple Leaf
followed him. He looked round at her.

"Sit down!" he commanded. "Lie low!"

Again she obeyed him unquestioningly, sharing his alarm. She had heard
what he had heard and knew its meaning.

She watched him go forward and saw him stand upright with his hand
raised above his head, palm outward, as a peace sign. Then she followed
the direction in which he was looking and gave a little start as she saw
a figure on horseback--an Indian wearing the large feathered war-bonnet
of a chief--outlined against a grassy slope hardly more than half-a-mile
away.

Silk slowly lowered his hand and strode back to where Maple Leaf was
sitting.

"He doesn't answer my sign," he said, drawing down the lever of his
carbine. "He's a Sioux. There's a crowd of his braves behind the rise
there. It's the lot we're looking for, and they know it. They won't want
me to go back. They'll rush us. We've got to fight for it. Keep cool!"

"It's all my fault," Maple Leaf regretted. "What can I do? I've no gun!"

"You can do nothing but lie low," Silk told her. "We can't escape
through this dog town, all full of holes. See! They're coming!"

From all around, silent as shadows, warriors on horseback appeared,
each with a rifle across his naked arm. The sunlight shone upon their
greasy bodies and painted faces, and the white eagle feathers of their
head-dresses. They collected in a group. Some of them seemed to be
speaking, to be planning how they should kill or capture the red-coated
scout who had found their trail. Then one by one in turn they moved
away, forming in single file, and making a wide circle round the centre
occupied by Sergeant Silk and his girl companion.

Silk glanced back at the two hobbled horses. No, it was too late to
think of escape.

At first the Indians rode at a quick walking pace, far apart from each
other; but before the wide ring was complete they had increased their
speed to a wild, racing gallop. Each warrior threw himself along the off
side of his steed, and as they wheeled round and round, keeping always
the same distance away, they yelled their shrill war cry, firing no shot
as yet.

Sergeant Silk's eyes were steadily watching them. He was lying at full
length, supported on an elbow. His face had taken on a look of grim
determination.

"They're not risking to come closer--not yet," he said calmly. "The dog
holes are as bad for them as for us. We're safe for a bit. You see,
Indians are never good marksmen with firearms. They never clean their
rifles, never get hold of decent ammunition; and it isn't just easy,
anyhow, to take aim from a galloping horse. You've no need to be
afraid," he added reassuringly.

"I'm not anyways afraid while you're here, Sergeant," Maple Leaf
responded. "Why don't they get doing something? Why don't they shoot?"

Suddenly, as if he had heard her and understood, one of the warriors
flung himself forward under his pony's neck and fired into the ring. The
bullet kicked up a spurt of dust many yards away, but it was the signal
for the beginning of the fight.

Yelling shrilly, the savages opened fire, never pausing to take aim.
Their shots, indeed, were more dangerous to themselves than to their
intended victims. One of their own horses stumbled and rolled over on
its rider, struck by a stray bullet.

"They're having a nice picnic, so far," said Silk, talking for the mere
sake of encouraging his companion. "If they keep this up long enough,
the racket'll be heard in Emerald Cañon. Wind's from the right quarter.
But they're only bluffing now--playing with us. Soon, they'll rush us.
It's their way. There!"

The Indian chief had suddenly wheeled within the galloping circle,
throwing his pony back with a jerk on its haunches. The warriors came up
to him one by one, halting all together in a compact company, with their
ponies' heads towards the two figures crouching in the hollow of the dog
town.

Sergeant Silk had turned to confront them, raising himself to command a
fuller view of them. He understood their manoeuvre. Instead of closing in
around him from all sides in broken order, they were going to make a
combined frontal charge.

"Fools!" he muttered contemptuously. "They never learn how to fight.
They're going to rush us in a bunch!"

Keeping his eyes fixed upon the lingering Indians, he moved backward a
foot or two nearer to Maple Leaf, and slowly drew from his holster a
heavy revolver, which he placed on the grass between them.

"Listen!" he said in a sharp whisper, glancing for an instant into her
dark, fearless eyes. "They're going to rush us in a bunch. We've only a
few minutes. Maybe I can break them. I don't know. I shall try. It's a
bare chance. But in this pistol"--he touched the weapon--"I shall always
save two shots--for the last. One for you. One for me. Understand?"

Maple Leaf nodded.

"Yes," she answered. "You will shoot me first; then yourself. It is
best. I understand."

"And if they kill me first," he added impressively, yet quite calmly.
"If they kill me first, you must seize that pistol and shoot yourself.
Else, they will slow torture you to death. Shoot yourself--in the
head--just here."

He pushed back his hat and pressed the white part of his forehead with a
finger that was as steady as if he had been merely telling of a moment
of past peril instead of acting in one that was terribly immediate.

Maple Leaf's hand was hardly less steady than his own as she moved the
shining weapon to a position more exactly between them.

"Good-bye, then, Sergeant--Sergeant Silk," she murmured. "It will be
good--I shall be proud--to die in company with a brave man."

"Good-bye!" he responded lightly, turning from her and seating himself
on a dog mound with his carbine across his knees.

The band of Indians still held off at a distance of fully a thousand
yards. Silk could see them slowly and very deliberately forming behind
their chief, only waiting for the signal to dash off in their headlong
race.

Then suddenly there was a wild barbaric shriek as they broke away with a
confused turmoil of whoops and yells and the quick patter of horses'
hoofs that made the ground throb and sent up a swirl of dust.

On and on they came in their swooping charge, their shrill cries
rending the air, their feathers fluttering, their trappings flying,
their weapons held aloft as their ponies plunged forward at full racing
stretch.

It seemed as if nothing could stop or divert their onward rush. It was
like a resistless hurricane sweeping down straight for the dog town
where the quiet man in the red coat was waiting with the girl crouched
beside him.

Sergeant Silk cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and went down on
one knee. He did not yet raise his gun, although many of the warriors
had opened a random fire and little spurts of dust and grass were
beginning to show where the bullets were falling. He waited very calmly,
knowing the habits of the Indians--knowing that although they fight hard
and fiercely for their lives when cornered they shrink from riding full
tilt into the fire of a well-aimed rifle.

In the long, forward race there were many moments of suspense--moments
in which each galloping savage had time to reflect that when that
waiting rifle should be raised to spit forth its deadly succession of
bullets, he himself might be one of the first to fall.

As they dashed on, one of the foremost of their ponies stumbled and went
down with its leg in a dog hole. Then two others fell kicking, while
more coming behind stumbled over them in confusion. The Redskins yelled
more wildly than ever, firing over their ponies' ears, always too high.

When they were within fifty yards of him, Silk cocked his rifle.
Instantly, at sight of the levelled weapon, every Indian flung himself
over the side of his pony, showing no more than an arm and a leg.
Instantly, also, the band divided itself into two sections to right and
left and sped onward in separate lines, firing wildly as they rushed
past like a raging whirlwind.

As the last of them flashed by, firing backward at him, Silk turned to
take up a new position, knowing that they would double and renew their
attack. But as he moved, the hollow dog mound on which he knelt gave way
beneath his weight; he lost his balance and rolled over.

Maple Leaf saw him fall, and, believing that a bullet had struck him,
she caught up the revolver, pressed the cold ring of its muzzle against
her forehead, and closed her eyes. She heard the Indians galloping back,
bullets were dropping around her. She was sure now that the end had
come.

"One--two--three!" she counted and pressed the trigger.

But Sergeant Silk had already leapt to his feet.

"Stop!" he cried, flinging out his hand. He was in time to thrust the
girl's elbow aside, but the trigger had been pressed, the weapon had
been fired, and Maple Leaf fell backward.

He glanced at her hurriedly and saw a splash of red across her face.
Then he raised his rifle and with steady, deliberate aim, fired four
shots in succession.

As the warriors passed abreast of him, now at a greater distance, four
of their horses ran riderless. Again they had swerved, curving off into
a circle and riding round and round as before. He watched them and saw
their circle suddenly break. Their yells of defiance were turned into
shouts of alarm, and as they scattered there came to him the shrill
notes of a bugle.

"Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed as half-a-dozen of his comrades of the
Mounted Police galloped into sight over the rising ground. "The boys
have followed on our trail! We shall be all right now."

He turned to Maple Leaf. She was on her knees, supported by her
outstretched hands, staring at him while the crimson trickle from her
face and hair and chin dripped upon the sand.

"I thought they'd got you," she said feebly. "I'd have done it sure if
you hadn't stopped me."

He looked at the ugly score that the bullet had made across her temple.

"It's just a flesh wound," he told her. "We can soon patch it up when we
get back into camp."

"It will leave a mark," she said, overcoming her faintness.

"Why, cert'nly," he smiled, returning the pistol to its holster. "But
your hair will 'most hide it--if you want it to be hidden."

"But I don't," she faltered weakly, closing her eyes. "I shall be proud
of it--as long as I live."



CHAPTER XIII

THE MAN WHO WAS GLAD


There was just the slightest sound of a foot-tread down by the creek.
None but an attentively alert ear could have detected it amid the
soughing of the wintry wind and the murmur of the stream over its stony
bed.

Young Dan Medlicott raised himself on his elbow and listened, directing
his searching gaze across the moonlit grass towards the deep shadows of
the bluff of birch and poplar that lay between him and his home on
Rattlesnake Ranch.

His rifle was behind him, propped against a post of the stout corral
gate. His hand went round to it cautiously, but only to touch it and
assure himself that it was still there, ready for use in case it should
presently be needed.

There were Indians about--Indians and rebel half-breeds, who coveted
the horses in the corral which he was watching, and who during the past
month had made more than one attempt to break through the palisade and
stampede the animals across the valley into their own encampment.

Dan was only seventeen years old, but he was no tenderfoot. In spite of
his youth, he had already had many a brush with the Redskins of Western
Canada, and he knew their subtle ways and how to deal with them.

He had been lying in wait for three weary hours, and nothing had
happened until now. The night was very cold, there was a sharp frost,
and a cutting wind from the mountains in the north moaned dismally in
the trees. He lay with his blanket over his knees and his coat collar
turned up about his ears. He listened for a long time, but the sound
which had alarmed him for a moment was not repeated.

"Some scavenger dog prowlin' around, I reckon," he decided, and leant
back, folding his arms across his chest and closing his eyes.

He did not allow himself to fall asleep. To do so would have been
neglecting his duty as a scout; but he might at least keep himself
bodily comfortable, and he knew that even if he should sink into slumber
no enemy would approach the gate of the stockade without arousing him.

He was still in the same position half-an-hour afterwards, betraying by
no sign that he was aware that he was not alone.

A shadow moved across his closed eyes, he heard a very cautious footstep
quite near to him, but he did not stir.

He remained silent and motionless for many minutes, until he became
conscious of a warm breath in his face and of a hand stealing behind him
towards his rifle. But before the fingers closed upon the weapon, Dan
had swiftly seized the intruding arm.

"No, you don't!" he objected, with a laugh, and he looked up into the
moonlit face of a man in the familiar uniform of the North-West Mounted
Police, who was sitting on the end of a pine log only a few inches away
from him. "Guess you figured I was asleep, did you, Sergeant?" he said,
rubbing his eyes.

"Looked some like it," returned the sergeant. "You showed no sign of
being awake, and you never challenged me as you ought to have done. Say,
it might have been an Indian sneaking up."

"I sure knew that it wasn't," affirmed Dan. "An Injun doesn't wear top
boots and clinkin' spurs, nor a Stetson hat, nor a scarlet tunic. And he
wouldn't have made a bee-line across that patch of moonlit grass, as you
did just now. I knew it was you all the time. If I hadn't known it, you
might have had a bullet in you. A nice thing it would have been if I'd
had to go to the fort and report that I'd shot Sergeant Silk in mistake
for a Redskin. I should have been some sorry."

"Dare say," reflected Silk, speaking hardly above a whisper. "Folks
generally are some sorry after they've taken a human life. I never knew
but one man who was real glad."

"Glad?" echoed Dan.

"Yes. Lean Bear was glad when he killed Tough Kelly."

"H'm! Indian, eh?" said Dan. "But Indians are usually glad when they've
rubbed out a Paleface. Lean Bear?" He repeated the name. "Why, wasn't
that the chap you spared last week in the skirmish back of the fort? I
saw what happened. I was ridin' behind you. I saw him tumble from his
horse. You had the upper hand of him, and just as you were goin' to pull
the trigger he yelled out to you, and you lowered your weapon, lettin'
him escape, as if he'd been an old pal of yours 'stead of a deadly
enemy."

Sergeant Silk leant forward with an elbow on his knee.

"Yes, that was the chap," he acknowledged. "But any other trooper would
have done the same, and let him live."

"Why?" questioned Dan. "Wasn't he the same as all other Injuns--a
rotten, ungrateful brute?"

Sergeant Silk did not answer at once. He slowly took out his pipe and
tobacco pouch and laid them beside him on the pine log before buttoning
up his overcoat. He was silent for a long time--silent and thoughtful.
Dan Medlicott knew that this mood meant a story.

"Fire away," he urged, "I'm listenin'. I hope it's goin' to be a yarn
about yourself, and none of your second-hand snacks about some fellow
who isn't half so good and brave."

Silk shrugged his shoulders.

"It's just about Lean Bear himself," he resumed. "Lean Bear and--and a
young trooper who had charge of the post at Rosetta's Crossing. Corporal
Pretty John was what he was commonly called, though he wasn't pretty and
John wasn't his name.

"Lean Bear was well known on the Rosetta Patrol. He was just an idle,
good-for-nothing loafer of the plains, picking up a poor living by
trapping on the creeks, doing odd jobs, sponging on people who had more
of this world's goods than himself, and drinking, drinking whenever he
could get hold of a drop of firewater to flush down his scraggy throat.

"The missionaries could do nothing with him; they gave him up. The
Hudson's Bay Company wouldn't trade with him. His own people, the Cree
Indians, wouldn't admit him into their wigwams; they said his tongue was
forked, it was crooked.

"The Mounted Police always kept a close watch on him, suspecting him of
theft, though they never could bring anything home to him. He was too
cunning to be caught. And yet it was said that he'd once led an honest,
respectable life, as far as a Redskin can contrive to be honest and
respectable.

"Sometimes Lean Bear used to disappear for months together. Nobody knew
where he went to, and I don't think many at Rosetta's Crossing cared a
whole lot. They just forgot him until he turned up again at the station
like a half-starved pariah dog that had wandered back to a human
habitation, cringing and fawning and begging for something to eat;
ragged, dirty, almost unrecognisable except for the string of crimson
glass beads that he always wore about his neck.

"One time in the depth of winter he returned, riding a broken-winded
nag that looked even more of a hungry scarecrow than himself. He
demanded food and shelter with all the swagger of a millionaire putting
up at a first-class hotel. Most of the fellows in the store refused to
help him, until Pretty John gave him a biscuit, when others spared him
something, too, and he ate as if his teeth hadn't had any exercise for
weeks.

"All the time while he was in the store, sitting as close as he could
get to the stove, he was looking about him as if he'd a mind to steal
something and make a bolt for the door. One of the men recommended the
corporal to keep an eye on the skunk, and the corporal did so, without
seeming to be watching.

"And as Pretty John watched from the corner of his eye he thought he
guessed what it was that Lean Bear was so anxious about. He wasn't
meaning to steal anything. He was just waiting for some one that he
seemed to expect; and after a bit, in strode Tough Kelly.

"Guess you've heard of Tough Kelly, haven't you, Dan? One of the
biggest rascals that ever dodged the Police. As a matter of fact,
Corporal Pretty John was only waiting for just one bit of evidence
before arresting him.

"Well, at sight of Tough strolling in to join the gamblers at the poker
table, there was a sudden change in the face of Lean Bear. His eyes
glistened with a queer, savage hatred. But he didn't speak. He just drew
back from the stove and glided into a far corner, out of the light,
hiding himself behind a pile of dry goods, pulling his blanket over his
head and pretending to be sound asleep, the same as you did just now."

Sergeant Silk paused to load his pipe, but he did not light it.



CHAPTER XIV

IN THE POWER OF HIS PRISONER


"There was some high play that evening," he went on presently, "and most
of the money that was lost went into Tough Kelly's pocket. Cheated?
Well, yes, I suppose so. Anyway he vamoosed pretty quick when there was
no more gambling going forward, and he hadn't gone many minutes when
Lean Bear slipped out, as he said, to give his mustang a feed and find a
bed in the stables.

"That same night Corporal Pretty John completed his chain of evidence
against Tough Kelly, and on the following morning he rode off to Tough's
lone cabin among the hills, to arrest him. But when he got there and
went inside, it was to find Tough Kelly lying stone dead.

"Clearly it was an Indian who had killed him, for his scalp had been
taken. But there was nothing to show who that Indian was--nothing
excepting a little broken bead of crimson glass, which the trooper found
on the mud floor.

"That bead was the only clue. But Pretty John didn't need to ask himself
many questions. He remembered the look of savage enmity that had flashed
from the eyes of Lean Bear, and although he didn't know anything of a
motive, he just kind of guessed that the thing had been done by Lean
Bear himself.

"So, leaving his subordinate in charge of the post at Rosetta's
Crossing, he fixed up his outfit for a long journey and started off on
the criminal's trail, or as much of a trail as he could find, which was
precious little. Still, as you know, Dan, it's a point of honour among
the Mounted Police that, once you go off on the track of a criminal,
you've got to capture him. You mustn't slink back to barracks without
your man.

"Pretty John was on that trail, not for days only, but for weeks. It
led him far away into the snowy wilds of the Rocky Mountains, where
there wasn't a whole lot of food for man or beast. There was so little
that it came to a matter of either giving up the hopeless chase or else
giving up his life, and the better prospect seemed to be that of saving
his own skin.

"Accordingly, he turned back. But he'd got within a couple of hundred
miles of home when suddenly and unexpectedly he came upon the fugitive's
back trail. He followed it up, and with such good purpose that at last
he located his man in a trapper's dug-out on the Green River.

"Lean Bear didn't show any alarm or surprise when the hungry,
snow-blind, travel-weary representative of the white man's law
confronted him, but just greeted him with the Indian's usual '_How!_'
and invited him into shelter.

"'The Red Coat has been on a long and lonesome trail,' he said. 'Lean
Bear welcomes him as a friend. We will eat together. We will smoke the
pipe of peace. It is well.'

"He had food in plenty, but Corporal Pretty John wouldn't touch it
before he had made the Indian clearly understand that he was arrested
for the grave crime of taking the life of a white man, whereupon Lean
Bear permitted himself to smile with satisfaction.

"'Lean Bear has no need to be told,' he declared. 'It is true that he
has taken the scalp of his enemy. It is great medicine, and he is glad.
His heart is light, it is not heavy with sorrow for the death of such a
bad man. He has done what he has tried to do during four winters. He has
done it, and he is happy. He will take his punishment. He is ready to
die when his white friends will that he should no longer live.'

"So earnestly did he insist on his willingness to pay the full penalty
for his crime that the Corporal began to suspect some cunning trick,
some subtle Redskin treachery.

"You will agree that it wasn't a comfortable situation for a trooper to
be in. You see, it would have been so easy in that lonesome, desolate
place for the Indian to overpower a man weakened by privation. Lean Bear
was already a murderer, and one crime more wouldn't have disturbed his
conscience. He would never have been found out.

"You may be sure that Pretty John kept his revolver handy in case of
necessity. But if Lean Bear intended violent mischief he was certainly
very slow in bringing it off. He made no attempt to rebel against his
arrest, and was only silent and thoughtful. He wore no handcuffs. They
were not needed. He just rode beside the Corporal, never lagging, never
trying to escape, although he might easily have done so as they crossed
the open, wind-swept stretches of snowy prairie, or at night when his
captor was asleep.

"On the second day that they were together, misfortune overtook them.
They lost their way in a wild and merciless blizzard. There wasn't a
rock or a bank anywhere for miles around to afford them shelter; all
about them was nothing but unbroken, trackless prairie, under its
covering of frozen snow that the wind caught up and flung into their
faces, cutting them like knives. The sky above was shut out by the
fiercely swirling clouds of icy particles that fought with fiendish
anger.

"'Bad medicine!' declared the Indian in a momentary lull, and as the
storm grew worse, the closer he kept to the side of his morose and
silent warder.

"It was as much as Pretty John could do to keep his saddle, the bridle
reins hung loose from his numbed fingers. He could only sway to and fro
under the cover of his blanket, now bracing himself to sit up straight,
now falling sleepily forward over the neck of his jaded broncho; and it
vexed him all the more to know that while he was getting gradually
weaker and weaker, his prisoner was riding upright and unconcerned,
never wavering, but only keeping closer to his side, knee to knee.

"The blizzard grew worse. There was no bearing up against its
overwhelming anger. Death was in that biting, lashing wind, and in the
swirling blasts of blinding snow, tearing and shrieking from every
direction at once.

"Even the horses tottered and staggered, and often stood rigidly
stubborn with their forelegs stretched out to support them and keep them
from falling; and at last Corporal Pretty John's muddled brain told him
that Lean Bear had slipped to the ground and was walking beside him with
a hand gripping him tightly.

"And through the hissing and screeching of the ice-laden wind he fancied
that he could hear some one calling to him from afar. The voice was like
the voice of a weird, unearthly spirit mocking him, jeering at him from
away back of the wind.

"'Pretty John! Pretty John!' it wailed faintly. 'Keep awake, you! Keep
awake! You sleep, then die! That is it! You die! Keep awake! Keep awake!
_How!_'

"Vaguely and in a dazed, dreamy sort of way, Pretty John then realised
that it wasn't the voice of any phantom spirit, but of Lean Bear, the
captured criminal, yelling into his ear, and that the Indian was roughly
shaking him and pummelling him, while he dragged him forcibly from his
saddle.

"Pretty John fell in a helpless heap of fur coat and stiffly frozen
blanket, utterly exhausted. He couldn't move; he couldn't think. He
didn't want to move or to think. All that he wanted was just to lie
there and sleep and forget--forget everything.

"'Leave me alone!' he pleaded. 'Why don't you escape? You've got your
chance. Let me sleep--sleep!'

"But Lean Bear wouldn't leave him alone. He struck him and shook him,
then flung his arms about him, and wrestled to hoist him first to his
knees and then to his feet. Then, with his arms clasped around the
senseless trooper's waist, he pushed him along, forced him to move.

"'Walk!' he shouted. 'You hear? Yes, now you walk. Walk! Walk--so! Yes,
yes. Ah, you white man!' And again he began to strike and thump with one
hand, while with the other he supported the corporal's tottering body."

Sergeant Silk paused and pulled once or twice at his unlighted pipe.

"That was the only way to keep him awake," interposed Dan Medlicott.
"He'd have been dead, sure, if he'd fallen asleep."

Sergeant Silk nodded.

"Why, cert'nly," he agreed. "That Indian knew what to do. But it seemed
to Pretty John that all the torture he was enduring--the stinging lash
of the icy snow, the choking up of his mouth and nostrils, the numbness
of his limbs, and the blows that were showered upon him--were all the
malicious work of the criminal savage he had tracked and was taking to
prison. He hadn't the sense to realise that Lean Bear was only battling
with him to keep him awake--alive.

"How long that battle in the blizzard lasted only the Indian could tell.
Corporal Pretty John didn't know. He knew nothing--nothing until he was
aware that a thousand needle stabs were stinging his body, and that the
slow tingling blood was struggling to circulate in his numbed and frozen
limbs.

"There was a burning sensation across his tongue and throat. He opened
his snow-blinded eyes. All around him was dark. But snow-blind men can
see in the darkness, and he discovered that he was lying on his back in
a room where a fire was flickering.

"There was a crowd of men around him--white men. One of them knelt at
his side, supporting his head in the crook of an arm that had a red
sleeve bearing a sergeant's triple chevron. He was forcing the neck of a
flask between the Corporal's teeth.

"'Yes, yes, Lean Bear,' he was saying. 'We know that you're a heathen
murderer. You shall be brought to justice, never fear--white man's
justice. You shall get your deserts. But there's a little account on the
credit side, too, and--say, don't stand there shivering like that! Make
yourself comfortable by the fire. Eat, smoke, drink. Do what you jolly
well please, you plucky son of a noble savage. And when I've done what
I'm doing, blame me if I don't shake you by the hand.'

"'Wough!' grunted Lean Bear, shuffling towards the stove, where he
stood for a while warming himself. Then he turned and saw Corporal
Pretty John's heavy, bleared eyes fixed upon him. '_How!_' he said in
greeting as if they hadn't seen each other for months. 'Yes, it is so.
Now you sleep--sleep long, sleep well. In the blizzard to sleep is to
die. Here, to sleep is to live. It is good. Yes. And Lean Bear is not
sorry.'"

Dan Medlicott watched Sergeant Silk striking a match and shielding it
with his hand as he held it to his pipe and puffed the ragged smoke into
the wintry air.

"Say, Sergeant," he said, "you were sure right when you said that any
other trooper would have let Lean Bear escape last week. Any one would,
knowing what he'd done for you that time."

Sergeant Silk's pipe glowed very bright.

"For me?" he smiled, looking up.

"Why, yes," returned Dan, standing in front of him. "There never was
any Corporal Pretty John in the Force. You just gave yourself that fancy
name to put me off the scent, and the yarn has been about yourself all
the time."



CHAPTER XV

THE GREAT JAM AT STONE PINE RAPIDS


Every one who saw it declared that it was the pluckiest thing that
Sergeant Silk had ever done. He himself did not consider it an
extraordinary thing to do. But, then, a man is seldom the best judge of
his own bravery.

The incident occurred at the logging camp at Stone Pine Rapids, where
some hundreds of men--lumber-jacks, hook-tenders, buckers, and
snipers--were engaged in the work of driving an immense procession of
forest logs down the stream.

The camp was at a sharp bend of the river, and the rafts had become
hopelessly jammed. They had been jammed for the best part of a week, and
crowds of river men had gathered from far and near to give help in the
difficult task of dislodging the obstinate barrier of floating timber
that filled and choked the narrow throat of the waterway.

There was a lot of drinking, gambling, and quarrelling going on, and
Sergeant Silk had come along in the interests of law and order.

The mere presence of a member of the North-West Mounted Police, with his
conspicuous red tunic and his bandolier of brightly-polished cartridges,
had almost a magical effect in preserving peace. His duties were light,
and he went about the thronged encampment as a friendly and welcome
visitor rather than as a stern and dreaded representative of the law.

So little had he expected to be called upon to exercise his authority
that he had brought young Percy Rapson as his companion--Percy Rapson,
the aristocratic English boy, who had been sent out to Canada to learn
farming on Rattlesnake Ranch, and who had now sought variety from his
tuition in agriculture by accompanying his friend on an easy patrol to
witness the wonders of a great logging camp at work.

On the second morning of their arrival at Stone Pine they had left their
mounts in stable and strolled down to the waterside to see if the
workers had yet located the key logs, which held the vast mass of
floating timber locked in the bend of the river.

To Percy Rapson the sight had all the interest of novelty, and he
lingered, watching, in the hope of seeing the jam break loose. The
breast of the barrier of logs rose to a height of some thirty feet above
the water's level, in a confused pile. The giant tree trunks, flung into
a hopeless tangle, were becoming with every hour more tightly crushed by
the mighty pressure of the crowded logs in the rear.

As far back as the eye could see the surface of the river was hidden
under its brown pavement of drifting timber.

On the great jam itself men were at work with their peavies
industriously picking at the huge logs, heaving and rolling them
downward into the rapids beyond, where they might be caught and swept
away by the current.

But the key logs, which held the main pile plugged in its position, had
not yet been found, and even an occasional charge of dynamite had so far
failed to stir the barrier.

Percy had been so absorbed in watching the preparation of a new charge
of dynamite that he had not noticed that Sergeant Silk had left his
side. He went in search of him, and found him seated astride one of the
logs that were stranded on the river bank in front of the camp.

The boy went up to him, and, looking over his shoulder, saw, to his
surprise, that the soldier policeman was engaged in making a crude
pencil sketch of a Canadian canoe poised perilously on the brink of a
cataract.

"My hat, Sergeant!" Percy exclaimed. "I never suspected you of havin'
any pretensions to bein' an artist!"

Silk held the slip of paper at arm's length in front of him,
contemplating his handiwork.

"I don't pretend to be anything of the sort," he denied. He closed one
eye and regarded the drawing critically. "There's something plumb wrong
about that boat," he objected. "'Tisn't natural, somehow. Looks heaps
more like a general's cocked hat than a canoe!"

He turned half round to a man who stood near him against the log, busily
trimming an oil lamp.

"Say, Sharrow," he said, "you're a river man. You know a thing or two
about river craft. Tell us what's wrong with this Indian canoe that I've
been trying to draw."

Eben Sharrow took the drawing that was handed to him and held it in his
very dirty fingers. He shook his head.

"I don't just know," he answered. "Seems ter me as it's all of it
wrong--wrong from start to finish. Thar' ain't anythin' right about it.
I've seen kids in school doin' better pictures than that on their
slates."

"Ah!" Sergeant Silk took the paper back. "I guessed you'd say something
like that. I was always a lame hand at fancy work. Every man to his
trade, eh? We can none of us do everything."

He folded the paper very slowly and precisely, as if it were of value.
His boy companion noticed that as he did so he was paying curious regard
to the greasy black finger marks which Eben Sharrow had left upon the
clean, white surface.

Sharrow presently took up his lamp and strode away in the direction of
one of the camp fires, around which a group of lumber-men stood or sat
drying their wet clothes.

Percy Rapson watched the man walking awkwardly up the slope in his
spiked boots.

"Sergeant?" he said.

"Well?"

"Why did you show your sketch to that lumber-jack? I'm sure you don't
care a brass farthing for his opinion. And why are you so precious
careful of the drawing, folding it so neatly and stowing it away in your
pocket-book, as if it were a bank-note? It isn't worth preservin'."

Sergeant Silk slipped down from his perch on the log.

"That's so," he said. "It isn't worth preserving. But you may have
noticed that I never throw bits of paper away. They make any place look
so untidy."

Percy was thoughtfully silent for a while, but at length, when Silk
turned to stroll up towards the camp, he said abruptly--

"I think I can guess what you did it for. It was a jolly 'cute trick of
yours."

"A trick?"

"Yes," pursued Percy. "You made that drawing and invited Sharrow's
criticism of it simply and solely to get him to take hold of a piece of
white paper and leave his dirty finger marks on it. I believe you want
to identify him with some chap who left finger-prints somewhere else.
I've heard of that method of identification. It's said to be a dead sure
way of telling one man from another."

"Yet I should say it is rather an uncertain method for any but experts
to follow," the sergeant observed. "I shouldn't care to trust to it
myself. Certainly I shouldn't venture to accuse any man of a serious
crime on such flimsy evidence as a finger mark."

Rapson glanced at him curiously.

"That chap Ebenezer Sharrow doesn't look as if he could be guilty of
committin' a serious crime," he ventured. "And yet I suppose you are
here on his track."

"I did not say so," Silk returned sharply, reprovingly. "You appear to
think that because I'm a policeman I must always be on some poor
fellow's trail, hunting him down. Sharrow was personally a stranger to
me until last night, when I met him for the first time in the
bunkhouse."

"Then why did you go out of your way to get hold of his finger-print?"
Percy insisted. "You never do anything without a reason."

Sergeant Silk did not answer him. Perhaps they were too near to the men
about the drying fire for him to enter into explanations without risk of
being overheard. Perhaps he had reasons for not wishing to explain.

He led the way into the circle and stood there, quietly rolling a
cigarette while he casually glanced round at the men. They were all of
the ordinary type of lumber-jack--grim-featured, keen-eyed,
weather-beaten.

All wore thick woollen trousers stuffed into the tops of their knee
boots, and their boots were furnished with formidable spikes to enable
them to get secure foothold on the floating logs upon which they worked.

In their perilous climbing about the jammed tree trunks many of them had
got wet through, and as they sat within the warmth of the fire the steam
from their drying clothes mingled with the smoke from their tobacco
pipes.

"Say, we was just talkin' 'bout you, Sergeant," said one of them as Silk
bent over and took up a flaming twig.

"Indeed?" nodded the officer, puffing thoughtfully at his cigarette.

"Yep," went on the spokesman. "Andy O'Reilly thar' was kinder relievin'
hisself of the opinion as you boys of the Mounted P'lice have got a
whole lot too much power in your hands."

Sergeant Silk looked across at the man indicated.

"Y'see," said Andy O'Reilly, "you kin do pretty nigh anythin', an' you
kin do it without waitin' for orders. Nobody durst hinder you. You kin
enter any house you like, an' search it through an' through. You kin
apprehend a man without a warrant. You've even got authority to kill.
You've got all the power of the Russian secret police."

"Exactly," Silk acknowledged, seating himself on one of the logs and
making room beside him for Percy Rapson. "I don't deny we have a very
considerable amount of power, one way and another. But I guess, after
all, it's for the ultimate good of the community. It's all in the
interests of public security. What?"

"Just my argyment," declared the first speaker, rescuing a flagon of
tea from the edge of the fire. "An' them as complains, they dunno what
they're talkin' about. They'd have cause ter grumble supposin' that
power was abused--if ever the wrong man was arrested or if the guilty
one was ever allowed ter escape."

"As to that," rejoined Silk, "we are all liable to make mistakes. I have
known a case or two of wrongful arrest, and I won't say that we have
invariably succeeded in bringing criminals to justice. Some of them have
escaped."

"Yes," resumed O'Reilly, "thar's no denyin' as some of 'em escape. With
all your power and cleverness, you've let a-many of 'em slip through
your fingers. Thar's was the business of Lost Horse Meadow was never
cleared up. Thar's was the post-office robbery at Coyote Landing, which
is still a mystery. And, say, wasn't it yourself that had that same job
in hand? I kinder recollect hearin' your name mentioned."

"That is so," Sergeant Silk signified. "It happened two winters ago,
and, as you say, it is still a mystery, and likely to remain one."

"Don't know as I ever heard tell of that story," said the man who had
spoken first, pouring some hot tea into a gallipot. His name was Bob
Wilson. He was foreman of a gang of lumber-jacks.

Percy Rapson noticed that Sergeant Silk again glanced slowly round the
circle of fire-lit faces, and that his gaze lingered with curious,
furtive scrutiny upon the face of Eben Sharrow.



CHAPTER XVI

THE MAN THAT THE WOLVES SPARED


"Won't you tell us about it, Sergeant?" Percy urged.

Silk puffed for a few moments at his cigarette.

"There isn't a great deal to tell," he responded quietly. He leant
forward, resting an elbow on his knees.

"Yes," he began, "I was in charge of the case, and I failed to make an
arrest. But, you see, I didn't arrive on the scene until a longish while
after the thing had happened, and the culprit had got off, leaving no
clue that could be of the slightest value in following him up.

"I was at the depot at Soldier's Knee, alone, as it happened, except
for my chum, Dave Stoddart, who was asleep in his bunk. It was a
bitterly cold winter's night outside, with a wild wind blowing out of
the north and whistling weirdly in the pine trees round about the old
timber-built shack that served as a police station. But inside it was
warm enough. I had kept a good fire burning in the stove, and I sat in
front of it, reading by the light of the hanging lamp.

"There wasn't any great need for me to keep awake, and, as I'd been out
on a long patrol during the day and was weary, I began to nod over the
book. You see, it wasn't very interesting, and I'd read it before--knew
it almost by heart. But, for all that, I didn't want to fall asleep, and
there was one thing that kept me awake, even if the book failed.

"On the previous night we'd been disturbed by the yapping of a pack of
hungry wolves that were nosing around the end of the shanty, where we
kept our store of cariboo hams and other grub, and on this particular
night of which I'm telling you I was waiting and listening, expecting
those wolves to pay us another visit. But they didn't seem to be in any
hurry.

"It was just about midnight when they came sniffing around. Through the
little window I could see their dark shapes moving to and fro in the
moonlight. One of them was bold enough to come up and look in at me with
its staring, glistening green eyes, and I was about to open the loophole
and fire a shot at him when from behind me there sounded the tinkling of
the telephone bell.

"There was something of a command about the summons. It was unusual for
us to be rung up at that time of night. I wondered what was up. I went
to the instrument and took hold of the receiver.

"'Yes,' I called. 'Who's there? I'm Sergeant Silk, at Soldier's Knee.
Who are you?'

"The answer came in a strained, broken voice of agitation, beginning in
an eager whisper that I could barely hear amid the soughing of the wind
and the howling of the wolves, and ending on the last word in a positive
scream of bodily distress and pain--

"'Coyote Landing--post office--quick! Send help! There's a chap in here
robbing the mail bags. Listen! Do you hear? Quick! Help! Oh, help!'"

Sergeant Silk paused to light a new cigarette. His listeners drew nearer
to him--all of them but Eben Sharrow, who seemed to be having some
trouble in cleaning out his pipe.

"That was all that he said," Silk resumed--"all the words that I could
hear. But I knew his voice. It was the voice of Will Bonner, the postal
agent at Coyote Landing, and he had said enough to let me know that it
wasn't only the mails that were in danger. There was an awful, choking
sound, followed by a piercing cry of agony. And then all was suddenly
silent. Try how I would, I couldn't get another word from that
telephone."

"Perhaps the instrument was broken," interrupted Percy Rapson.

"Exactly," Silk nodded. "The wires had been cut, as I found when I got
there."

"Then you went?" inquired Percy. "You went, although you knew it must be
too late?"

"Why, cert'nly. I went right at once, leaving Dave Stoddart in charge,
with his gun handy to keep off the wolves. But the wolves gave him no
trouble, as it happened. They didn't hang around trying to get at
pickled cariboo hams when there was a chance of their downing a live
horse and an equally live human."

"Say, I guess those wolves follered on your trail," interposed Bob
Wilson, blowing audibly into his pot of hot tea.

"Guess they just did," smiled Sergeant Silk. "Some of them followed me
all the way, right over the mountain trail, a matter of twelve rough,
lonesome miles. Others of them kind of broke off. They got lamed or
maimed. There was a good many pistol bullets flying around, see? My
bandolier was pretty well empty by the time I came in sight of the
station at Coyote Landing."

Percy Rapson touched him on the knee and invited him to give fuller
details of that exciting chase over the moonlit mountains. Percy was
always curiously interested in stories of wolves. But Sergeant Silk
shook his head and kept to the main thread of his story.

"The shack was in darkness when I rode up to it," he went on. "But the
door was wide open, and there was still a smoulder of fire in the stove.
There was a smell of burnt paper. In the middle of the floor a bag of
mails had been emptied, and some of the letters and news-sheets were
charred, showing that the robber, whoever he was, had tried to set fire
to the place, and so destroy the signs of what he had done.

"But he hadn't waited to complete his work. I guess he was anxious to
quit with the registered letters that he had taken from the safe. And
then there was the other thing that he must sure have wanted to shut out
from his sight. It wasn't pretty. There were red stains everywhere, and
beyond the pile of scattered papers lay poor little Will Bonner, with
the broken telephone receiver still gripped in his lifeless fist, while
his glassy, half-closed eyes seemed to be staring out at the moon."

Sergeant Silk paused once more to puff at his cigarette.

"Do you mean he was dead?" questioned Percy Rapson, looking aside into
the sergeant's handsome face.

"Exactly," resumed Silk. "You see, he was a weak little man, and he
hadn't been able to defend himself against a desperate thief, who didn't
care what he did so long as he got the particular registered letter that
he was after. And Will was a peaceable, timid little chap at all times.
He might have defended himself all right if he'd only remembered the
loaded revolver that he kept for such occasions in his desk; but I guess
he clean forgot it when the emergency came, and I question if he'd ever
pulled a trigger in all his innocent life."

"Ah!" broke in Bob Wilson. "And what about the chap as done it,
Sergeant? He couldn't have got so very far away by the time you came on
the scene, and yet you never got on his trail, never found out who he
was?"

Sergeant Silk shook his head.

"I have told you that he left no clue that was worth following up," he
answered. "The ground was frozen hard, and he made no track. In a
lonesome place like that, where there was no one to see him come or go,
it was easy for him to disappear."

It was Percy Rapson who made the next remark.

"I should have thought he'd at least have left his finger marks on some
of those papers," he said, and he glanced in the direction of Eben
Sharrow, who, having at last cleaned out his pipe, was slowly loading it
with tobacco. "That was a case in which finger-prints might have been
useful."

Sergeant Silk's eyebrows gathered for an instant in a frown of vexation
at this reference to finger-prints.

"Quite so," he said. "If one had had any suspicion against any
particular person and could have examined his hand, it would have been a
means of proving or disproving his connection with the crime."

Percy Rapson's eyes were still lingering curiously upon Eben Sharrow,
who now bent forward to get a light from the fire. As he held the light
to his pipe, Sharrow looked across at Sergeant Silk.

"Seems ter me," he said, rising to his feet, "as I kinder recollect
hearin' as that skunk you're talkin' about--him as you never could find
trace of--was eaten by a pack of timber wolves. 'Tain't any wonder you
couldn't arrest him."

Silk dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his foot.

"Exactly," he nodded. "Such a rumour got abroad. But it was only a
rumour, circulated by the express rider, who carried on what was saved
of the mails. On the morning after the crime, as he rode out with me
from Coyote Landing, he came upon a patch of blood-stained grass, torn
about by the feet of many wolves. It certainly seemed as if the robber
had, as you say, been eaten up by the hungry pack, for near by there
were also found some fragments of the envelope of a registered letter.
But it was curious that the wolves hadn't left even a button or a boot
or some shreds of clothing that would show that their victim had been
human; whereas, as it happened, I had myself shot a wolf on that very
same spot, and I needn't remind you of the habit that hungry wolves have
of devouring their own kind. As for the fragments of paper--the bits of
torn envelope--there was sure evidence that they had been hidden where
they were found a good two hours before the wolves came along at the
heels of my mare."

"So?" Sharrow coughed, as if the smoke of his pipe had gone the wrong
way. He turned from the fire and strode down the slope of the river
bank.

Sergeant Silk, watching the direction in which he went, stood up, and
touched young Rapson on the shoulder.

"If you're hankering to see the firing of that charge of dynamite they
were fixing, Percy," he said casually, "we may as well get along as soon
as we've been to the stables to give our mounts a feed. It'll be a sight
worth seeing when that jam pulls, I can promise you, and it's likely to
pull at any time."

Percy accompanied him to the water's edge, and they took up their
position among the eager crowd of watchers.

The jam appeared to be upon the point of breaking without the further
help of dynamite, and a new crew of drivers were at work clamping their
peavies to the stubborn timbers and moving them one by one in the
endeavour to get at the key logs, which had at last been found.

Already certain ominous groanings and grumblings were coming from the
heart of the vast, tangled pile, and the great tree trunks were
beginning to move of themselves before the pressure of the mass from
behind.

Soon, when the obstructing key logs should yield, the whole bulk would
plunge forward, to be swept along by the current like a wild stampede of
giant animals suddenly let loose, tumbling over one another and fighting
desperately for room in the onward rush.

Warning shouts from the onlookers told the lumber-jacks of their peril,
and the men hastened to the banks, holding their peavies in front of
them as balancing poles, and stepping smartly from log to log, keeping a
secure foothold by means of the long spikes in the soles of their boots.

"See!" cried Percy Rapson excitedly, as the pile began to collapse.
"The whole thing's moving now!"

It seemed, indeed, that the entire jam had started, but the watchers
presently realised that it was only a section that had broken off. This
section drifted downward for a distance of a hundred feet or so, and
then came to a sudden stop, plugged just as tightly as it had been
before, and leaving an open space of water, in which several loose tree
trunks floated, just opposite to where Sergeant Silk and Percy Rapson
stood with the watching crowd.

Suddenly Silk ran forward to the water's edge. He had seen that one of
the lumber-men had fallen into the stream, and was clinging to one of
the floating logs, struggling desperately to get a leg across it.

"Hey!" cried the sergeant at the top of his voice. "Make for the bank!
Swim ashore, quick! That back section's moving!"

Even as he shouted there was an ominously loud crunching, rumbling
sound of grinding timbers, and the back section of the jam began to
break away.

Every one near saw and understood the man's terrible peril. He was
caught between the two sections, and one of them was moving steadily
towards him to crush him out of life.

"Who is it?" questioned Bob Wilson. "How'd he git thar'?"

"Fell in," answered Andy O'Reilly. "It's Eben Sharrow, and, say, he
can't swim a stroke. Guess he's sure done for."

"Sure," nodded Wilson. "Ain't got a ghost of a chance. Best not look.
Come away!"

He caught at Percy Rapson's sleeve to draw him from the sight. But Percy
stood firm with his eyes staring wildly at Sergeant Silk.

"Silk! Silk! Come back!" the boy shouted. "You can't do it!"

Whether he heard or not, Silk did not heed the cry. He had thrown off
his hat and belt and had plunged into the narrowing stretch of water.
With a swift, strong side stroke he was swimming out to the man's
rescue.

Narrower and narrower grew the stretch of broken water between the
closing walls of giant logs; but quicker still did the space lessen
between the swimming red-coated policeman and the man he sought to
rescue from a certain terrible death.

When he reached him at last the voices of the river men broke into a
cheer.

But Percy Rapson was too agitated to open his lips. With his body bent
forward and his eyes staring wide, he watched and watched.

He saw Sergeant Silk catch hold of the man's right leg and raise it
upward out of the water, flinging it over the thick, floating log, then
push him bodily upward until he lay flat along the spar. Leaving him so,
Silk then worked his way hand over hand to the log's far end, and
hoisted himself upon it as he might have mounted his horse.

Already the oncoming stack of timber, driving the waves in front of it,
was forcing the log forward, and the gap was hardly more than a score of
feet in width.

The watchers held their breath, anticipating the moment of contact when
the colliding walls should topple over and the two men be caught and
crushed out of existence.

Eben Sharrow rose to his feet, and, aided by his spiked boots, walked
along the unsteady baulk of timber and seized hold of Silk's uplifted
hand, raising him cautiously until they stood side by side. The
lumber-man was then seen to be pointing here and there to the face of
the jam that they were approaching.

"That's right; that's right," muttered Bob Wilson. "They c'n do it just
thar', I reckon. Eben knows. They're sure safe now, if they jump quick."

For many moments of thrilling suspense the two men were hidden from
sight between the dark brown walls of groaning, splintering logs. But
presently Sergeant Silk's red tunic appeared like a flash of vivid light
as he leapt from point to point, scaling the perilous face of the
writhing pile of logs, followed by the man he had saved.

Silk's face was grim and pale, and he was breathing deeply when he
strode along the bank in his dripping clothes, and he only nodded when
Percy Rapson ran up to him with his hat and belt.

Half-an-hour later he was seated on a log in front of the fire, wrapped
in his blanket and overcoat and sipping from a bowl of hot pemmican
soup, while he watched Percy holding his steaming tunic to the warmth.
On his knees lay his watch, his tobacco pouch, his pocket-book, and
other possessions which he had taken from the pouches of his saturated
clothes.

"Yes," he was saying. "That's the worst of getting into the water. It
makes you so wet, and turns everything so messy. My 'bacca's all spoilt.
Watch is stopped, too. First time it has stopped ticking for a couple of
years."

"It would have been heaps worse if you yourself had stopped," declared
Percy, without looking round. "You ran a frightful risk. And all for the
sake of a worthless lumber-jack."

"No man's life is worthless, Percy," Silk said reprovingly, putting
aside the soup bowl and taking up his pocket-book and opening it.
"Snakes!" he exclaimed. "The people who sold me this pocket-book swore
it was waterproof, and it's nothing of the kind! The papers are all
wet."

"I hope that sketch of the canoe isn't spoilt," said Percy. "I should
like you to give it me as a memento. May I have it?"

He glanced round now, and saw that Silk had spread out the drawing upon
his knee, together with a fragment of white paper, which looked like the
corner torn from an envelope, upon which there was a dull red stain.

"May you have it?" Silk smiled, folding the sketch and handing it to
him. "Why, cert'nly. You're welcome to it. It has served its purpose."

Percy looked at him sharply. There was an expression of curious
satisfaction in the Sergeant's clear blue eyes.

"Do you mean----?" he began, but checked himself.

He had not known, had not noticed, that the man Eben Sharrow had crept
into the warmth of the fire; but he saw him now, kneeling near and
holding his trembling hands to the flames.

"Say, my man, there's a mouthful of soup in that bowl," said Silk. "You
may as well take it."

Sharrow shook his head.

"I've had some," he responded, his teeth chattering. "Thank you all the
same."

He said no word of what Sergeant Silk had done for him, but lapsed into
sullen silence, the while he crouched shivering beside the fire. But
presently he roused himself and moved half round, facing his rescuer.

"Sergeant?" he said.

"Well?" returned Silk.

Sharrow hesitated awkwardly, then spoke.

"You was plumb right when you guessed as that skunk wasn't took by the
wolves," he said; "plumb right, you was. Wolves never was near him. He
vamoosed. He escaped. He's alive even now. Did you know?"

Silk slowly gathered the things from his knees.

"Yes, I knew," he answered quietly. "I know now--to-day--that he is
here in this camp."

"An' you just saved his life," added Sharrow. "Saved it at the risk of
your own?"

"It was risky," Silk nodded; "decidedly risky."

"It was brave," declared Sharrow. "Real gold brave. And now," he added,
"I just reckon you're figgerin' ter do your duty right away, an' hale
that thar' low-down, good-fer-nothin' skunk off ter prison--an' wuss?"

Sergeant Silk looked at the man very steadily.

"Why, cert'nly," he answered. "Duty is duty."



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY HENDERSON AND SPALDING LTD LONDON SE15



                     *    *    *    *    *



Transcriber's note:

Minor punctuation errors were corrected.





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