The man concluded with a gesture that betrayed his real feelings. He was in desperate earnest for all his attempt at lightness. His words came swiftly, in that headlong fashion so characteristic of his most earnest mood. And Nancy listening to him, caught something of that which lay behind them. The faintest shadow of a smile struggled into her eyes. She shook her head.
"I haven't a thought in my head about you—that way," she said. "It's not been that way with me. No." She averted her gaze from the eager eyes before her. "It's the thing I've done and been. It's the thing you, and every other honest creature, must feel about me. Oh, don't you see? The killing, the bloodshed and suffering—But I can't talk about it even now. It's all too dreadful still. I'm quitting when Father Adam goes, and—and—But believe me no judgment you can pass on me can begin to express the thing I feel about myself. Please don't think I bear one single hard thought against you."
The man laughed outright. The buoyancy of that moment was supreme. Bat Harker was again in his mind. Bat, with all his quaint, crude philosophy.
"Say, that beats everything," Bull cried. "My judgment of you. And all this time I've been guessing—Oh, hell! Say, do you know, it gets me bad when I think of you going back to Peterman and his crew? It sets me well-nigh crazy. Oh, I know. I've no right. None at all. But it don't make me feel any better. Here, I'll tell you about it. I'm not going to take to myself virtues I don't possess, and have no right to anyway. I wanted to win out in the fight against the Skandinavia because I'm a bit of a fighting machine. I wanted to win out for the dollars I'm going to help myself to. But I also wanted to win out because of the great big purpose that lies behind these mills of Sachigo. I want you to get right inside my mind on that thing so you'll know one of the reasons why I hate that you're sending word to Peterman. You'll maybe understand then the thing that made me fight you, a woman, as well as the others, and treat you in a fashion that's made me hate myself ever since. I'm going to say it as bluntly as I know how. It'll be like beating you, a helpless victim, right over the head with a club. I've acted the brute right along to you, an' I s'pose I best finish up that way. You were doing your best to sell your birthright, my birthright, to the foreigner. You were helping the alien, Peterman, and his gang, to snatch the wealth of our forests. Why? You didn't think. You didn't know. There was no one to tell you. You simply didn't know the thing you were doing.
"This man Peterman was good to you. He held out prospects that glittered. It was good enough. And all the time he was looking to steal your birthright. The birthright of every Canadian. That makes you feel bad. Sure it does. I can see it. But I got to tell it that way, because—Here, I'm on the other side. It was chance, not virtue set me there. But once there the notion got me good. Sachigo was built to defend the great Canadian forests against the foreigner. That slogan got a grip on me. Yes, it got me good. I could scrap with every breath in my body for that. Well, now we've got the Skandinavia beat, and in a year or so they'll be on the scrap heap, ready to sell at scrap price. That's so. I know. Sachigo will be the biggest thing of its kind in the world next year, and there won't be any room for the Skandinavia. That's a reason I hate for you to go back to Peterman—one reason."
"But I'm not going back," Nancy cried vehemently.
Bull stared wide-eyed.
"You're not going back?" he echoed stupidly. Then of a sudden he held out his hand. "Say, pass that message right over. Why in—Guess I'm crazy to read it—now."
Nancy held the paper out to him. There was something so amazingly headlong in his manner. All the girl's apprehensions, all her depression, were swept away, and a rising excitement replaced them. A surge of thankfulness rose up in her. At least he would learn that she had no intention of further treachery to the land of her birth.
"Accept my resignation forthwith."
Bull read the brief message aloud. It was addressed to Peterman, and it was signed "Nancy McDonald." The force, the coldness of the words were implacable. He revelled in the phrasing. He revelled in the thing they conveyed. He looked up. The girl was smiling. She had forgotten everything but the approval she saw shining in his eyes.
Suddenly he reached out and his great hands came gently down upon her softly rounded shoulders. It was a wonderful caress. They held her firmly while he gazed into her eyes.
"Say, Nancy," he cried, in a voice that was deep with emotion. "You mean that? Those words? You've quit the Skandinavia? What—what are you going to do?"
"I—I'm going to the forests with Father Adam. I'm going to help the boys we've so often talked about. I'm—"
"Not on your life!"
The man's denial rang out with all the force of his virile nature.
"Say, listen right here. You've quit them. You've quit Peterman. And you reckon from one fool play you're going right over to another. No, sir, not on your life. It's my chance now, and by God I don't pass it. I'm kind of a rough citizen and don't know the way a feller should say this sort of stuff. But I'm crazy to marry you and have been that way ever since you came along, and sat right in this office, and invited me to take tea in the parlour of that darnation bug, Peterman. Do you know all that means, Nancy? It means I'm just daft with love for you, and have been ever since I set eyes on you, for all I had to treat you worse than a 'hold-up.' Say, my dear, will you give me the chance to show you? Can you forget it all? Can you? I'll raise every sort of hell to fix you good and happy. And you and me, together, we'll just send this great Sachigo of ours booming sky high, and in a year I promise to hand you the wreckage that was once the Skandinavia. Marry me, dear, and I'll show you the thing a man can be and do. And I'll make you forget the ruffian I've had to act towards you. Will you let me help you to forget? Will you—?"
Nancy's eyes were frankly raised to the passionate gaze which revealed the depths of the man's great heart.
"I have," she said in a low voice. "I've forgotten everything but—but—you."
She moved as she spoke. There was no hesitation. All her soul was shining in her eyes, and she yielded to the impulse she was powerless to deny. She came to him, releasing herself from the great hands that held her shoulders. She reached up and placed her soft arms about the neck that rose trunk-like above his shoulders. In a moment she was caught and crushed in his arms.
"Why—that's just fine!"
The exclamation broke from the man out of sheer delight and happiness. And the while he bent down and kissed the smiling upturned face, and permitted one hand to wander caressingly over the girl's wealth of beautiful hair.
LOST IN THE TWILIGHT
A fierce wind swept down off the hills. So it had blown all night and all the day before. The sky was overcast, and the thermometer had dropped below zero. It was one of those brief "freeze-ups" such as Father Adam had awaited, and it might last two or three days. Then would come prompt reaction, and the rapidity of the thaw would be an hundred-fold increased.
The sun was hidden, and the sky looked to be heavily burdened with snow. The earth was frozen solid, and the wide flung forests were white with the hoar frosts of Spring.
Father Adam was standing beside the crouching team of dogs. There were five of them; great huskies, shaggy of coat and fiercely wolfish. They were fat and soft from idleness. But they would serve, for the sled was light, and a few days' run would swiftly harden them.
The outfit was waiting just beyond the kitchen door of the house on the hill, and the view of the busy Cove below was completely shut out. The position for the waiting sled had not been calculated by the man who owned it, but by the shrewd, troubled mind of Bat Harker.
He was standing beside the tall figure of the missionary now, squat and sturdy, looking on with half-angry, wholly anxious eyes. His expression was characteristic of the man when he was disturbed. Father Adam's dark eyes were surveying his outfit. There was no emotion in them. They were calm, and simply searching, in the fashion of the practised trail man.
"Say, Les, this is just the craziest thing of all your crazy life," Bat said at last, in a tone kept low for all the feeling that lay behind it. "I tell you they're waiting on you. They've got you set. Just as sure as God this'll be your last trip. It's kind of useless talkin' it again out here, I know. We've talked an' talked it in that darn sick room of yours till I'm sick to death trying to git sense into you. We know the game from A to the hindmost letter of the darn alphabet. We haven't shouted it, you an' me, because there wasn't need. But Idepski's been right here since ever he got his nose on your trail. It was his gun that took you weeks back, an' sent you sick. If I know a thing he meant just to wing you, and leave you kind of helpless, so he could get hands on you when he fancied. He wants you alive, and he's goin' to git you. Ther's word got round you're pulling out. It's clear to me. A bunch of boys hit the trail out of here three nights gone, and I've a notion Idepski went with 'em. Are they wise you're pulling out? Sure they are. Why, in God's name, don't you quit it?"
The man whom the forest world knew as Father Adam, but whom Bat knew as Leslie Standing, shrugged his shoulders.
"Why should I?" he said, his dark eyes mildly enquiring, "you can't tell me a thing I don't know about Idepski. I knew it was he who dropped me. I saw him that night down there and knew him right away. Maybe he can fool you with his disguises. He can't fool me. I'd been watching him days before that."
"Why didn't you show yourself? Why didn't you say?"
Bat spoke fiercely in his exasperation.
The missionary smiled.
"You'd have had him shot up," he said. "I know. No. If you'd known I was around it would have queered the hand I was playing. Here, Bat, let's get this thing right. You could shoot up a dozen Idepskis, and there'd be others to replace 'em. Hellbeam's dogs'll never let up." He shook his head. "It's a play that'll go on to the—end. I know that. I tell you I've got past caring a curse about things. When the end comes, what does it matter! Not a thing. It's useless talking, old friend," he said, as Bat attempted to break in, "quite useless. But don't reckon I'm a willing quitter. I'll play the game till it can't be played longer. And when I've got to I'll throw my hands up. Not before. But Idepski can't follow my trail."
"But he ken cut it," Bat cried, desperation finding expression in a clenched, out-held fist.
The missionary smiled confidently. And Bat suddenly flung out both hands.
"Say, Les," he cried, "do you think I want to see my partner, and best friend, hounded to a life of hell by that swine, Hellbeam? It breaks me to death the thought of it. Man, man, it sets me nigh crazed thinking that way. Don't I count with you? Don't the others you came along to help count? That dandy gal I've heard you wish was your own daughter? Don't she count? Say, we're all for you, Bull an' Nancy, an' me, just the same as the rest of the folk of the forest. Stop right here, man. Take your place again, an' we'll fight Hellbeam as we've fought his Skandinavia. Say, we'll fight for you as we've never fought before. We'll fight him, and beat him, and keep you safe from that hell he's got waitin' for you. Just say the word, and stop right here. And I'll swear before God—"
Leslie Standing raised a protesting hand. His eyes were unsmiling.
"It's useless, old friend," he said with irrevocable decision. "You don't know the thing you're trying to pledge yourself to. You think me a crazy man. You think I'm just asking for the trouble Hellbeam figures to hand out to me. I'm not. I've got the full measure of the whole thing. And I know the thing I'm doing doesn't matter. I'm not going to change the plan of life I've laid down. I've learnt happiness in the forests. The twilight of it all has been my salvation. Time was when I had other desires, other delights. They've long since passed. Now there's only one appeal to me in life. It's the boys, the scallawags, who haunt the forest like I do. I love them. And my life's theirs as long as Hellbeam leaves it to me. Get just that into your thick, old head, Bat, and for our last five minutes together we can talk of things more pleasant than Hellbeam."
The missionary smiled down into the strong face of his companion. And the lumberman realised the uselessness of further protest. He yielded grudgingly. He yielded because he knew and loved the man. By a great effort he turned his mind from the dread haunting it.
"You've got me beat, Les," he growled. Then he spat in his disgust.
The missionary nodded, and, with a gesture of the hand, he indicated the hidden mills below them.
"It's queer the way the whole thing's completed itself as I hoped and dreamed so long ago," he said thoughtfully. "You know, Bat, that yellow streak in me was a better thing than either of us knew. If I hadn't had it I'd have stood my ground. I'd have fought to the end, and I'd have been beaten, and Sachigo would have crashed. Do you see that? No. That's because you look at things with the obstinate eyes of great courage. While I, through fear, see things as they are. We won't debate it now. The accomplished fact is the thing. You've set Sachigo on top. Sachigo will rule the Canadian forest industry. The foreigner is on the scrap heap. We've helped to build something for this great old Empire of ours, and so our lives haven't been wholly wasted. It's good to feel that when the time comes to pay our debts. That boy Sternford's a great feller. I'm glad about him. Say, I felt I could cry last night when he and Nancy came along like two school-kids to tell me of the thing they'd fixed. I felt like handing them my story and claiming my place as Nancy's stepfather. But I didn't. You see, she's glad about me as Father Adam, a dopey missionary. But I can see her eyes blaze up red-hot with anger at the man who took her mother from her, and denied her existence. No, it's best that way. She's found the man I could have chosen for her, and I'm glad. She's a great lass. She's all her mother—and more."
Bat inclined his stubborn head. He was still thinking of the dogs, and the sled, and all they meant to him just now.
"Does she know about her share in the mills?" he asked brusquely.
The other shook his head.
"Not yet. But I've sent word to Charlie Nisson. He'll be along up on the Myra. And when he comes she'll know." He laughed quietly. "Say, I'd be glad to see them when they know about it—she and Bull. They're going to be married right after Birchall's been along and finally fixed things. It'll be a great day. I wonder. You know, Bat, I'd like to think Nancy—my Nancy—knows all about this. I wonder if she does. Do you think so?"
Bat turned away. His eyes were on the surrounding forest, and the white gossamer of the hoar-frost clinging to the dark foliage. He dared not trust himself to reply.
Again came the missionary's quiet laugh.
"I wonder," he said. Then, in a moment, a curious flicker marred the calm of his eyes. "Bat, old friend," he went on, after a pause, "there's just one thing I'm going to ask you before I pull out. It's a promise I want. When the time comes for me to pay, will you tell her? Will you tell them both? If I'm gone will you tell them the thing you know—all of it? Don't make me out to be any old angel I guess you'd like to paint me. Just hand 'em the story of the white-livered creature I am, without the nerve of a jack-rabbit. Will you do that?"
He held out a hand from which he removed his fur mitt. Bat turned. He saw the hand, and disregarded it in a surge of feeling.
"Tell 'em? Tell 'em?" he cried. "Say, Les, for God Almighty's sake don't you pull out. You're my friend. You're the one feller in the world that matters a curse to me. Quit boy. Stop right here, an'—"
"Will you tell 'em?"
The hand was thrust further towards the lumberman so that he could no longer ignore it.
"Hell! Yes!" he cried, in fierce mental anguish. "I'll tell 'em—if I have to." He seized the outstretched hand in both of his and gripped it with crushing force. "You're goin'—now?"
Their hands fell apart. Bat's dropped to his side like leaden weights. "So long," he said dully, as the other took his place in the sled. Then he added, "So long, Les."
The sled needed breaking out, and the lumberman watched the operation of it without a word. His emotions were too real, to deep for anything more. He looked on while the first sharp order was flung at the dogs. He watched them leap to their feet and stand ready, great, powerful, untamed souls eager for their, task. Then the man in the sled looked round as he strung out the long lash of his short-stocked whip.
"So long, Bat," he cried smilingly. And his farewell was instantly followed by the sharp command to "mush."
* * * * *
Far out on the desolate highlands the dogs broke trail over a waste of virgin snow. The cold had abated, and the flurry of snow that rose up under their feet was wet and melting. The way lay through the maze of woodland bluffs which lined the upper slopes of the course of the Beaver River. Beyond them, northward, lay the windswept barrens of the highlands.
Father Adam knew the trail by heart. The maze of bluffs through which he was passing afforded him no difficulties or anxieties. He read them with the certainty of wide and long experience. There was nothing new that Labrador had to show him. He knew it all, and revelled in the wide freedom its fierce territory afforded. The moods of the country concerned him not at all. Furious or gentle, tearful or hard with the bitterness of desperate winter, it was all one to him. He loved the twilight of its mysterious, fickle heart. It was as much his home as any place on earth.
The dogs swept on at a steady gait. The cruel whip played over furry backs, a never-ceasing threat. And so the miles were hungrily devoured. It was the first day of freedom for dogs and man alike, and each moment of it yielded a sense of almost fierce joy.
The bluffs narrowed in, and the softer snow slowed the going. Instantly a sharp command hurled the leading dog heading for the open where the surface was hard and dry. The team swung away behind him and the sled pursued. Then the silence broke.
A shot rang out. It came from the shelter of a bluff directly ahead. The leading dog floundered. Then the brute fell with a fierce yelp, and sprawled in the snow while the others swept over his inert body. The man in the sled strove to brake the sled with the "gee-pole" which he snatched to his aid. There was a moment of desperate struggle. Then the sled flung tail up in the air and the man was hurled headlong amidst his dogs.
* * * * *
Father Adam stood with mitted hands thrust up above his head. He was gazing into the smiling eyes of a man no less dark than himself. There were three others confronting him, and each was armed with a stubby, automatic pistol which covered his body.
"Guess Hellbeam's waiting for you over the other side, Mr. Leslie Martin, or Standing, or Father Adam, as you choose to call yourself. He's waited a long time. But you ain't tired him out. Guess your game's up."
The missionary smiled back into Idepski's derisive eyes.
"You can drop your hands," the agent went on. "We've got your gun. And I guess you'll be kind of tired before we get you to the coast. You're going to find things a heap tougher than No. 10 Camp—where you sent me. You surely are."
The missionary was startled.
"Yep. There's going to be no play game this time. Hellbeam's yacht's waiting on you. You'll take the sea trip. It's safer that way."
The mitted hands had dropped to the missionary's sides. He moistened his lips, which seemed to have become curiously dry. Once, and once only, there was a flicker of the eyes as he looked into the face of his captor. Otherwise he gave no sign. His time had come. He knew that. He had always known it would come. There was neither heat nor resentment in him against these men who had finally hunted him down.
"How do we travel?" he asked quietly. "You've shot up my leader."
The other nodded. He understood the tone of complaint and regret in which the trail man spoke of his dog. He grinned maliciously.
"We'll shoot up the rest for you. They'd only feed the wolves if we left 'em. We've two dog trains with us. Don't let that worry. You best get your kit loosed from your sled."
The prisoner turned to obey, but the agent changed his mind. He laughed.
"No. Guess the boys can fix that. It's safer that way. You move right on into yonder bluff. And you best not try making any break. There ain't only Hellbeam in this. I haven't forgotten—No. 10 Camp. Your game's plumb up."
"Yes, plumb up."
Father Adam obeyed. He moved away, followed closely by the man who had hunted him for so many years. There was no escape. He knew that. The reckoning he had always foreseen had overtaken him. So, without a word of protest, he passed for the last time into the twilight of the woods.
The Heart of Unaga
Author of "The Way of the Strong," etc.
Many a stalwart deed has been done and many a brave tale told of the forbidding but romantic North-land, but seldom has an author so combined a tale of love, adventure, and strong swift action with mystery.
The terrible fires of Unaga crimsoning the white silent wastes are so vividly portrayed, that the reader must feel authenticity. The strange "sleeper" Indians are real Indians, the big-souled Northwest policeman is not a superman, but a real human being, the girl is bonafide, the villain is not fictional, but an actual personality, brave and base alike—all the characters are living and breathing folk, that you feel are there in far-off Unaga, and that you know you would find there, were you hardy enough to visit that remorseless country.
G, P. Putnam's Sons
New York London
JAMES B. HENDRYX
A Romance of the barrens—"straight north—between the Mackenzie and the Bay," where Snowdrift, waif of the Arctic, Indian bred, bearing a false but heavy burden of shame, and Carter Brent, Southerner, find their great happiness among the icy wastes.
Swept to the Klondike by the first wave of the great gold rush, Brent plunges, with the enthusiasm of youth, into the whirl of Dawson, the city of men gone mad. How luck sat upon his shoulder, and how his recklessness and daring won him the admiration of those wild times, until the raw red liquor of Alaska downed him "for the count," is but the beginning of the tale; for with him, we are carried into the Northern night and fight the long fight back to manhood till purged by the cleansing cruelty of the Arctic.
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK LONDON