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Title: Isobel : A Romance of the Northern Trail
Author: Curwood, James Oliver, 1878-1927
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 "Isobel : A Romance of the Northern Trail" ***

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 Isobel

 A Romance of the Northern Trail

 by James Oliver Curwood, 1913

                                  TO
                               CARLOTTA
                        WHO IS WITH ME AND TO
                                VIOLA
                WHO FILLS FOR ME A DREAM OF THE FUTURE
                 I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THIS BOOK

 I

 THE MOST TERRIBLE THING IN THE WORLD

At Point Fullerton, one thousand miles straight north of civilization,
Sergeant William MacVeigh wrote with the stub end of a pencil between
his fingers the last words of his semi-annual report to the
Commissioner of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police at Regina.

He concluded:

  "I beg to say that I have made every effort to run down Scottie
  Deane, the murderer. I have not given up hope of finding him, but I
  believe that he has gone from my territory and is probably now
  somewhere within the limits of the Fort Churchill patrol. We have
  hunted the country for three hundred miles south along the shore of
  Hudson's Bay to Eskimo Point, and as far north as Wagner Inlet.
  Within three months we have made three patrols west of the Bay,
  unraveling sixteen hundred miles without finding our man or word of
  him. I respectfully advise a close watch of the patrols south of
  the Barren Lands."

"There!" said MacVeigh aloud, straightening his rounded shoulders with
a groan of relief. "It's done."

From his bunk in a corner of the little wind and storm beaten cabin
which represented Law at the top end of the earth Private Pelliter
lifted a head wearily from his sick bed and said: "I'm bloomin' glad
of it, Mac. Now mebbe you'll give me a drink of water and shoot that
devilish huskie that keeps howling every now and then out there as
though death was after me."

"Nervous?" said MacVeigh, stretching his strong young frame with
another sigh of satisfaction. "What if you had to write this twice a
year?" And he pointed at the report.

"It isn't any longer than the letters you wrote to that girl of
yours--"

Pelliter stopped short. There was a moment of embarrassing silence.
Then he added, bluntly, and with a hand reaching out: "I beg your
pardon, Mac. It's this fever. I forgot for a moment that-- that you
two-- had broken."

"That's all right," said MacVeigh, with a quiver in his voice, as he
turned for the water.

"You see," he added, returning with a tin cup, "this report is
different. When you're writing to the Big Mogul himself something gets
on your nerves. And it has been a bad year with us, Pelly. We fell
down on Scottie, and let the raiders from that whaler get away from
us. And-- By Jo, I forgot to mention the wolves!"

"Put in a P. S.," suggested Pelliter.

"A P. S. to his Royal Nibs!" cried MacVeigh, staring incredulously at
his mate. "There's no use of feeling your pulse any more, Pelly. The
fever's got you. You're sure out of your head."

He spoke cheerfully, trying to bring a smile to the other's pale face.
Pelliter dropped back with a sigh.

"No-- there isn't any use feeling my pulse," he repeated. "It isn't
sickness, Bill-- not sickness of the ordinary sort. It's in my brain--
that's where it is. Think of it-- nine months up here, and never a
glimpse of a white man's face except yours. Nine months without the
sound of a woman's voice. Nine months of just that dead, gray world
out there, with the northern lights hissing at us every night like
snakes and the black rocks staring at us as they've stared for a
million centuries. There may be glory in it, but that's all. We're
'eroes all right, but there's no one knows it but ourselves and the
six hundred and forty-nine other men of the Royal Mounted. My God,
what I'd give for the sight of a girl's face, for just a moment's
touch of her hand! It would drive out this fever, for it's the fever
of loneliness, Mac-- a sort of madness, and it's splitting my 'ead."

"Tush, tush!" said MacVeigh, taking his mate's hand. "Wake up, Pelly!
Think of what's coming. Only a few months more of it, and we'll be
changed. And then-- think of what a heaven you'll be entering. You'll
be able to enjoy it more than the other fellows, for they've never had
this. And I'm going to bring you back a letter-- from the little
girl--"

Pelliter's face brightened.

"God bless her!" he exclaimed. "There'll be letters from her-- a dozen
of them. She's waited a long time for me, and she's true to the bottom
of her dear heart. You've got my letter safe?"

"Yes."

MacVeigh went back to the rough little table and added still further
to his report to the Commissioner of the Royal Mounted in the
following words:

  "Pelliter is sick with a strange trouble in his head. At times I
  have been afraid he was going mad, and if he lives I advise his
  transfer south at an early date. I am leaving for Churchill two
  weeks ahead of the usual time in order to get medicines. I also
  wish to add a word to what I said about wolves in my last report.
  We have seen them repeatedly in packs of from fifty to one
  thousand. Late this autumn a pack attacked a large herd of
  traveling caribou fifteen miles in from the Bay, and we counted the
  remains of one hundred and sixty animals killed over a distance of
  less than three miles. It is my opinion that the wolves kill at
  least five thousand caribou in this patrol each year.

  "I have the honor to be, sir,

                                              "Your obedient servant,
                                      " WILLIAM MACVEIGH, Sergeant,
                                     "In charge of detachment."

He folded the report, placed it with other treasures in the waterproof
rubber bag which always went into his pack, and returned to Pelliter's
side.

"I hate to leave you alone, Pelly," he said. "But I'll make a fast
trip of it-- four hundred and fifty miles over the ice, and I'll do it
in ten days or bust. Then ten days back, mebbe two weeks, and you'll
have the medicines and the letters. Hurrah!"

"Hurrah!" cried Pelliter.

He turned his face a little to the wall. Something rose up in
MacVeigh's throat and choked him as he gripped Pelliter's hand.

"My God, Bill, is that the sun?" suddenly cried Pelliter.

MacVeigh wheeled toward the one window of the cabin. The sick man
tumbled from his bunk. Together they stood for a moment at the window,
staring far to the south and east, where a faint red rim of gold shot
up through the leaden sky.

"It's the sun," said MacVeigh, like one speaking a prayer.

"The first in four months," breathed Pelliter.

Like starving men the two gazed through the window. The golden light
lingered for a few moments, then died away. Pelliter went back to his
bunk.

Half an hour later four dogs, a sledge, and a man were moving swiftly
through the dead and silent gloom of Arctic day. Sergeant MacVeigh was
on his way to Fort Churchill, more than four hundred miles away.

This is the loneliest journey in the world, the trip down from the
solitary little wind-beaten cabin at Point Fullerton to Fort
Churchill. That cabin has but one rival in the whole of the
Northland-- the other cabin at Herschel Island, at the mouth of the
Firth, where twenty-one wooden crosses mark twenty-one white men's
graves. But whalers come to Herschel. Unless by accident, or to break
the laws, they never come in the neighborhood of Fullerton. It is at
Fullerton that men die of the most terrible thing in the world--
loneliness. In the little cabin men have gone mad.

The gloomy truth oppressed MacVeigh as he guided his dog team over the
ice into the south. He was afraid for Pelliter. He prayed that
Pelliter might see the sun now and then. On the second day he stopped
at a cache of fish which they had put up in the early autumn for dog
feed. He stopped at a second cache on the fifth day, and spent the
sixth night at an Eskimo igloo at Blind Eskimo Point. Late on the
ninth day he came into Fort Churchill, with an average of fifty miles
a day to his credit.

From Fullerton men came in nearer dead than alive when they made the
hazard in winter. MacVeigh's face was raw from the beat of the wind.
His eyes were red. He had a touch of runner's cramp. He slept for
twenty-four hours in a warm bed without stirring. When he awoke he
raged at the commanding officer of the barrack for letting him sleep
so long, ate three meals in one, and did up his business in a hurry.

His heart warmed with pleasure when he sorted out of his mail nine
letters for Pelliter, all addressed in the same small, girlish hand.
There was none for himself-- none of the sort which Pelliter was
receiving, and the sickening loneliness within him grew almost
suffocating.

He laughed softly as he broke a law. He opened one of Pelliter's
letters-- the last one written-- and calmly read it. It was filled
with the sweet tenderness of a girl's love, and tears came into his
red eyes. Then he sat down and answered it. He told the girl about
Pelliter, and confessed to her that he had opened her last letter. And
the chief of what he said was that it would be a glorious surprise to
a man who was going mad (only he used loneliness in place of madness)
if she would come up to Churchill the following spring and marry him
there. He told her that he had opened her letter because he loved
Pelliter more than most men loved their brothers. Then he resealed the
letter, gave his mail to the superintendent, packed his medicines and
supplies, and made ready to return.

On this same day there came into Churchill a halfbreed who had been
hunting white foxes near Blind Eskimo, and who now and then did scout
work for the department. He brought the information that he had seen a
white man and a white woman ten miles south of the Maguse River. The
news thrilled MacVeigh.

"I'll stop at the Eskimo camp," he said to the superintendent. "It's
worth investigating, for I never knew of a white woman north of sixty
in this country. It might be Scottie Deane."

"Not very likely," replied the superintendent. "Scottie is a tall man,
straight and powerful. Coujag says this man was no taller than
himself, and walked like a hunchback. But if there are white people
out there their history is worth knowing."

The following morning MacVeigh started north. He reached the
half-dozen igloos which made up the Eskimo village late the third day.
Bye-Bye, the chief man, offered him no encouragement, MacVeigh gave
him a pound of bacon, and in return for the magnificent present
Bye-Bye told him that he had seen no white people. MacVeigh gave him
another pound, and Bye-Bye added that he had not heard of any white
people. He listened with the lifeless stare of a walrus while MacVeigh
impressed upon him that he was going inland the next morning to search
for white people whom he had heard were there. That night, in a
blinding snow-storm, Bye-Bye disappeared from camp.

MacVeigh left his dogs to rest up at the igloo village and swung
northwest on snow-shoes with the break of arctic dawn, which was but
little better than the night itself. He planned to continue in this
direction until he struck the Barren, then patrol in a wide circle
that would bring him back to the Eskimo camp the next night. From the
first he was handicapped by the storm. He lost Bye-Bye's snow-shoe
tracks a hundred yards from the igloos. All that day he searched in
sheltered places for signs of a camp or trail. In the afternoon the
wind died away, the sky cleared, and in the wake of the calm the cold
became so intense that trees cracked with reports like pistol shots.

He stopped to build a fire of scrub bush and eat his supper on the
edge of the Barren just as the cold stars began blazing over his head.
It was a white, still night. The southern timberline lay far behind
him, and to the north there was no timber for three hundred miles.
Between those lines there was no life, and so there was no sound. On
the west the Barren thrust itself down in a long finger ten miles in
width, and across that MacVeigh would have to strike to reach the
wooded country beyond. It was over there that he had the greatest hope
of discovering a trail. After he had finished his supper he loaded his
pipe, and sat hunched close up to his fire, staring out over the
Barren. For some reason he was filled with a strange and uncomfortable
emotion, and he wished that he had brought along one of his tired dogs
to keep him company.

He was accustomed to loneliness; he had laughed in the face of things
that had driven other men mad. But to-night there seemed to be
something about him that he had never known before, something that
wormed its way deep down into his soul and made his pulse beat faster.
He thought of Pelliter on his fever bed, of Scottie Deane, and then of
himself. After all, was there much to choose between the three of
them?

A picture rose slowly before him in the bush-fire, and in that picture
he saw Scottie, the man-hunted man, fighting a great fight to keep
himself from being hung by the neck until he was dead; and then he saw
Pelliter, dying of the sickness which comes of loneliness, and beyond
those two, like a pale cameo appearing for a moment out of gloom, he
saw the picture of a face. It was a girl's face, and it was gone in an
instant. He had hoped against hope that she would write to him again.
But she had failed him.

He rose to his feet with a little laugh, partly of joy and partly of
pain, as he thought of the true heart that was waiting for Pelliter.
He tied on his snow-shoes and struck out over the Barren. He moved
swiftly, looking sharply ahead of him. The night grew brighter, the
stars more brilliant. The zipp, zipp, zipp of the tails of his
snow-shoes was the only sound he heard except the first faint, hissing
monotone of the aurora in the northern skies, which came to him like
the shivering run of steel sledge runners on hard snow.

In place of sound the night about him began to fill with ghostly life.
His shadow beckoned and grimaced ahead of him, and the stunted bush
seemed to move. His eyes were alert and questing. Within himself he
reasoned that he would see nothing, and yet some unusual instinct
moved him to caution. At regular intervals he stopped to listen and to
sniff the air for an odor of smoke. More and more he became like a
beast of prey. He left the last bush behind him. Ahead of him the
starlit space was now unbroken by a single shadow. Weird whispers came
with a low wind that was gathering in the north.

Suddenly MacVeigh stopped and swung his rifle into the crook of his
arm. Something that was not the wind had come up out of the night. He
lifted his fur cap from his ears and listened. He heard it again,
faintly, the frosty singing of sledge runners. The sledge was
approaching from the open Barren, and he cleared for action. He took
off his heavy fur mittens and snapped them to his belt, replaced them
with his light service gloves, and examined his revolver to see that
the cylinder was not frozen. Then he stood silent and waited.

 II

 BILLY MEETS THE WOMAN

Out of the gloom a sledge approached slowly. It took form at last in a
dim shadow, and MacVeigh saw that it would pass very near to him. He
made out, one after another, a human figure, three dogs, and the
toboggan. There was something appalling in the quiet of this specter
of life looming up out of the night. He could no longer hear the
sledge, though it was within fifty paces of him. The figure in advance
walked slowly and with bowed head, and the dogs and the sledge
followed in a ghostly line. Human leader and animals were oblivious to
MacVeigh, silent and staring in the white night. They were opposite
him before he moved.

Then he strode out quickly, with a loud holloa. At the sound of his
voice there followed a low cry, the dogs stopped in their traces, and
the figure ran back to the sledge. MacVeigh drew his revolver. Half a
dozen long strides and he had reached the sledge. From the opposite
side a white face stared at him, and with one hand resting on the
heavily laden sledge, and his revolver at level with his waist,
MacVeigh stared back in speechless astonishment.

For the great, dark, frightened eyes that looked across at him, and
the white, staring face he recognized as the eyes and the face of a
woman. For a moment he was unable to move or speak, and the woman
raised her hands and pushed back her fur hood so that he saw her hair
shimmering in the starlight. She was a white woman. Suddenly he saw
something in her face that struck him with a chill, and he looked down
at the thing under his hand. It was a long, rough box. He drew back a
step.

"Good God!" he said. "Are you alone?"

She bowed her head, and he heard her voice in a half sob.

"Yes-- alone."

He passed quickly around to her side. "I am Sergeant MacVeigh, of the
Royal Mounted," he said, gently. "Tell me, where are you going, and
how does it happen that you are out here in the Barren-- alone."

Her hood had fallen upon her shoulder, and she lifted her face full to
MacVeigh. The stars shone in her eyes. They were wonderful eyes, and
now they were filled with pain. And it was a wonderful face to
MacVeigh, who had not seen a white woman's face for nearly a year. She
was young, so young that in the pale glow of the night she looked
almost like a girl, and in her eyes and mouth and the upturn of her
chin there was something so like that other face of which he had
dreamed that he reached out and took her two hesitating hands in his
own, and asked again:

"Where are you going, and why are you out here-- alone?"

"I am going-- down there," she said, turning her head toward the
timber-line. "I am going with him-- my husband--"

Her voice choked her, and, drawing her hands suddenly from him, she
went to the sledge and stood facing him. For a moment there was a glow
of defiance in her eyes, as though she feared him and was ready to
fight for herself and her dead. The dogs slunk in at her feet, and
MacVeigh saw the gleam of their naked fangs in the starlight.

"He died three days ago," she finished, quietly, "and I am taking him
back to my people, down on the Little Seul."

"It is two hundred miles," said MacVeigh, looking at her as if she
were mad. "You will die."

"I have traveled two days," replied the woman. "I am going on."

"Two days-- across the Barren!"

MacVeigh looked at the box, grim and terrible in the ghostly radiance
that fell upon it. Then he looked at the woman. She had bowed her head
upon her breast, and her shining hair fell loose and disheveled. He
saw the pathetic droop of her tired shoulders, and knew that she was
crying. In that moment a thrilling warmth flooded every fiber of his
body, and the glory of this that had come to him from out of the
Barren held him mute. To him woman was all that was glorious and good.
The pitiless loneliness of his life had placed them next to angels in
his code of things, and before him now he saw all that he had ever
dreamed of in the love and loyalty of womanhood and of wifehood.

The bowed little figure before him was facing death for the man she
had loved, and who was dead. In a way he knew that she was mad. And
yet her madness was the madness of a devotion that was beyond fear, of
a faithfulness that made no measure of storm and cold and starvation;
and he was filled with a desire to go up to her as she stood crumpled
and exhausted against the box, to take her close in his arms and tell
her that of such a love he had built for himself the visions which had
kept him alive in his loneliness. She looked pathetically like a
child.

"Come, little girl," he said. "We'll go on. I'll see you safely on
your way to the Little Seul. You mustn't go alone. You'd never reach
your people alive. My God, if I were he--"

He stopped at the frightened look in the white face she lifted to him.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing-- only it's hard for a man to die and lose a woman like you,"
said MacVeigh. "There-- let me lift you up on the box."

"The dogs cannot pull the load," she objected. "I have helped them--"

"If they can't, I can," he laughed, softly; and with a quick movement
he picked her up and seated her on the sledge. He stripped off his
pack and placed it behind her, and then he gave her his rifle. The
woman looked straight at him with a tense, white face as she placed
the weapon across her lap.

"You can shoot me if I don't do my duty," said MacVeigh. He tried to
hide the happiness that came to him in this companionship of woman,
but it trembled in his voice. He stopped suddenly, listening.

"What was that?"

"I heard nothing," said the woman. Her face was deadly white. Her eyes
had grown black.

MacVeigh turned, with a word to the dogs. He picked up the end of the
babiche rope with which the woman had assisted them to drag their
load, and set off across the Barren. The presence of the dead had
always been oppressive to him, but to-night it was otherwise. His
fatigue of the day was gone, and in spite of the thing he was helping
to drag behind him he was filled with a strange elation. He was in the
presence of a woman. Now and then he turned his head to look at her.
He could feel her behind him, and the sound of her low voice when she
spoke to the dogs was like music to him. He wanted to burst forth in
the wild song with which he and Pelliter had kept up their courage in
the little cabin, but he throttled his desire and whistled instead. He
wondered how the woman and the dogs had dragged the sledge. It sank
deep in the soft drift-snow, and taxed his strength. Now and then he
paused to rest, and at last the woman jumped from the sledge and came
to his side.

"I am going to walk," she said. "The load is too heavy."

"The snow is soft," replied MacVeigh. "Come."

He held out his hand to her; and, with the same strange, white look in
her face, the woman gave him her own. She glanced back uneasily toward
the box, and MacVeigh understood. He pressed her fingers a little
tighter and drew her nearer to him. Hand in hand, they resumed their
way across the Barren. MacVeigh said nothing, but his blood was
running like fire through his body. The little hand he held trembled
and started uneasily. Once or twice it tried to draw itself away, and
he held it closer. After that it remained submissively in his own,
warm and thrilling. Looking down, he could see the profile of the
woman's face.

A long, shining tress of her hair had freed itself from under her
hood, and the light wind lifted it so that it fell across his arm.
Like a thief he raised it to his lips, while the woman looked straight
ahead to where the timber-line began to show in a thin, black streak.
His cheeks burned, half with shame, half with tumultuous joy. Then he
straightened his shoulders and shook the floating tress from his arm.

Three-quarters of an hour later they came to the first of the timber.
He still held her hand. He was still holding it, with the brilliant
starlight falling upon them, when his chin shot suddenly into the air
again, alert and fighting, and he cried, softly:

"What was that?"

"Nothing," said the woman. "I heard nothing-- unless it was the wind
in the trees."

She drew away from him. The dogs whined and slunk close to the box.
Across the Barren came a low, wailing wind.

"The storm is coming back," said MacVeigh. "It must have been the wind
that I heard."

 III

 IN HONOR OF THE LIVING

For a few moments after uttering those words Billy stood silent
listening for a sound that was not the low moaning of the wind far out
on the Barren. He was sure that he had heard it-- something very near,
almost at his feet, and yet it was a sound which he could not place or
understand. He looked at the woman. She was gazing steadily at him.

"I hear it now," she said. "It is the wind. It has frightened me. It
makes such terrible sounds at times-- out on the Barren. A little
while ago-- I thought-- I heard-- a child crying--"

Billy saw her clutch a hand at her throat, and there were both terror
and grief in the eyes that never for an instant left his face. He
understood. She was almost ready to give way under the terrible strain
of the Barren. He smiled at her, and spoke in a voice that he might
have used to a little child.

"You are tired, little girl?"

"Yes-- yes-- I am tired--"

"And hungry and cold?"

"Yes."

"Then we will camp in the timber."

They went on until they came to a growth of spruce so dense that it
formed a shelter from both snow and wind, with a thick carpet of brown
needles under foot. They were shut out from the stars, and in the
darkness MacVeigh began to whistle cheerfully. He unstrapped his pack
and spread out one of his blankets close to the box and wrapped the
other about the woman's shoulders.

"You sit here while I make a fire," he said.

He piled up dry needles over a precious bit of his birchbark and
struck a flame. In the glowing light he found other fuel, and added to
the fire until the crackling blaze leaped as high as his head. The
woman's face was hidden, and she looked as though she had fallen
asleep in the warmth of the fire. For half an hour Mac-Veigh dragged
in fuel until he had a great pile of it in readiness.

Then he forked out a deep bed of burning coals and soon the odor of
coffee and frying bacon aroused his companion. She raised her head and
threw back the blanket with which he had covered her shoulders. It was
warm where she sat, and she took off her hood while he smiled at her
companionably from over the fire. Her reddish-brown hair tumbled about
her shoulders, rippling and glistening in the fire glow, and for a few
moments she sat with it falling loosely about her, with her eyes upon
MacVeigh. Then she gathered it between her fingers, and MacVeigh
watched her while she divided it into shining strands and pleated it
into a big braid.

"Supper is ready," he said. "Will you eat it there?"

She nodded, and for the first time she smiled at him. He brought bacon
and bread and coffee and other things from his pack and placed them on
a folded blanket between them. He sat opposite her, cross-legged. For
the first time he noticed that her eyes were blue and that there was a
flush in her cheeks. The flush deepened as he looked at her, and she
smiled at him again.

The smile, the momentary drooping of her eyes, set his heart leaping,
and for a little while he was unconscious of taste in the food he
swallowed. He told her of his post away up at Point Fullerton, and of
Pelliter, who was dying of loneliness.

"It's been a long time since I've seen a woman like you," he confided.
"And it seems like heaven. You don't know how lonely I am!" His voice
trembled. "I wish that Pelliter could see you-- just for a moment," he
added. "It would make him live again."

Something in the soft glow of her eyes urged other words to his lips.

"Mebbe you don't know what it means not to see a white woman in-- in--
all this time," he went on. "You won't think that I've gone mad, will
you, or that I'm saying or doing anything that's wrong? I'm trying to
hold myself back, but I feel like shouting, I'm that glad. If Pelliter
could see you--" He reached suddenly in his pocket and drew out the
precious packet of letters. "He's got a girl down south-- just like
you," he said. "These are from her. If I get 'em up in time they'll
bring him round. It's not medicine he wants. It's woman-- just a sight
of her, and sound of her, and a touch of her hand."

She reached across and took the letters. In the firelight he saw that
her hand was trembling.

"Are they-- married?" she asked, softly.

"No, but they're going to be," he cried, triumphantly. "She's the most
beautiful thing in the world, next to--"

He paused, and she finished for him.

"Next to one other girl-- who is yours."

"No, I wasn't going to say that. You won't think I mean wrong, will
you, if I tell you? I was going to say next to-- you. For you've come
out of the blizzard-- like an angel to give me new hope. I was sort of
broke when you came. If you disappeared now and I never saw you again
I'd go back and fight the rest of my time out, an' dream of pleasant
things. Gawd! Do you know a man has to be put up here before he knows
that life isn't the sun an' the moon an' the stars an' the air we
breathe. It's woman-- just woman."

He was returning the letters to his pocket. The woman's voice was
clear and gentle. To Billy it rose like sweetest music above the
crackling of the fire and the murmuring of the wind in the spruce
tops.

"Men like you-- ought to have a woman to care for," she said. "He was
like that."

"You mean--" His eyes sought the long, dark box.

"Yes-- he was like that."

"I know how you feel," he said; and for a moment he did not look at
her. "I've gone through-- a lot of it. Father an' mother and a sister.
Mother was the last, and I wasn't much more than a kid-- eighteen, I
guess-- but it don't seem much more than yesterday. When you come up
here and you don't see the sun for months nor a white face for a year
or more it brings up all those things pretty much as though they
happened only a little while ago.'"

"All of them are-- dead?" she asked.

"All but one. She wrote to me for a long time, and I thought she'd
keep her word. Pelly-- that's Pelliter-- thinks we've just had a
misunderstanding, and that she'll write again. I haven't told him that
she turned me down to marry another fellow. I didn't want to make him
think any unpleasant things about his own girl. You're apt to do that
when you're almost dying of loneliness."

The woman's eyes were shining. She leaned a little toward him.

"You should be glad," she said. "If she turned you down she wouldn't
have been worthy of you-- afterward. She wasn't a true woman. If she
had been, her love wouldn't have grown cold because you were away. It
mustn't spoil your faith-- because that is-- beautiful."

He had put a hand into his pocket again, and drew out now a thin
package wrapped in buckskin. His face was like a boy's.

"I might have-- if I hadn't met you," he said. "I'd like to let you
know-- some way-- what you've done for me. You and this."

He had unfolded the buckskin, and gave it to her. In it were the big
blue petals and dried stem of a blue flower.

"A blue flower!" she said.

"Yes. You know what it means. The Indians call it i-o-waka, or
something like that, because they believe that it is the flower spirit
of the purest and most beautiful thing in the world. I have called it
woman."

He laughed, and there was a joyous sort of note in the laugh.

"You may think me a little mad," he said, "but do you care if I tell
you about that blue flower?"

The woman nodded. There was a little quiver at her throat which Billy
did not see.

"I was away up on the Great Bear," he said, "and for ten days and ten
nights I was in camp-- alone-- laid up with a sprained ankle. It was a
wild and gloomy place, shut in by barren ridge mountains, with stunted
black spruce all about, and those spruce were haunted by owls that
made my blood run cold nights. The second day I found company. It was
a blue flower. It grew close to my tent, as high as my knee, and
during the day I used to spread out my blanket close to it and lie
there and smoke. And the blue flower would wave on its slender stem,
an' bob at me, an' talk in sign language that I imagined I understood.
Sometimes it was so funny and vivacious that I laughed, and then it
seemed to be inviting me to a dance. And at other times it was just
beautiful and still, and seemed listening to what the forest was
saying-- and once or twice, I thought, it might be praying. Loneliness
makes a fellow foolish, you know. With the going of the sun my blue
flower would always fold its petals and go to sleep, like a little
child tired out by the day's play, and after that I would feel
terribly lonely. But it was always awake again when I rolled out in
the morning. At last the time came when I was well enough to leave. On
the ninth night I watched my blue flower go to sleep for the last
time. Then I packed. The sun was up when I went away the next morning,
and from a little distance I turned and looked back. I suppose I was
foolish, and weak for a man, but I felt like crying. Blue flower had
taught me many things I had not known before. It had made me think.
And when I looked back it was in a pool of sunlight, and it was waving
at me! It seemed to me that it was calling-- calling me back-- and I
ran to it and picked it from the stem, and it has been with me ever
since that hour. It has been my Bible an' my comrade, an' I've known
it was the spirit of the purest and the most beautiful thing in the
world-- woman. I--" His voice broke a little. "I-- I may be foolish,
but I'd like to have you take it, an' keep it-- always-- for me."

He could see now the quiver of her lips as she looked across at him.

"Yes, I will take it," she said. "I will take it and keep it--
always."

"I've been keeping it for a woman-- somewhere," he said. "Foolish
idea, wasn't it? And I've been telling you all this, when I want to
hear what happened back there, and what you are going to do when you
reach your people. Do you mind-- telling me?"

"He died-- that's all," she replied, fighting to speak calmly. "I
promised to take him back-- to my people, And when I get there-- I
don't know-- what I shall-- do--"

She caught her breath. A low sob broke from her lips.

"You don't know-- what you will do--"

Billy's voice sounded strange even to himself. He rose to his feet and
looked down into her upturned face, his hands clenched, his body
trembling with the fight he was making. Words came to his lips and
were forced back again-- words which almost won in their struggle to
tell her again that she had come to him from out of the Barren like an
angel, that within the short space since their meeting he had lived a
lifetime, and that he loved her as no man had ever loved a woman
before. Her blue eyes looked at him questioningly as he stood above
her.

And then he saw the thing which for a moment he had forgotten-- the
long, rough box at the woman's back. His fingers dug deeper into his
palms, and with a gasping breath he turned away. A hundred paces back
in the spruce he had found a bare rock with a red bakneesh vine
growing over it. With his knife he cut off an armful, and when he
returned with it into the light of the fire the bakneesh glowed like a
mass of crimson flowers. The woman had risen to her feet, and looked
at him speechlessly as he scattered the vine over the box. He turned
to her and said, softly:

"In honor of the dead!"

The color had faded from her face, but her eyes shone like stars.
Billy advanced toward her with his hands reaching out. But suddenly he
stopped and stood listening. After a moment he turned and asked again:

"What was that?"

"I heard the dogs-- and the wind," she replied.

"It's something cracking in my head, I guess," said MacVeigh. "It
sounded like--" He passed a hand over his forehead and looked at the
dogs huddled in deep sleep beside the sledge. The woman did not see
the shiver that passed through him. He laughed cheerfully, and seized
his ax.

"Now for the camp," he announced. "We're going to get the storm within
an hour."

On the box the woman carried a small tent, and he pitched it close to
the fire, filling the interior two feet deep with cedar and balsam
boughs. His own silk service tent he put back in the deeper shadows of
the spruce. When he had finished he looked questioningly at the woman
and then at the box.

"If there is room-- I would like it in there-- with me," she said, and
while she stood with her face to the fire he dragged the box into the
tent. Then he piled fresh fuel upon the fire and came to bid her good
night. Her face was pale and haggard now, but she smiled at him, and
to MacVeigh she was the most beautiful thing in the world. Within
himself he felt that he had known her for years and years, and he took
her hands and looked down into her blue eyes and said, almost in a
whisper:

"Will you forgive me if I'm doing wrong? You don't know how lonesome
I've been, and how lonesome I am, and what it means to me to look once
more into a woman's face. I don't want to hurt you, and I'd-- I'd"--
his voice broke a little--"I'd give him back life if I could, just
because I've seen you and know you and-- and love you."

She started and drew a quick, sharp breath that came almost in a low
cry.

"Forgive me, little girl," he went on. "I may be a little mad. I guess
I am. But I'd die for you, and I'm going to see you safely down to
your people-- and-- and-- I wonder-- I wonder-- if you'd kiss me good
night--"

Her eyes never left his face. They were dazzlingly blue in the
firelight. Slowly she drew her hands away from him, still looking
straight into his eyes, and then she placed them against each of his
arms and slowly lifted her face to him. Reverently he bent and kissed
her.

"God bless you!" he whispered.

For hours after that he sat beside the fire. The wind came up stronger
across the Barren; the storm broke fresh from the north, the spruce
and the balsam wailed over his head, and he could hear the moaning
sweep of the blizzard out in the open spaces. But the sounds came to
him now like a new kind of music, and his heart throbbed and his soul
was warm with joy as he looked at the little tent wherein there lay
sleeping the woman whom he loved.

He still felt the warmth of her lips, he saw again and again the blue
softness that had come for an instant into her eyes, and he thanked
God for the wonderful happiness that had come to him. For the
sweetness of the woman's lips and the greater sweetness of her blue
eyes told him what life held for him now. A day's journey to the south
was an Indian camp. He would take her there, and would hire runners to
carry up Pelliter's medicines and his letters. Then he would go on--
with the woman-- and he laughed softly and joyously at the glorious
news which he would take back to Pelliter a little later. For the kiss
burned on his lips, the blue eyes smiled at him still from out of the
firelit gloom, and he knew nothing but hope.

It was late, almost midnight, when he went to bed. With the storm
wailing and twisting more fiercely about him, he fell asleep. And it
was late when he awoke. The forest was filled with a moaning sound.
The fire was low. Beyond it the flap of the woman's tent was still
down, and he put on fresh fuel quietly, so that he would not awaken
her. He looked at his watch and found that he had been sleeping for
nearly seven hours. Then he returned to his tent to get the things for
breakfast. Half a dozen paces from the door flap he stopped in sudden
astonishment.

Hanging to his tent in the form of a great wreath was the red bakneesh
which he had cut the night before, and over it, scrawled in charcoal
on the silk, there stared at him the crudely written words:

"In honor of the living."

With a low cry he sprang back toward the other tent, and then, as
sudden as his movement, there flashed upon him the significance of the
bakneesh wreath. The woman was saying to him what she had not spoken
in words. She had come out in the night while he was asleep and had
hung the wreath where he would see it in the morning. The blood rushed
warm and joyous through his body, and with something which was not a
laugh, but which was an exultant breath from the soul itself, he
straightened himself, and his hand fell in its old trick to his
revolver holster. It was empty.

He dragged out his blankets, but the weapon was not between them. He
looked into the corner where he had placed his rifle. That, too, was
gone. His face grew tense and white as he walked slowly beyond the
fire to the woman's tent. With his ear at the flap he listened. There
was no sound within-- no sound of movement, of life, of a sleeper's
breath; and like one who feared to reveal a terrible picture he drew
back the flap. The balsam bed which he had made for the woman was
empty, and across it had been drawn the big rough box. He stepped
inside. The box was open-- and empty, except for a mass of worn and
hard-packed balsam boughs in the bottom. In another instant the truth
burst in all its force upon MacVeigh. The box had held life, and the
woman--

Something on the side of the box caught his eyes. It was a folded bit
of paper, pinned where he must see it. He tore it off and staggered
with it back into the light of day. A low, hard cry came from his lips
as he read what the woman had written to him:

  "May God bless you for being good to me. In the storm we have
  gone-- my husband and I. Word came to us that you were on our
  trail, and we saw your fire out on the Barren. My husband made the
  box for me to keep me from cold and storm. When we saw you we
  changed places, and so you met me with my dead. He could have
  killed you-- a dozen times, but you were good to me, and so you
  live. Some day may God give you a good woman who will love you as I
  love him. He killed a man, but killing is not always murder. We
  have taken your weapons, and the storm will cover our trail. But
  you would not follow. I know that. For you know what it means to
  love a woman, and so you know what life means to a woman when she
  loves a man.           MRS. ISOBEL DEANE."

 IV

 THE MAN-HUNTERS

Like one dazed by a blow Billy read once more the words which Isobel
Deane had left for him. He made no sound after that first cry that had
broken from his lips, but stood looking into the crackling flames of
the fire until a sudden lash of the wind whipped the note from between
his fingers and sent it scurrying away in a white volley of fine snow.
The loss of the note awoke him to action. He started to pursue the bit
of paper, then stopped and laughed. It was a short, mirthless laugh,
the kind of a laugh with which a strong man covers pain. He returned
to the tent again and looked in. He flung back the tent flaps so that
the light could enter and he could see into the box. A few hours
before that box had hidden Scottie Deane, the murderer. And she was
his wife! He turned back to the fire, and he saw again the red
bakneesh hanging over his tent flap, and the words she had scrawled
with the end of a charred stick, "In honor of the living." That meant
him. Something thick and uncomfortable rose in his throat, and a blur
that was not caused by snow or wind filled his eyes. She had made a
magnificent fight. And she had won. And it suddenly occurred to him
that what she had said in the note was true, and that Scottie Deane
could easily have killed him. The next moment he wondered why he had
not done that. Deane had taken a big chance in allowing him to live.
They had only a few hours' start of him, and their trail could not be
entirely obliterated by the storm. Deane would be hampered in his
flight by the presence of his wife. He could still follow and overtake
them. They had taken his weapons, but this would not be the first time
that he had gone after his man without weapons.

Swiftly the reaction worked in him. He ran beyond the fire, and
circled quickly until he came upon the trail of the outgoing sledge.
It was still quite distinct. Deeper in the forest it could be easily
followed. Something fluttered at his feet. It was Isobel Deane's note.
He picked it up, and again his eyes fell upon those last words that
she had written: But you would not follow. I know that. For you know
what it means to love a woman, and so you know what life means to a
woman when she loves a man. That was why Scottie Deane had not killed
him. It was because of the woman. And she had faith in him! This time
he folded the note and placed it in his pocket, where the blue flower
had been. Then he went slowly back to the fire.

"I told you I'd give him back his life-- if I could," he said. "And I
guess I'm going to keep my word." He fell into his old habit of
talking to himself-- a habit that comes easily to one in the big open
spaces-- and he laughed as he stood beside the fire and loaded his
pipe. "If it wasn't for her!" he added, thinking of Scottie Deane.
"Gawd-- if it wasn't for her!"

He finished loading his pipe, and lighted it, staring off into the
thicker spruce forest into which Scottie and his wife had fled. The
entire force was on the lookout for Scottie Deane. For more than a
year he had been as elusive as the little white ermine of the woods.
He had outwitted the best men in the service, and his name was known
to every man of the Royal Mounted from Calgary to Herschel Island.
There was a price on his head, and fame for the man who captured him.
Those who dreamed of promotions also dreamed of Scottie Deane; and as
Billy thought of these things something that was not the man-hunting
instinct rose in him and his blood warmed with a strange feeling of
brotherhood. Scottie Deane was more than an outlaw to him now, more
than a mere man. Hunted like a rat, chased from place to place, he
must be more than those things for a woman like Isobel Deane still to
cling to. He recalled the gentleness of her voice, the sweetness of
her face, the tenderness of her blue eyes, and for the first time the
thought came to him that such a woman could not love a man who was
wholly bad. And she did love him. A twinge of pain came with that
truth, and yet with it a thrill of pleasure. Her loyalty was a
triumph-- even for him. She had come to him like an angel out of the
storm, and she had gone from him like an angel. He was glad. A living,
breathing reality had taken the place of the dream vision in his
heart, a woman who was flesh and blood, and who was as true and as
beautiful as the blue flower he had carried against his breast. In
that moment he would have liked to grip Scottie Deane by the hand,
because he was her husband and because he was man enough to make her
love him. Perhaps it was Deane who had hung the wreath of bakneesh on
his tent and who had scribbled the words in charcoal. And Deane surely
knew of the note his wife had written. The feeling of brotherhood grew
stronger in Billy, and thought of their faith in him filled him with a
strange elation.

The fire was growing low, and he turned to add fresh fuel. His eyes
caught sight of the box in the tent, and he dragged it out. He was
about to throw it on the fire when he hesitated and examined it more
closely. How far had they come, he wondered? It must have been from
the other side of the Barren, for Deane had built the box to protect
Isobel from the fierce winds of the open. It was built of light, dry
wood, hewn with a belt ax, and the corners were fastened with babiche
cord made of caribou skin in place of nails. The balsam that had been
placed in it for Isobel was still in the box, and Billy's heart beat a
little more quickly as he drew it out. It had been Isobel's bed. He
could see where the balsam was thicker, where her head had rested.
With a sudden breathless cry he thrust the box on the fire.

He was not hungry, but he made himself a pot of coffee and drank it.
Until now he had not observed that the storm was growing steadily
worse. The thick, low-hanging spruce broke the force of it. Beyond the
shelter of the forest he could hear the roar of it as it swept through
the thin scrub and open spaces of the edge of the Barren. It recalled
him once more to Pelliter. In the excitement of Isobel's presence and
the shock and despair that had followed her flight he had been guilty
of partly forgetting Pelliter. By the time he reached the Eskimo
igloos there would be two days lost. Those two days might mean
everything to his sick comrade. He jumped to his feet, felt in his
pocket to see that the letters were safe, and began to arrange his
pack. Through the trees there came now fine white volleys of
blistering snow. It was like the hardest granulated sugar. A sudden
blast of it stung his eyes; and, leaving his pack and tent, he made
his way anxiously toward the more open timber and scrub. A few hundred
yards from the camp he was forced to bow his head against the snow
volleys and pull the broad flaps of his cap down over his cheeks and
ears. A hundred yards more and he stopped, sheltering himself behind a
gnarled and stunted banskian. He looked out into the beginning of the
open. It was a white and seething chaos into which he could not see
the distance of a pistol shot. The Eskimo igloos were twenty miles
across the Barren, and Billy's heart sank. He could not make it. No
man could live in the storm that was sweeping straight down from the
Arctic, and he turned back to the camp. He had scarcely made the move
when he was startled by a strange sound coming with the wind. He faced
the white blur again, a hand dropping to his empty pistol holster. It
came again, and this time he recognized it. It was a shout, a man's
voice. Instantly his mind leaped to Deane and Isobel. What miracle
could be bringing them back?

A shadow grew out of the twisting blur of the storm. It quickly
separated itself into definite parts-- a team of dogs, a sledge, three
men. A minute more and the dogs stopped in a snarling tangle as they
saw Billy. Billy stepped forth. Almost instantly he found a revolver
leveled at his breast.

"Put that up, Bucky Smith," he called. "If you're looking for a man
you've found the wrong one!"

The man advanced. His eyes were red and staring. His pistol arm
dropped as he came within a yard of Billy.

"By-- It's you, is it, Billy MacVeigh!" he exclaimed. His laugh was
harsh and unpleasant. Bucky was a corporal in the service, and when
Billy had last heard of him he was stationed at Nelson House. For a
year the two men had been in the same patrol, and there was bad blood
between them. Billy had never told of a certain affair down at Norway
House, the knowledge of which at headquarters would have meant Bucky's
disgraceful retirement from the force. But he had called Bucky out in
fair fight and had whipped him within an inch of his life. The old
hatred burned in the corporal's eyes as he stared into Billy's face.
Billy ignored the look, and shook hands with the other men. One of
them was a Hudson's Bay Company's driver, and the other was Constable
Walker, from Churchill.

"Thought we'd never live to reach shelter," gasped Walker, as they
shook hands. "We're out after Scottie Deane, and we ain't losing a
minute. We're going to get him, too. His trail is so hot we can smell
it. My God, but I'm bushed!"

The dogs, with the company man at their head, were already making for
the camp. Billy grinned at the corporal as they followed.

"Had a pretty good chance to get me, if you'd been alone, didn't you,
Bucky?" he asked, in a voice that Walker did not hear. "You see, I
haven't forgotten your threat."

There was a steely hardness behind his laugh. He knew that Bucky Smith
was a scoundrel whose good fortune was that he had never been found
out in some of his evil work. In a flash his mind traveled back to
that day at Norway House when Rousseau, the half Frenchman, had come
to him from a sick-bed to tell him that Bucky had ruined his young
wife. Rousseau, who should have been in bed with his fever, died two
days later. Billy could still hear the taunt in Bucky's voice when he
had cornered him with Rousseau's accusation, and the fight had
followed. The thought that this man was now close after Isobel and
Deane filled him with a sort of rage, and as Walker went ahead he laid
a hand on Bucky's arm.

"I've been thinking about you of late, Bucky," he said. "I've been
thinking a lot about that affair down at Norway, an' I've been lacking
myself for not reporting it. I'm going to do it-- unless you cut a
right-angle track to the one you're taking. I'm after Scottie Deane
myself!"

In the next breath he could have cut out his tongue for having uttered
the words. A gleam of triumph shot into Bucky's eyes.

"I thought we was right," he said. "We sort of lost the trail in the
storm. Glad we found you to set us right. How much of a start of us
has he and that squaw that's traveling with him got?"

Billy's mittened hands clenched fiercely. He made no reply, but
followed quickly after Walker. His mind worked swiftly. As he came in
to the fire he saw that the dogs had already dropped down in their
traces and that they were exhausted. Walker's face was pinched, his
eyes half closed by the sting of the snow. The driver was half
stretched out on the sledge, his feet to the fire. In a glance he had
assured himself that both dogs and men had gone through a long and
desperate struggle in the storm. He looked at Bucky, and this time
there was neither rancor nor threat in his voice when he spoke.

"You fellows have had a hard time of it," he said. "Make yourselves at
home. I'm not overburdened with grub, but if you'll dig out some of
your own rations I'll get it ready while you thaw out."

Bucky was looking curiously at the two tents.

"Who's with you?" he asked.

Billy shrugged his shoulders. His voice was almost affable.

"Hate to tell you who was with me, Bucky," he laughed, "I came in late
last night, half dead, and found a half-breed camped here-- in that
silk tent. He was quite chummy-- mighty fine chap. Young fellow, too--
almost a kid. When I got up this morning--" Billy shrugged his
shoulders again and pointed to his empty pistol holster. "Everything
was gone-- dogs, sledge, extra tent, even my rifle and automatic. He
wasn't quite bad, though, for he left me my grub. He was a funny cuss,
too. Look at that!" He pointed to the bakneesh wreath that still hung
to the front of his tent. "'In honor of the living,'" he read, aloud,
"Just a sort of reminder, you know, that he might have hit me on the
head with a club if he'd wanted to." He came nearer to Bucky, and
said, good-naturedly: "I guess you've got me beat this time, Bucky.
Scottie Deane is pretty safe from me, wherever he is. I haven't even
got a gun!"

"He must have left a trail," remarked Bucky, eying him shrewdly.

"He did-- out there!"

As Bucky went to examine what was left of the trail Billy thanked
Heaven that Deane had placed Isobel on the sledge before he left camp.
There was nothing to betray her presence. Walker had unlaced their
outfit, and Billy was busy preparing a meal when Bucky returned. There
was a sneer on his lips.

"Didn't know you was that easy," he said. "Wonder why he didn't take
his tent! Pretty good tent, isn't it?"

He went inside. A minute later he appeared at the flap and called to
Billy.

"Look here!" he said, and there was a tremble of excitement in his
voice. His eyes were blazing with an ugly triumph. "Your half-breed
had pretty long hair, didn't he?"

He pointed to a splinter on one of the light tent-poles. Billy's heart
gave a sudden jump. A tress of Isobel's long, loose hair had caught in
the splinter, and a dozen golden-brown strands had remained to give
him away. For a moment he forgot that Bucky Smith was watching him. He
saw Isobel again as she had last entered the tent, her beautiful hair
flowing in a firelit glory about her, her eyes still filled with
tender gratitude. Once more he felt the warmth of her lips, the touch
of her hand, the thrill of her presence near him. Perhaps these
emotions covered any suspicious movement or word by which he might
otherwise have betrayed himself. By the time they were gone he had
recovered himself, and he turned to his companion with a low laugh.

"It's a woman's hair, all right, Bucky. He told me all sorts of nice
things about a girl `back home.' They must have been true."

The eyes of the two men met unflinchingly. There was a sneer on Buck's
lips; Billy was smiling.

"I'm going to follow this Frenchman after we've had a little rest,"
said the corporal, trying to cover a certain note of excitement and
triumph in his voice. "There's a woman traveling with Scottie Deane,
you know-- a white woman-- and there's only one other north of
Churchill. Of course, you're anxious to get back your stolen outfit?"

"You bet I am," exclaimed Billy, concealing the effect of the
bull's-eye shot Bucky had made. "I'm not particularly happy in the
thought of reporting myself stripped in this sort of way. The breed
will hang to thick cover, and it won't be difficult to follow his
trail."

He saw that Bucky was a little taken aback by his ready acquiescence,
and before the other could reply he hurried out to join Walker in the
preparation of breakfast. He made a gallon of tea, fried some bacon,
and brought out and toasted his own stock of frozen bannock. He made a
second kettle of tea while the others were eating, and shook out the
blankets in his own tent. Walker had told him that they had traveled
nearly all night.

"Better have an hour or two of sleep before you go on," he invited.

The driver's name was Conway. He was the first to accept Billy's
invitation. When he had finished eating, Walker followed him into the
tent. When they were gone Bucky looked hard at Billy.

"What's your game?" he asked.

"The Golden Rule, that's all," replied Billy, proffering his tobacco.
"The half-breed treated me square and made me comfortable, even if he
did take his pay afterward. I'm doing the same."

"And what do you expect to take-- afterward?"

Billy's eyes narrowed as he returned the other's searching look.

"Bucky, I didn't think you were quite a fool," he said. "You've got a
little decency in your hide, haven't you? A man might as well be in
jail as up here without a gun. I expect you to contribute one-- when
you go after the half-breed-- you or Walker. He'll do it if you won't.
Better go in with the others. I'll keep up the fire."

Bucky rose sullenly. He was still suspicious of Billy's hospitality,
but at the same time he could see the strength of Billy's argument and
the importance of the price he was asking. He joined Walker and
Conway. Fifteen minutes later Billy approached the tent and looked in.
The three men were in the deep sleep of exhaustion. Instantly Billy's
actions changed. He had thrown his pack outside the tent to make more
room, and he quickly slipped a spare blanket in with his provisions.
Then he entered the other tent, and a flush spread over his face, and
he felt his blood grow warmer.

"You may be a fool, Billy MacVeigh," he laughed, softly. "You may be a
fool, but we're going to do it!"

Gently he disentangled the long silken strands of golden brown from
the tent-pole. He wound the hair about his fingers, and it made a soft
and shining ring. It was all that he would ever possess of Isobel
Deane, and his breath came more quickly as he pressed it for a moment
to his rough and storm-beaten face. He put it in his pocket, carefully
wrapped in Isobel's note, and then once more he went back to the tent
in which the three men were sleeping. They had not moved. Walker's
holster was within reach of his hand. For a moment the temptation to
reach out and pluck the gun from it was strong. He pulled himself
away. He would win in this fight with Bucky as surely as he had won in
the other, and he would win without theft. Quickly he threw his pack
over his shoulder and struck the trail made by Deane in his flight. On
his snow-shoes he followed it in a long, swift pace. A hundred yards
from the camp he looked back for an instant. Then he turned, and his
face was grim and set.

"If you've got to be caught, it's not going to be by that outfit back
there, Mr. Scottie Deane," he said to himself. "It's up to yours
truly, and Billy MacVeigh is the man who can do the trick, if he
hasn't got a gun!"

 V

 BILLY FOLLOWS ISOBEL

From the first Billy could see the difficulty with which Deane and his
dogs had made their way through the soft drifts of snow piled up by
the blizzard. In places where the trees had thinned out Deane had
floundered ahead and pulled with the team. Only once in the first mile
had Isobel climbed from the sledge, and that was where traces,
toboggan, and team had all become mixed up in the snow-covered top of
a fallen tree. The fact that Deane was compelling his wife to ride
added to Billy's liking for the man. It was probable that Isobel had
not gone to sleep at all after her hard experience on the Barren, but
had lain awake planning with her husband until the hour of their
flight. If Isobel had been able to travel on snow-shoes Billy reasoned
that Deane would have left the dogs behind, for in the deep, soft snow
he could have made better time without them, and snow-shoe trails
would have been obliterated by the storm hours ago. As it was, he
could not lose them. He knew that he had no time to lose if he made
sure of beating out Bucky and his men. The suspicious corporal would
not sleep long. While he had the advantage of being comparatively
fresh, Billy's snow-shoes were smoothing and packing the trail, and
the others, if they followed, would be able to travel a mile or two an
hour faster than himself. That Bucky would follow he did not doubt for
a moment. The corporal was already half convinced that Scottie Deane
had made the trail from camp and that the hair he had found entangled
in the splinter on the tent-pole belonged to the outlaw's wife. And
Scottie Deane was too big a prize to lose.

Billy's mind worked rapidly as he bent more determinedly to the
pursuit. He knew that there were only two things that Bucky could do
under the circumstances. Either he would follow after him with Walker
and the driver or he would come alone. If Walker and Conway
accompanied him the fight for Scottie Deane's capture would be a fair
one, and the man who first put manacles about the outlaw's wrists
would be the victor. But if he left his two companions in camp and
came after him alone--

The thought was not a pleasant one. He was almost sorry that he had
not taken Walker's gun. If Bucky came alone it would be with but one
purpose in mind-- to make sure of Scottie Dean by "squaring up" with
him first. Billy was sure that he had measured the man right, and that
he would not hesitate to carry out his old threat by putting a bullet
into him at the first opportunity. And here would be opportunity. The
storm would cover up any foul work he might accomplish, and his reward
would be Scottie Deane-- unless Deane played too good a hand for him.

At thought of Deane Billy chuckled. Until now he had not taken him
fully into consideration, and suddenly it dawned upon him that there
was a bit of humor as well as tragedy in the situation. He cheerfully
conceded to himself that for a long time Deane had proved himself a
better man than either Bucky or himself, and that, after all, he was
the man who held the situation well in hand even now. He was well
armed. He was as cautions as a fox, and would not be caught napping.
And yet this thought filled Billy with satisfaction rather than fear.
Deane would be more than a match for Bucky alone if he failed in
beating out the corporal. But if he did beat him out--

Billy's lips set grimly, and there was a hard light in his eyes as he
glanced back over his shoulder. He would not only beat him out, but he
would capture Scottie Deane. It would be a game of fox against fox,
and he would win. No one would ever know why he was playing the game
as he had planned to play it. Bucky would never know. Down at
headquarters they would never know. And yet deep down in his heart he
hoped and believed that Isobel would guess and understand. To save
Deane, to save Isobel, he must keep them out of the hands of Bucky
Smith, and to do that he must make them his own prisoners. It would be
a terrible ordeal at first. A picture of Isobel rose before him, her
faith and trust in him broken, her face white and drawn with grief and
despair, her blue eyes flashing at him-- hatred. But he felt now that
he could stand those things. One moment-- the fatal moment, when she
would understand and know that he had remained true-- would repay him
for what he might suffer.

He traveled swiftly for an hour, and paused then to get his wind where
the partly covered trail dipped down into a frozen swamp. Here Isobel
had climbed from the sledge and had followed in the path of the
toboggan. In places where the spruce and balsam were thick overhead
Billy could make out the imprints of her moccasins. Deane had led the
dogs in the darkness of the storm, and twice Billy found the burned
ends of matches, where he had stopped to look at his compass. He was
striking a course almost due west. At the farther edge of the swamp
the trail struck a lake, and straight across this Deane had led his
team. The worst of the storm was over now. The wind was slowly
shifting to the south and east, and the fine, steely snow had given
place to a thicker and softer downfall. Billy shuddered as he thought
of what this lake must have been a few hours before, when Isobel and
Deane had crossed it in the thick blackness of the blizzard that had
swept it like a hurricane.

It was half a mile across the lake, and here, fifty yards from shore,
the trail was completely covered. Billy lost no time by endeavoring to
find signs of it in the open, but struck directly for the opposite
timber field and swung along in the shelter of the scrub forest. He
picked up the trail easily. Half an hour later he stopped. Spruce and
balsam grew thick about him, shutting out what was left of the wind.
Here Scottie Deane had stopped to build a fire. Close to the charred
embers was a mass of balsam boughs on which Isobel had rested. Scottie
had made a pot of boiling tea and had afterward thrown the grounds on
the snow. The warm bodies of the dogs had made smooth, round pits in
the snow, and Billy figured that the fugitives had rested for a couple
of hours. They had traveled eight miles through the blizzard without a
fire, and his heart was filled with a sickening pain as he thought of
Isobel Deane and the suffering he had brought to her. For a few
moments there swept over him a revulsion for that thing which he stood
for-- the Law. More than once in his experience he had thought that
its punishment had been greater than the crime. Isobel had suffered,
and was suffering, far more than if Deane had been captured a year
before and hanged. And Deane himself had paid a penalty greater than
death in being a witness of the suffering of the woman who had
remained loyal to him. Billy's heart went out to them in a low,
yearning cry as he looked at the balsam bed and the black char of the
fire. He wished that he could give them, life and freedom and
happiness, and his hands clenched tightly as he thought that he was
willing to surrender everything, even to his own honor, for the woman
he loved.

Fifteen minutes after he had struck the shelter of the camp he was
again in pursuit. His blood leaped a little excitedly when he found
that Scottie Deane's trail was now almost as straight as a plumb-line
and that the sledge no longer became entangled in hidden windfalls and
brush. It was proof that it was light when Deane and Isobel had left
their camp. Isobel was walking now, and their sledge was traveling
faster. Billy encouraged his own pace, and over two or three open
spaces he broke into a long, swinging run. The trail was comparatively
fresh, and at the end of another hour he knew that they could not be
far ahead of him. He had followed through a thin swamp and had climbed
to the top of a rough ridge when he stopped. Isobel had reached the
bald cap of the ridge exhausted. The last twenty yards he could see
where Deane had assisted her; and then she had dropped down in the
snow, and he had placed a blanket under her. They had taken a drink of
tea made back over the fire, and a little of it had fallen into the
snow. It had not yet formed ice, and instinctively he dropped behind a
rock and looked down into the wooded valley at his feet. In a few
moments he began to descend.

He had almost reached the foot of the ridge when he brought himself
short with a sudden low cry of horror. He had reached a point where
the side of the ridge seemed to have broken off, leaving a precipitous
wall. In a flash he realized what had happened. Deane and Isobel had
descended upon a "snow trap," and it had given way under their weight,
plunging them to the rocks below. For no longer than a breath he stood
still, and in that moment there came a sound from far behind that sent
a strange thrill through him. It was the howl of a dog. Bucky and his
men were in close pursuit, and they were traveling with the team.

He swung a little to the left to escape the edge of the trap and
plunged recklessly to the bottom. Not until he saw where Scottie Deane
and the team had dragged themselves from the snow avalanche did he
breathe freely again. Isobel was safe! He laughed in his joy and wiped
the nervous sweat from his face as he saw the prints of her moccasins
where Deane had righted the sledge. And then, for the first time, he
observed a number of small red stains on the snow. Either Isobel or
Deane had been injured in the fall, perhaps slightly. A hundred yards
from the "trap" the sledge had stopped again, and from this point it
was Deane who rode and Isobel who walked!

He followed more cautiously now. Another hundred yards and he stopped
to sniff the air. Ahead of him the spruce and balsam grew close and
thick, and from that shelter he was sure that something was coming to
him on the air. At first he thought it was the odor of the balsam. A
moment later he knew that it was smoke.

Force of habit brought his hand for the twentieth time to his empty
pistol holster. Its emptiness added to the caution with which he
approached the thick spruce and balsam ahead of him. Taking advantage
of a mass of low snow-laden bushes, he swung out at a right angle to
the trail and began making a wide circle. He worked swiftly. Within
half or three-quarters of an hour Bucky would reach the ridge.
Whatever he accomplished must be done before then. Five minutes after
leaving the trail he caught his first glimpse of smoke and began to
edge in toward the fire. The stillness oppressed him. He drew nearer
and nearer, yet he heard no sound of voice or of the dogs. At last he
reached a point where he could look out from behind a young ground
spruce and see the fire. It was not more than thirty feet away. He
held his breath tensely at what he saw. On a blanket spread out close
to the fire lay Scottie Deane, his head pillowed on a pack-sack. There
was no sign of Isobel, and no sign of the sledge and dogs. Billy's
heart thumped excitedly as he rose to his feet. He did not stop to ask
himself where Isobel and the dogs had gone. Deane was alone, and lay
with his back toward him. Fate could not have given him a better
opportunity, and his moccasined feet fell swiftly and quietly in the
snow. He was within six feet of Scottie before the injured man heard
him, and scarcely had the other moved when he was upon him. He was
astonished at the ease with which he twisted Deane upon his back and
put the handcuffs about his wrists. The work was no sooner done than
he understood. A rag was tied about Deane's head, and it was stained
with blood. The man's arms and body were limp. He looked at Billy with
dulled eyes, and as he slowly realized what had happened a groan broke
from his lips.

In an instant Billy was on his knees beside him. He had seen Deane
twice before, over at Churchill, but this was the first time that he
had ever looked closely into his face. It was a face worn by hardship
and mental torture. The cheeks were thinned, and the steel-gray eyes
that looked up into Billy's were reddened by weeks and months of
fighting against storm. It was the face, not of a criminal, but of a
man whom Billy would have trusted-- blonde-mustached, fearless, and
filled with that clean-cut strength which associates itself with
fairness and open fighting. Hardly had he drawn a second breath when
Billy realized why this man had not killed him when he had the chance.
Deane was not of the sort to strike in the dark or from behind. He had
let Billy live because he still believed in the manhood of man, and
the thought that he had repaid Deane's faith in him by leaping upon
him when he was down and wounded filled Billy with a bitter shame. He
gripped one of Deane's hands in his own.

"I hate to do this, old man," he cried, quickly. "It's hell to put
those things on a man who's hurt. But I've got to do it. I didn't mean
to come-- no, s'elp me God, I didn't-- if Bucky Smith and two others
hadn't hit your trail back at the old camp. They'd have got you--
sure. And she wouldn't have been safe with them. Understand? She
wouldn't have been safe! So I made up my mind to beat on ahead and
take you myself. I want you to understand. And you do know, I guess.
You must have heard, for I thought you were sure-enough dead in the
box, an' I swear to Heaven I meant all I said then. I wouldn't have
come. I was glad you two got away. But this Bucky is a skunk and a
scoundrel-- and mebbe if I take you-- I can help you-- later on.
They'll be here in a few minutes."

He spoke quickly, his voice quivering with the emotion that inspired
his words, and not for an instant did Scottie Deane allow his eyes to
shift from Billy's face. When Billy stopped he still looked at him for
a moment, judging the truth of what he had heard by what he saw in the
other's face. And then Billy felt his hand tighten for an instant
about his own.

"I guess you're pretty square, MacVeigh," he said, "and I guess it had
to come pretty soon, too. I'm not sorry that it's you-- and I know
you'll take care of her."

"I'll do it-- if I have to fight-- and kill!"

Billy had withdrawn his hand, and both were clenched. Into Deane's
eyes there leaped a sudden flash of fire.

"That's what I did," he breathed, gripping his fingers hard. "I
killed-- for her. He was a skunk-- and a scoundrel-- too. And you'd
have done it!" He looked at Billy again. "I'm glad you said what you
did-- when I was in the box," he added. "If she wasn't as pure and as
sweet as the stars I'd feel different. But it's just sort of in my
bones that you'll treat her like a brother. I haven't had faith in
many men. I've got it in you."

Billy leaned low over the other. His face was flushed, and his voice
trembled.

"God bless you for that, Scottie!" he said.

A sound from the forest turned both men's eyes.

"She took the dogs and went out there a little way for a load of
wood," said Deane. "She's coming back."

Billy had leaped to his feet, and turned his face toward the ridge.
He, too, had heard a sound-- another sound, and from another
direction. He laughed grimly as he turned to Deane.

"And they're coming, too, Scottie," he replied. "They're climbing the
ridge. I'll take your guns, old man. It's just possible there may be a
fight!"

He slipped Deane's revolver into his holster and quickly emptied the
chamber of the rifle that stood near.

"Where's mine?" he asked.

"Threw 'em away," said Deane. "Those are the only guns in the outfit."

Billy waited while Isobel Deane came through low-hanging spruce with
the dogs.

 VI

 THE FIGHT

There was a smile for Deane on Isobel's lips as she struggled through
the spruce, knee-deep in snow, the dogs tugging at the sledge behind
her. And then in a moment she saw MacVeigh, and the smile froze into a
look of horror on her face. She was not twenty feet distant when she
emerged into the little opening, and Billy heard the rattling cry in
her throat. She stopped, and her hands went to her breast. Deane had
half raised himself, his pale, thin face smiling encouragingly at her;
and with a wild cry Isobel rushed to him and flung herself upon her
knees at his side, her hands gripping fiercely at the steel bands
about his wrists. Billy turned away. He could hear her sobbing, and he
could hear the low, comforting voice of the injured man. A groan of
anguish rose to his own lips, and he clenched his hands hard, dreading
the terrible moment when he would have to face the woman he loved
above all else on earth.

It was her voice that brought him about. She had risen to her feet,
and she stood before him panting like a hunted animal, and Billy saw
in her face the thing which he had feared more than the sting of
death. No longer were her blue eyes filled with the sweetness and
faith of the angel who had come to him from out of the Barren. They
were hard and terrible and filled with that madness which made him
think she was about to leap upon him. In those eyes, in the quivering
of her bare throat, in the sobbing rise and fall of her breast were
the rage, the grief, and the fear of one whose faith had turned
suddenly into the deadliest of all emotions; and Billy stood before
her without a word on his lips, his face as cold and as bloodless as
the snow under his feet.

"And so you-- you followed-- after-- that!"

It was all she said, and yet the voice, the significance of the
choking words, hurt him more than if she had struck him. In them there
was none of the passion and condemnation he had expected. Quietly,
almost whisperingly uttered, they stung him to the soul. He had meant
to say to her what he had said to Deane-- even more. But the crudeness
of the wilderness had made him slow of tongue, and while his heart
cried out for words Isobel turned and went to her husband. And then
there came the thing he had been expecting. Down the ridge there raced
a flurry of snow and a yelping of dogs. He loosened the revolver in
his holster, and stood in readiness when Bucky Smith ran a few paces
ahead of his men into the camp. At sight of his enemy's face, torn
between rage and disappointment, all of Billy's old coolness returned
to him.

With a bound Bucky was at Scottie Deane's side. He looked down at his
manacled hands and at the woman who was clasping them in her own, and
then he whirled on Billy with the quickness of a cat.

"You're a liar and a sneak!" he panted. "You'll answer for this at
headquarters. I understand now why you let 'em go back there. It was
her! She paid you-- paid you in her own way-- to free him! But she
won't pay you again--"

At his words Deane had started as if stung by a wasp. Billy saw
Isobel's whitened face. The meaning of Buck's words had gone home to
her as swiftly as a lightning flash, and for an instant her eyes had
turned to him! Bucky got no further than those last words. Before he
could add another syllable Billy was upon him. His fist shot out--
once, twice-- and the blows that fell sent Bucky crashing through the
fire. Billy did not wait for him to regain his feet. A red light
blazed before his eyes. He forgot the presence of Deane and Walker and
Conway. His one thought was that the scoundrel he had struck down had
flung at Isobel the deadliest insult that a man could offer a woman,
and before either Conway or Walker could make a move he was upon
Bucky. He did not know how long or how many times he struck, but when
at last Conway and Walker succeeded in dragging him away Bucky lay
upon his back in the snow, blood gushing from his mouth and nose.
Walker ran to him. Panting for breath, Billy turned toward Isobel and
Deane. He was almost sobbing. He made no effort to speak. But he saw
that the thing he had dreaded was gone. Isobel was looking at him
again-- and there was the old faith in her eyes. At last-- she
understood! Dean's handcuffed hands were clenched. The light of
brotherhood shone in his eyes, and where a moment before there had
been grief and despair in Billy's heart there came now a warm glow of
joy. Once more they had faith in him!

Walker had raised Bucky to a sitting posture, and was wiping the blood
from his face when Billy went to them. The corporal's hand made a limp
move toward his revolver. Billy struck it away and secured the weapon.
Then he spoke to Walker.

"There is no doubt in your mind that I hold a sergeancy in the
service, is there, Walker?" he asked.

His tone was no longer one of comradeship. In it there was the ring of
authority. Walker was quick to understand.

"None, sir!"

"And you are familiar with our laws governing insubordination and
conduct unbecoming an officer of the service?"

Walker nodded.

"Then, as a superior officer and in the name of his Majesty the King,
I place Corporal Bucky Smith under arrest, and commission you, under
oath of the service, to take him under your guard to Churchill, along
with the letter which I shall give you for the officer in charge
there. I shall appear against him a little later with the evidence
that will outlaw him from the service. Put the handcuffs on him!"

Stunned by the sudden change in the situation, Walker obeyed without a
word. Billy turned to Conway, the driver.

"Deane is too badly injured to travel," he explained, " Put up your
tent for him and his wife close to the fire. You can take mine in
exchange for it as you go back."

He went to his kit and found a pencil and paper. Fifteen minutes later
he gave Walker the letter in which he described to the commanding
officer at Churchill certain things which he knew would hold Bucky a
prisoner until he could personally appear against him. Meanwhile
Conway had put up the tent and had assisted Deane into it. Isobel had
accompanied him. Billy then had a five-minute confidential talk with
Walker, and when the constable gave instructions for Conway to prepare
the dogs for the return trip there was a determined hardness in his
eyes as he looked at Bucky. In those five minutes he had heard the
story of Rousseau, the young Frenchman down at Norway House, and of
the wife whose faithlessness had killed him. Besides, he hated Bucky
Smith, as all men hated him. Billy was confident that he could rely
upon him.

Not until dogs and sledge were ready did Bucky utter a word. The
terrific beating he had received had stunned him for a few minutes;
but now he jumped to his feet, not waiting for the command from
Walker, and strode up close to Billy. There was a vengeful leer on his
bloody face and his eyes blazed almost white, but his voice was so low
that Conway and Walker could only hear the murmur of it. His words
were meant for Billy alone.

"For this I'm going to kill you, MacVeigh," he said; and in spite of
Billy's contempt for the man there was a quality in the low voice that
sent a curious shiver through him. "You can send me from the service,
but you're going to die for doing it!"

Billy made no reply, and Bucky did not wait for one. He set off at the
head of the sledge, with Conway a step behind them. Billy followed
with Walker until they reached the foot of the ridge. There they shook
hands, and Billy stood watching them until they passed over the cap of
the ridge.

He returned to the camp slowly. Deane had emerged from the tent,
supported by Isobel. They waited for him, and in Deane's face he saw
the look that had filled it after he had struck down Bucky Smith. For
a moment he dared not look at Isobel. She saw the change in him, and
her cheeks flushed. Deane would have extended his hands, but she was
holding them tightly in her own.

"You'd better go into the tent and keep quiet," advised Billy. "I
haven't had time yet to see if you're badly hurt."

"It's not bad," Deane assured him. "I bumped into a rock sliding down
the ridge, and it made me sick for a few minutes."

Billy knew that Isobel's eyes were on him, and he could almost feel
their questioning. He began to take wood from the sledge she had
loaded and throw it on the fire. He wished that Scottie and she had
remained in the tent for a little longer. His face burned and his
blood seemed like fire when he caught a glimpse of the steel cuffs
about Deane's wrists. Through the smoke he saw Isobel still clasping
her husband. He could see one of her little hands gripping at the
steel band, and suddenly he sprang across and faced them, no longer
fearing to meet Isobel's eyes or Deane's. Now his face was aflame, and
he half held out his arms to them as he spoke, as though he would
clasp them both to him in this moment of sacrifice and self-abnegation
and the dawning of new life.

"You know-- you both know why I've done this!" he cried, "You heard
what I said back there, Deane-- when you was in the box; an' all I
said was true. She came to me out of that storm like an angel-- an'
I'll think of her as an angel all my life. I don't know much about
God-- not the God they have down there, where they take an eye for an
eye an' a tooth for a tooth and kill because some one else has killed.
But there's something up here in the big open places, something that
makes you think and makes you want to do what's right and square; an'
she's got all I know of God in that little Bible of mine-- the blue
flower. I gave the blue flower to her, an' now an' forever she's my
blue flower. I ain't ashamed to tell you, Deane, because you've heard
it before, an' you know I'm not thinking it in a sinful way. It 'll
help me if I can see her face an' hear her voice and know there's such
love as yours after you're gone. For I'm going to let you go, Deane,
old man. That's what I came for, to save you from the others an' give
you back to her. I guess mebbe you'll know-- now-- how I feel--"

His voice choked him. Isobel's glorious eyes were looking into his
soul, and he looked straight back into them and saw all his reward
there. He turned to Deane. His key clicked in the locks to the
handcuffs, and as they fell into the snow the two men gripped hands,
and in their strong faces was that rarest of all things-- love of man
for man.

"I'm glad you know," said Billy, softly. "It wouldn't be fair if you
didn't, Scottie. I can think of her now, an' it won't be mean and low.
And if you ever need help-- if you're down in South America or
Africa-- anywhere-- I'll come if you send word. You'd better go to
South America. That's a good place. I'll report to headquarters that
you died-- from the fall. It's a lie, but blue flower would do it, and
so will I. Sometimes, you know, the friend who lies is the only friend
who's true-- and she'd do it-- a thousand times-- for you."

"And for you," whispered Isobel.

She was holding out her hands, her blue eyes streaming with tears of
happiness, and for a moment Billy accepted one of them and held it in
his own. He looked over her head as she spoke.

"God will bless you for this-- some day," she said; and a sob broke in
her voice. "He will bring you happiness-- happiness-- in what you have
dreamed of. You will find a blue flower-- sweet and pure and loyal--
and then you will know, even more fully, what life means to me with
him."

And then she broke down, sobbing like a child, and with her face
buried in her hands turned into the tent.

"Gawd!" whispered Billy, drawing a deep breath.

He looked Deane in the eyes; and Deane smiled, a rare and beautiful
smile.

For a quarter of an hour they talked alone, and then Billy drew a
wallet from his pocket.

"You'll need money, Scottie," he said. "I don't want you to lose a
minute in getting out of the country. Make for Vancouver. I've got
three hundred dollars here. You've got to take it or I'll shoot you!"

He thrust the money into Deane's hands as Isobel came out of the tent.
Her eyes were red, but she was smiling; and she held something in her
hand. She showed it to the two men. It was the blue flower Billy had
given her. But now its petals were torn apart, and nine of them lay in
the palm of her hand.

"It can't go with one." She spoke softly and the smile died on her
lips. "There are nine petals, three for each of us."

She gave three to her husband and three to Billy, and for a moment the
men stared at them as they lay in their rough and calloused palms.
Then Billy drew out the bit of buckskin in which he had placed the
strands of Isobel's hair and slipped the blue petals in with them.
Deane had drawn a worn envelope from his pocket. Billy spoke low to
Deane.

"I want to be alone for a while-- until dinner-time. Will you go into
the tent-- with her?"

When they were gone Billy went to the spot where he had dropped his
pack before crawling up on Deane. He picked it up and slipped it over
his shoulders as he walked. He went swiftly back over his old trail,
and this time it was with a heart leaden with a deep and terrible
loneliness. When he reached the ridge he tried to whistle, but his
lips seemed thick, and there was something in his throat that choked
him. From the cap of the ridge he looked down. A thin mist of smoke
was rising from out of the spruce. It blurred before his eyes, and a
sobbing break came in his low cry of Isobel's name. Then he turned
once more back into the loneliness and desolation of his old life.

"I'm coming, Pelly," he laughed, in a strained, hard way. "I haven't
given you exactly a square deal, old man, but I'll hustle and make up
for lost time!"

A wind was beginning to moan in the spruce tops again. He was glad of
that. It promised storm. And a storm would cover up all trails.

 VII

 THE MADNESS OF PELLITER

Away up at Fullerton Point amid the storm and crash of the arctic
gloom Pelliter fought himself through day after day of fever, waiting
for MacVeigh. At first he had been filled with hope. That first
glimpse of the sun they had seen through the little window on the
morning that Billy left for Fort Churchill had come just in time to
keep reason from snapping in his head. For three days after that he
looked through the window at the same hour and prayed moaningly for
another glimpse of that paradise in the southern sky. But the storm
through which Isobel had struggled across the Barren gathered over his
head and behind him, day after day of it, rolling and twisting and
moaning with the roar of the cracking fields of ice, bringing back
once more the thick death-gloom of the arctic night that had almost
driven him mad. He tried to think only of Billy, of his loyal
comrade's race into the south, and of the precious letters he would
bring back to him; and he kept track of the days by making pencil
marks on the door that opened out upon the gray and purple desolation
of the arctic sea.

At last there came the day when he gave up hope. He believed that he
was dying. He counted the marks on the door and found that there were
sixteen. Just that many days ago Billy had set off with the dogs. If
all had gone well he was a third of the way back, and within another
week would be "home."

Pelliter's thin, fever-flushed face relaxed into a wan smile as he
counted the pencil marks again. Long before that week was ended he
figured that he would be dead. The medicines-- and the letters-- would
come too late, probably four or five days too late. Straight out from
his last mark he drew a long line, and at the end of it added in a
scrawling, almost unintelligible, hand: "Dear Billy, I guess this is
going to be my last day." Then he staggered from the door to the
window.

Out there was what was killing him-- loneliness, a maddening
desolation, a lifeless world that reached for hundreds of miles
farther than his eyes could see. To the north and east there was
nothing but ice, piled-up masses and grinning mountains of it, white
at first, of a somber gray farther off, and then purple and almost
black. There came to him now the low, never-ceasing thunder of the
undercurrents fighting their way down from the Arctic Ocean, broken
now and then by a growling roar as the giant forces sent a crack, like
a great knife, through one of the frozen mountains. He had listened to
those sounds for five months, and in those five months he had heard no
other voice but his own and MacVeigh's and the babble of an Eskimo.
Only once in four months had he seen the sun, and that was on the
morning that MacVeigh went south. So he had gone half mad. Others had
gone completely mad before him. Through the window his eyes rested on
the five rough wooden crosses that marked their graves. In the service
of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police they were called heroes. And in
a short time he, Constable Pelliter, would be numbered among them.
MacVeigh would send the whole story down to her, the true little girl
a thousand miles south; and she would always remember him-- her hero--
and his lonely grave at Point Fullerton, the northernmost point of the
Law. But she would never see that grave. She could never come to put
flowers on it, as she put flowers on the grave of his mother; she
would never know the whole story, not a half of it-- his terrible
longing for a sound of her voice, a touch of her hand, a glimpse of
her sweet blue eyes before he died. They were to be married in August,
when his service in the Royal Mounted ended. She would be waiting for
him. And in August-- or July-- word would reach her that he had died.

With a dry sob he turned from the window to the rough table that he
had drawn close to his bunk, and for the thousandth time he held
before his red and feverish eyes a photograph. It was a portrait of a
girl, marvelously beautiful to Tommy Pelliter, with soft brown hair
and eyes that seemed always to talk to him and tell him how much she
loved him. And for the thousandth time he turned the picture over and
read the words she had written on the back:

  "My own dear boy, remember that I am always with you, always
  thinking of you, always praying for you; and I know, dear, that you
  will always do what you would do if I were at your side."

"Good Lord!" groaned Pelliter. "I can't die! I can't! I've got to
live-- to see her--"

He dropped back on his bunk exhausted. The fires burned in his head
again. He grew dizzy, and he talked to her, or thought he was talking,
but it was only a babble of incoherent sound that made Kazan, the
one-eyed old Eskimo dog, lift his shaggy head and sniff suspiciously.
Kazan had listened to Pelliter's deliriums many times since MacVeigh
had left them alone, and soon he dropped his muzzle between his
forepaws and dozed again. A long time afterward he raised his head
once more. Pelliter was quiet. But the dog sniffed, went to the door,
whined softly, and nervously muzzled the sick man's thin hand. Then he
settled back on his haunches, turned his nose straight up, and from
his throat there came that wailing, mourning cry, long-drawn and
terrible, with which Indian dogs lament before the tepees of masters
who are newly dead. The sound aroused Pelliter. He sat up again, and
he found that once more the fire and the pain had gone from his head.

"Kazan, Kazan," he pleaded, weakly, "it isn't time-- yet!"

Kazan had gone to the window that looked to the west, and stood with
his forefeet on the sill. Pelliter shivered.

"Wolves again," he said, "or mebbe a fox."

He had grown into that habit of talking to himself, which is as common
as human life itself in the far north, where one's own voice is often
the one thing that breaks a killing monotony. He edged his way to the
window as he spoke and looked out with Kazan. Westward there stretched
the lifeless Barren illimitable and void, without rock or bush and
overhung by a sky that always made Pelliter think of a terrible
picture he had once seen of Doré's "Inferno." It was a low, thick sky,
like purple and blue granite, always threatening to pitch itself down
in terrific avalanches, and between the earth and this sky was the
thin, smothered world which MacVeigh had once called God's insane
asylum.

Through the gloom Kazan's one eye and Pelliter's feverish vision could
not see far, but at last the man made out an object toiling slowly
toward the cabin. At first he thought it was a fox, and then a wolf,
and then, as it loomed larger, a straying caribou. Kazan whined. The
bristles along his spine rose stiff and menacing. Pelliter stared
harder and harder, with his face pressed close against the cold glass
of the window, and suddenly he gave a gasping cry of excitement. It
was a man who was toiling toward the cabin! He was bent almost double,
and he staggered in a zigzag fashion as he advanced. Pelliter made his
way feebly to the door, unbarred it, and pushed it partly open.
Overcome by weakness he fell back then on the edge of his bunk,

It seemed an age before he heard steps. They were slow and stumbling,
and an instant later a face appeared at the door. It was a terrible
face, overgrown with beard, with wild and staring eyes; but it was a
white man's face. Pelliter had expected an Eskimo, and he sprang to
his feet with sudden strength as the stranger came in.

"Something to eat, mate, for the love o' God give me something to
eat!"

The stranger fell in a heap on the floor and stared up at him with the
ravenous entreaty of an animal. Pelliter's first move was to get
whisky, and the other drank it in great gulps. Then he dragged himself
to his feet, and Pelliter sank in a chair beside the table.

"I'm sick," he said. "Sergeant MacVeigh has gone to Churchill, and I
guess I'm in a bad way. You'll have to help yourself. There's meat--
'n' bannock--"

Whisky had revived the new-comer. He stared at Pelliter, and as he
stared he grinned, ugly yellow teeth leering from between his matted
beard. The look cleared Pelliter's brain. For some reason which he
could not explain, his pistol hand fell to the place where he usually
carried his holster. Then he remembered that his service revolver was
under the pillow.

"Fever," said the sailor; for Pelliter knew that he was a sailor.

He took off his heavy coat and tossed it on the table. Then he
followed Pelliter's instructions in quest of food, and for ten minutes
ate ravenously. Not until he was through and seated opposite him at
the table did Pelliter speak.

"Who are you, and where in Heaven's name did you come from?" he asked.

"Blake-- Jim Blake's my name, an' I come from what I call Starvation
Igloo Inlet, thirty miles up the coast. Five months ago I was left a
hundred miles farther up to take care of a cache for the whaler John
B. Sidney, and the cache was swept away by an overflow of ice. Then we
struck south, hunting and starving, me 'n' the woman--"

"The woman!" cried Pelliter.

"Eskimo squaw," said Blake, producing a black pipe. "The cap'n bought
her to keep me company-- paid four sacks of flour an' a knife to her
husband up at Wagner Inlet. Got any tobacco?"

Pelliter rose to get the tobacco. He was surprised to find that he was
steadier on his feet and that Blake's words were clearing his brain.
That had been his and MacVeigh's great fight-- the fight to put an end
to the white man's immoral trade in Eskimo women and girls, and Blake
had already confessed himself a criminal. Promise of action, quick
action, momentarily overcame his sickness. He went back with the
tobacco, and sat down.

"Where's the woman?" be asked.

"Back in the igloo," said Blake, filling his pipe. "We killed a walrus
up there and built an icehouse. The meat's gone. She's probably gone
by this time." He laughed coarsely across at Pelliter as he lighted
his pipe. "It seems good to get into a white man's shack again."

"She's not dead?" insisted Pelliter.

"Will be-- shortly," replied Blake. "She was so weak she couldn't walk
when I left. But them Eskimo animals die hard, 'specially the women."

"Of course you're going back for her?"

The other stared for a moment into Pelliter's flushed face, and then
laughed as though he had just heard a good joke.

"Not on your life, my boy. I wouldn't hike that thirty miles again--
an' thirty back-- for all the Eskimo women up at Wagner."

The red in Pelliter's eyes grew redder as he leaned over the table.

"See here," he said, "you're going back-- now! Do you understand?
You're going back!"

Suddenly he stopped. He stared at Blake's coat, and with a swiftness
that took the other by surprise he reached across and picked something
from it. A startled cry broke from his lips. Between his fingers he
held a single filament of hair. It was nearly a foot long, and it was
not an Eskimo woman's hair. It shone a dull gold in the gray light
that came through the window. He raised his eyes, terrible in their
accusation of the man opposite him.

"You lie!" he said. "She's not an Eskimo!"

Blake had half risen, his great hands clutching the ends of the table,
his brutal face thrust forward, his whole body in an attitude that
sent Pelliter back out of his reach. He was not an instant too soon.
With an oath Blake sent the table crashing aside and sprang upon the
sick man.

"I'll kill you!" he cried. "I'll kill you, an' put you where I've put
her, 'n' when your pard comes back I'll--"

His hands caught Pelliter by the throat, but not before there had come
from between the sick man's lips a cry of "Kazan! Kazan!"

With a wolfish snarl the old one-eyed sledge-dog sprang upon Blake,
and the three fell with a crash upon Pelliter's bunk. For an instant
Kazan's attack drew one of Blake's powerful hands from Pelliter's
throat, and as he turned to strike off the dog Pelliter's hand groped
out under his flattened pillow. Blake's murderous face was still
turned when he drew out his heavy service revolver; and as Blake cut
at Kazan with a long sheath-knife which he had drawn from his belt
Pelliter fired. Blake's grip relaxed. Without a groan he slipped to
the floor, and Pelliter staggered back to his feet. Kazan's teeth were
buried in Blake's leg.

"There, there, boy," said Pelliter, pulling him away. "That was a
close one!"

He sat down and looked at Blake. He knew that the man was dead. Kazan
was sniffing about the sailor's head with stiffened spines. And then a
ray of light flashed for an instant through the window. It was the
sun-- the second time that Pelliter had seen it in four months. A cry
of joy welled up from his heart. But it was stopped midway. On the
floor close beside Blake something glittered in the fiery ray, and
Pelliter was upon his knees in an instant. It was the short golden
hair he had snatched from the dead man's coat, and partly covering it
was the picture of his sweetheart which had fallen when the table was
overturned. With the photograph in one hand and that single thread of
woman's hair between the fingers of his other Pelliter rose slowly to
his feet and faced the window. The sun was gone. But its coming had
put a new life into him. He turned joyously to Kazan.

"That means something, boy," he said, in a low, awed voice, "the sun,
the picture, and this! She sent it, do you hear, boy? She sent it! I
can almost hear her voice, an' she's telling me to go. `Tommy,' she's
saying, `you wouldn't be a man if you didn't go, even though you know
you're going to die on the way. You can take her something to eat,'
she's saying, boy, `an' you can just as well die in an igloo as here.
You can leave word for Billy, an' you can take her grub enough to last
until he comes, an' then he'll bring her down here, an' you'll be
buried out there with the others just the same.' That's what she's
saying, Kazan, so we're going!" He looked about him a little wildly.
"Straight up the coast," he mumbled. "Thirty miles. We might make it."

He began filling a pack with food. Outside the door there was a small
sledge, and after he had bundled himself in his traveling-clothes he
dragged the pack to the sledge, and behind the pack tied on a bundle
of firewood, a lantern, blankets, and oil. After he had done this he
wrote a few lines to MacVeigh and pinned the paper to the door. Then
he hitched old Kazan to the sledge and started off, leaving the dead
man where he had fallen.

"It's what she'd have us do," he said again to Kazan. "She sure would
have us do this, Kazan. God bless her dear little heart!"

 VIII

 LITTLE MYSTERY

Pelliter hung close to the ice-bound coast. He traveled slowly,
leading the way for Kazan, who strained every muscle in his aged body
to drag the sledge. For a time the excitement of what had occurred
gave Pelliter a strength which soon began to ebb. But his old weakness
did not entirely return. He found that his worst trouble at first was
in his eyes. Weeks of fever had enfeebled his vision until the world
about him looked new and strange. He could see only a few hundred
paces ahead, and beyond this little circle everything turned gray and
black. Singularly enough, it struck him that there was some humor as
well as tragedy in the situation, that there was something to laugh at
in the fact that Kazan had but one eye, and that he was nearly blind.
He chuckled to himself and spoke aloud to the dog.

"Makes me think of the games o' hide-'n'-seek we used to play when we
were kids, boy," he said. "She used to tie her handkerchief over my
eyes, 'n' then I'd follow her all through the old orchard, and when I
caught her it was a part of the game she'd have to let me kiss her.
Once I bumped into an apple tree--"

The toe of his snow-shoe caught in an ice-hummock and sent him face
downward into the snow. He picked himself up and went on.

"We played that game till we was grown-ups, old man," he went on.
"Last time we played it she was seventeen. Had her hair in a big brown
braid, an' it all came undone so that when I caught her an' took off
the handkerchief I could just see her eyes an' her mouth laughing at
me, and it was that time I hugged her up closer than ever and told her
I was going out to make a home for us. Then I came up here."

He stopped and rubbed his eyes; and for an hour after that, as he
plodded onward, he mumbled things which neither Kazan nor any other
living thing could have understood. But whatever delirium found its
way into his voice, the fighting spark in his brain remained sane. The
igloo and the starving woman whom Blake had abandoned formed the one
living picture which he did not for a moment forget. He must find the
igloo, and the igloo was close to the sea. He could not miss it-- if
he lived long enough to travel thirty miles. It did not occur to him
that Blake might have lied-- that the igloo was farther than he had
said, or perhaps much nearer.

It was two o'clock when he stopped to make tea. He figured that he had
traveled at least eighteen miles; the fact was he had gone but a
little over half that distance. He was not hungry, and ate nothing,
but he fed Kazan heartily of meat. The hot tea, strengthened with a
little whisky, revived him for the time more than food would have
done.

"Twelve miles more at the most," he said to Kazan. "We'll make it.
Thank God, we'll make it!"

If his eyes had been better he would have seen and recognized the huge
snow-covered rock called the Blind Eskimo, which was just nine miles
from the cabin. As it was, he went on, filled with hope. There were
sharper pains in his head now, and his legs dragged wearily. Day ended
at a little after two, but at this season there was not much change in
light and darkness, and Pelliter scarcely noted the difference. The
time came when the picture of the igloo and the dying woman came and
went fitfully in his brain. There were dark spaces. The fighting spark
was slowly giving way, and at last Pelliter dropped upon the sledge.

"Go on, Kazan!" he cried, weakly. "Mush it-- go on!"

Kazan tugged, with gaping jaws; and Pelliter's head dropped upon the
food-filled pack.

What Kazan heard was a groan. He stopped and looked back, whining
softly. For a time he sat on his haunches, sniffing a strange thing
which had come to him in the air. Then he went on, straining a little
faster at the sledge and still whining. If Pelliter had been conscious
he would have urged him straight ahead. But old Kazan turned away from
the sea. Twice in the next ten minutes he stopped and sniffed the air,
and each time he changed his course a little. Half an hour later he
came to a white mound that rose up out of the level waste of snow, and
then he settled himself back on his haunches, lifted his shaggy head
to the dark night sky, and for the second time that day he sent forth
the weird, wailing, mourning death-howl.

It aroused Pelliter. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, staggered to his
feet, and saw the mound a dozen paces away. Rest had cleared his brain
again. He knew that it was an igloo. He could make out the door, and
he caught up his lantern and stumbled toward it. He wasted half a
dozen matches before he could make a light. Then he crawled in, with
Kazan still in his traces close at his heels.

There was a musty, uncomfortable odor in the snow-house. And there was
no sound, no movement. The lantern lighted up the small interior, and
on the floor Pelliter made out a heap of blankets and a bearskin.
There was no life, and instinctively he turned his eyes down to Kazan.
The dog's head was stretched out toward the blankets, his ears were
alert, his eyes burned fiercely, and a low, whining growl rumbled in
his throat.

He looked at the blankets again, moved slowly toward them. He pulled
back the bearskin and found what Blake had told him he would find-- a
woman. For a moment he stared, and then a low cry broke from his lips
as he fell upon his knees. Blake had not lied, for it was an Eskimo
woman. She was dead. She had not died of starvation. Blake had killed
her!

He rose to his feet again and looked about him. After all, did that
golden hair, that white woman's hair, mean nothing? What was that? He
sprang back toward Kazan, his weakened nerves shattered by a sound and
a movement from the farthest and darkest part of the igloo. Kazan
tugged at his traces, panting and whining, held back by the sledge
wedged in the door. The sound came again, a human, wailing, sobbing
cry.

With his lantern in his hand Pelliter darted across to it. There was
another roll of blankets on the floor, and as he looked he saw the
bundle move. It took him but an instant to drop beside it, as he had
dropped beside the other, and as he drew back the damp and partly
frozen covering his heart leaped up and choked him. The lantern light
fell full upon the thin, pale face and golden head of a little child.
A pair of big frightened eyes were staring up at him; and as he knelt
there, powerless to move or speak in the face of this miracle, the
eyes closed again, and there came again the wailing, hungry note which
Kazan had first heard as they approached the igloo. Pelliter flung
back the blanket and caught the child in his arms.

"It's a girl-- a little girl!" he almost shouted to Kazan. "Quick,
boy-- go back-- get out!"

He laid the child upon the other blankets, and then thrust back Kazan.
He seemed suddenly possessed of the strength of two men as he tore at
his own blankets and dumped the contents of the pack out upon the
snow. "She sent us, boy," he cried, his breath coming in sobbing
gasps. "Where's the milk 'n' the stove--"

In ten seconds more he was back in the igloo with a can of condensed
cream, a pan, and the alcohol lamp. His fingers trembled so that he
had difficulty in lighting the wick, and as he cut open the can with
his knife he saw the child's eyes flutter wide for an instant and then
close again.

"Just a minute, a half minute," he pleaded, pouring the cream into the
pan. "Hungry, eh, little one? Hungry? Starving?" He held the pan
close down over the blue flame and gazed terrified at the white little
face near him. Its thinness and quiet frightened him. He thrust his
finger into the cream and found it warm.

"A cup, Kazan! Why didn't I bring a cup?" He darted out again and
returned with a tin basin. In another moment the child was in his
arms, and he forced the first few drops of cream between her lips. Her
eyes shot open. Life seemed to spring into her little body; and she
drank with a loud noise, one of her tiny hands gripping him by the
wrist. The touch, the sound, the feel of life against him thrilled
Pelliter. He gave her half of what the basin contained, and then
wrapped her up warmly in his thick service blanket, so that all of her
was hidden but her face and her tangled golden hair. He held her for a
moment close to the lantern. She was looking at him now, wide-eyed and
wondering, but not frightened.

"God bless your little soul!" he exclaimed, his amazement growing.
"Who are you, 'n' where'd you come from? You ain't more'n three years
old, if you're an hour. Where's your mama 'n' your papa?" He placed
her back on the blankets. "Now, a fire, Kazan!" he said.

He held the lantern above his head and found the narrow vent through
the snow-and-ice wall which Blake had made for the escape of smoke.
Then he went outside for the fuel, freeing Kazan on the way. In a few
minutes more a small bright blaze of almost smokeless larchwood was
lighting up and warming the interior of the igloo. To his surprise,
Pelliter found the child asleep when he went to her again. He moved
her gently and carried the dead body of the little Eskimo woman
through the opening and half a hundred paces from the igloo. Not until
then did he stop to marvel at the strength which had returned to him.
He stretched his arms above his head and breathed deeply of the cold
air. It seemed as though something had loosened inside of him, that a
crushing weight had lifted itself from his eyes. Kazan had followed
him, and he stared down at the dog.

"It's gone, Kazan," he cried, in a low, half-credulous voice. "I don't
feel-- sick-- any more. It's her--"

He turned back to the igloo. The lantern and the fire made a cheerful
glow inside, and it was growing warm. He threw off his heavy coat,
drew the bearskin in front of the fire, and sat down with the child in
his arms. She still slept. Like a starving man Pelliter stared down
upon the little thin face. Gently his rough fingers stroked back the
golden curls. He smiled. A light came into his eyes. His head bent
lower and lower, slowly and a little fearfully. At last his lips
touched the child's cheek. And then his own rough grizzled face,
toughened by wind and storm and intense cold, nestled against the
little face of this new and mysterious life he had found at the top of
the world.

Kazan listened for a time, squatted on his haunches. Then he curled
himself near the fire and slept. For a long time Pelliter sat rocking
gently back and forth, thrilled by a happiness that was growing deeper
and stronger in him each instant. He could feel the tiny beat of the
little one's heart against his breast; he could feel her breath
against his cheek; one of her little hands had gripped him by his
thumb.

A hundred questions ran through his mind now. Who was this little
abandoned mite? Who were her father and her mother, and where were
they? How had she come to be with the Eskimo woman and Blake? Blake
was not her father; the Eskimo woman was not her mother. What tragedy
had placed her here? Somehow he was conscious of a sensation of joy as
he reasoned that he would never be able to answer these questions. She
belonged to him. He had found her. No one would ever come to
dispossess him. Without awakening her, he thrust a hand into his
breast pocket and drew out the photograph of the sweet-faced girl who
was going to be his wife. It did not occur to him now that he might
die. The old fear and the old sickness were gone. He knew that he was
going to live.

"You," he breathed, softly, "you did it, and I know you'll be glad
when I bring her down to you." And then to the little sleeping girl:
"And if you ain't got a name I guess I'll have to call you Mystery--
how is that?-- my Little Mystery."

When he looked from the picture again Little Mystery's eyes were open
and gazing up at him. He dropped the picture and made a lunge for the
pan of cream warming before the fire. The child drank as hungrily as
before, with Pelliter babbling incoherent nonsense into her baby ears.
When she had done he picked up the photograph, with a sudden and
foolish inspiration that she might understand.

"Looky," he cried. "Pretty--"

To his astonishment and joy, Little Mystery put out a hand and placed
the tip of her tiny forefinger on the girl's face. Then she looked up
into Pelliter's eyes.

"Mama," she lisped.

Pelliter tried to speak, but something rose like a knot in his throat
and choked him. A fire leaped all at once through his body; the joy of
that one word blinded him with hot tears. When he spoke at last his
voice was broken, like a sobbing woman's.

"That's it." he said. "You're right, little one. She's your mama!"

 IX

 THE SECRET OF THE DEAD

On the eighth day after Pelliter found the Eskimo igloo Billy MacVeigh
came up through a gray dawn with his footsore dogs, his letters, and
his medicines. He had traveled all of the preceding night, and his
feet dragged heavily. It was with a feeling of fear that he at last
saw the black cliffs of Fullerton rising above the ice. He dreaded the
first opening of the cabin door. What would he find? During the past
forty-eight hours he had figured on Pelliter's chances, and they were
two to one that he would find his partner dead in his bunk.

And if not, if Pelliter still lived, what a tale there would be to
tell the sick man! For he knew that he must tell some one, and
Pelliter would keep his secret. And he would understand. Day after
day, as he had hurried straight into the north, Billy's loneliness and
heartbreak weighed more and more heavily upon him. He tried to force
Isobel out of his thoughts, but it was impossible. A thousand visions
of her rose before him, and each mile that he drew himself farther
away from her seemed only to add to the nearness of her spirit at his
side and to the strange pain in his heart that rose now and then to
his lips in sobbing breaths that he fought with himself to stifle. And
yet, with his own grief and hopelessness, he experienced more and more
each day a compensating joy. It was the joy of knowing that he had
given back life and hope to Isobel and her husband. Each day he
figured their progress along with his own. From the Eskimo village he
had sent a messenger back to Churchill with a long report for the
officer in command there, and in that report he had lied. He reported
Scottie Deane as having died of the injury he had received in the
snow-slide. Not for a moment had he regretted the falsehood. He also
promised to report at Churchill to testify against Bucky Smith as soon
as he reached Pelliter and put him on his feet.

On this last day, as he saw the towering cliffs of Fullerton ahead of
him, he wondered how much he would tell to Pelliter if he found him
alive. Mentally he rehearsed the amazing story of what came to him
that night on the Barren, of the dogs coming across the snow, the
great, dark, frightened eyes of the woman, and the long, narrow box on
the sledge. He would tell pelliter all that. He would tell how he had
made a camp for her that night, and how, later, he had told her that
he loved her and had begged one kiss. And then the disclosures of the
morning, the deserted tent, the empty box, the little note from
Isobel, and the revelation that the box had contained the living body
of the man for whom he and Pelliter had patrolled this desolate
country for two thousand miles. But would he tell the truth of what
had happened after that?

He quickened his tired pace as the dogs climbed up from the ice of the
Bay to the sloping ridge, and stared hard ahead of him. The dogs
tugged harder as the smell of home entered their nostrils. At last the
roof of the cabin came in view. MacVeigh's bloodshot eyes were like an
animal's in their eagerness.

"Pelly, old boy," he gasped to himself. "Pelly--"

He stared harder. And then he spoke a low word to the dogs and
stopped. He wiped his face. A deep breath of relief fell from his
lips.

Straight up from the chimney of the cabin there rose a thick column of
smoke!

He came up to the door of the cabin quietly, wondering why Pelliter
did not see him or hear the three or four sharp yelps the dogs had
given. He twisted off his snow-shoes, chuckling as he thought of the
surprise he would give his mate. His hand was on the door latch when
he stopped. The smile left his lips. Startled wonderment filled his
face as he bent close to the door and listened, and for a moment his
heart throbbed with a terrible fear. He had returned too late--
perhaps a day-- two days. Pelliter had gone mad! He could hear him
raving inside, filling the cabin with a laughter that sent a chill of
horror through his veins. Mad! A sob broke from his lips, and he
turned his face up to the gray sky. And then the laughter turned to
song. It was the sweet love song which Pelliter had told him that the
girl down south used to sing to him when they were alone out under the
stars. Suddenly it broke off short, and in its place he heard another
sound. With a cry he opened the door and burst in.

"My God!" he cried. "Pelly-- Pelly--"

Pelliter was on his knees in the middle of the floor. But it was not
the look of wonderment and joy in his face that Billy saw first. He
stared at the little golden-haired creature on the floor in front of
him. He had traveled hard, almost day and night, and for an instant it
flashed upon him that what he saw was not real. Before he could move
or speak again Pelliter was on his feet, wringing his hands and almost
crying in his gladness. There was no sign of fever or madness in his
face now. Like one in a dream Billy heard what he said.

"God bless you, Billy! I'm glad you've come!" he cried. "We've been
waiting 'n' watching, and not more'n a minute ago we were at the
window looking along the edge of the Bay through the binoculars. You
must have been under the ridge. My God! A little while ago I thought I
was dying-- I thought I was alone in the world-- alone-- alone. But
look-- look, Billy, I've got a fam'ly!"

Little Mystery had climbed to her feet. She was looking at Billy
wonderingly, her golden curls tousled about her pretty face, and
gripping two or three of Pelliter's old letters in her tiny hand. And
then she smiled at Billy and held out the letters to him. In an
instant he had dropped Pelliter's hands and caught her up in his arms.

"I've got letters for you in my pocket, Pelly," he gasped. "But--
first-- you've got to tell me who she is and where you got her--"

Briefly Pelliter told of Blake's visit, the fight, and of the finding
of Little Mystery.

"I'd have died if it hadn't been for her, Billy," he finished. "She
brought me back to life. But I don't know who she is or where she came
from. There wasn't anything in his pockets or in the igloo to tell. I
buried him out there-- shallow-- so you could take a look when you
came back."

He snatched like a starving man for food at the letters MacVeigh
pulled from his pocket. While he read Billy sat down with Little
Mystery on his knees. She laughed and put her warm little hands up to
his rough face. Her eyes were blue, like Isobel's; and suddenly he
crushed his face close down against her soft curls and held her so
close to him that for a moment she was frightened. A little later
Pelliter looked up. His eyes shone, his thin face was radiant with
joy.

"God bless the sweetest little girl in the world, Billy!" he
whispered, huskily. "She says she's lonely for me. She tells me to
hurry-- hurry down there to her. She says that if I don't come soon
she'll come up to me! Read 'em, Billy!"

He looked in astonishment at the change which he saw in MacVeigh's
face. Billy accepted the letters mechanically and placed them on the
edge of the bunk near which he was sitting.

"I'll read them-- after a while," he said, slowly.

Little Mystery clambered from his knee and ran to Pelliter. Billy was
staring straight into the other's face.

"You're sure you've told me everything, Pelly? There wasn't anything
in his pockets? You searched well?"

"Yes. There was nothing."

"But-- you were sick--"

"That's why I buried him shallow," interrupted Pelliter. "He's close
to the last cross, just under the ice and snow. I wanted you to look--
for yourself."

Billy rose to his feet. He took Little Mystery in his arms again and
looked closely in her face. There was a strange look in his eyes. She
laughed at him, but he did not seem to notice it. And then he held her
out to Pelliter.

"Pelly, did you ever-- ever notice eyes-- very closely?" he asked.
"Blue eyes?"

Pelliter stared at him amazed.

"My Jeanne has blue eyes--"

"And have they little brown dots in them like a wood violet?"

"No-o-o--"

"They're blue, just blue, ain't they?"

"Yes."

"And I suppose most all blue eyes are just blue, without the little
brown spots. Wouldn't you think so?"

"What in Heaven's name are you driving at?" demanded Pelliter.

"I just wanted you to notice that her eyes have little brown spots in
them," replied Billy. "I've only seen one other pair of eyes-- just
like hers." He turned toward the door. "I'm going out to care for the
dogs and dig up Blake," he added. "I can't rest until I've seen him."

Pelliter placed Little Mystery on her feet.

"I'll see to the dogs," he said. "But I don't want to look at Blake
again."

The two men went out, and while Pelliter led the dogs to a lean-to
behind the cabin Billy began to work with an ax and spade at the spot
his comrade had pointed out to him. Ten minutes later he came to
Blake. An excitement which he had tried to hide from Pelliter overcame
his sense of horror as he dragged out the stiff and frozen corpse of
the man. It was a terrible picture that the dead man made, with his
coarse bearded face turned up to the sky and his teeth still snarling
as they had snarled on the day he died. Billy knew most men who had
come into the north above Churchill, but he had never looked upon
Blake before. It was probable that the dead man had told a part of the
truth, and that he was a sailor left on the upper coast by some
whaler. He shivered as he began going through his pockets. Each moment
added to his disappointment. He found a few things-- a knife, two
keys, several coins, a fire-flint, and other articles-- but there was
no letter or writing of any kind, and that was what he had hoped to
find. There was nothing that might solve the mystery of the miracle
that had descended upon them. He rolled the dead man into the grave,
covered him over, and went into the cabin.

Pelliter was in his usual place-- on his hands and knees, with Little
Mystery astride his back. He paused in a mad race across the cabin
floor and looked up with inquiring eyes. The little girl held up her
arms, and MacVeigh tossed her half-way to the ceiling and then hugged
her golden head close up to his chilled face. Pelliter jumped to his
feet; his face grew serious as Billy looked at him over the child's
tousled curls.

"I found nothing-- absolutely nothing of any account," he said.

He placed Little Mystery on one of the bunks and faced the other with
a puzzled look in his eyes.

"I wish you hadn't been in a fever on that day of the fight, Pelly,"
he said. "He must have said something-- something that would give us a
clue."

"Mebbe he did, Billy," replied Pelliter, looking with a shiver at the
few things MacVeigh had placed on the cabin table. "But there's no use
worrying any more about it. It ain't in reason that she's got any
people up here, six hundred miles from the shack of a white man that
'd own a little beauty like her. She's mine. I found her. She's mine
to keep."

He sat down at the table, and MacVeigh sat down opposite him, smiling
sympathetically into Pelliter's eyes.

"I know you want her-- want her bad, Pelly," he said. "And I know the
girl would love her. But she's got people-- somewhere, and it's our
duty to find 'em. She didn't drop out of a balloon, Pelly. Do you
suppose-- the dead man-- might be her father?"

It was the first time he had asked this question, and he noted the
other's sudden shudder of revulsion.

"I've thought of that. But it can't be. He was a beast, and she--
she's a little angel. Billy, her mother must have been beautiful. And
that's what made me guess-- fear--"

Pelliter wiped his face uneasily, and the two young men stared into
each other's eyes. MacVeigh leaned forward, waiting.

"I figured it all out last night, lying awake there in my bunk,"
continued Pelliter, "and as the second best friend I have on earth I
want to ask you not to go any farther, Billy. She's mine. My Jeanne,
down there, will love her like a real mother, and we'll bring her up
right. But if you go on, Billy, you'll find something unpleasant-- I--
I-- swear you will!"

"You know--"

"I've guessed," interrupted the other. "Billy, sometimes a beast-- a
man beast-- holds an attraction for a woman, and Blake was that sort
of a beast. You remember-- two years ago-- a sailor ran away with the
wife of a whaler's captain away up at Narwhale Inlet. Well--"

Again the two men stared silently at each other. MacVeigh turned
slowly toward the child. She had fallen asleep, and he could see the
dull shimmer of her golden curls as they lay scattered over Pelliter's
pillow.

"Poor little devil!" he exclaimed, softly.

"I believe that woman was Little Mystery's mother," Pelliter went on.
"She couldn't bear to leave the little kid when she went with Blake,
so she took her along. Some women do that. And after a time she died.
Then Blake took up with an Eskimo woman. You know what happened after
that. We don't want Little Mystery to know all this when she grows up.
It's better not. She's too little to remember, ain't she? She won't
ever know."

"I remember the ship," said Billy, not taking his eyes off Little
Mystery. "She was the Silver Seal. Her captain's name was Thompson."

He did not look at Pelliter, but he could feel the quick, tense
stiffening of the other's body. There was a moment's silence. Then
Pelliter spoke in a low, unnatural voice.

"Billy, you ain't going to hunt him up, are you? That wouldn't be fair
to me or to the kid. My Jeanne 'll love her, an' mebbe-- mebbe some
day your kid 'll come along an' marry her--"

MacVeigh rose to his feet. Pelliter did not see the sudden look of
grief that shot into his face.

"What do you say, Billy?"

"Think it over, Pelly," came back Billy's voice, huskily. "Think it
over. I don't want to hurt you, and I know you think a lot of her,
but-- think it over. You wouldn't rob her father, would you? An' she's
all he's got left of the woman. Think it over, Pelly, good 'n' hard.
I'm going to bed an' sleep a week!"

 X

 IN DEFIANCE OF THE LAW

Billy slept all that day and the night that followed, and Pelliter did
not awaken him. He aroused himself from his long sleep of exhaustion
an hour or two before dawn of the following morning, and for the first
time he had the opportunity of going over with himself all the things
that had happened since his return to Fullerton Point. His first
thought was Pelliter and Little Mystery. He could hear his comrade's
deep breathing in the bunk opposite him, and again he wondered if
Pelliter had told him everything. Was it possible that Blake had said
nothing to reveal Little Mystery's identity, and that the igloo and
the dead Eskimo woman had not given up the secret? It seemed
inconceivable that there would not be something in the igloo that
would help to clear up the mystery. And yet, after all, he had faith
in Pelliter. He knew that he would keep nothing from him even though
it meant possession of the child. And then his mind leaped to Isobel
Deane. Her eyes were blue, and they had in them those same little
spots of brown he had found in Little Mystery's. They were unusual
eyes, and he had noticed the brown in them because it had added to
their loveliness and had made him think of the violets he had told
Pelliter about. Was it possible, he asked himself, that there could be
some association between Isobel and Little Mystery? He confessed that
it was scarcely conceivable, and yet it was impossible for him to get
the thought out of his mind.

Before Pelliter awoke he had determined upon his own course of action.
He would say nothing of what had happened to himself on the Barren, at
least not for a time. He would not tell of his meeting with Isobel and
her husband or of what had followed. Until he was absolutely certain
that Pelliter was keeping nothing from him he would not confide the
secret of his own treachery to him. For he had been a traitor-- to the
Law. He realized that. He could tell the story, with its fictitious
ending, before they set out for Churchill, where he would give
evidence against Bucky Smith. Meanwhile he would watch Pelliter, and
wait for him to reveal whatever he might have hidden from him. He knew
that if Pelliter was concealing something he was inspired by his
almost insane worship of the little girl he had found who had saved
him from madness and death. He smiled in the darkness as he thought
that if Pelliter were working to achieve his own end-- possession of
Little Mystery-- he was inspired by emotions no more selfish than his
own in giving back life to Isobel Deane and her husband. On that score
they were even.

He was up and had breakfast started before Pelliter awoke. Little
Mystery was still sleeping, and the two men moved about softly in
their moccasined feet. On this morning the sun shone brilliantly over
the southern ice-fields, and Pelliter aroused Little Mystery so that
she might see it before it disappeared. But to-day it did not drop
below the gray murkiness of the snow-horizon for nearly an hour. After
breakfast Pelliter read his letters again, and then Billy read them.
In one of the letters the girl had put a tress of sunny hair, and
Pelliter kissed it shamelessly before his comrade.

"She says she's making the dress she's going to wear when we're
married, and that if I don't come home before it's out of style she'll
never marry me at all," he cried, joyously. "Look there, on that page
she's told me all about it. You're-- you're goin' to be there, ain't
you, Billy?"

"If I can make it, Pelly."

"If you can make it! I thought you was going out of the Service when I
did."

"I've sort of changed my mind."

"And you're going to stick?"

"Mebbe for another three years."

Life in the cabin was different after this. Pelliter and Little
Mystery were happy, and Billy fought with himself every hour to keep
down his own gloom and despair. The sun helped him. It rose earlier
each day and remained longer in the sky, and soon the warmth of it
began to soften the snow underfoot. The vast fields of ice began to
give evidence of the approach of spring, and the air was more and more
filled with the thunderous echoes of the "break up." Great floes broke
from the shore-runs, and the sea began to open. Down from the north
the powerful arctic currents began to move their grinding, roaring
avalanches. But it was a full month before Billy was sure that
Pelliter was strong enough to begin the long trip south. Even then he
waited for another week.

Late one afternoon he went out alone and stood on the cliff watching
the thunderous movement of arctic ice out in the Roes Welcome.
Standing motionless fifty paces from the little storm-beaten cabin
that represented Law at this loneliest outpost on the American
continent, he looked like a carven thing of dun-gray rock, with a
dun-gray world over his head and on all sides of him, broken only in
its terrific monotony of deathlike sameness by the darker gloom of the
sky and the whiter and ghostlier gloom that hung over the ice-fields.
The wind was still bitter, and his vision was shut in by a near
horizon which Billy had often thought of as the rim of hell. On this
afternoon his heart was as leaden as the day. Under his feet the
frozen earth shivered with the rumbling reverberations of the crashing
and breaking mountains of ice. His ears were filled with a dull and
steady roar, like the echoes of distant thunder, broken now and then--
when an ice-mountain split asunder-- with a report like that of a
thirteen-inch gun. There were curious wailings, strange screeching
sounds, and heartbreaking moanings in the air. Two days before
MacVeigh had heard the roar of the ice ten miles inland, where he had
gone for caribou.

But he scarcely heard that roar now. He was looking toward the warring
fields of ice, but he did not see them. It was not the dead gloom and
the gray monotony that weighted his heart, but the sounds that he
heard now and then in the cabin-- the laughing of Little Mystery and
of Pelliter. A few days more and he would lose them. And after that
what would be left for him? A cry broke from his lips, and he gripped
his hands in despair. He would be alone. There was no one waiting for
him down in that world to which Pelliter was going, no girl to meet
him, no father, no mother-- nothing. He laughed in his pain as he
faced the cold wind from the north. The sting of that wind was like
the mocking ghost of his own past life. For all his life he had known
only the stings of pain and of loneliness. And then, suddenly, there
came Pelliter's words to him again-- "Mebbe some day you'll have a
kid." A flood of warmth swept through his veins, and in the moment of
forgetfulness and hope which came with it he turned his eyes into the
south and west and saw the sweet face and upturned lips of Isobel
Deane.

He pulled himself together with a low laugh and faced the breaking
seas of ice and the north. The gloom of night had drawn the horizon
nearer. The rumble and thunder of crumbling floes came from out of a
purple chaos that was growing blue-black in the distance. For several
minutes he stood listening and looking into nothingness. The breaking
of the ice, the moaning discontent in the air, and the growling
monotone of the giant currents had driven other men mad; but they held
a fascination for him. He knew what was happening, and he could almost
measure the strength of the unseen hands of nature. No sound was new
or strange to him. But now, as he stood there, there rose above all
the other tumult a sound that he had not heard before. His body became
suddenly tense and alert as he faced squarely to the north. For a full
minute he listened, and then turned and ran to the cabin.

Pelliter had lighted a lamp, and in its glow Billy's face shone white
with excitement.

"Good God, Pelly, come here!" he cried from the door.

As Pelliter ran out he gripped him by the shoulders.

"Listen!" he commanded. "Listen to that!"

"Wolves!" said Pelliter.

The wind was rising, and sent a whistling blast through the open door
of the cabin. It awakened Little Mystery, who sat up with frightened
cries.

"No, it's not wolves," cried MacVeigh, and it did not sound like
MacVeigh's voice that spoke. "I never heard wolves like that. Listen!"

He clutched Pelliter's arm as on a fresh burst of the wind there came
the strange and terrible sound from out of the night. It was rapidly
drawing nearer-- a wailing burst of savage voice, as if a great wolf
pack had struck the fresh and blood-stained trail of game. But with
this there was the other and more fearful sound, a shrieking and
yelping as if half-human creatures were being torn by the fangs of
beasts. As Pelliter and MacVeigh stood waiting for something to appear
out of the gray-and-black mystery of the night they heard a sound that
was like the slow tolling of a thing that was half bell and half drum.

"It's not wolves," shouted Billy. "Whatever it is, there's men with
it! Hurry, Pelly, into the cabin with our dogs and sledge! Those are
dogs we hear-- dogs who are howling because they smell us-- and there
are hundreds of 'em! Where there's dogs there's men-- but who in
Heaven's name can they be?"

He dragged the sledge into the cabin while Pelliter unleashed the
huskies from the lean-to. When he came in with the dogs Pelliter
locked and bolted the door.

Billy slipped a clipful of cartridges into his big-game Remington. His
carbine was already on the table, and as Pelliter stood staring at him
in indecision he pulled out two Savage automatics from under his bunk
and gave one of them to his companion. His face was white and set.

"Better get ready, Pelly," he said, quietly. "I've been in this
country a long time, and I tell you they're dogs and men. Did you hear
the drum? It's made of seal belly, and there's a bell on each side of
it. They're Eskimos, and there isn't an Eskimo village within two
hundred miles of us this winter. They're Eskimos, and they're not on a
hunt, unless it's for us!"

In an instant Pelliter was buckling on his revolver and
cartridge-belt. He grinned as he looked at the wicked little
blue-steeled Savage.

"I hope you ain't mistaken, Billy," he said, "for it 'll be the first
excitement we've had in a year."

None of his enthusiasm revealed itself in MacVeigh's face.

"The Eskimo never fights until he's gone mad, Pelly," he said, "and
you know what madmen are. I can't guess what they've got to fight
over, unless they want our grub. But if they do--" He moved toward the
door, his swift-firing Remington in his hand. "Be ready to cover me,
Pelly. I'm going out. Don't fire until you hear me shoot."

He opened the door and stepped out. The howling had ceased now, but
there came in its place strange barking voices and a cracking which
Billy knew was made by the long Eskimo whips. He advanced to meet many
dim forms which he saw breaking out of the wall of gloom, raising his
voice in a loud holloa. From the Doorway Pelliter saw him suddenly
lost in a mass of dogs and men, and half flung his carbine to his
shoulder. But there was no shooting from MacVeigh. A score of sledges
had drawn up about him, and the whips of dozens of little black men
cracked viciously as their dogs sank upon their bellies in the snow.
Both men and dogs were tired, and Billy saw that they had been running
long and hard. Still as quick as animals the little men gathered about
him, their white-and-black eyes staring at him out of round, thick,
dumb-looking faces. He noted that they were half a hundred strong, and
that all were armed, many with their little javelin-like narwhal
harpoons, some with spears, and others with rifles. From the circle of
strangely dressed and hideously visaged beings that had gathered about
him one advanced and began talking to him in a language that was like
the rapid clack of knuckle bones.

"Kogmollocks!" Billy groaned, and he lifted both hands to show that he
did not understand. Then he raised his voice. "Nuna-talmute," he
cried. "Nuna-talmute-- Nuna-talmute! Ain't there one of that lingo
among you?"

He spoke directly to the chief man, who stared at him in silence for a
moment and then pointed both short arms toward the lighted cabin.

"Come on!" said Billy. He caught the little Eskimo by one of his thick
arms and led him boldly through the breach that was made for them in
the circle. The chief man's voice broke out in a few words of command,
like a dozen quick, sharp yelps of a dog, and six other Eskimos
dropped in behind them.

"Kogmollocks-- the blackest-hearted little devils alive when it comes
to trading wives and fighting," said MacVeigh to Pelliter, as he came
up at the head of the seven little black men. " Watch the door, Pelly.
They're coming in."

He stepped into the cabin, and the Eskimos followed. From Pelliter's
bunk Little Mystery looked at the strange visitors with eyes which
suddenly widened with surprise and joy, and in another moment she had
given the strange story that Pelliter or Billy had ever heard her
utter. Scarcely had that cry fallen from her lips when one of the
Eskimos sprang toward her. His black hands were already upon her,
dragging the child from the bunk, when with a warning yell of rage
Pelliter leaped from the door and sent him crashing back among his
companions. In another instant both men were facing the seven Eskimos
with leveled automatics.

"If you fire don't shoot to kill!" commanded MacVeigh.

The chief man was pointing to Little Mystery, his weird voice rising
until it was almost a scream. Suddenly he doubled himself back and
raised his javelin. Simultaneously two streams of fire leaped from the
automatics. The javelin dropped to the floor, and with a shrill cry
which was half pain and half command the leader staggered back to the
door, a stream of blood running from his wounded hand. The others
sprang out ahead of him, and Pelliter closed and bolted the door. When
he turned MacVeigh was closing and slipping the bolts to the heavy
barricades of the two windows. From Pelliter's bunk Little Mystery
looked at them and laughed.

"So it's you?" said Billy, coming to her, and breathing hard. "It's
you they want, eh? Now, I wonder why?"

Pelliter's face was flushed with excitement. He was reloading his
automatic. There was almost a triumph in his eyes as he met MacVeigh's
questioning gaze.

They stood and listened, heard only the rumbling monotone of the
drifting ice-- not the breath of a sound from the scores of men and
dogs.

"We've given them a lesson," said Pelliter, at last, smiling with the
confidence of a man who was half a tenderfoot among the little brown
men.

Billy pointed to the door.

"That door is about the only place vulnerable to their bullets," he
said, as though he had not heard Pelliter. "Keep out of its range. I
don't believe what guns they've got are heavy enough to penetrate the
logs. Your bunk is out of line and safe."

He went to Little Mystery, and his stern face relaxed into a smile as
she put up her arms to greet him.

"So it's you, is it?" he asked again, taking her warm little face and
soft curls between his two hands. "They want you, an' they want you
bad. Well, they can have grub, an' they can have me, but"-- he looked
up to meet Pelliter's eyes-- "I'm damned if they can have you," he
finished.

Suddenly the night was broken by another sound, the sharp, explosive
crack of rifles. They could hear the beat of bullets against the log
wall of the cabin. One crashed through the door, tearing away a
splinter as wide as a man's arm, and as MacVeigh nodded to the path of
the bullet he laughed. Pelliter had heard that laugh before. He knew
what it meant. He knew what the death-whiteness of MacVeigh's face
meant. It was not fear, but something more terrible than fear. His own
face was flushed. That is the difference in men.

MacVeigh suddenly darted across the danger zone to the opposite half
of the cabin.

"If that's your game, here goes," he cried. "Now, damn y', you're so
anxious to fight-- get at it 'n' fight!"

He spoke the last words to Pelliter. Billy always swore when he went
into action.

 XI

 THE NIGHT OF PERIL

On his own side of the cabin Pelliter began tugging at a small, thin
block laid between two of the logs. The shooting outside had ceased
when the two men opened up the loopholes that commanded a range
seaward. Almost immediately it began again, the dull red flashes
showing the location of the Eskimos, who had drawn back to the ridge
that sloped down to the Bay. As the last of five shots left his
Remington Billy pulled in his gun and faced across to Pelliter, who
was already reloading.

"Pelly, I don't want to croak," he said, "but this is the last of Law
at Fullerton Point-- for you and me. Look at that!"

He raised the muzzle of his rifle to one of the logs over his head.
Pelliter could see the fresh splinters sticking out.

"They've got some heavy calibers," continued Billy, "and they've
hidden behind the slope, where they're safe from us for a thousand
years. As soon as it grows light enough to see they'll fill this shack
as full of holes as an old cheese."

As if to verify his words a single shot rang out and a bullet plowed
through a log so close to Pelliter that the splinters flew into his
face.

"I know these little devils, Pelly," went on MacVeigh. "If they were
Nuna-talmutes you could scare 'em with a sky-rocket. But they're
Kogmollocks. They've murdered the crews of half a dozen whalers, and I
shouldn't wonder if they'd got the kid in some such way. They wouldn't
let us off now, even if we gave her up. It wouldn't do. They know
better than to let the Law get any evidence against them. If we're
killed and the cabin burned, who's going to say what happened to us?
There's just two things for us to do--"

Another fusillade of shots came from the snow ridge, and a third
bullet crashed into the cabin.

"Just two things," Billy went on, as he completely shaded the dimly
burning lamp. "We can stay here 'n' die-- or run."

"Run!"

This was an unknown word in the Service, and in Pelliter's voice there
were both amazement and contempt.

"Yes, run," said Billy, quietly. "Run-- for the kid's sake."

It was almost dark in the cabin, and Pelliter came close to his
companion.

"You mean--"

"That it's the only way to save the kid. We might give her up, then
fight it out, but that means she'd go back to the Eskimos, 'n' mebbe
never be found again. The men and dogs out there are bushed. We are
fresh. If we can get away from the cabin we can beat 'em out."

"We'll run, then," said Pelliter. He went to Little Mystery, who sat
stunned into silence by the strange things that were happening, and
hugged her up in his arms, his back turned to the possible bullet that
might come through the wall. "We're going to run, little sweetheart,"
he mumbled, half laughingly, in her curls.

Billy began to pack, and Pelliter put Little Mystery down on the bunk
and started to harness the six dogs, ranging them close along the
wall, with old one-eyed Kazan, the hero who had saved him from Blake,
in the lead. Outside the firing had ceased. It was evident that the
Eskimos had made up their minds to save their ammunition until dawn.

Fifteen minutes sufficed to load the sledge; and while Pelliter was
fastening the sledge traces MacVeigh bundled Little Mystery into her
thick fur coat. The sleeves caught, and he turned it back, exposing
the white edge of the lining. On that lining was something which drew
him down close, and when the strange cry that fell from his lips drew
Pelliter's eyes toward him he was staring down into Little Mystery's
upturned face with the look of one who saw a vision.

"Mother of Heaven!" he gasped, "she's--" He caught himself, and
smothered Little Mystery up close to him for a moment before he
brought her to the sledge. "She's the bravest little kid in the
world," he finished; and Pelliter wondered at the strangeness of his
voice. He tucked her into a nest made of blankets and then tied her in
securely with babiche rope. Pelliter stood up first and saw the
hungry, staring look in MacVeigh's face as he kept his eyes steadily
upon Little Mystery.

"What's the matter, Mac?" he asked. "Are you very much afraid-- for
her?"

"No," said MacVeigh, without lifting his head. "If you're ready,
Pelly, open the door." He rose to his feet and picked up his rifle. He
did not seem like the old MacVeigh; but the dogs were nipping and
whining, and there was no time for Pelliter's questions.

"I'm going out first, Billy," he said. "You can make up your mind
they're watching the cabin pretty close, and as soon as the dogs nose
the open air they'll begin yapping 'n' let 'em on to us. We can't risk
her under fire. So I'm going to back along the edge of the ridge and
give it to 'em as fast as I can work the gun. They'll all turn to me,
and that's the time for you to open the door and make your getaway.
I'll be with you inside of five minutes."

He turned out the lights as he spoke. Then he opened the door and
slipped out into the darkness without a protesting word from MacVeigh.
Hardly had he gone when the latter fell upon his knees beside Little
Mystery and in the deep gloom crushed his rough face down against her
soft, warm little body.

"So it's you, is it?" he cried, softly; and then he mumbled things
which the little girl could not possibly have understood.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet and ran to the door with a word to
faithful old Kazan, the leader.

From far down the snow-ridge there came the rapid firing of Pelliter's
rifle.

For a moment Billy waited, his hand on the door, to give the watching
Eskimos time to turn their attention toward Pelliter. He could perhaps
have counted fifty before he gave Kazan the leash and the six dogs
dragged the sledge out into the night. With his humanlike intelligence
old Kazan swung quickly after his master, and the team darted like a
streak into the south and west, giving tongue to that first sharp,
yapping voice which it is impossible to beat or train out of a band of
huskies. As he ran Billy looked back over his shoulder. In the
hundred-yard stretch of gray bloom between the cabin and the
snow-ridge he saw three figures speeding like wolves. In a flash the
meaning of this unexpected move of the Eskimos dawned upon him. They
were cutting Pelliter off from the cabin and his course of flight.

"Go it, Kazan!" he cried, fiercely, bending low over the leader.
"Moo-hoosh-- moo-hoosh-- moo-hoosh, old man!" And Kazan leaped into a
swift run, nipping and whining at the empty air.

Billy stopped and whirled about. Two other figures had joined the
first three, and he opened fire. One of the running Eskimos pitched
forward with a cry that rose shrill and scarcely human above the
moaning and roar of the ice-fields, and the other four fell flat upon
the snow to escape the hail of lead that sang close over their heads.
From the snow-ridge there came a fusillade of shots, and a single
figure darted like a streak in MacVeigh's direction. He knew that it
was Pelliter; and, running slowly after Kazan and the sledge, he
rammed a fresh clipful of cartridges into the chamber of his rifle.
The figures in the open had risen again, and Pelliter's automatic
Savage trailed out a stream of fire as he ran. He was breathing
heavily when he reached Billy.

"Kazan has got the kid well in the lead," shouted the latter. "God
bless that old scoundrel! I believe he's human."

They set off swiftly, and the thick night soon engulfed all signs of
the Eskimos. Ahead of them the sledge loomed up slowly, and when they
reached it both men thrust their rifles under the blanket straps. Thus
relieved of their weight, they forged ahead of Kazan.

"Moo-hoosh-- moo-hoosh!" encouraged Billy.

He glanced at Pelliter on the opposite side. His comrade was running
with one arm raised at the proper angle to reserve breath and
endurance; the other hung straight and limp at his side. A sudden fear
shot through him, and he darted ahead of the lead dog to Pelliter's
side. He did not speak, but touched the other's arm.

"One of the little devil's winged me," gasped Pelliter. "It's not
bad."

He was breathing as though the short run was already winding him, and
without a word Billy ran up to Kazan's head and stopped the team
within twenty paces. The open blade of his knife was ripping up
Pelliter's sleeve before his comrade could find words to object.
Pelliter was bleeding, and bleeding hard. His face was shot with pain.
The bullet had passed through the fleshy part of his forearm, but had
fortunately missed the main artery. With the quick deftness of the
wilderness-trained surgeon Billy drew the wound close and bound it
tightly with his own and Pelliter's handkerchiefs. Then he thrust
Pelliter toward the sledge.

"You've got to ride, Pelly," he said. "If you don't you'll go under,
and that means all of us."

Far behind them there rose the yapping and howling of dogs.

"They're after us with the dogs!" groaned Pelliter. "I can't ride.
I've got to run-- and fight!"

"You get on the sledge, or I'll stave your head in!" commanded
MacVeigh. "Face the enemy, Pelly, and give 'em hell. You've got three
rifles there. You can do the shooting while I hustle on the dogs. And
keep yourself in front of her," he added, pointing to the almost
completely buried Little Mystery.

 XII

 LITTLE MYSTERY FINDS HER OWN

After convincing Pelliter that he must ride on the sledge Billy ran on
ahead, and the dogs started with their heavier load.

"Now for the timber-line," he called down to Kazan. "It's fifty miles,
old boy, and you've got to make it by dawn. If we don't--"

He left the words unfinished, but Kazan tugged harder, as if he had
heard and understood. The sledge had reached the unbroken sweep of the
Barren now, and MacVeigh felt the wind in his face. It was blowing
from the north and west, and with it came sudden gusts filled with
fine particles of snow. After a few moments he fell back to see that
Little Mystery's face was completely covered. Pelliter was crouching
low on the sledge, his feet braced in the blanket straps. His wound
and the uncomfortable sensation of riding backward on a swaying sledge
were making him dizzy, and he wondered if what he saw creeping up out
of the night was a result of this dizziness or a reality. There was no
sound from behind. But a darker spot had grown within his vision, at
times becoming larger, then almost disappearing. Twice he raised his
rifle. Twice he lowered it again, convinced that the thing behind was
only a shadowy fabric of his imagination. It was possible that their
pursuers would lose trace of them in the darkness, and so he held his
fire.

He was staring at the shadow when from out of it there leaped a little
spurt of flame, and a bullet sang past the sledge, a yard to the
right. It was a splendid shot. There was a marksman with the shadow,
and Pelliter replied so quickly that the first shot had not died away
before there followed the second. Five times his automatic sent its
leaden messengers back into the night, and at the fifth shot there
came a wild outburst of pain from one of the Eskimo dogs.

"Hurrah!" shouted Billy. "That's one team out of business, Pelly. We
can beat 'em in a running fight!"

He heard the quick metallic snap of fresh cartridges as Pelliter
slipped them into the chamber of his rifle, but beyond that sound, the
wind, and the straining of the huskies there was no other. A grim
silence fell behind. The roar of the distant ice grew less. The earth
no longer seemed to shudder under their feet at the terrific
explosions of the crumbling bergs. But in place of these the wind was
rising and the fine snow was thickening. Billy no longer turned to
look behind. He stared ahead and as far as he could see on each side
of them. At the end of half an hour the panting dogs dropped into a
walk, and he walked close beside his comrade.

"They've given it up," groaned Pelliter, weakly. "I'm glad of it, Mac,
for I'm-- I'm-- dizzy." He was lying on the sledge now, with his head
bolstered up on a pile of blankets.

"You know how the wolves hunt, Pelly," said MacVeigh-- "in a
moon-shape half circle, you know, that closes in on the running game
from in front? Well, that's how the Eskimos hunt, and I'm wondering if
they're trying to get ahead of us-- off there, and off there." He
motioned to the north and the south.

"They can't," replied Pelliter, raising himself to his elbow with an
effort. "Their dogs are bushed. Let me walk, Mac. I can--" He fell
back with a sudden low cry. "Gawd, but I'm dizzy--"

MacVeigh halted the dogs, and while they dropped upon their bellies,
panting and licking up the snow, he kneeled beside Pelliter. Darkness
concealed the fear in his eyes and face. His voice was strong and
cheerful.

"You've got to lie still, Pelly," he warned, arranging the blankets so
that the wounded man could rest comfortably. "You've got a pretty bad
nip, and it's best for all of us that you don't make a move. You're
right about the Eskimos and their dogs. They're bushed, and they've
given the chase up as a bad job, so what's the use of making a fool of
yourself? Ride it out, Pelly. Go to sleep with Little Mystery if you
can. She thinks she's in a cradle."

He got up and started the dogs. For a long time he was alone. Little
Mystery was sleeping and Pelliter was quiet. Now and then he dropped
his mittened hand on Kazan's head, and the faithful old leader whined
softly at his touch. With the others it was different. They snapped
viciously, and he kept his distance. He went on for hours, halting the
team now and then for a few minutes' rest. He struck a match each time
and looked at Pelliter. His comrade breathed heavily, with his eyes
closed. Once, long after midnight, he opened them and stared at the
flare of the match and into MacVeigh's white face.

"I'm all right, Billy," he said. "Let me walk--"

MacVeigh forced him back gently, and went on. He was alone until the
first cold, gray break of dawn. Then he stopped, gave each of the dogs
a frozen fish, and with the fuel on the sledge built a small fire. He
scraped up snow for tea, and hung the pail over the fire. He was
frying bacon and toasting hard bannock biscuits when Pelliter aroused
himself and sat up. Billy did not see him until he faced about.

"Good morning, Pelly," he grinned. "Have a good nap?"

Pelliter groped about on the sledge.

"Wish I could find a club," he growled. "I'd-- I'd brain you! You let
me sleep!"

He thrust out his uninjured arm, and the two shook hands. Once or
twice before they had done this after hours of great peril. It was not
an ordinary handshake.

Billy rose to his feet. Half a mile away the edge of the big forest
for which they had been fighting rose out of the dawn gloom.

"If I'd known that," he said, pointing, "we'd have camped in shelter.
Fifty miles, Pelly. Not so bad, was it?"

Behind them the gray Barren was lifting itself into the light of day.
The two men ate and drank tea. During those few minutes neither gave
attention to the forest or the Barren. Billy was ravenously hungry.
Pelliter could not get enough of the tea. And then their attention
went to Little Mystery, who awoke with a wailing protest at the
smothering cover of blankets over her face. Billy dug her out and held
her up to view the strange change since yesterday. It was then that
Kazan stopped licking his ashy chops to send up a wailing howl.

Both men turned their eyes toward the forest. Halfway between a figure
was toiling slowly toward them. It was a man, and Billy gave a low cry
of astonishment.

But Kazan was facing the gray Barren, and he howled again, long and
menacingly. The other dogs took up the cry, and when Pelliter and
MacVeigh followed the direction of their warning they stood for a full
quarter of a minute as if turned into stone.

A mile away the Barren was dotted with a dozen swiftly moving sledges
and a score of running men!

After all, their last stand was to be made at the edge of the
timber-line!

In such situations men like MacVeigh and Pelliter do not waste
precious moments in prearranging actions in words. Their mental
processes are instantaneous and correlative-- and they act. Without a
word Billy replaced Little Mystery in her nest without even giving her
a sip of the warm tea, and by the time the dogs were straightened in
their traces Pelliter was handing him his Remington.

"I've ranged it for three hundred and fifty yards," he said. "We won't
want to waste our fire until they come that near."

They set out at a trot, Pelliter running with his wounded arm down at
his side. Suddenly the lone figure between them and the forest
disappeared. It had fallen flat in the snow, where it lay only a black
speck. In a moment it rose again and advanced. Both Pelliter and Billy
were looking when it fell for a second time.

An unpleasant laugh came from MacVeigh's lips.

The figure was climbing to its feet for the fifth time, and was only
on its hands and knees when the sledge drew up. It was a white man.
His head was bare, his face deathlike. His neck was open to the cold
wind, and, to the others' astonishment, he wore no heavier garment
over his dark flannel shirt. His eyes burned wildly from out of a
shaggy growth of beard and hair, and he was panting like one who had
traveled miles instead of a few hundred yards.

All this Billy saw at a glance, and then he gave a sudden unbelieving
cry. The man's red eyes rested on his, and every fiber in his body
seemed for a moment to have lost the power of action. He gasped and
stared, and Pelliter started as if stung at the words which came first
from his lips.

"Deane-- Scottie Deane!"

An amazed cry broke from Pelliter. He looked at MacVeigh, his chief.
He made an involuntary movement forward, but Billy was ahead of him.
He had flung down his rifle, and in an instant was on his knees at
Deane's side, supporting his emaciated figure in his arms.

"Good God! what does this mean, old man?" he cried, forgetting
Pelliter. "What has happened? Why are you away up here? And where--
where-- is she?"

He had gripped Deane's hand. He was holding him tight; and Deane,
looking up into his eyes, saw that he was no longer looking into the
face of the Law, but that of a brother. He smiled feebly.

"Cabin-- back there-- in edge-- woods," he gasped. "Saw you-- coming.
Thought mebbe you'd pass-- so-- came out. I'm done for-- dying."

He drew a deep breath and tried to assist himself as Billy raised him
to his feet. A little wailing cry came from the sledge. Startled,
Deane turned his eyes toward that cry.

"My God!" he screamed.

He tore himself away from Billy and flung himself upon his knees
beside Little Mystery, sobbing and talking like a madman as he clasped
the frightened child in his arms. With her he leaped to his feet with
new strength.

"She's mine-- mine!" he cried, fiercely. "She's what brought me back!
I was going for her! Where did you get her? How--"

There came to them now in sudden chorus the wild voice of the Eskimo
dogs out on the plain. Deane heard the cry and faced with the others
in their direction. They were not more than half a mile away, bearing
down upon them swiftly. Billy knew that there was not a moment to
lose. In a flash it had leaped upon him that in some way Deane and
Isobel and Little Mystery were associated with that avenging horde,
and as quickly as he could he told Deane what had happened. Sanity had
come back into Deane's eyes, and no sooner had he heard than he ran
out in the face of the army of little brown men with Little Mystery in
his arms. MacVeigh and Pelliter could hear him calling to them from a
distance. They were in the edge of the forest when Deane met the
Eskimos. There was a long wait, and then Deane and Little Mystery came
back-- on a sledge drawn by Eskimo dogs. Beside the sledge walked the
chief who had been wounded in the cabin at Fullerton Point. Deane was
swaying, his head was bowed half upon his breast, and the chief and
another Eskimo were supporting him. He nodded to the right, and a
hundred yards away they found a cabin. The powerful little northerners
carried him in, still clutching Little Mystery in his arms, and he
made a motion for Billy to follow him-- alone. Inside the cabin they
placed him on a low bunk, and with a weak cough he beckoned Billy to
his side. MacVeigh knew what that cough meant. The sick man had
suffered terrible exposure, and the tissue of his lungs was sloughing
away. It was death, the most terrible death of the north.

For a few moments Deane lay panting, clasping one of Billy's hands.
Little Mystery slipped to the floor and began to investigate the
cabin. Deane smiled into Billy's eyes.

"You've come again-- just in time," he said, quite steadily. "Seems
queer, don't it, Billy?"

For the first time he spoke the other's name as if he had known him a
lifetime. Billy covered him over gently with one of the blankets, and
in spite of himself his eyes sought about him questioningly. Deane saw
the look.

"She didn't come," he whispered. "I left her--"

He broke off with a racking cough that brought a crimson stain to his
lips. Billy felt a choking grief.

"You must be quiet," he said. "Don't try to talk now. You have no
fire, and I will build one. Then I'll make you something hot."

He went to move away, but one of Deane's hands detained him.

"Not until I've said something to you, Billy," he insisted. "You
know-- you understand. I'm dying. It's liable to come any minute now,
and I've got to tell you-- things. You must understand-- before I go.
I won't be long. I killed a man, but I'm-- not sorry. He tried to
insult her-- my wife-- an' you-- you'd have killed him, too. You
people began to hunt me, and for safety we went far north-- among the
Eskimos-- an' lived there-- long time. The Eskimos-- they loved the
little girl an' wife, specially little Isobel. Thought them angels--
some sort. Then we heard you were goin' to hunt for me-- up there--
among the Eskimos. So we set out with the box. Box was for her-- to
keep her from fearful cold. We didn't dare take the baby-- so we left
her up there. We were going back-- soon-- after you'd made your hunt.
When we saw your fire on the edge of the Barren she made me get in the
box-- an' so-- so you found us. You know-- after that. You thought it
was-- coffin-- an' she told you I was dead. You were good-- good to
her-- an' you must go down there where she is, and take little Isobel.
We were goin' to do as you said-- an' go to South America. But we had
to have the baby, an' I came back. Should have told you. We knew
that-- afterward. But we were afraid-- to tell the secret-- even to
you--"

He stopped, panting and coughing. Billy was crushing both his thin,
cold hands in his own. He found no word to say. He waited, fighting to
stifle the sobbing grief in his breath.

"You were good-- good-- good-- to her," repeated Deane, weakly, "You
loved her-- an' it was right-- because you thought I was dead an' she
was alone an' needed help. I'm glad-- you love her. You've been good--
'n' honest-- an I want some one like you to love her an' care for her.
She ain't got nobody but me-- an' little Isobel. I'm glad-- glad--
I've found a man-- like you!"

He suddenly wrenched his hands free and took Billy's tense face
between them, staring straight into his eyes.

"An'-- an'-- I give her to you," he said. "She's an angel, and she's
alone-- needs some one-- an' you-- you'll be good to her. You must go
down to her-- Pierre Couchée's cabin-- on the Little Beaver. An'
you'll be good to her-- good to her--"

"I will go to her," said Billy, softly. "And I swear here on my knees
before the great and good God that I will do what an honorable man
should do!"

Deane's rigid body relaxed, and he sank back on his blankets with a
sigh of relief.

"I worried-- for her," he said. "I've always believed in a God--
though I killed a man-- an' He sent you here in time!" A sudden
questioning light came into his eyes. "The man who stole little
Isobel," he breathed-- "who was he?"

"Pelliter-- the man out there-- killed him when he came to the cabin,"
said Billy. "He said his name was Blake-- Jim Blake."

"Blake! Blake! Blake!" Again Deane's voice rose from the edge of death
to a shriek. "Blake, you say? A great coarse sailorman, with red
hair-- red beard-- yellow teeth like a walrus! Blake-- Blake--" He
sank back again, with a thrilling, half-mad laugh. "Then-- then it's
all been a mistake-- a funny mistake," he said; and his eyes closed,
and his voice spoke the words as though he were uttering them from out
of a dream.

Billy saw that the end was near. He bent down to catch the dying man's
last words. Deane's hands were as cold as ice. His lips were white.
And then Deane whispered:

"We fought-- I thought I killed him-- an' threw him into the sea. His
right name was Samuelson. You knew him-- by that name-- but he went
often-- by Blake-- Jim Blake. So-- so-- I'm not a murderer-- after
all. An' he-- he came back for revenge-- and-- stole-- little--
Isobel. I'm-- I'm-- not-- a-- murderer. You-- you-- will-- tell-- her.
You'll tell her-- I didn't kill him-- after all. You'll tell her--
an'-- be-- good-- good--"

He smiled. Billy bent lower.

"Again I swear before the good God that I will do what an honorable
man should do," he replied.

Deane made no answer. He did not hear. The smile did not fade entirely
from his lips. But Billy knew that in this moment death had come in
through the cabin door. With a groan of anguish he dropped Deane's
stiffening hand. Little Isobel pattered across the floor to his side.
She laughed; and suddenly Billy turned and caught her in his arms,
and, crumpled down there on the floor beside the one brother he had
known in life, he sobbed like a woman.

 XIII

 THE TWO GODS

It was little Isobel who pulled MacVeigh together, and after a little
he rose with her in his arms and turned her from the wall while he
covered Deane's face with the end of a blanket. Then he went to the
door. The Eskimos were building fires. Pelliter was seated on the
sledge a short distance from the cabin, and at Billy's call he came
toward him.

"If you don't mind, you can take her over to one of the fires for a
little while," said Billy. "Scottie is dead. Try and make the chief
understand,"

He did not wait for Pelliter to question him, but closed the door
quietly and went back to Deane. He drew off the blanket and gazed for
a moment into the still, bearded face.

"My Gawd, an' she's waitin' for you, 'n' looking for you, an' thinks
you're coming back soon," he whispered. "You 'n' the kid!"

Reverently he began the task ahead of him. One after another he went
into Deane's pockets and drew forth what he found. In one pocket there
was a small knife, some cartridges, and a match box. He knew that
Isobel would prize these and keep them because her husband had carried
them, and he placed them in a handkerchief along with other things he
found. Last of all he found in Deane's breast pocket a worn and faded
envelope. He peered into the open end before he placed it on the
little pile, and his heart gave a sudden throb when he saw the blue
flower petals Isobel had given him. When he was done he crossed
Deane's hands upon his breast. He was tying the ends of the
handkerchief when the door opened softly behind him.

The little dark chief entered. He was followed by four other Eskimos.
They had left their weapons outside. They seemed scarcely to breathe
as they ranged themselves in a line and looked down upon Scottie
Deane. Not a sign of emotion came into their expressionless faces, not
the flicker of an eyelash did the immobility of their faces change. In
a low, clacking monotone they began to speak, and there was no
expression of grief in their voices. Yet Billy understood now that in
the hearts of these little brown men Scottie Deane stood enshrined
like a god. Before he was cold in death they had come to chant his
deeds and his virtues to the unseen spirits who would wait and watch
at his side until the beginning of the new day. For ten minutes the
monotone continued. Then the five men turned and without a word,
without looking at him, went out of the cabin. Billy followed them,
wondering if Deane had convinced them that he and Pelliter were his
friends. If he had not done that he feared that there would still be
trouble over little Isobel. He was delighted when he found Pelliter
talking with one of the men.

"I've found a flunkey here whose lingo I can get along with," cried
Pelliter. "I've been telling 'em what bully friends we are, and have
made 'em understand all about Blake. I've shaken hands with them all
three or four times, and we feel pretty good. Better mix a little.
They don't like the idea of giving us the kid, now that Scottie's
dead. They're asking for the woman."

Half an hour later MacVeigh and Pelliter returned to the cabin. At the
end of that time he was confident that the Eskimos would give them no
further trouble and that they expected to leave Isobel in their
possession. The chief, however, had given Billy to understand that
they reserved the right to bury Deane.

Billy felt that he was now in a position where he would have to tell
Pelliter some of the things that had happened to him on his return to
Churchill. He had reported Deane's death as having occurred weeks
before as the result of a fall, and when he returned to Fort Churchill
he knew that he would have to stick to that story. Unless Pelliter
knew of Isobel, his love for her, and his own defiance of the Law in
giving them their freedom, his comrade might let out the truth and
ruin him.

In the cabin they sat down at the table. Pelliter's arm was in a
sling. His face was drawn and haggard and blackened by powder. He drew
his revolver, emptied it of cartridges, and gave it to little Isobel
to play with. He kept up his spirits among the Eskimos, but he made no
effort to conceal his dejection now.

"I've lost her," he said, looking at Billy. "You're going to take her
to her mother?"

"Yes."

"It hurts. You don't know how it's goin' to hurt to lose her," he
said.

MacVeigh leaned across the table and spoke earnestly.

"Yes, I know what it means, Pelly," he replied. "I know what it means
to love some one-- and lose. I know. Listen."

Quickly he told Pelliter the story of the Barren, of the coming of
Isobel, the mother, of the kiss she had given him, and of the flight,
the pursuit, the recapture, and of that final moment when he had taken
the steel cuffs from Deane's wrists. Once he had begun the story he
left nothing untold, even to the division of the blue-flower petals
and the tress of Isobel's hair. He drew both from his pocket and
showed them to Pelliter, and at the tremble in his voice there came a
mistiness in his comrade's eyes. When he had finished Pelliter reached
across with his one good arm and gripped the other's hand.

"An' what she said about the blue flower is comin' true, Billy," he
whispered. "It's bringing happiness to you, just as she said, for
you're going down to her--"

MacVeigh interrupted him.

"No, it's not," he said, softly. "She loved him-- as much as the girl
down there will ever love you, Pelly, and when I tell her what has
happened-- her heart will break. That can't bring happiness-- for me
!"

The hours of that day bore leaden weights for Billy. The two men made
their plans. A number of the Eskimos agreed to accompany Pelliter as
far as Eskimo Point, whence he would make his way alone to Churchill.
Billy would strike south to the Little Beaver in search of Couchée's
cabin and Isobel. He was glad when night came. It was late when he
went to the door, opened it, and looked out.

In the edge of the timber-line it was black, black not only with the
gloom of night, but with the concentrated darkness of spruce and
balsam and a sky so low and thick that one could almost hear the
wailing swish of it overhead like the steady sobbing of surf on a
seashore. It was black, save for the small circles of light made by
the Eskimo fires, about which half a hundred of the little brown men
sat or crouched. The masters of the camp were all awake, but twice as
many dogs, exhausted and footsore, lay curled in heaps, as inanimate
as if dead. There was present a strange silence and a strange and
unnatural gloom that was not of the night alone, a silence broken only
by the low moaning of the wind out on the Barren, the restlessness in
the air above the tree-tops, and the crackling of the fires. The
Eskimos were as motionless as so many dead men. Their round,
expressionless eyes were wide open. They sat or crouched with their
backs to the Barren, their faces turned into the still deeper
blackness of the forest. Some distance away, like a star, there
gleamed the small and steady light in the cabin window. For two hours
the eyes of those about the fires had been fixed on that light. And at
intervals there had risen from among the stony-faced watchers the
little chief, whose clacking voice joined for a few moments each time
the wailing of the wind, the swish of the low-hanging sky, and the
crackling of the fires. But there was sound of no other voice or
movement. He alone moved and spoke, for to the others the clacking
sounds he made was speech, words spoken each time for the man who lay
dead in the cabin.

A dozen times Pelliter and MacVeigh had looked out to the fires, and
looked each time at the hour. This time Billy said:

"They're moving, Pelly! They're jumping to their feet and coming this
way!" He looked at his watch again. "They're mighty good guessers.
It's a quarter after twelve. When a chief or a big man dies they bury
him in the first hour of the new day. They're coming after Deane."

He opened the door and stepped out into the night. Pelliter joined
him. The Eskimos advanced without a sound and stopped in a shadowy
group twenty paces from the cabin. Five of these little fur-clad men
detached themselves from the others and filed into the cabin, with the
chief man at their head. As they bent over Deane they began to chant a
low monotone which awakened little Isobel, who sat up and stared
sleepily at the strange scene. Billy went to her and gathered her
close in his arms. She was sleeping again when he put her down among
the blankets. The Eskimos were gone with their burden. He could hear
the low chanting of the tribe.

"I found her, and I thought she was mine," said Pelliter's low voice
at his side. "But she ain't, Billy. She's yours."

MacVeigh broke in on him as though he had not heard.

"You better get to bed, Pelly," he warned. "That arm needs rest. I'm
going out to see where they bury him."

He put on his cap and heavy coat and went as far as the door, then
turned back. From his kit he took a belt-ax and nails.

The wind was blowing more strongly over the Barren, and MacVeigh could
no longer hear the low lament of the Eskimos. He moved toward their
fires, and found them deserted of men, only the dogs remained in their
deathlike sleep. And then, far down the edge of the timber, he saw a
flare of light. Five minutes later he stood hidden in a deep shadow, a
few paces from the Eskimos. They had dug the grave early in the
evening, out on the great snow-plain, free of the trees; and as the
fire they had built lighted up their dark, round faces MacVeigh saw
the five little black men who had borne forth Scottie Deane leaning
over the shallow hole in the frozen earth. Scottie was already gone.
The earth and ice and frozen moss were falling in upon him, and not a
sound fell now from the thick lips of his savage mourners. In a few
minutes the crude work was done, and like a thin black shadow the
natives filed back to their camp. Only one remained, sitting
cross-legged at the head of the grave, his long narwhal spear at his
back. It was O-gluck-gluck, the Eskimo chief, guarding the dead man
from the devils who come to steal body and soul during the first few
hours of burial.

Billy went deeper into the forest until he found a thin, straight
sapling, which he cut down with half a dozen strokes of his belt-ax.
From the sapling he stripped the bark, and then he chopped off a third
of its length and nailed it crosswise to what remained. After that he
sharpened the bottom end and returned to the grave, carrying the cross
over his shoulder. Stripped to whiteness, it gleamed in the firelight.
The Eskimo watcher stared at it for a moment, his dull eyes burning
darker in the night, for he knew that after this two gods, and not
one, were to guard the grave. Billy drove the cross deep, and as the
blows of his ax fell upon it the Eskimo slunk back until he was
swallowed in the gloom. When MacVeigh was done he pulled off his cap.
But it was not to pray.

"I'm sorry, old man," he said to what was under the cross. "God knows
I'm sorry. I wish you was alive. I wish you was going back to her--
with the kid-- instid o' me. But I'll keep that promise. I swear it.
I'll do-- what's right-- by her."

From the forest he looked back. The Eskimo chief had returned to his
somber watch. The cross gleamed a ghostly white against the thick
blackness of the Barren. He turned his face away for the last time,
and there filled him the oppression of a leaden hand, a thing that was
both dread and fear. Scottie Deane was dead-- dead and in his grave,
and yet he walked with him now at his side. He could feel the
presence, and that presence was like a warning, stirring strange
thoughts within him. He turned back to the cabin and entered softly.
Pelliter was asleep. Little Isobel was breathing the sweet
forgetfulness of childhood. He stooped and kissed her silken curls,
and for a long time he stood with one of those soft curls between his
fingers. In a few years more, he thought, it would be the darker gold
and brown of the woman's hair-- of the woman he loved. Slowly a great
peace entered into him. After all, there was more than hope ahead for
him. She-- the older Isobel-- knew that he loved her as no other man
in the world could love her. He had given proof of that. And now he
was going to her.

 XIV

 THE SNOW-MAN

After his return from the scene of burial Billy undressed, put out the
light, and went to bed. He fell asleep quickly, and his slumber was
filled with many dreams. They were sweet and joyous at first, and he
lived again his first meeting with the woman; he was once more in the
presence of her beauty, her purity, her faith and confidence in him.
And then more trouble visions came to him. He awoke twice, and each
time he sat up, filled with the shuddering dread that had come to him
at the graveside.

A third time he awakened, and he struck a match to look at his watch.
It was four o'clock. He was still exhausted. His limbs ached from the
tremendous strain of the fifty-mile race across the Barren, but he
could no longer sleep. Something-- he did not attempt to ask himself
what it was-- was urging him to action. He got up and dressed.

When Pelliter awoke two hours later MacVeigh's pack and sledge were
ready for the trip south. While they ate their breakfast the two men
finished their plans. When the hour of parting came Billy left his
comrade alone with little Isobel and went out to hitch up the dogs.
When he returned there was a fresh redness in Pelliter's eyes, and he
puffed out thick clouds of smoke from his pipe to hide his face.
MacVeigh thought of that parting often in the days that followed.
Pelliter stood last in the door, and in his face was a look which
MacVeigh wished that he had not seen. In his own heart was the dread
and the fear, the thing which he could not name.

For hours he could not shake off the gloom that oppressed him. He
strode at the head of old Kazan, the leader, striking a course due
south by compass. When he fell back for the third time to look at
little Isobel he found the child buried deep in her blankets sound
asleep. She did not awake until he stopped to make tea at noon. It was
four o'clock when he halted again to make camp in the shelter of a
clump of tall spruce. Isobel had slept most of the day. She was wide
awake now, laughing at him as he dug her out of her nest.

"Give me a kiss," he demanded.

Isobel complied, putting her two little hands to his face.

"You're a-- a little peach," he cried. "There ain't been a whimper out
of you all day. And now we're going to have a fire-- a big fire."

He set about his work, whistling for the first time since morning. He
set up his silk Service tent, cut spruce and balsam boughs until he
had them a foot deep inside, and then dragged in wood for half an
hour. By that time it was dark and the big fire was softening the snow
for thirty feet around. He had taken off Isobel's thick, swaddling
coat, and the child's pretty face shone pink in the fireglow. The
light danced red and gold in her tangled curls, and as they ate
supper, both on the same blanket, Billy saw opposite him more and more
of what he knew he would find in the woman. When they had finished he
produced a small pocket comb and drew Isobel close up to him. One by
one he smoothed the tangles out of her curls, his heart beating
joyously as the silken touch of them ran through his fingers. Once he
had felt that same soft touch of the woman's hair against his face. It
had been an accidental caress, but he had treasured it in his memory.
It seemed real again now, and the thrill of it made him place little
Isobel alone again on the blanket, while he rose to his feet. He threw
fresh fuel on the fire, and then he found that the warmth had softened
the snow until it clung to his feet. The discovery gave him an
inspiration. A warmth that was not of the fire leaped into his face,
and he gathered up the softened snow, raking it into piles with a
snow-shoe; and before Isobel's astonished and delighted eyes there
grew into shape a snow-man almost as big as himself. He gave it arms
and a head, and eyes of charred wood, and when it was done he placed
his own cap on the crown of it and his pipe in its mouth. Little
Isobel screamed with delight, and together, hand in hand, they danced
around and around it, just as he and the other girls and boys had
danced years and years ago. And when they stopped there were tears of
laughter and joy in the child's eyes and a filmy mist of another sort
in Billy's.

It was the snow-man that brought back to him years and years of lost
hopes. They flooded in upon him until it seemed as though the old life
was the life of yesterday and waiting for him now just beyond the edge
of the black forest. Long after Isobel was asleep in the tent he sat
and looked at the snow-man; and more and more his heart sang with a
new joy, until it seemed as though he must rise and cry out in the
eagerness and hope that filled him. In the snow-man, slowly melting
before the fire, there was a heart and a soul and voice. It was
calling to him, urging him as nothing in the world had ever urged him
before. He would go back to the old home down in God's country, to the
old playmates who were men and women now. They would welcome him-- and
they would welcome the woman. For he would take her. For the first
time he made himself believe that she would go. And there, hand in
hand, they would follow his boyhood footprints over the meadows and
through the hills, and he would gather flowers for her in place of the
mother that was gone, and he would tell her all the old stories of the
days that were passed.

It was the snow-man!

 XV

 LE MORT ROUGE-- AND ISOBEL

Until late that night Billy sat beside his campfire with the snow-man.
Strange and new thoughts had come to him, and among these was the
wondering one asking himself why he had never built a snow-man before.
When he went to bed he dreamed of the snow-man and of little Isobel;
and the little girl's laughter and happiness when she saw the curious
form the dissolving snow-man had taken in the heat of the fire when
she awoke the following morning filled him again with those boyish
visions of happiness that he had seen just ahead of him. At other
times he would have told himself that he was no longer reasonable.
After they had breakfasted and started on the day's journey he laughed
and talked with baby Isobel, and a dozen times in the forenoon he
picked her up in his arms and carried her behind the dogs.

"We're going home," he kept telling her over and over again. "We're
going home-- down to mama-- mama-- mama!" He emphasized that; and each
time Isobel's pretty mouth formed the word mama after him his heart
leaped exultantly. By the end of that day it had become the sweetest
word in the world to him. He tried mother, but his little comrade
looked at him blankly, and he did not like it himself. "Mama, mama,
mama," he said a hundred times that night beside their campfire, and
before he tucked her away in her warm blankets he said something to
her about "Now I lay me down to sleep." Isobel was too tired and
sleepy to comprehend much of that. Even after she was deep in slumber
and Billy sat alone smoking his pipe he whispered that sweetest word
in the world to himself, and took out the tress of shining hair and
gazed at it joyously in the glow of the fire. By the end of the next
day little Isobel could say almost the whole of the prayer his own
mother had taught him years and years and years ago, so far back that
his vision of her was not that of a woman, but of an elusive and
wonderful angel; and the fourth day at noon she lisped the whole of it
without a word of assistance from him.

On the morning of the fifth day Billy struck the Gray Beaver, and
little Isobel grew serious at the change in him. He no longer amused
her, but urged the dogs along, never for an instant relaxing his
vigilant quest for a sign of smoke, a trail, a blazed tree. At his
heart there began to burn a suspense that was almost suffocating. In
these last hours before he was to see Isobel there came the inevitable
reaction within him. Gloom oppressed him where a little while before
joyous anticipation had given him hope. The one terrible thought drove
out all others now-- he was bringing her news of death, her husband's
death. And to Isobel he knew that Deane had meant all that the world
held of joy or hope-- Deane and the baby.

It was like a shock when he came suddenly upon the cabin, in the edge
of a small clearing. For a moment he hesitated. Then he took Isobel in
his arms and went to the door. It was slightly ajar, and after
knocking upon it with his fist he thrust it open and entered.

There was no one in the room in which he found himself, but there was
a stove and a fire. At the end of the room was a second door, and it
opened slowly. In another moment Isobel stood there. He had never seen
her as he saw her now, with the light from a window falling upon her.
She was dressed in a loose gown, and her long hair fell in disheveled
profusion over her shoulders and bosom. MacVeigh would have cried out
her name-- he had told himself a hundred times what he would first say
to her-- but what he saw in her face startled him and held him silent
while their eyes met. Her cheeks were flushed. Her lips burned an
unnatural red. Her eyes were glowing with strange fires. She looked at
him first, and her hands clutched at her bosom, crumpling the masses
of her lustrous hair. Not until she had looked into his eyes did she
recognize what he carried in his arms. When he held the child out to
her she sprang forward with the strangest cry he had ever heard.

"My baby!" she almost shrieked. "My baby-- my baby--"

She staggered back and sank into a chair near a table, with little
Isobel clasped to her breast. For a time Billy heard only those words
in her dry, sobbing voice as she crushed her burning face down against
her child's. He knew that she was sick, that it was fever which had
sent the hot flush into her cheeks. He gulped hard, and went near to
her. Trembling, he put out a hand and touched her. She looked up. A
bit of that old, glorious light leaped into her eyes, the light which
he had seen when in gratitude she had given him her lips to kiss.

"You?" she whispered. "You-- brought her--"

She caught his hand, and the soft smother of her loose hair fell over
it. He could feel the quick rise and fall of her bosom.

"Yes," he said.

There was a demand in her face, her eyes, her parted lips. He went on,
her hand clasping his tighter, until he could feel the swift beating
of her heart. He had never thought that he could tell the story in as
few words as he told it now, with more and more of the glorious light
creeping into Isobel's eyes. She stopped breathing when he told her of
the fight in the cabin and the death of the man who had stolen little
Isobel. A hundred words more brought him to the edge of the forest. He
stopped there. But she still questioned him in silence. She drew him
down nearer, until he could feel her breath. There was something
terrible in the demand of her eyes. He tried to find words to say, but
something rose up in his throat and choked him. She saw his effort.

"Go on," she said, softly.

"And then-- I brought her to you," he said.

"You met him?"

Her question was so sudden that it startled him, and in an instant he
had betrayed himself.

Little Isobel slipped to the floor, and Isobel stood up. She came near
to him, as she came that marvelous night out on the Barren, and in her
eyes there was the same prayer as she put her two hands up to him and
looked straight into his face.

He thought it would be easier. But it was terrible. She did not move.
No sound came from her tight-drawn lips as he told her of the meeting
with Deane, and of her husband's illness. She guessed what was coming
before he had spoken it. At his words, telling of death, she drew away
from him slowly. She did not cry out. Her only evidence that she had
heard and understood was the low moan that fell from her lips. She
covered her face with her hands and stood for a moment an arm's length
away, and in that moment all the force of his great love for her swept
upon MacVeigh in an overwhelming flood. He opened his arms, longing to
gather her into them and comfort her as he would have comforted a
little child. In that love he would willingly have dropped dead at her
feet if he could have given back to her the man she had lost. She
raised her head in time to see his outstretched arms, she saw the love
and the pleading in his face, and into her own eyes there leaped the
fire of a tigress.

"You-- you--" she cried. "It was you who killed him! He had done no
wrong-- save to protect me and avenge me from the insult of a brute!
He had done no wrong. But the Law-- your Law-- set you after him, and
you hunted him like a beast; you drove him from our home, from me and
the baby. You hunted him until he died up there-- alone. You-- you
killed him."

With a sudden cry she turned and caught up little Isobel and ran
toward the other door. And as she disappeared into the room from which
she had first appeared Billy heard her moaning those terrible words.

"You-- you-- you--"

Like a man who had been struck a blow he swayed back to the outer
door. Near his dogs and sledge he met Pierre Couchée and his
half-French wife coming in from their trap line. He scarcely knew what
explanation he gave to the half-breed, who helped him to put up his
tent. But when the latter left to follow his wife into the cabin he
said:

"She ess seek, ver' seek. An' she grow more seek each day until-- mon
Dieu!-- my wife, she ess scare!"

He cut a few balsam boughs and spread out his blankets, but did not
trouble to build a fire. When the half-breed returned to say that
supper was waiting he told him that he was not hungry, and that he was
going to sleep. He doubled himself up under his blankets, silent and
staring, even neglecting to feed the dogs. He was awake when the stars
appeared. He was awake when the moon rose. He was still awake when the
light went out in Pierre Couchée's cabin. The snow-man was gone from
his vision-- home and hope. He had never been hurt as he was hurt now.
He was yet awake when the moon passed far over his head, sank behind
the wilderness to the west, and blackness came. Toward dawn he fell
into an uneasy slumber, and from that sleep he was awakened by Pierre
Couchée's voice.

When he opened his eyes it was day, and the half-breed stood at the
opening of the tent. His face was filled with horror. His voice was
almost a scream when he saw that MacVeigh was awake and sitting up.

"The great God in heaven!" he cried. "It is the plague, m'sieur-- le
mort rouge-- the small pox! She is dying--"

MacVeigh was on his feet, gripping him by the arms.

He turned and ran toward the cabin, and Billy saw that the
half-breed's team was harnessed, and that Pierre's wife was bringing
forth blankets and bundles. He did not wait to question them, but
hurried into the plague-stricken cabin. From the woman's room came a
low moaning, and he rushed in and fell upon his knees at her side. Her
face was flushed with the fever, half hidden in the disheveled masses
of her hair. She recognized him, and her dark eyes burned madly.

"Take-- the baby!" she panted. "My God-- go-- go with her!"

Tenderly he put out a hand and stroked back her hair from her face.

"You are sick-- sick with the bad fever," he said, gently.

"Yes-- yes, it is that. I did not think-- until last night-- what it
might be. You-- you love me! Then take her-- take the baby and go--
go-- go!"

All his old strength came back to him now. He felt no fear. He smiled
down into her face, and the silken touch of her hair set his heart
leaping and the love into his eyes.

"I will take her out there," he said. "But she is all right-- Isobel."
He spoke her name almost pleadingly. "She is all right. She will not
take the fever."

He picked up the child and carried her out into the larger room.
Pierre and his wife were at the door. They were dressed for travel, as
he had seen them come in off the trap line the evening before. He
dropped Isobel and sprang in front of them.

"What do you mean?" he demanded. "You are not going away! You cannot
go!" He turned almost fiercely upon the woman. "She will die-- if you
do not stay and care for her. You shall not run away!"

"It is the plague," said Pierre. "It is death to remain!"

"You shall stay!" said MacVeigh, still speaking to Pierre's wife. "You
are the one woman-- the only woman-- within a hundred miles. She will
die without you. You shall stay if I have to tie you!"

With the quickness of a cat Pierre raised the butt of the heavy
dog-whip which he held in his hand and it came down with a sickening
thud on Billy's head. As he staggered into the middle of the cabin
floor, groping blindly for a moment before he fell, he heard a
strange, terrified cry, and in the open inner door he saw the
white-robed figure of Isobel Deane. Then he sank down into a pit of
blackness.

It was Isobel's face that he first saw when he came from out of that
black pit. He knew that it was her voice calling to him before he had
opened his eyes. He felt the touch of her hands, and when he looked up
her loose, soft hair swept his breast. His head was bolstered up, and
so he could look straight into her face. It frightened him. He knew
now what she had been saying to him as he lay there upon the floor.

"You must get up! You must go!" he heard her mooning. "You must take
my baby away. And you-- you-- must go!"

He pulled himself half erect, then rose to his feet, swaying a little.
He came to her then, with the look in his face she had first seen out
on the Barren when he had told her that he was going with her through
the forest.

"No, I am not going away," he said, firmly, and yet with that same old
gentleness in his voice. "If I go you will die. So I am going to
stay."

She stared at him, speechless.

"You-- you can't," she gasped, at last. "Don't you see-- don't you
understand? I'm a woman-- and you can't. You must take her-- my baby--
and go for help."

"There is no help," said MacVeigh, quietly. "Within a few hours you
will be helpless. I am going to stay and-- and-- I swear to God I will
care for you-- as he-- would have done. He made me promise that-- to
care for you-- to stick by you--"

She looked straight into his eyes. He saw the twitching of her throat,
the quiver of her lips. In another moment she would have fallen if he
had not put a supporting arm about her.

"If-- anything-- happens," she gasped, brokenly, "you will take care--
of her-- my baby--"

"Yes-- always."

"And if I-- get well--"

Her head swayed dizzily and dropped to his breast.

"If I get-- well--"

"Yes," he urged. "Yes--"

"If I--"

He saw her struggle and fail.

"Yes, I know-- I understand," he cried, quickly, as she grew heavier
in his arms. "If you get well I will go. I swear to do that. I will go
away. No one will ever know-- no one-- in the whole world. And I will
be good to you-- and care for you--"

He stopped, brushed back her hair, and looked into her face. Then he
carried her into the inner room; and when he came out little Isobel
was crying.

"You poor little kid," he cried, and caught her up in his arms. "You
poor little--"

The child smiled at him through her tears, and Billy suddenly sat down
on the edge of the table.

"You've been a little brick from the beginning, and you're going to
keep it up, little one," he said, taking her pretty face between his
two big hands. "You've got to be good, for we're going to have a--
a--" He turned away, and finished under his breath. "We're going to
have a devil of a time!"

 XVI

 THE LAW-- MURDERER OF MEN

Seated on the table, little Isobel looked up into Billy's face and
laughed, and when the laugh ended in a half wail Billy found that his
fingers had tightened on her little shoulder until they hurt. He
tousled her hair to bring back her good-humor, and put her on the
floor. Then he went back to the partly open door. It was quiet in the
darkened room. He listened for a breath or a sob, and could hear
neither. A curtain was drawn over the one window, and he could but
indistinctly make out the darker shadow where Isobel lay on the bed.
His heart beat faster as he softly called Isobel's name. There was no
answer. He looked back. Little Isobel had found something on the floor
and was amusing herself with it. Again he called the mother, and still
there was no answer. He was filled with a sort of horror. He wanted to
go over to the dark shadow and assure himself that she was breathing,
but a hand seemed to thrust him back. And then, piercing him like a
knife, there came again those low, moaning words of accusation:

"It was you-- it was you-- it was you--"

In that voice, low and moaning as it was, he recognized some of
Pelliter's madness. It was the fever. He fell back a step and drew a
hand across his forehead. It was damp, clammy with a cold
perspiration. He felt a burning pain where he had been struck, and a
momentary dizziness made him stagger. Then, with a tremendous effort,
he threw himself together and turned to the little girl. As he carried
her out through the door into the fresh air Isobel's feverish words
still followed him:

"It was you-- you-- you-- you!"

The cold air did him good, and he hurried toward the tent with baby
Isobel. As he deposited her among the blankets and bearskins the
hopelessness of his position impressed itself swiftly upon him. The
child could not remain in the cabin, and yet she would not be immune
from danger in the tent, for he would have to spend a part of his time
with her. He shuddered as he thought of what it might mean. For
himself he had no fear of the dread disease that had stricken Isobel.
He had run the risk of contagion several times before and had remained
unscathed, but his soul trembled with fear as he looked into little
Isobel's bright blue eyes and tenderly caressed the soft curls about
her face, If Couchée and his wife had only taken her! At thought of
them he sprang suddenly to his feet.

"Looky, little one, you've got to stay here!" he commanded.
"Understand? I'm going to pin down the tent-flap, and you mustn't cry.
If I don't get that damned half-breed, dead or alive, my name ain't
Billy MacVeigh."

He fastened the tent-flap so that Isobel could not escape, and left
her alone, quiet and wondering. Loneliness was not new to her.
Solitude did not frighten her; and, listening with his ear close to
the canvas, Billy soon heard her playing with the armful of things he
had scattered about her. He hurried to the dogs and harnessed them to
the sledge. Couchée and his wife did not have over half an hour the
start of him-- three-quarters at the most. He would run the race of
his life for an hour or two, overtake them, and bring them back at the
point of his revolver. If there had to be a fight he would fight.

Where the trail struck into the forest he hesitated, wondering if he
would not make better speed by leaving the team and sledge behind. The
excited actions of the dogs decided him. They were sniffing at the
scent left in the snow by the rival huskies, and were waiting eagerly
for the command to pursue. Billy snapped his whip over their heads.

"You want a fight, do you, boys?" he cried. "So do I. Get on with you!
M'hoosh! M'hoosh!"

Billy dropped upon his knees on the sledge as the dogs leaped ahead.
They needed no guidance, but followed swiftly in Couchée's trail. Five
minutes later they broke into thin timber, and then came out into a
narrow plain, dotted with stunted scrub, through which ran the Beaver.
Here the snow was soft and drifted, and Billy ran behind, hanging to
the tail-rope to keep the sledge from leaving him if the dogs should
develop an unexpected spurt. He could see that Couchée was exerting
every effort to place distance between himself and the plague-stricken
cabin, and it suddenly struck Billy that something besides fear of le
mort rouge was adding speed to his heels. It was evident that the
half-breed was spurred on by the thought of the blow he had struck in
the cabin. Possibly he believed that he was a murderer, and Billy
smiled as he observed where Couchée had whipped his dogs at a run
through the soft drifts. He brought his own team down to a walk,
convinced that the half-breed had lost his head, and that he would
bush himself and his dogs within a few miles. He was confident, now
that he would overtake them somewhere on the plain.

With the elation of this thought there came again the sudden,
sickening pain in his head. It was over in an instant, but in that
moment the snow had turned black, and he had flung out his arms to
keep himself from falling. The babiche rope had slipped from his hand,
and when things cleared before his eyes again the sledge was twenty
yards ahead of him. He overtook it, and dropped upon it, panting as
though he had run a race. He laughed as he recovered himself, and
looked over the gray backs of the tugging dogs, but in the same breath
the laugh was cut short on his lips. It was as if a knife-blade had
run in one lightning thrust from the back of his neck to his brain,
and he fell forward on his face with a cry of pain. After all,
Couchée's blow had done the work. He realized that, and made an effort
to call the dogs to a stop. For five minutes they went on, unheeding
the half-dozen weak commands that he called out from the darkness that
had fallen thickly about him. When at last he pulled himself up from
his face and the snow turned white again, the dogs had halted. They
were tangled in their traces and sniffing at the snow.

Billy sat up. Darkness and pain left him as swiftly as they had come.
He saw Couchée's trail ahead, and then he looked at the dogs. They had
swung at right angles to the sledge and had pulled the nose of it deep
into a drift. With a sharp cry of command he sent the lash of his whip
among them and went to the leader's head. The dogs slunk to their
bellies, snarling at him.

"What the devil--" he began, and stopped.

He stared at the snow. Straight out from Couchée's trail there ran
another-- a snow-shoe trail. For a moment he thought that Couchée or
his wife had for some reason struck out a distance from their sledge.
A second glance assured him that in this supposition he was wrong.
Both the half-breed and his wife wore the long, narrow "bush"
snow-shoes, and this second trail was made by the big, basket-shaped
shoes worn by Indians and trappers on the Barrens. In addition to
this, the trail was well beaten. Whoever had traveled it recently had
gone over it many times before, and Billy gave utterance to his joy in
a low cry. He had struck a trap line. The trapper's cabin could not be
far away, and the trapper himself had passed that way not many minutes
since. He examined the two trails and found where the blunt, round
point of a snow-shoe had covered an imprint left by Couchée, and at
this discovery Billy made a megaphone of his mittened hands and gave
utterance to the long, wailing holloa of the forest man. It was a cry
that would carry a mile. Twice he shouted, and the second time there
came a reply. It was not far distant, and he responded with a third
and still louder shout. In a flash there came again the terrible pain
in his head, and he sank down on the sledge. This time he was roused
from his stupor by the barking and snarling of the dogs and the voice
of a man. When he lifted his head out of his arms he saw some one
close to the dogs. He made an effort to rise, and staggered half to
his feet. Then he fell back, and the darkness closed in about him more
thickly than before. When he opened his eyes again he was in a cabin.
He was conscious of warmth. The first sound that he heard was the
crackling of a fire and the closing of a stove door. And then he heard
some one say:

"S'help me God, if it ain't Billy MacVeigh!"

He stared up into the face that was looking down at him. It was a
white man's face, covered with a scrubby red beard. The beard was new,
but the eyes and the voice he would have recognized anywhere. For two
years he had messed with Rookie McTabb down at Norway and Nelson
House. McTabb had quit the Service because of a bad leg.

"Rookie!" he gasped.

He drew himself up, and McTabb's hands grasped his shoulders.

"S'help me, if it ain't Billy MacVeigh!" he exclaimed again, amazement
in his voice and face. "Joe brought you in five minutes ago, and I
ain't had a straight squint at you until now. Billy MacVeigh! Well,
I'm--" He stopped to stare at Billy's forehead, where there was a
stain of blood. "Hurt?" he demanded, sharply. "Was it that damned
half-breed?"

Billy was gripping his hands now. Over near the stove, still kneeling
before the closed door, he saw the dark face of an Indian turned
toward him.

"It was Couchée," he said. "He hit me with the butt of his whip, and
I've had funny spells ever since. Before I have another I want to tell
you what I'm up against, Rookie. My Gawd, it's a funny chance that ran
me up against you-- just in time! Listen."

He told McTabb briefly of Scottie Deane's death, of Couchée's flight
from the cabin, and the present situation there.

"There isn't a minute to lose," he finished, tightening his hold on
McTabb's hand. "There's the kid and the mother, and I've got to get
back to them, Rookie. The rest is up to you. We've got to get a woman.
If we don't-- soon--"

He rose to his feet and stood there looking at McTabb. The other
nodded.

"I understand," he said. "You're in a bad fix, Billy. It's two hundred
miles to the nearest white woman, away over near Du Brochet. You
couldn't get an Indian to go within half a mile of a cabin that's
struck by the plague, and I doubt if this white woman would come. The
only game I can see is to send to Fort Churchill or Nelson House and
have the force send up a nurse. It will take two weeks."

Billy gave a gesture of despair. Indian Joe had listened attentively,
and now rose quietly from his position in front of the stove.

"There's Indian camp over on Arrow Lake," he said, facing Billy. "I
know squaw there who not afraid of plague."

"Sure as fate!" cried McTabb, exultantly. "Joe's mother is over there,
and if there is anything on earth she won't do for Joe I can't guess
what it is. Early this winter she came a hundred and fifty miles--
alone-- to pay him a visit. She'll come. Go after her, Joe. I'll go
Billy MacVeigh's bond to get the Service to pay her five dollars a day
from the hour she starts!" He turned to Billy. "How's your head?" he
asked.

"Better. It was the run that fixed me, I guess."

"Then we'll go over to Couchée's cabin and I'll bring back the kid."

They left Joe preparing for his three-day trip into the south and
east, and outside the cabin McTabb insisted on Billy riding behind the
dogs. They struck back for Couchée's trail, and when they came to it
McTabb laughed.

"I'll bet they're running like rabbits," he said. "What in thunder did
you expect to do if you caught 'em, Billy? Drag the woman back by the
hair of 'er 'ead? I'm glad you tumbled where you did. You've got to
beat a lynx to beat Couchée. He'd have perforated you from behind a
snow-drift sure as your name's Billy MacVeigh."

Billy felt that an immense load had been lifted from him, and he was
partly inclined to tell his companion more about Isobel and himself.
This, however, he did not do. As McTabb strode ahead and urged on the
dogs he figured on the chances of Joe and his mother returning within
a week. During that time he would be alone with Isobel, and in spite
of the horrible fear that never for a moment left his heart it was
impossible for him not to feel a thrill of pleasure at the thought.
Those would be days of agony for himself as well as for her, and yet
he would be near, always near, the woman he loved. And little Isobel
would be safe in Rookie's cabin. If anything happened--

His hands gripped the edges of the sledge at the thought that leaped
into his brain. It was Pelliter's thought. If anything happened to
Isobel the little girl would be his own, forever and forever. He
thrust the thought from him as if it were the plague itself. Isobel
would live. He would make her live, If she died--

McTabb heard the low cry that broke from his lips. He could not keep
it back. Good God, if she went, how empty the world would be! He might
never see her again after these days of terror that were ahead of him;
but if she lived, and he knew that the sun was shining in her bright
hair, and that her blue eyes still looked up at the stars, and that in
her sweet prayers she sometimes thought of him-- along with Deane--
life could not be quite so lonely for him.

McTabb had dropped back to his side.

"Head hurt?" he asked.

"A little," lied Billy. "There's a level stretch ahead, Rookie. Hustle
up the dogs!"

Half an hour later the sledge drew up in front of Couchée's cabin.
Billy pointed to the tent.

"The little one is in there," he said. "Go over an' get acquainted,
Rookie. I'm going to take a look inside to see if everything is all
right."

He entered the cabin quietly and closed the door softly behind him.
The inner door was as he had left it, partly open, and he looked in,
with a wildly beating heart. He could no longer hesitate. He stepped
in and spoke her name.

"Isobel!"

There was a movement on the bed, and he was startled by the suddenness
with which Isobel sprang to her feet. She drew aside the heavy curtain
from the window and stood in the light. For a moment Billy saw her
blue eyes filled with a strange fire as she stared at him. There was a
wild flush in her cheeks, and he could hear her dry breath as it came
from between her parted lips. Her hair was still undone and covered
her in a shimmering veil.

"I've found a trapper's cabin, Isobel, and we're taking the baby
there," he went on. "She will be safe. And we're sending for help--
for a woman--"

He stopped, horror striking him dumb. He saw more plainly the feverish
madness in Isobel's eyes. She dropped the curtain, and they were in
gloom. The whispered words he heard were more terrible than the
madness in her eyes.

"You won't kill her?" she pleaded. "You won't kill my baby? You won't
kill her--"

She staggered, back toward the bed, whispering the words over and over
again. Not until she had dropped upon it did Billy move. The blood in
his body seemed to have turned cold. Be dropped upon his knees at her
side. His hand buried itself in the soft smother of her hair, but he
no longer felt the touch of it. He tried to speak, but words would not
come. And then, suddenly, she thrust him back, and he could see the
glow of her eyes in the half darkness. For a moment she seemed to have
fought herself out of her delirium.

"It was you-- you-- who helped to kill him!" she panted. "It was the
Law-- and you are the Law. It kills-- kills-- kills-- and it never
gives back when it makes a mistake. He was innocent, but you and the
Law hounded him until he died. You are the murderers. You killed him.
You have killed me. And you will never be punished-- never-- never--
because you are the Law-- and because the Law can kill-- kill--
kill--"

She dropped back, moaning, and MacVeigh crouched at her side, his
fingers buried in her hair, with no words to say. In a moment she
breathed easier. He felt her tense body relax. He forced himself to
his feet and dragged himself into the outer room, closing the door
after him. Even in her delirium Isobel had spoken the truth. Forever
she had digged for him a black abyss between them. The Law had killed
Scottie Deane. And he was the Law. And for the Law there was no
punishment, even though it took the life of an innocent man.

He went outside. McTabb was in the tent. The gloom of evening was
closing in on a desolate world. Overhead the sky was thick, and
suddenly, with a great cry, Billy flung his arms straight up over his
head and cursed that Law which could not be punished, the Law that had
killed Scottie Deane. For he was that Law, and Isobel had called him a
murderer.

 XVII

 ISOBEL FACES THE ABYSS

It was not the face of MacVeigh-- the old MacVeigh-- that Rookie
McTabb, the ex-constable, looked into a few moments later. Days of
sickness could have laid no heavier hand upon him than had those few
minutes in the darkened room of the cabin. His face was white and
drawn. There were tense lines at the corners of his mouth and
something strange and disquieting in his eyes. McTabb did not see the
change until he came out into what remained of the day with little
Isobel in his arms. Then he stared.

"That blow got you bad," he said. "You look sick. Mebbe I'd better
stay with you here to-night."

"No, you hadn't," replied Billy, trying to throw off what he knew the
other saw. "Take the kid over to the cabin. A night's sleep and I'll
be as lively as a cat. I'm going to vaccinate her before you go."

He went into the tent and dug out from his pack the small rubber pouch
in which he carried a few medicines and a roll of medicated cotton. In
a small bottle there were three vaccine points. He returned with these
and the cotton.

"Watch her close," he said, as he rolled back the child's sleeve. "I'm
going to give you an extra point, and if this doesn't work by the
seventh or eighth day you must do the job over again."

With the point of his knife he began to work gently on baby Isobel's
tender pink skin. He had expected that she would cry. But she was not
frightened, and her big blue eyes followed his movements wonderingly.
At last it began to hurt, and her lips quivered. But she made no
sound, and as tears welled into her eyes Billy dropped his knife and
caught her up close to his breast.

"God bless your dear little heart," he cried, smothering his face in
her silken curls. "You've been hurt so much, an' you've froze, an'
you've starved, an' you ain't never said a word about it since that
day up at Fullerton! Little sweetheart--"

McTabb heard him whispering things, and little Isobel's arms crept
tightly about his neck. After a little Billy held her out to him
again, and a part of what Rookie had seen in his face was gone.

"It won't hurt any more," he said, as he rubbed the vaccine point over
the red spot on her arm. "You don't want to be sick, do you? And that
'll keep you from being sick. There--"

He wound a strip of the cotton about her arm, tied it, and gave part
of what remained to McTabb. Then he took her in his arms again and
kissed her warm face and her soft curls, and after that bundled her in
furs and put her on the sledge. Rookie was straightening out the dogs
when, like a thief, he clipped off one of the curls with his knife.
Isobel laughed gleefully when she saw the curl between his fingers.
Before McTabb had turned it was in his pocket.

"I won't see her again-- soon," MacVeigh said; and he tried to keep a
thickness out of his voice. "That is, I-- I won't see her to-- to
handle her. I'll come over now and then an' look at her from the edge
of the woods. You bring 'er out, Rookie, an' don't you dare to let her
know I'm out there. She wouldn't know what it meant if I didn't come
to her."

He watched them as they disappeared into the gloom of night, and when
they had gone a groan of anguish broke from his lips. For he knew that
little Isobel was going from him forever. He would see her again--
from the edge of the forest; but he would never hold her in his arms,
nor feel again her tender arms about his neck or the soft smother of
her hair against his face. Long before the dread menace of the plague
was lifted from the cabin and from himself he would be gone. For that
was what Isobel, the mother, had demanded, and he would keep his
promise to her. She would never know what happened in these days of
her delirium. She would not have to face him afterward. He knew
already how he would go. When help came he would slip away quietly
some night, and the big wilderness would swallow him up. His plans
seemed to come without thought on his own part. He would go to Fort
Churchill and testify against Bucky Smith. And then he would quit the
Service. His term of enlistment expired in a month, and he would not
re-enlist. "It was the Law that killed him-- and you are the Law. It
kills-- kills-- kills-- and it never gives back when it makes a
mistake." Under the dark sky those words seemed never to end in his
ears, and each moment they added to his hatred of the thing of which
he had been a part for years. He seemed to hear Isobel's accusing
voice in the low soughing of the night wind in the spruce tops; and in
the stillness of the world that hung heavy and close about him the
words chased each other through his brain until they seemed to leave
behind them a path of fire.

"It kills-- kills-- kills-- and it never gives back when it makes a
mistake."

His lips were set tensely as he faced the cabin. He remembered now
more than one instance where the Law had killed and had never given
back. That was a part of the game of man-hunting. But he had never
thought of it in Isobel's way until she had painted for him in those
few half-mad, accusing words a picture of himself. The fact that he
had fought for Scottie Deane and had given him his freedom did not
exonerate himself in his own eyes now. It was because of himself and
Pelliter chiefly that Deane and Isobel had been forced to seek refuge
among the Eskimos. From Fullerton they had watched and hunted for him
as they would have hunted for an animal. He saw himself as Isobel must
see him now-- the murderer of her husband. He was glad, as he returned
to the cabin, that he had happened to come in the second or third day
of her fever. He dreaded her sanity now more than her delirium,

He lighted a tin lamp in the cabin and listened for a moment at the
inner door. Isobel was quiet. For the first time he made a more
careful note of the cabin. Couchée and his wife had left plenty of
food. He had noticed a frozen haunch of venison hanging outside the
cabin, and he went out and chopped off several pieces of the meat. He
did not feel hungry enough to prepare food for himself, but put the
meat in a pot and placed it on the stove, that he might have broth for
Isobel.

He began to find signs of her presence in the room as he moved about.
Hanging on a wooden peg in the log wall he saw a scarf which he knew
belonged to her. Under the scarf there was a pair of her shoes, and
then he noticed that the crude cabin table was covered with a litter
of stuff which he had not observed before. There were needles and
thread, some cloth, a pair of gloves, and a red bow of ribbon which
Isobel had worn at her throat. What held his eyes were two bundles of
old letters tied with blue ribbon, and a third pile, undone and
scattered. In the light of the lamp he saw that all of the writing on
the envelopes was in the same hand. The top envelope on the first pile
was addressed to "Mrs. Isobel Deane, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan"; the
first envelope of the other bundle to "Miss Isobel Rowland, Montreal,
Canada." Billy's heart choked him as he gathered the loose letters in
his hands and placed them, with the others, on a little shelf above
the table. He knew that they were letters from Deane, and that in her
fever and loneliness Isobel had been reading them when he brought to
her news of her husband's death.

He was about to remove the other articles from the table where a
folded newspaper clipping was uncovered by the removal of the cloth.
It was a half page from a Montreal daily, and out of it there looked
straight up at him the face of Isobel Deane. It was a younger, more
girlish-looking face, but to him it was not half so beautiful as the
face of the Isobel who had come to him from out of the Barren. His
fingers trembled and his breath came more quickly as he held the paper
in the light and read the few lines under the picture:

  ISOBEL ROWLAND, ONE OF THE LAST OF MONTREAL'S DAUGHTERS OF THE
  NORTH, WHO HAS SACRIFICED A FORTUNE FOR LOVE OF A YOUNG ENGINEER

In spite of the feeling of shame that crept over him at thus allowing
himself to be drawn into a past sacred to Isobel and the man who had
died, Billy's eyes sought the date-line. The paper was eight years
old. And then he read what followed. In those few minutes, as the
cold, black type revealed to him the story of Isobel and Deane, he
forgot that he was in the cabin, and that he could almost hear the
breathing of the woman whose sweet romance had ended now in tragedy.
He was with Deane that day, years ago, when he had first looked into
Isobel's eyes in the little old cemetery of nameless and savage dead
at Ste. Anne de Beaupré; he heard the tolling of the ancient bell in
the church that had stood on the hillside for more than two hundred
and fifty years; and he could hear Deane's voice as he told Isobel the
story of that bell and how, in the days of old, it had often called
the settlers in to fight against the Indians. And then, as he read on,
he could feel the sudden thrill in Deane's blood when Isobel had told
him who she was, and that Pierre Radisson, one of the great lords of
the north, had been her great-grandfather; that he had brought
offerings to the little old church, and that he had fought there and
died close by, and that his body was somewhere among the nameless and
unmarked dead. It was a beautiful story, and MacVeigh saw more of it
between the lines than could ever have been printed. Once he had gone
to Ste. Anne de Beaupré to see the pilgrims and the miracles there,
and there flashed before him the sunlit slope overlooking the broad
St. Lawrence, where Isobel and Deane had afterward met, and where she
had told him how large a part the little old cracked bell, the ancient
church, and the plot of nameless dead had played in her life ever
since she could remember. His blood grew hot as he read of what
followed the beginning of love at the pilgrims' shrine. Isobel had no
father or mother, the paper said. Her uncle and guardian was an iron
master of the old blood-- the blood that had been a part of the
wilderness and the great company since the day the first "gentlemen
adventurers" came over with Prince Rupert. He lived alone with Isobel
in a big white house on the top of a hill, shut in by stone walls and
iron pickets, and looked out upon the world with the cold hauteur of a
feudal lord. He was young David Deane's enemy from the moment he first
heard about him, largely because he was nothing more than a struggling
mining engineer, but chiefly because he was an American and had come
from across the border. The stone walls and iron pickets were made a
barrier to him. The heavy gates never opened for him. Then had come
the break. Isobel, loyal in her love, had gone to Deane. The story
ended there.

For a few moments Billy stood with the paper in his hand, the type a
blur before his eyes. He could almost see Isobel's old home in
Montreal. It was on the steep, shaded road leading up to Mount Royal,
where he had once watched a string of horses "tacking" with their
two-wheeled carts of coal in their arduous journey to Sir George
Allen's basement at the end of it. He remembered how that street had
held a curious sort of fascination for him, with its massive stone
walls, its old French homes, and that old atmosphere still clinging to
it of the Montreal of a hundred years ago. Twelve years before he had
gone there first and carved his name on the wooden stairway leading to
the top of the mountain. Isobel had been there then. Perhaps it was
she he had heard singing behind one of the walls.

He put the paper with the letters, making a note of the uncle's name.
If anything happened it would be his duty to send word to him--
perhaps. And then, deliberately, he tore into little pieces the slip
of paper on which he had written the name. Geoffrey Renaud had cast
off his niece. And if she died why should he-- Billy MacVeigh-- tell
him anything about little Isobel? Since Isobel's terrible castigation
of himself and the Law duty had begun to hold a diferent meaning for
him.

Several times during the next hour Billy listened at the door. Then he
made some tea and toast and took the broth from the stove. He went
into the room, leaving these on the hearth of the stove so that they
would not grow cold. He heard Isobel move, and as he went to her side
she gave a little breathless cry.

"David-- David-- is it you?" she moaned. "Oh, David, I'm so glad you
have come!"

Billy stood over her. In the darkness his face was ashen gray, for
like a flash of fire in the lightless room the truth rushed upon him.
Shock and fever had done their work. And in her delirium Isobel
believed that he was Deane, her husband. In the gloom he saw that she
was reaching up her arms to him.

"David!" she whispered; and in her voice there were a love and
gladness that thrilled and terrified him to the quick of his soul.

 XVIII

 THE FULFILMENT OF A PROMISE

In the space of silence that followed Isobel's whispered words there
came to Billy a realization of the crisis which he faced. The thought
of surrendering himself to his first impulse, and of taking Deane's
place in these hours of Isobel's fever, filled him instantly with a
revulsion that sent him back a step from the bed, his hands clenched
until his nails hurt his calloused palms.

"No, no, I am not David," he began, but the words died in his throat.

To tell her that, to make her know the truth-- that her husband was
dead-- might kill her now. Hope, belief that he was alive and with
her, would help to make her live. So quickly that he could not have
spoken his thoughts in words these things flashed upon him. If Deane
were alive and at her side his presence would save her. And if she
believed that he was Deane he would save her. In the end she would
never know. He remembered how Pelliter had forgotten things that had
happened in his delirium. To Isobel, when she awakened into sanity, it
would only seem like a dream at most. A few words from him then would
convince her of that. If necessary, he would tell her that she had
talked much about David in her fever and had imagined him with her.
She would have no suspicion that he had played that part.

Isobel had waited a moment, but now she whispered again, as if a
little frightened at his silence.

"David-- David--"

He stepped back quickly to the bed and his hands met those reaching up
to him. They were hot and dry, and Isobel's fingers tightened about
his own almost fiercely, and drew his hands down on her breast. She
gave a sigh, as though she would rest easier now that his hands were
touching her.

"I have been making some broth for you," he said, scarcely daring to
speak. "Will you take some of it, Isobel? You must-- and sleep."

He felt the pressure of Isobel's hands, and she spoke to him so calmly
that for a breath he thought that she must surely be herself again.

"I don't like the dark, David," she said. "I can't see you. And I want
to do up my hair. Will you bring in a light?"

"Not until you are better," he whispered. "A light will hurt your
eyes. I will stay with you-- near you--"

She raised a hand in the darkness, and it stroked his face. In that
touch were all the love and gentleness that had lived for the man who
was dead, and the caress thrilled Billy until it seemed as though what
was in his heart must burst forth in a sobbing breath. Suddenly her
hand left his face, and he heard her moving restlessly.

"My hair-- David--"

He put out a hand, and it fell in the soft smother of her hair. It was
tangled about her face and neck, and he lifted her gently while he
drew out the thick masses of it. He did not dare to speak while he
smoothed out the rich tresses and pleated them into a braid. Isobel
sighed restfully when he had done.

"I am going to get the broth now," he said then.

He went into the outer room where the lamp was lighted. Not until he
took up the cup of broth did he notice how his hand trembled. A bit of
the broth spilled on the floor, and he dropped a piece of the toast.
He, too, was passing through the crucible with Isobel Deane.

He went back and lifted her so that her head rested against his
shoulder and the warmth of her hair lay against his cheek and neck.
Obediently she ate the half-dozen bits of toast he moistened in the
broth, and then drank a few sips of the liquid. She would have rested
there after that, with her face turned against his, and Billy knew
that she would have slept. But he lowered her gently to the pillow.

"You must go to sleep now," he urged, softly. "Good night--"

"David!"

"Yes--"

"You-- you-- haven't-- kissed-- me--"

There was a childish plaint in her voice, and with a sob in his own
breath he bent over her. For an instant her arms clung about his neck.
He felt the sweet, thrilling touch of her warm lips, and then he drew
himself back; and, with her "Good night, David" following him to the
door, he went into the outer room, and with a strange, broken cry
flung himself on the cot in which Couchée had slept.

It was an hour before he raised his face from the blankets. Yet he had
not slept. In that hour, and in the half-hour that had preceded it in
Isobel's room, there had come lines into his face which made him look
older. Once Isobel had kissed him, and he had treasured that kiss as
the sweetest thing that had come to him in all his life. And to-night
she had given him more than that, for there had been love, and not
gratitude alone, in the warmth of her lips, in the caress of her hands
and arms, and in the pressure of her feverish face against his own.
But they brought him none of the pleasure of that which she had given
to him on the Barren. Grief-stricken, he rose and faced the door. In
spite of the fact that he knew there was no alternative for him, he
regarded himself as worse than a thief. He was taking an advantage of
her which filled him with a repugnance for himself, and he prayed for
the hour when sanity would return to her, though it brought back the
heartbreak and despair that were now lost in the oblivion of her
fever. Always in the northland there is somewhere the dread trail of
le mort rouge, the "red death," and he was well acquainted with the
course it would have to run. He believed that the fever had stricken
Isobel the third or fourth day before, and there would follow three or
four days more in which she would not be herself. Then would come the
reaction. She would awaken to the truth then that her husband was
dead, and that he had been with her alone all that time.

He listened for a moment at the door. Isobel was resting quietly, and
he went out of the cabin without making a sound. The night had grown
blacker and gloomier. There was not a rift in the sullen darkness of
the sky over him. A wind had risen from out of the north and east,
just enough of a wind to set the tree-tops moaning and fill the
closed-in world about him with uneasy sound. He walked toward the tent
where little Isobel had been, and there was something in the air that
choked him. He wished that he had not sent all of the dogs with
McTabb. A terrible loneliness oppressed him. It was like a clammy hand
smothering his heart in its grip, and it made him sick. He turned and
looked at the light in the cabin. Isobel was there, and he had thought
that where she was he could never be lonely. But he knew now that
there lay between them a gulf which an eternity could not bridge.

He shuddered, for with the night wind it seemed to him that there came
again the presence of Scottie Deane. He gripped his hands and stared
out into a pit of blackness. It was as if he had heard the Wild
Horsemen passing that way, panting and galloping through the spruce
tops on their mission of gathering the souls of the dead. Deane was
with him, as his spirit had been with him on that night he had
returned to Pelliter after putting the cross over Scottie's grave. And
in a moment or two the feeling of that presence seemed to lift the
smothering weight from his heart. He knew that Deane could understand,
and the presence comforted him. He went to the tent and looked in,
though there was nothing to see. And then he turned back to the cabin.
Thought of the grave with its sapling cross brought home to him his
duty to the woman. From the rubber pouch he brought forth his pad of
paper and a pencil.

For more than an hour after that he worked. steadily in the dull glow
of the lamp. He knew that Isobel would return to Deane. It might be
soon-- or a long time from now. But she would go. And step by step he
mapped out for her the trail that led to the little cabin on the edge
of the Barren. And after that he wrote in his big, rough hand what was
overflowing from his heart.

"May God take care of you always. I would give my life to give you
back his. I won't let his grave be lost. I will go back some day and
plant blue flowers over it. I guess you will never know what I would
do to give him back to you and make you happy."

He knew that he had not promised what he would fail to do. He would
return to the lonely grave on the edge of the Barren. There was
something that called him to it now, something that he could not
understand, and which came of his own desolation. He folded the pages
of paper, wrapped them in a clean sheet, and wrote Isobel Deans's name
on the outside. Then he placed the packet with the letters on the
shelf over the table. He knew that she would find it with them.

What happened during the terrible week that followed that night no one
but MacVeigh would ever know. To him they were seven days of a fight
whose memory would remain with him until the end of time. Sleepless
nights and almost sleepless days. A bitter struggle, almost without
rest, with the horrible specter that ever hovered within the inner
room. A struggle that drew his cheeks in and put deep lines in his
face; a struggle during which Isobel's voice spoke tenderly and
pleadingly with him in one hour and bitterly in the next. He felt the
caress of her hands. More than once she drew him down to the soft
thrill of her feverish lips. And then, in more terrible moments, she
accused him of hunting to death the man who lay back under the sapling
cross. The three days of torment lengthened into four, and the four
into seven, To the bottom of his soul he suffered, for he understood
what it all meant for him. On the third and the fifth and the seventh
days he went over to McTabb's cabin, and Rookie came out and talked
with him at a distance through a birchbark megaphone. On the seventh
day there was still no news of Indian Joe and his mother. And on this
day Billy played his last part as Deane. He went into her room at noon
with broth and toast and a dish of water, and after she had eaten a
little he lifted her and made a prop of blankets at her back so that
he could brush out and braid her beautiful hair. It was light in the
room in spite of the curtain which he kept closely drawn. Outside the
sun was shining brightly, and the pale luster of it came through the
curtain and lit up the rich tresses he was brushing. When he was done
he lowered her gently to her pillow. She was looking at him strangely.
And then, with a shock that seemed to turn him cold to the depths of
his soul, he saw what was in her eyes. Sanity and reason. He saw
swiftly gathering in them the old terror, the old grief-- recognition
of his true self! He waited to hear no word, but turned as he had done
a hundred times before and left the room.

In the outer room he stood for a few silent minutes, gathering
strength for the ordeal that was near. The end was at hand-- for him.
He choked back his weakness, and after a time returned to the inner
door. But now he did not go in as he had entered before. He knocked.
It was the first time. And Isobel's voice bade him enter.

His heart was filled with a sudden throbbing pain when he saw that she
had turned so that she lay with her face turned away from him. He bent
over her and said, softly:

"You are better. The danger is past."

"I am better and-- and-- it is over?" he heard her whisper.

"Yes."

"The-- the baby?"

"Is well-- yes."

There was a moment's silence. The room seemed to tremble with it. Then
she said, faintly:

"You have been alone?"

"Yes-- alone-- for seven days."

She turned her eyes upon him fully. He could see the glow of them in
the faint light. It seemed to him that she was reading him to the
depths of his soul, and that in this moment she knew! She knew that he
had taken the part of David, and suddenly she turned her face away
from him again with a strange, choking sob. He could feel her
trembling. She seemed, struggling for breath and strength, and he
heard again the words "You-- you-- you--"

"Yes, yes-- I know-- I understand," he said, and his heart choked him.
"You must be quiet-- now. I promised you that if you got well I would
go. And-- I will. No one will ever know. I will go."

"And you will never come to me again?" Her voice was terribly quiet
and cold.

"Never," he said. "I swear that."

She had drawn away from him now until he could see nothing of her but
the shimmer of her thick braid where it lay in a ray of light. But he
could hear her sobbing breath. She scarcely knew when he left the
room, he went so quietly. He closed her door after him, and this time
he latched it. The outer door was open, and suddenly he heard that for
which he had been waiting and listening-- the short, sharp yelping of
dogs, and a human voice.

In three leaps he was out in the open. Halfway across the narrow
clearing Indian Joe had halted with his team. One glance at the sledge
showed Billy that Joe's mother had not failed him. A thin, weazened
little old woman scrambled from a pile of bearskins as he ran toward
them. She had sunken eyes that watched his approach with a ratlike
glitter, and her naked hands were so emaciated that they looked like
claws; but in spite of her unprepossessing appearance Billy almost
hugged her in his delight at their coming. Maballa was her name,
Rookie had told him, and she understood and could talk English better
than her son. Billy told her of the condition in the cabin, and when
he had finished she took a small pack from the sledge, cackled a few
words to Indian Joe, and followed him without a moment's hesitation.
That she had no fear of the plague added to Billy's feeling of relief.
As soon as she had taken off her hood and heavy blanket she went
fearlessly into the inner room, and a moment later Billy heard her
talking to Isobel.

It took him but a few moments to gather up the few things he possessed
and put them in his pack. Then he went out and took down his tent.
Indian Joe had already gone, and he followed in his trail. An hour
later McTabb appeared at the door of his cabin, summoned by Billy's
shout. He circled about and came up with the wind, until he stood
within fifty paces of MacVeigh. Billy told him what he was going to
do. He was going to Churchill, and would leave Isobel and the baby in
his care. From Fort Churchill he would send back an escort to take the
woman and little Isobel down to civilization. He wanted fresh
clothes-- anything he could wear. Those he had on he would be
compelled to burn. He suggested that he could get into one of Indian
Joe's outfits, if he had any spare garments, and McTabb went back to
the cabin, returning a few minutes later with an armful of clothes.

"Here's everything you'll need, except an undershirt an' drawers,"
said McTabb, placing them in a pile on the snow. "I'll wait a little
while you're changing. Better burn those quick. The wind might change,
and I don't want to be caught in a whiff of it."

He moved to a safe distance while Billy secured the clothes and went
into the timber. From a birch tree he pulled off a pile of bark, and
as he stripped he put his old clothes on it. McTabb could hear the
crackling and snapping of the fire when Billy reappeared arrayed in
Indian Joe's "second best"-- buckskin trousers, a worn and tattered
fur coat, a fisher-skin cap, and moccasins a size too small for him.
For fifteen minutes the two men talked, McTabb still drawing the
dead-line at fifty paces. Then he went back and brought up Billy's
dogs and sledge.

"I'd like to shake hands with you, Billy," he apologized, "but I guess
it's best not to. I don't suppose-- we'd dare-- bring out the kid?"

"No," said Billy. "Good-by, Mac. I'll see you-- sometime-- later. Just
go back-- an' bring her to the door, will you? I don't want her to
know I'm here, an' I'll take a look at her from the bush. She wouldn't
understand, you know, if she knew I was here an' wouldn't come up an'
see her."

He concealed himself among the spruce as McTabb went into the cabin. A
moment later he reappeared. Isobel was in his arms, and Billy gulped
back a sob. For an instant she turned her face his way, and he could
see that she was pointing in his direction as Rookie talked to her,
and then for another instant the sun lit up the child's hair with a
golden fire, as he had first seen it on that wonderful day at
Fullerton. He wanted to cry out one word to her-- at least one-- but
what came was only the sob he had fought to keep back. He turned his
face into the forest. And this time he knew that the parting was
final.

 XIX

 A PILGRIMAGE TO THE BARREN

The fourth night after he had left the plague-stricken cabin Billy was
camped on Lame Otter Creek, one hundred and eighty miles from Fort
Churchill, over on Hudson's Bay. He had eaten his supper, and was
smoking his pipe. It was a clear and glorious night, with the sky
afire with stars and a full moon. Several times Billy had stared at
the moon. It was what the Indians called "the bleeding moon"-- red as
blood, with an uneven, dripping edge. It was the Indian superstition
that it meant misfortune to those who did not keep it at their backs.
For seven consecutive nights it had made a red trail through the skies
in that terrible year of plague nineteen years before, when a quarter
of the forest population of the north had died. Since then it had been
known as the "plague moon." Billy had seen it only twice before. He
was not superstitious, but to-night he was filled with a strange
sensation of uneasiness. He laughed an unpleasant laugh as he stared
into the crackling birch flames and wondered what new misfortune could
come to him.

And then, slowly, something seemed to come to him from out of the
wonderful night like a quieting hand to still the pain in his broken
heart. At last, once more, he was home. For the wind-swept Barrens and
the forest had been his home, and more than once he had told himself
that life away from them would be impossible for him. More deeply than
ever this thought came to him to-night. He had become a part of them
and they a part of him. And as he looked up again at the red moon the
sight of it no longer brought him uneasiness, but a strange sort of
joy. For an hour he sat there, and the fire died down. About him the
rustle and whisper of the wild closed in nearer. It was his world, and
he breathed more deeply and listened. Lonely and sick at heart, he
felt the life and sympathy and love of it creeping into him, grieving
with him in his grief, warming him with its hope, pledging him again
the eternal friendship of its trees, its mountains, and all of the
wild that it held therein. A hundred times, in that strange man-play
that comes of loneliness in the far north, he had given life and form
to the star shadows about him, to the shadows of the tall spruce, the
twisted shrub, the rocks, and even the mountains. And now it was no
longer play. With each hour that passed this night, and with each day
and night that followed, they became more real to MacVeigh; and the
fires he built in the black gloom painted him pictures as they had
never painted them before; and the trees and the rocks and the twisted
shrub comforted him more and more in his loneliness, and gave to him
the presence of life in their movement, in the coming and going of
their shadow forms. Everywhere they were the same old friends,
unvarying and changeless. The spruce shadow of to-night, nodding to
him in its silent way, was the same that nodded to him last night-- a
hundred nights ago; the stars were the same, the winds whispering to
him in the tree-tops were the same, everything was as it was
yesterday-- years ago. He knew that in these things, and in these
things alone, he would always possess Isobel. She would return to
civilization, and the shifting scenes of life down there would soon
make her forget him-- almost. But in his world there was no change.
Ten years from now he might go over their old trail and still find the
charred remains of the campfire he had built for her that night beside
the Barren. The wilderness would bear memory of her so long as he was
a part of it; and now, as he came nearer to Churchill, he knew that he
would always be a part of it.

Three weeks after he had left Couchée's cabin he came into Fort
Churchill. A month had changed him so that the factor did not
recognize him at first. The inspector in charge stared at him twice,
and then cried, "My God, is it you, MacVeigh?" To Pelliter alone, who
was waiting for him, did Billy tell all that had happened down on the
Little Beaver. There were several letters waiting for him at
Churchill, and one of these told him that a silver property in which
he was interested over at Cobalt had turned out well and that his
share in the sale was something over ten thousand dollars. He used
this unexpected piece of good-fortune as an excuse to the inspector
when he refused to re-enlist. A week after his arrival at Churchill
Bucky Smith was dishonorably discharged from the Service. There were
several near them when Bucky came up to him with a smile on his face
and offered to shake hands.

"I don't bear you any ill-will, Billy," he said, loud enough for the
others to hear. "Only you've made a big mistake." And then, in words
for Billy's ears alone, he added: "Remember what I promised you! I'll
kill you for this if I have to hunt you round the world!"

A few days later Pelliter left on the last of the slush snows in an
effort to reach Nelson House before the sledging was gone.

"I wish you'd go with me, Billy," he entreated for the hundredth time.
"My girl 'd love to have you come, an' you know how I'd like it."

But Billy could not be moved.

"I'll come and see you some day-- when you've got the kid," he
promised, trying to laugh, as he shook hands for the last time with
his old comrade.

For three days after Pelliter's departure he remained at the post. On
the morning of the fourth, with his pack on his back and without dogs,
he struck off into the north and west.

"I think I'll spend next winter at Fond du Lac," he told the
inspector. "If there's any mail for me you can send it there if you
have a chance, and if I'm not at Fond du Lac it can be returned to
Churchill."

He said Fond du Lac because Deane's grave lay between Churchill and
the old Hudson's Bay Company's post over in the country of the
Athabasca. The Barrens were the one thing that called to him now-- the
one thing to which he dared respond. He would keep his promise to
Isobel and visit Scottie's grave. At least he tried to make himself
believe that he was keeping a promise. But deep in him there was an
undercurrent of feeling which he could not explain. It was as if there
were a spirit with him at times, walking at his side, and hovering
about his campfire at nights, and when he gave himself up to the right
mood he felt that it was the presence of Deane. He believed in strong
friendship, but he had never believed in the love of man for man. He
had not thought that such a thing could exist, except, perhaps,
between father and son. With him, in all the castles he had built and
the dreams he had dreamed, the alpha and omega of love had remained
with woman. For the first time he knew what it meant to love a man--
the memory of a man.

Something held him from telling the secret of his mission at Churchill
even to Pelliter. The evening before he left he had smuggled an ax
into the edge of the forest, and the second day he found use for this.
He came to a straight-grained, thick birch, eighteen inches in
diameter, and he put up his tent fifty paces from it. Before he rolled
himself in his blankets that night he had cut down the tree. The next
day he chopped off the butt, and before another nightfall had hewn out
a slab two inches thick, a foot wide, and three feet long. When he
took up the trail into the north and west again the following morning
he left the ax behind.

The fourth night he worked with his hunting-knife and his belt-ax,
thinning down the slab and making it smooth. The fifth and the sixth
nights he passed in the same way, and he ended the sixth night by
heating the end of a small iron rod in the fire and burning the first
three letters of Deane's epitaph on the slab. For a time he was
puzzled, wondering whether he should use the name Scottie or David. He
decided on David.

He did not travel fast, for to him spring was the most beautiful of
all seasons in the wilderness. It was underfoot and overhead now. The
snow-floods were singing between the ridges and gathering in the
hollows. The poplar buds were swollen almost to the bursting point,
and the bakneesh vines were as red as blood with the glow of new life.
Seventeen days after he left Churchill he came to the edge of the big
Barren. For two days he swung westward, and early in the forenoon of
the third looked out over the gray waste, dotted with moving caribou,
over which he and Pelliter had raced ahead of the Eskimos with little
Isobel. He went to the cabin first and entered. It was evident that no
one had been there since he had left, On the bunk where Deane had died
he found one of baby Isobel's little mittens. He had wondered where
she had lost it, and had made her a new one of lynx-skin on the way
down to Couchée's cabin. The tiny bed that he had made for her on the
floor was as she had last slept in it, and in the part of a blanket
that he had used as a pillow was still the imprint of her head. On the
wall hung a pair of old trousers that Deane had worn. Billy looked at
these things, standing silently, with his pack at his feet. There was
something in the cabin that closed in about him and choked him, and he
struggled to overcome it by whistling. His lips seemed thick. At last
he turned and went to the grave.

The foxes had been there, and had dug a little about the sapling
cross. There was no other change. During the remainder of the forenoon
Billy cut down a heavier sapling and sunk the butt of it three feet
into the half-frozen earth at the head of Deane's grave. Then, with
spikes he had brought with him, he nailed on the slab. He believed
that no one would ever know what the words on that slab meant-- no one
except himself and the spirit of Scottie Deane. With the end of the
heated rod he had burned into the wood:

 DAVID DEANE

 Died Feb. 27, 1908

 BELOVED OF ISOBEL AND THE ONE

 WHO WISHES HE COULD TAKE

 YOUR PLACE AND GIVE

 YOU BACK TO

 HER

 W. M. April 15, 1908

He did not stop when it was time for dinner, but carried rocks from a
ridge a couple of hundred yards away, and built a cairn four feet high
around the sapling, so that storm or wild animals could not knock it
down. Then he began a search in the warmest and sunniest parts of the
forest, where the green tips of plant life were beginning to reveal
themselves. He found snowflowers, redglow, and bakneesh, and dug up
root after root, and at last, peeping out from between two rocks, he
found the arrowlike tip of a blue flower. The bakneesh roots he
planted about the cairn, and the blue flower he planted by itself at
the head of the grave.

It was long past midday when he returned to the cabin, and once more
he was oppressed by the appalling loneliness of it. It was not as he
had thought it would be. Deane's spirit and companionship had seemed
to be nearer to him beside his campfires and in the forest. He cooked
a meal over the stove, but the snapping of the fire seemed strange and
unnatural in the deserted room. Even the air he breathed was heavy
with the oppression of death and broken hopes. He found it difficult
to swallow the food he had cooked, though he had eaten nothing since
morning. When he was done he looked at his watch. It was four o'clock.
The northern sun had dropped behind the distant forests and was
followed now by the thickening gloom of early evening. For a few
moments Billy stood motionless outside the cabin. Behind him an owl
hooted its lonely mating-song. Over his head a brush sparrow
twittered. It was that hour, just between the end of day and the
beginning of night, when the wilderness holds its breath and all is
still. Billy clenched his hands and listened. He could not keep back
the break that was in his breath. Something out there in the silence
and the gathering darkness was calling him-- calling him away from the
cabin, away from the grave, and the gray, dead waste of the Barren. He
turned back into the cabin and put his things into the pack. He took
the little mitten to keep with his other treasures, and then he went
out and closed the door behind him. He passed close to the grave and
for the last time gazed upon the spot where Deane lay buried.

"Good-by, old man," he whispered. Goodby--"

The owl hooted louder as he turned his face into the west. It made him
shiver, and he hurried his steps into the unbroken wilderness that lay
for hundreds of miles between him and the post at Fond du Lac.

 XX

 THE LETTER

Days and weeks and months of a loneliness which Billy had never known
before followed after his pilgrimage to Deane's grave. It was more
than loneliness. He had known loneliness, the heartbreak and the
longing of it, in the black and silent chaos of the arctic night; he
had almost gone mad of it, and he had seen Pelliter nearly die for a
glimpse of the sun and the sound of a voice. But this was different.
It was something that ate deeper at his soul each day and each night
that he lived. He had believed that thought of Isobel and his memories
of her would make him happier, even though he never saw her again. But
in this he was mistaken. The wilderness does not lend to
forgetfulness, and each day her voice seemed nearer and more real to
him, and she became more and more insistently a part of his thoughts.
Never an hour of the day passed that he did not ask himself where she
was. He hoped that she and the baby Isobel had returned to the old
home in Montreal, where they would surely find friends and be cared
for. And yet the dread was upon him that she had remained in the
wilderness, that her love for Deane would keep her there, and that she
would find a woman's work at some post between the Height of Land and
the Barrens. At times there possessed him an overwhelming desire to
return to McTabb's cabin and find where they had gone. But he fought
against this desire as a man fights against death. He knew that once
he surrendered himself to the temptation to be near her again he would
lose much that he had won in his struggle during the days of plague in
Couchée's cabin.

So his feet carried him steadily westward, while the invisible hands
tugged at him from behind. He did not go straight to Fond du Lac, but
spent nearly three weeks with a trapper whom he ran across on the
Pipestone River. It was June when he struck Fond du Lac, and he
remained there a month. He had more than half expected to pass the
winter there, but the factor at the post proved a disagreeable
acquaintance, and he did not like the country. So early in July he set
out deeper into the Athabasca country to the west, followed the
northern shore of the big lake, and two months later came to Fort
Chippewyan, near the mouth of the Slave River.

He struck Chippewyan at a fortunate time. A government geological and
map-making party was just preparing to leave for the terra incognita
between the Great Slave and the Great Bear, and the three men who had
come up from Ottawa urged Billy to join them. He jumped at the
opportunity, and remained with them until the party returned to the
Mackenzie River by the way of Fort Providence five months later. He
remained at Fort Providence until late spring, and then came down to
Fort Wrigley, where he had several friends in the service. Fifteen
months of wandering had had their effect upon him. He could no longer
resist the call of the wanderlust. It urged him from place to place,
and stronger and stronger grew in him the desire to return to his old
country along the shores of the big Bay far to the west. He had partly
planned to join the railroad builders on the new trans-continental in
the mountains of British Columbia, but in August, instead of finding
himself at Edmonton or Tête Jaune Cache, he was at Prince Albert,
three hundred and fifty miles to the east. From this point he struck
northward with a party of company men into the Lac La Ronge country,
and in October swung eastward alone through the Sissipuk and Burntwood
waterways to Nelson House. He continued northward after a week's rest,
and on the eighteenth of December the first of the two great storms
which made the winter of 1909-10 one of the most tragic in the history
of the far northern people overtook him thirty miles from York
Factory. It took him five days to reach the post, where he was held up
for several weeks. These were the first of those terrible weeks of
famine and intense cold during which more than fifteen hundred people
died in the north country. From the Barren Lands to the edge of the
southern watershed the earth lay under from four to six feet of snow,
and from the middle of December until late in January the temperature
did not rise above forty degrees below zero, and remained for the most
of the time between fifty and sixty. From all points in the wilderness
reports of starvation and death came to the company's posts. Trap
lines could not be followed because of the intense cold. Moose,
caribou, and even the furred animals had buried themselves under the
snow. Indians and half-breeds dragged themselves into the posts. Twice
at York Factory Billy saw mothers who brought dead babies in their
arms. One day a white trapper came in with his dogs and sledge, and on
the sledge, wrapped in a bearskin, was his wife, who had died fifty
miles back in the forest.

During these terrible weeks Billy found it impossible to keep Isobel
and the baby Isobel out of his mind night or day. The fear grew in him
that somewhere in the wilderness they were suffering as others were
suffering. So obsessed did he become with the thought that he had a
terrible dream one night, and in that dream baby Isobel's face
appeared to him, a deathlike mask, white and cold and thinned by
starvation. The vision decided him. He would go to Fort Churchill, and
if McTabb had not been driven in he would go to his cabin, over on the
Little Beaver, and learn what had become of Isobel and the little
girl. A few days later, on the twenty-seventh day of January, there
came a sudden rise in the temperature, and Billy prepared at once to
take advantage of the change. A half-breed, on his way to Churchill,
accompanied him, and they set out together the following morning. On
the twentieth of February they arrived at Fort Churchill.

Billy went immediately to detachment headquarters. There had been
several changes in two years, and there was only one of the old force
to shake hands with him. His first inquiry was about McTabb and Isobel
Deane. Neither was at Churchill, nor had been there since the arrival
of the new officer in charge. But there was mail for Billy-- three
letters. There had been half a dozen others, but they were now
following up his old trails somewhere out in the wilderness. These
three had been returned recently from Fond du Lac. One was from
Pelliter, the fourth he had written, he said, without an answer. The
"kid" had come-- a girl-- and he wondered if Billy was dead. The
second letter was from his Cobalt partner.

The third he turned over several times before he opened it. It did not
look much like a letter. It was torn and ragged at the edges, and was
so soiled and water-stained that the address on it was only partly
legible. It had been to Fond du Lac, and from there it had followed
him to Fort Chippewyan. He opened it and found that the writing inside
was scarcely more legible than the inscription on the envelope. The
last words were quite plain, and he gave a low cry when he found that
it was from Rookie McTabb.

He went close to a window and tried to make out what McTabb had
written. Here and there, where water had not obliterated the writing,
he could make out a line or a few words. Nearly all was gone but the
last paragraph, and when Billy came to this and read the first words
of it his heart seemed all at once to die within him, and he could not
see. Word by word he made out the rest after that, and when he was
done he turned his stony face to the white whirl of the storm outside
the window, his lips as dry as though he had passed through a fever.

A part of that last paragraph was unintelligible, but enough was left
to tell him what had happened in the cabin down on the Little Beaver.

McTabb had written:

  "We thought she was getting well... took sick again.... did
  everything... could. But it didn't do any good,... died just five
  weeks to a day after you left. We buried her just behind the cabin.
  God... that kid... You don't know how I got to love her, Billy....
  give her up..."

McTabb had written a dozen lines after that, but all of them were a
water-stained and unintelligible blur.

Billy crushed the letter in his hand. The new inspector wondered what
terrible news he had received as he walked out into the blinding chaos
of the storm.

 XXI

 THE FIGHTING SPARK

For ten minutes Billy buried himself blindly in the storm. He scarcely
knew which direction he took, but at last he found himself in the
shelter of the forest, and he was whispering Isobel's name over and
over again to himself.

"Dead-- dead--" he moaned. "She is dead-- dead--"

And then there rushed upon him, crushing back his deeper grief, a
thought of the baby Isobel. She was still with McTabb down on the
Little Beaver. In the blur of the storm he read again what he could
make out of Rookie's letter. Something in that last paragraph struck
him with a deadly fear. "God... that kid... You, don't know how I got
to love her, Billy,... give her up..."

What did it mean? What had McTabb told him in that part of the letter
that was gone?

The reaction came as he put the letter back into his pocket. He walked
swiftly back to the inspector's office.

"I'm going down to the Little Beaver. I'm going to start to-day," he
said. "Who is there in Churchill that I can get to go with me?"

Two hours later Billy was ready to start, with an Indian as a
companion. Dogs could not be had for love or money, and they set out
on snowshoes with two weeks' supply of provisions, striking south and
west. The remainder of that day and the next they traveled with but
little rest. Each hour that passed added to Billy's mad impatience to
reach McTabb's cabin.

With the morning of the third day began the second of those two
terrible storms which swept over the northland in that winter of
famine and death. In spite of the Indian's advice to build a permanent
camp until the temperature rose again Billy insisted on pushing ahead.
The fifth night, in the wild Barren country west of the Etawney, his
Indian failed to keep up the fire, and when Billy investigated he
found him half dead with a strange sickness. He made the Indian's
balsam shelter snow and wind proof, cut wood, and waited. The
temperature continued to fall, and the cold became intense. Each day
the provisions grew less, and at last the time came when Billy knew
that he was standing face to face with the Great Peril. He went
farther and farther from camp in his search for game. Even the brush
sparrows and snow-hawks were gone. Once the thought came to him that
be might take what food was left and accept the little chance that
remained of saving himself. But the idea never got farther than a
first thought. On the twelfth day the Indian died. It was a terrible
day. There was food for another twenty-four hours.

Billy packed it, together with his blankets and a few pieces of
tinware. He wondered if the Indian had died of a contagious disease.
Anyway, he made up his mind to put out the warning for others if they
came that way, and over the dead Indian's balsam shelter he planted a
sapling, and at the end of the sapling he fastened a strip of red
cotton cloth-- the plague signal of the north.

Than he struck out through the deep snows and the twisting storm,
knowing that there was no more than one chance in a thousand ahead of
him, and that the one chance was to keep the wind at his back.

At the end of his first day's struggle Billy built himself a camp in a
bit of scrub timber which was not much more than bush. He had observed
that the timber and that every tree and bush he had passed since noon
was stripped and dead on the side that faced the north. He cooked and
ate his last food the following day, and went on. The small timber
turned to scrub, and the scrub, in time, to vast snow wastes over
which the storm swept mercilessly. All this day he looked for game,
for a flutter of bird life; he chewed bark, and in the afternoon got a
mouthful of foxbite, which made his throat swell until he could
scarcely breathe. At night he made tea, but had nothing to eat. His
hunger was acute and painful. It was torture the next day-- the
third-- for the process of starvation is a rapid one in this country
where only the fittest survive on from four to five meals a day. He
camped, built a small bush-fire at night, and slept. He almost failed
to rouse himself on the morning that followed, and when he staggered
to his feet and felt the cutting sting of the storm still in his face
and heard the swishing wail of it over the Barren he knew that at last
the hour had come when he was standing face to face with the Almighty.

For some strange reason he was not frightened at the situation. He
found that even over the level spaces he could scarce drag his
snow-shoes, but this had ceased to alarm him as he had been alarmed at
first. He went on, hour after hour, weaker and weaker. Within himself
there was still life which reasoned that if death were to come it
could not come in a better way. It at least promised to be painless--
even pleasant. The sharp, stinging pains of hunger, like little
electrical knives piercing him, were gone; he no longer experienced a
sensation of intense cold; he almost felt that he could lie down in
the drifted snow and sleep peacefully. He knew what it would be-- a
sleep without end, with the arctic foxes to pick his bones afterward--
and so he resisted the temptation and forced himself onward. The storm
still swept straight west from Hudson's Bay, bringing with it endless
volleys of snow, round and hard as fine shot, snow that had at first
seemed to pierce his flesh and which swished past his feet as if
trying to trip him and tossed itself in windrows and mountains in his
path. If he could only find timber, shelter! That was what he worked
for now. When he had last looked at his watch it was nine o'clock in
the morning; now it was late in the afternoon. It might as well have
been night. The storm had long since half blinded him. He could not
see a dozen paces ahead. But the little life in him still reasoned
bravely. It was a heroic spark of life, a fighting spark, and hard to
put out. It told him that when he came to shelter he would at least
feel it, and that he must fight until the last. The pack on his back
held no significance and no weight for him. He might have traveled a
mile or ten miles an hour and he would not have sensed the difference.
Most men would have buried themselves in the snow and died in comfort,
dreaming the pleasant dreams that come as a sort of recompense to the
unfortunate who dies of starvation and cold. But the fighting spark
commanded Billy to die upon his feet if he died at all. It was this
spark which brought him at last to a bit of timber thick enough to
give him shelter from wind and snow. It burned a little more warmly
then. It flared up and gave him new vision. And then, for the first
time, he realized that it must be night. For a light was burning ahead
of him, and all else was gloom. His first thought was that it was a
campfire miles and miles away. Then it drew nearer, until he knew that
it was a light in a cabin window. He dragged himself toward it, and
when he came to the door he tried to shout. But no sound fell from his
swollen lips. It seemed an hour before he could twist his feet out of
his snow-shoes. Then he groped for a latch, pressed against the door,
and plunged in.

What he saw was like a picture suddenly revealed for an instant by a
flashlight. In the cabin there were four men. Two sat at a table
directly in front of him. One held a dice box poised in the air, and
had turned a rough, bearded face toward him. The other was a younger
man, and in this moment it struck Billy as strange that he should be
clutching a can of beans between his hands. A third man stared from
where he had been looking down upon the dice-play of the other two. As
Billy came in he was in the act of lowering a half-filled bottle from
his lips. The fourth man sat on the edge of a bunk, with a face so
white and thin that he might have been taken for a corpse if it had
not been for the dark glare in his sunken eyes. Billy smelled the odor
of whisky; he smelled food. He saw no sign of welcome in the faces
turned toward him, but he advanced upon them, mumbling incoherently.
And then the spark, the fighting spark in him, gave out, and he
crumpled down on the floor. He heard a voice which came to him from a
great distance, and which said, "Who the hell is this?" and then,
after what seemed to be a long time, he heard that same voice say,
"Pitch him back into the snow."

After that he lost consciousness. But in that last moment between
light and darkness he experienced a strange thrill that made him want
to spring to his feet, for it seemed to him that he had recognized the
voice that had said "Pitch him back into the snow."

 XXII

 INTO THE SOUTH

A long time before he awoke Billy knew that he was not in the snow,
and that hot stuff was running down his throat. When he opened his
eyes there was no longer a light burning in the cabin. It was day. He
felt strangely comfortable, but there was something in the cabin that
stirred him from his rest. It was the odor of frying bacon. All of his
hunger had come back. The joy of life, of anticipation, shone in his
thin face as he pulled himself up. Another face-- the bearded face--
red-eyed, almost animal-like in its fierce questioning, bent over him.

"Where's your grub, pardner?"

The question was like a stab. Billy did not hear his own voice as he
explained.

"Got none!" The bearded man's voice was like a bellow as he turned
upon the others, "He's got no grub!"

In that moment Billy choked back the cry on his lips. He knew the
voice now-- and the man. It was Bucky Smith! He half rose to his feet
and then dropped back. Bucky had not recognized him. His own beard,
shaggy hair, and pinched face had saved him from recognition. Fate had
played his way.

"We'll divvy up, Bucky," came a weak voice. It was from the thin,
white-faced man who had sat corpselike on the edge of his bunk the
night before.

"Divvy hell!" growled the other. "It's up to you-- you 'n' Sweedy.
You're to blame!"

You're to blame!

The words struck upon Billy's ears with a chill of horror. Starvation
was in the cabin. He had fallen among animals instead of men. He saw
the thin-faced man who had spoken for him sitting again on the edge of
his bunk. Mutely he looked to the others to see who was Sweedy. He was
the young man who had clutched the can of beans. It was he who was
frying bacon over the sheet-iron stove.

"We'll divvy, Henry and I," he said. "I told you that last night." He
looked over at Billy. "Glad you're better," he greeted. "You see,
you've struck us at a bad time. We're on our last legs for grub. Our
two Indians went out to hunt a week ago and never came back. They're
dead, or gone, and we're as good as dead if the storm doesn't let up
pretty soon. You can have some of our grub-- Henry's and mine."

It was a cold invitation, lacking warmth or sympathy, and Billy felt
that even this man wished that he had died before he reached the
cabin. But the man was human; he had at least not cast his voice with
the one that had wanted to throw him back into the snow, and he tried
to voice his gratitude and at the same time to hide his hunger. He saw
that there were three thin slices of bacon in the frying-pan, and it
struck him that it would be bad taste to reveal a starvation appetite
in the face of such famine. Bucky was looking straight at him as he
limped to his feet, and he was sure now that the man he had driven
from the Service had not recognized him. He approached Sweedy.

"You saved my life," he said, holding out a hand. "Will you shake?"

Sweedy shook hands limply.

"It's hell," he said, in a low voice. "We'd have had beans this
morning if I hadn't shook dice with him last night." He nodded toward
Bucky, who was cutting open the top of a can. "He won!"

"My God--" began Billy.

He didn't finish. Sweedy turned the meat, and added:

"He won a square meal off me yesterday-- a quarter of a pound of
bacon. Day before that he won Henry's last can of beans. He's got his
share under his blanket over there, and swears he'll shoot any one who
goes to monkeyin' with his bed-- so you'd better fight shy of it.
Thompson-- he isn't up yet-- chose the whisky for his share, so you'd
better fight shy of him, too. Henry and I'll divvy up with you."

"Thanks," said Billy, the one word choking him.

Henry came from his bunk, bent and wabbling. He looked like a dying
man, and for the first time Billy noticed that his hair was gray. He
was a little man, and his thin hands shook as he held them out over
the stove and nodded to Billy. Bucky had opened his can, and
approached the stove with a pan of water, coming in beside Billy
without noticing him. He brought with him a foul odor of stale tobacco
smoke and whisky. After he had put his water over the fire he turned
to one of the bunks and with half a dozen coarse epithets roused
Thompson, who sat up stupidly, still half drunk. Henry had gone to a
small table, and Sweedy followed him with the bacon. Billy did not
move. He forgot his hunger. His pulse was beating quickly. Sensations
filled him which he had never known or imagined before. Was it
possible that these were people of his own kind? Had a madness of some
sort driven all human instincts from them? He saw Thompson's red eyes
fastened upon him, and he turned his face to escape their questioning,
stupid leer. Bucky was turning out the can of beans he had won. Beyond
him the door creaked, and Billy heard the wail of the storm. It came
to him now as a friendly sort of sound.

"Better draw up, pardner," he heard Sweedy say. "Here's your share."

One of the thin slices of bacon and a hard biscuit were waiting for
him on a tin plate. He ate as ravenously as Henry and Sweedy, and
drank a cup of hot tea. In two minutes the meal was over. It was
terribly inadequate. The few mouthfuls of food stirred up all his
craving, and he found it impossible to keep his eyes from Bucky Smith
and his beans. Bucky was the only one who seemed well fed, and his
horror increased when Henry bent over him and said, in a low whisper:
"He didn't get my beans fair. I had three aces and a pair, of deuces,
an' he took it on three fives and two sixes. When I objected he called
me a liar an' hit me. Them's my beans, or Sweedy's!" There was
something almost like murder in the little man's red eyes.

Billy remained silent. He did not care to talk or question. No one
asked him who he was or whence he came, and he felt no inclination to
know more of the men he had fallen among. Bucky finished, wiped his
mouth with his hand, and looked across at Billy.

"How about going out with me to get some wood?" he demanded.

"I'm ready," replied Billy.

For the first time he took notice of himself. He was lame and
sickeningly weak, but apparently sound in other ways. The intense cold
had not frozen his ears or feet. He put on his heavy moccasins, his
thick coat and fur cap, and followed Bucky to the door. He was filled
with a strange uneasiness. He was sure that his old enemy had not
recognized him, and yet he felt that recognition might come at any
moment. If Bucky recognized him-- when they were out alone--

He was not afraid, but he shivered. He was too weak to put up a fight.
He did not catch the ugly leer which Bucky turned upon Thompson. But
Henry did, and his little eyes grew smaller and blacker. On snow-shoes
the two men went out into the storm, Bucky carrying an ax. He led the
way through the bit of thin timber, and across a wide open over which
the storm swept so fiercely that their trail was covered behind them
as they traveled. Billy figured that they had gone a quarter of a mile
when they came to the edge of a ravine so steep that it was almost a
precipice. For the first time Bucky touched him. He seized him by the
arm, and in his voice there was an inhuman, taunting triumph.

"Didn't think I knew you, did you, Billy?" he asked. "Well, I did, and
I've just been waiting to get you out alone. Remember my promise,
Billy? I've changed my mind since then. I ain't going to kill you.
It's too risky. It's safer to let you die-- by yourself-- as you're
goin' to die to-day or to-night. If you come back to the cabin-- I'll
shoot you!"

With a movement so quick that Billy had no chance to prepare himself
for it Bucky sent him plunging headlong down the side of the ravine.
The deep snow saved him in the long fall. For a few moments Billy lay
stunned. Then he staggered to his feet and looked up. Bucky was gone.
His first thought was to return to the cabin. He could easily find it
and confront Bucky there before the others. And yet he did not move.
His inclination to go back grew less and less, and after a brief
hesitation he made up his mind to continue the struggle for life by
himself. After all, his situation would not be much more desperate
than that of the men he was leaving behind in the cabin. He buttoned
himself up closely, saw that his snow-shoes were securely fastened,
and climbed the opposite side of the ridge.

The timber thinned out again, and Billy struck out boldly into the low
bush. As he went he wondered what would happen in the cabin. He
believed that Henry, of the four, would not pull through alive, and
that Bucky would come out best. It was not until the following summer
that he learned the facts of Henry's madness, and of the terrible
manner in which he avenged himself on Bucky Smith by sticking a knife
under the latter's ribs.

Billy now found himself in a position to measure the amount of energy
contained in a slice of bacon and a cold biscuit. It was not much.
Long before noon his old weakness was upon him again. He found even
greater difficulty in dragging his feet over the snow, and it seemed
now as though all ambition had left him, and that even the fighting
spark was becoming disheartened. He made up his mind to go on until
the beginning of night, then he would stop, build a fire, and go to
sleep in its warmth.

During the afternoon he passed out of the scrub into a rougher
country. His progress was slower, but more comfortable, for at times
he found himself protected from the wind. A gloom darker and more
somber than that of the storm was falling about him when he came to
what appeared to be the end of the Barren country. The earth dropped
away from under his feet, and far below him, in a ravine shut out from
wind and storm, he saw the black tops of thick spruce. He began to
scramble downward. His eyes were no longer fit to judge distance or
chance, and he slipped. He slipped a dozen times in the first five
minutes, and then there came the time when he did not make a recovery,
but plunged down the side of the mountain like a rock. He stopped with
a terrific jar, and for the first time during the fall he wanted to
cry out with pain. But the voice that he heard did not come from his
own lips. It was another voice-- and then two, three, many of them, it
seemed to him. His dazed eyes caught glimpses of dark objects
floundering in the deep snow about him, and just beyond these objects
were four or five tall mounds of snow, like tents, arranged in a
circle. He knew what they meant. He had fallen into an Indian camp. In
his joy he tried to call out words of greeting, but he had no tongue.
Then the floundering figures caught him up, and he was carried to the
circle of snow mounds. The last that he knew was that warmth was
entering his lungs.

It was a face that he first saw after that, a face that seemed to come
to him slowly from out of night, approaching nearer and nearer until
he knew that it was a girl's face, with great, dark, strangely shining
eyes. In these first moments of his returning consciousness the
whimsical thought came to him that he was dying and the face was a
part of a pleasant dream. If that were not so, he had fallen at last
among friends. His eyes opened wider, he moved, and the face drew
back. Movement stimulated returning life, and reason rehabilitated
itself in great bounds. In a dozen flashes he went over all that had
happened up to the point where he had fallen down the mountain and
into the Cree camp. Straight above him he saw the funnel-like peak of
a large birch wigwam, and beyond his feet he saw an opening in the
birch-bark wall through which there drifted a blue film of smoke. He
was in a wigwam. It was warm and exceedingly comfortable. Wondering if
he was hurt, he moved. The movement drew a sharp exclamation of pain
from him. It was the first real sound he had made, and in an instant
the face was over him again. He saw it plainly this time, with its
dark eyes and oval cheeks framed between two great braids of black
hair. A hand touched his brow, cool and gentle, and a low voice
soothed him in half a dozen musical words. The girl was a Cree.

At the sound of her voice an indian woman came up beside the girl,
looked down at him for a moment, and then went to the door of the
wigwam, speaking in a low voice to some one who was outside. When she
returned a man followed in after her. He was old and bent, and his
face was thin. His cheek-bones shone, so tightly was the skin drawn
over them. Behind him came a younger man, as straight as a tree, with
strong shoulders and a head set like a piece of bronze sculpture. This
man carried in his hand a frozen fish, which he gave to the woman. As
he gave it to her he spoke words in Cree which Billy understood.

"It is the last fish."

For a moment a terrible hand gripped at Billy's heart and almost
stopped its beating. He saw the woman take the fish and cut it into
two equal parts with a knife, and one of these parts she dropped into
a pot of boiling water which hung over the stone fireplace built under
the vent in the wall. They were dividing with him their last fish! He
made an effort and sat up. The younger man came to him and put a
bearskin at his back. He had picked up some of the patois of
half-blood French and English.

"You seek," he said, "you hurt-- and hungry! You have eat soon."

He motioned with his hand to the boiling pot. There was not a flicker
of animation in his splendid face. There was something god-like in his
immobility, something that was awesome in the way he moved and
breathed. He sat in silence as the half of the last fish was brought
by the girl; and not until Billy stopped eating, choked by the
knowledge that he was taking life from these people, did he speak, and
then it was to urge him to finish the fish. When he had done, Billy
spoke to the Indian in Cree. Instantly the Indian reached over his
hand, his face lighting up, and Billy gripped it hard. Mukoki told him
what had happened. There had been a camp of twenty-two, and there were
now fifteen. Seven had died-- four men, two women, and one child. Each
day during the great storm the men had gone out on their futile search
for game, and every few days one of them had failed to return. Thus
four had died. The dogs were eaten. Corn and fish were gone; there
remained but a little flour, and this was for the women and the
children. The men had eaten nothing but bark and roots for five days.
And there seemed to be no hope. It was death to stray far from camp.
That morning two men had set out for the nearest post, but Mukoki said
calmly that they would never return.

That night and the next day and the terrible night and day that
followed were filled with hours that Billy would never forget. He had
sprained one hip badly in his fall, and could not rise from the cot
Mukoki was often at his side, his face thinner, his eyes more
lusterless. The second day, late in the afternoon, there came a low
wailing grief from one of the tepees, a moaning sound that pitched
itself to the key of the storm until it seemed to be a part of it. A
child had died, and the mother was mourning. That night another of the
camp huntsmen failed to return at dusk. But the next day there came at
the same time the end of both storm and famine. With dawn the sun
shone. And early in the day one of the hunters ran in from the forest
nearly crazed with joy. He had ventured farther away than the others,
and had found a moose-yard. He had killed two of the animals and
brought with him meat for the first feast.

This last great storm of the winter of 1910 passed well into the
"break-up" season, and, once the temperature began to rise, the change
was swift. Within a week the snow was growing soft underfoot. Two days
later Billy hobbled from his cot for the first time. And then, in the
passing of a single day and night, the glory of the northern spring
burst upon the wilderness. The sun rose warm and golden. From the
sides of the mountains and in the valleys water poured forth in
rippling, singing floods. The red bakneesh glowed on bared rocks.
Moose-birds and jays and wood-thrushes flitted about the camp, and the
air was filled with the fragrant smells of new life bursting from
earth and tree and shrub.

With return of health and strength Billy's impatience to reach
McTabb's cabin grew hourly. He would have set out before his hip was
in condition to travel had not Mukoki kept him back. At last the day
came when he bade his forest friends good-by and started into the
south.

 XXIII

 AT THE END OF THE TRAIL

The long days and nights of inactivity which Billy had passed in the
Indian camp had given him the opportunity to think more calmly of the
tragedy which had come into his life, and with returning strength he
had drawn himself partly out from the pit of hopelessness and despair
into which he had fallen. Deane was dead. Isobel was dead. But the
baby Isobel still lived; and in the hope of finding and claiming her
for his own he built other dreams for himself out of the ashes of all
that had gone for him. He believed that he would find McTabb at the
cabin and he would find the child there. So confident had he been that
Isobel would live that he had not told McTabb of the uncle who had
driven her from the old home in Montreal. He was glad that he had kept
this to himself, for there would not be much of a chance of Rookie
having found the child's relative. And he made up his mind that he
would not give the little Isobel up. He would keep her for himself. He
would return to civilization, for he would have her to live for. He
would build a home for her, with a garden and dogs and birds and
flowers. With his silver-claim money he had fifteen thousand dollars
laid away, and she would never know what it meant to be poor. He would
educate her and buy her a piano and she would have no end of pretty
dresses and things to make her a lady. They would be together and
inseparable always, and when she grew up he prayed deep down in his
soul that she would be like the older Isobel, her mother.

His grief was deep. He knew that he could never forget, and that the
old memories of the wilderness and of the woman he had loved would
force themselves upon him, year after year, with their old pain. But
these new thoughts and plans for the child made his grief less
poignant.

It was late in the afternoon of a day that had been filled with
sunlight and the warmth of spring that he came to the Little Beaver, a
short distance above McTabb's cabin. He almost ran from there to the
clearing, and the sun was just sinking behind the forest in the west
when he paused on the edge of the break in the forest and saw the
cabin. It was from here that he had last seen little Isobel. The bush
behind which he had concealed himself was less than a dozen paces
away. He noticed this, and then he observed things which made his
heart sink in a strange, cold way. A path had led into the forest at
the point where he stood. Now it was almost obliterated by a tangle of
last year's weeds and plants. Rookie must have made a new path, he
thought. And then, fearfully, he looked about the clearing and at the
cabin. Everywhere there was the air of desolation. There was no smoke
rising from the chimney. The door was closed. There were no evidences
of life outside. Not the sound of a dog, of a laugh, or of a voice
broke the dead stillness.

Scarcely breathing, Billy advanced, his heart choked more and more by
the fear that gripped him. The door to the cabin was not barred. He
opened it. There was nothing inside. The old stove was broken. The
bare cots had not been used for months-- perhaps for two years. As he
took another step an ermine scampered away ahead of him. He heard the
mouselike squeal of its young a moment later under the sapling floor.
He went back to the door and stood in the open.

"My God!" he moaned.

He looked in the direction of Couchée's cabin, where Isobel had died.
Was there a chance there, he wondered? There was little hope, but he
started quickly over the old trail. The gloom of evening fell swiftly
about him. It was almost dark when he reached the other clearing. And
again his voice broke in a groaning cry. There was no cabin here.
McTabb had burned it after the passing of the plague. Where it had
stood was now a black and charred mass, already partly covered by the
verdure of the wilderness. Billy gripped his hands hard and walked
back from it searchingly. A few steps away he found what McTabb had
told him that he would find, a mound and a sapling cross. And then, in
spite of all the fighting strength that was in him, he flung himself
down upon Isobel's grave, and a great, broken cry of grief burst from
his lips.

When he raised his head a long time afterward the stars were
shimmering in the sky. It was a wonderfully still night, and all that
he could hear was the ripple and song of the spring floods in the
Little Beaver. He rose silently to his feet and stood for a few
moments as motionless as a statue over the grave. Then he turned and
went back over the old trail, and from the edge of the clearing he
looked back and whispered to himself and to her:

"I'll come back for you, Isobel. I'll come back."

At McTabb's cabin he had left his pack. He put the straps over his
shoulder and started south again. There was but one move for him to
make now. McTabb was known at Le Pas. He got his supplies and sold his
furs there. Some one at Le Pas would know where he had gone with
little Isobel.

Not until he was several miles distant from the scene of death and his
own broken hopes did he spread out his blanket and lie down for the
night. He was up and had breakfast at dawn. On the fourth day he came
to the little wilderness outpost-- the end of rail-- on the
Saskatchewan. Within an hour he discovered that Rookie McTabb had not
been to Le Pas for nearly two years. No one had seen him with a child.
That same night a construction train was leaving for Etomami, down on
the main line, and Billy lost no time in making up his mind what he
would do. He would go to Montreal. If little Isobel was not there she
was still somewhere in the wilderness with McTabb. Then he would
return, and he would find her if it took him a lifetime.

Days and nights of travel followed, and during those days and nights
Billy prayed that he would not find her in Montreal. If by some chance
McTabb had discovered her relatives, if Isobel had revealed her secret
to him before she died, his last hope in life was gone. He did not
think of wasting time in the purchase of new clothes. That would have
meant the missing of a train. He still wore his wilderness outfit,
even to his fur cap. As he traveled farther eastward people began to
regard him curiously. He got the porter to shave off his beard. But
his hair was long. His moccasins and German socks were ragged and
torn, and there were rents in his caribou-skin coat and his heavy
Hudson's Bay sweater-shirt. The hardships he had gone through had left
their lines in his face. There was something about him, outside of his
strange attire, that made men look at him more than once. Women, more
keenly observant than the men, saw the deep-seated grief in his eyes.
As he approached Montreal he kept himself more and more aloof from the
others.

When at last the train came to a stop at the big station in the heart
of the city he walked through the gates and strode up the hill toward
Mount Royal. It was an hour or more past noon, and he had eaten
nothing since morning. But he had no thought of hunger. Twenty minutes
later he was at the foot of the street on which Isobel had told him
that she had lived. One by one he passed the old houses of brick and
stone, sheltered behind their solid walls. There had been no change in
the years since he had been there. Half-way up the hill to the base of
the mountain he saw an old gardener trimming ivy about an ancient
cannon near a driveway. He stopped and asked:

"Can you tell me where Geoffrey Renaud lives?"

The old gardener looked at him curiously for a moment without
speaking. Then he said:

"Renaud? Geoffrey Renaud? That is his house up there behind the
red-sandstone wall. Is it the house you want to see-- or Renaud?"

"Both," said Billy.

"Geoffrey Renaud has been dead for three years," informed the
gardener. "Are you a-- relative?"

"No, no," cried Billy, trying to keep his voice steady as he asked the
next question. "There are others there. Who are they?"

The old man shook his head.

"I don't know."

"There is a little girl there-- four-- five years old, with golden
hair--"

"She was playing in the garden when I came along a few moments ago,"
replied the gardener. "I heard her-- with the dog--"

Billy waited to hear no more. Thanking his informant, he walked
swiftly up the hill to the red-sandstone wall. Before he came to the
rusted iron gate he, too, heard a child's laughter, and it set his
heart beating wildly. It was just over the wall. In his eagerness he
thrust the toe of his moccasined foot into a break in the stone and
drew himself up. He looked down into a great garden, and a dozen steps
away, close to a thick clump of shrubbery, he saw a child playing with
a little puppy. The sun gleamed in her golden hair. He heard her
joyous laughter; and then, for an instant, her face was turned toward
him.

In that moment he forgot everything, and with a great, glad cry he
drew himself up and sprang to the ground on the other side.

"Isobel-- Isobel-- my little Isobel!"

He was beside her, on his knees, with her in his hungry arms, and for
a brief space the child was so frightened that she held her breath and
stared at him without a sound.

"Don't you know me-- don't you know me--" he almost sobbed. "Little
Mystery-- Isobel--"

He heard a sound, a strange, stifled cry, and he looked up. From
behind the shrubbery there had come a woman, and she was staring at
Billy MacVeigh with a face as white as chalk. He staggered to his
feet, and he believed that at last he had gone mad. For it was the
vision of Isobel Deane that he saw there, and her blue eyes were
glowing at him as he had seen them for an instant that night a long
time ago on the edge of the Barren. He could not speak. And then, as
he staggered another step back toward the wall, he held out his ragged
arms, without knowing what he was doing, and called her name as he had
spoken it a hundred times at night beside his lonely campfires.
Starvation, his injury, weeks of illness, and his almost superhuman
struggle to reach McTabb's cabin, and after that civilization, had
consumed his last strength. For days he had lived on the reserve
forces of a nervous energy that slipped away from him now, leaving him
dizzy and swaying. He fought to overcome the weakness that seemed to
have taken the last ounce of strength from his exhausted body, but in
spite of his strongest efforts the sunlit garden suddenly darkened
before his eyes. In that moment the vision became real, and as he
turned toward the wall Isobel Deane called him by name; and in another
moment she was at his side, clutching him almost fiercely by the arms
and calling him by name over and over again. The weakness and
dizziness passed from him in a moment, but in that space he seemed
only to realize that he must get back-- over the wall.

"I wouldn't have come-- but-- I-- I-- thought you were-- dead," he
said. "They told me-- you were dead. I'm glad-- glad-- but I wouldn't
have come--"

She felt the weight of him for an instant on her arm. She knew the
things that were in his face-- starvation, pain, the signs of ravage
left behind by fever. In these moments Billy did not see the wonderful
look that had come into her own face or the wonderful glow in her
eyes.

"It was Indian Joe's mother who died," he heard her say. "And since
then we have been waiting-- waiting-- waiting-- little Isobel and I. I
went away north, to David's grave, and I saw what you had done, and
what you had burned into the wood. Some day, I knew, you'd come back
to me. We've been waiting-- for you--"

Her voice was barely more than a whisper, but Billy heard it; and all
at once his dizziness was gone, and he saw the sunlight shining in
Isobel's bright hair and the look in her face and eyes.

"I'm sorry-- sorry-- so sorry I said what I did-- about you-- killing
him," she went on. "You remember-- I said that if I got well--"

"Yes--"

"And you thought I meant that if I got well you should go away-- and
you promised-- and kept your promise. But I couldn't finish. It didn't
seem right-- then. I wanted to tell you-- out there-- that I was
sorry-- and that if I got well you could come to me again-- some day
somewhere-- and then--"

"Isobel!"

"And now-- you may tell me again what you told me out on the Barren--
a long time ago."

"Isobel-- Isobel--"

"You understand"-- she spoke softly-- "you understand, it cannot
happen now-- perhaps not for another year. But now"-- she drew a
little nearer-- "you may kiss me," she said. "And then you must kiss
little Isobel. And we don't want you to go very far away again. It's
lonely-- terribly lonely all by ourselves in the city-- and we're glad
you've come-- so glad--"

Her voice broke to a sobbing whisper, and as Billy opened his great,
ragged arms and caught her to him he heard that whisper again, saying,
"We're glad-- glad-- glad you've come back to us."

"And I-- may-- stay?"

She raised her face, glorious in its welcome.

"If you want me-- still."

At last he believed. But he could not speak. He bent his face to hers,
and for a moment they stood thus, while from behind the shrubbery came
the sound of little Isobel's joyous laughter.

 THE END





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