"Jacques Grassette!" he cried in consternation and emotion, for under another name the murderer had been tried and sentenced, nor had his identity been established—the case was so clear, the defence had been perfunctory, and Quebec was very far away.
"M'sieu'!" was the respectful response, and Grassette's fingers twitched.
"It was my sister's son you killed, Grassette," said the Governor in a low, strained voice.
"Nom de Dieu!" said Grassette hoarsely.
"I did not know, Grassette," the Governor went on "I did not know it was you."
"Why did you come, m'sieu'?"
"Call him 'your Honour,"' said the Sheriff sharply. Grassette's face hardened, and his look turned upon the Sheriff was savage and forbidding. "I will speak as it please me. Who are you? What do I care? To hang me—that is your business; but, for the rest, you spik to me differen'. Who are you? Your father kep' a tavern for thieves, vous savez bien!" It was true that the Sheriff's father had had no savoury reputation in the West.
The Governor turned his head away in pain and trouble, for the man's rage was not a thing to see—and they both came from the little parish of St. Francis, and had passed many an hour together.
"Never mind, Grassette," he said gently. "Call me what you will. You've got no feeling against me; and I can say with truth that I don't want your life for the life you took."
Grassette's breast heaved. "He put me out of my work, the man I kill. He pass the word against me, he hunt me out of the mountains, he call— tete de diable! he call me a name so bad. Everything swim in my head, and I kill him."
The Governor made a protesting gesture. "I understand. I am glad his mother was dead. But do you not think how sudden it was? Now here, in the thick of life, then, out there, beyond this world in the darkin purgatory."
The brave old man had accomplished what everyone else, priest, lawyer, Sheriff and watcher, had failed to do: he had shaken Grassette out of his blank isolation and obdurate unrepentance, had touched some chord of recognisable humanity.
"It is done—well, I pay for it," responded Grassette, setting his jaw. "It is two deaths for me. Waiting and remembering, and then with the Sheriff there the other—so quick, and all."
The Governor looked at him for some moments without speaking. The Sheriff intervened again officiously.
"His Honour has come to say something important to you," he remarked oracularly.
"Hold you—does he need a Sheriff to tell him when to spik?" was Grassette's surly comment. Then he turned to the Governor. "Let us speak in French," he said in patois. "This rope-twister will not understan'. He is no good—I spit at him."
The Governor nodded, and, despite the Sheriff's protest, they spoke in French, Grassette with his eyes intently fixed on the other, eagerly listening.
"I have come," said the Governor, "to say to you, Grassette, that you have still a chance of life."
He paused, and Grassette's face took on a look of bewilderment and vague anxiety. A chance of life—what did it mean?
"Reprieve?" he asked in a hoarse voice.
The Governor shook his head. "Not yet; but there is a chance. Something has happened. A man's life is in danger, or it may be he is dead; but more likely he is alive. You took a life; perhaps you can save one now. Keeley's Gulch—the mine there."
"They have found it—gold?" asked Grassette, his eyes staring. He was forgetting for a moment where and what he was.
"He went to find it, the man whose life is in danger. He had heard from a trapper who had been a miner once. While he was there, a landslip came, and the opening to the mine was closed up—"
"There were two ways in. Which one did he take?" cried Grassette.
"The only one he could take, the only one he or anyone else knew. You know the other way in—you only, they say."
"I found it—the easier, quick way in; a year ago I found it."
"Was it near the other entrance?" Grassette shook his head. "A mile away."
"If the man is alive—and we think he is—you are the only person that can save him. I have telegraphed the Government. They do not promise, but they will reprieve, and save your life, if you find the man."
"Alive or dead?"
"Alive or dead, for the act would be the same. I have an order to take you to the Gulch, if you will go; and I am sure that you will have your life, if you do it. I will promise—ah yes, Grassette, but it shall be so! Public opinion will demand it. You will do it?"
"To go free—altogether?"
"Well, but if your life is saved, Grassette?"
The dark face flushed, then grew almost repulsive again in its sullenness.
"Life—and this, in prison, shut in year after year. To do always what some one else wills, to be a slave to a warder. To have men like that over me that have been a boss of men—wasn't it that drove me to kill?— to be treated like dirt. And to go on with this, while outside there is free life, and to go where you will at your own price-no! What do I care for life! What is it to me! To live like this—ah, I would break my head against these stone walls, I would choke myself with my own hands! If I stayed here, I would kill again, I would kill—kill."
"Then to go free altogether—that would be the wish of all the world, if you save this man's life, if it can be saved. Will you not take the chance? We all have to die some time or other, Grassette, some sooner, some later; and when you go, will you not want to take to God in your hands a life saved for a life taken? Have you forgotten God, Grassette? We used to remember Him in the Church of St. Francis down there at home."
There was a moment's silence, in which Grassette's head was thrust forwards, his eyes staring into space. The old Seigneur had touched a vulnerable corner in his nature.
Presently he said in a low voice: "To be free altogether. . . . What is his name? Who is he?"
"His name is Bignold," the Governor answered. He turned to the Sheriff inquiringly. "That is it, is it not?" he asked in English again.
"James Tarran Bignold," answered the Sheriff.
The effect of these words upon Grassette was remarkable. His body appeared to stiffen, his face became rigid, he stared at the Governor blankly, appalled, the colour left his face, and his mouth opened with a curious and revolting grimace. The others drew back, startled, and watched him.
"Sang de Dieu!" he murmured at last, with a sudden gesture of misery and rage.
Then the Governor understood: he remembered that the name just given by the Sheriff and himself was the name of the Englishman who had carried off Grassette's wife years ago. He stepped forwards and was about to speak, but changed his mind. He would leave it all to Grassette; he would not let the Sheriff know the truth, unless Grassette himself disclosed the situation. He looked at Grassette with a look of poignant pity and interest combined. In his own placid life he had never had any tragic happening, his blood had run coolly, his days had been blessed by an urbane fate; such scenes as this were but a spectacle to him; there was no answering chord of human suffering in his own breast, to make him realise what Grassette was undergoing now; but he had read widely, he had been an acute observer of the world and its happenings, and he had a natural human sympathy which had made many a man and woman eternally grateful to him.
What would Grassette do? It was a problem which had no precedent, and the solution would be a revelation of the human mind and heart. What would the man do?
"Well, what is all this, Grassette?" asked the Sheriff brusquely. His official and officious intervention, behind which was the tyranny of the little man, given a power which he was incapable of wielding wisely, would have roused Grassette to a savage reply a half-hour before, but now it was met by a contemptuous wave of the hand, and Grassette kept his eyes fixed on the Governor.
"James Tarran Bignold!" Grassette said harshly, with eyes that searched the Governor's face; but they found no answering look there. The Governor, then, did not remember that tragedy of his home and hearth, and the man who had made of him an Ishmael. Still, Bignold had been almost a stranger in the parish, and it was not curious if the Governor had forgotten.
"Bignold!" he repeated, but the Governor gave no response.
"Yes, Bignold is his name, Grassette," said the Sheriff. "You took a life, and now, if you save one, that'll balance things. As the Governor says, there'll be a reprieve anyhow. It's pretty near the day, and this isn't a bad world to kick in, so long as you kick with one leg on the ground, and—"
The Governor hastily intervened upon the Sheriff's brutal remarks. "There is no time to be lost, Grassette. He has been ten days in the mine."
Grassette's was not a slow brain. For a man of such physical and bodily bulk, he had more talents than are generally given. If his brain had been slower, his hand also would have been slower to strike. But his intelligence had been surcharged with hate these many years, and since the day he had been deserted, it had ceased to control his actions—a passionate and reckless wilfulness had governed it. But now, after the first shock and stupefaction, it seemed to go back to where it was before Marcile went from him, gather up the force and intelligence it had then, and come forwards again to this supreme moment, with all that life's harsh experiences had done for it, with the education that misery and misdoing give. Revolutions are often the work of instants, not years, and the crucial test and problem by which Grassette was now faced had lifted him into a new atmosphere, with a new capacity alive in him. A moment ago his eyes had been bloodshot and swimming with hatred and passion; now they grew, almost suddenly, hard and lurking and quiet, with a strange, penetrating force and inquiry in them.
"Bignold—where does he come from? What is he?" he asked the Sheriff.
"He is an Englishman; he's only been out here a few months. He's been shooting and prospecting; but he's a better shooter than prospector. He's a stranger; that's why all the folks out here want to save him if it's possible. It's pretty hard dying in a strange land far away from all that's yours. Maybe he's got a wife waiting for him over there."
"Nom de Dieu!" said Grassette with suppressed malice, under his breath.
"Maybe there's a wife waiting for him, and there's her to think of. The West's hospitable, and this thing has taken hold of it; the West wants to save this stranger, and it's waiting for you, Grassette, to do its work for it, you being the only man that can do it, the only one that knows the other secret way into Keeley's Gulch. Speak right out, Grassette. It's your chance for life. Speak out quick."
The last three words were uttered in the old slave-driving tone, though the earlier part of the speech had been delivered oracularly, and had brought again to Grassette's eyes the reddish, sullen look which had made them, a little while before, like those of some wounded, angered animal at bay; but it vanished slowly, and there was silence for a moment. The Sheriff's words had left no vestige of doubt in Grassette's mind. This Bignold was the man who had taken Marcile away, first to the English province, then into the States, where he had lost track of them, then over to England. Marcile—where was Marcile now?
In Keeley's Gulch was the man who could tell him, the man who had ruined his home and his life. Dead or alive, he was in Keeley's Gulch, the man who knew where Marcile was; and if he knew where Marcile was, and if she was alive, and he was outside these prison walls, what would he do to her? And if he was outside these prison walls, and in the Gulch, and the man was there alive before him, what would he do?
Outside these prison walls-to be out there in the sun, where life would be easier to give up, if it had to be given up! An hour ago he had been drifting on a sea of apathy, and had had his fill of life. An hour ago he had had but one desire, and that was to die fighting, and he had even pictured to himself a struggle in this narrow cell where he would compel them to kill him, and so in any case let him escape the rope. Now he was suddenly brought face to face with the great central issue of his life, and the end, whatever that end might be, could not be the same in meaning, though it might be the same concretely. If he elected to let things be, then Bignold would die out there in the Gulch, starved, anguished, and alone. If he went, he could save his own life by saving Bignold, if Bignold was alive; or he could go—and not save Bignold's life or his own! What would he do?
The Governor watched him with a face controlled to quietness, but with an anxiety which made him pale in spite of himself.
"What will you do, Grassette?" he said at last in a low voice, and with a step forwards to him. "Will you not help to clear your conscience by doing this thing? You don't want to try and spite the world by not doing it. You can make a lot of your life yet, if you are set free. Give yourself, and give the world a chance. You haven't used it right. Try again."
Grassette imagined that the Governor did not remember who Bignold was, and that this was an appeal against his despair, and against revenging himself on the community which had applauded his sentence. If he went to the Gulch, no one would know or could suspect the true situation, everyone would be unprepared for that moment when Bignold and he would face each other—and all that would happen then.
Where was Marcile? Only Bignold knew. Alive or dead? Only Bignold knew.
"Bien, I will do it, m'sieu'," he said to the Governor. "I am to go alone—eh?"
The Sheriff shook his head. "No, two warders will go with you—and myself."
A strange look passed over Grassette's face. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then he said again: "Bon, I will go."
"Then there is, of course, the doctor," said the Sheriff.
"Bon," said Grassette. "What time is it?" "Twelve o'clock," answered the Sheriff, and made a motion to the warder to open the door of the cell.
"By sundown!" Grassette said, and he turned with a determined gesture to leave the cell.
At the gate of the prison, a fresh, sweet air caught his face. Involuntarily he drew in a great draught of it, and his eyes seemed to gaze out, almost wonderingly, over the grass and the trees to the boundless horizon. Then he became aware of the shouts of the crowd— shouts of welcome. This same crowd had greeted him with shouts of execration when he had left the Court House after his sentence. He stood still for a moment and looked at them, as it were only half comprehending that they were cheering him now, and that voices were saying, "Bravo, Grassette! Save him, and we'll save you."
Cheer upon cheer, but he took no notice. He walked like one in a dream, a long, strong step. He turned neither to left nor right, not even when the friendly voice of one who had worked with him bade him: "Cheer up, and do the trick." He was busy working out a problem which no one but himself could solve. He was only half conscious of his surroundings; he was moving in a kind of detached world of his own, where the warders and the Sheriff and those who followed were almost abstract and unreal figures. He was living with a past which had been everlasting distant, and had now become a vivid and buffeting present. He returned no answers to the questions addressed to him, and would not talk, save when for a little while they dismounted from their horses, and sat under the shade of a great ash-tree for a few moments, and snatched a mouthful of luncheon. Then he spoke a little and asked some questions, but lapsed into a moody silence afterwards. His life and nature were being passed through a fiery crucible. In all the years that had gone, he had had an ungovernable desire to kill both Bignold and Marcile if he ever met them, a primitive, savage desire to blot them out of life and being. His fingers had ached for Marcile's neck, that neck in which he had lain his face so often in the transient, unforgettable days of their happiness. If she was alive now—if she was still alive! Her story was hidden there in Keeley's Gulch with Bignold, and he was galloping hard to reach his foe. As he went, by some strange alchemy of human experience, by that new birth of his brain, the world seemed different from what it had ever been before, at least since the day when he had found an empty home and a shamed hearthstone. He got a new feeling toward it, and life appealed to him as a thing that might have been so well worth living. But since that was not to be, then he would see what he could do to get compensation for all that he had lost, to take toll for the thing that had spoiled him, and given him a savage nature and a raging temper, which had driven him at last to kill a man who, in no real sense, had injured him.
Mile after mile they journeyed, a troop of interested people coming after, the sun and the clear sweet air, the waving grass, the occasional clearings where settlers had driven in the tent-pegs of home, the forest now and then swallowing them, the mountains rising above them like a blank wall, and then suddenly opening out before them; and the rustle and scamper of squirrels and coyotes; and over their heads the whistle of birds, the slow beat of wings of great wild-fowl. The tender sap of youth was in this glowing and alert new world, and, by sudden contrast with the prison walls which he had just left behind, the earth seemed recreated, unfamiliar, compelling and companionable. Strange that in all the years that had been since he had gone back to his abandoned home to find Marcile gone, the world had had no beauty, no lure for him. In the splendour of it all, he had only raged and stormed, hating his fellowman, waiting, however hopelessly, for the day when he should see Marcile and the man who had taken her from him. And yet now, under the degradation of his crime and its penalty, and the unmanning influence of being the helpless victim of the iron power of the law, rigid, ugly and demoralising—now with the solution of his life's great problem here before him in the hills, with the man for whom he had waited so long caverned in the earth, but a hand-reach away, as it were, his wrongs had taken a new manifestation in him, and the thing that kept crying out in him every moment was, Where is Marcile?
It was four o'clock when they reached the pass which only Grassette knew, the secret way into the Gulch. There was two hours' walking through the thick, primeval woods, where few had ever been, except the ancient tribes which had once lorded it here; then came a sudden drop into the earth, a short travel through a dim cave, and afterward a sheer wall of stone enclosing a ravine where the rocks on either side nearly met overhead.
Here Grassette gave the signal to shout aloud, and the voice of the Sheriff called out: "Hello, Bignold!
"Hello! Hello, Bignold! Are you there?—Hello!" His voice rang out clear and piercing, and then came a silence-a long, anxious silence. Again the voice rang out: "Hello! Hello-o-o! Bignold! Bigno-o-ld!"
They strained their ears. Grassette was flat on the ground, his ear to the earth. Suddenly he got to his feet, his face set, his eyes glittering.
"He is there beyon'—I hear him," he said, pointing farther down the Gulch. "Water—he is near it."
"We heard nothing," said the Sheriff, "not a sound." "I hear ver' good. He is alive. I hear him—so," responded Grassette; and his face had a strange, fixed look which the others interpreted to be agitation at the thought that he had saved his own life by finding Bignold—and alive; which would put his own salvation beyond doubt.
He broke away from them and hurried down the Gulch. The others followed hard after, the Sheriff and the warders close behind; but he outstripped them.
Suddenly he stopped and stood still, looking at something on the ground. They saw him lean forwards and his hands stretch out with a fierce gesture. It was the attitude of a wild animal ready to spring.
They were beside him in an instant, and saw at his feet Bignold worn to a skeleton, with eyes starting from his head, and fixed on Grassette in agony and stark fear.
The Sheriff stooped to lift Bignold up, but Grassette waved them back with a fierce gesture, standing over the dying man.
"He spoil my home. He break me—I have my bill to settle here," he said in a voice hoarse and harsh. "It is so? It is so—eh? Spik!" he said to Bignold.
"Yes," came feebly from the shrivelled lips. "Water! Water!" the wretched man gasped. "I'm dying!"
A sudden change came over Grassette. "Water—queeck!" he said.
The Sheriff stooped and held a hatful of water to Bignold's lips, while another poured brandy from a flask into the water.
Grassette watched them eagerly. When the dying man had swallowed a little of the spirit and water, Grassette leaned over him again, and the others drew away. They realised that these two men had an account to settle, and there was no need for Grassette to take revenge, for Bignold was going fast.
"You stan' far back," said Grassette, and they fell away.
Then he stooped down to the sunken, ashen face, over which death was fast drawing its veil. "Marcile—where is Marcile?" he asked.
The dying man's lips opened. "God forgive me—God save my soul!" he whispered. He was not concerned for Grassette now.
"Queeck-queeck, where is Marcile?" Grassette said sharply. "Come back, Bignold. Listen—where is Marcile?"
He strained to hear the answer. Bignold was going, but his eyes opened again, however, for this call seemed to pierce to his soul as it struggled to be free.
"Ten years—since—I saw her," he whispered. "Good girl—Marcile. She loves you, but she—is afraid." He tried to say something more, but his tongue refused its office.
"Where is she-spik!" commanded Grassette in a tone of pleading and agony now.
Once more the flying spirit came back. A hand made a motion towards his pocket, then lay still.
Grassette felt hastily in the dead man's pocket, drew forth a letter, and with half-blinded eyes read the few lines it contained. It was dated from a hospital in New York, and was signed: "Nurse Marcile."
With a moan of relief Grassette stood staring at the dead man. When the others came to him again, his lips were moving, but they did not hear what he was saying. They took up the body and moved away with it up the ravine.
"It's all right, Grassette. You'll be a freeman," said the Sheriff.
Grassette did not answer. He was thinking how long it would take him to get to Marcile, when he was free.
He had a true vision of beginning life again with Marcile.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Being a man of very few ideas, he cherished those he had Self-will, self-pride, and self-righteousness were big in him Tyranny of the little man, given a power
By Gilbert Parker
A MAN, A FAMINE, AND A HEATHEN BOY THE HEALING SPRINGS AND THE PIONEERS THE LITTLE WIDOW OF JANSEN WATCHING THE RISE OF ORION
A MAN, A FAMINE, AND A HEATHEN BOY
Athabasca in the Far North is the scene of this story—Athabasca, one of the most beautiful countries in the world in summer, but a cold, bare land in winter. Yet even in winter it is not so bleak and bitter as the districts south-west of it, for the Chinook winds steal through from the Pacific and temper the fierceness of the frozen Rockies. Yet forty and fifty degrees below zero is cold after all, and July strawberries in this wild North land are hardly compensation for seven months of ice and snow, no matter how clear and blue the sky, how sweet the sun during its short journey in the day. Some days, too, the sun may not be seen even when there is no storm, because of the fine, white, powdered frost in the air.
A day like this is called a poudre day; and woe to the man who tempts it unthinkingly, because the light makes the delicate mist of frost shine like silver. For that powder bites the skin white in short order, and sometimes reckless men lose ears, or noses, or hands under its sharp caress. But when it really storms in that Far North, then neither man nor beast should be abroad—not even the Eskimo dogs; though times and seasons can scarcely be chosen when travelling in Athabasca, for a storm comes unawares. Upon the plains you will see a cloud arising, not in the sky, but from the ground—a billowy surf of drifting snow; then another white billow from the sky will sweep down and meet it, and you are caught between.
He who went to Athabasca to live a generation ago had to ask himself if the long winter, spent chiefly indoors, with, maybe, a little trading with the Indians, meagre sport, and scant sun, savages and half-breeds the only companions, and out of all touch with the outside world, letters coming but once a year; with frozen fish and meat, always the same, as the staple items in a primitive fare; with danger from starvation and marauding tribes; with endless monotony, in which men sometimes go mad— he had to ask himself if these were to be cheerfully endured because, in the short summer, the air is heavenly, the rivers and lakes are full of fish, the flotilla of canoes of the fur-hunters is pouring down, and all is gaiety and pleasant turmoil; because there is good shooting in the autumn, and the smell of the land is like a garden, and hardy fruits and flowers are at hand.
That is a question which was asked William Rufus Holly once upon a time.
William Rufus Holly, often called "Averdoopoy," sometimes "Sleeping Beauty," always Billy Rufus, had had a good education. He had been to high school and to college, and he had taken one or two prizes en route to graduation; but no fame travelled with him, save that he was the laziest man of any college year for a decade. He loved his little porringer, which is to say that he ate a good deal; and he loved to read books, which is not to say that he loved study; he hated getting out of bed, and he was constantly gated for morning chapel. More than once he had sweetly gone to sleep over his examination papers. This is not to say that he failed at his examinations—on the contrary, he always succeeded; but he only did enough to pass and no more; and he did not wish to do more than pass. His going to sleep at examinations was evidence that he was either indifferent or self-indulgent, and it certainly showed that he was without nervousness. He invariably roused himself, or his professor roused him, a half-hour before the papers should be handed in, and, as it were by a mathematical calculation, he had always done just enough to prevent him being plucked.
He slept at lectures, he slept in hall, he slept as he waited his turn to go to the wicket in a cricket match, and he invariably went to sleep afterwards. He even did so on the day he had made the biggest score, in the biggest game ever played between his college and the pick of the country; but he first gorged himself with cake and tea. The day he took his degree he had to be dragged from a huge grandfather's chair, and forced along in his ragged gown—"ten holes and twelve tatters"—to the function in the convocation hall. He looked so fat and shiny, so balmy and sleepy when he took his degree and was handed his prize for a poem on Sir John Franklin, that the public laughed, and the college men in the gallery began singing:
"Bye O, my baby, Father will come to you soo-oon!"
He seemed not to care, but yawned in his hand as he put his prize book under his arm through one of the holes in his gown, and in two minutes was back in his room, and in another five was fast asleep.
It was the general opinion that William Rufus Holly, fat, yellow-haired, and twenty-four years old, was doomed to failure in life, in spite of the fact that he had a little income of a thousand dollars a year, and had made a century in an important game of cricket. Great, therefore, was the surprise of the college, and afterward of the Province, when, at the farewell dinner of the graduates, Sleeping Beauty announced, between his little open-eyed naps, that he was going Far North as a missionary.
At first it was thought he was joking, but when at last, in his calm and dreamy look, they saw he meant what he said, they rose and carried him round the room on a chair, making impromptu songs as they travelled. They toasted Billy Rufus again and again, some of them laughing till they cried at the thought of Averdoopoy going to the Arctic regions. But an uneasy seriousness fell upon these "beautiful, bountiful, brilliant boys," as Holly called them later, when in a simple, honest, but indolent speech he said he had applied for ordination.
Six months later William Rufus Holly, a deacon in holy orders, journeyed to Athabasca in the Far North. On his long journey there was plenty of time to think. He was embarked on a career which must for ever keep him in the wilds; for very seldom indeed does a missionary of the North ever return to the crowded cities or take a permanent part in civilised life.
What the loneliness of it would be he began to feel, as for hours and hours he saw no human being on the plains; in the thrilling stillness of the night; in fierce storms in the woods, when his half-breed guides bent their heads to meet the wind and rain, and did not speak for hours; in the long, adventurous journey on the river by day, in the cry of the plaintive loon at night; in the scant food for every meal. Yet what the pleasure would be he felt in the joyous air, the exquisite sunshine, the flocks of wild-fowl flying North, honking on their course; in the song of the half-breeds as they ran the rapids. Of course, he did not think these things quite as they are written here—all at once and all together; but in little pieces from time to time, feeling them rather than saying them to himself.
At least he did understand how serious a thing it was, his going as a missionary into the Far North. Why did he do it? Was it a whim, or the excited imagination of youth, or that prompting which the young often have to make the world better? Or was it a fine spirit of adventure with a good heart behind it? Perhaps it was a little of all these; but there was also something more, and it was to his credit.
Lazy as William Rufus Holly had been at school and college, he had still thought a good deal, even when he seemed only sleeping; perhaps he thought more because he slept so much, because he studied little and read a great deal. He always knew what everybody thought—that he would never do anything but play cricket till he got too heavy to run, and then would sink into a slothful, fat, and useless middle and old age; that his life would be a failure. And he knew that they were right; that if he stayed where he could live an easy life, a fat and easy life he would lead; that in a few years he would be good for nothing except to eat and sleep—no more. One day, waking suddenly from a bad dream of himself so fat as to be drawn about on a dray by monstrous fat oxen with rings through their noses, led by monkeys, he began to wonder what he should do—the hardest thing to do; for only the hardest life could possibly save him from failure, and, in spite of all, he really did want to make something of his life. He had been reading the story of Sir John Franklin's Arctic expedition, and all at once it came home to him that the only thing for him to do was to go to the Far North and stay there, coming back about once every ten years to tell the people in the cities what was being done in the wilds. Then there came the inspiration to write his poem on Sir John Franklin, and he had done so, winning the college prize for poetry. But no one had seen any change in him in those months; and, indeed, there had been little or no change, for he had an equable and practical, though imaginative, disposition, despite his avoirdupois, and his new purpose did not stir him yet from his comfortable sloth.
And in all the journey West and North he had not been stirred greatly from his ease of body, for the journey was not much harder than playing cricket every day, and there were only the thrill of the beautiful air, the new people, and the new scenes to rouse him. As yet there was no great responsibility. He scarcely realised what his life must be, until one particular day. Then Sleeping Beauty waked wide up, and from that day lost the name. Till then he had looked and borne himself like any other traveller, unrecognised as a parson or "mikonaree." He had not had prayers in camp en route, he had not preached, he had held no meetings. He was as yet William Rufus Holly, the cricketer, the laziest dreamer of a college decade. His religion was simple and practical; he had never had any morbid ideas; he had lived a healthy, natural, and honourable life, until he went for a mikonaree, and if he had no cant, he had not a clear idea of how many-sided, how responsible, his life must be—until that one particular day. This is what happened then.
From Fort O'Call, an abandoned post of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Peace River, nearly the whole tribe of the Athabasca Indians in possession of the post now had come up the river, with their chief, Knife-in-the-Wind, to meet the mikonaree. Factors of the Hudson's Bay Company, coureurs de bois, and voyageurs had come among them at times, and once the renowned Father Lacombe, the Jesuit priest, had stayed with them three months; but never to this day had they seen a Protestant mikonaree, though once a factor, noted for his furious temper, his powers of running, and his generosity, had preached to them. These men, however, were both over fifty years old. The Athabascas did not hunger for the Christian religion, but a courier from Edmonton had brought them word that a mikonaree was coming to their country to stay, and they put off their stoical manner and allowed themselves the luxury of curiosity. That was why even the squaws and papooses came up the river with the braves, all wondering if the stranger had brought gifts with him, all eager for their shares; for it had been said by the courier of the tribe that "Oshondonto," their name for the newcomer, was bringing mysterious loads of well-wrapped bales and skins. Upon a point below the first rapids of the Little Manitou they waited with their camp-fires burning and their pipe of peace.
When the canoes bearing Oshondonto and his voyageurs shot the rapids to the song of the river,
"En roulant, ma boule roulant, En roulant, ma boule!"
with the shrill voices of the boatmen rising to meet the cry of the startled water-fowl, the Athabascas crowded to the high banks. They grunted "How!" in greeting, as the foremost canoe made for the shore.
But if surprise could have changed the countenances of Indians, these Athabascas would not have known one another when the missionary stepped out upon the shore. They had looked to see a grey-bearded man like the chief factor who quarrelled and prayed; but they found instead a round- faced, clean-shaven youth, with big, good-natured eyes, yellow hair, and a roundness of body like that of a month-old bear's cub. They expected to find a man who, like the factor, could speak their language, and they found a cherub sort of youth who talked only English, French, and Chinook—that common language of the North—and a few words of their own language which he had learned on the way.
Besides, Oshondonto was so absent-minded at the moment, so absorbed in admiration of the garish scene before him, that he addressed the chief in French, of which Knife-in-the-Wind knew but the one word cache, which all the North knows.
But presently William Rufus Holly recovered himself, and in stumbling Chinook made himself understood. Opening a bale, he brought out beads and tobacco and some bright red flannel, and two hundred Indians sat round him and grunted "How!" and received his gifts with little comment. Then the pipe of peace went round, and Oshondonto smoked it becomingly.
But he saw that the Indians despised him for his youth, his fatness, his yellow hair as soft as a girl's, his cherub face, browned though it was by the sun and weather.
As he handed the pipe to Knife-in-the-Wind, an Indian called Silver Tassel, with a cruel face, said grimly:
"Why does Oshondonto travel to us?"
William Rufus Holly's eyes steadied on those of the Indian as he replied in Chinook: "To teach the way to Manitou the Mighty, to tell the Athabascas of the Great Chief who died to save the world."
"The story is told in many ways; which is right? There was the factor, Word of Thunder. There is the song they sing at Edmonton—I have heard."
"The Great Chief is the same Chief," answered the missionary. "If you tell of Fort O'Call, and Knife-in-the-Wind tells of Fort O'Call, he and you will speak different words, and one will put in one thing and one will leave out another; men's tongues are different. But Fort O'Call is the-same, and the Great Chief is the same."
"It was a long time ago," said Knife-in-the-Wind sourly, "many thousand moons, as the pebbles in the river, the years."
"It is the same world, and it is the same Chief, and it was to save us," answered William Rufus Holly, smiling, yet with a fluttering heart, for the first test of his life had come.
In anger Knife-in-the-Wind thrust an arrow into the ground and said:
"How can the white man who died thousands of moons ago in a far country save the red man to-day?"
"A strong man should bear so weak a tale," broke in Silver Tassel ruthlessly. "Are we children that the Great Chief sends a child as messenger?"
For a moment Billy Rufus did not know how to reply, and in the pause Knife-in-the-Wind broke in two pieces the arrow he had thrust in the ground in token of displeasure.
Suddenly, as Oshondonto was about to speak, Silver Tassel sprang to his feet, seized in his arms a lad of twelve who was standing near, and running to the bank, dropped him into the swift current.
"If Oshondonto be not a child, let him save the lad," said Silver Tassel, standing on the brink.
Instantly William Rufus Holly was on his feet. His coat was off before Silver Tassel's words were out of his mouth, and crying, "In the name of the Great White Chief!" he jumped into the rushing current. "In the name of your Manitou, come on, Silver Tassel!" he called up from the water, and struck out for the lad.
Not pausing an instant, Silver Tassel sprang into the flood, into the whirling eddies and dangerous current below the first rapids and above the second.
Then came the struggle for Wingo of the Cree tribe, a waif among the Athabascas, whose father had been slain as they travelled, by a wandering tribe of Blackfeet. Never was there a braver rivalry, although the odds were with the Indian-in lightness, in brutal strength. With the mikonaree, however, were skill, and that sort of strength which the world calls "moral," the strength of a good and desperate purpose. Oshondonto knew that on the issue of this shameless business—this cruel sport of Silver Tassel—would depend his future on the Peace River. As he shot forward with strong strokes in the whirling torrent after the helpless lad, who, only able to keep himself afloat, was being swept down towards the rapids below, he glanced up to the bank along which the Athabascas were running. He saw the garish colours of their dresses; he saw the ignorant medicine man, with his mysterious bag, making incantations; he saw the tepee of the chief, with its barbarous pennant above; he saw the idle, naked children tearing at the entrails of a calf; and he realised that this was a deadly tournament between civilisation and barbarism.
Silver Tassel was gaining on him, they were both overhauling the boy; it was now to see which should reach Wingo first, which should take him to shore. That is, if both were not carried under before they reached him; that is, if, having reached him, they and he would ever get to shore; for, lower down, before it reached the rapids, the current ran horribly smooth and strong, and here and there were jagged rocks just beneath the surface.
Still Silver Tassel gained on him, as they both gained on the boy. Oshondonto swam strong and hard, but he swam with his eye on the struggle for the shore also; he was not putting forth his utmost strength, for he knew it would be bitterly needed, perhaps to save his own life by a last effort.
Silver Tassel passed him when they were about fifty feet from the boy. Shooting by on his side, with a long stroke and the plunge of his body like a projectile, the dark face with the long black hair plastering it turned towards his own, in fierce triumph Silver Tassel cried "How!" in derision.
Billy Rufus set his teeth and lay down to his work like a sportsman. His face had lost its roses, and it was set and determined, but there was no look of fear upon it, nor did his heart sink when a cry of triumph went up from the crowd on the banks. The white man knew by old experience in the cricket-field and in many a boat-race that it is well not to halloo till you are out of the woods. His mettle was up, he was not the Reverend William Rufus Holly, missionary, but Billy Rufus, the champion cricketer, the sportsman playing a long game.
Silver Tassel reached the boy, who was bruised and bleeding and at his last gasp, and throwing an arm round him, struck out for the shore. The current was very strong, and he battled fiercely as Billy Rufus, not far above, moved down toward them at an angle. For a few yards Silver Tassel was going strong, then his pace slackened, he seemed to sink lower in the water, and his stroke became splashing and irregular. Suddenly he struck a rock, which bruised him badly, and, swerving from his course, he lost his stroke and let go the boy.
By this time the mikonaree had swept beyond them, and he caught the boy by his long hair as he was being swept below. Striking out for the shore, he swam with bold, strong strokes, his judgment guiding him well past rocks beneath the surface. Ten feet from shore he heard a cry of alarm from above. It concerned Silver Tassel, he knew, but he could not look round yet.
In another moment the boy was dragged up the bank by strong hands, and Billy Rufus swung round in the water towards Silver Tassel, who, in his confused energy, had struck another rock, and, exhausted now, was being swept towards the rapids. Silver Tassel's shoulder scarcely showed, his strength was gone. In a flash Billy Rufus saw there was but one thing to do. He must run the rapids with Silver Tassel-there was no other way. It would be a fight through the jaws of death; but no Indian's eyes had a better sense for river-life than William Rufus Holly's.
How he reached Silver Tassel, and drew the Indian's arm over his own shoulder; how they drove down into the boiling flood; how Billy Rufus's fat body was battered and torn and ran red with blood from twenty flesh wounds; but how by luck beyond the telling he brought Silver Tassel through safely into the quiet water a quarter of a mile below the rapids, and was hauled out, both more dead than alive, is a tale still told by the Athabascas around their camp-fire. The rapids are known to-day as the Mikonaree Rapids.
The end of this beginning of the young man's career was that Silver Tassel gave him the word of eternal friendship, Knife-in-the-Wind took him into the tribe, and the boy Wingo became his very own, to share his home, and his travels, no longer a waif among the Athabascas.
After three days' feasting, at the end of which the missionary held his first service and preached his first sermon, to the accompaniment of grunts of satisfaction from the whole tribe of Athabascas, William Rufus Holly began his work in the Far North.
The journey to Fort O'Call was a procession of triumph, for, as it was summer, there was plenty of food, the missionary had been a success, and he had distributed many gifts of beads and flannel.
All went well for many moons, although converts were uncertain and baptisms few, and the work was hard and the loneliness at times terrible. But at last came dark days.
One summer and autumn there had been poor fishing and shooting, the caches of meat were fewer on the plains, and almost nothing had come up to Fort O'Call from Edmonton, far below. The yearly supplies for the missionary, paid for out of his private income—the bacon, beans, tea, coffee and flour—had been raided by a band of hostile Indians, and he viewed with deep concern the progress of the severe winter. Although three years of hard, frugal life had made his muscles like iron, they had only mellowed his temper, increased his flesh and rounded his face; nor did he look an hour older than on the day when he had won Wingo for his willing slave and devoted friend.
He never resented the frequent ingratitude of the Indians; he said little when they quarrelled over the small comforts his little income brought them yearly from the South. He had been doctor, lawyer, judge among them, although he interfered little in the larger disputes, and was forced to shut his eyes to intertribal enmities. He had no deep faith that he could quite civilise them; he knew that their conversion was only on the surface, and he fell back on his personal influence with them. By this he could check even the excesses of the worst man in the tribe, his old enemy, Silver Tassel of the bad heart, who yet was ready always to give a tooth for a tooth, and accepted the fact that he owed Oshondonto his life.
When famine crawled across the plains to the doors of the settlement and housed itself at Fort O'Call, Silver Tassel acted badly, however, and sowed fault-finding among the thoughtless of the tribe.
"What manner of Great Spirit is it who lets the food of his chief Oshondonto fall into the hands of the Blackfeet?" he said. "Oshondonto says the Great Spirit hears. What has the Great Spirit to say? Let Oshondonto ask."
Again, when they all were hungrier, he went among them with complaining words. "If the white man's Great Spirit can do all things, let him give Oshondonto and the Athabascas food."
The missionary did not know of Silver Tassel's foolish words, but he saw the downcast face of Knife-in-the-Wind, the sullen looks of the people; and he unpacked the box he had reserved jealously for the darkest days that might come. For meal after meal he divided these delicacies among them—morsels of biscuit, and tinned meats, and dried fruits. But his eyes meanwhile were turned again and again to the storm raging without, as it had raged for this the longest week he had ever spent. If it would but slacken, a boat could go out to the nets set in the lake near by some days before, when the sun of spring had melted the ice. From the hour the nets had been set the storm had raged. On the day when the last morsel of meat and biscuit had been given away the storm had not abated, and he saw with misgiving the gloomy, stolid faces of the Indians round him. One man, two children, and three women had died in a fortnight. He dreaded to think what might happen, his heart ached at the looks of gaunt suffering in the faces of all; he saw, for the first time, how black and bitter Knife-in-the-Wind looked as Silver Tassel whispered to him.
With the colour all gone from his cheeks, he left the post and made his way to the edge of the lake where his canoe was kept. Making it ready for the launch, he came back to the Fort. Assembling the Indians, who had watched his movements closely, he told them that he was going through the storm to the nets on the lake, and asked for a volunteer to go with him.
No one replied. He pleaded-for the sake of the women and children.
Then Knife-in-the-Wind spoke. "Oshondonto will die if he goes. It is a fool's journey—does the wolverine walk into an empty trap?"
Billy Rufus spoke passionately now. His genial spirit fled; he reproached them.
Silver Tassel spoke up loudly. "Let Oshondonto's Great Spirit carry him to the nets alone, and back again with fish for the heathen the Great Chief died to save."
"You have a wicked heart, Silver Tassel. You know well that one man can't handle the boat and the nets also. Is there no one of you—?"
A figure shot forwards from a corner. "I will go with Oshondonto," came the voice of Wingo, the waif of the Crees.
The eye of the mikonaree flashed round in contempt on the tribe. Then suddenly it softened, and he said to the lad: "We will go together, Wingo."
Taking the boy by the hand, he ran with him through the rough wind to the shore, launched the canoe on the tossing lake, and paddled away through the tempest.
The bitter winds of an angry spring, the sleet and wet snow of a belated winter, the floating blocks of ice crushing against the side of the boat, the black water swishing over man and boy, the harsh, inclement world near and far. . . . The passage made at last to the nets; the brave Wingo steadying the canoe—a skilful hand sufficing where the strength of a Samson would not have availed; the nets half full, and the breaking cry of joy from the lips of the waif-a cry that pierced the storm and brought back an answering cry from the crowd of Indians on the far shore. . . The quarter-hour of danger in the tossing canoe; the nets too heavy to be dragged, and fastened to the thwarts instead; the canoe going shoreward jerkily, a cork on the waves with an anchor behind; heavier seas and winds roaring down on them as they slowly near the shore; and at last, in one awful moment, the canoe upset, and the man and the boy in the water. . . . Then both clinging to the upturned canoe as it is driven nearer and nearer shore.... The boy washed off once, twice, and the man with his arm round clinging-clinging, as the shrieking storm answers to the calling of the Athabascas on the shore, and drives craft and fish and man and boy down upon the banks; no savage bold enough to plunge in to their rescue. . . . At last a rope thrown, a drowning man's wrists wound round it, his teeth set in it—and now, at last, a man and a heathen boy, both insensible, being carried to the mikonaree's but and laid upon two beds, one on either side of the small room, as the red sun goes slowly down. . . . The two still bodies on bearskins in the hut, and a hundred superstitious Indians flying from the face of death. . . . The two alone in the light of the flickering fire; the many gone to feast on fish, the price of lives.
But the price was not yet paid, for the man waked from insensibility— waked to see himself with the body of the boy beside him in the red light of the fires.
For a moment his heart stopped beating, he turned sick and faint. Deserted by those for whom he risked his life! . . . How long had he lain there? What time was it? When was it that he had fought his way to the nets and back again-hours maybe? And the dead boy there, Wingo, who had risked his life, also dead—how long? His heart leaped—ah! not hours, only minutes maybe. It was sundown as unconsciousness came on him—Indians would not stay with the dead after sundown. Maybe it was only ten minutes-five minutes—one minute ago since they left him!. . .
His watch! Shaking fingers drew it out, wild eyes scanned it. It was not stopped. Then it could have only been minutes ago. Trembling to his feet, he staggered over to Wingo, he felt the body, he held a mirror to the lips. Yes, surely there was light moisture on the glass.
Then began another fight with death—William Rufus Holly struggling to bring to life again Wingo, the waif of the Crees.
The blood came back to his own heart with a rush as the mad desire to save this life came on him. He talked to the dumb face, he prayed in a kind of delirium, as he moved the arms up and down, as he tilted the body, as he rubbed, chafed and strove. He forgot he was a missionary, he almost cursed himself. "For them—for cowards, I risked his life, the brave lad with no home. Oh, God! give him back to me!" he sobbed. "What right had I to risk his life for theirs? I should have shot the first man that refused to go.... Wingo, speak! Wake up! Come back!"
The sweat poured from him in his desperation and weakness. He said to himself that he had put this young life into the hazard without cause. Had he, then, saved the lad from the rapids and Silver Tassel's brutality only to have him drag fish out of the jaws of death for Silver Tassel's meal?
It seemed to him that he had been working for hours, though it was in fact only a short time, when the eyes of the lad slowly opened and closed again, and he began to breathe spasmodically. A cry of joy came from the lips of the missionary, and he worked harder still. At last the eyes opened wide, stayed open, saw the figure bent over him, and the lips whispered, "Oshondonto—my master," as a cup of brandy was held to his lips.
He had conquered the Athabascas for ever. Even Silver Tassel acknowledged his power, and he as industriously spread abroad the report that the mikonaree had raised Wingo from the dead, as he had sown dissension during the famine. But the result was that the missionary had power in the land, and the belief in him was so great, that, when Knife- in-the-Wind died, the tribe came to ask him to raise their chief from the dead. They never quite believed that he could not—not even Silver Tassel, who now rules the Athabascas and is ruled by William Rufus Holly: which is a very good thing for the Athabascas.
Billy Rufus the cricketer had won the game, and somehow the Reverend William Rufus Holly the missionary never repented the strong language he used against the Athabascas, as he was bringing Wingo back to life, though it was not what is called "strictly canonical."
THE HEALING SPRINGS AND THE PIONEERS
He came out of the mysterious South one summer day, driving before him a few sheep, a cow, and a long-eared mule which carried his tent and other necessaries, and camped outside the town on a knoll, at the base of which was a thicket of close shrub. During the first day no one in Jansen thought anything of it, for it was a land of pilgrimage, and hundreds came and went on their journeys in search of free homesteads and good water and pasturage. But when, after three days, he was still there, Nicolle Terasse, who had little to do, and an insatiable curiosity, went out to see him. He found a new sensation for Jansen. This is what he said when he came back:
"You want know 'bout him, bagosh! Dat is somet'ing to see, dat man— Ingles is his name. Sooch hair—mooch long an' brown, and a leetla beard not so brown, an' a leather sole onto his feet, and a grey coat to his anklesyes, so like dat. An' his voice—voila, it is like water in a cave. He is a great man—I dunno not; but he spik at me like dis, 'Is dere sick, and cripple, and stay in-bed people here dat can't get up?' he say. An' I say, 'Not plenty, but some-bagosh! Dere is dat Miss Greet, an' ole Ma'am Drouchy, an' dat young Pete Hayes—an' so on.' 'Well, if they have faith I will heal them,' he spik at me. 'From de Healing Springs dey shall rise to walk,' he say. Bagosh, you not t'ink dat true? Den you go see."
So Jansen turned out to see, and besides the man they found a curious thing. At the foot of the knoll, in a space which he had cleared, was a hot spring that bubbled and rose and sank, and drained away into the thirsty ground. Luck had been with Ingles the Faith Healer. Whether he knew of the existence of this spring, or whether he chanced upon it, he did not say; but while he held Jansen in the palm of his hand, in the feverish days that followed, there were many who attached mysterious significance to it, who claimed for it supernatural origin. In any case, the one man who had known of the existence of this spring was far away from Jansen, and he did not return till a day of reckoning came for the Faith Healer.
Meanwhile Jansen made pilgrimage to the Springs of Healing, and at unexpected times Ingles suddenly appeared in the town, and stood at street corners; and in his "Patmian voice," as Flood Rawley the lawyer called it, warned the people to flee their sins, and purifying their hearts, learn to cure all ills of mind and body, the weaknesses of the sinful flesh and the "ancient evil" in their souls, by faith that saves.
"'Is not the life more than meat'" he asked them. "And if, peradventure, there be those among you who have true belief in hearts all purged of evil, and yet are maimed, or sick of body, come to me, and I will lay my hands upon you, and I will heal you." Thus he cried.
There were those so wrought upon by his strange eloquence and spiritual passion, so hypnotised by his physical and mental exaltation, that they rose up from the hand-laying and the prayer eased of their ailments. Others he called upon to lie in the hot spring at the foot of the hill for varying periods, before the laying on of hands, and these also, crippled, or rigid with troubles' of the bone, announced that they were healed.
People flocked from other towns, and though, to some who had been cured, their pains and sickness returned, there were a few who bore perfect evidence to his teaching and healing, and followed him, "converted and consecrated," as though he were a new Messiah. In this corner of the West was such a revival as none could remember—not even those who had been to camp meetings in the East in their youth, and had seen the Spirit descend upon hundreds and draw them to the anxious seat.
Then came the great sensation—the Faith Healer converted Laura Sloly. Upon which Jansen drew its breath painfully; for, while it was willing to bend to the inspiration of the moment, and to be swept on a tide of excitement into that enchanted field called Imagination, it wanted to preserve its institutions—and Laura Sloly had come to be an institution. Jansen had always plumed itself, and smiled, when she passed; and even now the most sentimentally religious of them inwardly anticipated the time when the town would return to its normal condition; and that condition would not be normal if there were any change in Laura Sloly. It mattered little whether most people were changed or not because one state of their minds could not be less or more interesting than another; but a change in Laura. Sloly could not be for the better.
Her father had come to the West in the early days, and had prospered by degrees until a town grew up beside his ranch; and though he did not acquire as much permanent wealth from this golden chance as might have been expected, and lost much he did make by speculation, still he had his rich ranch left, and it, and he, and Laura were part of the history of Jansen. Laura had been born at Jansen before even it had a name. Next to her father she was the oldest inhabitant, and she had a prestige which was given to no one else.
Everything had conspired to make her a figure of moment and interest. She was handsome in almost a mannish sort of way, being of such height and straightness, and her brown eyes had a depth and fire in which more than a few men had drowned themselves. Also, once she had saved a settlement by riding ahead of a marauding Indian band to warn their intended victims, and had averted another tragedy of pioneer life. Pioneers proudly told strangers to Jansen of the girl of thirteen who rode a hundred and twenty miles without food, and sank inside the palisade of the Hudson's Bay Company's fort, as the gates closed upon the settlers taking refuge, the victim of brain fever at last. Cerebrospinal meningitis, the doctor from Winnipeg called it, and the memory of that time when men and women would not sleep till her crisis was past, was still fresh on the tongues of all.
Then she had married at seventeen, and, within a year, had lost both her husband and her baby, a child bereaved of her Playmates—for her husband had been but twenty years old and was younger far than she in everything. And since then, twelve years before, she had seen generations of lovers pass into the land they thought delectable; and their children flocked to her, hung about her, were carried off by her to the ranch, and kept for days, against the laughing protests of their parents. Flood Rawley called her the Pied Piper of Jansen, and indeed she had a voice that fluted and piped, and yet had so whimsical a note, that the hardest faces softened at the sound of it; and she did not keep its best notes for the few. She was impartial, almost impersonal; no woman was her enemy, and every man was her friend—and nothing more. She had never had an accepted lover since the day her Playmates left her. Every man except one had given up hope that he might win her; and though he had been gone from Jansen for two years, and had loved her since the days before the Playmates came and went, he never gave up hope, and was now to return and say again what he had mutely said for years—what she understood, and he knew she understood.
Tim Denton had been a wild sort in his brief day. He was a rough diamond, but he was a diamond, and was typical of the West—its heart, its courage, its freedom, and its force; capable of exquisite gentleness, strenuous to exaggeration, with a very primitive religion; and the only religion Tim knew was that of human nature. Jansen did not think Tim good enough—not within a comet shot—for Laura Sloly; but they thought him better than any one else.
But now Laura was a convert to the prophet of the Healing Springs, and those people who still retain their heads in the eddy of religious emotion were in despair. They dreaded to meet Laura; they kept away from the "protracted meetings," but were eager to hear about her and what she said and did. What they heard allayed their worst fears. She still smiled, and seemed as cheerful as before, they heard, and she neither spoke nor prayed in public, but she led the singing always. Now the anxious and the sceptical and the reactionary ventured out to see and hear; and seeing and hearing gave them a satisfaction they hardly dared express. She was more handsome than ever, and if her eyes glistened with a light they had never seen before, and awed them, her lips still smiled, and the old laugh came when she spoke to them. Their awe increased. This was "getting religion" with a difference.
But presently they received a shock. A whisper grew that Laura was in love with the Faith Healer. Some woman's instinct drove straight to the centre of a disconcerting possibility, and in consternation she told her husband; and Jansen husbands had a freemasonry of gossip. An hour, and all Jansen knew, or thought they knew; and the "saved" rejoiced; and the rest of the population, represented by Nicolle Terasse at one end and Flood Rawley at the other, flew to arms. No vigilance committee was ever more determined and secret and organised than the unconverted civic patriots, who were determined to restore Jansen to its old-time condition. They pointed out cold-bloodedly that the Faith Healer had failed three times where he had succeeded once; and that, admitting the successes, there was no proof that his religion was their cause. There were such things as hypnotism and magnetism and will-power, and abnormal mental stimulus on the part of the healed—to say nothing of the Healing Springs.
Carefully laying their plans, they quietly spread the rumour that Ingles had promised to restore to health old Mary Jewell, who had been bedridden ten years, and had sent word and prayed to have him lay his hands upon her—Catholic though she was. The Faith Healer, face to face with this supreme and definite test, would have retreated from it but for Laura Sloly. She expected him to do it, believed that he could, said that he would, herself arranged the day and the hour, and sang so much exaltation into him, that at last a spurious power seemed to possess him. He felt that there had entered into him something that could be depended on, not the mere flow of natural magnetism fed by an outdoor life and a temperament of great emotional force, and chance, and suggestion— and other things. If, at first, he had influenced Laura, some ill- controlled, latent idealism in him, working on a latent poetry and spirituality in her, somehow bringing her into nearer touch with her lost Playmates than she had been in the long years that had passed; she, in turn, had made his unrationalised brain reel; had caught him up into a higher air, on no wings of his own; had added another lover to her company of lovers—and the first impostor she had ever had. She who had known only honest men as friends, in one blind moment lost her perspicuous sense; her instinct seemed asleep. She believed in the man and in his healing. Was there anything more than that?
The day of the great test came, hot, brilliant, vivid. The air was of a delicate sharpness, and, as it came toward evening, the glamour of an August when the reapers reap was upon Jansen; and its people gathered round the house of Mary Jewell to await the miracle of faith. Apart from the emotional many who sang hymns and spiritual songs were a few determined men, bent on doing justice to Jansen though the heavens might fall. Whether or no Laura Sloly was in love with the Faith Healer, Jansen must look to its own honour—and hers. In any case, this peripatetic saint at Sloly's Ranch—the idea was intolerable; women must be saved in spite of themselves.
Laura was now in the house by the side of the bedridden Mary Jewell, waiting, confident, smiling, as she held the wasted hand on the coverlet. With her was a minister of the Baptist persuasion, who was swimming with the tide, and who approved of the Faith Healer's immersions in the hot Healing Springs; also a medical student who had pretended belief in Ingles, and two women weeping with unnecessary remorse for human failings of no dire kind. The windows were open, and those outside could see. Presently, in a lull of the singing, there was a stir in the crowd, and then, sudden loud greetings:
"My, if it ain't Tim Denton! Jerusalem! You back, Tim!"
These and other phrases caught the ear of Laura Sloly in the sick-room. A strange look flashed across her face, and the depth of her eyes was troubled for a moment, as to the face of the old comes a tremor at the note of some long-forgotten song. Then she steadied herself and waited, catching bits of the loud talk which still floated towards her from without.
"What's up? Some one getting married—or a legacy, or a saw-off? Why, what a lot of Sunday-go-to-meeting folks to be sure!" Tim laughed loudly.
After which the quick tongue of Nicolle Terasse: "You want know? Tiens, be quiet; here he come. He cure you body and soul, ver' queeck—yes."
The crowd swayed and parted, and slowly, bare head uplifted, face looking to neither right nor left, the Faith Healer made his way to the door of the little house. The crowd hushed. Some were awed, some were overpoweringly interested, some were cruelly patient. Nicolle Terasse and others were whispering loudly to Tim Denton. That was the only sound, until the Healer got to the door. Then, on the steps, he turned to the multitude.
"Peace be to you all, and upon this house," he said and stepped through the doorway.
Tim Denton, who had been staring at the face of the Healer, stood for an instant like one with all his senses arrested. Then he gasped, and exclaimed, "Well, I'm eternally—" and broke off with a low laugh, which was at first mirthful, and then became ominous and hard.
"Oh, magnificent—magnificent—jerickety!" he said into the sky above him.
His friends who were not "saved," closed in on him to find the meaning of his words, but he pulled himself together, looked blankly at them, and asked them questions. They told him so much more than he cared to hear, that his face flushed a deep red—the bronze of it most like the colour of Laura Sloly's hair; then he turned pale. Men saw that he was roused beyond any feeling in themselves.
"'Sh!" he said. "Let's see what he can do." With the many who were silently praying, as they had been, bidden to do, the invincible ones leant forwards, watching the little room where healing—or tragedy—was afoot. As in a picture, framed by the window, they saw the kneeling figures, the Healer standing with outstretched arms. They heard his voice, sonorous and appealing, then commanding—and yet Mary Jewell did not rise from her bed and walk. Again, and yet again, the voice rang out, and still the woman lay motionless. Then he laid his hands upon her, and again he commanded her to rise.
There was a faint movement, a desperate struggle to obey, but Nature and Time and Disease had their way. Yet again there was the call. An agony stirred the bed. Then another great Healer came between, and mercifully dealt the sufferer a blow—Death has a gentle hand sometimes. Mary Jewell was bedridden still—and for ever.
Like a wind from the mountains the chill knowledge of death wailed through the window, and over the heads of the crowd. All the figures were upright now in the little room. Then those outside saw Laura Sloly lean over and close the sightless eyes. This done, she came to the door and opened it, and motioned for the Healer to leave. He hesitated, hearing the harsh murmur from the outskirts of the crowd. Once again she motioned, and he came. With a face deadly pale she surveyed the people before her silently for a moment, her eyes all huge and staring.
Presently she turned to Ingles and spoke to him quickly in a low voice; then, descending the steps, passed out through the lane made for her by the crowd, he following with shaking limbs and bowed bead.
Warning words had passed among the few invincible ones who waited where the Healer must pass into the open, and there was absolute stillness as Laura advanced. Their work was to come—quiet and swift and sure; but not yet.
Only one face Laura saw, as she led the way to the moment's safety—Tim Denton's; and it was as stricken as her own. She passed, then turned, and looked at him again. He understood; she wanted him.
He waited till she sprang into her waggon, after the Healer had mounted his mule and ridden away with ever-quickening pace into the prairie. Then he turned to the set, fierce men beside him.
"Leave him alone," he said, "leave him to me. I know him. You hear? Ain't I no rights? I tell you I knew him—South. You leave him to me."
They nodded, and he sprang into his saddle and rode away. They watched the figure of the Healer growing smaller in the dusty distance.
"Tim'll go to her," one said, "and perhaps they'll let the snake get off. Hadn't we best make sure?"
"Perhaps you'd better let him vamoose," said Flood Rawley anxiously. "Jansen is a law-abiding place!" The reply was decisive. Jansen had its honour to keep. It was the home of the Pioneers—Laura Sloly was a Pioneer.
Tim Denton was a Pioneer, with all the comradeship which lay in the word, and he was that sort of lover who has seen one woman, and can never see another—not the product of the most modern civilisation. Before Laura had had Playmates he had given all he had to give; he had waited and hoped ever since; and when the ruthless gossips had said to him before Mary Jewell's house that she was in love with the Faith Healer, nothing changed in him. For the man, for Ingles, Tim belonged to a primitive breed, and love was not in his heart. As he rode out to Sloly's Ranch, he ground his teeth in rage. But Laura had called him to her, and: "Well, what you say goes, Laura," he muttered at the end of a long hour of human passion and its repression. "If he's to go scot-free, then he's got to go; but the boys yonder'll drop on me, if he gets away. Can't you see what a swab he is, Laura?"
The brown eyes of the girl looked at him gently. The struggle between them was over; she had had her way—to save the preacher, impostor though he was; and now she felt, as she had never felt before in the same fashion, that this man was a man of men.
"Tim, you do not understand," she urged. "You say he was a landsharp in the South, and that he had to leave-"
"He had to vamoose, or take tar and feathers."
"But he had to leave. And he came here preaching and healing; and he is a hypocrite and a fraud—I know that now, my eyes are opened. He didn't do what he said he could do, and it killed Mary Jewell—the shock; and there were other things he said he could do, and he didn't do them. Perhaps he is all bad, as you say—I don't think so. But he did some good things, and through him I've felt as I've never felt before about God and life, and about Walt and the baby—as though I'll see them again, sure. I've never felt that before. It was all as if they were lost in the hills, and no trail home, or out to where they are. Like as not God was working in him all the time, Tim; and he failed because he counted too much on the little he had, and made up for what he hadn't by what he pretended."
"He can pretend to himself, or God Almighty, or that lot down there"—he jerked a finger towards the town—"but to you, a girl, and a Pioneer—"
A flash of humour shot into her eyes at his last words, then they filled with tears, through which the smile shone. To pretend to "a Pioneer"— the splendid vanity and egotism of the West!
"He didn't pretend to me, Tim. People don't usually have to pretend to like me."
"You know what I'm driving at."
"Yes, yes, I know. And whatever he is, you've said that you will save him. I'm straight, you know that. Somehow, what I felt from his preaching—well, everything got sort of mixed up with him, and he was— was different. It was like the long dream of Walt and the baby, and he a part of it. I don't know what I felt, or what I might have felt for him. I'm a woman—I can't understand. But I know what I feel now. I never want to see him again on earth—or in Heaven. It needn't be necessary even in Heaven; but what happened between God and me through him stays, Tim; and so you must help him get away safe. It's in your hands—you say they left it to you."
"I don't trust that too much."
Suddenly he pointed out of the window towards the town. "See, I'm right; there they are, a dozen of 'em mounted. They're off, to run him down."
Her face paled; she glanced towards the Hill of Healing. "He's got an hour's start," she said; "he'll get into the mountains and be safe."
"If they don't catch him 'fore that."
"Or if you don't get to him first," she said, with nervous insistence.
He turned to her with a hard look; then, as he met her soft, fearless, beautiful eyes, his own grew gentle. "It takes a lot of doing. Yet I'll do it for you, Laura," he said. "But it's hard on the Pioneers." Once more her humour flashed, and it seemed to him that "getting religion" was not so depressing after all—wouldn't be, anyhow, when this nasty job was over. "The Pioneers will get over it, Tim," she rejoined. "They've swallowed a lot in their time. Heaven's gate will have to be pretty wide to let in a real Pioneer," she added. "He takes up so much room— ah, Timothy Denton!" she added, with an outburst of whimsical merriment.
"It hasn't spoiled you—being converted, has it?" he said, and gave a quick little laugh, which somehow did more for his ancient cause with her than all he had ever said or done. Then he stepped outside and swung into his saddle.
It had been a hard and anxious ride, but Tim had won, and was keeping his promise. The night had fallen before he got to the mountains, which he and the Pioneers had seen the Faith Healer enter. They had had four miles' start of Tim, and had ridden fiercely, and they entered the gulch into which the refugee had disappeared still two miles ahead.
The invincibles had seen Tim coming, but they had determined to make a sure thing of it, and would themselves do what was necessary with the impostor, and take no chances. So they pressed their horses, and he saw them swallowed by the trees, as darkness gathered. Changing his course, he entered the familiar hills, which he knew better than any pioneer of Jansen, and rode a diagonal course over the trail they would take. But night fell suddenly, and there was nothing to do but to wait till morning. There was comfort in this—the others must also wait, and the refugee could not go far. In any case, he must make for settlement or perish, since he had left behind his sheep and his cow.
It fell out better than Tim hoped. The Pioneers were as good hunters as was he, their instinct was as sure, their scouts and trackers were many, and he was but one. They found the Faith Healer by a little stream, eating bread and honey, and, like an ancient woodlander drinking from a horn—relics of his rank imposture. He made no resistance. They tried him formally, if perfunctorily; he admitted his imposture, and begged for his life. Then they stripped him naked, tied a bit of canvas round his waist, fastened him to a tree, and were about to complete his punishment when Tim Denton burst upon them.
Whether the rage Tim showed was all real or not; whether his accusations of bad faith came from so deeply wounded a spirit as he would have them believe, he was not likely to tell; but he claimed the prisoner as his own, and declined to say what he meant to do.
When, however, they saw the abject terror of the Faith Healer as he begged not to be left alone with Tim—for they had not meant death, and Ingles thought he read death in Tim's ferocious eyes—they laughed cynically, and left it to Tim to uphold the honour of Jansen and the Pioneers.
As they disappeared, the last thing they saw was Tim with his back to them, his hands on his hips, and a knife clasped in his fingers.
"He'll lift his scalp and make a monk of him," chuckled the oldest and hardest of them.
"Dat Tim will cut his heart out, I t'ink-bagosh!" said Nicolle Terasse, and took a drink of white-whiskey. For a long time Tim stood looking at the other, until no sound came from the woods, whither the Pioneers had gone. Then at last, slowly, and with no roughness, as the terror- stricken impostor shrank and withered, he cut the cords.
"Dress yourself," he said shortly, and sat down beside the stream, and washed his face and hands, as though to cleanse them from contamination. He appeared to take no notice of the other, though his ears keenly noted every movement.
The impostor dressed nervously, yet slowly; he scarce comprehended anything, except that he was not in immediate danger. When he had finished, he stood looking at Tim, who was still seated on a log plunged in meditation.
It seemed hours before Tim turned round, and now his face was quiet, if set and determined. He walked slowly over, and stood looking at his victim for some time without speaking. The other's eyes dropped, and a greyness stole over his features. This steely calm was even more frightening than the ferocity which had previously been in his captor's face. At length the tense silence was broken.
"Wasn't the old game good enough? Was it played out? Why did you take to this? Why did you do it, Scranton?"
The voice quavered a little in reply. "I don't know. Something sort of pushed me into it."
"How did you come to start it?"
There was a long silence, then the husky reply came. "I got a sickener last time—"
"Yes, I remember, at Waywing."
"I got into the desert, and had hard times—awful for a while. I hadn't enough to eat, and I didn't know whether I'd die by hunger, or fever, or Indians—or snakes."
"Oh, you were seeing snakes!" said Tim grimly.
"Not the kind you mean; I hadn't anything to drink—"
"No, you never did drink, I remember—just was crooked, and slopped over women. Well, about the snakes?"
"I caught them to eat, and they were poison-snakes often. And I wasn't quick at first to get them safe by the neck—they're quick, too."
Tim laughed inwardly. "Getting your food by the sweat of your brow—and a snake in it, same as Adam! Well, was it in the desert you got your taste for honey, too, same as John the Baptist—that was his name, if I recomember?" He looked at the tin of honey on the ground.
"Not in the desert, but when I got to the grass-country."
"How long were you in the desert?"
"Close to a year."
Tim's eyes opened wider. He saw that the man was speaking the truth.
"Got to thinking in the desert, and sort of willing things to come to pass, and mooning along, you, and the sky, and the vultures, and the hot hills, and the snakes, and the flowers—eh?"
"There weren't any flowers till I got to the grass-country."
"Oh, cuss me, if you ain't simple for your kind! I know all about that. And when you got to the grass-country, you just picked up the honey, and the flowers, and a calf, and a lamb, and a mule here and there, 'without money and without price,' and walked on—that it?"
The other shrank before the steel in the voice, and nodded his head.
"But you kept thinking in the grass-country of what you'd felt and said and done—and willed, in the desert, I suppose?"
Again the other nodded.
"It seemed to you in the desert, as if you'd saved your own life a hundred times, as if you'd just willed food and drink and safety to come; as if Providence had been at your elbow?"
"It was like a dream, and it stayed with me. I had to think in the desert things I'd never thought before," was the half-abstracted answer.
"You felt good in the desert?" The other hung his head in shame.
"Makes you seem pretty small, doesn't it? You didn't stay long enough, I guess, to get what you were feeling for; you started in on the new racket too soon. You never got really possessed that you was a sinner. I expect that's it."
The other made no reply.
"Well, I don't know much about such things. I was loose brought up; but I've a friend"—Laura was before his eyes—"that says religion's all right, and long ago as I can remember my mother used to pray three times a day—with grace at meals, too. I know there's a lot in it for them that need it; and there seems to be a lot of folks needing it, if I'm to judge by folks down there at Jansen, specially when there's the laying-on of hands and the Healing Springs. Oh, that was a pigsty game, Scranton, that about God giving you the Healing Springs, like Moses and the rock! Why, I discovered them springs myself two years ago, before I went South, and I guess God wasn't helping me any—not after I've kept out of His way as I have. But, anyhow, religion's real; that's my sense of it; and you can get it, I bet, if you try. I've seen it got. A friend of mine got it—got it under your preaching; not from you; but you was the accident that brought it about, I expect. It's funny—it's merakilous, but it's so. Kneel down!" he added, with peremptory suddenness. "Kneel, Scranton!"
In fear the other knelt.
"You're going to get religion now—here. You're going to pray for what you didn't get—and almost got—in the desert. You're going to ask forgiveness for all your damn tricks, and pray like a fanning-mill for the spirit to come down. You ain't a scoundrel at heart—a friend of mine says so. You're a weak vessel, cracked, perhaps. You've got to be saved, and start right over again—and 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow!' Pray—pray, Scranton, and tell the whole truth, and get it—get religion. Pray like blazes. You go on, and pray out loud. Remember the desert, and Mary Jewell, and your mother—did you have a mother, Scranton—say, did you have a mother, lad?"
Tim's voice suddenly lowered before the last word, for the Faith Healer had broken down in a torrent of tears.
"Oh, my mother—O God!" he groaned.
"Say, that's right—that's right—go on," said the other, and drew back a little, and sat down on a log. The man on his knees was convulsed with misery. Denton, the world, disappeared. He prayed in agony. Presently Tim moved uneasily, then got up and walked about; and at last, with a strange, awed look, when an hour was past, he stole back into the shadow of the trees, while still the wounded soul poured out its misery and repentance.
Time moved on. A curious shyness possessed Tim now, a thing which he had never felt in his life. He moved about self-consciously, awkwardly, until at last there was a sudden silence over by the brook.
Tim looked, and saw the face of the kneeling man cleared, and quiet and shining. He hesitated, then stepped out, and came over.
"Have you got it?" he asked quietly. "It's noon now."
"May God help me to redeem my past," answered the other in a new voice.
"You've got it—sure?" Tim's voice was meditative. "God has spoken to me," was the simple answer. "I've got a friend'll be glad to hear that," he said; and once more, in imagination, he saw Laura Sloly standing at the door of her home, with a light in her eyes he had never seen before.
"You'll want some money for your journey?" Tim asked.
"I want nothing but to go away—far away," was the low reply.
"Well, you've lived in the desert—I guess you can live in the grass- country," came the dry response. "Good-bye-and good luck, Scranton."
Tim turned to go, moved on a few steps, then looked back.
"Don't be afraid—they'll not follow," he said. "I'll fix it for you all right."
But the man appeared not to hear; he was still on his knees.
Tim faced the woods once more.
He was about to mount his horse when he heard a step behind him. He turned sharply—and faced Laura. "I couldn't rest. I came out this morning. I've seen everything," she said.
"You didn't trust me," he said heavily.
"I never did anything else," she answered.
He gazed half-fearfully into her eyes. "Well?" he asked. "I've done my best, as I said I would."
"Tim," she said, and slipped a hand in his, "would you mind the religion —if you had me?"
THE LITTLE WIDOW OF JANSEN
Her advent to Jansen was propitious. Smallpox in its most virulent form had broken out in the French-Canadian portion of the town, and, coming with some professional nurses from the East, herself an amateur, to attend the sufferers, she worked with such skill and devotion that the official thanks of the Corporation were offered her, together with a tiny gold watch, the gift of grateful citizens. But she still remained on at Jansen, saying always, however, that she was "going East in the spring."
Five years had passed, and still she had not gone East, but remained perched in the rooms she had first taken, over the Imperial Bank, while the town grew up swiftly round her. And even when the young bank manager married, and wished to take over the rooms, she sent him to the right- about from his own premises in her gay, masterful way. The young manager behaved well in the circumstances, because he had asked her to marry him, and she had dismissed him with a warning against challenging his own happiness—that was the way she had put it. Perhaps he was galled the less because others had striven for the same prize, and had been thrust back, with an almost tender misgiving as to their sense of self- preservation and sanity. Some of them were eligible enough, and all were of some position in the West. Yet she smiled them firmly away, to the wonder of Jansen, and to its satisfaction, for was it not a tribute to all that she would distinguish no particular unit by her permanent favour? But for one so sprightly and almost frivolous in manner at times, the self-denial seemed incongruous. She was unconventional enough to sit on the side-walk with a half-dozen children round her blowing bubbles, or to romp in any garden, or in the street, playing Puss-in-the- ring; yet this only made her more popular. Jansen's admiration was at its highest, however, when she rode in the annual steeplechase with the best horsemen of the province. She had the gift of doing as well as of being.