HotFreeBooks.com
Northern Lights
by Gilbert Parker
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"'Tis the light heart she has, and slippin' in and out of things like a humming-bird, no easier to ketch, and no longer to stay," said Finden, the rich Irish landbroker, suggestively to Father Bourassa, the huge French-Canadian priest who had worked with her through all the dark weeks of the smallpox epidemic, and who knew what lay beneath the outer gaiety. She had been buoyant of spirit beside the beds of the sick, and her words were full of raillery and humour, yet there was ever a gentle note behind all; and the priest had seen her eyes shining with tears, as she bent over some stricken sufferer bound upon an interminable journey.

"Bedad! as bright a little spark as ever struck off the steel," added Finden to the priest, with a sidelong, inquisitive look, "but a heart no bigger than a marrowfat pea-selfishness, all self. Keepin' herself for herself when there's manny a good man needin' her. Mother o' Moses, how manny! From Terry O'Ryan, brother of a peer, at Latouche, to Bernard Bapty, son of a millionaire, at Vancouver, there's a string o' them. All pride and self; and as fair a lot they've been as ever entered for the Marriage Cup. Now, isn't that so, father?"

Finden's brogue did not come from a plebeian origin. It was part of his commercial equipment, an asset of his boyhood spent among the peasants on the family estate in Galway.

Father Bourassa fanned himself with the black broadbrim hat he wore, and looked benignly but quizzically on the wiry, sharp-faced Irishman.

"You t'ink her heart is leetla. But perhaps it is your mind not so big enough to see—hein?" The priest laughed noiselessly, showing white teeth. "Was it so selfish in Madame to refuse the name of Finden— n'est-ce pas?"

Finden flushed, then burst into a laugh. "I'd almost forgotten I was one of them—the first almost. Blessed be he that expects nothing, for he'll get it, sure. It was my duty, and I did it. Was she to feel that Jansen did not price her high? Bedad, father, I rose betimes and did it, before anny man should say he set me the lead. Before the carpet in the parlour was down, and with the bare boards soundin' to my words, I offered her the name of Finden."

"And so—the first of the long line! Bien, it is an honour." The priest paused a moment, looked at Finden with a curious reflective look, and then said: "And so you t'ink there is no one; that she will say yes not at all—no?"

They were sitting on Father Bourassa's veranda, on the outskirts of the town, above the great river, along which had travelled millions of bygone people, fighting, roaming, hunting, trapping; and they could hear it rushing past, see the swirling eddies, the impetuous currents, the occasional rafts moving majestically down the stream. They were facing the wild North, where civilisation was hacking and hewing and ploughing its way to newer and newer cities, in an empire ever spreading to the Pole.

Finden's glance loitered on this scene before he replied. At length, screwing up one eye, and with a suggestive smile, he answered: "Sure, it's all a matter of time, to the selfishest woman. 'Tis not the same with women as with men; you see, they don't get younger—that's a point. But"—he gave a meaning glance at the priest—"but perhaps she's not going to wait for that, after all. And there he rides, a fine figure of a man, too, if I have to say it!"

"M'sieu' Varley?" the priest responded, and watched a galloping horseman to whom Finden had pointed, till he rounded the corner of a little wood.

"Varley, the great London surgeon, sure! Say, father, it's a hundred to one she'd take him, if—"

There was a curious look in Father Bourassa's face, a cloud in his eyes. He sighed. "London, it is ver' far away," he remarked obliquely.

"What's to that? If she is with the right man, near or far is nothing."

"So far—from home," said the priest reflectively, but his eyes furtively watched the other's face.

"But home's where man and wife are."

The priest now looked him straight in the eyes. "Then, as you say, she will not marry M'sieu' Varley—hein?"

The humour died out of Finden's face. His eyes met the priest's eyes steadily. "Did I say that? Then my tongue wasn't making a fool of me, after all. How did you guess I knew—everything, father?"

"A priest knows many t'ings—so."

There was a moment of gloom, then the Irishman brightened. He came straight to the heart of the mystery around which they had been maneuvering. "Have you seen her husband—Meydon—this year? It isn't his usual time to come yet."

Father Bourassa's eyes drew those of his friend into, the light of a new understanding and revelation. They understood and trusted each other.

"Helas! He is there in the hospital," he answered, and nodded towards a building not far away, which had been part of an old Hudson's Bay Company's fort. It had been hastily adapted as a hospital for the smallpox victims.

"Oh, it's Meydon, is it, that bad case I heard of to-day?"

The priest nodded again and 'pointed. "Voila, Madame Meydon, she is coming. She has seen him—her hoosban'."

Finden's eyes followed the gesture. The little widow of Jansen was coming from the hospital, walking slowly towards the river.

"As purty a woman, too—as purty and as straight bewhiles. What is the matter with him—with Meydon?" Finden asked, after a moment.

"An accident in the woods—so. He arrive, it is las' night, from Great Slave Lake."

Finden sighed. "Ten years ago he was a man to look at twice—before he did It and got away. Now his own mother wouldn't know him—bad 'cess to him! I knew him from the cradle almost. I spotted him here by a knife- cut I gave him in the hand when we were lads together. A divil of a timper always both of us had, but the good-nature was with me, and I didn't drink and gamble and carry a pistol. It's ten years since he did the killing, down in Quebec, and I don't suppose the police will get him now. He's been counted dead. I recognised him here the night after I asked her how she liked the name of Finden. She doesn't know that I ever knew him. And he didn't recognise me-twenty-five years since we met before! It would be better if he went under the sod. Is he pretty sick, father?"

"He will die unless the surgeon's knife it cure him before twenty-four hours, and—"

"And Doctor Brydon is sick, and Doctor Hadley away at Winnipeg, and this is two hundred miles from nowhere! It looks as if the police'll never get him, eh?"

"You have not tell any one—never?"

Finden laughed. "Though I'm not a priest, I can lock myself up as tight as anny. There's no tongue that's so tied, when tying's needed, as the one that babbles most bewhiles. Babbling covers a lot of secrets."

"So you t'ink it better Meydon should die, as Hadley is away and Brydon is sick-hein?"

"Oh, I think—"

Finden stopped short, for a horse's hoofs sounded on the turf beside the house, and presently Varley, the great London surgeon, rounded the corner and stopped his horse in front of the veranda.

He lifted his hat to the priest. "I hear there's a bad case at the hospital," he said.

"It is ver' dangerous," answered Father Bourassa; "but, voila, come in! There is something cool to drink. Ah yes, he is ver' bad, that man from the Great Slave Lake."

Inside the house, with the cooling drinks, Varley pressed his questions, and presently, much interested, told at some length of singular cases which had passed through his hands—one a man with his neck broken, who had lived for six months afterward.

"Broken as a man's neck is broken by hanging—dislocation, really—the disjointing of the medulla oblongata, if you don't mind technicalities," he said. "But I kept him living just the same. Time enough for him to repent in and get ready to go. A most interesting case. He was a criminal, too, and wanted to die; but you have to keep life going if you can, to the last inch of resistance."

The priest looked thoughtfully out of the window; Finden's eyes were screwed up in a questioning way, but neither made any response to Varley's remarks. There was a long minute's silence. They were all three roused by hearing a light footstep on the veranda.

Father Bourassa put down his glass and hastened into the hallway. Finden caught a glimpse of a woman's figure, and, without a word, passed abruptly from the dining-room where they were, into the priest's study, leaving Varley alone. Varley turned to look after him, stared, and shrugged his shoulders.

"The manners of the West," he said good-humouredly, and turned again to the hallway, from whence came the sound of the priest's voice. Presently there was another voice—a woman's. He flushed slightly and involuntarily straightened himself.

"Valerie," he murmured.

An instant afterwards she entered the room with the priest. She was dressed in a severely simple suit of grey, which set off to advantage her slim, graceful figure. There seemed no reason why she should have been called the little widow of Jansen, for she was not small, but she was very finely and delicately made, and the name had been but an expression of Jansen's paternal feeling for her. She had always had a good deal of fresh colour, but to-day she seemed pale, though her eyes had a strange disturbing light. It was not that they brightened on seeing this man before her; they had been brighter, burningly bright, when she left the hospital, where, since it had been built, she had been the one visitor of authority—Jansen had given her that honour. She had a gift of smiling, and she smiled now, but it came from grace of mind rather than from humour. As Finden had said, "She was for ever acting, and never doin' any harm by it."

Certainly she was doing no harm by it now; nevertheless, it was acting. Could it be otherwise, with what was behind her life—a husband who had ruined her youth, had committed homicide, had escaped capture, but who had not subsequently died, as the world believed he had done, so circumstantial was the evidence. He was not man enough to make the accepted belief in his death a fact. What could she do but act, since the day she got a letter from the Far North, which took her out to Jansen, nominally to nurse those stricken with smallpox under Father Bourassa's care, actually to be where her wretched husband could come to her once a year, as he had asked with an impossible selfishness?

Each year she had seen him for an hour or less, giving him money, speaking to him over a gulf so wide that it seemed sometimes as though her voice could not be heard across it; each year opening a grave to look at the embalmed face of one who had long since died in shame, which only brought back the cruellest of all memories, that which one would give one's best years to forget. With a fortitude beyond description she had faced it, gently, quietly, but firmly faced it—firmly, because she had to be firm in keeping him within those bounds the invasion of which would have killed her. And after the first struggle with his unchangeable brutality it had been easier: for into his degenerate brain there had come a faint understanding of the real situation and of her. He had kept his side of the gulf, but gloating on this touch between the old luxurious, indulgent life, with its refined vices, and this present coarse, hard life, where pleasures were few and gross. The free Northern life of toil and hardship had not refined him. He greedily hung over this treasure, which was not for his spending, yet was his own—as though in a bank he had hoards of money which he might not withdraw.

So the years had gone on, with their recurrent dreaded anniversaries, carrying misery almost too great to be borne by this woman mated to the loathed phantom of a sad, dead life; and when this black day of each year was over, for a few days afterwards she went nowhere, was seen by none. Yet, when she did appear again, it was with her old laughing manner, her cheerful and teasing words, her quick response to the emotions of others.

So it had gone till Varley had come to follow the open air life for four months, after a heavy illness due to blood-poisoning got in his surgical work in London. She had been able to live her life without too great a struggle till he came. Other men had flattered her vanity, had given her a sense of power, had made her understand her possibilities, but nothing more—nothing of what Varley brought with him. And before three months had gone, she knew that no man had ever interested her as Varley had done. Ten years before, she would not have appreciated or understood him, this intellectual, clean-shaven, rigidly abstemious man, whose pleasures belonged to the fishing-rod and the gun and the horse, and who had come to be so great a friend of him who had been her best friend— Father Bourassa. Father Bourassa had come to know the truth—not from her, for she had ever been a Protestant, but from her husband, who, Catholic by birth and a renegade from all religion, had had a moment of spurious emotion, when he went and confessed to Father Bourassa and got absolution, pleading for the priest's care of his wife. Afterwards Father Bourassa made up his mind that the confession had a purpose behind it other than repentance, and he deeply resented the use to which he thought he was being put—a kind of spy upon the beautiful woman whom Jansen loved, and who, in spite of any outward flippancy, was above reproach.

In vital things the instinct becomes abnormally acute, and, one day, when the priest looked at her commiseratingly, she had divined what moved him. However it was, she drove him into a corner with a question to which he dare not answer yes, but to which he might not answer no, and did not; and she realised that he knew the truth, and she was the better for his knowing, though her secret was no longer a secret. She was not aware that Finden also knew. Then Varley came, bringing a new joy and interest in her life, and a new suffering also, for she realised that if she were free, and Varley asked her to marry him, she would consent.

But when he did ask her, she said no with a pang that cut her heart in two. He had stayed his four months, and it was now six months, and he was going at last-tomorrow. He had stayed to give her time to learn to say yes, and to take her back with him to London; and she knew that he would speak again to-day, and that she must say no again; but she had kept him from saying the words till now. And the man who had ruined her life and had poisoned her true spirit was come back broken and battered. He was hanging between life and death; and now—for he was going to-morrow—Varley would speak again.

The half-hour she had just spent in the hospital with Meydon had tried her cruelly. She had left the building in a vortex of conflicting emotions, with the call of duty and of honour ringing through a thousand other voices of temptation and desire, the inner pleadings for a little happiness while yet she was young. After she married Meydon, there had only been a few short weeks of joy before her black disillusion came, and she had realised how bitter must be her martyrdom.

When she left the hospital, she seemed moving in a dream, as one, intoxicated by some elixir, might move unheeding among event and accident and vexing life and roaring multitudes. And all the while the river flowing through the endless prairies, high-banked, ennobled by living woods, lipped with green, kept surging in her ears, inviting her, alluring her—alluring her with a force too deep and powerful for weak human nature to bear for long. It would ease her pain, it said; it would still the tumult and the storm; it would solve her problem, it would give her peace. But as she moved along the river-bank among the trees, she met the little niece of the priest, who lived in his house, singing as though she was born but to sing, a song which Finden had written and Father Bourassa had set to music. Did not the distant West know Father Bourassa's gift, and did not Protestants attend Mass to hear him play the organ afterwards? The fresh, clear voice of the child rang through the trees, stealing the stricken heart away from the lure of the river:

"Will you come back home, where the young larks are singin'? The door is open wide, and the bells of Lynn are ringin'; There's a little lake I know, And a boat you used to row To the shore beyond that's quiet—will you come back home?

Will you come back, darlin'? Never heed the pain and blightin', Never trouble that you're wounded, that you bear the scars of fightin'; Here's the luck o' Heaven to you, Here's the hand of love will brew you The cup of peace—ah, darlin', will you come back home?"

She stood listening for a few moments, and, under the spell of the fresh, young voice, the homely, heart-searching words, and the intimate sweetness of the woods, the despairing apathy lifted slowly away. She started forwards again with a new understanding, her footsteps quickened. She would go to Father Bourassa. He would understand. She would tell him all. He would help her to do what now she knew she must do, ask Leonard Varley to save her husband's life—Leonard Varley to save her husband's life!

When she stepped upon the veranda of the priest's house, she did not know that Varley was inside. She had no time to think. She was ushered into the room where he was, with the confusing fact of his presence fresh upon her. She had had but a word or two with the priest, but enough for him to know what she meant to do, and that it must be done at once.

Varley advanced to meet her. She shuddered inwardly to think what a difference there was between the fallen creature she had left behind in the hospital and this tall, dark, self-contained man, whose name was familiar in the surgeries of Europe, who had climbed from being the son of a clockmaker to his present distinguished place.

"Have you come for absolution, also?" he asked with a smile; "or is it to get a bill of excommunication against your only enemy—there couldn't be more than one?"

Cheerful as his words were, he was shrewdly observing her, for her paleness, and the strange light in her eyes, gave him a sense of anxiety. He wondered what trouble was on her.

"Excommunication?" he repeated.

The unintended truth went home. She winced, even as she responded with that quaint note in her voice which gave humour to her speech. "Yes, excommunication," she replied; "but why an enemy? Do we not need to excommunicate our friends sometimes?"

"That is a hard saying," he answered soberly. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she mastered herself, and brought the crisis abruptly.

"I want you to save a man's life," she said, with her eyes looking straight into his. "Will you do it?"

His face grew grave and eager. "I want you to save a man's happiness," he answered. "Will you do it?"

"That man yonder will die unless your skill saves him," she urged.

"This man here will go away unhappy and alone, unless your heart befriends him," he replied, coming closer to her.

"At sunrise to-morrow he goes." He tried to take her hand.

"Oh, please, please," she pleaded, with a quick, protesting gesture. "Sunrise is far off, but the man's fate is near, and you must save him. You only can do so, for Doctor Hadley is away, and Doctor Brydon is sick, and in any case Doctor Brydon dare not attempt the operation alone. It is too critical and difficult, he says."

"So I have heard," he answered, with a new note in his voice, his professional instinct roused in spite of himself. "Who is this man? What interests you in him?"

"To how many unknown people have you given your skill for nothing—your skill and all your experience to utter strangers, no matter how low or poor! Is it not so? Well, I cannot give to strangers what you have given to so many, but I can help in my own way."

"You want me to see the man at once?"

"If you will."

"What is his name? I know of his accident and the circumstances."

She hesitated for an instant, then said, "He is called Draper—a trapper and woodsman."

"But I was going away to-morrow at sunrise. All my arrangements are made," he urged, his eyes holding hers, his passion swimming in his eyes again.

"But you will not see a man die, if you can save him?" she pleaded, unable now to meet his look, its mastery and its depth.

Her heart had almost leaped with joy at the suggestion that he could not stay; but as suddenly self-reproach and shame filled her mind, and she had challenged him so. But yet, what right had she to sacrifice this man she loved to the perverted criminal who had spoiled her youth and taken away from her every dear illusion of her life and heart? By every right of justice and humanity she was no more the wife of Henry Meydon than if she had never seen him. He had forfeited every claim upon her, dragged in the mire her unspotted life—unspotted, for in all temptation, in her defenceless position, she had kept the whole commandment; she had, while at the mercy of her own temperament, fought her way through all, with a weeping heart and laughing lips. Had she not longed for a little home with a great love, and a strong, true man? Ah, it had been lonely, bitterly lonely! Yet she had remained true to the scoundrel, from whom she could not free herself without putting him in the grasp of the law to atone for his crime. She was punished for his crimes; she was denied the exercise of her womanhood in order to shield him. Still she remembered that once she had loved him, those years ago, when he first won her heart from those so much better than he, who loved her so much more honestly; and this memory had helped her in a way. She had tried to be true to it, that dead, lost thing, of which this man who came once a year to see her, and now, lying with his life at stake in the hospital, was the repellent ghost.

"Ah, you will not see him die?" she urged.

"It seems to move you greatly what happens to this man," he said, his determined dark eyes searching hers, for she baffled him. If she could feel so much for a, "casual," why not a little more feeling for him? Suddenly, as he drew her eyes to him again, there came the conviction that they were full of feeling for him. They were sending a message, an appealing, passionate message, which told him more than he had ever heard from her or seen in her face before. Yes, she was his! Without a spoken word she had told him so. What, then, held her back? But women were a race by themselves, and he knew that he must wait till she chose to have him know what she had unintentionally conveyed but now.

"Yes, I am moved," she continued slowly. "Who can tell what this man might do with his life, if it is saved! Don't you think of that? It isn't the importance of a life that's at stake; it's the importance of living; and we do not live alone, do we?"

His mind was made up. "I will not, cannot promise anything till I have seen him. But I will go and see him, and I'll send you word later what I can do, or not do. Will that satisfy you? If I cannot do it, I will come to say good-by."

Her face was set with suppressed feeling. She held out her hand to him impulsively, and was about to speak, but suddenly caught the hand away again from his thrilling grasp and, turning hurriedly, left the room. In the hall she met Father Bourassa.

"Go with him to the hospital," she whispered, and disappeared through the doorway.

Immediately after she had gone, a man came driving hard to bring Father Bourassa to visit a dying Catholic in the prairie, and it was Finden who accompanied Varley to the hospital, waited for him till his examination of the "casual" was concluded, and met him outside.

"Can it be done?" he asked of Varley. "I'll take word to Father Bourassa."

"It can be done—it will be done," answered Varley absently. "I do not understand the man. He has been in a different sphere of life. He tried to hide it, but the speech—occasionally! I wonder."

"You wonder if he's worth saving?"

Varley shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "No, that's not what I meant."

Finden smiled to himself. "Is it a difficult case?" he asked.

"Critical and delicate; but it has been my specialty."

"One of the local doctors couldn't do it, I suppose?"

"They would be foolish to try."

"And you are going away at sunrise to-morrow?"

"Who told you that?" Varley's voice was abrupt, impatient.

"I heard you say so-everybody knows it. . . . That's a bad man yonder, Varley." He jerked his thumb towards the hospital. "A terrible bad man, he's been. A gentleman once, and fell down—fell down hard. He's done more harm than most men. He's broken a woman's heart and spoilt her life, and, if he lives, there's no chance for her, none at all. He killed a man, and the law wants him; and she can't free herself without ruining him; and she can't marry the man she loves because of that villain yonder, crying for his life to be saved. By Josh and by Joan, but it's a shame, a dirty shame, it is!"

Suddenly Varley turned and gripped his arm with fingers of steel.

"His name—his real name?"

"His name's Meydon—and a dirty shame it is, Varley."

Varley was white. He had been leading his horse and talking to Finden. He mounted quickly now, and was about to ride away, but stopped short again. "Who knows—who knows the truth?" he asked.

"Father Bourassa and me—no others," he answered. "I knew Meydon thirty years ago."

There was a moment's hesitation, then Varley said hoarsely, "Tell me— tell me all."

When all was told, he turned his horse towards the wide waste of the prairie, and galloped away. Finden watched him till he was lost to view beyond the bluff.

"Now, a man like that, you can't guess what he'll do," he said reflectively. "He's a high-stepper, and there's no telling what foolishness will get hold of him. It'd be safer if he got lost on the prairie for twenty-four hours. He said that Meydon's only got twenty- four hours, if the trick isn't done! Well—"

He took a penny from his pocket. "I'll toss for it. Heads he does it, and tails he doesn't."

He tossed. It came down heads. "Well, there's one more fool in the world than I thought," he said philosophically, as though he had settled the question; as though the man riding away into the prairie with a dark problem to be solved had told the penny what he meant to do.

Mrs. Meydon, Father Bourassa, and Finden stood in the little waiting-room of the hospital at Jansen, one at each window, and watched the wild thunderstorm which had broken over the prairie. The white heliographs of the elements flashed their warnings across the black sky, and the roaring artillery of the thunder came after, making the circle of prairie and tree and stream a theatre of anger and conflict. The streets of Jansen were washed with flood, and the green and gold things of garden and field and harvest crumbled beneath the sheets of rain.

The faces at the window of the little room of the hospital, however, were but half-conscious of the storm; it seemed only an accompaniment of their thoughts, to typify the elements of tragedy surrounding them.

For Varley there had been but one thing to do. A life might be saved, and it was his duty to save it. He had ridden back from the prairie as the sun was setting the night before, and had made all arrangements at the hospital, giving orders that Meydon should have no food whatever till the operation was performed the next afternoon, and nothing to drink except a little brandy-and-water.

The operation was performed successfully, and Varley had issued from the operating-room with the look of a man who had gone through an ordeal which had taxed his nerve to the utmost, to find Valerie Meydon waiting, with a piteous, dazed look in her eyes. But this look passed when she heard him say, "All right!" The words brought a sense of relief, for if he had failed it would have seemed almost unbearable in the circumstances—the cup of trembling must be drunk to the dregs.

Few words had passed between them, and he had gone, while she remained behind with Father Bourassa, till the patient should wake from the sleep into which he had fallen when Varley left.

But within two hours they sent for Varley again, for Meydon was in evident danger. Varley had come, and had now been with the patient for some time.

At last the door opened and Varley came in quickly. He beckoned to Mrs. Meydon and to Father Bourassa. "He wishes to speak with you," he said to her. "There is little time."

Her eyes scarcely saw him, as she left the room and passed to where Meydon lay nerveless, but with wide-open eyes, waiting for her. The eyes closed, however, before she reached the bed. Presently they opened again, but the lids remained fixed. He did not hear what she said.

......................

In the little waiting-room, Finden said to Varley, "What happened?"

"Food was absolutely forbidden, but he got it from another patient early this morning while the nurse was out for a moment. It has killed him."

"'Twas the least he could do, but no credit's due him. It was to be. I'm not envying Father Bourassa nor her there with him."

Varley made no reply. He was watching the receding storm with eyes which told nothing.

Finden spoke once more, but Varley did not hear him. Presently the door opened and Father Bourassa entered. He made a gesture of the hand to signify that all was over.

Outside, the sun was breaking through the clouds upon the Western prairie, and there floated through the evening air the sound of a child's voice singing beneath the trees that fringed the river:

"Will you come back, darlin'? Never heed the pain and blightin', Never trouble that you're wounded, that you bear the scars of fightin'; Here's the luck o' Heaven to you, Here's the hand of love will brew you The cup of peace-ah, darlin', will you come back home?"



WATCHING THE RISE OF ORION

"In all the wide border his steed was the best," and the name and fame of Terence O'Ryan were known from Strathcona to Qu'appelle. He had ambition of several kinds, and he had the virtue of not caring who knew of it. He had no guile, and little money; but never a day's work was too hard for him, and he took bad luck, when it came, with a jerk of the shoulder and a good-natured surprise on his clean-shaven face that suited well his wide grey eyes and large, luxurious mouth. He had an estate, half ranch, half farm, with a French Canadian manager named Vigon, an old prospector who viewed every foot of land in the world with the eye of the discoverer. Gold, coal, iron, oil, he searched for them everywhere, making sure that sooner or later he would find them. Once Vigon had found coal. That was when he worked for a man called Constantine Jopp, and had given him great profit; but he, the discoverer, had been put off with a horse and a hundred dollars. He was now as devoted to Terence O'Ryan as he had been faithful to Constantine Jopp, whom he cursed waking and sleeping.

In his time O'Ryan had speculated, and lost; he had floated a coal mine, and "been had"; he had run for the local legislature, had been elected, and then unseated for bribery committed by an agent; he had run races at Regina, and won—he had won for three years in succession; and this had kept him going and restored his finances when they were at their worst. He was, in truth, the best rider in the country, and, so far, was the owner also of the best three-year-old that the West had produced. He achieved popularity without effort. The West laughed at his enterprises and loved him; he was at once a public moral and a hero. It was a legend of the West that his forbears had been kings in Ireland like Brian Borhoime. He did not contradict this; he never contradicted anything. His challenge to all fun and satire and misrepresentation was, "What'll be the differ a hundred years from now!"

He did not use this phrase, however, towards one experience—the advent of Miss Molly Mackinder, the heiress, and the challenge that reverberated through the West after her arrival. Philosophy deserted him then; he fell back on the primary emotions of mankind.

A month after Miss Mackinder's arrival at La Touche a dramatic performance was given at the old fort, in which the officers of the Mounted Police took part, together with many civilians who fancied themselves. By that time the district had realised that Terry O'Ryan had surrendered to what they called "the laying on of hands" by Molly Mackinder. It was not certain, however, that the surrender was complete, because O'Ryan had been wounded before, and yet had not been taken captive altogether. His complete surrender seemed now more certain to the public because the lady had a fortune of two hundred thousand dollars, and that amount of money would be useful to an ambitious man in the growing West. It would, as Gow Johnson said, "Let him sit back and view the landscape o'er, before he puts his ploughshare in the mud."

There was an outdoor scene in the play produced by the impetuous amateurs, and dialogue had been interpolated by three "imps of fame" at the suggestion of Constantine Jopp, one of the three, who bore malice towards O'Ryan, though this his colleagues did not know distinctly. The scene was a camp-fire—a starlit night, a colloquy between the three, upon which the hero of the drama, played by Terry O'Ryan, should break, after having, unknown to them, but in sight of the audience, overheard their kind of intentions towards himself.

The night came. When the curtain rose for the third act there was exposed a star-sown sky, in which the galaxy of Orion was shown with distinctness, each star sharply twinkling from the electric power behind- a pretty scene evoking great applause. O'Ryan had never seen this back curtain—they had taken care that he should not—and, standing in the wings awaiting his cue, he was unprepared for the laughter of the audience, first low and uncertain, then growing, then insistent, and now a peal of ungovernable mirth, as one by one they understood the significance of the stars of Orion on the back curtain.

O'Ryan got his cue, and came on to an outburst of applause which shook the walls. La Touche rose at him, among them Miss Molly Mackinder in the front row with the notables.

He did not see the back curtain, or Orion blazing in the ultramarine blue. According to the stage directions, he was to steal along the trees at the wings, and listen to the talk of the men at the fire plotting against him, who were presently to pretend good comradeship to his face. It was a vigorous melodrama with some touches of true Western feeling. After listening for a moment, O'Ryan was to creep up the stage again towards the back curtain, giving a cue for his appearance.

When the hilarious applause at his entrance had somewhat subsided, the three took up their parable, but it was not the parable of the play. They used dialogue not in the original. It had a significance which the audience were not slow to appreciate, and went far to turn "The Sunburst Trail" at this point into a comedy-farce. When this new dialogue began, O'Ryan could scarcely trust his ears, or realise what was happening.

"Ah, look," said Dicky Fergus at the fire, "as fine a night as ever I saw in the West! The sky's a picture. You could almost hand the stars down, they're so near."

"What's that clump together on the right—what are they called in astronomy?" asked Constantine Jopp, with a leer.

"Orion is the name—a beauty, ain't it?" answered Fergus.

"I've been watching Orion rise," said the third—Holden was his name. "Many's the time I've watched Orion rising. Orion's the star for me. Say, he wipes 'em all out—right out. Watch him rising now."

By a manipulation of the lights Orion moved up the back curtain slowly, and blazed with light nearer the zenith. And La Touche had more than the worth of its money in this opening to the third act of the play. O'Ryan was a favourite, at whom La Touche loved to jeer, and the parable of the stars convulsed them.

At the first words O'Ryan put a hand on himself and tried to grasp the meaning of it all, but his entrance and the subsequent applause had confused him. Presently, however, he turned to the back curtain, as Orion moved slowly up the heavens, and found the key to the situation. He gasped. Then he listened to the dialogue which had nothing to do with "The Sunburst Trail."

"What did Orion do, and why does he rise? Has he got to rise? Why was the gent called Orion in them far-off days?" asked Holden.

"He did some hunting in his time—with a club," Fergus replied. "He kept making hits, he did. Orion was a spoiler. When he took the field there was no room for the rest of the race. Why does he rise? Because it is a habit. They could always get a rise out of Orion. The Athens Eirenicon said that yeast might fail to rise, but touch the button and Orion would rise like a bird."

At that instant the galaxy jerked up the back curtain again, and when the audience could control itself, Constantine Jopp, grinning meanly, asked:

"Why does he wear the girdle?"

"It is not a girdle—it is a belt," was Dicky Fergus's reply. "The gods gave it to him because he was a favourite. There was a lady called Artemis—she was the last of them. But he went visiting with Eos, another lady of previous acquaintance, down at a place called Ortygia, and Artemis shot him dead with a shaft Apollo had given her; but she didn't marry Apollo neither. She laid Orion out on the sky, with his glittering belt, around him. And Orion keeps on rising."

"Will he ever stop rising?" asked Holden.

Followed for the conspirators a disconcerting moment; for, when the laughter had subsided, a lazy voice came from the back of the hall, "He'll stop long enough to play with Apollo a little, I guess."

It was Gow Johnson who had spoken, and no man knew Terry O'Ryan better, or could gauge more truly the course he would take. He had been in many an enterprise, many a brush with O'Ryan, and his friendship would bear any strain.

O'Ryan recovered himself from the moment he saw the back curtain, and he did not find any fun in the thing. It took a hold on him out of all proportion to its importance. He realised that he had come to the parting of the ways in his life. It suddenly came upon him that something had been lacking in him in the past; and that his want of success in many things had not been wholly due to bad luck. He had been eager, enterprising, a genius almost at seeing good things; and yet others had reaped where he had sown. He had believed too much in his fellow-man. For the first time in his life he resented the friendly, almost affectionate satire of his many friends. It was amusing, it was delightful; but down beneath it all there was a little touch of ridicule. He had more brains than any of them, and he had known it in a way; he had led them sometimes, too, as on raids against cattle-stealers, and in a brush with half-breeds and Indians; as when he stood for the legislature; but he felt now for the first time that he had not made the most of himself, that there was something hurting to self-respect in this prank played upon him. When he came to that point his resentment went higher. He thought of Molly Mackinder, and he heard all too acutely the vague veiled references to her in their satire. By the time Gow Johnson spoke he had mastered himself, however, and had made up his mind. He stood still for a moment.

"Now, please, my cue," he said quietly and satirically from the trees near the wings.

He was smiling, but Gow Johnson's prognostication was right; and ere long the audience realised that he was right. There was standing before them not the Terry O'Ryan they had known, but another. He threw himself fully into his part—a young rancher made deputy sheriff, who by the occasional exercise of his duty had incurred the hatred of a small floating population that lived by fraud, violence, and cattle-stealing. The conspiracy was to raid his cattle, to lure him to pursuit, to ambush him, and kill him. Terry now played the part with a naturalness and force which soon lifted the play away from the farcical element introduced into it by those who had interpolated the gibes at himself. They had gone a step too far.

"He's going large," said Gow Johnson, as the act drew near its close, and the climax neared, where O'Ryan was to enter upon a physical struggle with his assailants. "His blood's up. There'll be hell to pay."

To Gow Johnson the play had instantly become real, and O'Ryan an injured man at bay, the victim of the act—not of the fictitious characters of the play, but of the three men, Fergus, Holden, and Constantine Jopp, who had planned the discomfiture of O'Ryan; and he felt that the victim's resentment would fall heaviest on Constantine Jopp, the bully, an old schoolmate of Terry's.

Jopp was older than O'Ryan by three years, which in men is little, but in boys, at a certain time of life, is much. It means, generally, weight and height, an advantage in a scrimmage. Constantine Jopp had been the plague and tyrant of O'Ryan's boyhood. He was now a big, leering fellow with much money of his own, got chiefly from the coal discovered on his place by Vigon, the half-breed French Canadian. He had a sense of dark and malicious humour, a long horse-like face, with little beady eyes and a huge frame.

Again and again had Terry fought him as a boy at school, and often he had been badly whipped, but he had never refused the challenge of an insult when he was twelve and Jopp fifteen. The climax to their enmity at school had come one day when Terry was seized with a cramp while bathing, and after having gone down twice was rescued by Jopp, who dragged him out by the hair of the head. He had been restored to consciousness on the bank and carried to his home, where he lay ill for days. During the course of the slight fever which followed the accident his hair was cut close to his head. Impetuous always, his first thought was to go and thank Constantine Jopp for having saved his life. As soon as he was able he went forth to find his rescuer, and met him suddenly on turning a corner of the street. Before he could stammer out the gratitude that was in his heart, Jopp, eyeing him with a sneering smile, said drawlingly:

"If you'd had your hair cut like that I couldn't have got you out, could I? Holy, what a sight! Next time I'll take you by the scruff, putty- face—bah!"

That was enough for Terry. He had swallowed the insult, stuttered his thanks to the jeering laugh of the lank bully, and had gone home and cried in shame and rage.

It was the one real shadow in his life. Ill luck and good luck had been taken with an equable mind; but the fact that he must, while he lived, own the supreme debt of his life to a boy and afterwards to a man whom he hated by instinct was a constant cloud on him. Jopp owned him. For some years they did not meet, and then at last they again were thrown together in the West, when Jopp settled at La Touche. It was gall and wormwood to Terry, but he steeled himself to be friendly, although the man was as great a bully as the boy, as offensive in mind and character; but withal acute and able in his way, and with a reputation for commercial sharpness which would be called by another name in a different civilisation. They met constantly, and O'Ryan always put a hand on himself, and forced himself to be friendly. Once when Jopp became desperately ill there had been—though he fought it down, and condemned himself in every term of reproach—a sense of relief in the thought that perhaps his ancient debt would now be cancelled. It had gone on so long. And Constantine Jopp had never lost an opportunity of vexing him, of torturing him, of giving veiled thrusts, which he knew O'Ryan could not resent. It was the constant pin-prick of a mean soul, who had an advantage of which he could never be dispossessed—unless the ledger was balanced in some inscrutable way.

Apparently bent on amusement only, and hiding his hatred from his colleagues, Jopp had been the instigator and begetter of the huge joke of the play; but it was the brains of Dick Fergus which had carried it out, written the dialogue, and planned the electric appliances of the back curtain—for he was an engineer and electrician. Neither he nor Holden had known the old antipathy of Terry and Constantine Jopp. There was only one man who knew the whole truth, and that was Gow Johnson, to whom Terry had once told all. At the last moment Fergus had interpolated certain points in the dialogue which were not even included at rehearsal. These referred to Apollo. He had a shrewd notion that Jopp had an idea of marrying Molly Mackinder if he could, cousins though they were; and he was also aware that Jopp, knowing Molly's liking for Terry, had tried to poison her mind against him, through suggestive gossip about a little widow at Jansen, thirty miles away. He had in so far succeeded that, on the very day of the performance, Molly had declined to be driven home from the race-course by Terry, despite the fact that Terry had won the chief race and owned the only dog-cart in the West.

As the day went on Fergus realised, as had Gow Johnson, that Jopp had raised a demon. The air was electric. The play was drawing near to its climax—an attempt to capture the deputy sheriff, tie him to a tree, and leave him bound and gagged alone in the waste. There was a glitter in Terry's eyes, belying the lips which smiled in keeping with the character he presented. A look of hardness was stamped on his face, and the outlines of the temples were as sharp as the chin was set and the voice slow and penetrating.

Molly Mackinder's eyes were riveted on him. She sat very still, her hands clasped in her lap, watching his every move. Instinct told her that Terry was holding himself in; that some latent fierceness and iron force in him had emerged into life; and that he meant to have revenge on Constantine Jopp one way or another, and that soon; for she had heard the rumour flying through the hall that her cousin was the cause of the practical joke just played. From hints she had had from Constantine that very day she knew that the rumour was the truth; and she recalled now with shrinking dislike the grimace accompanying the suggestion. She had not resented it then, being herself angry with Terry because of the little widow at Jansen.

Presently the silence in the hall became acute; the senses of the audience were strained to the utmost. The acting before them was more realistic than anything they had ever seen, or were ever likely to see again in La Touche. All three conspirators, Fergus, Holden, and Jopp, realised that O'Ryan's acting had behind it an animal anger which transformed him. When he looked into their eyes it was with a steely directness harder and fiercer than was observed by the audience. Once there was occasion for O'Ryan to catch Fergus by the arm, and Fergus winced from the grip. When standing in the wings with Terry he ventured to apologise playfully for the joke, but Terry made no answer; and once again he had whispered good-naturedly as they stood together on the stage; but the reply had been a low, scornful laugh. Fergus realised that a critical moment was at hand. The play provided for some dialogue between Jopp and Terry, and he observed with anxiety that Terry now interpolated certain phrases meant to warn Constantine, and to excite him to anger also.

The moment came upon them sooner than the text of the play warranted. O'Ryan deliberately left out several sentences, and gave a later cue, and the struggle for his capture was precipitated. Terry meant to make the struggle real. So thrilling had been the scene that to an extent the audience was prepared for what followed; but they did not grasp the full reality—that the play was now only a vehicle for a personal issue of a desperate character. No one had ever seen O'Ryan angry; and now that the demon of rage was on him, directed by a will suddenly grown to its full height, they saw not only a powerful character in a powerful melodrama, but a man of wild force. When the three desperadoes closed in on O'Ryan, and, with a blow from the shoulder which was not a pretence, he sent Holden into a far corner gasping for breath and moaning with pain, the audience broke out into wild cheering. It was superb acting, they thought. As most of them had never seen the play, they were not surprised when Holden did not again join the attack on the deputy sheriff. Those who did know the drama—among them Molly Mackinder— became dismayed, then anxious. Fergus and Jopp knew well from the blow O'Ryan had given that, unless they could drag him down, the end must be disaster to some one. They were struggling with him for personal safety now. The play was forgotten, though mechanically O'Ryan and Fergus repeated the exclamations and the few phrases belonging to the part. Jopp was silent, fighting with a malice which belongs to only half-breed, or half-bred, natures; and from far back in his own nature the distant Indian strain in him was working in savage hatred. The two were desperately hanging on to O'Ryan like pumas on a grizzly, when suddenly, with a twist he had learned from Ogami the Jap on the Smoky River, the slim Fergus was slung backward to the ground with the tendons of his arm strained and the arm itself useless for further work. There remained now Constantine Jopp, heavier and more powerful than O'Ryan.

For O'Ryan the theatre, the people, disappeared. He was a boy again on the village green, with the bully before him who had tortured his young days. He forgot the old debt to the foe who saved his life; he forgot everything, except that once again, as of old, Constantine Jopp was fighting him, with long, strong arms trying to bring him to the ground. Jopp's superior height gave him an advantage in a close grip; the strength of his gorilla-like arms was difficult to withstand. Both were forgetful of the world, and the two other injured men, silent and awed, were watching the, fight, in which one of them, at least, was powerless to take part.

The audience was breathless. Most now saw the grim reality of the scene before them; and when at last O'Ryan's powerful right hand got a grip upon the throat of Jopp, and they saw the grip tighten, tighten, and Jopp's face go from red to purple, a hundred people gasped. Excited men made as though to move toward the stage; but the majority still believed that it all belonged to the play, and shouted "Sit down!"

Suddenly the voice of Gow Johnson was heard "Don't kill him—let go, boy!"

The voice rang out with sharp anxiety, and pierced the fog of passion and rage in which O'Ryan was moving. He realised what he was doing, the real sense of it came upon him. Suddenly he let go the lank throat of his enemy, and, by a supreme effort, flung him across the stage, where Jopp lay resting on his hands, his bleared eyes looking at Terry with the fear and horror still in them which had come with that tightening grip on his throat.

Silence fell suddenly on the theatre. The audience was standing. A woman sobbed somewhere in a far corner, but the rest were dismayed and speechless. A few steps before them all was Molly Mackinder, white and frightened, but in her eyes was a look of understanding as she gazed at Terry. Breathing hard, Terry stood still in the middle of the stage, the red fog not yet gone out of his eyes, his hands clasped at his side, vaguely realising the audience again. Behind him was the back curtain in which the lights of Orion twinkled aggressively. The three men who had attacked him were still where he had thrown them.

The silence was intense, the strain oppressive. But now a drawling voice came from the back of the hall. "Are you watching the rise of Orion?" it said. It was the voice of Gow Johnson.

The strain was broken; the audience dissolved in laughter; but it was not hilarious; it was the nervous laughter of relief, touched off by a native humour always present in the dweller of the prairie.

"I beg your pardon," said Terry quietly and abstractedly to the audience.

And the scene-shifter bethought himself and let down the curtain.

The fourth act was not played that night. The people had had more than the worth of their money. In a few moments the stage was crowded with people from the audience, but both Jopp and O'Ryan had disappeared.

Among the visitors to the stage was Molly Mackinder. There was a meaning smile upon her face as she said to Dicky Fergus:

"It was quite wonderful, wasn't it—like a scene out of the classics—the gladiators or something?"

Fergus gave a wary smile as he answered: "Yes. I felt like saying Ave Caesar, Ave! and I watched to see Artemis drop her handkerchief."

"She dropped it, but you were too busy to pick it up. It would have been a useful sling for your arm," she added with thoughtful malice. "It seemed so real—you all acted so well, so appropriately. And how you keep it up!" she added, as he cringed when some one knocked against his elbow, hurting the injured tendons.

Fergus looked at her meditatively before he answered. "Oh, I think we'll likely keep it up for some time," he rejoined ironically.

"Then the play isn't finished?" she added. "There is another act? Yes, I thought there was, the programme said four."

"Oh yes, there's another act," he answered, "but it isn't to be played now; and I'm not in it."

"No, I suppose you are not in it. You really weren't in the last act. Who will be in it?"

Fergus suddenly laughed outright, as he looked at Holden expostulating intently to a crowd of people round him. "Well, honour bright, I don't think there'll be anybody in it except little Conny Jopp and gentle Terry O'Ryan; and Conny mayn't be in it very long. But he'll be in it for a while, I guess. You see, the curtain came down in the middle of a situation, not at the end of it. The curtain has to rise again."

"Perhaps Orion will rise again—you think so?" She laughed in satire; for Dicky Fergus had made love to her during the last three months with unsuppressed activity, and she knew him in his sentimental moments; which is fatal. It is fatal if, in a duet, one breathes fire and the other frost.

"If you want my opinion," he said in a lower voice, as they moved towards the door, while people tried to listen to them—"if you want it straight, I think Orion has risen—right up where shines the evening star—Oh, say, now," he broke off, "haven't you had enough fun out of me? I tell you, it was touch and go. He nearly broke my arm—would have done it, if I hadn't gone limp to him; and your cousin Conny Jopp, little Conny Jopp, was as near Kingdom Come as a man wants at his age. I saw an elephant go 'must' once in India, and it was as like O'Ryan as putty is to dough. It isn't all over either, for O'Ryan will forget and forgive, and Jopp won't. He's your cousin, but he's a sulker. If he has to sit up nights to do it, he'll try to get back on O'Ryan. He'll sit up nights, but he'll do it, if he can. And whatever it is, it won't be pretty."

Outside the door they met Gow Johnson, excitement in his eyes. He heard Fergus's last words.

"He'll see Orion rising if he sits up nights," Gow Johnson said. "The game is with Terry—at last." Then he called to the dispersing gossiping crowd: "Hold on—hold on, you people. I've got news for you. Folks, this is O'Ryan's night. It's his in the starry firmament. Look at him shine," he cried, stretching out his arm towards the heavens, where the glittering galaxy hung near the zenith. "Terry O'Ryan, our O'Ryan—he's struck oil—on his ranch it's been struck. Old Vigon found it. Terry's got his own at last. O'Ryan's in it—in it alone. Now, let's hear the prairie-whisper," he shouted, in a great raucous voice. "Let's hear the prairie-whisper. What is it?"

The crowd responded in a hoarse shout for O'Ryan and his fortune. Even the women shouted—all except Molly Mackinder. She was wondering if O'Ryan risen would be the same to her as O'Ryan rising. She got into her carriage with a sigh, though she said to the few friends with her:

"If it's true, it's splendid. He deserves it too. Oh, I'm glad—I'm so glad." She laughed; but the laugh was a little hysterical.

She was both glad and sorry. Yet as she drove home over the prairie she was silent. Far off in the east was a bright light. It was a bonfire built on O'Ryan's ranch, near where he had struck oil—struck it rich. The light grew and grew, and the prairie was alive with people hurrying towards it. La Touche should have had the news hours earlier, but the half-breed French-Canadian, Vigon, who had made the discovery, and had started for La Touche with the news, went suddenly off his head with excitement, and had ridden away into the prairie fiercely shouting his joy to an invisible world. The news had been brought in later by a farmhand.

Terry O'Ryan had really struck oil, and his ranch was a scene of decent revelry, of which Gow Johnson was master. But the central figure of it all, the man who had, in truth, risen like a star, had become to La Touche all at once its notoriety as well as its favourite, its great man as well as its friend, he was nowhere to be found. He had been seen riding full speed into the prairie towards the Kourmash Wood, and the starlit night had swallowed him. Constantine Jopp had also disappeared; but at first no one gave that thought or consideration.

As the night went on, however, a feeling began to stir which it is not good to rouse in frontier lands. It is sure to exhibit itself in forms more objective than are found in great populations where methods of punishment are various, and even when deadly are often refined. But society in new places has only limited resources, and is thrown back on primary ways and means. La Touche was no exception, and the keener spirits, to whom O'Ryan had ever been "a white man," and who so rejoiced in his good luck now that they drank his health a hundred times in his own whiskey and cider, were simmering with desire for a public reproval of Constantine Jopp's conduct. Though it was pointed out to them by the astute Gow Johnson that Fergus and Holden had participated in the colossal joke of the play, they had learned indirectly also the whole truth concerning the past of the two men. They realised that Fergus and Holden had been duped by Jopp into the escapade. Their primitive sense of justice exonerated the humourists and arraigned the one malicious man. As the night wore on they decided on the punishment to be meted out by La Touche to the man who had not "acted on the square."

Gow Johnson saw, too late, that he had roused a spirit as hard to appease as the demon roused in O'Ryan earlier in the evening. He would have enjoyed the battue of punishment under ordinary circumstances; but he knew that Miss Molly Mackinder would be humiliated and indignant at the half-savage penalty they meant to exact. He had determined that O'Ryan should marry her; and this might be an obstruction in the path. It was true that O'Ryan now would be a rich man—one of the richest in the West, unless all signs failed; but meanwhile a union of fortunes would only be an added benefit. Besides, he had seen that O'Ryan was in earnest, and what O'Ryan wanted he himself wanted even more strongly. He was not concerned greatly for O'Ryan's absence. He guessed that Terry had ridden away into the night to work off the dark spirit that was on him, to have it out with himself. Gow Johnson was a philosopher. He was twenty years older than O'Ryan, and he had studied his friend as a pious monk his missal.

He was right in his judgment. When Terry left the theatre he was like one in a dream, every nerve in his body at tension, his head aflame, his pulses throbbing. For miles he rode away into the waste along the northern trail, ever away from La Touche and his own home. He did not know of the great good fortune that had come to him; and if, in this hour, he had known, he would not have cared. As he rode on and on remorse drew him into its grasp. Shame seized him that he had let passion be his master, that he had lost his self-control, had taken a revenge out of all proportion to the injury and insult to himself. It did not ease his mind that he knew Constantine Jopp had done the thing out of meanness and malice; for he was alive to-night in the light of the stars, with the sweet crisp air blowing in his face, because of an act of courage on the part of his schooldays' foe. He remembered now that, when he was drowning, he had clung to Jopp with frenzied arms and had endangered the bully's life also. The long torture of owing this debt to so mean a soul was on him still, was rooted in him; but suddenly, in the silent searching night, some spirit whispered in his ear that this was the price which he must pay for his life saved to the world, a compromise with the Inexorable Thing. On the verge of oblivion and the end, he had been snatched back by relenting Fate, which requires something for something given, when laws are overridden and doom defeated. Yes, the price he was meant to pay was gratitude to one of shrivelled soul and innate antipathy; and he had not been man enough to see the trial through to the end! With a little increased strain put upon his vanity and pride he had run amuck. Like some heathen gladiator he had ravaged in the ring. He had gone down into the basements of human life and there made a cockpit for his animal rage, till, in the contest, brain and intellect had been saturated by the fumes and sweat of fleshly fury.

How quiet the night was, how soothing to the fevered mind and body, how the cool air laved the heated head and flushed the lungs of the rheum of passion! He rode on and on, farther and farther away from home, his back upon the scenes where his daily deeds were done. It was long past midnight before he turned his horse's head again homeward.

Buried in his thoughts, now calm and determined, with a new life grown up in him, a new strength different from the mastering force which gave him a strength in the theatre like one in delirium, he noticed nothing. He was only conscious of the omniscient night and its warm penetrating friendliness; as, in a great trouble, when no words can be spoken, a cool kind palm steals into the trembling hand of misery and stills it, gives it strength and life and an even pulse. He was now master in the house of his soul, and had no fear or doubt as to the future, or as to his course.

His first duty was to go to Constantine Jopp, and speak his regret like a man. And after that it would be his duty to carry a double debt his life long for the life saved, for the wrong done. He owed an apology to La Touche, and he was scarcely aware that the native gentlemanliness in him had said through his fever of passion over the footlights: "I beg your pardon." In his heart he felt that he had offered a mean affront to every person present, to the town where his interests lay, where his heart lay.

Where his heart lay—Molly Mackinder! He knew now that vanity had something to do, if not all to do, with his violent acts, and though there suddenly shot through his mind, as he rode back, a savage thrill at the remembrance of how he had handled the three, it was only a passing emotion. He was bent on putting himself right with Jopp and with La Touche. With the former his way was clear; he did not yet see his way as to La Touche. How would he be able to make the amende honorable to La Touche?

By and by he became somewhat less absorbed and enveloped by the comforting night. He saw the glimmer of red light afar, and vaguely wondered what it was. It was in the direction of O'Ryan's Ranch, but he thought nothing of it, because it burned steadily. It was probably a fire lighted by settlers trailing to the farther north. While the night wore on he rode as slowly back to the town as he had galloped from it like a centaur with a captive.

Again and again Molly Mackinder's face came before him; but he resolutely shut it out of his thoughts. He felt that he had no right to think of her until he had "done the right thing" by Jopp and by La Touche. Yet the look in her face as the curtain came down, it was not that of one indifferent to him or to what he did. He neared the town half-way between midnight and morning. Almost unconsciously avoiding the main streets, he rode a roundabout way towards the little house where Constantine Jopp lived. He could hear loud noises in the streets, singing, and hoarse shouts. Then silence came, then shouts, and silence again. It was all quiet as he rode up to Jopp's house, standing on the outskirts of the town. There was a bright light in the window of a room.

Jopp, then, was still up. He would not wait till tomorrow. He would do the right thing now. He would put things straight with his foe before he slept; he would do it at any sacrifice to his pride. He had conquered his pride.

He dismounted, threw the bridle over a post, and, going into the garden, knocked gently at the door. There was no response. He knocked again, and listened intently. Now he heard a sound-like a smothered cry or groan. He opened the door quickly and entered. It was dark. In another room beyond was a light. From it came the same sound he had heard before, but louder; also there was a shuffling footstep. Springing forward to the half-open door, he pushed it wide, and met the terror- stricken eyes of Constantine Jopp—the same look that he had seen at the theatre when his hands were on Jopp's throat, but more ghastly.

Jopp was bound to a chair by a lasso. Both arms were fastened to the chair-arm, and beneath them, on the floor, were bowls into which blood dripped from his punctured wrists.

He had hardly taken it all in—the work of an instant—when he saw crouched in a corner, madness in his eyes, his half-breed Vigon. He grasped the situation in a flash. Vigon had gone mad, had lain in wait in Jopp's house, and when the man he hated had seated himself in the chair, had lassoed him, bound him, and was slowly bleeding him to death.

He had no time to think. Before he could act Vigon was upon him also, frenzy in his eyes, a knife clutched in his hand. Reason had fled, and he only saw in O'Ryan the frustrator of his revenge. He had watched the drip, drip from his victim's wrists with a dreadful joy.

They were man and man, but O'Ryan found in this grisly contest a vaster trial of strength than in the fight upon the stage a few hours ago. The first lunge that Vigon made struck him on the tip of the shoulder, and drew blood; but he caught the hand holding the knife in an iron grasp, while the half-breed, with superhuman strength, tried in vain for the long brown throat of the man for whom he had struck oil. As they struggled and twisted, the eyes of the victim in the chair watched them with agonised emotions. For him it was life or death. He could not cry out—his mouth was gagged; but to O'Ryan his groans were like a distant echo of his own hoarse gasps as he fought his desperate fight. Terry was as one in an awful dream battling with vague impersonal powers which slowly strangled his life, yet held him back in torture from the final surrender.

For minutes they struggled. At last O'Ryan's strength came to the point of breaking, for Vigon was a powerful man, and to this was added a madman's energy. He felt that the end was coming. But all at once, through the groans of the victim in the chair, Terry became conscious of noises outside—such noises as he had heard before he entered the house, only nearer and louder. At the same time he heard a horse's hoofs, then a knock at the door, and a voice calling: "Jopp! Jopp!"

He made a last desperate struggle, and shouted hoarsely.

An instant later there were footsteps in the room, followed by a cry of fright and amazement.

It was Gow Johnson. He had come to warn Constantine Jopp that a crowd were come to tar and feather him, and to get him away on his own horse.

Now he sprang to the front door, called to the approaching crowd for help, then ran back to help O'Ryan. A moment later a dozen men had Vigon secure, and had released Constantine Jopp, now almost dead from loss of blood.

As they took the gag from his mouth and tied their handkerchiefs round his bleeding wrists, Jopp sobbed aloud. His eyes were fixed on Terry O'Ryan. Terry met the look, and grasped the limp hand lying on the chair-arm.

"I'm sorry, O'Ryan, I'm sorry for all I've done to you," Jopp sobbed. "I was a sneak, but I want to own it. I want to be square now. You can tar and feather me, if you like. I deserve it." He looked at the others. "I deserve it," he repeated.

"That's what the boys had thought would be appropriate," said Gow Johnson with a dry chuckle, and the crowd looked at each other and winked. The wink was kindly, however. "To own up and take your gruel" was the easiest way to touch the men of the prairie.

A half-hour later the roisterers, who had meant to carry Constantine Jopp on a rail, carried Terry O'Ryan on their shoulders through the town, against his will. As they passed the house where Miss Mackinder lived some one shouted:

"Are you watching the rise of Orion?"

Many a time thereafter Terry O'Ryan and Molly Mackinder looked at the galaxy in the evening sky with laughter and with pride. It had played its part with Fate against Constantine Jopp and the little widow at Jansen. It had never shone so brightly as on the night when Vigon struck oil on O'Ryan's ranch. But Vigon had no memory of that. Such is the irony of life.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

Babbling covers a lot of secrets Beneath it all there was a little touch of ridicule What'll be the differ a hundred years from now



NORTHERN LIGHTS

By Gilbert Parker

Volume 5.

THE ERROR OF THE DAY THE WHISPERER AS DEEP AS THE SEA



THE ERROR OF THE DAY

The "Error of the Day" may be defined as "The difference between the distance or range which must be put upon the sights in order to hit the target and the actual distance from the gun to the target."—Admiralty Note.

A great naval gun never fires twice alike. It varies from day to day, and expert allowance has to be made in sighting every time it is fired. Variations in atmosphere, condition of ammunition, and the wear of the gun are the contributory causes to the ever-varying "Error of the Day."

.........................

"Say, ain't he pretty?"

"A Jim-dandy-oh, my!"

"What's his price in the open market?"

"Thirty millions-I think not."

Then was heard the voice of Billy Goat—his name was William Goatry

"Out in the cold world, out in the street; Nothing to wear, and nothing to eat, Fatherless, motherless, sadly I roam, Child of misfortune, I'm driven from home."

A loud laugh followed, for Billy Goat was a popular person at Kowatin in the Saskatchewan country. He had an inimitable drollery, heightened by a cast in his eye, a very large mouth, and a round, good-humoured face; also he had a hand and arm like iron, and was altogether a great man on a "spree."

There had been a two days' spree at Kowatin, for no other reason than that there had been great excitement over the capture and the subsequent escape of a prairie-rover, who had robbed the contractor's money-chest at the rail-head on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Forty miles from Kowatin he had been caught by, and escaped from, the tall, brown-eyed man with the hard-bitten face who leaned against the open window of the tavern, looking indifferently at the jeering crowd before him. For a police officer he was not unpopular with them, but he had been a failure for once, and, as Billy Goat had said: "It tickled us to death to see a rider of the plains off his trolley—on the cold, cold ground, same as you and me."

They did not undervalue him. If he had been less a man than he was, they would not have taken the trouble to cover him with their drunken ribaldry. He had scored off them in the past in just such sprees as this, when he had the power to do so, and used the power good-naturedly and quietly—but used it.

Then, he was Sergeant Foyle of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, on duty in a district as large as the United Kingdom. And he had no greater admirer than Billy Goat, who now reviled him. Not without cause, in a way, for he had reviled himself to this extent, that when the prairie- rover, Halbeck, escaped on the way to Prince Albert, after six months' hunt for him and a final capture in the Kowatin district, Foyle resigned the Force before the Commissioner could reproach him or call him to account. Usually so exact, so certain of his target, some care had not been taken, he had miscalculated, and there had been the Error of the Day. Whatever it was, it had seemed to him fatal; and he had turned his face from the barrack yard.

Then he had made his way to the Happy Land Hotel at Kowatin, to begin life as "a free and independent gent on the loose," as Billy Goat had said. To resign had seemed extreme; because, though the Commissioner was vexed at Halbeck's escape, Foyle was the best non-commissioned officer in the Force. He had frightened horse thieves and bogus land-agents and speculators out of the country; had fearlessly tracked down a criminal or a band of criminals when the odds were heavy against him. He carried on his cheek the scars of two bullets, and there was one white lock in his brown hair, where an arrow had torn the scalp away as, alone, he drove into the Post a score of Indians, fresh from raiding the cattle of an immigrant trailing north.

Now he was out of work, or so it seemed; he had stepped down from his scarlet-coated dignity, from the place of guardian and guide of civilisation, into the idleness of a tavern stoop.

As the little group swayed round him, and Billy Goat started another song, Foyle roused himself as though to move away—he was waiting for the mail-stage to take him south:

"Oh, father, dear father, come home with me now, The clock in the steeple strikes one; You said you were coming right home from the shop As soon as your day's work was done. Come home—come home—"

The song arrested him, and he leaned back against the window again. A curious look came into his eyes, a look that had nothing to do with the acts of the people before him. It was searching into a scene beyond this bright sunlight and the far green-brown grass, and the little oasis of trees in the distance marking a homestead and the dust of the wagon- wheels, out on the trail beyond the grain-elevator-beyond the blue horizon's rim, quivering in the heat, and into regions where this crisp, clear, life-giving, life-saving air never blew.

"You said you were coming right home from the shop As soon as your day's work was done. Come home—come home—"

He remembered when he had first heard this song in a play called 'Ten Nights in a Bar-room', many years before, and how it had wrenched his heart and soul, and covered him with a sudden cloud of shame and anger. For his father had been a drunkard, and his brother had grown up a drunkard, that brother whom he had not seen for ten years until—until—

He shuddered, closed his eyes, as though to shut out something that the mind saw. He had had a rough life, he had become inured to the seamy side of things—there was a seamy side even in this clean, free, wide land; and he had no sentimentality; though something seemed to hurt and shame him now.

"As soon as your day's work was done. Come home—come home—"

The crowd was uproarious. The exhilaration had become a kind of delirium. Men were losing their heads; there was an element of irresponsibility in the new outbreak likely to breed some violent act, which every man of them would lament when sober again.

Nettlewood Foyle watched the dust rising from the wheels of the stage, which had passed the elevator and was nearing the Prairie Home Hotel far down the street. He would soon leave behind him this noisy ribaldry of which he was the centre. He tossed his cheroot away. Suddenly he heard a low voice behind him.

"Why don't you hit out, sergeant?" it said.

He started almost violently, and turned round. Then his face flushed, his eyes blurred with feeling and deep surprise, and his lips parted in a whispered exclamation and greeting.

A girl's face from the shade of the sitting-room was looking out at him, half-smiling, but with heightened colour and a suppressed agitation. The girl was not more than twenty-five, graceful, supple, and strong. Her chin was dimpled; across her right temple was a slight scar. She had eyes of a wonderful deep blue; they seemed to swim with light. As Foyle gazed at her for a moment dumfounded, with a quizzical suggestion and smiling still a little more, she said:

"You used to be a little quicker, Nett." The voice appeared to attempt unconcern; but it quivered from a force of feeling underneath. It was so long since she had seen him.

He was about to reply, but, at the instant, a reveller pushed him with a foot behind the knees so that they were sprung forward. The crowd laughed—all save Billy Goat, who knew his man.

Like lightning, and with cold fury in his eyes, Foyle caught the tall cattleman by the forearm, and, with a swift, dexterous twist, had the fellow in his power.

"Down—down, to your knees, you skunk," he said in a low, fierce voice.

The knees of the big man bent,—Foyle had not taken lessons of Ogami, the Jap, for nothing—they bent, and the cattleman squealed, so intense was the pain. It was break or bend; and he bent—to the ground and lay there. Foyle stood over him for a moment, a hard light in his eyes, and then, as if bethinking himself, he looked at the other roisterers, and said:

"There's a limit, and he reached it. Your mouths are your own, and you can blow off to suit your fancy, but if any one thinks I'm a tame coyote to be poked with a stick—!" He broke off, stooped over, and helped the man before him to his feet. The arm had been strained, and the big fellow nursed it.

"Hell, but you're a twister!" the cattleman said with a grimace of pain.

Billy Goat was a gentleman, after his kind, and he liked Sergeant Foyle with a great liking. He turned to the crowd and spoke.

"Say, boys, this mine's worked out. Let's leave the Happy Land to Foyle. Boys, what is he—what—is he? What—is—Sergeant Foyle—boys?"

The roar of the song they all knew came in reply, as Billy Goat waved his arms about like the wild leader of a wild orchestra:

"Sergeant Foyle, oh, he's a knocker from the West, He's a chase-me-Charley, come-and-kiss-me tiger from the zoo; He's a dandy on the pinch, and he's got a double cinch On the gent that's going careless, and he'll soon cinch you: And he'll soon—and he'll soon—cinch you!"

Foyle watched them go, dancing, stumbling, calling back at him, as they moved towards the Prairie Home Hotel:

"And he'll soon-and he'll soon-cinch you!"

His under lip came out, his eyes half-closed, as he watched them. "I've done my last cinch. I've done my last cinch," he murmured.

Then, suddenly, the look in his face changed, the eyes swam as they had done a minute before at the sight of the girl in the room behind. Whatever his trouble was, that face had obscured it in a flash, and the pools of feeling far down in the depths of a lonely nature had been stirred. Recognition, memory, tenderness, desire swam in his face, made generous and kind the hard lines of the strong mouth. In an instant he had swung himself over the window-sill. The girl had drawn away now into a more shaded corner of the room, and she regarded him with a mingled anxiety and eagerness. Was she afraid of something? Did she fear that —she knew not quite what, but it had to do with a long ago.

"It was time you hit out, Nett," she said, half shyly. "You're more patient than you used to be, but you're surer. My, that was a twist you gave him, Nett. Aren't you glad to see me?" she added hastily, and with an effort to hide her agitation.

He reached out and took her hand with a strange shyness, and a self- consciousness which was alien to his nature. The touch of her hand thrilled him. Their eyes met. She dropped hers. Then he gathered him self together. "Glad to see you? Of course, of course, I'm glad. You stunned me, Jo. Why, do you know where you are? You're a thousand miles from home. I can't get it through my head, not really. What brings you here? It's ten years—ten years since I saw you, and you were only fifteen, but a fifteen that was as good as twenty."

He scanned her face closely. "What's that scar on your forehead, Jo? You hadn't that—then."

"I ran up against something," she said evasively, her eyes glittering, "and it left that scar. Does it look so bad?"

"No, you'd never notice it, if you weren't looking close as I am. You see, I knew your face so well ten years ago."

He shook his head with a forced kind of smile. It became him, however, for he smiled rarely; and the smile was like a lantern turned on his face; it gave light and warmth to its quiet strength-or hardness.

"You were always quizzing," she said with an attempt at a laugh—"always trying to find out things. That's why you made them reckon with you out here. You always could see behind things; always would have your own way; always were meant to be a success."

She was beginning to get control of herself again, was trying hard to keep things on the surface. "You were meant to succeed—you had to," she added.

"I've been a failure—a dead failure," he answered slowly. "So they say. So they said. You heard them, Jo."

He jerked his head towards the open window.

"Oh, those drunken fools!" she exclaimed indignantly, and her face hardened. "How I hate drink! It spoils everything."

There was silence for a moment. They were both thinking of the same thing—of the same man. He repeated a question.

"What brings you out here, Jo?" he asked gently. "Dorland," she answered, her face setting into determination and anxiety.

His face became pinched. "Dorl!" he said heavily. "What for, Jo? What do you want with Dorl?"

"When Cynthy died she left her five hundred dollars a year to the baby, and—"

"Yes, yes, I know. Well, Jo?"

"Well, it was all right for five years—Dorland paid it in; but for five years he hasn't paid anything. He's taken it, stolen it from his own child by his own honest wife. I've come to get it—anyway, to stop him from doing it any more. His own child—it puts murder in my heart, Nett! I could kill him."

He nodded grimly. "That's likely. And you've kept, Dorl's child with your own money all these years?"

"I've got four hundred dollars a year, Nett, you know; and I've been dressmaking—they say I've got taste," she added, with a whimsical smile.

Nett nodded his head. "Five years. That's twenty-five hundred dollars he's stolen from his own child. It's eight years old now, isn't it?"

"Bobby is eight and a half," she answered.

"And his schooling, and his clothing, and everything; and you have to pay for it all?"

"Oh, I don't mind, Nett, it isn't that. Bobby is Cynthy's child; and I love him—love him; but I want him to have his rights. Dorl must give up his hold on that money—or—"

He nodded gravely. "Or you'll set the law on him?"

"It's one thing or the other. Better to do it now when Bobby is young and can't understand."

"Or read the newspapers," he commented thoughtfully.

"I don't think I've a hard heart," she continued, "but I'd like to punish him, if it wasn't that he's your brother, Nett; and if it wasn't for Bobby. Dorland was dreadfully cruel, even to Cynthy."

"How did you know he was up here?" he asked. "From the lawyer that pays over the money. Dorland has had it sent out here to Kowatin this two years. And he sent word to the lawyer a month ago that he wanted it to get here as usual. The letter left the same day as I did, and it got here yesterday with me, I suppose. He'll be after it-perhaps to-day. He wouldn't let it wait long, Dorl wouldn't."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse