"That's nonsense. If you had waited one minute longer at the barracks you could have done so. I called to you as you were leaving, but you didn't turn back."
"No. I didn't hear you."
All were listening to this conversation, and none more curiously than Private Waugh. Many a time in days to come he pictured the scene for the benefit of his comrades. Pretty Pierre, leaning against the hitching- post near the bar-room, said languidly:
"But, Inspector, he speaks the truth—quite: that is a virtue of the Riders of the Plains." Val had his eyes on the half-breed, and a look of understanding passed between them. While Val and his father and sister were saying their farewells in few words, but with homely demonstrations, Sergeant Tom brought his horse round and mounted it. Inspector Jules gave the word to move on. As they started, Gellatly, who fell behind the others slightly, leaned down and whispered: "Forgive me, Jen. You did a noble act for me, and the life of me would prove to you that I'm grateful. It's sorry, sorry I am. But I'll do what I can for Val, as sure as the heart's in me. Good-bye, Jen."
She looked up with a faint hope in her eyes. "Goodbye!" she said. "I believe you . . . Good-bye!"
In a few minutes there was only a cloud of dust on the prairie to tell where the Law and its quarry were. And of those left behind, one was a broken-spirited old man with sorrow melting away the sinister look in his face; one, a girl hovering between the tempest of bitterness and a storm of self-reproach; and one a half-breed gambler, who again sat on the bar- counter smoking a cigarette and singing to himself, as indolently as if he were not in the presence of a painful drama of life, perhaps a tragedy. But was the song so pointless to the occasion, after all, and was the man so abstracted and indifferent as he seemed? For thus the song ran:
"Oh, the bird in a cage and the bird on a tree Voila! 'tis a different fear! The maiden weeps and she bends the knee Oh, the sweet Saint Gabrielle hear! But the bird in a cage has a friend in the tree, And the maiden she dries her tear: And the night is dark and no moon you see Oh, the sweet Saint Gabrielle hear! When the doors are open the bird is free Oh, the sweet Saint Gabrielle hear!"
These words kept ringing in Jen's ears as she stood again in the doorway that night with her face turned to the beacon. How different it seemed now! When she saw it last night it was a cheerful spirit of light—a something suggesting comfort, companionship, aspiration, a friend to the traveller, and a mysterious, but delightful, association. In the morning when she returned from that fortunate, yet most unfortunate, ride, it was still burning, but its warm flame was exhausted in the glow of the life- giving sun; the dream and delight of the night robbed of its glamour by the garish morning; like her own body, its task done, sinking before the unrelieved scrutiny of the day. To-night it burned with a different radiance. It came in fiery palpitations from the earth. It made a sound that was now like the moan of pine trees, now like the rumble of far-off artillery. The slight wind that blew spread the topmost crest of flame into strands of ruddy hair, and, looking at it, Jen saw herself rocked to and fro by tumultuous emotions, yet fuller of strength and larger of life than ever she had been. Her hot veins beat with determination, with a love which she drove back by another, cherished now more than it had ever been, because danger threatened the boy to whom she had been as a mother. In twenty-four hours she had grown to the full stature of love and suffering.
There were shadows that betrayed less roundness to her face; there were lines that told of weariness; but in her eyes there was a glowing light of hope. She raised her face to the stars and unconsciously paraphrasing Pierre's song said: "Oh, the God that dost save us, hear!"
A hand touched her arm, and a voice said, huskily, "Jen, I wanted to save him and—and not let you know of it; that's all. You're not keepin' a grudge agin me, my girl?"
She did not move nor turn her head. "I've no grudge, father; but—if— if you had told me, 'twouldn't be on my mind that I had made it worse for Val."
The kindness in the voice reassured him, and he ventured to say: "I didn't think you'd be carin' for one of the Riders of the Plains, Jen."
Then the old man trembled lest she should resent his words. She seemed about to do so, but the flush faded from her brow, and she said, simply: "I care for Val most, father. But he didn't know he was getting Val into trouble."
She suddenly quivered as a wave of emotion passed through her; and she said, with a sob in her voice: "Oh, it's all scrub country, father, and no paths, and—and I wish I had a mother!"
The old man sat down in the doorway and bowed his grey head in his arms. Then, after a moment, he whispered:
"She's been dead twenty-two years, Jen. The day Val was born she went away. I'd a-been a better man if she'd a-lived, Jen; and a better father."
This was an unusual demonstration between these two. She watched him sadly for a moment, and then, leaning over and touching him gently on the shoulder, said: "It's worse for you than it is for me, father. Don't feel so bad. Perhaps we shall save him yet."
He caught a gleam of hope in her words: "Mebbe, Jen, mebbe!" and he raised his face to the light.
This ritual of affection was crude and unadorned; but it was real. They sat there for half-an-hour, silent.
Then a figure came out of the shadows behind the house and stood before them. It was Pierre.
"I go to-morrow morning, Galbraith," he said. The old man nodded, but did not reply.
"I go to Fort Desire," the gambler added.
Jen faced him. "What do you go there for, Pretty Pierre?"
"It is my whim. Besides, there is Val. He might want a horse some dark night."
"Pierre, do you mean that?"
"As much as Sergeant Tom means what he says. Every man has his friends. Pretty Pierre has a fancy for Val Galbraith—a little. It suits him to go to Fort Desire. Jen Galbraith, you make a grand ride last night. You do a bold thing—all for a man. We shall see what he will do for you. And if he does nothing—ah! you can trust the tongue of Pretty Pierre. He will wish he could die, instead of—Eh, bien, good-night!" He moved away. Jen followed him. She held out her hand. It was the first time she had ever done so to this man.
"I believe you," she said. "I believe that you mean well to our Val. I am sorry that I called you a devil." He smiled. "Ma'm'selle, that is nothing. You spoke true. But devils have their friends—and their whims. So you see, good-night."
"Mebbe it will come out all right, Jen—mebbe!" said the old man.
But Jen did not reply. She was thinking hard, her eyes upon the Prairie Star. Living life to the hilt greatly illumines the outlook of the mind. She was beginning to understand that evil is not absolute, and that good is often an occasion more than a condition.
There was a long silence again. At last the old man rose to go and reduce the volume of flame for the night; but Jen stopped him. "No, father, let it burn all it can to-night. It's comforting."
"Mebbe so—mebbe!" he said.
A faint refrain came to them from within the house:
"When doors are open the bird is free Oh, the sweet Saint Gabrielle hear!"
It was a lovely morning. The prairie billowed away endlessly to the south, and heaved away in vastness to the north; and the fresh, sharp air sent the blood beating through the veins. In the bar-room some early traveller was talking to Peter Galbraith. A wandering band of Indians was camped about a mile away, the only sign of humanity in the waste. Jen sat in the doorway culling dried apples. Though tragedies occur in lives of the humble, they must still do the dull and ordinary task. They cannot stop to cherish morbidness, to feed upon their sorrow; they must care for themselves and labour for others. And well is it for them that it is so.
The Indian camp brings unpleasant memories to Jen's mind. She knows it belongs to old Sun-in-the-North, and that he will not come to see her now, nor could she, or would she, go to him. Between her and that race there can never again be kindly communion. And now she sees, for the first time, two horsemen riding slowly in the track from Fort Desire towards Galbraith's Place. She notices that one sits upright, and one seems leaning forward on his horse's neck. She shades her eyes with her hand, but she cannot distinguish who they are. But she has seen men tied to their horses ride as that man is riding, when stricken with fever, bruised by falling timber, lacerated by a grizzly, wounded by a bullet, or crushed by a herd of buffaloes. She remembered at that moment the time that a horse had struck Val with its forefeet, and torn the flesh from his chest, and how he had been brought home tied to a broncho's back.
The thought of this drove her into the house, to have Val's bed prepared for the sufferer, whoever he was. Almost unconsciously she put on the little table beside the bed a bunch of everlasting prairie flowers, and shaded the light to the point of quiet and comfort.
Then she went outside again. The travellers now were not far away. She recognised the upright rider. It was Pretty Pierre. The other—she could not tell. She called to her father. She had a fear which she did not care to face alone. "See, see, father," she said, "Pretty Pierre and—and can it be Val?" For the moment she seemed unable to stir. But the old man shook his head, and said: "No, Jen, it can't be. It ain't Val."
Then another thought possessed her. Her lips trembled, and, throwing her head back as does a deer when it starts to shake off its pursuers by flight, she ran swiftly towards the riders. The traveller standing beside Galbraith said: "That man is hurt, wounded probably. I didn't expect to have a patient in the middle of the plains. I'm a doctor. Perhaps I can be of use here?" When a hundred yards away Jen recognised the recumbent rider. A thousand thoughts flashed through her brain. What had happened? Why was he dressed in civilian's clothes? A moment, and she was at his horse's head. Another, and her warm hand clasped the pale, moist, and wrinkled one which hung by the horse's neck. His coat at the shoulder was stained with blood, and there was a handkerchief about his head. This—this was Sergeant Tom Gellatly!
She looked up at Pierre, an agony of inquiry in her eyes, and pointing mutely to the wounded man. Pierre spoke with a tone of seriousness not common to his voice: "You see, Jen Galbraith, it was brave. Sergeant Tom one day resigns the Mounted Police. He leaves the Riders of the Plains. That is not easy to understand, for he is in much favour with the officers. But he buys himself out, and there is the end of the Sergeant and his triple chevron. That is one day. That night, two men on a ferry are crossing the Saskatchewan at Fort Desire. They are fired at from the shore behind. One man is hit twice. But they get across, cut the ferry loose, mount horses, and ride away together. The man that was hit—yes, Sergeant Tom. The other that was not hit was Val Galbraith."
Jen gave a cry of mingled joy and pain, and said, with Tom Gellatly's cold hand clasped to her bosom: "Val, our Val, is free, is safe."
"Yes, Val is free and safe-quite. The Riders of the Plains could not cross the river. It was too high. And so Tom Gellatly and Val got away. Val rides straight for the American border, and the other rides here." They were now near the house, but Jen said, eagerly: "Go on. Tell me all."
"I knew what had happened soon, and I rode away, too, and last night I found Tom Gellatly lying beside his horse on the prairie. I have brought him here to you. You two are even now, Jen Galbraith."
They were at the tavern door. The traveller and Pierre lifted, down the wounded and unconscious man, and brought him and laid him on Val Galbraith's bed.
The traveller examined the wounds in the shoulder and the head, and said: "The head is all right. If I can get the bullet out of the shoulder he'll be safe enough—in time."
The surgery was skilful but rude, for proper instruments were not at hand; and in a few hours he, whom we shall still call Sergeant Tom, lay quietly sleeping, the pallor gone from his face and the feeling of death from his hand.
It was near midnight when he waked. Jen was sitting beside him. He looked round and saw her. Her face was touched with the light that shone from the Prairie Star. "Jen," he said, and held out his hand.
She turned from the window and stood beside his bed. She took his outstretched hand. "You are better, Sergeant Tom"? she said, gently.
"Yes, I'm better; but it's not Sergeant Tom I am any longer, Jen."
"I forgot that."
"I owed you a great debt, Jen. I couldn't remain one of the Riders of the Plains and try to pay it. I left them. Then I tried to save Val, and I did. I knew how to do it without getting anyone else into trouble. It is well to know the trick of a lock and the hour that guard is changed. I had left, but I relieved guard that night just the same. It was a new man on watch. It's only a minute I had; for the regular relief watch was almost at my heels. I got Val out just in time. They discovered us, and we had a run for it. Pretty Pierre has told you. That's right. Val is safe now—"
In a low strained voice, interrupting him, she said, "Did Val leave you wounded so on the prairie?"
"Don't let that ate at your heart. No, he didn't. I hurried him off, and he didn't know how bad I was hit. But I—I've paid my debt, haven't I, Jen?" With eyes that could not see for tears, she touched pityingly, lovingly, the wounds on his head and shoulder, and said: "These pay a greater debt than you ever owed me. You risked your life for me—yes, for me. You have given up everything to do it. I can't pay you the great difference. No, never!"
"Yes—yes, you can, if you will, Jen. It's as aisy! If you'll say what I say, I'll give you quit of that difference, as you call it, forever and ever."
"First, tell me. Is Val quite, quite safe?"
"Yes, he's safe over the border by this time; and to tell you the truth, the Riders of the Plains wouldn't be dyin' to arrest him again if he was in Canada, which he isn't. It's little they wanted to fire at us, I know, when we were crossin' the river, but it had to be done, you see, and us within sight. Will you say what I ask you, Jen?"
She did not speak, but pressed his hand ever so slightly.
"Tom Gellatly, I promise," he said.
"Tom Gellatly, I promise—"
"To give you as much—"
"To give you as much—"
There was a pause, and then she falteringly said, "Love—"
"As you give to me-"
"As you give to me—"
"And I'll take you poor as you are—"
"And I'll take you poor as you are—"
"To be my husband as long as you live—"
"To be my husband as long as you live—"
"So help me, God."
"So help me, God."
She stooped with dropping tears, and he kissed her once. Then what was girl in her timidly drew back, while what was woman in her, and therefore maternal, yearned over the sufferer.
They had not seen the figure of an old man at the door. They did not hear him enter. They only knew of Peter Galbraith's presence when he said: "Mebbe—mebbe I might say Amen!"
The missionary at Fort Anne of the H. B. C. was violently in earnest. Before he piously followed the latest and most amply endowed batch of settlers, who had in turn preceded the new railway to the Fort, the word scandal had no place in the vocabulary of the citizens. The H. B. C. had never imported it into the Chinook language, the common meeting-ground of all the tribes of the North; and the British men and native-born, who made the Fort their home, or place of sojourn, had never found need for its use. Justice was so quickly distributed, men were so open in their conduct, good and bad, that none looked askance, nor put their actions in ambush, nor studied innuendo. But this was not according to the new dispensation—that is, the dispensation which shrewdly followed the settlers, who as shrewdly preceded the railway. And, the dispensation and the missionary were known also as the Reverend Ezra Badgley, who, on his own declaration, in times past had "a call" to preach, and in the far East had served as local preacher, then probationer, then went on circuit, and now was missionary in a district of which the choice did credit to his astuteness, and gave room for his piety and for his holy rage against the Philistines. He loved a word for righteous mouthing, and in a moment of inspiration pagan and scandal came to him. Upon these two words he stamped, through them he perspired mightily, and with them he clenched his stubby fingers—such fingers as dug trenches, or snatched lewdly at soft flesh, in days of barbarian battle. To him all men were Pagans who loved not the sound of his voice, nor wrestled with him in prayer before the Lord, nor fed him with rich food, nor gave him much strong green tea to drink. But these men were of opaque stuff, and were not dismayed, and they called him St. Anthony, and with a prophetic and deadly patience waited. The time came when the missionary shook his denouncing finger mostly at Pretty Pierre, who carefully nursed his silent wrath until the occasion should arrive for a delicate revenge which hath its hour with every man, if, hating, he knows how to bide the will of Fate.
The hour came. A girl had been found dying on the roadside beyond the Fort by the drunken doctor of the place and Pierre. Pierre was with her when she died.
"An' who's to bury her, the poor colleen"? said Shon McGann afterwards.
Pierre musingly replied: "She is a Protestant. There is but one man."
After many pertinent and vigorous remarks, Shon added, "A Pagan is it, he calls you, Pierre, you that's had the holy water on y'r forehead, and the cross on the water, and that knows the book o' the Mass like the cards in a pack? Sinner y' are, and so are we all, God save us! say I; and weavin' the stripes for our backs He may be, and little I'd think of Him failin' in that: but Pagan—faith, it's black should be the white of the eyes of that preachin' sneak, and a rattle of teeth in his throat—divils go round me!"
The half-breed, still musing, replied: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth—is that it, Shon?" "Nivir a word truer by song or by book, and stand by the text, say I. For Papist I am, and Papist are you; and the imps from below in y'r fingers whip poker is the game; and outlaws as they call us both—you for what it doesn't concern me, and I for a wild night in ould Donegal—but Pagan, wurra! whin shall it be, Pierre?"
"When shall it to be?"
"True for you. The teeth in his throat and a lump to his eye, and what more be the will o' God. Fightin' there'll be, av coorse; but by you I'll stand, and sorra inch will I give, if they'll do it with sticks or with guns, and not with the blisterin' tongue that's lied of me and me frinds—for frind I call you, Pierre, that loved me little in days gone by. And proud I am not of you, nor you of me; but we've tasted the bitter of avil days together, and divils surround me, if I don't go down with you or come up with you, whichever it be! For there's dirt, as I say on their tongues, and over their shoulder they look at you, and not with an eye full front."
Pierre was cool, even pensive. His lips parted slightly once or twice, and showed a row of white, malicious teeth. For the rest, he looked as if he were politely interested but not moved by the excitement of the other. He slowly rolled a cigarette and replied: "He says it is a scandal that I live at Fort Anne. Well, I was here before he came, and I shall be here after he goes—yes. A scandal—tsh! what is that? You know the word 'Raca' of the Book? Well, there shall be more 'Raca; soon —perhaps. No, there shall not be fighting as you think, Shon; but—" here Pierre rose, came over, and spread his fingers lightly on Shon's breast "but this thing is between this man and me, Shon McGann, and you shall see a great matter. Perhaps there will be blood, perhaps not— perhaps only an end." And the half-breed looked up at the Irishman from under his dark brows so covertly and meaningly that Shon saw visions of a trouble as silent as a plague, as resistless as a great flood. This noiseless vengeance was not after his own heart. He almost shivered as the delicate fingers drummed on his breast.
"Angels begird me, Pretty Pierre, but it's little I'd like you for enemy o' mine; for I know that you'd wait for y'r foe with death in y'r hand, and pity far from y'r heart; and y'd smile as you pulled the black-cap on y'r head, and laugh as you drew the life out of him, God knows how! Arrah, give me, sez I, the crack of a stick, the bite of a gun, or the clip of a sabre's edge, with a shout in y'r mouth the while!"
Though Pierre still listened lazily, there was a wicked fire in his eyes. His words now came from his teeth with cutting precision. "I have a great thought tonight, Shon McGann. I will tell you when we meet again. But, my friend, one must not be too rash—no, not too brutal. Even the sabre should fall at the right time, and then swift and still. Noise is not battle. Well, 'au revoir!' To-morrow I shall tell you many things." He caught Shon's hand quickly, as quickly dropped it, and went out indolently singing a favourite song,—"Voici le sabre de mon Pere!"
It was dark. Pretty Pierre stood still, and thought for a while. At last he spoke aloud: "Well, I shall do it, now I have him—so!" And he opened and shut his hand swiftly and firmly. He moved on, avoiding the more habited parts of the place, and by a roundabout came to a house standing very close to the bank of the river. He went softly to the door and listened. Light shone through the curtain of a window. He went to the window and looked beneath the curtain. Then he came back to the door, opened it very gently, stepped inside, and closed it behind him.
A man seated at a table, eating, rose; a man on whom greed had set its mark—greed of the flesh, greed of men's praise, greed of money. His frame was thick-set, his body was heavily nourished, his eye was shifty but intelligent; and a close observer would have seen something elusive, something furtive and sinister, in his face. His lips were greasy with meat as he stood up, and a fear sprang to his face, so that its fat looked sickly. But he said hoarsely, and with an attempt at being brave —"How dare you enter my house with out knocking? What do you want?"
The half-breed waved a hand protestingly towards him. "Pardon!" he said. "Be seated, and finish your meal. Do you know me?"
"Yes, I know you."
"Well, as I said, do not stop your meal. I have come to speak with you very quietly about a scandal—a scandal, you understand. This is Sunday night, a good time to talk of such things." Pierre seated himself at the table, opposite the man.
But the man replied: "I have nothing to say to you. You are—"
The half-breed interrupted: "Yes, I know, a Pagan fattening—" here he smiled, and looked at his thin hands—"fattening for the shambles of the damned, as you have said from the pulpit, Reverend Ezra Badgley. But you will permit me—a sinner as you say—to speak to you like this while you sit down and eat. I regret to disturb you, but you will sit, eh?"
Pierre's tone was smooth and low, almost deferential, and his eyes, wide open now, and hot with some hidden purpose, were fixed compellingly on the man. The missionary sat, and, having recovered slightly, fumbled with a knife and fork. A napkin was still beneath his greasy chin. He did not take it away.
Pierre then spoke slowly: "Yes, it is a scandal concerning a sinner—and a Pagan. . . . Will you permit me to light a cigarette? Thank you . . . . You have said many harsh things about me: well, as you see, I am amiable. I lived at Fort Anne before you came. They call me Pretty Pierre. Why is my cheek so? Because I drink no wine; I eat not much. Pardon, pork like that on your plate—no! no! I do not take green tea as there in your cup; I do not love women, one or many. Again, pardon, I say."
The other drew his brows together with an attempt at pious frowning and indignation; but there was a cold, sneering smile now turned upon him, and it changed the frown to anxiety, and made his lips twitch, and the food he had eaten grow heavy within him.
"I come to the scandal slowly. The woman? She was a young girl travelling from the far East, to search for a man who had—spoiled her. She was found by me and another. Ah, you start so! . . . Will you not listen? . . . Well, she died to-night."
Here the missionary gasped, and caught with both hands at the table.
"But before she died she gave two things into my hands: a packet of letters—a man is a fool to write such letters—and a small bottle of poison—laudanum, old-fashioned but sure. The letters were from the man at Fort Anne—the man, you hear! The other was for her death, if he would not take her to his arms again. Women are mad when they love. And so she came to Fort Anne, but not in time. The scandal is great, because the man is holy—sit down!"
The half-breed said the last two words sharply, but not loudly. They both sat down slowly again, looking each other in the eyes. Then Pierre drew from his pocket a small bottle and a packet of letters, and held them before him. "I have this to say: there are citizens of Fort Anne who stand for justice more than law; who have no love for the ways of St. Anthony. There is a Pagan, too, an outlaw, who knows when it is time to give blow for blow with the holy man. Well, we understand each other, 'hein?'"
The elusive, sinister look in the missionary's face was etched in strong lines now. A dogged sullenness hung about his lips. He noticed that one hand only of Pretty Pierre was occupied with the relics of the dead girl; the other was free to act suddenly on a hip pocket. "What do you want me to do"? he said, not whiningly, for beneath the selfish flesh and shallow outworks there were the elements of a warrior—all pulpy now, but they were there.
"This," was the reply: "for you to make one more outlaw at Fort Anne by drinking what is in this bottle—sit down, quick, by God!" He placed the bottle within reach of the other. "Then you shall have these letters; and there is the fire. After? Well, you will have a great sleep, the good people will find you, they will bury you, weeping much, and no one knows here but me. Refuse that, and there is the other, the Law—ah, the poor girl was so very young!—and the wild Justice which is sometimes quicker than Law. Well? well?"
The missionary sat as if paralysed, his face all grey, his eyes fixed on the half-breed. "Are you man or devil"? he groaned at length.
With a slight, fantastic gesture Pierre replied: "It was said that a devil entered into me at birth, but that was mere scandal—'peut-etre.' You shall think as you will."
There was silence. The sullenness about the missionary's lips became charged with a contempt more animal than human. The Reverend Ezra Badgley knew that the man before him was absolute in his determination, and that the Pagans of Fort Anne would show him little mercy, while his flock would leave him to his fate. He looked at the bottle. The silence grew, so that the ticking of the watch in the missionary's pocket could be heard plainly, having for its background of sound the continuous swish of the river. Pretty Pierre's eyes were never taken off the other, whose gaze, again, was fixed upon the bottle with a terrible fascination. An hour, two hours, passed. The fire burned lower. It was midnight; and now the watch no longer ticked; it had fulfilled its day's work. The missionary shuddered slightly at this. He looked up to see the resolute gloom of the half-breed's eyes, and that sneering smile, fixed upon him still. Then he turned once more to the bottle. . . . His heavy hand moved slowly towards it. His stubby fingers perspired and showed sickly in the light. . . . They closed about the bottle. Then suddenly he raised it, and drained it at a draught. He sighed once heavily and as if a great inward pain was over. Rising he took the letters silently pushed towards him, and dropped them into the fire. He went to the window, raised it, and threw the bottle into the river. The cork was left: Pierre pointed to it. He took it up with a strange smile and thrust it into the coals. Then he sat down by the table, leaning his arms upon it, his eyes staring painfully before him, and the forgotten napkin still about his neck. Soon the eyes closed, and, with a moan on his lips, his head dropped forward on his arms. . . . Pierre rose, and, looking at the figure soon to be breathless as the baked meats about it, said: "'Bien,' he was not all coward. No."
Then he turned and went out into the night.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Delicate revenge which hath its hour with every man Good is often an occasion more than a condition He does not love Pierre; but he does not pretend to love him It is not Justice that fills the gaols, but Law It is not much to kill or to die—that is in the game Men and women are unwittingly their own executioners Noise is not battle She was beginning to understand that evil is not absolute The Government cherish the Injin much in these days
PIERRE AND HIS PEOPLE
TALES OF THE FAR NORTH
By Gilbert Parker
SHON MCGANN'S TOBOGAN RIDE PERE CHAMPAGNE THE SCARLET HUNTER THE STONE
SHON McGANN'S TOBOGAN RIDE
"Oh, it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise, With the knees pressing hard to the saddle, my men; With the sparks from the hoofs giving light to the eyes, And our hearts beating hard as we rode to the glen!
"And it's back with the ring of the chain and the spur, And it's back with the sun on the hill and the moor, And it's back is the thought sets my pulses astir! But I'll never go back to Farcalladen more."
Shon McGann was lying on a pile of buffalo robes in a mountain hut,—an Australian would call it a humpey,—singing thus to himself with his pipe between his teeth. In the room, besides Shon, were Pretty Pierre, Jo Gordineer, the Hon. Just Trafford, called by his companions simply "The Honourable," and Prince Levis, the owner of the establishment. Not that Monsieur Levis, the French Canadian, was really a Prince. The name was given to him with a humorous cynicism peculiar to the Rockies. We have little to do with Prince Levis here; but since he may appear elsewhere, this explanation is made.
Jo Gordineer had been telling The Honourable about the ghost of Guidon Mountain, and Pretty Pierre was collaborating with their host in the preparation of what, in the presence of the Law—that is of the North- West Mounted Police—was called ginger-tea, in consideration of the prohibition statute.
Shon McGann had been left to himself—an unusual thing; for everyone had a shot at Shon when opportunity occurred; and never a bull's-eye could they make on him. His wit was like the shield of a certain personage of mythology.
He had wandered on from verse to verse of the song with one eye on the collaborators and an ear open to The Honourable's polite exclamations of wonder. Jo had, however, come to the end of his weird tale—for weird it certainly was, told at the foot of Guidon Mountain itself, and in a region of vast solitudes—the pair of chemists were approaching "the supreme union of unctuous elements," as The Honourable put it, and in the silence that fell for a moment there crept the words of the singer:
"And it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise, And it's swift as an arrow and straight as a spear—"
Jo Gordineer interrupted. "Say, Shon, when'll you be through that tobogan ride of yours? Aint there any end to it?"
But Shon was looking with both eyes now at the collaborators, and he sang softly on:
"And it's keen as the frost when the summer-time dies, That we rode to the glen and with never a fear."
Then he added: "The end's cut off, Joey, me boy; but what's a tobogan ride, annyway?"
"Listen to that, Pierre. I'll be eternally shivered if he knows what a tobogan ride is!"
"Hot shivers it'll be for you, Joey, me boy, and no quinine over the bar aither," said Shon.
"Tell him what a tobogan ride is, Pierre."
And Pretty Pierre said: "Eh, well, I will tell you. It is like-no, you have the word precise, Joseph. Eh? What?"
Pierre then added something in French. Shon did not understand it, but he saw The Honourable smile, so with a gentle kind of contempt he went on singing:
"And it's hey for the hedge, and it's hey for the wall! And it's over the stream with an echoing cry; And there's three fled for ever from old Donegal, And there's two that have shown how bold Irishmen die."
The Honourable then said, "What is that all about, Shon? I never heard the song before."
"No more you did. And I wish I could see the lad that wrote that song, livin' or dead. If one of ye's will tell me about your tobogan rides, I'll unfold about Farcalladen Rise."
Prince Levis passed the liquor. Pretty Pierre, seated on a candle-box, with a glass in his delicate fingers, said: "Eh, well, the Honourable has much language. He can speak, precise—this would be better with a little lemon, just a little,—the Honourable, he, perhaps, will tell. Eh?"
Pretty Pierre was showing his white teeth. At this stage in his career, he did not love the Honourable. The Honourable understood that, but he made clear to Shon's mind what toboganing is.
And Shon, on his part, with fresh and hearty voice, touched here and there by a plaintive modulation, told about that ride on Farcalladen Rise; a tale of broken laws, and fight and fighting, and death and exile; and never a word of hatred in it all.
"And the writer of the song, who was he"? asked the Honourable.
"A gentleman after God's own heart. Heaven rest his soul, if he's dead, which I'm thinkin' is so, and give him the luck of the world if he's livin', say I. But it's little I know what's come to him. In the heart of Australia I saw him last; and mates we were together after gold. And little gold did we get but what was in the heart of him. And we parted one day, I carryin' the song that he wrote for me of Farcalladen Rise, and the memory of him; and him givin' me the word,'I'll not forget you, Shon, me boy, whatever comes; remember that. And a short pull of the Three-Star together for the partin' salute,' says he. And the Three-Star in one sup each we took, as solemn as the Mass, and he went away towards Cloncurry and I to the coast; and that's the last that I saw of him, now three years gone. And here I am, and I wish I was with him wherever he is."
"What was his name"? said the Honourable.
The fingers of the Honourable trembled on his cigar. "Very interesting, Shon," he said, as he rose, puffing hard till his face was in a cloud of smoke. "You had many adventures together, I suppose," he continued.
"Adventures we had and sufferin' bewhiles, and fun, too, to the neck and flowin' over."
"You'll spin us a long yarn about them another night, Shon"? said the Honourable.
"I'll do it now—a yarn as long as the lies of the Government; and proud of the chance."
"Not to-night, Shon" (there was a kind of huskiness in the voice of the Honourable); "it's time to turn in. We've a long tramp over the glacier to-morrow, and we must start at sunrise."
The Honourable was in command of the party, though Jo Gordineer was the guide, and all were, for the moment, miners, making for the little Goshen Field over in Pipi Valley.—At least Pretty Pierre said he was a miner.
No one thought of disputing the authority of the Honourable, and they all rose.
In a few minutes there was silence in the hut, save for the oracular breathing of Prince Levis and the sparks from the fire. But the Honourable did not sleep well; he lay and watched the fire through most of the night.
The day was clear, glowing, decisive. Not a cloud in the curve of azure, not a shiver of wind down the canon, not a frown in Nature, if we except the lowering shadows from the shoulders of the giants of the range. Crowning the shadows was a splendid helmet of light, rich with the dyes of the morning; the pines were touched with a brilliant if austere warmth. The pride of lofty lineage and severe isolation was regnant over all. And up through the splendour, and the shadows, and the loneliness, and the austere warmth, must our travellers go. Must go? Scarcely that, but the Honourable had made up his mind to cross the glacier and none sought to dissuade him from his choice; the more so, because there was something of danger in the business. Pretty Pierre had merely shrugged his shoulders at the suggestion, and had said:
"'Nom de Dieu,' the higher we go the faster we live, that is something."
"Sometimes we live ourselves to death too quickly. In my schooldays I watched a mouse in a jar of oxygen do that;" said the Honourable.
"That is the best way to die," remarked the halfbreed—"much."
Jo Gordineer had been over the path before. He was confident of the way, and proud of his office of guide.
"Climb Mont Blanc, if you will," said the Honourable, "but leave me these white bastions of the Selkirks."
Even so. They have not seen the snowy hills of God who have yet to look upon the Rocky Mountains, absolute, stupendous, sublimely grave.
Jo Gordineer and Pretty Pierre strode on together. They being well away from the other two, the Honourable turned and said to Shon: "What was the name of the man who wrote that song of yours, again, Shon?"
"Yes, but his first name?"
There was a pause, in which the other seemed to be intently studying the glacier above them. Then he said: "What was he like?—in appearance, I mean."
"A trifle more than your six feet, about your colour of hair and eyes, and with a trick of smilin' that would melt the heart of an exciseman, and O'Connell's own at a joke, barrin' a time or two that he got hold of a pile of papers from the ould country. By the grave of St. Shon! thin he was as dry of fun as a piece of blotting paper. And he said at last, before he was aisy and free again, 'Shon,' says he, 'it's better to burn your ships behind ye, isn't it?'
"And I, havin' thought of a glen in ould Ireland that I'll never see again, nor any that's in it, said: 'Not, only burn them to the water's edge, Duke Lawless, but swear to your own soul that they never lived but in the dreams of the night.'
"'You're right there, Shon,' says he, and after that no luck was bad enough to cloud the gay heart of him, and bad enough it was sometimes."
"And why do you fear that he is not alive?"
"Because I met an old mate of mine one day on the Frazer, and he said that Lawless had never come to Cloncurry; and a hard, hard road it was to travel."
Jo Gordineer was calling to them, and there the conversation ended. In a few minutes the four stood on the edge of the glacier. Each man had a long hickory stick which served as alpenstock, a bag hung at his side, and tied to his back was his gold-pan, the hollow side in, of course. Shon's was tied a little lower down than the others.
They passed up this solid river of ice, this giant power at endless strife with the high hills, up towards its head. The Honourable was the first to reach the point of vantage, and to look down upon the vast and wandering fissures, the frigid bulwarks, the great fortresses of ice, the ceaseless snows, the aisles of this mountain sanctuary through which Nature's splendid anthems rolled. Shon was a short distance below, with his hand over his eyes, sweeping the semi-circle of glory.
Suddenly there was a sharp cry from Pierre: "Mon Dieu! Look!"
Shon McGann had fallen on a smooth pavement of ice. The gold-pan was beneath him, and down the glacier he was whirled-whirled, for Shon had thrust his heels in the snow and ice, and the gold-pan performed a series of circles as it sped down the incline. His fingers clutched the ice and snow, but they only left a red mark of blood behind. Must he go the whole course of that frozen slide, plump into the wild depths below?
"'Mon Dieu!—mon Dieu!'" said Pretty Pierre, piteously. The face of the Honourable was set and tense.
Jo Gordineer's hand clutched his throat as if he choked. Still Shon sped. It was a matter of seconds only. The tragedy crowded to the awful end.
There was a tilt in the glacier, and the gold-pan, suddenly swirling, again swung to the outer edge, and shot over.
As if hurled from a catapult, the Irishman was ejected from the white monster's back. He fell on a wide shelf of ice, covered with light snow, through which he was tunnelled, and dropped on another ledge below, near the path by which he and his companions had ascended. "Shied from the finish, by God!" said Jo Gordineer. "'Le pauvre Shon!'" added Pretty Pierre.
The Honourable was making his way down, his brain haunted by the words, "He'll never go back to Farcalladen more."
But Jo was right.
For Shon McGann was alive. He lay breathless, helpless, for a moment; then he sat up and scanned his lacerated fingers: he looked up the path by which he had come; he looked down the path he seemed destined to go; he started to scratch his head, but paused in the act, by reason of his fingers.
Then he said: "It's my mother wouldn't know me from a can of cold meat if I hadn't stopped at this station; but wurrawurra, what a car it was to come in!" He examined his tattered clothes and bare elbows; then he unbuckled the gold-pan, and no easy task was it with his ragged fingers. "'Twas not for deep minin' I brought ye," he said to the pan, "nor for scrapin' the clothes from me back."
Just then the Honourable came up. "Shon, my man . . . alive, thank God! How is it with you?"
"I'm hardly worth the lookin' at. I wouldn't turn my back to ye for a ransom."
"It's enough that you're here at all."
"Ah, 'voila!' this Irishman!" said Pretty Pierre, as his light fingers touched Shon's bruised arm gently. This from Pretty Pierre!
There was that in the voice which went to Shon's heart. Who could have guessed that this outlaw of the North would ever show a sign of sympathy or friendship for anybody? But it goes to prove that you can never be exact in your estimate of character. Jo Gordineer only said jestingly: "Say, now, what are you doing, Shon, bringing us down here, when we might be well into the Valley by this time?"
"That in your face and the hair aff your head," said Shon; "it's little you know a tobogan ride when you see one. I'll take my share of the grog, by the same token."
The Honourable uncorked his flask. Shon threw back his head with a laugh.
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, me men! And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last; And it's here's—"
But Shon had fainted with the flask in his hand and this snatch of a song on his lips.
They reached shelter that night. Had it not been for the accident, they would have got to their destination in the Valley; but here they were twelve miles from it. Whether this was fortunate or unfortunate may be seen later. Comfortably bestowed in this mountain tavern, after they had toasted and eaten their venison and lit their pipes, they drew about the fire.
Besides the four, there was a figure that lay sleeping in a corner on a pile of pine branches, wrapped in a bearskin robe. Whoever it was slept soundly.
"And what was it like—the gold-pan flyer—the tobogan ride, Shon?" remarked Jo Gordineer.
"What was it like?—what was it like"? replied Shon. "Sure, I couldn't see what it was like for the stars that were hittin' me in the eyes. There wasn't any world at all. I was ridin' on a streak of lightnin', and nivir a rubber for the wheels; and my fingers makin' stripes of blood on the snow; and now the stars that were hittin' me were white, and thin they were red, and sometimes blue—"
"The Stars and Stripes," inconsiderately remarked Jo Gordineer.
"And there wasn't any beginning to things, nor any end of them; and whin I struck the snow and cut down the core of it like a cat through a glass, I was willin' to say with the Prophet of Ireland—"
"Are you going to pass the liniment, Pretty Pierre?" It was Jo Gordineer said that.
What the Prophet of Israel did say—Israel and Ireland were identical to Shon—was never told.
Shon's bubbling sarcasm was full-stopped by the beneficent savour that, rising now from the hands of the four, silenced all irrelevant speech. It was a function of importance. It was not simply necessary to say How! or Here's reformation! or I look towards you! As if by a common instinct, the Honourable, Jo Gordineer, and Pretty Pierre, turned towards Shon and lifted their glasses. Jo Gordineer was going to say: "Here's a safe foot in the stirrups to you," but he changed his mind and drank in silence.
Shon's eye had been blazing with fun, but it took on, all at once, a misty twinkle. None of them had quite bargained for this. The feeling had come like a wave of soft lightning, and had passed through them. Did it come from the Irishman himself? Was it his own nature acting through those who called him "partner"?
Pretty Pierre got up and kicked savagely at the wood in the big fireplace. He ostentatiously and needlessly put another log of Norfolk- pine upon the fire.
The Honourable gaily suggested a song.
"Sing us 'Avec les Braves Sauvages,' Pierre," said Jo Gordineer.
But Pierre waved his fingers towards Shon: "Shon, his song—he did not finish—on the glacier. It is good we hear all. 'Hein?'"
And so Shon sang:
"Oh it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise."
The sleeper on the pine branches stirred nervously, as if the song were coming through a dream to him. At the third verse he started up, and an eager, sun-burned face peered from the half-darkness at the singer. The Honourable was sitting in the shadow, with his back to the new actor in the scene.
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, my men I And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last! And it's here's—"
Shon paused. One of those strange lapses of memory came to him which come at times to most of us concerning familiar things. He could get no further than he did on the mountain side. He passed his hand over his forehead, stupidly:—"Saints forgive me; but it's gone from me, and sorra the one can I get it; me that had it by heart, and the lad that wrote it far away. Death in the world, but I'll try it again!
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, my men! And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last! And it's here's—"
Again he paused.
But from the half-darkness there came a voice, a clear baritone:
"And here's to the lasses we leave in the glen, With a smile for the future, a sigh for the past."
At the last words the figure strode down into the firelight.
"Shon, old friend, don't you know me?"
Shon had started to his feet at the first note of the voice, and stood as if spellbound.
There was no shaking of hands. Both men held each other hard by the shoulders, and stood so for a moment looking steadily eye to eye.
Then Shon said: "Duke Lawless, there's parallels of latitude and parallels of longitude, but who knows the tomb of ould Brian Borhoime?"
Which was his way of saying, "How come you here"? Duke Lawless turned to the others before he replied. His eyes fell on the Honourable. With a start and a step backward, and with a peculiar angry dryness in his voice, he said:
"Yes," replied the Honourable, smiling, "I have found you."
"Found me! And why have you sought me? Me, Duke Lawless? I should have thought—"
The Honourable interrupted: "To tell you that you are Sir Duke Lawless."
"That? You sought me to tell me that?"
"You are sure? And for naught else?"
"As I live, Duke."
The eyes fixed on the Honourable were searching. Sir Duke hesitated, then held out his hand. In a swift but cordial silence it was taken. Nothing more could be said then. It is only in plays where gentlemen freely discuss family affairs before a curious public. Pretty Pierre was busy with a decoction. Jo Gordineer was his associate. Shon had drawn back, and was apparently examining the indentations on his gold-pan.
"Shon, old fellow, come here," said Sir Duke Lawless.
But Shon had received a shock. "It's little I knew Sir Duke Lawless—" he said.
"It's little you needed to know then, or need to know now, Shon, my friend. I'm Duke Lawless to you here and henceforth, as ever I was then, on the wallaby track."
And Shon believed him. The glasses were ready.
"I'll give the toast," said the Honourable with a gentle gravity. "To Shon McGann and his Tobogan Ride!"
"I'll drink to the first half of it with all my heart," said Sir Duke. "It's all I know about."
"Amen to that divorce," rejoined Shon.
"But were it not for the Tobogan Ride we shouldn't have stopped here," said the Honourable; "and where would this meeting have been?"
"That alters the case," Sir Duke remarked. "I take back the 'Amen,'" said Shon.
Whatever claims Shon had upon the companionship of Sir Duke Lawless, he knew there were other claims that were more pressing. After the toast was finished, with an emphasised assumption of weariness, and a hint of a long yarn on the morrow, he picked up his blanket and started for the room where all were to sleep. The real reason of this early departure was clear to Pretty Pierre at once, and in due time it dawned upon Jo Gordineer.
The two Englishmen, left alone, sat for a few moments silent and smoking hard. Then the Honourable rose, got his knapsack, and took out a small number of papers, which he handed to Sir Duke, saying, "By slow postal service to Sir Duke Lawless. Residence, somewhere on one of five continents."
An envelope bearing a woman's writing was the first thing that met Sir Duke's eye. He stared, took it out, turned it over, looked curiously at the Honourable for a moment, and then began to break the seal.
"Wait, Duke. Do not read that. We have something to say to each other first."
Sir Duke laid the letter down. "You have some explanation to make," he said.
"It was so long ago; mightn't it be better to go over the story again?"
"Then it is best you should tell it. I am on my defence, you know."
Sir Duke leaned back, and a frown gathered on his forehead. Strikingly out of place on his fresh face it seemed. Looking quickly from the fire to the face of the Honourable and back again earnestly, as if the full force of what was required came to him, he said: "We shall get the perspective better if we put the tale in the third person. Duke Lawless was the heir to the title and estates of Trafford Court. Next in succession to him was Just Trafford, his cousin. Lawless had an income sufficient for a man of moderate tastes. Trafford had not quite that, but he had his profession of the law. At college they had been fast friends, but afterwards had drifted apart, through no cause save difference of pursuits and circumstances. Friends they still were and likely to be so always. One summer, when on a visit to his uncle, Admiral Sir Clavel Lawless, at Trafford Court, where a party of people had been invited for a month, Duke Lawless fell in love with Miss Emily Dorset. She did him the honour to prefer him to any other man—at least, he thought so. Her income, however, was limited like his own. The engagement was not announced, for Lawless wished to make a home before he took a wife. He inclined to ranching in Canada, or a planter's life in Queensland. The eight or ten thousand pounds necessary was not, however, easy to get for the start, and he hadn't the least notion of discounting the future, by asking the admiral's help. Besides, he knew his uncle did not wish him to marry unless he married a woman plus a fortune. While things were in this uncertain state, Just Trafford arrived on a visit to Trafford Court. The meeting of the old friends was cordial. Immediately on Trafford's arrival, however, the current of events changed. Things occurred which brought disaster. It was noticeable that Miss Emily Dorset began to see a deal more of Admiral Lawless and Just Trafford, and a deal less of the younger Lawless. One day Duke Lawless came back to the house unexpectedly, his horse having knocked up on the road. On entering the library he saw what turned the course of his life." Sir Duke here paused, sighed, shook the ashes out of his pipe with a grave and expressive anxiety which did not properly belong to the action, and remained for a moment, both arms on his knees, silent, and looking at the fire. Then he continued:
"Just Trafford sat beside Emily Dorset in an attitude of—say, affectionate consideration. She had been weeping, and her whole manner suggested very touching confidences. They both rose on the entrance of Lawless; but neither tried to say a word. What could they say? Lawless apologised, took a book from the table which he had not come for, and left."
Again Sir Duke paused.
"The book was an illustrated Much Ado About Nothing," said the Honourable.
"A few hours after, Lawless had an interview with Emily Dorset. He demanded, with a good deal of feeling, perhaps,—for he was romantic enough to love the girl,—an explanation. He would have asked it of Trafford first if he had seen him. She said Lawless should trust her; that she had no explanation at that moment to give. If he waited—but Lawless asked her if she cared for him at all, if she wished or intended to marry him? She replied lightly, 'Perhaps, when you become Sir Duke Lawless.' Then Lawless accused her of heartlessness, and of encouraging both his uncle and Just Trafford. She amusingly said, 'Perhaps she had, but it really didn't matter, did it?' For reply, Lawless said her interest in the whole family seemed active and impartial. He bade her not vex herself at all about him, and not to wait until he became Sir Duke Lawless, but to give preference to seniority and begin with the title at once; which he has reason since to believe that she did. What he said to her he has been sorry for, not because he thinks it was undeserved, but because he has never been able since to rouse himself to anger on the subject, nor to hate the girl and Just Trafford as he ought. Of the dead he is silent altogether. He never sought an explanation from Just Trafford, for he left that night for London, and in two days was on his way to Australia. The day he left, however, he received a note from his banker saying that L8000 had been placed to his credit by Admiral Lawless. Feeling the indignity of what he believed was the cause of the gift, Lawless neither acknowledged it nor used it, not any penny of it. Five years have gone since then, and Lawless has wandered over two continents, a self-created exile. He has learned much that he didn't learn at Oxford; and not the least of all, that the world is not so bad as is claimed for it, that it isn't worth while hating and cherishing hate, that evil is half-accidental, half-natural, and that hard work in the face of nature is the thing to pull a man together and strengthen him for his place in the universe. Having burned his ships behind him, that is the way Lawless feels. And the story is told."
Just Trafford sat looking musingly but imperturbably at Sir Duke for a minute; then he said:
"That is your interpretation of the story, but not the story. Let us turn the medal over now. And, first, let Trafford say that he has the permission of Emily Dorset—"
Sir Duke interrupted: "Of her who was Emily Dorset."
"Of Miss Emily Dorset, to tell what she did not tell that day five years ago. After this other reading of the tale has been rendered, her letter and those documents are there for fuller testimony. Just Trafford's part in the drama begins, of course, with the library scene. Now Duke Lawless had never known Trafford's half-brother, Hall Vincent. Hall was born in India, and had lived there most of his life. He was in the Indian Police, and had married a clever, beautiful, but impossible kind of girl, against the wishes of her parents. The marriage was not a very happy one. This was partly owing to the quick Lawless and Trafford blood, partly to the wife's wilfulness. Hall thought that things might go better if he came to England to live. On their way from Madras to Colombo he had some words with his wife one day about the way she arranged her hair, but nothing serious. This was shortly after tiffin. That evening they entered the harbour at Colombo; and Hall going to his cabin to seek his wife, could not find her; but in her stead was her hair, arranged carefully in flowing waves on the pillow, where through the voyage her head had lain. That she had cut it off and laid it there was plain; but she could not be found, nor was she ever found. The large porthole was open; this was the only clue. But we need not go further into that. Hall Vincent came home to England. He told his brother the story as it has been told to you, and then left for South America, a broken-spirited man. The wife's family came on to England also. They did not meet Hall Vincent; but one day Just Trafford met at a country seat in Devon, for the first time, the wife's sister. She had not known of the relationship between Hall Vincent and the Traffords; and on a memorable afternoon he told her the full story of the married life and the final disaster, as Hall had told it to him."
Sir Duke sprang to his feet. "You mean, Just, that—"
"I mean that Emily Dorset was the sister of Hall Vincent's wife."
Sir Duke's brown fingers clasped and unclasped nervously. He was about to speak, but the Honourable said: "That is only half the story—wait.
"Emily Dorset would have told Lawless all in due time, but women don't like to be bullied ever so little, and that, and the unhappiness of the thing, kept her silent in her short interview with Lawless. She could not have guessed that Lawless would go as he did. Now, the secret of her diplomacy with the uncle—diplomacy is the best word to use—was Duke Lawless's advancement. She knew how he had set his heart on the ranching or planting life. She would have married him without a penny, but she felt his pride in that particular, and respected it. So, like a clever girl, she determined to make the old chap give Lawless a cheque on his possible future. Perhaps, as things progressed, the same old chap got an absurd notion in his head about marrying her to Just Trafford, but that was meanwhile all the better for Lawless. The very day that Emily Dorset and Just Trafford succeeded in melting Admiral Lawless's heart to the tune of eight thousand, was the day that Duke Lawless doubted his friend and challenged the loyalty of the girl he loved."
Sir Duke's eyes filled. "Great Heaven! Just—" he said.
"Be quiet for a little. You see she had taken Trafford into her scheme against his will, for he was never good at mysteries and theatricals, and he saw the danger. But the cause was a good one, and he joined the sweet conspiracy, with what result these five years bear witness. Admiral Lawless has been dead a year and a half, his wife a year. For he married out of anger with Duke Lawless; but he did not marry Emily Dorset, nor did he beget a child."
"In Australia I saw a paragraph speaking of a visit made by him and Lady Lawless to a hospital, and I thought—"
"You thought he had married Emily Dorset and—well, you had better read that letter now."
Sir Duke's face was flushing with remorse and pain. He drew his hand quickly across his eyes. "And you've given up London, your profession, everything, just to hunt for me, to tell me this—you who would have profited by my eternal absence! What a beast and ass I've been!"
"Not at all; only a bit poetical and hasty, which is not unnatural in the Lawless blood. I should have been wild myself, maybe, if I had been in your position; only I shouldn't have left England, and I should have taken the papers regularly and have asked the other fellow to explain. The other fellow didn't like the little conspiracy. Women, however, seem to find that kind of thing a moral necessity. By the way, I wish when you go back you'd send me out my hunting traps. I've made up my mind to—oh, quite so—read the letter—I forgot!"
Sir Duke opened the letter and read it, putting it away from him now and then as if it hurt him, and taking it up a moment after to continue the reading. The Honourable watched him.
At last Sir Duke rose. "Just—"
"Yes? Go on."
"Do you think she would have me now?"
"Don't know. Your outfit is not so beautiful as it used to be."
"Don't chaff me."
"Don't be so funereal, then."
Under the Honourable's matter of fact air Sir Duke's face began to clear. "Tell me, do you think she still cares for me?"
"Well, I don't know. She's rich now—got the grandmother's stocking. Then there's Pedley, of the Scots Guards; he has been doing loyal service for a couple of years. What does the letter say?"
"It only tells the truth, as you have told it to me, but from her standpoint; not a word that says anything but beautiful reproach and general kindness. That is all."
"Quite so. You see it was all four years ago, and Pedley—"
But the Honourable paused. He had punished his friend enough. He stepped forward and laid his hand on Sir Duke's shoulder. "Duke, you want to pick up the threads where they were dropped. You dropped them. Ask me nothing about the ends that Emily Dorset held. I conspire no more. But go you and learn your fate. If one remembers, why should the other forget?"
Sir Duke's light heart and eager faith came back with a rush. "I'll start for England at once. I'll know the worst or the best of it before three months are out." The Honourable's slow placidity turned.
"Three months.—Yes, you may do it in that time. Better go from Victoria to San Francisco and then overland. You'll not forget about my hunting traps, and—oh, certainly, Gordineer; come in."
"Say," said Gordineer. "I don't want to disturb the meeting, but Shon's in chancery somehow; breathing like a white pine, and thrashing about! He's red-hot with fever."
Before he had time to say more, Sir Duke seized the candle and entered the room. Shon was moving uneasily and suppressing the groans that shook him. "Shon, old friend, what is it?"
"It's the pain here, Lawless," laying his hand on his chest.
After a moment Sir Duke said, "Pneumonia!"
From that instant thoughts of himself were sunk in the care and thought of the man who in the heart of Queensland had been mate and friend and brother to him. He did not start for England the next day, nor for many a day.
Pretty Pierre and Jo Gordineer and his party carried Sir Duke's letters over into the Pipi Valley, from where they could be sent on to the coast. Pierre came back in a few days to see how Shon was, and expressed his determination of staying to help Sir Duke, if need be.
Shon hovered between life and death. It was not alone the pneumonia that racked his system so; there was also the shock he had received in his flight down the glacier. In his delirium he seemed to be always with Lawless:
"'For it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise'—It's share and share even, Lawless, and ye'll ate the rest of it, or I'll lave ye—Did ye say ye'd found water—Lawless—water!—Sure you're drinkin' none yourself— I'll sing it again for you then—'And it's back with the ring of the chain and the spur'—'But burn all your ships behind you'—'I'll never go back to Farcalladen more!'"
Sir Duke's fingers had a trick of kindness, a suggestion of comfort, a sense of healing, that made his simple remedies do more than natural duty. He was doctor, nurse,—sleepless nurse,—and careful apothecary. And when at last the danger was past and he could relax watching, he would not go, and he did not go, till they could all travel to the Pipi Valley.
In the blue shadows of the firs they stand as we take our leave of one of them. The Honourable and Sir Duke have had their last words, and Sir Duke has said he will remember about the hunting traps. They understand each other. There is sunshine in the face of all—a kind of Indian summer sunshine, infused with the sadness of a coming winter; and theirs is the winter of parting. Yet it is all done quietly.
"We'll meet again, Shon," said Sir Duke, "and you'll remember your promise to write to me."
"I'll keep my promise, and I hope the news that'll please you best is what you'll send us first from England. And if you should go to ould Donegal—I've no words for me thoughts at all!"
"I know them. Don't try to say them. We've not had the luck together, all kinds and all weathers, for nothing."
Sir Duke's eyes smiled a good-bye into the smiling eyes of Shon. They were much alike, these two, whose stations were so far apart. Yet somewhere, in generations gone, their ancestors may have toiled, feasted, or governed, in the same social hemisphere; and here in the mountains life was levelled to one degree again.
Sir Duke looked round. The pines were crowding up elate and warm towards the peaks of the white silence. The river was brawling over a broken pathway of boulders at their feet; round the edge of a mighty mountain crept a mule train; a far-off glacier glistened harshly in the lucid morning, yet not harshly either, but with the rugged form of a vast antiquity, from which these scarred and grimly austere hills had grown. Here Nature was filled with a sense of triumphant mastery—the mastery of ageless experience. And down the great piles there blew a wind of stirring life, of the composure of great strength, and touched the four, and the man that mounted now was turned to go. A quick good-bye from him to all; a God-speed-you from the Honourable; a wave of the hand between the rider and Shon, and Sir Duke Lawless was gone.
"You had better cook the last of that bear this morning, Pierre," said the Honourable. And their life went on.
It was eight months after that, sitting in their hut after a day's successful mining, the Honourable handed Shon a newspaper to read. A paragraph was marked. It concerned the marriage of Miss Emily Dorset and Sir Duke Lawless.
And while Shon read, the Honourable called into the tent: "Have you any lemons for the whisky, Pierre?"
A satisfactory reply being returned, the Honourable proceeded: "We'll begin with the bottle of Pommery, which I've been saving months for this."
The royal-flush toast of the evening belonged to Shon.
"God bless him! To the day when we see him again!"
And all of them saw that day.
"Is it that we stand at the top of the hill and the end of the travel has come, Pierre? Why don't you spake?"
"We stand at the top of the hill, and it is the end."
"And Lonely Valley is at our feet and Whiteface Mountain beyond?"
"One at our feet, and the other beyond, Shon McGann."
"It's the sight of my eyes I wish I had in the light of the sun this mornin'. Tell me, what is't you see?"
"I see the trees on the foot-hills, and all the branches shine with frost. There is a path—so wide!—between two groves of pines. On Whiteface Mountain lies a glacier-field . . . and all is still." . . .
"The voice of you is far-away-like, Pierre—it shivers as a hawk cries. It's the wind, the wind, maybe."
"There's not a breath of life from hill or valley."
"But I feel it in my face."
"It is not the breath of life you feel."
"Did you not hear voices coming athwart the wind? . . . Can you see the people at the mines?"
"I have told you what I see."
"You told me of the pine-trees, and the glacier, and the snow—"
"And that is all."
"But in the Valley, in the Valley, where all the miners are?"
"I cannot see them."
"For love of heaven, don't tell me that the dark is fallin' on your eyes too."
"No, Shon, I am not growing blind."
"Will you not tell me what gives the ache to your words?"
"I see in the Valley—snow . . . snow."
"It's a laugh you have at me in your cheek, whin I'd give years of my ill-spent life to watch the chimney smoke come curlin' up slow through the sharp air in the Valley there below."
"There is no chimney and there is no smoke in all the Valley."
"Before God, if you're a man, you'll put your hand on my arm and tell me what trouble quakes your speech."
"Shon McGann, it is for you to make the sign of the Cross . . . there, while I put my hand on your shoulder—so!"
"Your hand is heavy, Pierre."
"This is the sight of the eyes that see. In the Valley there is snow; in the snow of all that was, there is one poppet-head of the mine that was called St. Gabriel . . . upon the poppet-head there is the figure of a woman."
"She does not move—"
"She will never move?"
"She will never move."
"The breath o' my body hurts me. . . . There is death in the Valley, Pierre?"
"There is death."
"It was an avalanche—that path between the pines?"
"And a great storm after."
"Blessed be God that I cannot behold that thing this day! . . . And the woman, Pierre, the woman aloft?"
"She went to watch for someone coming, and as she watched, the avalanche came—and she moves not."
"Do we know that woman?"
"Who can tell?"
"What was it you whispered soft to yourself, then, Pierre?"
"I whispered no word."
"There, don't you hear it, soft and sighin'? . . . Nathalie!"
"'Mon Dieu!' It is not of the world."
"It's facin' the poppet-head where she stands I'd be."
"Your face is turned towards her."
"Where is the sun?"
"The sun stands still above her head."
"With the bitter over, and the avil past, come rest for her and all that lie there."
"Eh, 'bien,' the game is done!"
"If we stay here we shall die also."
"If we go we die, perhaps." . . .
"Don't spake it. We will go, and we will return when the breath of summer comes from the South."
"It shall be so."
"Hush! Did you not hear—?"
"I did not hear. I only see an eagle, and it flies towards Whiteface Mountain."
And Shon McGann and Pretty Pierre turned back from the end of their quest—from a mighty grave behind to a lonely waste before; and though one was snow-blind, and the other knew that on him fell the chiefer weight of a great misfortune, for he must provide food and fire and be as a mother to his comrade—they had courage; without which, men are as the standing straw in an unreaped field in winter; but having become like the hooded pine, that keepeth green in frost, and hath the bounding blood in all its icy branches.
And whence they came and wherefore was as thus:
A French Canadian once lived in Lonely Valley. One day great fortune came to him, because it was given him to discover the mine St. Gabriel. And he said to the woman who loved him, "I will go with mules and much gold, that I have hewn and washed and gathered, to a village in the East where my father and my mother are. They are poor, but I will make them rich; and then I will return to Lonely Valley, and a priest shall come with me, and we will dwell here at Whiteface Mountain, where men are men and not children." And the woman blessed him, and prayed for him, and let him go.
He travelled far through passes of the mountains, and came at last where new cities lay upon the plains, and where men were full of evil and of lust of gold. And he was free of hand and light of heart; and at a place called Diamond City false friends came about him, and gave him champagne wine to drink, and struck him down and robbed him, leaving him for dead.
And he was found, and his wounds were all healed: all save one, and that was in the brain. Men called him mad.
He wandered through the land, preaching to men to drink no wine, and to shun the sight of gold. And they laughed at him, and called him Pere Champagne.
But one day much gold was found at a place called Reef o' Angel; and jointly with the gold came a plague which scars the face and rots the body; and Indians died by hundreds and white men by scores; and Pere Champagne, of all who were not stricken down, feared nothing, and did not flee, but went among the sick and dying, and did those deeds which gold cannot buy, and prayed those prayers which were never sold. And who can count how high the prayers of the feckless go!
When none was found to bury the dead, he gave them place himself beneath the prairie earth,—consecrated only by the tears of a fool,—and for extreme unction he had but this: "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
Now it happily chanced that Pierre and Shon McGann, who travelled westward, came upon this desperate battle-field, and saw how Pere Champagne dared the elements of scourge and death; and they paused and laboured with him—to save where saving was granted of Heaven, and to bury when the Reaper reaped and would not stay his hand. At last the plague ceased, because winter stretched its wings out swiftly o'er the plains from frigid ranges in the West. And then Pere Champagne fell ill again.
And this last great sickness cured his madness: and he remembered whence he had come, and what befell him at Diamond City so many moons ago. And he prayed them, when he knew his time was come, that they would go to Lonely Valley and tell his story to the woman whom he loved; and say that he was going to a strange but pleasant Land, and that there he would await her coming. He begged them that they would go at once, that she might know, and not strain her eyes to blindness, and be sick at heart because he came not. And he told them her name, and drew the coverlet up about his head and seemed to sleep; but he waked between the day and dark, and gently cried: "The snow is heavy on the mountain . . . and the Valley is below. . . . 'Gardez, mon Pere!' . . . Ah, Nathalie!" And they buried him between the dark and dawn.
Though winds were fierce, and travel full of peril, they kept their word, and passed along wide steppes of snow, until they entered passes of the mountains, and again into the plains; and at last one 'poudre' day, when frost was shaking like shreds of faintest silver through the air, Shon McGann's sight fled. But he would not turn back—a promise to a dying man was sacred, and he could follow if he could not lead; and there was still some pemmican, and there were martens in the woods, and wandering deer that good spirits hunted into the way of the needy; and Pierre's finger along the gun was sure.
Pierre did not tell Shon that for many days they travelled woods where no sunshine entered; where no trail had ever been, nor foot of man had trod: that they had lost their way. Nor did he make his comrade know that one night he sat and played a game of solitaire to see if they would ever reach the place called Lonely Valley. Before the cards were dealt, he made a sign upon his breast and forehead. Three times he played, and three times he counted victory; and before three suns had come and gone, they climbed a hill that perched over Lonely Valley. And of what they saw and their hearts felt we know.
And when they turned their faces eastward they were as men who go to meet a final and a conquering enemy; but they had kept their honour with the man upon whose grave-tree Shon McGann had carved beneath his name these words:
"A Brother of Aaron."
Upon a lonely trail they wandered, the spirits of lost travellers hungering in their wake—spirits that mumbled in cedar thickets, and whimpered down the flumes of snow. And Pierre, who knew that evil things are exorcised by mighty conjuring, sang loudly, from a throat made thin by forced fasting, a song with which his mother sought to drive away the devils of dreams that flaunted on his pillow when a child: it was the song of the Scarlet Hunter. And the charm sufficed; for suddenly of a cheerless morning they came upon a trapper's hut in the wilderness, where their sufferings ceased, and the sight of Shon's eyes came back. When strength returned also, they journeyed to an Indian village, where a priest laboured. Him they besought; and when spring came they set forth to Lonely Valley again that the woman and the smothered dead—if it might chance so—should be put away into peaceful graves. But thither coming they only saw a grey and churlish river; and the poppet-head of the mine of St. Gabriel, and she who had knelt thereon, were vanished into solitudes, where only God's cohorts have the rights of burial. . . .
But the priest prayed humbly for their so swiftly summoned souls.
THE SCARLET HUNTER
"News out of Egypt!" said the Honourable Just Trafford. "If this is true, it gives a pretty finish to the season. You think it possible, Pierre? It is every man's talk that there isn't a herd of buffaloes in the whole country; but this-eh?"
Pierre did not seem disposed to answer. He had been watching a man's face for some time; but his eyes were now idly following the smoke of his cigarette as it floated away to the ceiling in fading circles. He seemed to take no interest in Trafford's remarks, nor in the tale that Shangi the Indian had told them; though Shangi and his tale were both sufficiently uncommon to justify attention.
Shon McGann was more impressionable. His eyes swam; his feet shifted nervously with enjoyment; he glanced frequently at his gun in the corner of the hut; he had watched Trafford's face with some anxiety, and accepted the result of the tale with delight. Now his look was occupied with Pierre.
Pierre was a pretty good authority in all matters concerning the prairies and the North. He also had an instinct for detecting veracity, having practised on both sides of the equation. Trafford became impatient, and at last the half-breed, conscious that he had tried the temper of his chief so far as was safe, lifted his eyes, and, resting them casually on the Indian, replied: "Yes, I know the place. . . . No, I have not been there, but I was told-ah, it was long ago! There is a great valley between hills, the Kimash Hills, the hills of the Mighty Men. The woods are deep and dark; there is but one trail through them, and it is old. On the highest hill is a vast mound. In that mound are the forefathers of a nation that is gone. Yes, as you say, they are dead, and there is none of them alive in the valley—which is called the White Valley—where the buffalo are. The valley is green in summer, and the snow is not deep in winter; the noses of the buffalo can find the tender grass. The Injin speaks the truth, perhaps. But of the number of buffaloes, one must see. The eye of the red man multiplies."
Trafford looked at Pierre closely. "You seem to know the place very well. It is a long way north where—ah yes, you said you had never been there; you were told. Who told you?"
The half-breed raised his eyebrows slightly as he replied: "I can remember a long time, and my mother, she spoke much and sang many songs at the campfires." Then he puffed his cigarette so that the smoke clouded his face for a moment, and went on,—"I think there may be buffaloes."
"It's along the barrel of me gun I wish I was lookin' at thim now," said McGann.
"'Tiens,' you will go"? inquired Pierre of Trafford. "To have a shot at the only herd of wild buffaloes on the continent! Of course I'll go. I'd go to the North Pole for that. Sport and novelty I came here to see; buffalo-hunting I did not expect. I'm in luck, that's all. We'll start to-morrow morning, if we can get ready, and Shangi here will lead us; eh, Pierre?"
The half-breed again was not polite. Instead of replying he sang almost below his breath the words of a song unfamiliar to his companions, though the Indian's eyes showed a flash of understanding. These were the words:
"They ride away with a waking wind, away, away! With laughing lip and with jocund mind at break of day. A rattle of hoofs and a snatch of song, they ride, they ride! The plains are wide and the path is long,—so long, so wide!"
Just Trafford appeared ready to deal with this insolence, for the half- breed was after all a servant of his, a paid retainer. He waited, however. Shon saw the difficulty, and at once volunteered a reply. "It's aisy enough to get away in the mornin', but it's a question how far we'll be able to go with the horses. The year is late; but there's dogs beyand, I suppose, and bedad, there y' are!"
The Indian spoke slowly: "It is far off. There is no colour yet in the leaf of the larch. The river-hen still swims northward. It is good that we go. There is much buffalo in the White Valley."
Again Trafford looked towards his follower, and again the half-breed, as if he were making an effort to remember, sang abstractedly:
"They follow, they follow a lonely trail, by day, by night, By distant sun, and by fire-fly pale, and northern light. The ride to the Hills of the Mighty Men, so swift they go! Where buffalo feed in the wilding glen in sun and snow."
"Pierre," said Trafford, sharply, "I want an answer to my question."
"'Mais, pardon,' I was thinking . . . well, we can ride until the deep snows come, then we can walk; and Shangi, he can get the dogs, maybe, one team of dogs."
"But," was the reply, "one team of dogs will not be enough. We'll bring meat and hides, you know, as well as pemmican. We won't cache any carcases up there. What would be the use? We shall have to be back in the Pipi Valley by the spring-time."
"Well," said the half-breed with a cold decision, "one team of dogs will be enough; and we will not cache, and we shall be back in the Pipi Valley before the spring, perhaps." But this last word was spoken under his breath.
And now the Indian spoke, with his deep voice and dignified manner: "Brothers, it is as I have said, the trail is lonely and the woods are deep and dark. Since the time when the world was young, no white man hath been there save one, and behold sickness fell on him; the grave is his end. It is a pleasant land, for the gods have blessed it to the Indian forever. No heathen shall possess it. But you shall see the White Valley and the buffalo. Shangi will lead, because you have been merciful to him, and have given him to sleep in your wigwam, and to eat of your wild meat. There are dogs in the forest. I have spoken."
Trafford was impressed, and annoyed too. He thought too much sentiment was being squandered on a very practical and sportive thing. He disliked functions; speech-making was to him a matter for prayer and fasting. The Indian's address was therefore more or less gratuitous, and he hastened to remark: "Thank you, Shangi; that's very good, and you've put it poetically. You've turned a shooting-excursion into a mediaeval romance. But we'll get down to business now, if you please, and make the romance a fact, beautiful enough to send to the 'Times' or the New York 'Call'. Let's see, how would they put it in the Call?—'Extraordinary Discovery —Herd of buffaloes found in the far North by an Englishman and his Franco-Irish Party—Sport for the gods—Exodus of 'brules' to White Valley!'—and so on, screeching to the end."
Shon laughed heartily. "The fun of the world is in the thing," he said; "and a day it would be for a notch on a stick and a rasp of gin in the throat. And if I get the sight of me eye on a buffalo-ruck, it's down on me knees I'll go, and not for prayin' aither. Here's both hands up for a start in the mornin'!"
Long before noon next day they were well on their way. Trafford could not understand why Pierre was so reserved, and, when speaking, so ironical. It was noticeable that the half-breed watched the Indian closely, that he always rode behind him, that he never drank out of the same cup. The leader set this down to the natural uncertainty of Pierre's disposition. He had grown to like Pierre, as the latter had come in course to respect him. Each was a man of value after his kind. Each also had recognised in the other qualities of force and knowledge having their generation in experiences which had become individuality, subterranean and acute, under a cold surface. It was the mutual recognition of these equivalents that led the two men to mutual trust, only occasionally disturbed, as has been shown; though one was regarded as the most fastidious man of his set in London, the fairest-minded of friends, the most comfortable of companions; while the other was an outlaw, a half-heathen, a lover of but one thing in this world, the joyous god of Chance. Pierre was essentially a gamester. He would have extracted satisfaction out of a death-sentence which was contingent on the trumping of an ace. His only honour was the honour of the game.
Now, with all the swelling prairie sloping to the clear horizon, and the breath of a large life in their nostrils, these two men were caught up suddenly, as it were, by the throbbing soul of the North, so that the subterranean life in them awoke and startled them. Trafford conceived that tobacco was the charm with which to exorcise the spirits of the past. Pierre let the game of sensations go on, knowing that they pay themselves out in time. His scheme was the wiser. The other found that fast riding and smoking were not sufficient. He became surrounded by the ghosts of yesterdays; and at length he gave up striving with them, and let them storm upon him, until a line of pain cut deeply across his forehead, and bitterly and unconsciously he cried aloud,—"Hester, ah, Hester!"
But having spoken, the spell was broken, and he was aware of the beat of hoofs beside him, and Shangi the Indian looking at him with a half smile. Something in the look thrilled him; it was fantastic, masterful. He wondered that he had not noticed this singular influence before. After all, he was only a savage with cleaner buckskin than his race usually wore. Yet that glow, that power in the face—was he Piegan, Blackfoot, Cree, Blood? Whatever he was, this man had heard the words which broke so painfully from him.
He saw the Indian frame her name upon his lips, and then came the words, "Hester—Hester Orval!"
He turned sternly, and said, "Who are you? What do you know of Hester Orval?"
The Indian shook his head gravely, and replied, "You spoke her name, my brother."
"I spoke one word of her name. You have spoken two."
"One does not know what one speaks. There are words which are as sounds, and words which are as feelings. Those come to the brain through the ear; these to the soul through sign, which is more than sound. The Indian hath knowledge, even as the white man; and because his heart is open, the trees whisper to him; he reads the language of the grass and the wind, and is taught by the song of the bird, the screech of the hawk, the bark of the fox. And so he comes to know the heart of the man who hath sickness, and calls upon someone, even though it be a weak woman, to cure his sickness; who is bowed low as beside a grave, and would stand upright. Are not my words wise? As the thoughts of a child that dreams, as the face of the blind, the eye of the beast, or the anxious hand of the poor, are they not simple, and to be understood?"
Just Trafford made no reply. But behind, Pierre was singing in the plaintive measure of a chant:
"A hunter rideth the herd abreast, The Scarlet Hunter from out of the West, Whose arrows with points of flame are drest, Who loveth the beast of the field the best, The child and the young bird out of the nest, They ride to the hunt no more, no more!"
They travelled beyond all bounds of civilisation; beyond the northernmost Indian villages, until the features of the landscape became more rugged and solemn, and at last they paused at a place which the Indian called Misty Mountain, and where, disappearing for an hour, he returned with a team of Eskimo dogs, keen, quick-tempered, and enduring. They had all now recovered from the disturbing sentiments of the first portion of the journey; life was at full tide; the spirit of the hunter was on them.
At length one night they camped in a vast pine grove wrapped in coverlets of snow and silent as death. Here again Pierre became moody and alert and took no part in the careless chat at the camp-fire led by Shon McGann. The man brooded and looked mysterious. Mystery was not pleasing to Trafford. He had his own secrets, but in the ordinary affairs of life he preferred simplicity. In one of the silences that fell between Shon's attempts to give hilarity to the occasion, there came a rumbling far-off sound, a sound that increased in volume till the earth beneath them responded gently to the vibration. Trafford looked up inquiringly at Pierre, and then at the Indian, who, after a moment, said slowly: "Above us are the hills of the Mighty Men, beneath us is the White Valley. It is the tramp of buffalo that we hear. A storm is coming, and they go to shelter in the mountains."
The information had come somewhat suddenly, and McGann was the first to recover from the pleasant shock: "It's divil a wink of sleep I'll get this night, with the thought of them below there ripe for slaughter, and the tumble of fight in their beards."
Pierre, with a meaning glance from his half-closed eyes, added: "But it is the old saying of the prairies that you do not shout dinner till you have your knife in the loaf. Your knife is not yet in the loaf, Shon McGann."
The boom of the trampling ceased, and now there was a stirring in the snow-clad tree tops, and a sound as if all the birds of the North were flying overhead. The weather began to moan and the boles of the pines to quake. And then there came war,—a trouble out of the north, a wave of the breath of God to show inconsequent man that he who seeks to live by slaughter hath slaughter for his master.
They hung over the fire while the forest cracked round them, and the flame smarted with the flying snow. And now the trees, as if the elements were closing in on them, began to break close by, and one lurched forward towards them. Trafford, to avoid its stroke, stepped quickly aside right into the line of another which he did not see. Pierre sprang forward and swung him clear, but was himself struck senseless by an outreaching branch.
As if satisfied with this achievement, the storm began to subside. When Pierre recovered consciousness Trafford clasped his hand and said,— "You've a sharp eye, a quick thought, and a deft arm, comrade."
"Ah, it was in the game. It is good play to assist your partner," the half-breed replied sententiously. Through all, the Indian had remained stoical. But McGann, who swore by Trafford—as he had once sworn by another of the Trafford race—had his heart on his lips, and said:
"There's a swate little cherub that sits up aloft, Who cares for the soul of poor Jack!"
It was long after midnight ere they settled down again, with the wreck of the forest round them. Only the Indian slept; the others were alert and restless. They were up at daybreak, and on their way before sunrise, filled with desire for prey. They had not travelled far before they emerged upon a plateau. Around them were the hills of the Mighty Men— austere, majestic; at their feet was a vast valley on which the light newly-fallen snow had not hidden all the grass. Lonely and lofty, it was a world waiting chastely to be peopled! And now it was peopled, for there came from a cleft of the hills an army of buffaloes lounging slowly down the waste, with tossing manes and hoofs stirring the snow into a feathery scud.
The eyes of Trafford and McGann swam; Pierre's face was troubled, and strangely enough he made the sign of the cross.
At that instant Trafford saw smoke issuing from a spot on the mountain opposite. He turned to the Indian: "Someone lives there"? he said.
"It is the home of the dead, but life is also there."
"White man, or Indian?"
But no reply came. The Indian pointed instead to the buffalo rumbling down the valley. Trafford forgot the smoke, forgot everything except that splendid quarry. Shon was excited. "Sarpints alive," he said, "look at the troops of thim! Is it standin' here we are with our tongues in our cheeks, whin there's bastes to be killed, and mate to be got, and the call to war on the ground below! Clap spurs with your heels, sez I, and down the side of the turf together and give 'em the teeth of our guns!" The Irishman dashed down the slope. In an instant, all followed, or at least Trafford thought all followed, swinging their guns across their saddles to be ready for this excellent foray. But while Pierre rode hard, it was at first without the fret of battle in him, and he smiled strangely, for he knew that the Indian had disappeared as they rode down the slope, though how and why he could not tell. There ran through his head tales chanted at camp-fires when he was not yet in stature so high as the loins that bore him. They rode hard, and yet they came no nearer to that flying herd straining on with white streaming breath and the surf of snow rising to their quarters. Mile upon mile, and yet they could not ride these monsters down!
Now Pierre was leading. There was a kind of fury in his face, and he seemed at last to gain on them. But as the herd veered close to a wall of stalwart pines, a horseman issued from the trees and joined the cattle. The horseman was in scarlet from head to foot; and with his coming the herd went faster, and ever faster, until they vanished into the mountain-side; and they who pursued drew in their trembling horses and stared at each other with wonder in their faces.
"In God's name what does it mean"? Trafford cried.
"Is it a trick of the eye or the hand of the devil"? added Shon.
"In the name of God we shall know perhaps. If it is the hand of the devil it is not good for us," remarked Pierre.
"Who was the man in scarlet who came from the woods"? asked Trafford of the half-breed.
"'Voila,' it is strange! There is an old story among the Indians! My mother told many tales of the place and sang of it, as I sang to you. The legend was this:—In the hills of the North which no white man, nor no Injin of this time hath seen, the forefathers of the red men sleep; but some day they will wake again and go forth and possess all the land; and the buffalo are for them when that time shall come, that they may have the fruits of the chase, and that it be as it was of old, when the cattle were as clouds on the horizon. And it was ordained that one of these mighty men who had never been vanquished in fight, nor done an evil thing, and was the greatest of all the chiefs, should live and not die, but be as a sentinel, as a lion watching, and preserve the White Valley in peace until his brethren waked and came into their own again. And him they called the Scarlet Hunter; and to this hour the red men pray to him when they lose their way upon the plains, or Death draws aside the curtains of the wigwam to call them forth."