Pierre and his People
by Gilbert Parker
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Pierre nodded.

"And you know what came once when you walked with me.... The dead can strike," he added. Pierre sought his eye. "The minister and the girl buried together that day," he said, "were—"

He stopped, for behind him he heard the sharp, cold trickle of water. Silent they walked on. It followed them. They could not get out of the Glen now until they had compassed its length—the walls were high. The sound grew. The men faced each other.

"Good-bye," said Wendling; and he reached out his hand swiftly. But Pierre heard a mighty flood groaning on them, and he blinded as he stretched his arm in response. He caught at Wendling's shoulder, but felt him lifted and carried away, while he himself stood still in a screeching wind and heard impalpable water rushing over him. In a minute it was gone; and he stood alone in Red Glen.

He gathered himself up and ran. Far down, where the Glen opened to the plain, he found Wendling. The hands were wrinkled; the face was cold; the body was wet: the man was drowned and dead.


"Divils me darlins, it's a memory I have of a time whin luck wasn't foldin' her arms round me, and not so far back aither, and I on the wallaby track hot-foot for the City o' Gold."

Shon McGann said this in the course of a discussion on the prosperity of Pipi Valley. Pretty Pierre remarked nonchalantly in reply,—"The wallaby track—eh—what is that, Shon?"

"It's a bit of a haythen y' are, Pierre. The wallaby track? That's the name in Australia for trampin' west through the plains of the Never-Never Country lookin' for the luck o' the world; as, bedad, it's meself that knows it, and no other, and not by book or tellin' either, but with the grip of thirst at me throat and a reef in me belt every hour to quiet the gnawin'." And Shon proceeded to light his pipe afresh.

"But the City o' Gold-was there much wealth for you there, Shon?"

Shon laughed, and said between the puffs of smoke, "Wealth for me, is it? Oh, mother o' Moses! wealth of work and the pride of livin' in the heart of us, and the grip of an honest hand betunewhiles; and what more do y' want, Pierre?"

The Frenchman's drooping eyelids closed a little more, and he replied, meditatively: "Money? No, that is not Shon McGann. The good fellowship of thirst?—yes, a little. The grip of the honest hand, quite, and the clinch of an honest waist? Well, 'peut-etre.'

"Of the waist which is not honest?—tsh! he is gay—and so!"

The Irishman took his pipe from his mouth, and held it poised before him. He looked inquiringly and a little frowningly at the other for a moment, as if doubtful whether to resent the sneer that accompanied the words just spoken; but at last he good-humouredly said: "Blood o' me bones, but it's much I fear the honest waist hasn't always been me portion—Heaven forgive me!"

"'Nom de pipe,' this Irishman!" replied Pierre. "He is gay; of good heart; he smiles, and the women are at his heels; he laughs, and they are on their knees—Such a fool he is!"

Still Shon McGann laughed.

"A fool I am, Pierre, or I'd be in ould Ireland at this minute, with a roof o' me own over me and the friends o' me youth round me, and brats on me knee, and the fear o' God in me heart."

"'Mais,' Shon," mockingly rejoined the Frenchman, "this is not Ireland, but there is much like that to be done here. There is a roof, and there is that woman at Ward's Mistake, and the brats—eh, by and by?"

Shon's face clouded. He hesitated, then replied sharply: "That woman, do y' say, Pierre, she that nursed me when the Honourable and meself were taken out o' Sandy Drift, more dead than livin'; she that brought me back to life as good as ever, barrin' this scar on me forehead and a stiffness at me elbow, and the Honourable as right as the sun, more luck to him! which he doesn't need at all, with the wind of fortune in his back and shiftin' neither to right nor left. —That woman! faith, y'd better not cut the words so sharp betune yer teeth, Pierre."

"But I will say more—a little—just the same. She nursed you—well, that is good; but it is good also, I think, you pay her for that, and stop the rest. Women are fools, or else they are worse. This one? She is worse. Yes; you will take my advice, Shon McGann." The Irishman came to his feet with a spring, and his words were angry.

"It doesn't come well from Pretty Pierre, the gambler, to be revilin' a woman; and I throw it in y'r face, though I've slept under the same blanket with ye, an' drunk out of the same cup on manny a tramp, that you lie dirty and black when ye spake ill—of my wife."

This conversation had occurred in a quiet corner of the bar-room of the Saints' Repose. The first few sentences had not been heard by the others present; but Shon's last speech, delivered in a ringing tone, drew the miners to their feet, in expectation of seeing shots exchanged at once. The code required satisfaction, immediate and decisive. Shon was not armed, and some one thrust a pistol towards him; but he did not take it. Pierre rose, and coming slowly to him, laid a slender finger on his chest, and said:

"So! I did not know that she was your wife. That is a surprise."

The miners nodded assent. He continued:

"Lucy Rives your wife! Hola, Shon McGann, that is such a joke."

"It's no joke, but God's truth, and the lie is with you, Pierre."

Murmurs of anticipation ran round the room; but the half-breed said: "There will be satisfaction altogether; but it is my whim to prove what I say first; then"—fondling his revolver—"then we shall settle. But, see: you will meet me here at ten o'clock to-night, and I will make it, I swear to you, so clear, that the woman is vile."

The Irishman suddenly clutched the gambler, shook him like a dog, and threw him against the farther wall. Pierre's pistol was levelled from the instant Shon moved; but he did not use it. He rose on one knee after the violent fall, and pointing it at the other's head, said coolly: "I could kill you, my friend, so easy! But it is not my whim. Till ten o'clock is not long to wait, and then, just here, one of us shall die. Is it not so?" The Irishman did not flinch before the pistol. He said with low fierceness, "At ten o'clock, or now, or any time, or at any place, y'll find me ready to break the back of the lies y've spoken, or be broken meself. Lucy Rives is my wife, and she's true and straight as the sun in the sky. I'll be here at ten o'clock, and as ye say, Pierre, one of us makes the long reckoning for this." And he opened the door and went out.

The half-breed moved to the bar, and, throwing down a handful of silver, said: "It is good we drink after so much heat. Come on, come on, comrades."

The miners responded to the invitation. Their sympathy was mostly with Shon McGann; their admiration was about equally divided; for Pretty Pierre had the quality of courage in as active a degree as the Irishman, and they knew that some extraordinary motive, promising greater excitement, was behind the Frenchman's refusal to send a bullet through Shon's head a moment before.

King Kinkley, the best shot in the Valley next to Pierre, had watched the unusual development of the incident with interest; and when his glass had been filled he said, thoughtfully: "This thing isn't according to Hoyle. There's never been any trouble just like it in the Valley before. What's that McGann said about the lady being his wife? If it's the case, where hev we been in the show? Where was we when the license was around? It isn't good citizenship, and I hev my doubts."

Another miner, known as the Presbyterian, added: "There's some skulduggery in it, I guess. The lady has had as much protection as if she was the sister of every citizen of the place, just as much as Lady Jane here (Lady Jane, the daughter of the proprietor of the Saints' Repose, administered drinks), and she's played this stacked hand on us, has gone one better on the sly."

"Pierre," said King Kinkley, "you're on the track of the secret, and appear to hev the advantage of the lady: blaze it—blaze it out."

Pierre rejoined, "I know something; but it is good we wait until ten o'clock. Then I will show you all the cards in the pack. Yes, so, 'bien sur.'"

And though there was some grumbling, Pierre had his way. The spirit of adventure and mutual interest had thrown the French half-breed, the Irishman, and the Hon. Just Trafford together on the cold side of the Canadian Rockies; and they had journeyed to this other side, where the warm breath from the Pacific passed to its congealing in the ranges. They had come to the Pipi field when it was languishing. From the moment of their coming its luck changed; it became prosperous. They conquered the Valley each after his kind. The Honourable—he was always called that—mastered its resources by a series of "great lucks," as Pierre termed it, had achieved a fortune, and made no enemies; and but two months before the day whose incidents are here recorded, had gone to the coast on business. Shon had won the reputation of being a "white man," to say nothing of his victories in the region of gallantry. He made no wealth; he only got that he might spend. Irishman-like he would barter the chances of fortune for the lilt of a voice or the clatter of a pretty foot.

Pierre was different. "Women, ah, no!" he would say, "they make men fools or devils."

His temptation lay not that way. When the three first came to the Pipi, Pierre was a miner, simply; but nearly all his life he had been something else, as many a devastated pocket on the east of the Rockies could bear witness; and his new career was alien to his soul. Temptation grew greatly on him at the Pipi, and in the days before he yielded to it he might have been seen at midnight in his but playing solitaire. Why he abstained at first from practising his real profession is accounted for in two ways: he had tasted some of the sweets of honest companionship with the Honourable and Shon, and then he had a memory of an ugly night at Pardon's Drive a year before, when he stood over his own brother's body, shot to death by accident in a gambling row having its origin with himself. These things had held him back for a time; but he was weaker than his ruling passion.

The Pipi was a young and comparatively virgin field; the quarry was at his hand. He did not love money for its own sake; it was the game that enthralled him. He would have played his life against the treasury of a kingdom, and, winning it with loaded double sixes, have handed back the spoil as an unredeemable national debt.

He fell at last, and in falling conquered the Pipi Valley; at the same time he was considered a fearless and liberal citizen, who could shoot as straight as he played well. He made an excursion to another field, however, at an opportune time, and it was during this interval that the accident to Shon and the Honourable had happened. He returned but a few hours before this quarrel with Shon occurred, and in the Saints' Repose, whither he had at once gone, he was told of the accident. While his informant related the incident and the romantic sequence of Shon's infatuation, the woman passed the tavern and was pointed out to Pierre. The half-breed had not much excitableness in his nature, but when he saw this beautiful woman with a touch of the Indian in her contour, his pale face flushed, and he showed his set teeth under his slight moustache. He watched her until she entered a shop, on the signboard of which was written—written since he had left a few months ago—Lucy Rives, Tobacconist.

Shon had then entered the Saints' Repose; and we know the rest. A couple of hours after this nervous episode, Pierre might have been seen standing in the shadow of the pines not far from the house at Ward's Mistake, where, he had been told, Lucy Rives lived with an old Indian woman. He stood, scarcely moving, and smoking cigarettes, until the door opened. Shon came out and walked down the hillside to the town. Then Pierre went to the door, and without knocking, opened it, and entered. A woman started up from a seat where she was sewing, and turned towards him. As she did so, the work, Shon's coat, dropped from her hands, her face paled, and her eyes grew big with fear. She leaned against a chair for support—this man's presence had weakened her so. She stood silent, save for a slight moan that broke from her lips, as Pierre lighted a cigarette coolly, and then said to an old Indian woman who sat upon the floor braiding a basket: "Get up, Ikni, and go away."

Ikni rose, came over, and peered into the face of the half-breed. Then she muttered: "I know you—I know you. The dead has come back again." She caught his arm with her bony fingers as if to satisfy herself that he was flesh and blood, and shaking her head dolefully, went from the room. When the door closed behind her there was silence, broken only by an exclamation from the man.

The other drew her hand across her eyes, and dropped it with a motion of despair. Then Pierre said, sharply: "Bien?"

"Francois," she replied, "you are alive!"

"Yes, I am alive, Lucy."

She shuddered, then grew still again and whispered: "Why did you let it be thought that you were drowned? Why? Oh, why"? she moaned.

He raised his eyebrows slightly, and between the puffs of smoke, said:

"Ah yes, my Lucy, why? It was so long ago. Let me see: so—so—ten years. Ten years is a long time to remember, eh?"

He came towards her. She drew back; but her hand remained on the chair. He touched the plain gold ring on her finger, and said:

"You still wear it. To think of that—so loyal for a woman! How she remembers, holy Mother! . . . But shall I not kiss you, yes, just once after eight years—my wife?"

She breathed hard and drew back against the wall, dazed and frightened, and said:

"No, no, do not come near me; do not speak to me—ah, please, stand back, for a moment—please!"

He shrugged his shoulders slightly, and continued, with mock tenderness:

"To think that things come round so! And here you have a home. But that is good. I am tired of much travel and life all alone. The prodigal goes not to the home, the home comes to the prodigal." He stretched up his arms as if with a feeling of content.

"Do you—do you not know," she said, "that—that—"

He interrupted her:

"Do I not know, Lucy, that this is your home? Yes. But is it not all the same? I gave you a home ten years ago—to think, ten years ago! We quarrelled one night, and I left you. Next morning my boat was found below the White Cascade—yes, but that was so stale a trick! It was not worthy of Francois Rives. He would do it so much better now; but he was young then; just a boy, and foolish. Well, sit down, Lucy, it is a long story, and you have much to tell, how much—who knows?" She came slowly forward and said with a painful effort:

"You did a great wrong, Francois. You have killed me.

"Killed you, Lucy, my wife! Pardon! Never in those days did you look so charming as now—never. But the great surprise of seeing your husband, it has made you shy, quite shy. There will be much time now for you to change all that. It is quite pleasant to think on, Lucy. . . . You remember the song we used to sing on the Chaudiere at St. Antoine? See, I have not forgotten it—

"'Nos amants sont en guerre, Vole, mon coeur, vole.'"

He hummed the lines over and over, watching through his half-shut eyes the torture he was inflicting.

"Oh, Mother of God," she whispered, "have mercy! Can you not see, do you not know? I am not as you left me."

"Yes, my wife, you are just the same; not an hour older. I am glad that you have come to me. But how they will envy Pretty Pierre!"

"Envy—Pretty-Pierre," she repeated, in distress; "are you Pretty Pierre? Ah, I might have known, I might have known!"

"Yes, and so! Is not Pretty Pierre as good a name as Francois Rives? Is it not as good as Shon McGann?"

"Oh, I see it all, I see it all now!" she said mournfully. "It was with you he quarrelled, and about me. He would not tell me what it was. You know, then, that I am—that I am married—to him?"

"Quite. I know all that; but it is no marriage." He rose to his feet slowly, dropping the cigarette from his lips as he did so. "Yes," he continued, "and I know that you prefer Shon McGann to Pretty Pierre."

She spread out her hands appealingly.

"But you are my wife, not his. Listen: do you know what I shall do? I will tell you in two hours. It is now eight o'clock. At ten o'clock Shon McGann will meet me at the Saints' Repose. Then you shall know.... Ah, it is a pity! Shon was my good friend, but this spoils all that. Wine—it has danger; cards—there is peril in that sport; women—they make trouble most of all."

"O God," she piteously said, "what did I do? There was no sin in me. I was your faithful wife, though you were cruel to me. You left me, cheated me, brought this upon me. It is you that has done this wickedness, not I." She buried her face in her hands, falling on her knees beside the chair.

He bent above her: "You loved the young avocat better, eight years ago."

She sprang to her feet. "Ah, now I understand,' she said. "That was why you quarrelled with me; why you deserted me. You were not man enough to say what made you so much the—so wicked and hard, so—"

"Be thankful, Lucy, that I did not kill you then," he interjected.

"But it is a lie," she cried; "a lie!"

She went to the door and called the Indian woman. "Ikni," she said. "He dares to say evil of Andre and me. Think—of Andre!"

Ikni came to him, put her wrinkled face close to his, and said: "She was yours, only yours; but the spirits gave you a devil. Andre, oh, oh, Andre! The father of Andre was her father—ah, that makes your sulky eyes to open. Ikni knows how to speak. Ikni nursed them both. If you had waited you should have known. But you ran away like a wolf from a coal of fire; you shammed death like a fox; you come back like the snake to crawl into the house and strike with poison tooth, when you should be with the worms in the ground. But Ikni knows—you shall be struck with poison too, the Spirit of the Red Knife waits for you. Andre was her brother."

He pushed her aside savagely: "Be still!" he said. "Get out-quick. 'Sacre'—quick!"

When they were alone again he continued with no anger in his tone: "So, Andre the avocat and you—that, eh? Well, you see how much trouble has come; and now this other—a secret too. When were you married to Shon McGann?"

"Last night," she bitterly replied; "a priest came over from the Indian village."

"Last night," he musingly repeated. "Last night I lost two thousand dollars at the Little Goshen field. I did not play well last night; I was nervous. In ten years I had not lost so much at one game as I did last night. It was a punishment for playing too honest, or something; eh, what do you think, Lucy—or something, 'hein?'"

She said nothing, but rocked her body to and fro.

"Why did you not make known the marriage with Shon?"

"He was to have told it to-night," she said.

There was silence for a moment, then a thought flashed into his eyes, and he rejoined with a jarring laugh, "Well, I will play a game to-night, Lucy Rives; such a game that Pretty Pierre will never be forgotten in the Pipi Valley—a beautiful game, just for two. And the other who will play—the wife of Francois Rives shall see if she will wait; but she must be patient, more patient than her husband was ten years ago."

"What will you do—tell me, what will you do?"

"I will play a game of cards—just one magnificent game; and the cards shall settle it. All shall be quite fair, as when you and I played in the little house by the Chaudiere—at first, Lucy,—before I was a devil."

Was this peculiar softness to his last tones assumed or real? She looked at him inquiringly; but he moved away to the window, and stood gazing down the hillside towards the town below. His eyes smarted.

"I will die," she said to herself in whispers—"I will die." A minute passed, and then Pierre turned and said to her: "Lucy, he is coming up the hill. Listen. If you tell him that I have seen you, I will shoot him on sight, dead. You would save him, for a little, for an hour or two—or more? Well, do as I say; for these things must be according to the rules of the game, and I myself will tell him all at the Saints' Repose. He gave me the lie there, and I will tell him the truth before them all there. Will you do as I say?"

She hesitated an instant, and then replied: "I will not tell him."

"There is only one way, then," he continued. "You must go at once from here into the woods behind there, and not see him at all. Then at ten o'clock you will come to the Saints' Repose, if you choose, to know how the game has ended."

She was trembling, moaning, no longer. A set look had come into her face; her eyes were steady and hard. She quietly replied: "Yes, I shall be there."

He came to her, took her hand, and drew from her finger the wedding-ring which last night Shon McGann had placed there. She submitted passively. Then, with an upward wave of his fingers, he spoke in a mocking lightness, but without any of the malice which had first appeared in his tones, words from an old French song:

"I say no more, my lady Mironton, Mironton, Mirontaine! I say no more, my lady, As nought more can be said."

He opened the door, motioned to the Indian woman, and, in a few moments, the broken-hearted Lucy Rives and her companion were hidden in the pines; and Pretty Pierre also disappeared into the shadow of the woods as Shon McGann appeared on the crest of the hill.

The Irishman walked slowly to the door, and pausing, said to himself: "I couldn't run the big risk, me darlin', without seein' you again, God help me! There's danger ahead which little I'd care for if it wasn't for you."

Then he stepped inside the house—the place was silent; he called, but no one answered; he threw open the doors of the rooms, but they were empty; he went outside and called again, but no reply came, except the flutter of a night-hawk's wings and the cry of a whippoorwill. He went back into the house and sat down with his head between his hands. So, for a moment, and then he raised his head, and said with a sad smile: "Faith, Shon, me boy, this takes the life out of you! the empty house where she ought to be, and the smile of her so swate, and the hand of her that falls on y'r shoulder like a dove on the blessed altar-gone, and lavin' a chill on y'r heart like a touch of the dead. Sure, nivir a wan of me saw any that could stand wid her for goodness, barrin' the angel that kissed me good-bye with one foot in the stirrup an' the troopers behind me, now twelve years gone, in ould Donegal, and that I'll niver see again, she lyin' where the hate of the world will vex the heart of her no more, and the masses gone up for her soul. Twice, twice in y'r life, Shon McGann, has the cup of God's joy been at y'r lips, and is it both times that it's to spill?—Pretty Pierre shoots straight and sudden, and maybe it's aisy to see the end of it; but as the just God is above us, I'll give him the lie in his throat betimes for the word he said agin me darlin'. What's the avil thing that he has to say? What's the divil's proof he would bring? And where is she now? Where are you, Lucy? I know the proof I've got in me heart that the wreck of the world couldn't shake, while that light, born of Heaven, swims up to your eyes whin you look at me!"

He rose to his feet again and walked to and fro; he went once more to the doors; he looked here and there through the growing dusk, but to no purpose. She had said that she would not go to her shop this night; but if not, then where could she have gone and Ikni, too? He felt there was more awry in his life than he cared to put into thought or speech. He picked up the sewing she had dropped and looked at it as one would regard a relic of the dead; he lifted her handkerchief, kissed it, and put it in his breast. He took a revolver from his pocket and examined it closely, looked round the room as though to fasten it in his memory, and then passed out, closing the door behind him. He walked down the hillside and went to her shop in the one street of the town, but she was not there, nor had the lad in charge seen her.

Meanwhile, Pretty Pierre had made his way to the Saints' Repose, and was sitting among the miners indolently smoking. In vain he was asked to play cards. His one reply was, "No, pardon, no! I play one game only to-night, the biggest game ever played in Pipi Valley." In vain, also, was he asked to drink. He refused the hospitality, defying the danger that such lack of good-fellowship might bring forth. He hummed in patches to himself the words of a song that the 'brules' were wont to sing when they hunted the buffalo:

"'Voila!' it is the sport to ride— Ah, ah the brave hunter!

To thrust the arrow in his hide, To send the bullet through his side 'Ici,' the buffalo, 'joli!' Ah, ah the buffalo!"

He nodded here and there as men entered; but he did not stir from his seat. He smoked incessantly, and his eyes faced the door of the bar-room that entered upon the street. There was no doubt in the minds of any present that the promised excitement would occur. Shon McGann was as fearless as he was gay. And Pipi Valley remembered the day in which he had twice risked his life to save two women from a burning building—Lady Jane and another. And Lady Jane this evening was agitated, and once or twice furtively looked at something under the bar-counter; in fact, a close observer would have noticed anger or anxiety in the eyes of the daughter of Dick Waldron, the keeper of the Saints' Repose. Pierre would certainly have seen it had he been looking that way. An unusual influence was working upon the frequenters of the busy tavern. Planned, premeditated excitement was out of their line. Unexpectedness was the salt of their existence. This thing had an air of system not in accord with the suddenness of the Pipi mind. The half-breed was the only one entirely at his ease; he was languid and nonchalant; the long lashes of his half-shut eyelids gave his face a pensive look. At last King Kinkley walked over to him and said: "There's an almighty mysteriousness about this event which isn't joyful, Pretty Pierre. We want to see the muss cleared up, of course; we want Shon McGann to act like a high-toned citizen, and there's a general prejudice in favour of things bein' on the flat of your palm, as it were. Now this thing hangs fire, and there's a lack of animation about it, isn't there?"

To this, Pretty Pierre replied: "What can I do? This is not like other things; one had to wait; great things take time. To shoot is easy; but to shoot is not all, as you shall see if you have a little patience. Ah, my friend, where there is a woman, things are different. I throw a glass in your face, we shoot, someone dies, and there it is quite plain of reason; you play a card which was dealt just now, I call you— something, and the swiftest finger does the trick; but in such as this, one must wait for the sport."

It was at this point that Shon McGann entered, looked round, nodded to all, and then came forward to the table where Pretty Pierre sat. As the other took out his watch, Shon said firmly but quietly: "Pierre, I gave you the lie to-day concerning me wife, and I'm here, as I said I'd be, to stand by the word I passed then."

Pierre waved his fingers lightly towards the other, and slowly rose. Then he said in sharp tones: "Yes, Shon McGann, you gave me the lie. There is but one thing for that in Pipi Valley. You choked me; I would not take that from a saint of heaven; but there was another thing to do first. Well, I have done it; I said I would bring proofs—I have them." He paused, and now there might have been seen a shining moisture on his forehead, and his words came menacingly from between his teeth, while the room became breathlessly still, save that in the silence a sleeping dog sighed heavily: "Shon McGann," he added, "you are living with my wife."

Twenty men drew in a sharp breath of excitement, and Shon came a step nearer the other, and said in a strange voice: "I—am—living—with— your—wife?"

"As I say, with my wife, Lucy Rives. Francois Rives was my name ten years ago. We quarrelled. I left her, and I never saw her again until to-night. You went to see her two hours ago. You did not find her. Why? She was gone because her husband, Pierre, told her to go. You want a proof? You shall have it. Here is the wedding-ring you gave her last night."

He handed it over, and Shon saw inside it his own name and hers.

"My God!" he said. "Did she know? Tell me she didn't know, Pierre?"

"No, she did not know. I have truth to speak to night. I was jealous, mad, and foolish, and I left her. My boat was found upset. They believed I was drowned. 'Bien,' she waited until yesterday, and then she took you—but she was my wife; she is my wife—and so you see!"

The Irishman was deadly pale.

"It's an avil heart y' had in y' then, Pretty Pierre, and it's an avil day that brought this thing to pass, and there's only wan way to the end of it."

"So, that is true. There is only one way," was the reply; "but what shall that way be? Someone must go: there must be no mistake. I have to propose. Here on this table we lay a revolver. We will give up these which we have in our pockets. Then we will play a game of euchre, and the winner of the game shall have the revolver. We will play for a life. That is fair, eh—that is fair"? he said to those around.

King Kinkley, speaking for the rest, replied: "That's about fair. It gives both a chance, and leaves only two when it's over. While the woman lives, one of you is naturally in the way. Pierre left her in a way that isn't handsome; but a wife's a wife, and though Shon was all in the glum about the thing, and though the woman isn't to be blamed either, there's one too many of you, and there's got to be a vacation for somebody. Isn't that so?"

The rest nodded assent. They had been so engaged that they did not see a woman enter the bar from behind, and crouch down beside Lady Jane, a woman whom the latter touched affectionately on the shoulder and whispered to once or twice, while she watched the preparations for the game.

The two men sat down, Shon facing the bar and Pierre with his back to it.

The game began, neither man showing a sign of nervousness, though Shon was very pale. The game was to finish for ten points. Men crowded about the tables silent but keenly excited; cigars were chewed instead of smoked, and liquor was left undrunk. At the first deal Pierre made a march, securing two. At the next Shon made a point, and at the next also a march. The half-breed was playing a straight game. He could have stacked the cards, but he did not do so; deft as he was he might have cheated even the vigilant eyes about him, but it was not so; he played as squarely as a novice. At the third, at the fourth, deal he made a march; at the fifth, sixth, and seventh deals, Shon made a march, a point, and a march. Both now had eight points. At the next deal both got a point, and both stood at nine!

Now came the crucial play.

During the progress of the game nothing had been heard save the sound of a knuckle on the table, the flip flip of the pasteboard, or the rasp of a heel on the floor. There was a set smile on Shon's face—a forgotten smile, for the rest of the face was stern and tragic. Pierre smoked cigarettes, pausing, while his opponent was shuffling and dealing, to light them.

Behind the bar as the game proceeded the woman who knelt beside Lady Jane listened to every sound. Her eyes grew more agonised as the numbers, whispered to her by her companion, climbed to the fatal ten.

The last deal was Shon's; there was that much to his advantage. As he slowly dealt, the woman—Lucy Rives—rose to her feet behind Lady Jane. So absorbed were all that none saw her. Her eyes passed from Pierre to Shon, and stayed.

When the cards were dealt, with but one point for either to gain, and so win and save his life, there was a slight pause before the two took them up. They did not look at one another; but each glanced at the revolver, then at the men nearest them, and lastly, for an instant, at the cards themselves, with their pasteboard faces of life and death turned downward. As the players picked them up at last and spread them out fan- like, Lady Jane slipped something into the hand of Lucy Rives.

Those who stood behind Shon McGann stared with anxious astonishment at his hand; it contained only nine and ten spots. It was easy to see the direction of the sympathy of Pipi Valley. The Irishman's face turned a slight shade paler, but he did not tremble or appear disturbed.

Pierre played his biggest card and took the point. He coolly counted one, and said, "Game. I win." The crowd drew back. Both rose to their feet. In the painful silence the half-breed's hand was gently laid on the revolver. He lifted it, and paused slightly, his eyes fixed to the steady look in those of Shon McGann. He raised the revolver again, till it was level with Shon's forehead, till it was even with his hair! Then there was a shot, and someone fell—not Shon, but Pierre, saying, as they caught him, "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! From behind!"

Instantly there was another shot, and someone crashed against the bottles in the bar. The other factor in the game, the wife, had shot at Pierre, and then sent a bullet through her own lungs.

Shon stood for a moment as if he was turned to stone, and then his head dropped in his arms upon the table. He had seen both shots fired, but could not speak in time.

Pierre was severely but not dangerously wounded in the neck.

But the woman—? They brought her out from behind the counter. She still breathed; but on her eyes was the film of coming death. She turned to where Shon sat. Her lips framed his name, but no voice came forth. Someone touched him on the shoulder. He looked up and caught her last glance. He came and stooped beside her; but she had died with that one glance from him, bringing a faint smile to her lips. And the smile stayed when the life of her had fled—fled through the cloud over her eyes, from the tide-beat of her pulse. It swept out from the smoke and reeking air into the open world, and beyond, into those untried paths where all must walk alone, and in what bitterness, known only to the Master of the World who sees these piteous things, and orders in what fashion distorted lives shall be made straight and wholesome in the Places of Readjustment.

Shon stood silent above the dead body.

One by one the miners went out quietly. Presently Pierre nodded towards the door, and King Kinkley and another lifted him and carried him towards it. Before they passed into the street he made them turn him so that he could see Shon. He waved his hand towards her that had been his wife, and said: "She should have shot but once and straight, Shon McGann, and then!—Eh, 'bien!'"

The door closed, and Shon McGann was left alone with the dead.


Irishmen have gifts for only two things—words and women More idle than wicked Reconciling the preacher and the sinner, as many another has



By Gilbert Parker

Volume 5.



"The birds are going south, Antoine—see—and it is so early!"

"Yes, Angelique, the winter will be long."

There was a pause, and then: "Antoine, I heard a child cry in the night, and I could not sleep."

"It was a devil-bird, my wife; it flies slowly, and the summer is dead."

"Antoine, there was a rushing of wings by my bed before the morn was breaking."

"The wild-geese know their way in the night, Angelique; but they flew by the house and not near thy bed."

"The two black squirrels have gone from the hickory tree."

"They have hidden away with the bears in the earth; for the frost comes, and it is the time of sleep."

"A cold hand was knocking at my heart when I said my aves last night, my Antoine."

"The heart of a woman feels many strange things: I cannot answer, my wife."

"Let us go also southward, Antoine, before the great winds and the wild frost come."

"I love thee, Angelique, but I cannot go."

"Is not love greater than all?"

"To keep a pledge is greater."

"Yet if evil come?"

"There is the mine."

"None travels hither; who should find it?"

He said to me, my wife: 'Antoine, will you stay and watch the mine until I come with the birds northward, again?' and I said: 'I will stay, and Angelique will stay; I will watch the mine.'"

"This is for his riches, but for our peril, Antoine."

"Who can say whither a woman's fancy goes? It is full of guessing. It is clouds and darkness to-day, and sunshine—so much—to-morrow. I cannot answer."

"I have a fear; if my husband loved me—"

"There is the mine," he interrupted firmly.

"When my heart aches so—"

"Angelique, there is the mine."

"Ah, my Antoine!"

And so these two stayed on the island of St. Jean, in Lake Superior, through the purple haze of autumn, into the white brilliancy of winter, guarding the Rose Tree Mine, which Falding the Englishman and his companions had prospected and declared to be their Ophir.

But St. Jean was far from the ways of settlement, and there was little food and only one hut, and many things must be done for the Rose Tree Mine in the places where men sell their souls for money; and Antoine and Angelique, French peasants from the parish of Ste. Irene in Quebec, were left to guard the place of treasure, until, to the sound of the laughing spring, there should come many men and much machinery, and the sinking of shafts in the earth, and the making, of riches.

But when Antoine and Angelique were left alone in the waste, and God began to draw the pale coverlet of frost slowly across land and water, and to surround St. Jean with a stubborn moat of ice, the heart of the woman felt some coming danger, and at last broke forth in words of timid warning. When she once had spoken she said no more, but stayed and builded the heaps of earth about the house, and filled every crevice against the inhospitable Spirit of Winds, and drew her world closer and closer within those two rooms where they should live through many months.

The winter was harsh, but the hearts of the two were strong. They loved; and Love is the parent of endurance, the begetter of courage. And every day, because it seemed his duty, Antoine inspected the Rose Tree Mine; and every day also, because it seemed her duty, Angelique said many aves. And one prayer was much with her—for spring to come early that the child should not suffer: the child which the good God was to give to her and Antoine.

In the first hours of each evening Antoine smoked, and Angelique sang the old songs which their ancestors learned in Normandy. One night Antoine's face was lighted with a fine fire as he talked of happy days in the parish of Ste. Irene; and with that romantic fervour of his race which the stern winters of Canada could not kill, he sang, 'A la Claire Fontaine,' the well-beloved song-child of the 'voyageurs'' hearts.

And the wife smiled far away into the dancing flames—far away, because the fire retreated, retreated to the little church where they two were wed; and she did as most good women do—though exactly why, man the insufficient cannot declare—she wept a little through her smiles. But when the last verse came, both smiles and tears ceased. Antoine sang it with a fond monotony:

"Would that each rose were growing Upon the rose-tree gay, And that the fatal rose-tree Deep in the ocean lay. 'I ya longtemps que je t'aime Jamais je ne t'oublierai."

Angelique's heart grew suddenly heavy. From the rose-tree of the song her mind fled and shivered before the leafless rose-tree by the mine; and her old dread came back.

Of course this was foolish of Angelique; of course the wise and great throw contumely on all such superstition; and knowing women will smile at each other meaningly, and with pity for a dull man-writer, and will whisper, "Of course, the child." But many things, your majesties, are hidden from your wisdom and your greatness, and are given to the simple —to babes, and the mothers of babes.

It was upon this very night that Falding the Englishman sat with other men in a London tavern, talking joyously. "There's been the luck of Heaven," he said, "in the whole exploit. We'd been prospecting for months. As a sort of try in a back-water we rowed over one night to an island and pitched tents. Not a dozen yards from where we camped was a rose-tree-think of it, Belgard, a rose-tree on a rag-tag island of Lake Superior! 'There's luck in odd numbers, says Rory O'More.' 'There's luck here,' said I; and at it we went just beside the rose-tree. What's the result? Look at that prospectus: a company with a capital of two hundred thousand; the whole island in our hands in a week; and Antoine squatting on it now like Bonaparte on Elbe."

"And what does Antoine get out of this"? said Belgard.

"Forty dollars a month and his keep."

"Why not write him off twenty shares to propitiate the gods—gifts unto the needy, eh!—a thousand-fold—what?"

"Yes; it might be done, Belgard, if—"

But someone just then proposed the toast, "The Rose Tree Mine!" and the souls of these men waxed proud and merry, for they had seen the investor's palm filled with gold, the maker of conquest. While Antoine was singing with his wife, they were holding revel within the sound of Bow Bells. And far into the night, through silent Cheapside, a rolling voice swelled through much laughter thus:

"Gai Ion la, gai le rosier, Du joli mois de Mai."

The next day there were heavy heads in London; but the next day, also, a man lay ill in the hut on the island of St. Jean.

Antoine had sung his last song. He had waked in the night with a start of pain, and by the time the sun was halting at noon above the Rose Tree Mine, he had begun a journey, the record of which no man has ever truly told, neither its beginning nor its end; because that which is of the spirit refuseth to be interpreted by the flesh. Some signs there be, but they are brief and shadowy; the awe of It is hidden in the mind of him that goeth out lonely unto God.

When the call goes forth, not wife nor child nor any other can hold the wayfarer back, though he may loiter for an instant on the brink. The poor medicaments which Angelique brings avail not; these soothing hands and healing tones, they pass through clouds of the middle place between heaven and earth to Antoine. It is only when the second midnight comes that, with conscious, but pensive and far-off, eyes, he says to her: "Angelique, my wife."

For reply her lips pressed his cheek, and her fingers hungered for his neck. Then: "Is there pain now Antoine?"

"There is no pain, Angelique."

He closed his eyes slowly; her lips framed an ave. "The mine," he said, "the mine—until the spring."

"Yes, Antoine, until the spring."

"Have you candles—many candles, Angelique?"

"There are many, my husband."

"The ground is as iron; one cannot dig, and the water under the ice is cruel—is it not so, Angelique?"

"No axe could break the ground, and the water is cruel," she said.

"You will see my face until the winter is gone, my wife."

She bowed her head, but smoothed his hand meanwhile, and her throat was quivering.

He partly slept—his body slept, though his mind was feeling its way to wonderful things. But near the morning his eyes opened wide, and he said: "Someone calls out of the dark, Angelique."

And she, with her hand on her heart, replied: "It is the cry of a dog, Antoine."

"But there are footsteps at the door, my wife."

"Nay, Antoine; it is the snow beating upon the window."

"There is the sound of wings close by—dost thou not hear them, Angelique?"

"Wings—wings," she falteringly said: "it is the hot blast through the chimney; the night is cold, Antoine."

"The night is very cold," he said; and he trembled. . . "I hear, O my wife, I hear the voice of a little child . . . the voice is like thine, Angelique."

And she, not knowing what to reply, said softly:

"There is hope in the voice of a child;" and the mother stirred within her; and in the moment he knew also that the Spirits would give her the child in safety, that she should not be alone in the long winter.

The sounds of the harsh night had ceased—the snapping of the leafless branches, the cracking of the earth, and the heaving of the rocks: the Spirits of the Frost had finished their work; and just as the grey forehead of dawn appeared beyond the cold hills, Antoine cried out gently: "Angelique . . . Ah, mon Capitaine . . . Jesu" . . . and then, no more.

Night after night Angelique lighted candles in the place where Antoine smiled on in his frozen silence; and masses were said for his soul—the masses Love murmurs for its dead. The earth could not receive him; its bosom was adamant; but no decay could touch him; and she dwelt alone with this, that was her husband, until one beautiful, bitter day, when, with no eye save God's to see her, and no human comfort by her, she gave birth to a man-child. And yet that night she lighted the candles at the dead man's head and feet, dragging herself thither in the cold; and in her heart she said that the smile on Antoine's face was deeper than it had been before.

In the early spring, when the earth painfully breathed away the frost that choked it, with her child for mourner, and herself for sexton and priest, she buried Antoine with maimed rites: but hers were the prayers of the poor, and of the pure in heart; and she did not fret because, in the hour that her comrade was put away into the dark, the world was laughing at the thought of coming summer.

Before another sunrise, the owners of the island of St. Jean claimed what was theirs; and because that which had happened worked upon their hearts, they called the child St. Jean, and from that time forth they made him to enjoy the goodly fruits of the Rose Tree Mine.


Hilton was staying his horse by a spring at Guidon Hill when he first saw her. She was gathering may-apples; her apron was full of them. He noticed that she did not stir until he rode almost upon her. Then she started, first without looking round, as does an animal, dropping her head slightly to one side, though not exactly appearing to listen. Suddenly she wheeled on him, and her big eyes captured him. The look bewildered him. She was a creature of singular fascination. Her face was expressive. Her eyes had wonderful light. She looked happy, yet grave withal; it was the gravity of an uncommon earnestness. She gazed through everything, and beyond. She was young—eighteen or so.

Hilton raised his hat, and courteously called a good-morning at her. She did not reply by any word, but nodded quaintly, and blinked seriously and yet blithely on him. He was preparing to dismount. As he did so he paused, astonished that she did not speak at all. Her face did not have a familiar language; its vocabulary was its own. He slid from his horse, and, throwing his arm over its neck as it stooped to the spring, looked at her more intently, but respectfully too. She did not yet stir, but there came into her face a slight inflection of confusion or perplexity. Again he raised his hat to her, and, smiling, wished her a good-morning. Even as he did so a thought sprung in him. Understanding gave place to wonder; he interpreted the unusual look in her face.

Instantly he made a sign to her. To that her face responded with a wonderful speech—of relief and recognition. The corners of her apron dropped from her fingers, and the yellow may-apples fell about her feet. She did not notice this. She answered his sign with another, rapid, graceful, and meaning. He left his horse and advanced to her, holding out his hand simply—for he was a simple and honest man. Her response to this was spontaneous. The warmth of her fingers invaded him. Her eyes were full of questioning. He gave a hearty sign of admiration. She flushed with pleasure, but made a naive, protesting gesture.

She was deaf and dumb.

Hilton had once a sister who was a mute. He knew that amazing primal gesture-language of the silent race, whom God has sent like one-winged birds into the world. He had watched in his sister just such looks of absolute nature as flashed from this girl. They were comrades on the instant; he reverential, gentle, protective; she sanguine, candid, beautifully aboriginal in the freshness of her cipher-thoughts. She saw the world naked, with a naked eye. She was utterly natural. She was the maker of exquisite, vital gesture-speech.

She glided out from among the may-apples and the long, silken grass, to charm his horse with her hand. As she started to do so, he hastened to prevent her, but, utterly surprised, he saw the horse whinny to her cheek, and arch his neck under her white palm—it was very white. Then the animal's chin sought her shoulder and stayed placid. He had never done so to anyone before save Hilton. Once, indeed, he had kicked a stableman to death. He lifted his head and caught with playful shaking lips at her ear. Hilton smiled; and so, as we said, their comradeship began.

He was a new officer of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Guidon. She was the daughter of a ranchman. She had been educated by Father Corraine, the Jesuit missionary, Protestant though she was. He had learned the sign-language while assistant-priest in a Parisian chapel for mutes. He taught her this gesture-tongue, which she, taking, rendered divine; and, with this, she learned to read and write.

Her name was Ida.

Ida was faultless. Hilton was not; but no man is. To her, however, he was the best that man can be. He was unselfish and altogether honest, and that is much for a man.

When Pierre came to know of their friendship he shook his head doubtfully. One day he was sitting on the hot side of a pine near his mountain hut, soaking in the sun. He saw them passing below him, along the edge of the hill across the ravine. He said to someone behind him in the shade, who was looking also," What will be the end of that, eh?"

And the someone replied: "Faith, what the Serpent in the Wilderness couldn't cure."

"You think he'll play with her?"

"I think he'll do it without wishin' or willin', maybe. It'll be a case of kiss and ride away."

There was silence. Soon Pierre pointed down again. She stood upon a green mound with a cool hedge of rock behind her, her feet on the margin of solid sunlight, her forehead bared. Her hair sprinkled round her as she gently threw back her head. Her face was full on Hilton. She was telling him something. Her gestures were rhythmical, and admirably balanced. Because they were continuous or only regularly broken, it was clear she was telling him a story. Hilton gravely, delightedly, nodded response now and then, or raised his eyebrows in fascinated surprise. Pierre, watching, was only aware of vague impressions—not any distinct outline of the tale. At last he guessed it as a perfect pastoral-birds, reaping, deer, winds, sundials, cattle, shepherds, hunting. To Hilton it was a new revelation. She was telling him things she had thought, she was recalling her life.

Towards the last, she said in gesture: "You can forget the winter, but not the spring. You like to remember the spring. It is the beginning. When the daisy first peeps, when the tall young deer first stands upon its feet, when the first egg is seen in the oriole's nest, when the sap first sweats from the tree, when you first look into the eye of your friend—these you want to remember. . . ."

She paused upon this gesture—a light touch upon the forehead, then the hands stretched out, palms upward, with coaxing fingers. She seemed lost in it. Her eyes rippled, her lips pressed slightly, a delicate wine crept through her cheek, and tenderness wimpled all. Her soft breast rose modestly to the cool texture of her dress. Hilton felt his blood bound joyfully; he had the wish of instant possession. But yet he could not stir, she held him so; for a change immediately passed upon her. She glided slowly from that almost statue-like repose into another gesture. Her eyes drew up from his, and looked away to plumbless distance, all glowing and childlike, and the new ciphers slowly said:

"But the spring dies away. We can only see a thing born once. And it may be ours, yet not ours. I have sighted the perfect Sharon-flower, far up on Guidon, yet it was not mine; it was too distant; I could not reach it. I have seen the silver bullfinch floating along the canon. I called to it, and it came singing; and it was mine, yet I could not hear its song, and I let it go; it could not be happy so with me. . . . I stand at the gate of a great city, and see all, and feel the great shuttles of sounds, the roar and clack of wheels, the horses' hoofs striking the ground, the hammer of bells; all: and yet it is not mine; it is far, far away from me. It is one world, mine is another; and sometimes it is lonely, and the best things are not for me. But I have seen them, and it is pleasant to remember, and nothing can take from us the hour when things were born, when we saw the spring—nothing—never!"

Her manner of speech, as this went on, became exquisite in fineness, slower, and more dream-like, until, with downward protesting motions of the hand, she said that "nothing—never!" Then a great sigh surged up her throat, her lips parted slightly, showing the warm moist whiteness of her teeth, her hands falling lightly, drew together and folded in front of her. She stood still.

Pierre had watched this scene intently, his chin in his hands, his elbows on his knees. Presently he drew himself up, ran a finger meditatively along his lip, and said to himself: "It is perfect. She is carved from the core of nature. But this thing has danger for her. . . . 'bien!' . . . ah!"

A change in the scene before him caused this last expression of surprise.

Hilton, rousing from the enchanting pantomime, took a step towards her; but she raised her hand pleadingly, restrainingly, and he paused. With his eyes he asked her mutely why. She did not answer, but, all at once transformed into a thing of abundant sprightliness, ran down the hillside, tossing up her arms gaily. Yet her face was not all brilliance. Tears hung at her eyes. But Hilton did not see these. He did not run, but walked quickly, following her; and his face had a determined look. Immediately, a man rose up from behind a rock on the same side of the ravine, and shook clenched fists after the departing figures; then stood gesticulating angrily to himself, until, chancing to look up, he sighted Pierre, and straightway dived into the underbrush. Pierre rose to his feet, and said slowly: "Hilton, here may be trouble for you also. It is a tangled world."

Towards evening Pierre sauntered to the house of Ida's father. Light of footstep, he came upon the girl suddenly. They had always been friends since the day when, at uncommon risk, he rescued her dog from a freshet on the Wild Moose River. She was sitting utterly still, her hands folded in her lap. He struck his foot smartly on the ground. She felt the vibration, and looked up. He doffed his hat, and she held out her hand. He smiled and took it, and, as it lay in his, looked at it for a moment musingly. She drew it back slowly. He was then thinking that it was the most intelligent hand he had ever seen. . . . He determined to play a bold and surprising game. He had learned from her the alphabet of the fingers—that is, how to spell words. He knew little gesture-language. He, therefore, spelled slowly: "Hawley is angry, because you love Hilton." The statement was so matter-of-fact, so sudden, that the girl had no chance. She flushed and then paled. She shook her head firmly, however, and her fingers slowly framed the reply: "You guess too much. Foolish things come to the idle."

"I saw you this afternoon," he silently urged.

Her fingers trembled slightly. "There was nothing to see." She knew he could not have read her gestures. "I was telling a story."

"You ran from him—why?" His questioning was cruel that he might in the end be kind.

"The child runs from its shadow, the bird from its nest, the fish jumps from the water—that is nothing." She had recovered somewhat.

But he: "The shadow follows the child, the bird comes back to its nest, the fish cannot live beyond the water. But it is sad when the child, in running, rushes into darkness, and loses its shadow; when the nest falls from the tree; and the hawk catches the happy fish. . . . Hawley saw you also."

Hawley, like Ida, was deaf and dumb. He lived over the mountains, but came often. It had been understood that, one day, she should marry him. It seemed fitting. She had said neither yes nor no. And now?

A quick tremor of trouble trailed over her face, then it became very still. Her eyes were bent upon the ground steadily. Presently a bird hopped near, its head coquetting at her. She ran her hand gently along the grass towards it. The bird tripped on it. She lifted it to her chin, at which it pecked tenderly. Pierre watched her keenly-admiring, pitying. He wished to serve her. At last, with a kiss upon its head, she gave it a light toss into the air, and it soared, lark-like, straight up, and hanging over her head, sang the day into the evening. Her eyes followed it. She could feel that it was singing. She smiled and lifted a finger lightly towards it. Then she spelled to Pierre this: "It is singing to me. We imperfect things love each other."

"And what about loving Hawley, then"? Pierre persisted. She did not reply, but a strange look came upon her, and in the pause Hilton came from the house and stood beside them. At this, Pierre lighted a cigarette, and with a good-natured nod to Hilton, walked away.

Hilton stooped over her, pale and eager. "Ida," he gestured, "will you answer me now? Will you be my wife?"

She drew herself together with a little shiver. "No," was her steady reply. She ruled her face into stillness, so that it showed nothing of what she felt. She came to her feet wearily, and drawing down a cool flowering branch of chestnut, pressed it to her cheek. "You do not love me"? he asked nervously.

"I am going to marry Luke Hawley," was her slow answer. She spelled the words. She used no gesture to that. The fact looked terribly hard and inflexible so. Hilton was not a vain man, and he believed he was not loved. His heart crowded to his throat.

"Please go away, now," she begged with an anxious gesture. While the hand was extended, he reached and brought it to his lips, then quickly kissed her on the forehead, and walked away. She stood trembling, and as the fingers of one hand hung at her side, they spelled mechanically these words: "It would spoil his life. I am only a mute—a dummy!"

As she stood so, she felt the approach of someone. She did not turn instantly, but with the aboriginal instinct, listened, as it were, with her body; but presently faced about—to Hawley. He was red with anger. He had seen Hilton kiss her. He caught her smartly by the arm, but, awed by the great calmness of her face, dropped it, and fell into a fit of sullenness. She spoke to him: he did not reply. She touched his arm: he still was gloomy. All at once the full price of her sacrifice rushed upon her; and overpowered her. She had no help at her critical hour, not even from this man she had intended to bless. There came a swift revulsion, all passions stormed in her at once. Despair was the resultant of these forces. She swerved from him immediately, and ran hard towards the high-banked river!

Hawley did not follow her at once: he did not guess her purpose. She had almost reached the leaping-place, when Pierre shot from the trees, and seized her. The impulse of this was so strong, that they slipped, and quivered on the precipitous edge: but Pierre righted then, and presently they were safe.

Pierre held her hard by both wrists for a moment. Then, drawing her away, he loosed her, and spelled these words slowly: "I understand. But you are wrong. Hawley is not the man. You must come with me. It is foolish to die."

The riot of her feelings, her momentary despair, were gone. It was even pleasant to be mastered by Pierre's firmness. She was passive. Mechanically she went with him. Hawley approached. She looked at Pierre. Then she turned on the other. "Yours is not the best love," she signed to him; "it does not trust; it is selfish." And she moved on.

But, an hour later, Hilton caught her to his bosom, and kissed her full on the lips. . . . And his right to do so continues to this day.


At Fort Latrobe sentiment was not of the most refined kind. Local customs were pronounced and crude in outline; language was often highly coloured, and action was occasionally accentuated by a pistol shot. For the first few months of its life the place was honoured by the presence of neither wife, nor sister, nor mother. Yet women lived there.

When some men did bring wives and children, it was noticed that the girl Blanche was seldom seen in the streets. And, however it was, there grew among the men a faint respect for her. They did not talk of it to each other, but it existed. It was known that Blanche resented even the most casual notice from those men who had wives and homes. She gave the impression that she had a remnant of conscience.

"Go home," she said to Harry Delong, who asked her to drink with him on New Year's Day. "Go home, and thank God that you've got a home—and a wife."

After Jacques, the long-time friend of Pretty Pierre, came to Fort Latrobe, with his sulky eye and scrupulously neat attire, Blanche appeared to withdraw still more from public gaze, though no one saw any connection between these events. The girl also became fastidious in her dress, and lost all her former dash and smart aggression of manner. She shrank from the women of her class, for which, as might be expected, she was duly reviled. But the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, nor has it been written that a woman may not close her ears, and bury herself in darkness, and travel alone in the desert with her people—those ghosts of herself, whose name is legion, and whose slow white fingers mock more than the world dare at its worst.

Suddenly, she was found behind the bar of Weir's Tavern at Cedar Point, the resort most frequented by Jacques. Word went about among the men that Blanche was taking a turn at religion, or, otherwise, reformation. Soldier Joe was something sceptical on this point from the fact that she had developed a very uncertain temper. This appeared especially noticeable in her treatment of Jacques. She made him the target for her sharpest sarcasm. Though a peculiar glow came to his eyes at times, he was never roused from his exasperating coolness. When her shafts were unusually direct and biting, and the temptation to resent was keen, he merely shrugged his shoulders, almost gently, and said: "Eh, such women!"

Nevertheless, there were men at Fort Latrobe who prophesied trouble, for they knew there was a deep strain of malice in the French half-breed which could be the more deadly because of its rare use. He was not easily moved, he viewed life from the heights of a philosophy which could separate the petty from the prodigious. His reputation was not wholly disquieting; he was of the goats, he had sometimes been found with the sheep, he preferred to be numbered with the transgressors. Like Pierre, his one passion was gambling. There were legends that once or twice in his life he had had another passion, but that some Gorgon drew out his heartstrings painfully, one by one, and left him inhabited by a pale spirit now called Irony, now Indifference—under either name a fret and an anger to women.

At last Blanche's attacks on Jacques called out anxious protests from men like rollicking Soldier Joe, who said to her one night, "Blanche, there's a devil in Jacques. Some day you'll startle him, and then he'll shoot you as cool as he empties the pockets of Freddy Tarlton over there."

And Blanche replied: "When he does that, what will you do, Joe?"

"Do? Do?" The man stroked his beard softly. "Why, give him ditto— cold."

"Well, then, there's nothing to row about, is there?" And Soldier Joe was not on the instant clever enough to answer her sophistry; but when she left him and he had thought awhile, he said, convincingly:

"But where would you be then, Blanche? . . . That's the point."

One thing was known and certain: Blanche was earning her living by honest, if not high-class, labour. Weir the tavern-keeper said she was "worth hundreds" to him. But she grew pale, her eyes became peculiarly brilliant, her voice took a lower key, and lost a kind of hoarseness it had in the past. Men came in at times merely to have a joke at her expense, having heard of her new life; but they failed to enjoy their own attempts at humour. Women of her class came also, some with half- uncertain jibes, some with a curious wistfulness, and a few with scornful oaths; but the jibes and oaths were only for a time. It became known that she had paid the coach fare of Miss Dido (as she was called) to the hospital at Wapiti, and had raised a subscription for her maintenance there, heading it herself with a liberal sum. Then the atmosphere round her became less trying; yet her temper remained changeable, and had it not been that she was good-looking and witty, her position might have been insecure. As it was, she ruled in a neutral territory where she was the only woman. One night, after an inclement remark to Jacques, in the card-room, Blanche came back to the bar, and not noticing that, while she was gone, Soldier Joe had entered and laid himself down on a bench in a corner, she threw her head passionately forward on her arms as they rested on the counter, and cried: "O my God! my God!"

Soldier Joe lay still as if sleeping, and when Blanche was called away again he rose, stole out, went down to Freddy Tarlton's office, and offered to bet Freddy two to one that Blanche wouldn't live a year. Joe's experience of women was limited. He had in his mind the case of a girl who had accidentally smothered her child; and so he said:

"Blanche has something on her mind that's killing her, Freddy. When trouble fixes on her sort it kills swift and sure. They've nothing to live for but life, and it isn't good enough, you see, for—for—" Joe paused to find out where his philosophy was taking him.

Freddy Tarlton finished the sentence for him: "For an inner sorrow is a consuming fire."

Fort Latrobe soon had an unexpected opportunity to study Soldier Joe's theory. One night Jacques did not appear at Weir's Tavern as he had engaged to do, and Soldier Joe and another went across the frozen river to his log-hut to seek him. They found him by a handful of fire, breathing heavily and nearly unconscious. One of the sudden and frequently fatal colds of the mountains had fastened on him, and he had begun a war for life. Joe started back at once for liquor and a doctor, leaving his comrade to watch by the sick man.

He could not understand why Blanche should stagger and grow white when he told her; nor why she insisted on taking the liquor herself. He did not yet guess the truth.

The next day all Fort Latrobe knew that Blanche was nursing Jacques, on what was thought to be his no-return journey. The doctor said it was a dangerous case, and he held out little hope. Nursing might bring him through, but the chance was very slight. Blanche only occasionally left the sick man's bedside to be relieved by Soldier Joe and Freddy Tarlton. It dawned on Joe at last, it had dawned on Freddy before, what Blanche meant by the heart-breaking words uttered that night in Weir's Tavern. Down through the crust of this woman's heart had gone something both joyful and painful. Whatever it was, it made Blanche a saving nurse, a good apothecary; for, one night the doctor pronounced Jacques out of danger, and said that a few days would bring him round if he was careful.

Now, for the first time, Jacques fully comprehended all Blanche had done for him, though he had ceased to wonder at her changed attitude to him. Through his suffering and his delirium had come the understanding of it. When, after the crisis, the doctor turned away from the bed, Jacques looked steadily into Blanche's eyes, and she flushed, and wiped the wet from his brow with her handkerchief. He took the handkerchief from her fingers gently before Soldier Joe came over to the bed.

The doctor had insisted that Blanche should go to Weir's Tavern and get the night's rest, needed so much, and Joe now pressed her to keep her promise. Jacques added an urging word, and after a time she started. Joe had forgotten to tell her that a new road had been made on the ice since she had crossed, and that the old road was dangerous. Wandering with her thoughts she did not notice the spruce bushes set up for signal, until she had stepped on a thin piece of ice. It bent beneath her. She slipped: there was a sudden sinking, a sharp cry, then another, piercing and hopeless—and it was the one word—"Jacques!" Then the night was silent as before. But someone had heard the cry. Freddy Tarlton was crossing the ice also, and that desolating Jacques! had reached his ears. When he found her he saw that she had been taken and the other left. But that other, asleep in his bed at the sacred moment when she parted, suddenly waked, and said to Soldier Joe: "Did you speak, Joe? Did you call me?"

But Joe, who had been playing cards with himself, replied, "I haven't said a word."

And Jacques then added: "Perhaps I dream—perhaps."

On the advice of the doctor and Freddy Tarlton, the bad news was kept from Jacques. When she did not come the next day, Joe told him that she couldn't; that he ought to remember she had had no rest for weeks, and had earned a long rest. And Jacques said that was so.

Weir began preparations for the funeral, but Freddy Tarlton took them out of his hands—Freddy Tarlton, who visited at the homes of Fort Latrobe. But he had the strength of his convictions such as they were. He began by riding thirty miles and back to ask the young clergyman at Purple Hill to come and bury Blanche. She'd reformed and been baptised, Freddy said with a sad sort of humour. And the clergyman, when he knew all, said that he would come. Freddy was hardly prepared for what occurred when he got back. Men were waiting for him, anxious to know if the clergyman was coming. They had raised a subscription to cover the cost of the funeral, and among them were men such as Harry Delong.

"You fellows had better not mix yourselves up in this," said Freddy.

But Harry Delong replied quickly: "I am going to see the thing through." And the others endorsed his words. When the clergyman came, and looked at the face of this Magdalene, he was struck by its comeliness and quiet. All else seemed to have been washed away. On her breast lay a knot of white roses—white roses in this winter desert.

One man present, seeing the look of wonder in the clergyman's eyes, said quietly: "My—my wife sent them. She brought the plant from Quebec. It has just bloomed. She knows all about her."

That man was Harry Delong. The keeper of his home understood the other homeless woman. When she knew of Blanche's death she said: "Poor girl, poor girl!" and then she had gently added, "Poor Jacques!"

And Jacques, as he sat in a chair by the fire four days after the tragedy, did not know that the clergyman was reading over a grave on the hillside, words which are for the hearts of the quick as for the untenanted dead.

To Jacques's inquiries after Blanche, Soldier Joe had made changing and vague replies. At last he said that she was ill; then, that she was very ill, and again, that she was better, almighty better—now. The third day following the funeral, Jacques insisted that he would go and see her. The doctor at length decided he should be taken to Weir's Tavern, where, they declared, they would tell him all. And they took him, and placed him by the fire in the card-room, a wasted figure, but fastidious in manner and scrupulously neat in person as of old. Then he asked for Blanche; but even now they had not the courage for it. The doctor nervously went out, as if to seek her; and Freddy Tarlton said, "Jacques, let us have a little game, just for quarters, you know. Eh?"

The other replied without eagerness: "Voila, one game, then!"

They drew him to the table, but he played listlessly. His eyes shifted ever to the door. Luck was against him. Finally he pushed over a silver piece, and said: "The last. My money is all gone. 'Bien!'" He lost that too.

Just then the door opened, and a ranchman from Purple Hill entered. He looked carelessly round, and then said loudly:

"Say, Joe, so you've buried Blanche, have you? Poor old girl!"

There was a heavy silence. No one replied. Jacques started to his feet, gazed around searchingly, painfully, and presently gave a great gasp. His hands made a chafing motion in the air, and then blood showed on his lips and chin. He drew a handkerchief from his breast.

"Pardon! . . . Pardon!" he faintly cried in apology, and put it to his mouth.

Then he fell backwards in the arms of Soldier Joe, who wiped a moisture from the lifeless cheek as he laid the body on a bed.

In a corner of the stained handkerchief they found the word,



Father Corraine stood with his chin in his hand and one arm supporting the other, thinking deeply. His eyes were fixed on the northern horizon, along which the sun was casting oblique rays; for it was the beginning of the winter season.

Where the prairie touched the sun it was responsive and radiant; but on either side of this red and golden tapestry there was a tawny glow and then a duskiness which, curving round to the north and east, became blue and cold—an impalpable but perceptible barrier rising from the earth, and shutting in Father Corraine like a prison wall. And this shadow crept stealthily on and invaded the whole circle, until, where the radiance had been, there was one continuous wall of gloom, rising are upon are to invasion of the zenith, and pierced only by some intrusive wandering stars.

And still the priest stood there looking, until the darkness closed down on him with an almost tangible consistency. Then he appeared to remember himself, and turned away with a gentle remonstrance of his head, and entered the hut behind him. He lighted a lamp, looked at it doubtfully, blew it out, set it aside, and lighted a candle. This he set in the one window of the room which faced the north and west.

He went to a door opening into the only other room in the hut, and with his hand on the latch looked thoughtfully and sorrowfully at something in the corner of the room where he stood. He was evidently debating upon some matter,—probably the removal of what was in the corner to the other room. If so, he finally decided to abandon the intention. He sat down in a chair, faced the candle, again dropped his chin upon his hand, and kept his eyes musingly on the light. He was silent and motionless a long time, then his lips moved, and he seemed to repeat something to himself in whispers.

Presently he took a well-worn book from his pocket, and read aloud from it softly what seemed to be an office of his Church. His voice grew slightly louder as he continued, until, suddenly, there ran through the words a deep sigh which did not come from himself. He raised his head quickly, started to his feet, and turning round, looked at that something in the corner. It took the form of a human figure, which raised itself on an elbow and said: "Water—water—for the love of God!"

Father Corraine stood painfully staring at the figure for a moment, and then the words broke from him "Not dead—not dead—wonderful!" Then he stepped quickly to a table, took therefrom a pannikin of water, and kneeling, held it to the lips of the gasping figure of a woman, throwing his arm round the shoulder, and supporting the head on his breast. Again he spoke "Alive—alive! Blessed be Heaven!"

The hands of the woman seized the hand of the priest, which held the pannikin, and kissed it, saying faintly: "You are good to me. . . . But I must sleep—I must sleep—I am so tired; and I've—very far—to go —across the world."

This was said very slowly, then the head thick with brown curls dropped again on the priest's breast, heavy with sleep. Father Corraine, flushing slightly at first, became now slightly pale, and his brow was a place of war between thankfulness and perplexity. But he said something prayerfully, then closed his lips firmly, and gently laid the figure down, where it was immediately clothed about with slumber. Then he rose, and standing with his eyes bent upon the sleeper and his fingers clasping each other tightly before him, said: "Poor girl! So, she is alive. And now what will come of it?"

He shook his grey head in doubt, and immediately began to prepare some simple food and refreshment for the sufferer when she should awake. In the midst of doing so he paused and repeated the words, "And what will come of it?" Then he added: "There was no sign of pulse nor heart-beat when I found her. But life hides itself where man cannot reach it."

Having finished his task, he sat down, drew the book of holy offices again from his bosom, and read it, whisperingly, for a time; then fell to musing, and, after a considerable time, knelt down as if in prayer. While he knelt, the girl, as if startled from her sleep by some inner shock, opened her eyes wide and looked at him, first with bewilderment, then with anxiety, then with wistful thankfulness. "Oh, I thought— I thought when I awoke before that it was a woman. But it is the good Father Corraine—Corraine, yes, that was the name."

The priest's clean-shaven face, long hair, and black cassock had, in her first moments of consciousness, deceived her. Now a sharp pain brought a moan to her lips; and this drew the priest's attention. He rose, and brought her some food and drink. "My daughter," he said, "you must take these." Something in her face touched his sensitive mind, and he said, solemnly: "You are alone with me and God, this hour. Be at peace. Eat."

Her eyes swam with instant tears. "I know—I am alone—with God," she said. Again he gently urged the food upon her, and she took a little; but now and then she put her hand to her side as if in pain. And once, as she did so, she said: "I've far to go and the pain is bad. Did they take him away?"

Father Corraine shook his head. "I do not know of whom you speak," he replied. "When I went to my door this morning I found you lying there. I brought you in, and, finding no sign of life in you, sent Featherfoot, my Indian, to Fort Cypress for a trooper to come; for I feared that there had been ill done to you, somehow. This border-side is but a rough country. It is not always safe for a woman to travel alone."

The girl shuddered. "Father," she said "Father Corraine, I believe you are?" (Here the priest bowed his head.) "I wish to tell you all, so that if ever any evil did come to me, if I should die without doin' what's in my heart to do, you would know, and would tell him if you ever saw him, how I remembered, and kept rememberin' him always, till my heart got sick with waitin', and I came to find him far across the seas."

"Tell me your tale, my child," he patiently said. Her eyes were on the candle in the window questioningly. "It is for the trooper—to guide him," the other remarked. "'Tis past time that he should be here. When you are able you can go with him to the Fort. You will be better cared for there, and will be among women."

"The man—the man who was kind to me—I wish I knew of him," she said.

"I am waiting for your story, my child. Speak of your trouble, whether it be of the mind and body, or of the soul."

"You shall judge if it be of the soul," she answered.

"I come from far away. I lived in old Donegal since the day that I was born there, and I had a lover, as brave and true a lad as ever trod the world. But sorrow came. One night at Farcalladen Rise there was a crack of arms and a clatter of fleeing hoofs, and he that I loved came to me and said a quick word of partin', and with a kiss—it's burnin' on my lips yet—askin' pardon, father, for speech of this to you—and he was gone, an outlaw, to Australia. For a time word came from him. Then I was taken ill and couldn't answer his letters, and a cousin of my own, who had tried to win my love, did a wicked thing. He wrote a letter to him and told him I was dyin', and that there was no use of farther words from him. And never again did word come to me from him. But I waited, my heart sick with longin' and full of hate for the memory of the man who, when struck with death, told me of the cruel deed he had done between us two."

She paused, as she had to do several times during the recital, through weariness or pain; but, after a moment, proceeded. "One day, one beautiful day, when the flowers were like love to the eye, and the larks singin' overhead, and my thoughts goin' with them as they swam until they were lost in the sky, and every one of them a prayer for the lad livin' yet, as I hoped, somewhere in God's universe—there rode a gentleman down Farcalladen Rise. He stopped me as I walked, and said a kind good-day to me; and I knew when I looked into his face that he had word for me—the whisperin' of some angel, I suppose, and I said to him as though he had asked me for it, 'My name is Mary Callen, sir.'

"At that he started, and the colour came quick to his face; and he said: 'I am Sir Duke Lawless. I come to look for Mary Callen's grave. Is there a Mary Callen dead, and a Mary Callen livin'? and did both of them love a man that went from Farcalladen Rise one wild night long ago?'

"'There's but one Mary Callen,' said I, 'but the heart of me is dead, until I hear news that brings it to life again?'

"'And no man calls you wife?' he asked.

"'No man, Sir Duke Lawless,' answered I. 'And no man ever could, save him that used to write me of you from the heart of Australia; only there was no Sir to your name then.'

"'I've come to that since,' said he.

"'Oh, tell me,' I cried, with a quiverin' at my heart, 'tell me, is he livin'?'

"And he replied: 'I left him in the Pipi Valley of the Rocky Mountains a year ago.'

"'A year ago!' said I, sadly.

"'I'm ashamed that I've been so long in comin' here,' replied he; 'but, of course, he didn't know that you were alive, and I had been parted from a lady for years—a lover's quarrel—and I had to choose between courtin' her again and marryin' her, or comin' to Farcalladen Rise at once. Well, I went to the altar first.'

"'Oh, sir, you've come with the speed of the wind, for now that I've news of him, it is only yesterday that he went away, not years agone. But tell me, does he ever think of me?' I questioned.

"'He thinks of you,' he said, 'as one for whom the masses for the dead are spoken; but while I knew him, first and last, the memory of you was with him.'

"With that he got off his horse, and said: 'I'll walk with you to his father's home.'

"'You'll not do that,' I replied; 'for it's level with the ground. God punish them that did it! And they're lyin' in the glen by the stream that he loved and galloped over many a time.'

"'They are dead—they are dead, then,' said he, with his bridle swung loose on his arm and his hat off reverently.

"'Gone home to Heaven together,' said I, 'one day and one hour, and a prayer on their lips for the lad; and I closin' their eyes at the last. And before they went they made me sit by them and sing a song that's common here with us; for manny and manny of the strength and pride of Farcalladen Rise have sailed the wide seas north and south, and otherwhere, and comin' back maybe and maybe not.'

"'Hark,' he said, very gravely, 'and I'll tell you what it is, for I've heard him sing it, I know, in the worst days and the best days that ever we had, when luck was wicked and big against us and we starvin' on the wallaby track; or when we found the turn in the lane to brighter days.'

"And then with me lookin' at him full in the eyes, gentleman though he was,—for comrade he had been with the man I loved,—he said to me there, so finely and kindly, it ought to have brought the dead back from their graves to hear, these words:

"'You'll travel far and wide, dear, but you'll come back again, You'll come back to your father and your mother in the glen, Although we should be lyin' 'neath the heather grasses then You'll be comin' back, my darlin'!'

"'You'll see the icebergs sailin' along the wintry foam, The white hair of the breakers, and the wild swans as they roam; But you'll not forget the rowan beside your father's home— You'll be comin' back, my darlin'.'"

Here the girl paused longer than usual, and the priest dropped his forehead in his hand sadly.

"I've brought grief to your kind heart, father," she said.

"No, no," he replied, "not sorrow at all; but I was born on the Liffey side, though it's forty years and more since I left it, and I'm an old man now. That song I knew well, and the truth and the heart of it too. . . . I am listening."

"Well, together we went to the grave of the father and mother, and the place where the home had been, and for a long time he was silent, as though they who slept beneath the sod were his, and not another's; but at last he said:

"'And what will you do? I don't quite know where he is, though; when last I heard from him and his comrades, they were in the Pipi Valley.'

"My heart was full of joy; for though I saw how touched he was because of what he saw, it was all common to my sight, and I had grieved much, but had had little delight; and I said:

"'There's only one thing to be done. He cannot come back here, and I must go to him—that is,' said I, 'if you think he cares for me still, —for my heart quakes at the thought that he might have changed.'

"'I know his heart,' said he, 'and you'll find him, I doubt not, the same, though he buried you long ago in a lonely tomb,—the tomb of a sweet remembrance, where the flowers are everlastin'.' Then after more words he offered me money with which to go; but I said to him that the love that couldn't carry itself across the sea by the strength of the hands and the sweat of the brow was no love at all; and that the harder was the road to him the gladder I'd be, so that it didn't keep me too long, and brought me to him at last.

"He looked me up and down very earnestly for a minute, and then he said: 'What is there under the roof of heaven like the love of an honest woman! It makes the world worth livin' in.'

"'Yes,' said I, 'when love has hope, and a place to lay its head.'

"'Take this,' said he—and he drew from his pocket his watch—'and carry it to him with the regard of Duke Lawless, and this for yourself'— fetching from his pocket a revolver and putting it into my hands; 'for the prairies are but rough places after all, and it's better to be safe than—worried. . . . Never fear though but the prairies will bring back the finest of blooms to your cheek, if fair enough it is now, and flush his eye with pride of you; and God be with you both, if a sinner may say that, and breakin' no saint's prerogative.' And he mounted to ride away, havin' shaken my hand like a brother; but he turned again before he went, and said: 'Tell him and his comrades that I'll shoulder my gun and join them before the world is a year older, if I can. For that land is God's land, and its people are my people, and I care not who knows it, whatever here I be.'

"I worked my way across the sea, and stayed awhile in the East earning money to carry me over the land and into the Pipi Valley. I joined a party of emigrants that were goin' westward, and travelled far with them. But they quarrelled and separated, I goin' with these that I liked best. One night though, I took my horse and left; for I knew there was evil in the heart of a man who sought me continually, and the thing drove me mad. I rode until my horse could stumble no farther, and then I took the saddle for a pillow and slept on the bare ground. And in the morning I got up and rode on, seein' no house nor human being for manny and manny a mile. When everything seemed hopeless I came suddenly upon a camp. But I saw that there was only one man there, and I should have turned back, but that I was worn and ill, and, moreover, I had ridden almost upon him. But he was kind. He shared his food with me, and asked me where I was goin'. I told him, and also that I had quarrelled with those of my party and had left them nothing more. He seemed to wonder that I was goin' to Pipi Valley; and when I had finished my tale he said: 'Well, I must tell you that I am not good company for you. I have a name that doesn't pass at par up here. To speak plain truth, troopers are looking for me, and —strange as it may be—for a crime which I didn't commit. That is the foolishness of the law. But for this I'm making for the American border, beyond which, treaty or no treaty, a man gets refuge.'

"He was silent after that, lookin' at me thoughtfully the while, but in a way that told me I might trust him, evil though he called himself. At length he said: 'I know a good priest, Father Corraine, who has a cabin sixty miles or more from here, and I'll guide you to him, if so be you can trust a half-breed and a gambler, and one men call an outlaw. If not, I'm feared it'll go hard with you; for the Cypress Hills are not easy travel, as I've known this many a year. And should you want a name to call me, Pretty Pierre will do, though my godfathers and godmothers did different for me before they went to Heaven.' And nothing said he irreverently, father."

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