When they nooned upon a gravel bank near the end of a wide lake it was fiercely hot. The calm water, flashed like polished steel, and Agatha could hardly see the flames of the snapping fire; the smoke went up in thin gray wreaths that were almost invisible. A clump of juniper grew among the stones and she sat down in the shade and looked about with dazzled eyes. A line of driftwood, hammered by the ice and bleached white by the sun, marked the subsidence of the water from its high, spring level. Small islands broke the shining surface, some covered with stunted trees and some quite bare. The rocks about the beach were curiously worn, but Agatha knew they had been ground smooth by drifting floes. Behind the beach, the forest rolled back in waves of somber green to a bold ridge that faded into leaden thunder-clouds.
The landscape was wild, and although it had nothing of the savage grandeur Agatha expected, she thought it forbidding. Its influence was insidious; one was not daunted by a glance, but realized by degrees its grimness and desolation. The North was not dramatic, except perhaps when the ice broke up; the forces that molded the rugged land worked with a stern quietness. It looked as if they also molded the character of the men who braved the rigors of the frozen waste. The Metis were not vivacious like the French habitants; they were marked by a certain grave melancholy and their paddling songs had a plaintive undertone. Yet their vigor and stubbornness were obvious, and Agatha thought Thirlwell was like his packers, in a way. He was not melancholy, and indeed, often laughed, but one got a hint of reserve and unobtrusive strength. He did not display his qualities, as some of the professors and business men she knew had done, but she imagined they would be seen if there was need.
"In a sense, the North is disappointing," she remarked. "I expected to feel rather overwhelmed, but I'm not."
"Wait," said Thirlwell, smiling. "After a few hundred miles of lonely trail you'll know the country better. I don't want you to get to love it; but in the wilderness love often goes with fear."
"Once I thought that impossible," Agatha replied. "Now I don't know. I'm beginning to recognize that I'm not as modern as I thought. But have you ever been frankly afraid of the wilds?"
"Often. When you meet the snow on the frozen trail, a hundred miles from shelter, mind and body shrink. Perhaps it's worse when all that stands for warmth and life is loaded on the hand-sledge you haul across the rotten ice. Then it's significant that the Metis are sometimes more afraid than white men. They know the country better."
"They haven't the civilized man's intellect. Ignorance breeds superstition that makes men cowards."
"That's so, to some extent," Thirlwell agreed. "I suppose superstition is man's fear of dangers he can't understand and his wish to propitiate the unknown powers that rule such things. You and I call these powers natural forces, for which we have our weights and measures; but I must own that the measures are often found defective when applied to mining. I've met rock-borers who would sooner trust a mascot than a scientific rule."
"We are a curious people," Agatha remarked with a laugh. "But you passed a smooth beach with good shade where the river runs out. Why did you come on here?"
"The other's the regular camping spot. I remembered that you don't like old provision cans."
Agatha was pleased. He had thought about her and remembered her dislikes. While she wondered how she could tactfully thank him, he went on—
"Besides, I wanted to make another mile or two. A good day's journey is important."
"Would a mile or two make much difference?"
"You would have to take the distance off at the other end. The economy of travel in the North is sternly simple, and transport's the main difficulty. You can travel a fixed distance on a fixed quantity of food, and how much you take depends on the skill and number of your packers. Good men get good wages and money does not go far. I want to save up as many miles as possible for our prospecting."
"I see," said Agatha. "Yet you stated that you didn't think we would find the lode!" Then she gave him a shrewd glance. "Aren't you a little impatient to get on now?"
"I am," he admitted, turning to the south. "There's a threat of thunder and I'd like to cross the lake before the storm comes."
Agatha got up and in a few minutes they launched the canoes. The heat was overwhelming and Agatha felt no movement of the air, but the Metis sweated and panted as they labored at the paddles. The thud of the blades came back in measured echoes from the motionless pines and a fan-shaped wake trailed far across the glassy lake. In the meantime, the cloud bank rolled up the sky like a ragged arch and covered the sun. The glare faded and a thick, blue haze crept out upon the water, until it looked as if the horizon advanced to meet them, but the heat did not get less. At the edge of the haze, an island loomed indistinctly and by and by Thirlwell turned to Agatha.
"There's a good beach behind the point and shelter among the rocks," he said in a breathless voice. "Would you like to stop?"
"How long should we have to stop?"
He looked up at the moving cloud, which was fringed with ragged streamers.
"I imagine we wouldn't get off again to-day."
"Then we'll go on," said Agatha.
Thirlwell signed to the Metis, who had slackened their efforts, and the foam swirled up at the bows as they drove the paddles through the water.
BEFORE THE WIND
Soon after the island melted into the gloom, a flash of lightning leaped from the cloud and spread like a sheet of blue flame across the water. For a second, Agatha saw black rocks and trees stand out against an overwhelming glare, and then they vanished and she saw nothing at all. Lightning is common in Canada, but this had a terrifying brilliance unlike any that she had known. While her dazzled eyes recovered from the shock she was deafened by a crash that rolled among the cloud-banks in tremendous echoes, and before it died away another blaze leaped down. It was rather a continuous stream of light than a flash, because it did not break off but, beginning overhead, ran far across the lake. The next enveloped the canoes in an awful light and she felt her hair crackle before the thunder came.
She was too entranced to feel afraid, and glanced at Thirlwell with half-closed eyes. His face was set and his mouth shut tight, but he was paddling hard and she heard the others' labored breath as they kept time with him. The reason for their haste, however, was not plain; the storm was terribly violent, but they would be no safer in the woods than on the lake. Yet it was obvious that they wanted to reach land.
After a stunning crash, the thunder began to roll away, the lightning glimmered fitfully farther off, and a torrent of rain broke upon the canoes. Agatha was wet before she could put on her slicker, and when she sat, huddled together, with head bent to shield her face from the deluge, she could not see fifty yards in front. The water was pitted by the rain, which rebounded from its surface with angry splashes. It ran down the half-breeds' faces and soaked their gray shirts, but they did not stop paddling to put on their coats. Agatha wondered with some uneasiness what they thought was going to happen.
The rain got lighter suddenly and a cold draught touched her forehead. She saw Thirlwell glance astern, although he did not miss a stroke. His soaked hat drooped about his head and his thin overalls were dripping; she thought he saw she was looking at him, but he did not speak. Then the haze that had shut them in rolled back and a dark line advanced across the lake. It had a white edge and there was a curious humming, rippling noise that got louder. Thirlwell signed to one of the Metis, who stepped a mast in the hole through a beam and loosed a small sail. The sail blew out like a flag, snapping violently, and the man struggled hard to push up the pole that extended its peak. Then he hauled the sheet, and the canoe swayed down until her curving gunwale was in the water. The half-breed moved to the other side and Thirlwell beckoned Agatha.
"Come aft by me!"
She obeyed, although it was difficult to crawl over the cargo in the bottom of the sharply slanted craft. The humming noise had changed to a shriek, but it did not drown the turmoil of the water. Short waves with black furrows between them rolled up astern and although they were not high they looked angry. Agatha saw that Thirlwell wanted to trim the canoe. He held a long paddle with the handle jambed against the pointed stern, and the canoe's side rose out of the water as she paid off before the wind.
"We could do nothing with the paddles," he said. "A sail's no use in a river-canoe, but these heavy freighters run pretty well. Luckily it's a fair wind to the river mouth."
Agatha could scarcely hear him, but when she asked how far it was he nodded as if he understood.
"Three or four miles! Not much sweep for the wind, but it will raise a nasty sea before we get there."
Gazing at the driving clouds that blotted out the forest, she tried to ask if he could find the river, but just then the canoe rolled and the little spritsail swelled like a balloon. There was a hiss and a splash, and the top of a wave that split at the stern and rolled forward poured in at the waist. Thirlwell bent over the paddle and slackened the sheet, the canoe swung her bows out, and leaped ahead. Spray blew about in showers; the foam stood in a ridge amidships and boiled high about the stern. It seemed to Agatha that they were traveling like a toboggan, and she had an exhilarating sense of speed that banished the thought of danger.
"How fast are we going?" she shouted.
"I don't know. Five miles an hour, perhaps!"
It sounded ridiculous; Agatha had felt as if they were flying. Then she saw that skill was needed to keep the canoe before the wind and Thirlwell ran two risks. If he let the craft fall off too far, the sail would swing across and she might be capsized by the shock; if he let her swerve to windward, the following wave would break on board and she would be swamped. Thirlwell looked highly strung but very cool. A mistake would have disastrous consequences; if he gave way to the strain for a moment, the canoe would sink. But she knew he would not give way, and it was comforting to see that the half-breed shared her confidence. He was, no doubt, a voyageur from his boyhood, but it was plain that he did not want to take the steering paddle.
Sometimes, when a savage gust screamed about them and whipped up the spray in clouds, Thirlwell let the sheet run round a pin; sometimes he sank the paddle deep and she saw its handle bend and the blood flush his face. Drops of sweat ran down his forehead, but his glance was fixed and calm. The strain on brain and muscle braced without exciting him; he seemed to accept it as something to which he was used. He could be trusted in an emergency, and for some obscure reason she was glad to feel he was the man she had thought.
Then she watched the other canoe, which had dropped astern. The Metis had set their sail, but she was not running well. She swerved when she lifted with the waves and rolled until it looked as if she would capsize. Now and then a sea broke over the gunwale and a crouching half-breed desperately threw out the water. Another sat on a beam in the high stern and his pose was strangely tense. But for all Agatha's trust in Thirlwell, it was daunting to watch the laboring craft and the seas that threatened to swamp her. They looked worse when one saw their hollow fronts and raging crests, and Agatha fixed her eyes ahead.
The haze was thinning and now and then the blurred outline of trees broke through; but one belt of forest looked like another and she speculated with some uneasiness about the chance of Thirlwell's finding the river. If he did not find it, they would run some risk, because the men could not paddle to windward and the canoes might be smashed on a steep, rocky beach. They ran on, and sometimes the trees got plainer and sometimes vanished, but at length, when a savage gust rolled the haze away, Agatha saw an unbroken line of rocks and foam. It looked very forbidding and she wondered what Thirlwell would do.
"Sit as far as you can to windward," he shouted, and while she awkwardly obeyed the half-breed got up on the side of the canoe.
Agatha understood what this meant. Thirlwell had missed the river mouth and meant to skirt the coast, but when he tried to do so the wind would be abeam and its power to heel the canoe largely increased. So far, they had run before the gale, but to bring the craft's side to it was a different thing.
She set her lips as she watched Thirlwell haul the spritsail sheet. He was cautious and for a few moments brought the craft's head up with the paddle and kept the small sail fluttering. Then he let her go and she lurched down until her side amidships was in the water. To Agatha's surprise, not much came on board; it looked as if they were going too fast and the lee bow was the dangerous spot. In the plunges, the waves boiled up there, and one could feel the canoe tremble as she lurched over the tumbling foam. Then Agatha noted that Thirlwell was not steering with the gale quite abeam; he was edging the craft to windward as far as he could, but the beach got nearer and it was plain that they were drifting sideways while they forged ahead. Agatha began to doubt if he could keep them off the rocks.
He did not look disturbed. His glance was fixed to windward and his movements were strangely quick. Agatha saw that he kept the canoe from capsizing by the skilful use of paddle and sheet. When the craft could not stand the pressure he let the sail blow slack, and then hauled the sheet again, dipping his paddle to help her over a breaking wave. Sound judgment was plainly needed and the man must instantly carry out the decision he made. Handling a canoe in a breaking sea demanded higher qualities than Agatha had thought. She was getting anxious, for the rocks were nearer and one could see the angry surges sweep in tongues of foam far up their sides. It was surprising that such a sea could rise on a small lake. She could swim, but not much, and shrank from crawling out, half-drowned and draggled, from the surf; for one thing, Thirlwell would see her. She admitted that this was illogical and she ran worse risks, but it troubled her. A few moments afterwards, Thirlwell changed his course with a thrust of the paddle and slacked the sheet.
"All right now!" he shouted. "We'll find smooth water in a hundred yards."
A steep rock, washed by spouting foam, detached itself from the others and a narrow channel opened up between it and the beach. Agatha thought it looked horribly dangerous, but Thirlwell headed for the gap. They lurched through on the top of a curling wave, and she saw the mouth of the river behind the rock. The current rose in crested ridges where it met the wind, but the ridges were smaller than the waves on the lake and gradually sank to splashing ripples as the canoe ran up stream between dark walls of forest. The trees did not cut off the wind, which followed the channel, and by and by Thirlwell looked at Agatha.
"We have made a good run, but it isn't often one gets a fair wind like this, and poling against the stream is slow work. Still we'll stop and pitch camp when you like."
"Shall we save a day for our prospecting if we go on until dark?"
"Yes," said Thirlwell, "we'll certainly gain a day."
Agatha was cold and wet and cramped. She longed to stop, but it was important to save time and she wanted Thirlwell to see that she had pluck.
"Then go on as far as you can," she replied.
She had half expected the Metis to grumble, but they did not. It looked as if Thirlwell had carefully chosen his men, and she found out later that no fatigue she could bear troubled them. After a time, the wind dropped as they ran round a bend, and getting close to the high bank, they began to pole. At dusk they ran the canoe aground on a sheltered beach, and Agatha landed, feeling very tired and cold. When supper was over and they sat by the fire she did not want to talk, and, going to her tent, soon fell asleep.
Next day they poled against the current and paddled, in bright sunshine, across a lake. At noon they camped among short junipers, and the next morning carried the empty canoes, upside down, across a rocky point. It cost twelve hours' labor, relaying the loads, to make the portage, and then they launched upon another lake. After two more days they left the canoes, covered with fir-branches, on a beach, and pushed inland. A narrow trail led them across a high divide, seamed by deep gullies, where stunted pines and juniper grew among the rocks, and they portaged the loads by stages, carrying part for an hour or two, and then going back. Agatha was surprised to see how much a man could carry with the help of properly adjusted straps.
When the divide was crossed they found two canoes by the bank of a small creek, down which they drifted with the swift current. Then there was a chain of lakes, veiled in mist and rain, and after making a portage they reached a wider stream. They followed it down through tangled woods and when they camped late one evening, Agatha sat silent by the fire, trying to retrace their journey and speculating about what lay ahead. For the most part, her memory was blurred, and hazy pictures floated through her mind of lonely camps among the boulders and small pine-trunks, of breathless men dragging the canoes up angry rapids, and carrying heavy loads across slippery rocks. Their track across the wilderness was marked by little heaps of ashes and white chips scattered about fallen trees.
But some of the memories were sharp; there was the evening she found Thirlwell carrying her belongings a double stage in order that she might have all she needed when they camped. He panted as he leaned against a tree and his face and hair were wet; she felt moved but angry that he had exhausted himself for her. She did not want him to think she knew what her comfort cost and was willing to let him buy it at such a price. She remembered that she had begun to speculate rather often about what he thought.
Then there was the morning they saw a half-covered rock a few yards off in the foam of a furious rapid. She had tried to brace herself for the shock, expecting next moment to be thrown into the water, but Thirlwell with a sweep of the paddle ran the canoe past. So far, he had never failed in an emergency, and she felt that she could not have chosen a better guide and companion. He was resourceful and overcame difficulties; he seemed to know when she would sooner be quiet and when she liked to talk. They had talked much beside the camp-fires, and although he was not clever, she remembered what he said.
But she had something else to think about that gave her a sense of loss and a poignant melancholy. Indeed, she had forced her mind to dwell upon the other matters in order to find relief, and she was glad when Thirlwell broke the silence.
"We ought to make the Shadow by to-morrow noon, and the mine in the evening."
"I think we go down the Grand Rapid before we reach the mine?"
Thirlwell made a sign of agreement, and after a moment's hesitation she gave him a quick glance.
"I wonder if you know what day to-morrow is? I mean the associations it has for me?"
"Yes," he said in a sympathetic voice. "I thought you would sooner not talk about it; but I remember. In a way, it's curious you should be here now."
"Ah," she said, "I wanted to be in the North when the day came round, but I did not imagine I should go down the rapid in the evening. It was in the evening the canoe capsized!"
"Dusk was falling; the smoke of a bush fire blew across the river, and there was a moon."
"The moon will be out to-morrow," Agatha said quietly. "It is strange; I couldn't have arranged that things should happen like this!"
She paused for some moments and then resumed: "Perhaps it is ridiculous, but I imagine now I am going to find the lode. The doubts I started with have gone; I feel calmly confident."
Thirlwell noted the emotional tremble in her voice and thought he had better use some tact.
"I must see the load that got wet is properly put up," he said, and moved back into the shadow; but Agatha sat still, watching the smoke curl among the dark trunks.
She had not exaggerated, for a feeling of quiet confidence had been getting stronger all day. There was no obvious reason for it and the difficulties she must overcome were greater than she had thought; but she felt that she would succeed. After all, her father had loved her best, she was making the search for his sake, and when she reached the scene of his efforts she would find some help. The hope was, of course, illogical and she was a teacher of science; but it was unshakable and comforted her. Then she mused about her father's life in the wilds. Something had happened to him, for she had noted Thirlwell's reserve. Perhaps bitter disappointment had broken him down; she did not know and would not ask. It was enough that he had loved her; she was satisfied with this.
It was afternoon when the canoes slid out from the forest on to the broad expanse of the Shadow River. The day was calm and hot, although the sky was covered with soft gray clouds, that subdued the light. The river had shrunk, for the driftwood on the bank stood high above the water level, and Thirlwell had only known it sink so low during the summer when Strange was drowned. For all that, the current ran fast and the long rows of pines rolled swiftly back to meet the canoes as they floated down. The trees had lost their rigid outline and melted gently into the blue distance, while the savage landscape was softened by the play of tender light and shadow.
Agatha was glad that Thirlwell did not talk and thought he knew she wanted to be quiet. This was a day she set apart from other days when it came round, for it was in the evening her father's canoe capsized. Since they drifted out on the Shadow, she had followed the track of his last voyage, and wondered with poignant tenderness what he had thought and felt. Somehow she did not believe he had come back embittered by disappointment, and it was perhaps strange that she did not feel sad. Indeed, she felt nothing of the shrinking she had feared. Although her eyes filled now and then, her mood was calm, and sorrow had yielded to a gentle melancholy.
In the meantime, the current swept them on, past rippling eddies and rings of foam about half-covered rocks, and presently a gray trail of smoke stretched far along the bank. Thirlwell said the woods were burning; they often burned in summer, though nobody knew how the fires were lighted. By degrees the trees got dimmer, but the water shone with a pale gleam and presently the moon came out between drifting clouds. Then as they swept round a bend a throbbing Agatha had heard for some time got suddenly loud and she glanced at Thirlwell.
"The Grand Rapid," he said. "The water's very low; it's quite safe."
Agatha knew he did not think she was afraid; he had tactfully pretended to misunderstand her glance, and she fixed her eyes ahead. The shadows were deeper and the forest was indistinct, but it was not dark. Besides, the moon was getting bright and threw a glittering beam across the river. She could see for some distance and not far in front the water was furrowed and marked by lines of foam. The stream ran very fast and the throbbing swelled into a deep, sullen roar. There was a smell of burning, and now and then a trail of smoke drifted out from the bank, beyond which a red glow glimmered against the sky. It was like this, she thought, on that other evening when her father returned from his last journey, but the melancholy she had felt had given way to a strange emotional excitement. Somehow she knew the pilgrimage she had made for his sake would end as she had hoped.
For all that, she set her lips and grasped the side of the canoe when they came to the top of the rapid. Spray that looked like steam rolled across the water, blurring the tops of the crested waves that ran back as far as one could see, and here and there in the smooth black patches a wedge of foam boiled behind a rock. Outside the furious mid-stream rush of the current, dark eddies revolved in angry circles and their backwash weltered along the bank. Thirlwell seemed to be steering for this belt and Agatha thought he meant to run down through the slack. As they swerved towards the rocks she looked round sharply, for there was a shout from the canoe astern—
"Voici qui ven!"
An indistinct figure scrambled along the rough bank, turning and twisting among the driftwood and boulders. For the most part, the bank was in shadow, but in places where the trees were not so thick the moonlight pierced the gloom.
"But he run!" exclaimed the Metis in Thirlwell's canoe. "Lak' caribou, vent' a terre."
"Pren' garde!" said Thirlwell warningly, and thrust hard with his paddle as the canoe drove past a foam-lapped rock.
"It is the chase he make," the half-breed resumed, and another figure came out of the gloom, a short distance in front of the one they had seen.
The man moved feebly, stumbling now and then, but it was obvious that he meant to keep ahead of his pursuer. As he crossed a belt of moonlight one of the Metis recognized him, for he cried: "Steve le sauage! Regardez moi l'ivrogne!"
Agatha thought the man was drunk. This would account for his awkwardness, but as he turned and staggered down the bank she saw him plainer and he looked ill. He dragged himself along with an effort, his gait was uneven, as if one leg was weak, but he went on towards the water's edge. A moment later he pushed off a canoe, made a few strokes with the paddle, and then let her swing out with an eddy until she was caught by the mid-stream rush. After this he crouched in the stern and the craft began to drift down the rapid. The other man stopped and threw out his arms, as if he meant to protest that he could do nothing more.
"Father Lucien!" said Thirlwell. "Black Steve's risking a capsize."
They sped past the man upon the bank and Agatha watched the crouching figure in the canoe. The craft was a short distance in front of, but outside, theirs, and she could see the danger of her being smashed or swamped. It was plain that the only safe way down was through the slack along the bank, but the man made no effort to reach this smoother belt. He let the paddle trail in the water while the canoe rocked among the angry waves. His rashness fascinated Agatha and she could not look away, although she knew she might see him drown.
"Can't you do something?" she asked Thirlwell.
"No," he said sternly. "We're loaded and would be swamped. Steve's drunk and must take his chance."
A few moments later the canoe in front plunged down a furious rush of the current, lurched up on a white wave, rolled over, and vanished. Agatha trembled, and felt cold, and the Metis shouted: "V'la! C'en est fait—"
A black object that looked like a head rose from the racing foam and Agatha turned to Thirlwell imperiously—
"Go and help him."
He hesitated and she knew it was on her account. Then he lifted his paddle.
The canoe swerved, swung out from the slack, and plunged into the foam. She lifted her bows high out of the water while a white ridge rolled up astern, and for the next minute or two Agatha saw nothing clearly. Spray beat upon her, whipping her face; she had a confused sense of furious speed, but felt that the canoe was controlled. Water splashed on board; the Metis bent forward and his shoulders moved in savage jerks. Behind them, the other canoe plunged down the rapid, rather bounding than sliding from wave to wave. In front, the black shape of the overturned craft washed to and fro like a drifting log. Thirlwell shouted as they sped past a rock, the canoe was swung violently sideways, and they were out of the main rush. There was an eddy behind the rock and the water ran round in white-lined rings. The moonlight fell across the center and Agatha saw a man's dark head.
Thirlwell backed his paddle and as they swept round in a semi-circle the Metis stretched out his arm. They were very near the man in the water and when he spun round like a cork in the revolving backwash the moonlight touched his wet face. Agatha, leaning over the side, saw that he was the man who had broken into Farnam's house. The half-breed missed him and he looked up at her as the canoe shot past. He was so close that she could almost touch him, and she saw a look of fear in his staring eyes. Then, without making an effort to reach the canoe, he slipped under Thirlwell's hand and sank.
The canoe turned and an indistinct object broke the surface. It vanished, the canoe was swept back to the edge of the main rush, and for a minute or two Thirlwell and the half-breed struggled desperately. When they reached the slack again, there was nothing but angry water and racing foam. The man had gone and Agatha shivered and felt faint.
After that she had a hazy impression of streaming woods and flying belts of gloom as they swept down through the slack, until they drove out upon the tail-pool. For some minutes Thirlwell and the half-breeds battled with the eddies, and then they floated on smoothly and a light began to twinkle among the pines.
Thirlwell steered for the bank and Scott and some of the miners met them at the landing. Agatha was glad to leave the canoe, for her nerves were badly jarred.
Thirlwell presented Scott, who took them to the shack, which looked as if it had been recently cleaned. He said Agatha must make use of it for a day or two, and he and Thirlwell would find a berth in the store-shed. Then they began to talk about the accident and Scott said, "Driscoll came back from the bush, looking ill, a week since and shut himself up in his shack. One of the boys told Father Lucien, who went along to look after him and found him very sick. That's all I know."
Agatha asked a few questions and then told them about the burglary.
"I am sure he was the man who opened my trunk," she said.
"Ah!" said Scott. "Do you think he knew you?"
"I believe he did. It's curious, but I thought he was afraid."
"Perhaps he was afraid," Scott agreed, with a meaning look at Thirlwell, who got up.
"I had better go to meet Father Lucien. He'll come down to the landing after us."
He found the missionary hurrying along the bank, and stopping him, sat down.
"Driscoll's gone; we did our best to pick him up," he remarked and related what had happened. "We may find him in the tail-pool to-morrow, but I imagine he'll be washed away down river, like his victim."
"Then you think Strange was his victim?"
"I can't doubt it now. But how did Steve get out of the shack?"
"Perhaps that was my fault, but he had been delirious for a day and night; and in the afternoon, when he was calmer, I went to sleep. One is apt to sleep too long when one is tired. When I wakened he was not in bed and a whisky bottle I had taken from him was nearly empty. I think he must have disturbed me as he moved about, because when I went outside I saw him making for the river. I ran, but I came too late, and you know the rest."
"You are not to blame," said Thirlwell. "You have twice taken pity on a man who tried to starve you. He meant you to die of hunger the night he stole into your camp."
"He is dead. One must be charitable. What would he gain by leaving me to die?"
"Don't you know?" Thirlwell asked. "We can talk frankly now the matter has been taken out of our hands. When he got better after the first attack, the time I kept watch with you, he had probably some remembrance of his ravings. Anyhow, I expect he remembered he'd got a fright and may have talked. He thought you knew too much."
"It's possible," said Father Lucien, very quietly.
Thirlwell was silent for a few moments and then resumed: "I hesitated about going to his help. We were heavily loaded, the risk was great, and I thought Miss Strange's life worth more than his. She made me go and I believe I could have saved him, but he saw her and let himself sink. She declares he looked afraid!"
"It is very strange."
"I don't find it strange," said Thirlwell. "There's a touch of dramatic justice about the thing that appeals to me. I suppose you know what day it is? Driscoll knew."
Father Lucien shook his head. "What is one day more than another, when all wrongs are put right and crimes punished in the end? Justice is not theatrical, but the obstinate offender cannot escape." He paused and then resumed: "Well, we shall never know all that happened, and as you have said, the matter is no longer in our hands. Perhaps for the girl's sake—"
"Yes," said Thirlwell, "she has borne enough. You can imagine the shock she'd get if we found out, and had to tell her. The thing's done with. It's some relief to feel that my responsibility has gone."
Father Lucien made a sign of agreement. "I will come to see her to-morrow," he said, but Thirlwell knew that Agatha would never learn from him that Strange's canoe had not been accidentally capsized.
Early next morning Thirlwell went to the tail-pool, but nothing except some driftwood washed about in the eddy. The latter had worn out a deep hollow and he scrambled over the rocks in order to look down into its revolving depths. There was nothing there, and when going back he made his way across some worn slabs that had been covered until the water sank to an unusually low level. By and by he stopped at the edge of a pool. A small round object that was not the color of the stones lay at the bottom.
Thirlwell knelt down and rolling up his sleeve got the object out. It was made of white metal that had tarnished but not corroded, and looked like an old-fashioned pocket tobacco-box. The thing was well made, for he could hardly find the joint of the lid and below the latter there was some engraving. He rubbed it with a little fine sand and then started as he read a name. It was Strange's tobacco-box and a light dawned on him.
He knew now why Driscoll had haunted the reefs when the water was low, and thought he knew what was inside the box. This was the thing Strange had taken with him. But Driscoll had looked in the wrong place. The box was heavy, but perhaps a flood had rolled it down the rapid, or it had fallen from Strange's pocket when the stream washed his rotting clothes away.
Thirlwell shook the box and something rattled inside, after which he noted a dark smear round the edge of the lid. He scraped this with his knife and thought the stuff was a waterproof gum the freighters used to caulk their canoes. It looked as if Strange had carefully made the joint watertight, and Thirlwell's curiosity was strongly excited, but the box was not his. It was too early to look for Agatha, and he waited with some impatience until she came out of the shack and sat down in the sunshine after breakfast.
"I think this was your father's," he said, putting the box in her hand, and told her how he had found it.
Agatha started. "Yes; I gave it him on his birthday long since. It was bright then; old English pewter, I think. I saw it in a little store where they sold curiosities, and had it engraved."
Somewhat to Thirlwell's annoyance, Scott came up with Father Lucien, whom he presented to Agatha, but she did not put the box away.
"Mr. Thirlwell found this in the river, but the lid is fast," she said. "Will somebody help me to open it?"
Scott took the box into the shack, where he had some tools, and brought it back with the lid just raised above its socket. He gave it to Agatha and was going away when she stopped him.
"I would like you and Father Lucien to wait. You knew my father, and I think there is something important in the box."
They came nearer and, pressing back the lid, she shook out a few small stones.
"Specimens!" she said in a strained voice, holding out two or three to Thirlwell. "Don't you think they're very like the piece I gave you?"
Thirlwell examined the stones and handed them to Scott, who nodded.
"This stuff and the specimen Thirlwell showed me came from the same vein."
"There's something else," Agatha resumed, taking out a folded paper. Her hand shook as she opened it and the tears gathered in her eyes. Then she gave Thirlwell the paper.
"Will you read it for me? I can't see very well."
The paper was spotted with mildew, torn at the bottom, and cut at the folds, but holding it carefully, he read—
"The Agatha Mine; frontage on the lode staked by Gordon Strange."
Compass bearings, calculated distances, and landmarks were given next, and then the writing stopped an inch or two from the bottom of the sheet.
"Your father found the lode," Thirlwell said, very quietly.
Agatha looked up with a curious smile. "Yes; I feel as if he had sent me this. I have come into my inheritance and it is easier than I thought!" She paused and added: "Once or twice I was afraid and nearly let it go."
AGATHA RESUMES HER JOURNEY
There was silence for a minute or two after Agatha had spoken, and then Father Lucien said, "Now we know what Driscoll looked for. Few secrets can be kept."
Thirlwell gave him a warning glance that Agatha did not note. She was gazing across the river, her face towards the North, as if she had forgotten the others, but she presently roused herself.
"Can we start to-morrow?" she asked.
"No," said Thirlwell firmly, "you must rest for two or three days, and there are a number of things to be got."
"I don't think I can rest until I have seen the lode."
"You will have to try. It may be some time yet before we find the spot. For one thing, the directions aren't complete. You see they stop—"
Agatha took the paper. "Yes; I hadn't noticed that. It begins very clearly and then breaks off. I wonder why."
Thirlwell said nothing. It looked as if Strange had been interrupted; the shakiness of the last few lines hinted that they had been written in haste. There was a space between the last and the bottom of the paper. Perhaps Driscoll had joined him and he had distrusted the man, who might have come into the camp while he was writing. Then, when he afterwards sealed the box, he had forgotten that he had not finished what he meant to say; but, if the supposition were correct, this was not remarkable. Strange might have taken some liquor with him. But Agatha must not suspect.
"The paper states the claim was staked," she resumed. "So far as that goes, it makes the ore mine. George must have a share, but I mean to work the lode."
"I'm afraid it doesn't go very far," Scott remarked. "The law requires that the discoverer stakes off the ground he is entitled to and then registers the claim at the nearest record office. After this he must do a certain amount of development work before he gets his patent and becomes the owner of the mine. The claim has not been recorded yet."
"No; it has lapsed," Agatha agreed. "This means that any adult British citizen may make a re-discovery record. Well, we must do so, as soon as we can."
"Developing a mine is rough work for a woman."
Agatha smiled. "There's something about the discoverer being allowed to appoint a deputy, and perhaps Mr. Thirlwell will look after my interests. But won't you see about getting us all that he thinks needful?"
"I'll see about it now," said Scott, who took Thirlwell away, but stopped when they were hidden by the pines.
"Strange has given you a useful clue, but that's all," he said. "You'll find the lode if you find the valley, but you may look for a long time."
Thirlwell made a sign of agreement. "Yes; there's something curiously elusive about this ore."
"All the same, it's certainly worth a proper search; but you'll need a large quantity of truck and one or two extra packers. I understand Miss Strange insists upon everything being done at her cost. Has she money enough?"
"I think not."
"You know she has not! Looks as if you had forgotten you showed me her letter when she stated the sum. It's hard to see how it covers expenses up to date."
Thirlwell looked embarrassed and Scott laughed. "You seem to have been generous, particularly as you didn't believe in the lode; but anything you have saved from your wages won't carry you far. Well, you can take the truck and tools you need, and I'll give you two of the boys. Miss Strange can pay me when she gets her patent, or, if she likes, I'll butt in on a partnership basis and run my risk. She can decide which line she'll take after she locates the ore."
"Thanks; I'll take the truck," said Thirlwell.
He knew Scott wanted to help him and not to gain something for himself, but it might be an advantage for Agatha to make an arrangement with him when she owned the mine.
"There's another thing," Scott went on. "Since the Clermont isn't paying, I might lend you to Miss Strange if you were anxious to undertake the development work, but the law doesn't require very much of this. What are you going to do when the patent's granted?"
Thirlwell made an abrupt movement. Until that morning he had doubted if Agatha would find the vein, but he was forced to admit the possibility of her doing so. When the vein was proved and she owned the claim she would no longer need him as she needed him now; nor would he be able to neglect his duties and follow her about as unpaid adviser.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. I haven't thought about it yet."
"Miss Strange must have a manager. If you're willing to undertake the job, I daresay I could let you go. Then, if she wouldn't sooner trust her judgment, I think I could give you a pretty good character."
"No," said Thirlwell sharply, and stopped. He suspected that Scott was amused, and it jarred him to think of becoming Agatha's hired servant.
"Well," said Scott, with a twinkle, "exploring the bush with a charming girl is no doubt very pleasant while the summer lasts, but it doesn't lead to much. In fact, so far as I know your views, it leads to nothing. Anyhow, I must see what we have in the store that would be useful."
He went away and Thirlwell, after sitting still for some minutes with a frown, got up and moodily followed the trail to the river bank. Scott had shown him that his friendship with Agatha could not continue on the lines it ran on now. In a way, he had for some time recognized this, but it was not until he found the tobacco-box the truth became overwhelmingly plain. Their pleasant relations must either come to an end very shortly or be built up again on a new foundation, and the first was unthinkable. He walked along the bank until he got calmer and then went back to examine a canoe he meant to caulk. After all, the lode was not found yet.
They stayed three days at the mine, while their outfit was got ready; and when Drummond was not at work he followed Agatha about. He said he liked the woods, spoke of his employers with frank appreciation, and declared that he was grateful because she had got him his post. Besides this, he made no secret of a humble devotion to herself that she sometimes found embarrassing and sometimes amusing. On the evening before they left the mine, he joined the group outside the shack.
"Well," said Scott, rather dryly, "what do you want?"
"Miss Strange pulls out for the North to-morrow, and if she'll take me I'm going along."
"Wait a moment," Scott said to Agatha, and then asked Drummond: "Why do you want to go?"
"I mean to get even with Stormont; and I want to put Miss Strange as wise as I can."
"Then we are to understand you expect nothing for the job?"
Drummond's black eyes sparkled. "You're my boss, so far, but I won't stand for being guyed. It's not your money I'm after."
"Perhaps the rejoinder's justifiable," Father Lucien remarked, smiling; and Drummond turned to Agatha with a touch of dignity.
"I meant to make my pile by selling the ore to somebody, but you treated me like a white man, and I guess the lode belongs to you. Well, if I help you get rich and you want to give me something, I won't refuse, but I'm not out for money. Say, you'll let me go?"
"Can you help?" Scott interrupted. "If you can, it looks as if you had kept something back when you made the other deal."
Drummond grinned. "I kept something back from Stormont; when I put him wise I put him off the track. But I'm playing straight with Miss Strange and Thirlwell. You can bet on me!"
"Then we'll take you," said Agatha, with a deprecatory glance at Thirlwell.
"You're not going to be sorry about it," Drummond declared, and when he went away Agatha turned to Father Lucien.
"It's your business to judge men's character: do you think I have done well?"
"I imagine the lad will make good. He has two incentives: he likes you, and hates your adversary."
"Ah," said Agatha, smiling, "I wonder which is the stronger!"
Father Lucien spread out his hands and his eyes twinkled. "I am a priest, Miss Strange, and must admit that I cannot tell. You have won the young man's confidence; but his is a primitive nature, and hate counts for much."
"You are an honest man," said Agatha. "After all, the truth is better than compliments."
The party broke up soon afterwards, and early next morning Agatha left the mine with Thirlwell, Drummond, and a white rock-borer as well as the half-breed packers. They poled up the Shadow for some distance, and then followed a small creek, tracking the canoes, which were heavily loaded. Indeed, when they carried the freight by relays across the portages, Agatha was surprised to note the quantity of tools and stores. Since the cost of transport made such things dear, it looked as if Thirlwell had made her money go a long way.
As they pushed on the country got wilder. The rocks were more numerous, the trees smaller, and in places they crossed wide belts where fires had raged. The flames had burned off the branches, but left the trunks, and the long rows of rampikes sprang from the new brush, shining a curious silver-gray where they caught the light. The mode of travel, however, did not change. Sometimes they paddled up sparkling lakes, and sometimes dragged the canoes over ledges and gravel-beds in shallow creeks until the water shrunk and they made a laborious portage across a rocky height.
The journey was made as much by land as water, and at first Agatha wondered that the men were capable of such toil, but by degrees she found that she could carry more than she had thought, and laughing at Thirlwell's protests, often struggled through the brush with a heavy load. The hot sunshine that lasted so long, and the freshness that followed when the shadows deepened, calmed and strengthened her. She felt braced in mind and body; her doubts and impatience had gone. She was quietly confident that they would find the ore.
But they did not find it, and at length the time Agatha had allowed herself came to an end. It was possible that she had already lost her post at the school, but if not and she wanted to keep it, she must return at once.
She did not, however, mean to give up the search while their food held out and there was no shortage yet, perhaps because the half-breeds often went fishing and gathered wild berries. Then one hot day, when they nooned beside a shining lake and she sat in the shade of a boulder, she heard the men talking.
"The summer she is good," a Metis remarked. "Me, I lak' better make the prospect than the freight. Chercher l'argent, c'est le bo' jeu!"
"We haven't struck much argent yet," said the white miner. "I wonder what the boss thinks and guess he's up against something. Walked past at an awkward piece on the last portage as if he didn't see me, with his forehead wrinkled up. Seen him look like that when he reckoned the roof was coming down on us."
Agatha's curiosity was excited, because she thought she had noted a subtle difference in Thirlwell's manner. There was a hint of reserve, and sometimes he looked disturbed. Then Drummond interrupted his companion.
"You can't tell what the boss thinks when he doesn't want, and we're certainly going to find the lode."
"I'd like to see you strike it all right, because if you don't, you're going to be some dollars out," the miner replied. "Don't know who's paying for this outfit, but I'd put it pretty high."
"What d'you reckon it cost?" Drummond asked.
The miner made a calculation and Agatha listened with strained interest as he enumerated the different items.
"Well," said Drummond, "I can't value the tools and powder, but allowing for transport, you've got the stores nearly right. Anyhow, I'm going swimming. If Pierre will give me ten yards, I'll race him to the island."
They went away and Agatha sat still with a hot face. She had trusted Thirlwell and he had deceived her; her money had soon been exhausted and the journey was now being made at his expense. She felt as if she had been robbed of something to which she had a sacred right; she had let a stranger undertake the task that was peculiarly hers. Then she had been cheated so easily. Thirlwell must think her a fool, or perhaps that she was willing to be deceived.
Getting calmer, she admitted that his object was good. He wanted to help, but it was unthinkable that she should trade upon his generosity. She resolved to talk to him about it, but he had gone into the bush to look for the best line across the neck between them and another lake. When he came back the men were unloading the canoes and he occupied himself with making up the packs.
They had camped and eaten supper before her opportunity came, and then as they sat by the water's edge she told him what she had heard. He listened quietly until she asked: "Was the man's calculation correct?"
"Nearly so. He was rather above the mark."
"Then I am in your debt?"
"Does that hurt?"
"Yes," said Agatha, with some hesitation, "in a way, it hurts very much. I don't mean that it's embarrassing to take your help, though it is embarrassing. You see, I felt I must find the lode myself; it's my duty, and you have taken away the satisfaction I might have felt. Besides, you cheated me."
Thirlwell was silent for a few moments, and then said: "I'm sorry you find it hard to let me help, but unless I had done so you couldn't have gone far."
"You should have been frank and let me wait."
"For another year? The North is no place for a white woman after the rivers freeze."
Agatha said nothing. She had not thought about this, and it would have been very hard to wait until summer came again.
"Well," he resumed, "I cheated you, because I could see no other plan. I think you have waited too long. If you had gone on thinking about nothing but the lode, it would have done you harm."
"Did it harm my father?"
"Yes," said Thirlwell quietly, and Agatha dared ask nothing more. Besides she knew that he would not tell her much.
"Now," he went on, "I have owned my fault; but you're rather taking it for granted that my object was altogether unselfish. After all, the law only gives you so much frontage on the vein, and there's nothing to prevent my staking off a claim on the rest."
"That is so," said Agatha. "But the paper states that my father claimed the edge of the cliff, where, for a time, the ore could be easily worked. As your block would lie farther back, you would have to sink a shaft and drive a tunnel. This would cost you much."
"The cost wouldn't matter if the ore was rich. I could get all the capital I wanted."
Agatha gave him a quiet ironical smile. "Then you really came with me because you meant to stake a claim? That's curious, Mr. Thirlwell, because I think you never believed my father found the lode at all."
He colored and hesitated. "We'll let it go; there's something else. If you turn back now, can you reach Toronto before the school reopens?"
"No," said Agatha, with a soft, excited laugh. "I did not mean to turn back until I was forced. When I reached Toronto I should find somebody else had got my post."
Thirlwell noted her courage, although he thought she was rash. "Wouldn't it be awkward? But I suppose your brother—"
"I should not go to George. He is kind, but believes I have inherited my father's illusion. He always hated to hear him talk about the lode, and would think I was properly punished for my folly. But I needn't go on. You must understand—"
"I don't understand. The only thing I see is that you're not logical. It's obvious now that you must, if possible, find the ore; and yet you object to letting me help. If you give up the search and return to Toronto, it may be a very long time before you can make another trip."
"No, I suppose I'm not logical," Agatha admitted, with a mocking smile. "Logic is perhaps a useful guide for a man, but it doesn't always take him far. However, I oughtn't to have expected you to understand, and you're getting impatient—"
"Let's try to be practical," Thirlwell rejoined. "If we turn back at once, some of the truck we haven't used might be sold, and we would save the wages I promised the boys, but all we have spent would be thrown away. Well, I'd hate to feel that either of us must bear a loss like that."
"I have heard George say that a good business man cuts his losses."
"It's sometimes a better plan to hold on and get your money back."
"But how can we get our money back if we can't find the lode? You don't think we'll do so."
Thirlwell frowned. "There's a chance of finding it; a fighting chance. Now we're near the spot and have the truck, let's play the chance for all it's worth. You can pay me when you get your patent, or make any plan you like. Then Scott really supplied the stores and made some suggestions that I didn't mean to talk about unless our search succeeded."
He related what Scott had said, and added: "Anyhow, let's go on for a fortnight. Then if you insist, we'll take the back trail."
Agatha gave him a quick glance and he thought her eyes had softened, but she got up.
"Very well," she said, and went to her tent.
THE BROKEN RANGE
The fortnight Agatha agreed to had nearly gone when, early one morning, Thirlwell and Drummond climbed a hill behind the camp and stood on the summit, looking about. Thin mist drifted across the low ground in front, but some miles off a forest-covered ridge rose against the sky. It was hardly a range of hills, but rather what prospectors call a height of land; a moderately elevated watershed marking off two river basins. Running roughly east and west as far as he could see, it limited Thirlwell's view and had puzzled him for some days.
Since the rivers that drained the country flowed northeast to Hudson Bay, it was obvious that there must be an opening in the ridge, but he had been unable to find one. Moreover, as Strange's creek ran south before it turned east, he imagined it was on his side of the heighth of land, but he had seen no stream flowing in either direction. Strange's notes were incomplete; and although Thirlwell calculated that he was about thirty miles from the spot where the ore outcropped, he had found none of the landmarks. The creek was not behind him, but a radius of thirty miles would cover a wide belt of country, and he doubted if he could persuade Agatha to extend the fortnight. Her obstinacy was ridiculous, but must be reckoned on.
By and by a faint breeze sprang up and the mist rolled back. Here and there a lake sparkled in the light of the rising sun and dark pines rose out of the streaming vapor. But there was no glistening thread to indicate a creek, and Thirlwell turned to Drummond with an impatient frown.
"Do you see anything that you think you ought to recognize?"
"No," said Drummond, rather sulkily, "I don't."
"You haven't been of much use to us yet! I think you stated that when you got here you'd recollect all your father told you about Strange's talk. Seeing the places would bring things back!"
"I haven't seen the places, and the old man was very sick when he told me. Anyhow, I've tracked your blamed canoes, and packed your stores across the divides. Guess I'd have hit the back trail long since if it wasn't for Miss Strange."
"Then we had better get down," said Thirlwell. "The boys don't seem to have started to cook breakfast, and I want to pull out soon."
He was turning away when Drummond stopped him, stretching out his arm. "Hold on! What's that yonder?"
"Mist," said Thirlwell, impatiently.
"No; it's too dark. Look again!"
Thirlwell started. The mist was drifting past the detached clump of pines his companion indicated, but its color was silvery, and he now noted a faint blue streak. This was something of a shock, for he had thought there was nobody but his party in the neighborhood.
"Smoke!" he exclaimed. "Go down as fast as you can and tell the boys not to make a fire."
When Drummond went off Thirlwell sat down and watched the smoke. It got plainer, and rose in a thick blue cloud when the mist rolled away. Somebody was cooking breakfast and the volume of smoke indicated a large fire. It looked as if there were a number of men to be fed, and Thirlwell had not expected to find Indians near the spot just then. After a time, the smoke died away and he went back to camp, but told Agatha nothing about what he had seen. When breakfast was over he took one of the Metis and plunged into the bush. There was not much need for caution, because the party would, no doubt, set off when they had finished their meal, and if they were Indians, it did not matter if he met them. But he did not think they were Indians.
When he had gone a mile or two, he stopped at the edge of a muskeg and sent the Metis on to a clump of pines on the other side. The man, keeping in the shadow, stole round the swamp, and vanished noiselessly in the underbrush. After a time, he reappeared, beckoning, and Thirlwell knitted his brows when he joined him.
The ashes of a fire smoldered between two hearth-logs; white chips and broken branches were scattered about. Near his feet were six small round holes, spaced in a regular pattern, and a cotton flour-bag and some empty cans lay beneath a bush.
"A white man's camp; they had a tent," he said.
"Sure," agreed the Metis. "Teepee poles they not mak' hole lak' dat."
"Well, I reckon a sour-dough prospector wouldn't have bothered about a tent. Looks as if one of them was a tenderfoot. Qu'en pense-tu?"
The Metis' keen eyes had wandered round the camp and he nodded. "But, yes! Dat man sait vivre; he lak' it comfortable."
"A city man!" Thirlwell remarked, with a frown. How many packers?"
"Quat," said the Metis.
The Metis laughed scornfully as he indicated the trampled brush, broken branches, greasy papers, and scraps of food. "Me, I think no! Railroad outfit. Voyageur not muss up camp lak' dat."
Thirlwell agreed. A half-breed voyageur does not waste food, and with inherited caution seldom disturbs the bush. It looked as if the city man had engaged a gang of track-layers, who are used to pioneering and sometimes carry surveyors' stores through the wilds.
"Well," he said, "we'll follow their trail."
The party had obviously left the water for a time, because their track led away from the creek in the valley and the bush was too thick to permit the portaging of canoes. Thirlwell followed the trail until he satisfied himself that they were going east, and then went back to his camp. Finding Agatha at the water's edge he sat down opposite.
"I'm afraid you didn't get much breakfast, but I didn't want the fire lighted," he said, and told her what he had seen.
"Ah!" she cried. "Do you think Stormont is looking for the ore?"
"I think so; I'm not certain."
"But he failed to find it once and nearly starved."
Thirlwell smiled. "I understand the fellow's obstinate. He may have got a fresh clue or found out something we don't know."
"Do you think he has been following us?"
"I don't. If he'd known we were in the neighborhood, he would not have lighted a fire."
"After all," said Agatha thoughtfully, "my father stated that he had staked the claim."
"I'm afraid that doesn't count for much. You're not recognized as prospective owner until your record's filed. I imagine your father's statement would carry some weight, but going to law about a mine is generally an expensive job, and it's hard to put up a good fight against a man with capital."
"Then what are you going to do about it?" Agatha asked anxiously.
"Get away from here at once, and as far as possible keep to the lakes; water carries no trail. Then Stormont has decided a point that has been bothering me—since he's gone east, we must go north or west."
"Yes. Unless it's possible that his clue is better than ours."
"I thought about that," Thirlwell replied. "We don't know if he has a clue, but we'll stick to ours and take the risk. Your father's directions are plain enough if we can find the first of his landmarks."
"Then go west," said Agatha. "I imagine the creek is on this side of the range."
Thirlwell got up and went to see the canoes launched, but he wondered whether Agatha remembered that there were only two or three days of the fortnight left. He thought she did remember, but he resolved that they would not turn back.
Soon after they started, a fresh breeze sprang up from the north-west and the shadows of flying clouds sped across the lake. The sky between the clouds was a curious vivid blue, the light was strong, and the woods along the bank flashed into bright color and faded to somber green as the gleams of sunshine passed. For a few minutes, trunks and branches stood out, sharply distinct, and then melted suddenly into their background. By degrees the ripples that lined the lake got larger; there was an angry splashing at the bows of the canoes, and little showers of spray began to fly.
"This clearness means the wind will hold and it's right ahead," Thirlwell said to Agatha, "We haven't had much luck of late!"
"The luck will change," she answered, smiling. "I am confident."
"Confidence doesn't cost you much effort," Thirlwell rejoined. "You were persuaded from the beginning that you would find the ore. It looks as if you were naturally optimistic."
"Oh, no! I had my weak moments when I wanted to shirk. I hated to feel I wasn't free like other people, and was willing to throw away my chance of getting rich. But that wouldn't have helped much; I couldn't get rid of the duty."
"You have pluck. For all that, I think you're indulging a rather exaggerated sentiment. Anyhow, it's hard to imagine you have had many doubts since we left the mine."
"I've had none. When you found the tobacco-box I knew I would succeed. There was something strangely significant about your finding it."
"I happened to look in the right place," said Thirlwell, dryly.
Agatha laughed. "You take a very matter-of-fact view."
"Perhaps so," Thirlwell agreed. "If I were steeped in sentiment, it wouldn't help me drive the canoe faster against a head-wind or carry a heavier load across a portage. That's a purely mechanical proposition. In the meantime, we're slowing up and will soon begin to drift astern."
"Then paddle," said Agatha, smiling. "After all, you're much more of a sentimentalist than I think you know."
Thirlwell bent over his paddle and the canoe forged ahead, but the breeze freshened, and the ripples changed to crested waves. Agatha's face was wet, her slicker dripped, and the men breathed hard between the strokes. They labored on, and at noon ran the canoes aground in the lee of a rocky island. Thirlwell ordered the Metis to use nothing but dry driftwood, which makes little smoke, for the fire, and when they rested after a meal found Drummond sitting alone outside the camp. He looked moody and his eyes were fixed on the height of land.
"Feeling bothered about something?" Thirlwell asked.
"Yes," said Drummond. "I'm trying to get back all the old man told me about Strange's tale. He only talked about it once, when he was sick. Looks as if he hadn't thought the lode a business proposition, and I didn't then. Besides, I was anxious and didn't listen much. Part of it came back afterwards, but not all. There's something I can't get."
"That's unlucky," Thirlwell remarked in a dry tone. "We need a hint."
"I reckoned I'd get it when I saw the country," Drummond went on. "I allow we're not far enough yet."
Thirlwell made a sign of disagreement. "Strange said the creek ran south and then turned east. I imagine there isn't another neighborhood where that's likely to happen. If we cross the divide, I expect we'll find the water running north."
"Well," said Drummond moodily, "you'd better leave me alone. There's something—if I'm quiet, I may get what I'm feeling for." He knitted his brows and a curious fixed look came into his eyes. "I know it's not far off, but I miss it when I'm just getting on the track."
Thirlwell left him and smiled half impatiently as he went back across the rocks. He had sometimes been puzzled, and sometimes amused, by Agatha's confidence, and now Drummond, who had given him no help so far, talked about an elusive clue. It looked as if both allowed their imagination too much rein, and trusted to vague feelings instead of their reasoning powers. Give him a compass bearing, or a definite base-line to calculate an angle from, and he would engage to take the party to the required spot; but he had frankly no use for the other thing. Yet he sometimes wondered—there was a calm assurance in Agatha's eyes. If this was not founded on superstition, from what did it spring?
They launched again in the afternoon, and reached the head of the lake wet and tired. Thirlwell did not talk much after supper, but sat by the fire, smoking, for some time after Agatha went to her tent. He had, in fact, been rather silent for the last few days. Now they were near the end of their journey he did not know if he wanted Agatha to find the lode or not. When they started he had imagined that the search would lead to nothing, and had gone because her society had a charm and he wanted to free her mind of a dangerous illusion. But he could no longer think the lode an illusion. The silver was there, and if one searched long enough, could, no doubt, be found.
This was somehow disturbing, but with a half-conscious wish to shirk the truth he would not inquire bluntly why it disturbed him. He wanted the girl to be happy, and had thought it best for her that she should give up the attempt to find the lode. Now he must readjust his views, and it was hard to see what place there would be for him in her affairs if she became the owner of a rich mining claim.
Next morning they made a difficult portage to another lake, and launching the canoes at noon found the wind blowing fresh. The lake was wide, and when by and by an angry sea got up Thirlwell reluctantly steered for the shelter of a rocky point. They had covered very little ground since they started, and there was only another day of the fortnight left. After supper some of the men went fishing, and Drummond set off alone along the beach, while Agatha and Thirlwell sat among the rocks where the pungent wood-smoke drifted past and kept the mosquitoes off. The sun had set and the air was very clear; they could see the ragged pines across the lake, but the trees on the point behind them cut off their view to the north.
Presently Drummond came back, running fast, and stopped in front of Agatha. His eyes sparkled and the sweat ran down his face.
"What's the matter?" Thirlwell asked. "Have the timber wolves got after you?"
"The broken range!" Drummond gasped. "Get up, Miss Strange, and come right along!"
Agatha looked at Thirlwell, who smiled. "I don't know what he means, but perhaps we had better go."
They followed the lad for some distance, though the shingle was large and rough. Now and then he turned and looked back impatiently, as if they were not coming fast enough; but at length he stopped and indicated the high ground to the north. Its bold line, colored a soft blue, stood out against the yellow sky, and in one place there was a sharply defined gap.
"There!" he exclaimed breathlessly. "I guess that's the broken range!"
"I see the break," said Thirlwell. "What about it?"
"Don't embarrass him," Agatha interrupted. "It's something he remembers. Perhaps his father talked about the gap."
"He did," said Drummond. "The thing's been kind of floating in my mind all day, but I couldn't get it fixed. Then I saw that gap and knew I'd got what I'd been feeling for."
"What did your father say?"
"The Indian camp he sent Strange to was in thin bush, close under the broken range, on the north side."
Thirlwell turned to Agatha. "Then we oughtn't to have much trouble in locating the ore. We know where the factory stood, and if we can find the thin bush, I can follow the line your father took."
Agatha's eyes shone and her color came and went, but with an effort she preserved her calm.
"After all, the bush may have grown."
"I think not," said Thirlwell. "It's probably rocky ground where the trees are small."
"But how was it my father did not see the gap?"
"That is easily accounted for. The gap's not large, and I expect you can only see it when you're directly opposite, at a right angle to the line of the high ground. If you moved back a mile or two, the rocks and trees would shut it in. Drummond didn't see it as we came up the lake."
"I suppose we must wait until to-morrow?"
"Yes," said Thirlwell. "We must leave the water, and can't get through the bush in the dark."
Agatha made a sign of agreement. "Very well; I am glad the nights are very short. But I would like to start at daybreak."
Then they turned and went back silently to camp. Thirlwell was conscious of a keen disturbance that he would not analyze and saw that Agatha did not want to talk. As a matter of fact, Agatha could not talk. She felt a curious exaltation: her heart was full.
At daybreak next morning Thirlwell sent the Metis up the lake to make a cache of the provisions he did not need, and hide the canoes in the brush. In the meantime, he scattered the ashes of the fire and buried the empty cans and all the chips he could find. There was another party in the neighborhood, and he wanted to leave nothing to indicate that the spot had been recently occupied by a camp. When the men returned the party set off along the beach, loaded with food and tools. Walking across the stones and ledges was laborious, but he did not mean to leave a trail, and kept to the water's edge for some distance before he plunged into the bush.
After this, their progress was very slow. The small trees grew close together and in places the ground was covered with rotting trunks and branches. Moreover the line he took led steadily upwards towards the break in the range. It did not look very far off when they started, but dusk was falling and the packers were nearly exhausted when they threw down their loads at the bottom of the gap. Thirlwell's back ached and the straps had galled his shoulders, but he noted with some surprise that Agatha did not look tired. She dropped behind as they toiled up the last rough stony slope, but she helped to pitch camp. Her movements were not languid and her eyes were bright.
By and by she took out the worn paper from the tobacco-box and asked Thirlwell a few questions. He answered rather moodily, and as soon as he could picked up his blanket and went off to the bed he had made of twigs. The hollow he had found was sheltered and the twigs were soft, but it was long before he slept. They were near the spot where Strange claimed to have seen the ore, and he was now persuaded that they would find the vein. If the ore carried as much silver as the specimens indicated, Agatha would be rich. She would go back to the cities, and if her riches were not to separate them altogether, he must enter her employment. Somehow he shrank from this.
But the ore might prove poorer than one thought and the mine cost much to work. He would not admit that he hoped so, since he wanted Agatha to enjoy all the happiness that wealth could give. Indeed, he did not know what he hoped; he was physically tired and although he felt strangely restless his brain was dull. At length his eyes closed and for some hours he slept brokenly.
Getting up at daybreak, he scrambled along the bottom of the gap until he could look down on the other side, and presently turned with a start as he heard a rattle of stones. Agatha, whom he had thought asleep, advanced with a smile. She looked very fresh, and although he imagined she was highly strung, her face was calm. For a few moments she said nothing, but stood close by, gazing fixedly in front.
There was some mist on the low ground, but, for the most part, the tops of the pines rose above the haze. The sky in the east was getting red, and here and there one saw gleams of water and the gray backs of rocks. That was all, for the landscape was blurred to the north, where a vague gray line hinted at another range.
"The haze is tantalizing," she remarked by and by. "One could not see when we got here and I have been waiting for the dawn."
"I hoped you slept. We made a long march yesterday."
"Did you sleep?"
"No," said Thirlwell. "Anyhow, not very much."
Agatha smiled. "Yet you haven't been thinking about the lode as I have—thinking of nothing else for ever so long! Can't you imagine what it means to feel I am near the place at last?"
"I can imagine it to some extent. If the ore carries as much silver as we think, you can do what you like when you get your patent; build laboratories, travel, make friends with clever people. In fact, your money will buy you anything you want."
"Do you really believe that?" Agatha asked, with a hint of mockery in her voice. "Do you imagine I have been thinking about the money?"
"I have thought about it," Thirlwell said, and stopped when she gave him a curious glance. "Of course," he resumed, "there's some satisfaction in feeling you have finished a difficult job."
"Now you're nearer the mark! But you don't feel in the mood for philosophizing?"
"I'm often dull before breakfast," Thirlwell replied. "All the same, I'm glad you're happy. In fact, I'm trying to be sympathetic."
"And you find it hard!"
Thirlwell colored, but looked at her steadily.
"Anyhow, if the thing's possible, I'm going to find the lode for you."
"Yes," she said, without moving her eyes from his face, "I know you'll try to find it. You're trustworthy; you play a straight game!"
"I cheated once."
"That was when you thought the advantage would be mine. But how far do you think we will have to go?"
"Perhaps I can tell you when the sun gets up. We may have to search for three or four days; we may strike the creek to-night."
"Ah," she said, "I hope it will not be three or four days. Now we are very near, the suspense is keen." Then she smiled. "However, we will go back and get breakfast, because you must set your brain to work."
It was next morning when they saw the first of Strange's landmarks; and Thirlwell, taking its bearing with the compass, changed their line of march. In the evening they climbed a low hill, and when they reached its top, which rose like an island from a waste of short pine-scrub, Drummond stopped and, touching Agatha, indicated the ridge across the valley.
"Look!" he said. "The hollow rock!"
A small gray object, dwarfed by the distance, stood out against a smear of dark green on the crest of the high ground. After studying it for a few moments Thirlwell nodded.
"Yes; I think he's right."
Drummond turned to Agatha with a sparkle in his eyes. "I quit now, Miss Strange. You've got there ahead of Stormont; I guess I've made good!"
"You made good when you found the broken range," Agatha replied, giving him a grateful look, and Drummond's dark face flushed with color as he turned away.
They lost the rock as they went down hill, but when they made camp the roar of falling water came faintly across the woods.
"The creek that runs south!" said Thirlwell as he lighted the fire.
They started early next morning, but the ground was rough and the sun was getting low when they came down a rocky hill into a small round hollow, through which shining water flowed. The opposite slope was in shadow, but the slanting sunbeams touched a belt of fresh growth that glowed a vivid green against the somber color of the surrounding trees.
"That," said Thirlwell, "is, no doubt, where the rampikes stood. They've gone, and young willows have sprung up. Yonder's the low cliff. It looks as if we had arrived!"
Agatha stopped for a few moments and felt her heart beat. The dream she had first dreamed long since had come true, but she knew it might not have done so had she not had Thirlwell's help. In the meantime, the scene impressed itself upon her brain, so that she could long afterwards recall it when she wished—the nearly level sunbeams falling across the trees and turning their bark fiery red, the gleam of water, and the figures of the men plodding slowly downhill with their loads. Their faces glowed like polished copper in the searching light, their overalls were ragged and stained, and one stumbled and lurched wildly down a slope with a rattle of rolling stones. Then she glanced at Thirlwell, who stood close by, watching her with a sympathetic smile, though his pose was rather strained.
"Ah," she said, "you have brought me here! Just now I cannot thank you as I ought."
"We'll go on," he answered quietly. "I'd like to fire a shot or two before it's dark, and we'll need some time to drill the holes."
Agatha gave him a quick look. "You are nothing if you're not practical, but perhaps that's fortunate. One trusts practical people when there are things that must be done."
The sunshine had faded when they reached the bottom of the hill and the hollow was shadowy and cool. Thirlwell ordered the men to make camp and then went with Agatha to the foot of the cliff. The creek that flowed past the rock ran clear and low, and he got across by jumping from ledge to ledge. Then, as he scrambled among the boulders towards a spot he had marked he heard a splash, and looking round saw that Agatha had slipped into the stream. She waded across, with the water rippling round her long boots, and when she joined him trembled with suspense.
"You needn't have come over," he said, smiling as he indicated a band of darker color that seamed the ragged face of the gray stone. "That's all there is to see! Hardly looks as if it was worth your coming so far to find it? It was a lucky accident the color caught your father's eye; the vein's only distinct for a few yards where the frost has brought down the cliff. I think we'll find it dips."
Agatha noted that his tone was very matter-of-fact, although his face was set, and thought she had better follow his lead.
"Then the ore must once have outcropped. It's a good example of denudation."
"Yes; it probably ran out some distance back. You can see how the creek has cut down the rock, but frost and snow have helped. One can't tell yet whether the best or worst has been lost; but to begin with, we'll look for the discovery post."
They found it driven among the gravel; then, climbing a gully, reached the crest of the rock. Thirlwell led Agatha through the bush by his compass until he traced a rough oblong, marked by other posts. She followed him with confused emotions and once or twice her eyes filled with tears. Her father had driven these stakes; she could imagine the thrill it gave him to feel that at length his faith and labor were justified. His confidence had never wavered, although he had borne mockery and contempt and the gentle ridicule of his anxious wife. Then, when the prize he toiled for was won and he went back to enjoy it, the river had swept him away. But after all, love had conquered the angry flood, for he had left a clue that the rapid could not destroy.
Agatha thought Thirlwell understood something of her feelings, because he did not talk except when he showed her the posts. When they reached the last he said, "On the whole, I imagine your father's judgment was good. In fact, he picked his ground like a mining engineer."
"He had twenty years to brood about the vein at home," Agatha replied. "Are you surprised that he studied all the books on mining he could get?"
Thirlwell made an apologetic gesture. "I oughtn't to be surprised: he was your father, and it's obvious that you have prepared yourself to carry on his work. Well, I think he has staked off the best of the vein; at least, his claim covers the part that can best be reached. But you'll have trouble with the water; it may mean driving a drainage heading and putting up expensive pumps. The ore may be rich enough to stand the extra cost, but I can tell you more when I have fired a shot."
They went back to the camp, where the Metis had cooked supper, but Thirlwell did not eat much and soon returned to the cliff. He took the white rock-borer, but Agatha did not go with him. She felt chilled by his quietness. It was now plain that, since her father had marked off the exposed edge of the inclined lode, Thirlwell must sink a deep shaft if he wished to reach it farther back. This, however, did not account for his moodiness; for one thing, he had not expected that they would find the ore. Besides, he was generous and would want her to have the best. It would have been a comfort to give him half the claim, but he would refuse the gift. She had meant to enjoy her triumph with him, but this satisfaction had gone. It hurt, her to see him disturbed, but she colored as she resolved that her success should not separate them. If he was obstinate, something must be risked.
In the meantime, Thirlwell struck the drill his companion held. His face was damp with sweat and the hammer slipped in his hands, but he did not miss a stroke. He had promised the girl his help, and when the hole was sunk he chose the best spot for the next with fastidious care. He meant to play a straight game, although it would cost him much to let her win. By and by the miner picked up some of the bits of stone.
"Weight's all right; guess the stuff's carrying heavy metal," he remarked. "Still, I've seen a lode pinch out. It may be a pocket and the dirt run poor when you get farther in."
"It's possible," Thirlwell agreed in a dull voice.
The miner gave him a sharp glance. "Looks as if you wouldn't be much disappointed! Don't you want the dirt to go rich?"
"Let's get on," said Thirlwell. "I want to fire the shot before it's dark."
"Then watch out for my fingers," the miner rejoined. "When you pound her as you've been doing I like to see you keep your eye on the drill."
They worked for some time and then Thirlwell sent for Agatha, and helping her across the creek, held up the ends of two or three fuses and a match-box.
"It's proper that you should fire the first shot. I've put in a heavy charge and we'll know something about the ore when we see the stuff the blast brings down."
Agatha lighted the fuses and they hurried back to the shelter of the trees, where she stood with her heart beating fast. It was proper that she should be first to undertake her father's work; Thirlwell's thought was graceful. She glanced at him, but his brown face was inscrutable, although his mouth was firm. His quietness jarred; she felt angry and disappointed, as if she had been robbed of something.
For all that, she thrilled as she watched the faint sparkle of the fuse. She had won the first battle more easily than she had thought, and had now begun the next stage of the struggle. She sprang from a pioneering stock and knew that the shot she fired would break the daunting silence of the woods for good. If she failed to develop the mine somebody else would succeed. The lonely hollow would soon be covered with tents and shacks; men's voices and the rattle of machines would drown the soft splash of the creek. She was blasting a way for civilization into the wilderness.
A flash, springing from different spots, leaped across the foot of the cliff; gray smoke rolled up, and there was a roar that rolled in confused echoes across the woods. The front of the rock seemed to totter behind the smoke, great stones splashed in the water, and flying pieces rattled among the trunks. When the vapor began to clear and she wanted to run forward Thirlwell put his hand on her arm.
"It won't be safe for some time; you're not used to the fumes," he said. "If you went there now, you wouldn't be able to get up to-morrow."
She followed him back to the camp, where Drummond and the miner joined them.
"In the morning I'll go with you to see where we ought to stake the other claims," he said to the men. "You can, of course, locate where you like, but this job will need some capital and you want to get the best frontage you can. That will help us later."
They agreed without much enthusiasm. Now they had reached their object, a reaction had begun, and Agatha was sensible of a curious flatness. She knew that Drummond and the rock-borer could do nothing with their claims except sell them to somebody who could supply the money to develop the mines; but before they started Thirlwell had outlined a plan by which the holdings might be consolidated and worked together. The men had approved and promised to give her what Thirlwell called an option, if it seemed worth while to do the work required before the patents would be granted.
When the fumes had cleared they went with him to the cliff and he came back with a heavy bag. It was dark, but the firelight shone about him as he poured out the stones he had brought and gave her one or two.
"The stuff looks as good as the specimens we have," he said quietly.
Agatha agreed as she weighed the pieces, but her eyes were fixed on his face. He looked stern, but forced a smile—
"Your father was not deceived, and what he left unfinished you can make good. I think you are going to be rich."
"If so, I owe it all to you."
He shook his head. "You might have found the lode without me, but I expect you're tired and you ought to sleep well to-night. I must begin at daybreak. The sooner we start back to record the ground we claim, the better."
"Then good-night," she said quietly, but when she moved away through the shadow her face was resolute.
Soon after daybreak, Thirlwell, Drummond, and the rock-borer pushed their way through the woods behind the cliff. The vein dipped and in consequence the farther one went back from the creek, the greater would be the cost of reaching the ore. Besides, it was possible that the ore pinched out and the uncovered part was an unusually rich pocket. His companions had agreed that he should have the next best location after Agatha's, and followed his advice about staking their claims. The half-breeds had, however, declined to exercise their rights; they were trappers and voyageurs, and stated that they had no use for mines.
Thirlwell thought there was no more ground worth recording, and doubted, for that matter, if his and the others' claims were worth much, but it was prudent to keep intruders out. Disputes often rose about the application of the mining laws, and it might be dangerous to have a rich and unscrupulous antagonist. His companions went away feeling puzzled by his coolness. On the journey he had encouraged the party with humorous banter, and made a joke of their difficulties; now he was quiet and reserved.
When they had gone Thirlwell sat down and lighted his pipe, for he knew he must grapple with his trouble before it mastered him. Looking back, he saw that he had been strangely pleased by Agatha's letters, and when he met her had at once felt her charm. This, however, was all; he frankly enjoyed her society and thought she liked his, but he was not romantic and was satisfied that they should drift into a close and confidential friendship. It was obvious now that he had been remarkably dull; Scott had seen how things were going.