I heard a pan clatter on the floor where Annie was washing dishes, and her face went a sickly grey. She leaned across, gripping the table and straining to ask something, but the words wouldn't come, while "Dutch" continues:
"Somethin' strange about it, I think. She says her ma's over in the Golden Gate district, workin' a rich mine. Of course we all laughed at her, and said there wasn't a woman in the whole layout, 'ceptin' some folks might misconstrue Annie here into a kind of a female. She stuck to it though, much as to say we was liars. She's comin' on—what's the matter, Annie—you ain't sore at me effeminatin' you by the gentle name of female, are you?"
She had come to him, and gripped his shoulder, till her long, bony fingers buried themselves in his mackinaw. Her mouth was twitching, and she hadn't got shed of that "first-aid-to-the-injured" look.
"What name? What name, Dutch? What name?" She shook him like a rat.
"Bradshaw—but you needn't run your nails through and clinch 'em. Ow! Le'go my white meat. You act like she was your long lost baby. What d'ye think of that idea, fellers? Ain't that a pleasin' conceit? Annie Black, and a baby. Ha! Ha! that's a hit. Annie and a daughter. A cow-thief and a calla-lily."
"Dutch," says I, "you ain't a-goin' to make it through to Lane's Landing if you don't pull your freight," and I drags the darn fool out and starts him off.
When I came in she was huddled onto a goods box, shaking and sobbing like any woman, while the boys sat around and champed their bits and stomped.
"Take me away, Billy," she says. "For God's sake take me away before she sees me." She slid down to the floor and cried something awful. Gents, that was sure the real distress, nothing soft and sloppy, but hard, wrenchy, deep ones, like you hear at a melodrayma. 'Twas only back in '99 that I seen an awful crying match, though both of the ladies had been drinking, so I felt like I was useder to emotion than the balance of the boys, and it was up to me to take a holt.
"Madam," says I, and somehow the word didn't seem out of place any more—"Madam, why do you want to avoid this party?"
"Take me away," she says. "It's my daughter. She's going to find me this way, all rough and immodest and made fun of. But that's the worst you can say, isn't it? I'm a square woman—you know I am, don't you, boys?" and she looked at us fierce and pleadin'.
"Sure," says Joe. "We'll boost you with the girl all right."
"She thinks her father's dead, but he isn't—he ran away with a show woman—a year after we were married. I never told her about it, and I've tried to make a little lady of her."
We found out afterwards that she had put the girl in a boarding-school, but couldn't seem to make enough for both of them, and when the Klondyke was struck thought she saw a chance. She came north, insulted by deck hands and laughed at by the officers. At Skagway she nursed a man through typhoid, and when he could walk he robbed her. The mounted police took everything else she had and mocked at her. "Your kind always has money," they said.
That's how it had been everywhere, and that's why she was so hard and bitter. She'd worked and fought like a man, but she'd suffered like a woman.
"I've lied and starved and stolen for her," said Annie, "to make her think I was doing well. She said she was coming in to me, but I knew winter would catch her at Dawson, and I thought I could head her off by spring."
"Now, she's here; but, men, as your mothers loved you, save me from my little girl."
She buried her face, and when I looked at the boys, tears stood in Joe Slisco's eyes and the others breathed hard. Ole Lund, him that was froze worst about the hands, spoke up:
"Someboady tak de corner dat blanket an' blow may nose."
Then we heard voices outside.
"Hello, in there."
Annie stood up, clutching at her throat, and stepped behind the corner of the bunks as the door opened, framing the prettiest picture this old range rider ever saw.
'Twas a girl, glowing pink and red where the cold had kissed her cheeks, with yellow curlicues of hair wandering out under her yarn cap. Her little fox-trimmed parka quit at the knees, showing the daintiest pair of—I can't say it. Anyhow, they wasn't, they just looked like 'em, only nicer.
She stood blinking at us, coming from the bright light outside, as cute as a new faro box—then:
"Can you tell me where Mrs. Bradshaw lives? She's somewhere in this district. I'm her daughter—come all the way from the States to see her."
When she smiled I could hear the heart-strings of those ragged, whiskered, frost-bit "mushers" bustin' like banjo strings.
"You know her, don't you?" she says, turning to me.
"Know her, Miss? Well, I should snort! There ain't a prospector on the range that ain't proud and honoured to call her a friend. Leastways, if there is I'll bust his block," and I cast the bad eye on the boys to wise 'em up.
"Ain't I right, Joe?"
"Betcher dam life," says Joe, sort of over-stepping the conventions.
"Then tell me where her claim is. It's quite rich, and you must know it," says she, appealing to him.
Up against it? Say! I seen the whites of his eyes show like he was drownding, and he grinned joyful as a man kicked in the stummick.
"Er—er—I just bought in here, and ain't acquainted much," says he. "Have a drink," and, in his confusions, he sets out the bottle of alkalies that he dignifies by the alias of booze. Then he continues with reg'lar human intelligence.
"Bill, here, he can tell you where the ground is," and the whelp indicates me.
Lord knows my finish, but for Ole Lund. He sits up in his bunk, swaddled in Annie Black's bandages, and through slits between his frost bites, he moults the follering rhetoric:
"Aye tole you vere de claim iss. She own de Nomber Twenty fraction on Buster Creek, 'longside may and may broder. She's dam good fraction, too."
I consider that a blamed white stunt for Swedes; paying for their lives with the mine they swindled her out of.
Anyhow, it knocked us galley-west.
I'd formulated a swell climax, involving the discovery of the mother, when the mail man spoke up, him that had been her particular abomination, a queer kind of a break in his voice:
"Come out of that."
Mrs. Bradshaw moved out into the light, and, if I'm any judge, the joy that showed in her face rubbed away the bitterness of the past years. With an aching little cry the girl ran to her, and hid in her arms like a quail.
We men-folks got accumulated up into a dark corner where we shook hands and swore soft and insincere, and let our throats hurt, for all the world like it was Christmas or we'd got mail from home.
BITTER ROOT BILLINGS, ARBITER
Billings rode in from the Junction about dusk, and ate his supper in silence. He'd been East for sixty days, and, although there lurked about him the hint of unwonted ventures, etiquette forbade its mention. You see, in our country, that which a man gives voluntarily is ofttimes later dissected in smoky bunk-houses, or roughly handled round flickering camp fires, but the privacies he guards are inviolate. Curiosity isn't exactly a lost art, but its practice isn't popular nor hygenic.
Later, I found him meditatively whittling out on the porch, and, as the moment seemed propitious, I inquired adroitly:—"Did you have a good time in Chicago, 'Bitter Root'?"
"Bully," said he, relapsing into weighty absorption.
"What'd you do?" I inquired with almost the certainty of appearing insistent.
"Don't you never read the papers?" he inquired, with such evident compassion that Kink Martin and the other boys snickered. This from "Bitter Root," who scorns literature outside of the "Arkansas Printing," as he terms the illustrations!
"Guess I'll have to show you my press notices," and from a hip pocket he produced a fat bundle of clippings in a rubber band. These he displayed jealously, and I stared agape, for they were front pages of great metropolitan dailies, marred with red and black scare heads, in which I glimpsed the words, "Billings, of Montana," "'Bitter Root' on Arbitration," "A Lochinvar Out of the West," and other things as puzzling.
"Press Notices!" echoed Kink scornfully. "Wouldn't that rope ye? He talks like Big Ike that went with the Wild West Show. When a puncher gets so lazy he can't earn a livin' by the sweat of his pony, he grows his hair, goes on the stage bustin' glass balls with shot ca'tridges and talks about 'press notices.' Let's see 'em, Billings. You pinch 'em as close to your stummick as though you held cards in a strange poker game."
"Well, I have set in a strange game, amongst aliens," said Billings, disregarding the request, "and I've held the high cards, also I've drawed out with honours. I've sailed the medium high seas with mutiny in the stoke-hold; I've changed the laws of labour, politics and municipal economies. I went out of God's country right into the heart of the decayin' East, and by the application of a runnin' noose in a hemp rope I strangled oppression and put eight thousand men to work." He paused ponderously. "I'm an Arbitrator!"
"The deuce you are," indignantly cried "Reddy" the cook. "Who says so?"
"Reddy" isn't up in syntax, and his unreasoning loyalty to Billings is an established fact of such standing that his remarks afford no conjecture.
"Yes, I've cut into the 'Nation's Peril' and the 'Cryin' Evil' good and strong—walkin' out from the stinks of the Union Stock Yards, of Chicago, into the limelight of publicity, via the 'drunk and disorderly' route.
"You see I got those ten carloads of steers into the city all right, but I was so blame busy splatterin' through the tracked-up wastes of the cow pens, an' inhalin' the sewer gas of the west side that I never got to see a newspaper. If I'd 'a' read one, here's what I'd 'a' found, namely: The greatest, stubbornest, riotin'est strike ever known, which means a heap for Chicago, she being the wet-nurse of labour trouble.
"The whole river front was tied up. Nary a steamer had whistled inside the six-mile crib for two weeks, and eight thousand men was out. There was hold-ups and blood-sheddin' and picketin', which last is an alias for assault with intents, and altogether it was a prime place for a cowman, on a quiet vacation—just homelike and natural.
"It was at this point that I enters, bustin' out of the smoke of the Stock Yards, all sweet and beautiful, like the gentle heeroine in the play as she walks through the curtains at the back of the stage.
"Now you know there's a heap of difference between the Stock Yards and Chicago—it's just like coming from Arkansas over into the United States.
"Well, soon as I sold the stock I hit for the lake front and began to ground sluice the coal dust off of my palate.
"I was busy working my booze hydraulic when I see an arid appearin' pilgrim 'longside lookin' thirsty as an alkali flat.
"'Get in,' says I, and the way he obeyed orders looked like he'd had military training. I felt sort of drawed to him from the way he handled his licker; took it straight and runnin' over; then sopped his hands on the bar and smelled of his fingers. He seemed to just soak it up both ways—reg'lar human blotter.
"'You lap it up like a man,' says I, 'like a cowman—full growed—ever been West?'
"'Nope,' says he, 'born here.'
"'Well I'm a stranger,' says I, 'out absorbin' such beauties of architecture and free lunch as offers along the line. If I ain't keepin' you up, I'd be glad of your company.'
"'I'm your assistant lunch buster,' says he, and in the course of things he further explained that he was a tugboat fireman, out on a strike, givin' me the follerin' information about the tie-up:—
"It all come up over a dose of dyspepsia—"
"Back up," interrupted Kink squirming, "are you plumb bug? Get together! You're certainly the Raving Kid. Ye must have stone bruised your heel and got concession of the brain."
"Yes sir! Indigestion," Billings continued. "Old man Badrich, of the Badrich Transportation Company has it terrible. It lands on his solar every morning about nine o'clock, gettin' worse steady, and reaches perihelion along about eleven. He can tell the time of day by taste. One morning when his mouth felt like about ten-forty-five in comes a committee from Firemen & Engineers Local No. 21, with a demand for more wages, proddin' him with the intimations that if he didn't ante they'd tie up all his boats."
"I 'spose a teaspoonful of bakin' soda, assimilated internally around the environments of his appendix would have spared the strike and cheated me out of bein' a hero. As the poet might have said—'Upon such slender pegs is this, our greatness hung.'"
"Oh, Gawd!" exclaimed Mulling, piously.
"Anyhow, the bitterness in the old man's inner tubes showed in the bile of his answer, and he told 'em if they wanted more money he'd give 'em a chance to earn it—they could work nights as well as days. He intimated further that they'd ought to be satisfied with their wages as they'd undoubtedly foller the same line of business in the next world, and wouldn't get a cent for feedin' the fires neither.
"Next mornin' the strike was called, and the guy that breathed treachery and walk-outs was one 'Oily' Heegan, further submerged under the titles of President of the Federation of Fresh Water Firemen; also Chairman of the United Water-front Workmen, which last takes in everything doin' business along the river except the wharf-rats and typhoid germs, and it's with the disreputableness of this party that I infected myself to the detriment of labour and the triumph of the law.
"D. O'Hara Heegan is an able man, and inside of a week he'd spread the strike 'till it was the cleanest, dirtiest tie-up ever known. The hospitals and morgues was full of non-union men, but the river was empty all right. Yes, he had a persuadin' method of arbitration quite convincing to the most calloused, involving the layin' on of the lead pipe.
"Things got to be pretty fierce bye-and-bye, for they had the police buffaloed, and disturbances got plentyer than the casualties at a butchers' picnic. The strikers got hungry, too, finally, because the principles of unionism is like a rash on your mechanic, skin deep—inside, his gastrics works three shifts a day even if his outsides is idle and steaming with Socialism.
"Oily fed 'em dray loads of eloquence, but it didn't seem to be real fillin'. They'd leave the lectures and rob a bakery.
"He was a wonder though; just sat in his office, and kept the ship owners waitin' in line, swearin' bitter and refined cuss-words about 'ignorant fiend' and 'cussed pedagogue,' which last, for Kink's enlightenment, means a kind of Hebrew meetin'-house.
"These here details my new friend give me, ending with a eulogy on Oily Heegan, the Idol of the Idle.
"'If he says starve, we starve,' says he, 'and if he says work, we work. See! Oh he's the goods, he is! Let's go down by the river—mebbe we'll see him.' So me and Murdock hiked down Water Street, where they keep mosquito netting over the bar fixtures and spit at the stove.
"We found him, a big mouthed, shifty, kind of man, 'bout as cynical lookin' in the face as a black bass, and full of wind as a toad fish. I exchanged drinks for principles of socialism, and doin' so happened to display my roll. Murdock slipped away and made talk with a friend, then, when Heegan had left, he steers me out the back way into an alley. 'Short cut,' says he 'to another and a better place.'
"I follers through a back room; then as I steps out the door I'm grabbed by this new friend, while Murdock bathes my head with a gas-pipe billy, one of the regulation, strike promotin' kind, like they use for decoyin' members into the glorious ranks of Labour.
"I saw a 'Burning of Rome' that was a dream, and whole cloudbursts of shootin' stars, but I yanked Mr. Enthusiastic Stranger away from my surcingle and throwed him agin the wall. In the shuffle Murdock shifts my ballasts though, and steams up the alley with my greenbacks, convoyed by his friend.
"'Wow-ow,' says I, givin' the distress signal so that the windows rattled, and reachin' for my holster. I'd 'a' got them both, only the gun caught in my suspender. You see, not anticipatin' any live bird shoot I'd put it inside my pants-band, under my vest, for appearances. A forty-five is like fresh air to a drownding man—generally has to be drawed in haste—and neither one shouldn't be mislaid. I got her out at last and blazed away, just a second after they dodged around the comer. Then I hit the trail after 'em, lettin' go a few sky-shots and gettin' a ghost-dance holler off my stummick that had been troubling me. The wallop on the head made me dizzy though, and I zigzagged awful, tackin' out of the alley right into a policeman.
"'Whee!' says I in joy, for he had Murdock safe by the bits, buckin' considerable.
"'Stan' aside and le'mme 'lectrocute 'im,' says I. I throwed the gun on him and the crowd dogged it into all the doorways and windows convenient, but I was so weak-minded in the knees I stumbled over the curb and fell down.
"Next thing I knew we was all bouncin' over the cobble-stones in a patrol wagon.
"Well, in the morning I told my story to the Judge, plain and unvarnished. Then Murdock takes the stand and busts into song, claiming that he was comin' through the alley toward Clark Street when I staggered out back of a saloon and commenced to shoot at him. He saw I was drunk, and fanned out, me shootin' at him with every jump. He had proof, he said, and he called for the president of his Union, Mr. Heegan. At the name all the loafers and stew-bums in the court-room stomped and said, 'Hear, hear,' while up steps this Napoleon of the Hoboes.
"Sure, he knew Mr. Murdock—had known him for years, and he was perfectly reliable and honest. As to his robbing me, it was preposterous, because he himself was at the other end of the alley and saw the whole thing, just as Mr. Murdock related it.
"I jumps up. 'You're a liar, Heegan. I was buyin' booze for the two of you;' but a policeman nailed me, chokin' off my rhetorics. Mr. Heegan leans over and whispers to the Judge, while I got chilblains along my spine.
"'Look here, kind Judge,' says I real winning and genteel, 'this man is so good at explainin' things away, ask him to talk off this bump over my ear. I surely didn't get a buggy spoke and laminate myself on the nut.
"'That'll do,' says the Judge. 'Mr. Clerk, ten dollars and costs—charge, drunk and disorderly. Next!'
"'Hold on there,' says I, ignorant of the involutions of justice, 'I guess I've got the bulge on you this time. They beat you to me, Judge. I ain't got a cent. You can go through me and be welcome to half you find. I'll mail you ten when I get home though, honest.'
"At that the audience giggled, and the Judge says:—
"'Your humour doesn't appeal to me, Billings. Of course, you have the privilege of working it out.' Oh, Glory, the 'Privilege!'
"Heegan nodded at this, and I realized what I was against.
"'Your honour,' says I with sarcastic refinements, 'science tells us that a perfect vacuum ain't possible, but after watching you I know better, and for you, Mr. Workingman's Friend,—us to the floor,' and I run at Heegan.
"Pshaw! I never got started, nor I didn't rightfully come to till I rested in the workhouse, which last figger of speech is a pure and beautiful paradox.
"I ain't dwellin' with glee on the next twenty-six days—ten dollars and costs, at four bits a day, but I left there saturated with such hatreds for Heegan that my breath smelted of 'em.
"I wanders down the river front, hoping the fortunes of war would deliver him to me dead or alive, when the thought hit me that I'd need money. It was bound to take another ten and costs shortly after we met, and probably more, if I paid for what I got, for I figgered on distendin' myself with satisfaction and his features with uppercuts. Then I see a sign, 'Non-Union men wanted—Big wages.' In I goes, and strains my langwidge through a wire net at the cashier.
"'I want them big wages,' says I.
"'What can you do?'
"'Anything to get the money,' says I. 'What does it take to liquidate an assault on a labour leader?'
"There was a white-haired man in the cage who began to sit up and take notice.
"'What's your trouble?' says he, and I told him.
"'If we had a few more like you, we'd bust the strike,' says he, kind of sizin' me up. 'I've got a notion to try it anyhow,' and he smites the desk. 'Collins what d'ye say if we tow the "Detroit" out? Her crew has stayed with us so far, and they'll stick now if we'll say the word. The unions are hungry and scrapping among themselves, and the men want to go back to work. It's just that devil of a Heegan that holds 'em. If they see we've got a tug crew that'll go, they'll arbitrate, and we'll kill the strike.'
"'Yes, sir!' says Collins, 'but where's the tug crew, Mr. Badrich?'
"'Right here! We three, and Murphy, the bookkeeper. Blast this idleness! I want to fight.'
"'I'll take the same,' says I, 'when I get the price.'
"'That's all right. You've put the spirit into me, and I'll see you through. Can you run an engine? Good! I'll take the wheel, and the others'll fire. It's going to be risky work, though. You won't back out, eh?'"
Reddy interrupted Billings here loudly, with a snort of disgust, while "Bitter Root" ran his fingers through his hair before continuing. Martin was listening intently.
"The old man arranged to have a squad of cops on all the bridges, and I begin anticipatin' hilarities for next day.
"The news got out of course, through the secrecies of police headquarters, and when we ran up the river for our tow, it looked like every striker west of Pittsburg had his family on the docks to see the barbecue, accompanied by enough cobble-stones and scrap iron to ballast a battleship. All we got goin' up was repartee, but I figgered we'd need armour gettin' back.
"We passed a hawser to the 'Detroit,' and I turned the gas into the tug, blowin' for the Wells Street Bridge. Then war began. I leans out the door just in time to see the mob charge the bridge. The cops clubbed 'em back, while a roar went up from the docks and roof tops that was like a bad dream. I couldn't see her move none though, and old man Badrich blowed again expurgatin' himself of as nobby a line of cuss words as you'll muster outside the cattle belt.
"'Soak 'em,' I yells, 'give 'em all the arbitration you've got handy. If she don't open; we'll jump her,' and I lets out another notch, so that we went plowin' and boilin' towards the draw.
"It looked like we'd have to hurdle it sure enough, but the police beat the crowd back just in time. She wasn't clear open though, and our barge caromed off the spiles. It was like a nigger buttin' a persimmon tree—we rattled off a shower of missiles like an abnormal hail storm. Talk about your coast defence; they heaved everything at us from bad names to railroad iron, and we lost all our window glass the first clatter, while the smoke stack looked like a pretzel with cramps.
"When we scraped through I looked back with pity at the 'Detroit's' crew. She hadn't any wheel house, and the helmsman was due to get all the attention that was comin' to him. They'd built up a barricade of potato sacks, chicken coops and bic-a-brac around the wheel that protected 'em somewhat, but even while I watched, some Polack filtered a brick through and laid out the quartermaster cold, and he was drug off. Oh! it was refined and esthetic.
"Well, we run the gauntlet, presented every block with stuff rangin' in tensile strength from insults to asphalt pavements, and noise!—say, all the racket in the world was a whisper. I caught a glimpse of the old man leanin' out of the pilot house, where a window had been, his white hair bristly, and his nostrils h'isted, embellishin' the air with surprisin' flights of gleeful profanity.
"'Hooray! this is livin' he yells, spyin' me shovelin' the deck out from under the junk. 'Best scrap I've had in years,' and just then some baseball player throwed in from centre field, catching him in the neck with a tomato. Gee! that man's an honour to the faculty of speech.
"I was doin' bully till a cobble-stone bounced into the engine room, makin' a billiard with my off knee, then I got kind of peevish.
"Rush Street Bridge is the last one, and they'd massed there on both sides, like fleas on a razorback. Thinks I, 'If we make it through here, we've busted the strike,' and I glances back at the 'Detroit' just in time to see her crew pullin' their captain into the deck house, limp and bleedin'. The barricade was all knocked to pieces and they'd flunked absolute. Don't blame 'em much either, as it was sure death to stand out in the open under the rain of stuff that come from the bridges. Of course with no steerin' she commenced to swing off.
"I jumps out the far side of the engine room and yells fit to bust my throat.
"'Grab that wheel! Grab it quick—we'll hit the bridge,' but it was like deef and dumb talk in a boiler shop, while a wilder howl went up from the water front as they seen what they'd done and smelled victory. There's an awfulness about the voice of a blood-maddened club-swingin' mob; it lifts your scalp like a fright wig, particularly if you are the clubee.
"'We've got one chance,' thinks I, 'but if she strikes we're gone. They'll swamp us sure, and all the police in Cook County won't save enough for to hold services on.' Then I throwed a look at the opening ahead and the pessimisms froze in me.
"I forgot all about the resiliency of brickbats and the table manners of riots, for there, on top of a bunch of spiles, ca'm, masterful and bloated with perjuries, was Oily Heegan dictatin' the disposition of his forces, the light of victory in his shifty, little eyes.
"'Ten dollars and costs,' I shrieks, seein' red. 'Lemme crawl up them spiles to you.'
"Then inspiration seized me. My soul riz up and grappled with the crisis, for right under my mit, coiled, suggestive and pleadin', was one of the tug's heavin' lines, 'bout a three-eighths size. I slips a runnin' knot in the end and divides the coils, crouchin' behind the deck-house till we come abeam of him, then I straightened, give it a swinging heave, and the noose sailed up and settled over him fine and daisy.
"I jerked back, and Oily Heegan did a high dive from Rush Street that was a geometrical joy. He hit kind of amateurish, doin' what we used to call a 'belly-buster' back home, but quite satisfyin' for a maiden effort, and I reeled him in astern.
"Your Chicago man ain't a gamey fish. He come up tame and squirting sewage like a dissolute porpoise, while I played him out where he'd get the thrash of the propeller.
"'Help,' he yells, 'I'm a drownding.'
"'Ten dollars and costs," says I, lettin' him under again. 'Do you know who you're drinkin' with this time, hey?'
"I reckon the astonishment of the mob was equal to Heegan's; anyhow I'm told that we was favoured with such quietness that my voice sounded four blocks, simply achin' with satisfactions. Then pandemonium tore loose, but I was so engrosed in sweet converse I never heard it or noticed that the 'Detroit' had slid through the draw by a hair, and we was bound for the blue and smilin' lake.
"'For God's sake, lemme up,' says Heegan, splashin' along and look-in' strangly. I hauls him in where he wouldn't miss any of my ironies, and says:—
"'I just can't do it, Oily—it's wash day. You're plumb nasty with boycotts and picketin's and compulsory arbitrations. I'm goin' to clean you up,' and I sozzled him under like a wet shirt.
"I drug him out again and continues:—
"'This is Chinamen's work, Oily, but I lost my pride in the Bridewell, thanks to you. It's tough on St. Louis to laundry you up stream this way, but maybe the worst of your heresies 'll be purified when they get that far.' You know the Chicago River runs up hill out of Lake Michigan through the drainage canal and into the St. Louis waterworks. Sure it does—most unnatural stream I ever see about direction and smells.
"I was gettin' a good deal of enjoyment and infections out of him when old man Badrich ran back enamelled with blood and passe tomato juice, the red in his white hair makin' his top look like one of these fancy ice-cream drinks you get at a soda fountain.
"'Here! here! you'll kill him,' says he, so I hauled him aboard, drippin' and clingy, wringin' him out good and thorough—by the neck. He made a fine mop.
"These clippings," continued "Bitter Root," fishing into his pocket, "tell in beautiful figgers how the last seen of Oily Heegan he was holystoning the deck of a sooty little tugboat under the admonishments and feet of 'Bitter Root' Billings of Montana, and they state how the strikers tried to get tugs for pursuit and couldn't, and how, all day long, from the housetops was visible a tugboat madly cruisin' about inside the outer cribs, bustin' the silence with joyful blasts of victory, and they'll further state that about dark she steamed up the river, tired and draggled, with a bony-lookin' cowboy inhalin' cigareets on the stern-bits, holding a three-foot knotted rope in his lap. When a delegation of strikers met her, inquirin' about one D. O'Hara Heegan, it says like this," and Billings read laboriously as follows:—
"'Then the bronzed and lanky man arose with a smile of rare contentment, threw overboard his cigarette, and approaching the boiler-room hatch, called loudly: "Come out of that," and the President of the Federation of Fresh Water Firemen dragged himself wearily out into the flickering lights. He was black and drenched and streaked with sweat; also, he shone with the grease and oils of the engines, while the palms of his hands were covered with painful blisters from unwonted, intimate contact with shovels and drawbars. It was seen that he winced fearfully as the cowboy twirled the rope end.
"'"He's got the makin's of a fair fireman,'" said the stranger, "'all he wants is practice.'"
"Then, as the delegation murmured angrily, he held up his hand and, in the ensuing silence, said:—
"'"Boys, the strike's over. Mr. Heegan has arbitrated."'"
THE SHYNESS OF SHORTY
Bailey smoked morosely as he scanned the dusty trail leading down across the "bottom" and away over the dry grey prairie toward the hazy mountains in the west.
From his back-tilted chair on the veranda, the road was visible for miles, as well as the river trail from the south, sneaking up through the cottonwoods and leprous sycamores.
He called gruffly into the silence of the house, and his speech held the surliness of his attitude.
"Hot Joy! Bar X outfit comin'. Git supper."
A Chinaman appeared in the door and gazed at the six-mule team descending the distant gully to the ford.
"Jesse one man, hey? All light," and slid quietly back to the kitchen.
Whatever might be said, or, rather, whatever might be suspected, of Bailey's road-house—for people did not run to wordy conjecture in this country—it was known that it boasted a good cook, and this atoned for a catalogue of shortcomings. So it waxed popular among the hands of the big cattle ranges near-bye. Those given to idle talk held that Bailey acted strangely at times, and rumour painted occasional black doings at the hacienda, squatting vulture-like above the ford, but it was nobody's business, and he kept a good cook.
Bailey did not recall the face that greeted him from above the three span as they swung in front of his corral, but the brand on their flanks was the Bar X, so he nodded with as near an approach to hospitality as he permitted.
It was a large face, strong-featured and rugged, balanced on wide, square shoulders, yet some oddness of posture held the gaze of the other till the stranger clambered over the wheel to the ground. Then Bailey removed his brier and heaved tempestuously in the throes of great and silent mirth.
It was a dwarf. The head of a Titan, the body of a whisky barrel, rolling ludicrously on the tiny limbs of a bug, presented so startling a sight that even Hot Joy, appearing around the corner, cackled shrilly. His laughter rose to a shriek of dismay, however, as the little man made at him with the rush and roar of a cannon ball. In Bailey's amazed eyes he seemed to bounce galvanically, landing on Joy's back with such vicious suddenness that the breath fled from him in a squawk of terror; then, seizing his cue, he kicked and belaboured the prostrate Celestial in feverish silence. He desisted and rolled across the porch to Bailey. Staring truculently up et the landlord, he spoke for the first time.
"Was I right in supposin' that something amused you?"
Bailey gasped incredulously, for the voice rumbled heavily an octave below his own bass. Either the look of the stocky catapult, as he launched himself on the fleeing servant, or the invidious servility of the innkeeper, sobered the landlord, and he answered gravely:
"No, sir; I reckon you're mistaken. I ain't observed anything frivolous yet."
"Glad of it," said the little man. "I don't like a feller to hog a joke all by himself. Some of the Bar X boys took to absorbin' humour out of my shape when I first went to work, but they're sort of educated out of it now. I got an eye from one and a finger off of another; the last one donated a ear."
Bailey readily conceived this man as a bad antagonist, for the heavy corded neck had split buttons from the blue shirt, and he glimpsed a chest hairy, and round as a drum, while the brown arms showed knotty and hardened.
"Let's liquor," he said, and led the way into the big, low room, serving as bar, dining- and living-room. From the rear came vicious clatterings and slammings of pots, mingled with Oriental lamentations, indicating an aching body rather than a chastened spirit.
"Don't see you often," he continued, with a touch of implied curiosity, which grew as his guest, with lingering fondness, up-ended a glass brimful of the raw, fiery spirits.
"No, the old man don't lemme get away much. He knows that dwellin' close to the ground, as I do, I pine for spiritual elevation," with a melting glance at the bottles behind the bar, doing much to explain the size of his first drink.
"Like it, do ye?" questioned Bailey indicating the shelf.
"Well, not exactly! Booze is like air—I need it. It makes a new man out of me—and usually ends by gettin' both me and the new one laid off."
"Didn't hear nothing of the weddin' over at Los Huecos, did ye?"
"No! Whose weddin'?"
"Ross Turney, the new sheriff."
"Ye don't say! Him that's been elected on purpose to round up the Tremper gang, hey? Who's his antagonist?"
"Old man Miller's gal. He's celebratin' his election by gettin' spliced. I been expectin' of 'em across this way to-night, but I guess they took the Black Butte trail. You heard what he said, didn't ye? Claims that inside of ninety days he'll rid the county of the Trempers and give the reward to his wife for a bridal present. Five thousand dollars on 'em, you know." Bailey grinned evilly and continued: "Say! Marsh Tremper'll ride up to his house some night and make him eat his own gun in front of his bride, see if he don't. Then there'll be cause for an inquest and an election." He spoke with what struck the teamster as unnecessary heat.
"Dunno," said the other; "Turney's a brash young feller, I hear, but he's game. 'Tain't any of my business, though, and I don't want none of his contrac'. I'm violently addicted to peace and quiet, I am. Guess I'll unhitch," and he toddled out into the gathering dusk to his mules, while the landlord peered uneasily down the darkening trail.
As the saddened Joy lit candles in the front room there came the rattle of wheels without, and a buckboard stopped in the bar of light from the door. Bailey's anxiety was replaced by a mask of listless surprise as the voice of Ross Turney called to him.
"Hello there, Bailey! Are we in time for supper? If not, I'll start an insurrection with that Boxer of yours. He's got to turn out the snortingest supper of the season to-night. It isn't every day your shack is honoured by a bride. Mr. Bailey, this is my wife, since ten o'clock A. M." He introduced a blushing, happy girl, evidently in the grasp of many emotions. "We'll stay all night, I guess,"
"Sure," said Bailey. "I'll show ye a room," and he led them up beneath the low roof where an unusual cleanliness betrayed the industry of Joy.
The two men returned and drank to the bride, Turney with the reckless lightness that distinguished him, Bailey sullen and watchful.
"Got another outfit here, haven't you?" questioned the bridegroom. "Who is it?"
Before answer could be made, from the kitchen arose a tortured howl and the smashing of dishes, mingled with stormy rumblings. The door burst inward, and an agonized Joy fled, flapping out into the night, while behind him rolled the caricature from Bar X.
"I just stopped for a drink of water," boomed the dwarf, then paused at the twitching face of the sheriff.
He swelled ominously, like a great pigeon, purple and congested with rage. Strutting to the new-comer, he glared insolently up into his smiling face,
"What are ye laughin' at, ye shavetail?" His hands were clenched, till his arms showed tense and rigid, and the cords in his neck were thickly swollen.
"Lemme in on it, I'm strong on humour. What in —— ails ye?" he yelled, in a fury, as the tall young man gazed fixedly, and the glasses rattled at the bellow from the barreled-up lungs.
"I'm not laughing at you," said the sheriff.
"Oh, ain't ye?" mocked the man of peace. "Well, take care that ye don't, ye big wart, or I'll trample them new clothes and browse around on some of your features. I'll take ye apart till ye look like cut feed. Guess ye don't know who I am, do ye? I'm—"
"Who is this man, Ross?" came the anxious voice of the bride, descending the stairs.
The little man spun like a dancer, and, spying the girl, blushed to the colour of a prickly pear, then stammered painfully, while the sweat stood out under the labour of his discomfort:
"Just 'Shorty,' Miss," he finally quavered. "Plain 'Shorty' of the Bar X—er—a miserable, crawlin' worm for disturbin' of you." He rolled his eyes helplessly at Bailey, while he sopped with his crumpled sombrero at the glistening perspiration.
"Why didn't ye tell me?" he whispered ferociously at the host, and the volume of his query carried to Joy, hiding out in the night.
"Mr. Shorty," said the sheriff gravely; "let me introduce my wife, Mrs. Turney."
The bride smiled sweetly at the tremulous little man, who broke and fled to a high bench in the darkest corner, where he dangled his short legs in a silent ecstasy of bashfulness.
"I reckon I'll have to rope that Chink, then blindfold and back him into the kitchen, if we git any supper," said Bailey, disappearing.
Later the Chinaman stole in to set the table, but he worked with hectic and fitful energy, a fearful eye always upon the dim bulk in the corner, and at a fancied move he shook with an ague of apprehension. Backing and sidling, he finally announced the meal, prepared to stampede madly at notice.
During the supper Shorty ate ravenously of whatever lay to his hand, but asked no favours. The agony of his shyness paralysed his huge vocal muscles till speech became a labour quite impossible.
To a pleasant remark of the bride he responded, but no sound issued, then breathing heavily into his larynx, the reply roared upon them like a burst of thunder, seriously threatening the gravity of the meal. He retired abruptly into moist and self-conscious silence, fearful of feasting his eyes on this disturbing loveliness.
As soon as compatible with decency, he slipped back to his bunk in the shed behind, and lay staring into the darkness, picturing the amazing occurrences of the evening. At the memory of her level glances he fell a-tremble and sighed ecstatically, prickling with a new, strange emotion. He lay till far into the night, wakeful and absorbed. He was able, to grasp the fact but dimly that all this dazzling perfection was for one man. Were it not manifestly impossible he supposed other men in other lands knew other ladies as beautiful, and it furthermore grew upon him blackly, in the thick gloom, that in all this world of womanly sweetness and beauty, no modicum of it was for the misshapen dwarf of the Bar X outfit. All his life he had fought furiously to uphold the empty shell of his dignity in the eyes of his comrades, yet always morbidly conscious of the difference in his body. Whisky had been his solace, his sweetheart. It changed him, raised and beatified him into the likeness of other men, and now, as he pondered, he was aware of a consuming thirst engendered by the heat of his earlier emotions. Undoubtedly it must be quenched.
He rose and stole quietly out into the big front room. Perhaps the years of free life in the open had bred a suspicion of walls, perhaps he felt his conduct would not brook discovery, perhaps habit, prompted him to take the two heavy Colts from their holsters and thrust them inside his trousers band.
He slipped across the room, silent and cavern-like, its blackness broken by the window squares of starry sky, till he felt the paucity of glassware behind the bar.
"Here's to Her," It burned delightfully.
"Here's to the groom." It tingled more alluringly.
"I'll drink what I can, and get back to the bunk before it works," he thought, and the darkness veiled the measure of his potations.
He started at a noise on the stairway. His senses not yet dulled, detected a stealthy tread. Not the careless step of a man unafraid, but the cautious rustle and halt of a marauder. Every nerve bristled to keenest alertness as the faint occasional sounds approached, passed the open end of the bar where he crouched, leading on to the window. Then a match flared, and the darkness rushed out as a candle wick sputtered.
Shorty stretched on tiptoe, brought his eye to the level of the bar, and gazed upon the horrent head of Bailey. He sighed thankfully, but watched with interest his strange behaviour.
Bailey moved the light across the window from left to right three times, paused, then wigwagged some code out into the night.
"He's signalling," mused Shorty. "Hope he gets through quick. I'm getting full." The fumes of the liquor were beating at his senses, and he knew that soon he would move with difficulty.
The man, however, showed no intention of leaving, for, his signals completed, he blew out the light, first listening for any sound from above, then his figure loomed black and immobile against the dim starlight of the window.
"Oh, Lord! I got to set down," and the watcher squatted upon the floor, bracing against the wall. His dulling perceptions were sufficiently acute to detect shuffling footsteps on the porch and the cautious unbarring of the door.
"Gettin' late for visitors," he thought, as he entered a blissful doze. "When they're abed, I'll turn in."
It seemed much later that a shot startled him. To his dizzy hearing came the sound of curses overhead, the stamp and shift of feet, the crashing fall of struggling men, and, what brought him unsteadily to his legs, the agonized scream of a woman. It echoed through the house, chilling him, and dwindled to an aching moan.
Something was wrong, he knew that, but it was hard to tell just what. He must think. What hard work it was to think, too; he'd never noticed before what a laborious process it was. Probably that sheriff had got into trouble; he was a fresh guy, anyhow; and he'd laughed when he first saw Shorty. That settled it. He could get out of it himself. Evidently it was nothing serious, for there was no more disturbance above, only confused murmurings. Then a light showed in the stairs, and again the shuffling of feet came, as four strange men descended. They were lighted by the sardonic Bailey, and they dragged a sixth between them, bound and helpless. It was the sheriff.
Now, what had he been doing to get into such a fix?
The prisoner stood against the wall, white and defiant. He strained at his bonds silently, while his captors watched his futile struggles. There was something terrible and menacing in the quietness with which they gloated—a suggestion of some horror to come. At last he desisted, and burst forth.
"You've got me all right. You did this, Bailey, you —— traitor."
"He's never been a traitor, as far as we know," sneered one of the four. "In fact, I might say he's been strictly on the square with us."
"I didn't think you made war on women, either, Marsh Tremper, but it seems you're everything from a dog-thief down. Why couldn't you fight me alone, in the daylight, like a man?"
"You don't wait till a rattler's coiled before you stamp his head off," said the former speaker. "It's either you or us, and I reckon it's you."
So these were the Tremper boys, eh? The worst desperadoes in the Southwest; and Bailey was their ally. The watcher eyed them, mildly curious, and it seemed to him that they were as bad a quartette as rumour had painted—bad, even, for this country of bad men. The sheriff was a fool for getting mixed up with such people. Shorty knew enough to mind his own business, anyway, if others didn't. He was a peaceful man, and didn't intend to get mixed up with outlaws. His mellow meditations were interrupted by the hoarse speech of the sheriff, who had broken down into his rage again, and struggled madly while words ran from him.
"Let me go! —— you, let me free. I want to fight the coward that struck my wife. You've killed her. Who was it? Let me get at him."
Shorty stiffened as though a douche of ice-water had struck him. "Killed her! Struck his wife!" My God! Not that sweet creature of his dreams who had talked and smiled at him without noting his deformity—
An awful anger rose in him and he moved out into the light.
Whatever of weakness may have dragged at his legs, none sounded in the great bellowing command that flooded the room. At the compelling volume of the sound every man whirled and eight empty hands shot skyward. Their startled eyes beheld a man's squat body weaving uncertainly on the limbs of an insect, while in each hand shone a blue-black Colt that waved and circled in maddening, erratic orbits.
At the command, Marsh Tremper's mind had leaped to the fact that behind him was one man; one against five, and he took a gambler's chance.
As he whirled, he drew and fired. None but the dwarf of Bar X could have lived, for he was the deadliest hip shot in the territory. His bullet crashed into the wall, a hand's breadth over Shorty's "cow-lick." It was a clean heart shot; the practised whirl and flip of the finished gun fighter; but the roar of his explosion was echoed by another, and the elder Tremper spun unsteadily against the table with a broken shoulder.
"Too high," moaned the big voice. "—The liquor."
He swayed drunkenly, but at the slightest shift of his quarry, the aimless wanderings of a black muzzle stopped on the spot and the body behind the guns was congested with deadly menace.
"Face the wall," he cried. "Quick! Keep 'em up higher!" They sullenly obeyed; their wounded leader reaching with his uninjured member.
To the complacent Shorty, it seemed that things were working nicely, though he was disturbingly conscious of his alcoholic lack of balance, and tortured by the fear that he might suddenly lose the iron grip of his faculties.
Then, for the second time that night, from the stairs came the voice that threw him into the dreadful confusion of his modesty.
"O Ross!" it cried, "I've brought your gun," and there on the steps, dishevelled, pallid and quivering, was the bride, and grasped in one trembling hand was her husband's weapon.
"Ah—h!" sighed Shorty, seraphically, as the vision beat in upon his misty conceptions. "She ain't hurt!"
In his mind there was no room for desperadoes contemporaneously with Her. Then he became conscious of the lady's raiment, and his brown cheeks flamed brick-red, while he dropped his eyes. In his shrinking, grovelling modesty, he made for his dark corner.
One of those at bay, familiar with this strange abashment, seized the moment, but at his motion the sheriff screamed: "Look out!"
The quick danger in the cry brought back with a surge the men against the wall and Shorty swung instantly, firing at the outstretched hand of Bailey as it reached for Tremper's weapon.
The landlord straightened, gazing affrightedly at his finger tips.
"Too low!" and Shorty's voice held aching tears. "I'll never touch another drop; it's plumb ruined my aim."
"Cut these strings, girlie," said the sheriff, as the little man's gaze again wavered, threatening to leave his prisoners.
"Quick. He's blushing again.".
When they were manacled, Shorty stood in moist exudation, trembling and speechless, under the incoherent thanks of the bride and the silent admiration of her handsome husband. She fluttered about him in a tremor of anxiety, lest he be wounded, caressing him here and there with solicitous pats till he felt his shamed and happy spirit would surely burst from its misshapen prison.
"You've made a good thing to-night," said Turney, clapping him heartily on his massive back. "You get the five thousand all right. We were going to Mexico City on that for a bridal trip when I rounded up the gang, but I'll see you get every cent of it, old man. If it wasn't for you I'd have been a heap farther south than that by now."
The open camaraderie and good-fellowship that rang in the man's voice affected Shorty strangely, accustomed as he was to the veiled contempt or open compassion of his fellows. Here was one who recognized him as a man, an equal.
He spread his lips, but the big voice squeaked dismally, then, inflating deeply, he spoke so that the prisoners chained in the corral outside heard him plainly.
"I'd rather she took it anyhow," blushing violently.
"No, no," they cried. "It's yours."
"Well, then, half of it"—and for once Shorty betrayed the strength of Gibraltar, even in the face of the lady, and so it stood.
As the dawn spread over the dusty prairie, tipping the westward mountains with silver caps, and sucking the mist out of the cotton-wood bottoms, he bade them adieu.
"No, I got to get back to the Bar X, or the old man'll swear I been drinking again, and I don't want to dissipate no wrong impressions around." He winked gravely. Then, as the sheriff and his surly prisoners drove off, he called:
"Mr. Turney, take good care of them Trempers. I think a heap of 'em, for, outside of your wife, they're the only ones in this outfit that didn't laugh at me."
Pierre "Feroce" showed disapproval in his every attitude as plainly as disgust peered from the seams in his dark face; it lurked in his scowl and in the curl of his long rawhide that bit among the sled dogs. So at least thought Willard, as he clung to the swinging sledge.
They were skirting the coast, keeping to the glare ice, wind-swept and clean, that lay outside the jumbled shore pack. The team ran silently in the free gait of the grey wolf, romping in harness from pure joy of motion and the intoxication of perfect life, making the sled runners whine like the song of a cutlass.
This route is dangerous, of course, from hidden cracks in the floes, and most travellers hug the bluffs, but he who rides with Pierre "Feroce" takes chances. It was this that had won him the name of "Wild" Pierre—the most reckless, tireless man of the trails, a scoffer at peril, bolting through danger with rush and frenzy, overcoming sheerly by vigour those obstacles which destroy strong men in the North.
The power that pulsed within him gleamed from his eyes, rang in his song, showed in the aggressive thrust of his sensual face.
This particular morning, however, Pierre's distemper had crystallized into a great contempt for his companion. Of all trials, the most detestable is to hit the trail with half a man, a pale, anemic weakling like this stranger.
Though modest in the extent of his learning, Pierre gloated in a freedom of speech, the which no man dared deny him. He turned to eye his companion cynically for a second time, and contempt was patent in his gaze. Willard appeared slender and pallid in his furs, though his clear-cut features spoke a certain strength and much refinement.
"Bah! I t'ink you dam poor feller," he said finally. "'Ow you 'goin' stan' thees trip, eh? She's need beeg mans, not leetle runt like you."
Amusement at this frankness glimmered in Willard's eyes.
"You're like all ignorant people. You think in order to stand hardship a man should be able to toss a sack of flour in his teeth or juggle a cask of salt-horse."
"Sure t'ing," grinned Pierre. "That's right. Look at me. Mebbe you hear 'bout Pierre 'Feroce' sometime, eh?"
"Oh, yes; everybody knows you; knows you're a big bully. I've seen you drink a quart of this wood alcohol they call whisky up here, and then jump the bar from a stand, but you're all animal—you haven't the refinement and the culture that makes real strength. It's the mind that makes us stand punishment."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the Canadian. "Wat a fonny talk. She'll take the heducate man for stan' the col', eh? Mon Dieu!" He roared again till the sled dogs turned fearful glances backward and bushy tails drooped under the weight of their fright. Great noise came oftenest with great rage from Pierre, and they had too frequently felt the both to forget.
"Yes, you haven't the mentality. Sometime you'll use up your physical resources and go to pieces like a burned wick."
Pierre was greatly amused. His yellow teeth shone, and he gave vent to violent mirth as, following the thought, he pictured a naked mind wandering over the hills with the quicksilver at sixty degrees.
"Did you ever see a six-day race? Of course not; you barbarians haven't sunk to the level of our dissolute East, where we joy in Roman spectacles, but if you had you'd see it's will that wins; it's the man that eats his soul by inches. The educated soldier stands the campaign best. You run too much to muscle—you're not balanced."
"I t'ink mebbe you'll 'ave chance for show 'im, thees stout will of yours. She's goin' be long 'mush' troo the mountains, plentee snow, plentee cold."
Although Pierre's ridicule was galling, Willard felt the charm of the morning too strongly to admit of anger or to argue his pet theory.
The sun, brilliant and cold, lent a paradoxical cheerfulness to the desolation, and, though never a sign of life broke the stillness around them, the beauty of the scintillant, gleaming mountains, distinct as cameos, that guarded the bay, appealed to him with the strange attraction of the Arctics; that attraction that calls and calls insistently, till men forsake God's country for its mystery.
He breathed the biting air cleaned by leagues of lifeless barrens and voids of crackling frost till he ached with the exhilaration of a perfect morning on the Circle.
Also before him undulated the grandest string of dogs the Coast had known. Seven there were, tall and grey, with tails like plumes, whom none but Pierre could lay hand upon, fierce and fearless as their master. He drove with the killing cruelty of a stampeder, and they loved him.
"You say you have grub cached at the old Indian hut on the Good Hope?" questioned Willard.
"Sure! Five poun' bacon, leetle flour and rice. I cache one gum-boot too, ha! Good thing for make fire queeck, eh?"
"You bet; an old rubber boot comes handy when it's too cold to make shavings."
Leaving the coast, they ascended a deep and tortuous river where the snow lay thick and soft. One man on snow-shoes broke trail for the dogs till they reached the foothills. It was hard work, but infinitely preferable to that which followed, for now they came into a dangerous stretch of overflows. The stream, frozen to its bed, clogged the passage of the spring water beneath, forcing it up through cracks till it spread over the solid ice, forming pools and sheets covered with treacherous ice-skins. Wet feet are fatal to man and beast, and they made laborious detours, wallowing trails through tangled willows waist deep in the snow smother, or clinging precariously to the overhanging bluffs. As they reached the river's source the sky blackened suddenly, and great clouds of snow rushed over the bleak hills, boiling down into the valley with a furious draught. They flung up their flimsy tent, only to have it flattened by the force of the gale that cut like well-honed steel. Frozen spots leaped out white on their faces, while their hands stiffened ere they could fasten the guy strings.
Finally, having lashed the tent bottom to the protruding willow tops, by grace of heavy lifting they strained their flapping shelter up sufficiently to crawl within.
"By Gar! She's blow hup ver' queeck," yelled Pierre, as he set the ten-pound sheet-iron stove, its pipe swaying drunkenly with the heaving tent.
"Good t'ing she hit us in the brush." He spoke as calmly as though danger was distant, and a moment later the little box was roaring with its oil-soaked kindlings.
"Will this stove burn green willow tops?" cried Willard.
"Sure! She's good stove. She'll burn hicicles eef you get 'im start one times. See 'im get red?"
They rubbed the stiff spots from their cheeks, then, seizing the axe, Willard crawled forth into the storm and dug at the base of the gnarled bushes. Occasionally a shrub assumed the proportions of a man's wrist—but rarely. Gathering an armful, he bore them inside, and twisting the tips into withes, he fed the fire. The frozen twigs sizzled and snapped, threatening to fail utterly, but with much blowing he sustained a blaze sufficient to melt a pot of snow. Boiling was out of the question, but the tea leaves became soaked and the bacon cauterized.
Pierre freed and fed the dogs. Each gulped its dried salmon, and, curling in the lee of the tent, was quickly drifted over. Next he cut blocks from the solid bottom snow and built a barricade to windward. Then he accumulated a mow of willow tops without the tent-fly. All the time the wind drew down the valley like the breath of a giant bellows.
"Supper," shouted Willard, and as Pierre crawled into the candle-light he found him squatted, fur-bundled, over the stove, which settled steadily into the snow, melting its way downward toward a firmer foundation.
The heat was insufficient to thaw the frozen sweat in his clothes; his eyes were bleary and wet from smoke, and his nose needed continuous blowing, but he spoke pleasantly, a fact which Pierre noted with approval.
"We'll need a habeas corpus for this stove if you don't get something to hold her up, and I might state, if it's worthy of mention, that your nose is frozen again."
Pierre brought an armful of stones from the creek edge, distributing them beneath the stove on a bed of twisted willows; then swallowing their scanty, half-cooked food, they crawled, shivering, into the deerskin sleeping-bags, that animal heat might dry their clammy garments.
Four days the wind roared and the ice filings poured over their shelter while they huddled beneath. When one travels on rations delay is dangerous. Each morning, dragging themselves out into the maelstrom, they took sticks and poked into the drifts for dogs. Each animal as found was exhumed, given a fish, and became straightway reburied in the whirling white that seethed down from the mountains.
On the fifth, without warning, the storm died, and the air stilled to a perfect silence.
"These dog bad froze," said Pierre, swearing earnestly as he harnessed. "I don' like eet much. They goin' play hout I'm 'fraid." He knelt and chewed from between their toes the ice pellets that had accumulated. A malamoot is hard pressed to let his feet mass, and this added to the men's uneasiness.
As they mounted the great divide, mountains rolled away on every hand, barren, desolate, marble-white; always the whiteness; always the listening silence that oppressed like a weight. Myriads of creek valleys radiated below in a bewildering maze of twisting seams.
"Those are the Ass's Ears, I suppose," said Willard, gazing at two great fangs that bit deep into the sky-line. "Is it true that no man has ever reached them?"
"Yes. The hinjun say that's w'ere hall the storm come from, biccause w'en the win' blow troo the Ass's Ear, look out! Somebody goin' ketch 'ell."
Dogs' feet wear quickly after freezing, for crusted snow cuts like a knife. Spots of blood showed in their tracks, growing more plentiful till every print was a crimson stain. They limped pitifully on their raw pads, and occasionally one whined. At every stop they sank in track, licking their lacerated paws, rising only at the cost of much whipping.
On the second night, faint and starved, they reached the hut. Digging away the drifts, they crawled inside to find it half full of snow—snow which had sifted through the crevices. Pierre groped among the shadows and swore excitedly.
"What's up?" said Willard.
Vocal effort of the simplest is exhausting when spent with hunger, and these were the first words he had spoken for hours.
"By Gar! she's gone. Somebody stole my grub!"
Willard felt a terrible sinking, and his stomach cried for food.
"How far is it to the Crooked River Road House?"
"One long day drive—forty mile."
"We must make it to-morrow or go hungry, eh? Well this isn't the first dog fish I ever ate." Both men gnawed a mouldy dried salmon from their precious store.
As Willard removed his footgear he groaned.
"Wat's the mattaire?"
"I froze my foot two days ago—snow-shoe strap too tight." He exhibited a heel, from which, in removing his inner sock, the flesh and skin had come away.
"That's all right," grinned Pierre. "You got the beeg will lef' yet. It take the heducate man for stan' the col', you know."
Willard gritted his teeth.
They awoke to the whine of a grey windstorm that swept the cutting snow in swirling clouds and made travel a madness. The next day was worse.
Two days of hunger weigh heavy when the cold weakens, and they grew gaunt and fell away in their features.
"I'm glad we've got another feed for the dogs," remarked Willard. "We can't let them run hungry, even if we do."
"I t'ink she's be hall right to-mor'," ventured Pierre. "Thees ain't snow—jus' win'; bimeby all blow hout. Sacre! I'll can eat 'nuff for 'ole harmy."
For days both men had been cold, and the sensation of complete warmth had come to seem strange and unreal, while their faces cracked where the spots had been.
Willard felt himself on the verge of collapse. He recalled his words about strong men, gazing the while at Pierre. The Canadian evinced suffering only in the haggard droop of eye and mouth; otherwise he looked strong and dogged.
Willard felt his own features had shrunk to a mask of loose-jawed suffering, and he set his mental sinews, muttering to himself.
He was dizzy and faint as he stretched himself in the still morning air upon waking, and hobbled painfully, but as his companion emerged from the darkened shelter into the crystalline brightness he forgot his own misery at sight of him. The big man reeled as though struck when the dazzle from the hills reached him, and he moaned, shielding his sight. Snow-blindness had found him in a night.
Slowly they plodded out of the valley, for hunger gnawed acutely, and they left a trail of blood tracks from the dogs. It took the combined efforts of both men to lash them to foot after each pause. Thus progress was slow and fraught with agony.
As they rose near the pass, miles of Arctic wastes bared themselves. All about towered bald domes, while everywhere stretched the monotonous white, the endless snow unbroken by tree or shrub, pallid and menacing, maddening to the eye.
"Thank God, the worst's over," sighed Willard, flinging himself onto the sled. "We'll make it to the summit next time; then she's down hill all the way to the road house."
Pierre said nothing.
Away to the northward glimmered the Ass's Ears, and as the speaker eyed them carelessly he noted gauzy shreds and streamers veiling their tops. The phenomena interested him, for he knew that here must be wind—wind, the terror of the bleak tundra; the hopeless, merciless master of the barrens! However, the distant range beneath the twin peaks showed clear-cut and distinct against the sky, and he did not mention the occurrence to the guide, although he recalled the words of the Indians: "Beware of the wind through the Ass's Ears."
Again they laboured up the steep slope, wallowing in the sliding snow, straining silently at the load; again they threw themselves, exhausted, upon it. Now, as he eyed the panorama below, it seemed to have suffered a subtle change, indefinable and odd. Although but a few minutes had elapsed, the coast mountains no longer loomed clear against the horizon, and his visual range appeared foreshortened, as though the utter distances had lengthened, bringing closer the edge of things. The twin peaks seemed endlessly distant and hazy, while the air had thickened as though congested with possibilities, lending a remoteness to the landscape.
"If it blows up on us here, we're gone," he thought, "for it's miles to shelter, and we're right in the saddle of the hills."
Pierre, half blinded as he was, arose uneasily and cast the air like a wild beast, his great head thrown back, his nostrils quivering.
"I smell the win'," he cried. "Mon Dieu! She's goin' blow!"
A volatile pennant floated out from a near-bye peak, hanging about its crest like faint smoke. Then along the brow of the pass writhed a wisp of drifting, twisting flakelets, idling hither and yon, astatic and aimless, settling in a hollow. They sensed a thrill and rustle to the air, though never a breath had touched them; then, as they mounted higher, a draught fanned them, icy as interstellar space. The view from the summit was grotesquely distorted, and glancing upward they found the guardian peaks had gone a-smoke with clouds of snow that whirled confusedly, while an increasing breath sucked over the summit, stronger each second. Dry snow began to rustle slothfully about their feet. So swiftly were the changes wrought, that before the mind had grasped their import the storm was on them, roaring down from every side, swooping out of the boiling sky, a raging blast from the voids of sunless space.
Pierre's shouts as he slashed at the sled lashings were snatched from his lips in scattered scraps. He dragged forth the whipping tent and threw himself upon it with the sleeping-bags. Having cut loose the dogs, Willard crawled within his sack and they drew the flapping canvas over them. The air was twilight and heavy with efflorescent granules that hurtled past in a drone.
They removed their outer garments that the fur might fold closer against them, and lay exposed to the full hate of the gale. They hoped to be drifted over, but no snow could lodge in this hurricane, and it sifted past, dry and sharp, eddying out a bare place wherein they lay. Thus the wind drove the chill to their bones bitterly.
An unnourished human body responds but weakly, so, vitiated by their fast and labours, their suffering smote them with tenfold cruelty.
All night the north wind shouted, and, as the next day waned with its violence undiminished, the frost crept in upon them till they rolled and tossed shivering. Twice they essayed to crawl out, but were driven back to cower for endless, hopeless hours.
It is in such black, aimless times that thought becomes distorted. Willard felt his mind wandering through bleak dreams and tortured fancies, always to find himself harping on his early argument with Pierre: "It's the mind that counts." Later he roused to the fact that his knees, where they pressed against the bag, were frozen; also his feet were numb and senseless. In his acquired consciousness he knew that along the course of his previous mental vagary lay madness, and the need of action bore upon him imperatively.
He shouted to his mate, but "Wild" Pierre seemed strangely apathetic.
"We've got to run for it at daylight. We're freezing. Here! Hold on! What are you doing? Wait for daylight!" Pierre had scrambled stiffly out of his cover and his gabblings reached Willard. He raised a clenched fist into the darkness of the streaming night, cursing horribly with words that appalled the other.
"Man! man! don't curse your God. This is bad enough as it is. Cover up. Quick!"
Although apparently unmindful of his presence, the other crawled back muttering.
As the dim morning greyed the smother they rose and fought their way downward toward the valley. Long since they had lost their griping hunger, and now held only an apathetic indifference to food, with a cringing dread of the cold and a stubborn sense of their extreme necessity.
They fell many times, but gradually drew themselves more under control, the exercise suscitating them, as they staggered downward, blinded and buffeted, their only hope the road-house.
Willard marvelled dully at the change in Pierre. His face had shrivelled to blackened freezes stretched upon a bony substructure, and lighted by feverish, glittering, black, black eyes. It seemed to him that his own lagging body had long since failed, and that his aching, naked soul wandered stiffly through the endless day. As night approached Pierre stopped frequently, propping himself with legs far apart; sometimes he laughed. Invariably this horrible sound shocked Willard into a keener sense of the surroundings, and it grew to irritate him, for the Frenchman's mental wanderings increased with the darkness. What made him rouse one with his awful laughter? These spells of walking insensibility were pleasanter far. At last the big man fell. To Willard's mechanical endeavours to help he spoke sleepily, but with the sanity of a man under great stress.
"Dat no good. I'm goin' freeze right 'ere—freeze stiff as 'ell. Au revoir."
"Get up!" Willard kicked him weakly, then sat upon the prostrate man as his own faculties went wandering.
Eventually he roused, and digging into the snow buried the other, first covering his face with the ample parka hood. Then he struck down the valley. In one lucid spell he found he had followed a sled trail, which was blown clear and distinct by the wind that had now almost died away.
Occasionally his mind grew clear, and his pains beat in upon him till he grew furious at the life in him which refused to end, which forced him ever through this gauntlet of misery. More often he was conscious only of a vague and terrible extremity outside of himself that goaded him forever forward. Anon he strained to recollect his destination. His features had set in an implacable grimace of physical torture—like a runner in the fury of a finish—till the frost hardened them so. At times he fell heavily, face downward, and at length upon the trail, lying so till that omnipresent coercion that had frozen in his brain drove him forward.
He heard his own voice maundering through lifeless lips like that of a stranger: "The man that can eat his soul will win, Pierre."
Sometimes he cried like a child and slaver ran from his open mouth, freezing at his breast. One of his hands was going dead. He stripped the left mitten off and drew it laboriously over the right. One he would save at least, even though he lost the other. He looked at the bare member dully, and he could not tell that the cold had eased till the bitterness was nearly out of the air. He laboured with the fitful spurts of a machine run down.
Ten men and many dogs lay together in the Crooked River Road House through the storm. At late bedtime of the last night came a scratching on the door.
"Somebody's left a dog outside," said a teamster, and rose to let him in. He opened the door only to retreat affrightedly.
"My God!" he said. "My God!" and the miners crowded forward.
A figure tottered over the portal, swaying drunkenly. They shuddered at the sight of its face as it crossed toward the fire. It did not walk; it shuffled, haltingly, with flexed knees and hanging shoulders, the strides measuring inches only—a grisly burlesque upon senility.
Pausing in the circle, it mumbled thickly, with great effort, as though gleaning words from infinite distance:
"Wild Pierre—frozen—buried—in—snow—hurry!" Then he straightened and spoke strongly, his voice flooding the room:
"It's the mind, Pierre. Ha! ha! ha! The mind."
He cackled hideously, and plunged forward into a miner's arms.
It was many days before his delirium broke. Gradually he felt the pressure of many bandages upon him, and the hunger of convalescence. As he lay in his bunk the past came to him hazy and horrible; then the hum of voices, one loud, insistent, and familiar.
He turned weakly, to behold Pierre propped in a chair by the stove, frost-scarred and pale, but aggressive even in recuperation. He gesticulated fiercely with a bandaged hand, hot in controversy with some big-limbed, bearded strangers.
"Bah! You fellers no good—too beeg in the ches', too leetle in the forehead. She'll tak' the heducate mans for stan' the 'ardsheep—lak' me an' Meestaire Weelard."
NORTH OF FIFTY-THREE
Big George was drinking, and the activities of the little Arctic mining camp were paralysed. Events invariably ceased their progress and marked time when George became excessive, and now nothing of public consequence stirred except the quicksilver, which was retiring fearfully into its bulb at the song of the wind which came racing over the lonesome, bitter, northward waste of tundra.
He held the centre of the floor at the Northern Club, and proclaimed his modest virtues in a voice as pleasant as the cough of a bull-walrus.
"Yes, me! Little Georgie! I did it. I've licked 'em all from Herschel Island to Dutch Harbour, big uns and little uns. When they didn't suit I made 'em over. I'm the boss carpenter of the Arctic and I own this camp; don't I, Slim? Hey? Answer me!" he roared at the emaciated bearer of the title, whose attention seemed wandering from the inventory of George's startling traits toward a card game.
"Sure ye do," nervously smiled Slim, frightened out of a heart-solo as he returned to his surroundings.
"Well, then, listen to what I'm saying. I'm the big chief of the village, and when I'm stimulated and happy them fellers I don't like hides out and lets me and Nature operate things. Ain't that right?" He glared inquiringly at his friends.
Red, the proprietor, explained over the bar in a whisper to Captain, the new man from Dawson: "That's Big George, the whaler. He's a squaw-man and sort of a bully—see? When he's sober he's on the level strickly, an' we all likes him fine, but when he gets to fightin' the pain-killer, he ain't altogether a gentleman. Will he fight? Oh! Will he fight? Say! he's there with chimes, he is! Why, Doc Miller's made a grub-stake rebuildin' fellers that's had a lingerin' doubt cached away about that, an' now when he gets the booze up his nose them patched-up guys oozes away an' hibernates till the gas dies out in him. Afterwards he's sore on himself an' apologizes to everybody. Don't get into no trouble with him, cause he's two checks past the limit. They don't make 'em as bad as him any more. He busted the mould."
George turned, and spying the new-comer, approached, eyeing him with critical disfavour.
Captain saw a bear-like figure, clad cap-a-pie in native fashion. Reindeer pants, with the hair inside, clothed legs like rock pillars, while out of the loose squirrel parka a corded neck rose, brown and strong, above which darkly gleamed a rugged face seamed and scarred by the hate of Arctic winters. He had kicked off his deer-skin socks, and stood bare-footed on the cold and draughty floor, while the poison he had imbibed showed only in his heated face, Silently he extended a cracked and hardened hand, which closed like the armoured claw of a crustacean and tightened on the crunching fingers of the other. Captain's expression remained unchanged and, gradually slackening his grip, the sailor roughly inquired:
"Where'd you come from?"
"Just got in from Dawson yesterday," politely responded the stranger.
"Well! what're you goin' to do now you're here?" he demanded.
"Stake some claims and go to prospecting, I guess. You see, I wanted to get in early before the rush next spring."
"Oh! I 'spose you're going to jump some of our ground, hey? Well, you ain't! We don't want no claim jumpers here," disagreeably continued the seaman; "we won't stand for it. This is my camp—see? I own it, and these is my little children." Then, as the other refused to debate with him, he resumed, groping for a new ground of attack.
"Say! I'll bet you're one of them eddicated dudes, too, ain't you? You talk like a feller that had been to college," and, as the other assented, he scornfully called to his friends, saying "Look here, fellers! Pipe the jellyfish! I never see one of these here animals that was worth a cuss; they plays football an' smokes cigareets at school; then when they're weaned they come off up here an' jump our claims 'cause we can't write a location notice proper. They ain't no good. I guess I'll stop it."
Captain moved toward the door, but the whaler threw his bulky frame against it and scowlingly blocked the way.
"No, you don't. You ain't goin' to run away till I've had the next dance, Mister Eddication! Humph! I ain't begun to tell ye yet what a useless little barnacle you are."
Red interfered, saying: "Look 'ere, George, this guy ain't no playmate of yourn. We'll all have a jolt of this disturbance promoter, an' call it off." Then, as the others approached he winked at Captain, and jerked his head slightly toward the door.
The latter, heeding the signal, started out, but George leaped after him and, seizing an arm, whirled him back, roaring:
"Well, of all the cussed impidence I ever see! You're too high-toned to drink with us, are you? You don't get out of here now till you take a lickin' like a man."
He reached over his head and, grasping the hood of his fur shirt, with one movement he stripped it from him, exposing a massive naked body, whose muscles swelled and knotted beneath a skin as clear as a maiden's, while a map of angry scars strayed across the heavy chest.
As the shirt sailed through the air. Red lightly vaulted to the bar and, diving at George's naked middle, tackled beautifully, crying to Captain: "Get out quick; we'll hold him."
Others rushed forward and grasped the bulky sailor, but Captain's voice replied: "I sort of like this place, and I guess I'll stay a while. Turn him loose."
"Why, man, he'll kill ye," excitedly cried Slim. "Get out!"
The captive hurled his peacemakers from him and, shaking off the clinging arms, drove furiously at the insolent stranger.
In the cramped limits of the corner where he stood. Captain was unable to avoid the big man, who swept him with a crash against the plank door at his back, grasping hungrily at his throat. As his shoulders struck, however, he dropped to his knees and, before the raging George could seize him, he avoided a blow which would have strained the rivets of a strength-tester and ducked under the other's arms, leaping to the cleared centre of the floor.
Seldom had the big man's rush been avoided and, whirling, he swung a boom-like arm at the agile stranger. Before it landed, Captain stepped in to meet his adversary and, with the weight of his body behind the blow, drove a clenched and bony fist crashing into the other's face. The big head with its blazing shock of hair snapped backward and the whaler drooped to his knees at the other's feet.
The drunken flush of victory swept over Captain as he stood above the swaying figure; then, suddenly, he felt the great bare arms close about his waist with a painful grip. He struck at the bleeding face below him and wrenched at the circling bands which wheezed the breath from his lungs, but the whaler squeezed him writhing to his breast, and, rising, unsteadily wheeled across the floor and in a shiver of broken glass fell crashing against the bar and to the floor.
As the struggling men writhed upon the planks the door opened at the hurried entrance of an excited group, which paused at the sight of the ruin, then, rushing forward, tore the men apart.
The panting Berserker strained at the arms about his glistening body, while Captain, with sobbing sighs, relieved his aching lungs and watched his enemy, who frothed at the interference.
"It was George's fault," explained Slim to the questions of the arrivals. "This feller tried to make a get-away, but George had to have his amusement."
A new-comer addressed the squaw-man in a voice as cold as the wind. "Cut this out, George! This is a friend of mine. You're making this camp a regular hell for strangers, and now I'm goin' to tap your little snap. Cool off—see?"
Jones's reputation as a bad gun-man went hand in hand with his name as a good gambler, and his scanty remarks invariably evoked attentive answers, so George explained: "I don't like him Jones, and I was jus' makin' him over to look like a man. I'll do it yet, too," he flashed wrathfully at his quiet antagonist.
"'Pears to me like he's took a hand in the remodelling himself," replied the gambler, "but if you're lookin' for something to do, here's your chance. Windy Jim just drove in and says Barton and Kid Sullivan are adrift on the ice."
"What's that?" questioned eager voices, and, forgetting the recent trouble at the news, the crowd pressed forward anxiously.
"They was crossing the bay and got carried out by the off-shore gale," explained Jones. "Windy was follerin' 'em when the ice ahead parted and begun movin' out. He tried to yell to 'em, but they was too far away to hear in the storm. He managed to get back to the land and follered the shore ice around. He's over at Hunter's cabin now, most dead, face and hands froze pretty bad."
A torrent of questions followed and many suggestions as to the fate of the men.
"They'll freeze before they can get ashore," said one.
"The ice-pack'll break up in this wind," added another, "and if they don't drown, they'll freeze before the floe comes in close enough for them to land."
From the first announcement of his friends' peril, Captain had been thinking rapidly. His body, sore from his long trip and aching from the hug of his recent encounter, cried woefully for rest, but his voice rose calm and clear:
"We've got to get them off," he said. "Who will go with me? Three is enough."
The clamouring voices ceased, and the men wheeled at the sound, gazing incredulously at the speaker. "What!"—"In this storm?"—"You're crazy," many voices said.
He gazed appealingly at the faces before him. Brave and adventurous men he knew them to be, jesting with death, and tempered to perils in this land where hardship rises with the dawn, but they shook their ragged heads hopelessly.
"We must save them!" resumed Captain hotly. "Barton and I played as children together, and if there's not a man among you who's got the nerve to follow me—I'll go alone by Heavens!"
In the silence of the room, he pulled the cap about his ears and, tying it snugly under his chin, drew on his huge fur mittens; then with a scornful laugh he turned toward the door.
He paused as his eye caught the swollen face of Big George. Blood had stiffened in the heavy creases of his face like rusted stringers in a ledge, while his mashed and discoloured lips protruded thickly. His hair gleamed red, and the sweat had dried upon his naked shoulders, streaked with dirt and flecked with spots of blood, yet the battered features shone with the unconquered, fearless light of a rough, strong man.
Captain strode to him with outstretched hand. "You're a man," he said. "You've got the nerve, George, and you'll go with me, won't you?"
"What! Me?" questioned the sailor vaguely. His wondering glance left Captain, and drifted round the circle of shamed and silent faces—then he straightened stiffly and cried: "Will I go with you? Certainly! I'll go to —— with you."
Ready hands harnessed the dogs, dragged from protected nooks where they sought cover from the storm which moaned and whistled round the low houses. Endless ragged folds of sleet whirled out of the north, then writhed and twisted past, vanishing into the grey veil which shrouded the landscape in a twilight gloom.
The fierce wind sank the cold into the aching flesh like a knife and stiffened the face to a whitening mask, while a fusillade of frozen ice-particles beat against the eyeballs with blinding fury.
As Captain emerged from his cabin, furred and hooded, he found a long train of crouching, whining animals harnessed and waiting, while muffled figures stocked the sled with robes and food and stimulants.
Big George approached through the whirling white, a great squat figure with fluttering squirrel tails blowing from his parka, and at his heels there trailed a figure, skin-clad and dainty.
"It's my wife," he explained briefly to Captain. "She won't let me go alone."
They gravely bade farewell to all, and the little crowd cheered lustily against the whine of the blizzard as, with cracking whip and hoarse shouts, they were wrapped in the cloudy winding sheet of snow.
Arctic storms have an even sameness; the intense cold, the heartless wind which augments tenfold the chill of the temperature, the air thick and dark with stinging flakes rushing by in an endless cloud. A drifting, freezing, shifting eternity of snow, driven by a ravening gale which sweeps the desolate, bald wastes of the Northland.
The little party toiled through the smother till they reached the "egloos" under the breast of the tall, coast bluffs, where coughing Eskimos drilled patiently at ivory tusks and gambled the furs from their backs at stud-horse poker.
To George's inquiries they answered that their largest canoe was the three-holed bidarka on the cache outside. Owing to the small circular openings in its deck, this was capable of holding but three passengers, and Captain said; "We'll have to make two trips, George."
"Two trips, eh?" answered the other. "We'll be doin' well if we last through one, I'm thinking."
Lashing the unwieldy burden upon the sled, they fought their way along the coast again till George declared they were opposite the point where their friends went adrift. They slid their light craft through the ragged wall of ice hummocks guarding the shore pack, and dimly saw, in the grey beyond them, a stretch of angry waters mottled by drifting cakes and floes.
George spoke earnestly to his wife, instructing her to keep the team in constant motion up and down the coast a rifle-shot in either direction, and to listen for a signal of the return. Then he picked her up as he would a babe, and she kissed his storm-beaten face.