FLOWER OF THE NORTH
A MODERN ROMANCE
JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD
AUTHOR OF THE DANGER TRAIL, PHILIP STEELS, ETC.
TO MY COMRADES OF THE GREAT NORTHERN WILDERNESS, THOSE FAITHFUL COMPANIONS WITH WHOM I HAVE SHARED THE JOYS AND HARDSHIPS OF THE "LONG SILENT TRAIL," AND ESPECIALLY TO THAT "JEANNE D'ARCAMBAL." WHO WILL FIND IN HERSELF THE HEROINE OF THIS STORY, THE WRITER GRATEFULLY DEDICATES THIS VOLUME.
FLOWER OF THE NORTH
"Such hair! Such eyes! Such color! Laugh if you will, Whittemore, but I swear that she was the handsomest girl I've ever laid my eyes upon!"
There was an artist's enthusiasm in Gregson's girlishly sensitive face as he looked across the table at Whittemore and lighted a cigarette.
"She wouldn't so much as give me a look when I stared," he added. "I couldn't help it. Gad, I'm going to make a full-page 'cover' of her to-morrow for Burke's. Burke dotes on pretty women for the cover of his magazine. Why, demmit, man, what the deuce are you laughing at?"
"Not at this particular case, Tom," apologized Whittemore. "But—I'm wondering—"
His eyes wandered ruminatively about the rough interior of the little cabin, lighted by a single oil-lamp hanging from a cross-beam in the ceiling, and he whistled softly.
"I'm wondering," he went on, "if you'll ever strike a place where you won't see 'one of the most beautiful things on earth.' The last one was at Rio Piedras, wasn't it, Tom? A Spanish girl, or was she a Creole? I believe I've got your letter yet, and I'll read it to you to-morrow. I wasn't surprised. There are pretty women down in Porto Rico. But I didn't think you'd have the nerve to discover one up here—in the wilderness."
"She's got them all beat," retorted the artist, flecking the ash from the tip of his cigarette.
"Even the Valencia girl, eh?"
There was a chuckling note of pleasure in Philip Whittemore's voice as he leaned half across the table, his handsome face, bronzed by snow and wind, illumined in the lamp-glow. Gregson, in strong contrast, with his round, smooth cheeks, slim hands, and build that was almost womanish, leaned over his side to meet him. For the twentieth time that evening the two men shook hands.
"Haven't forgotten Valencia, eh?" chuckled the artist, gloatingly. "Lord, but I'm glad to see you again, Phil. Seems like a century since we were out raising the Old Ned together, and yet it's less than three years since we came back from South America. Valencia! Will we ever forget it? When Burke handed me his first turn-down a month ago and said, 'Tom, your work begins to show you want a rest,' I thought of Valencia, and was so confoundedly homesick for those old days when you and I pretty nearly started a revolution, and came within an ace of getting our scalps lifted, that I moped for a week. Gad, do I remember it? You got out by fighting, and I through a pretty girl."
"And your nerve," chuckled Whittemore, crushing the other's hand. "That was when I made up my mind you were the nerviest man alive, Greggy. Did you ever learn what became of Donna Isobel?"
"She appeared twice in Burke's, once as the 'Goddess of the Southern Republics' and again as 'The Girl of Valencia.' She married that reprobate of a Carabobo planter, and I believe they're happy."
"It seems to me there were others," continued Whittemore, pondering for a moment in mock seriousness. "There was one at Rio whom you swore would make your fortune if you could get her to sit for you, and whose husband was on the point of putting six inches of steel into you for telling her so, when I explained that you were young and harmless, and a little out of your head—"
"With your fist," cried Gregson, joyously. "Gad, but that was a mighty blow! I can see that knife now. I was just beginning my paternoster when—chug!—and down he went! And he deserved it. I said nothing wrong. In my very best Spanish I asked her if she would sit for me, and why the devil did he take that as an insult? And she was beautiful."
"Of course," agreed Whittemore. "If I remember, she was 'the loveliest creature you had ever seen.' And after that there were others—a score of them at least, each lovelier than the one before."
"They make up my life," said Gregson, more seriously than he had yet spoken. "They're the only thing I can draw and do well. I'd think an editor was mad if he asked me to do something without a pretty woman in it. God bless 'em, I hope I'll go on seeing them forever. When I can't see beauty in woman I want to die."
"And you always want to see it in the superlative degree."
"I insist upon it. If she lacks something, as Donna Isobel wanted color, I imagine that it is there, and she is perfect! But this one that I saw to-night is perfect! Now what I want to know is this, Who the deuce is she!"
—"where can she be found, and will she sit for a 'Burke,' two or three miscellaneous, and a 'study' for the annual sale," struck in Whittemore. "Is that it?"
"Exactly. You've a natural ability for hitting the nail on the head, Phil."
"And Burke told you to take a rest."
Gregson offered his cigarettes.
"Yes, Burke is a good-natured, poetic old soul who has a horror of spiders, snakes, and sky-scrapers. He said to me: 'Greggy, go and seek nature in some quiet, secluded place, and forget everything for a fortnight or two except your clothes and half a dozen cases of beer.' Rest! Nature! Beer! Think of those cheerful suggestions, Phil, while I was dreaming of Valencia, of Donna Isobels, and places where Nature cuts up as though she had been taking champagne all her life. Gad, your letter came just in time!"
"And I told you little enough in that," said Philip, quickly, rising and pacing uneasily back and forth across the cabin floor. "I gave you promise of excitement, and urged you to join me if you could. And why? Because—"
He turned sharply, and faced Gregson across the table.
"I wanted you to come because the thing that happened down in Valencia, and that other at Rio, isn't a circumstance to the hell that's going to cut loose pretty soon up here—and I'm in need of help. Understand? It's not fun—this time. I'm playing a single hand in what looks like a losing game. If I ever needed a fighter in my life I need one now. That's why I sent for you."
Gregson shoved back his chair and rose to his feet. He was a head shorter than his companion, of almost delicate physique. Yet there was something in the cold gray-blue of his eyes, a peculiar hardness of his chin, that compelled one to look at him twice and rendered first judgment unsafe. His slim fingers closed like steel about Philip's.
"Now you're coming down to business, Phil," he exclaimed. "I've been waiting with the patience of Job—or of little Bobby Tuckett, if you remember him, who began courting Minnie Sheldon seven years ago—and married her the day after I got your letter. I was too busy figuring out what you hadn't written to go to the wedding. I tried to read between the lines, and fell down completely. I've been thinking all the way up from Le Pas, and I'm still at sea. You called. I came. What's up?"
"It's going to sound a little mad—at first, Greggy," chuckled Whittemore, lighting his pipe. "It's going to give your esthetic tastes a jar. Look here!"
He seized Gregson by the arm and led him to the door.
The cold northern sky was brilliant with stars. The cabin, its logs half smothered in dying masses of verdure which had climbed about it during the summer, was built on the summit of one of the wind-cropped ridges which are called mountains in the far north. Into that north swept infinite wilderness, white and gray where the starlit tops of the spruce rose up at their feet, black in the distance. From somewhere out of it there came the low, weeping monotone of surf beating on a shore. Philip, with one hand on Gregson's shoulder, pointed with the other into the lonely desolation which they were facing.
"There isn't much between us and the Arctic Ocean, Greggy," he said. "See that light off there, like a great fire that has half a mind to die out one minute and flares up the next? Doesn't it remind you of the night we got away from Carabobo, when Donna Isobel pointed out our way to us, with the moon coming up over the mountains as a guide? That isn't the moon. It's the aurora borealis. You can hear the wash of the Bay down there, and if you're keen you can catch the smell of icebergs. There's Fort Churchill—a rifle-shot beyond the ridge, asleep. There's nothing but Hudson's Bay Company's posts, Indian camps, and trappers between here and civilization, which is four hundred miles down there. Seems like a quiet and peaceful country, doesn't it? There's something about it that makes you thrill and wonder if this isn't the biggest part of the universe after all. Listen! Hear the Indian dogs wailing down at Churchill! That's the primal voice in this world, the voice of the wild. Even that beating of the surf is filled with the same thing, for it's rolling up mystery instead of history. It is telling what man doesn't know, and in a language which he cannot understand. You're a beauty scientist, Greggy. This must sink deep."
"It does," said Gregson. "What the deuce are you getting at, Phil?"
"I'm arriving gradually and without undue haste to the point, Greggy. I'm about to tell you why I induced you to join me up here. I hesitate at the last word. It seems almost brutal, taking into consideration your philosophy of beauty, to drop from all this—from that blackness and mystery out there, from Donna Isobels and pretty eyes, down to—fish."
Gregson, lighting a fresh cigarette, held the match so that the tiny flame lighted up his companion's face for a moment.
"Look here," he expostulated, "you haven't got me up here to go—fishing?"
"Yes—and no," said Philip. "But even if I have—"
He caught Gregson by the arm again, and there was a tightness in the grip of his fingers which convinced the other that he was speaking seriously now.
"Do you remember what started the revolution down in Honduras the second week after we struck Puerto Barrios, Greggy? It was a girl, wasn't it?"
"Yes, and she wasn't half pretty at that."
"It was less than a girl," went on Philip. "Scene: the palm plaza at Ceiba. President Belize is drinking wine with his cousin, the fiancee of General O'Kelly Bonilla, the half Irish, half Latin-American leader of his forces, and his warmest friend. At a moment when their corner of the plaza is empty Belize helps himself to a cousinly kiss. O'Kelly, unperceived, arrives in time to witness the act. From that moment his friendship for Belize turns to hatred and jealousy. Within three weeks he has started a revolution, beats the government forces at Ceiba, chases Belize from the capital, gets Nicaragua mixed up in the trouble, and draws three French, two German, and two American war-ships to the scene. Six weeks after the wine-drinking he is President of the Republic, en facto. And all of this, Greggy, because of a kiss. Now, if a kiss can start a revolution, unseat a President, send a government to smash, what must be the possibilities of a fish?"
"I'm getting interested," said Gregson. "If there's a climax, come to it, Phil. I admit that there must be enormous possibilities in—a fish. Go on!"
For a moment the two men stood in silence, listening to the sullen beat of surf beyond the black edge of forest. Then Philip led the way back into the cabin.
Gregson followed. In the light of the big oil-lamp which hung suspended from the ceiling he noticed something in Whittemore's face he had not observed before, a tenseness about the muscles of his mouth, a restlessness in his eyes, rigidity of jaw, an air of suppressed emotion which puzzled him. He was keenly observant of details, and knew that these things had been missing a short time before. The pleasure of their meeting that afternoon, after a separation of nearly two years, had dispelled for a time the trouble which he now saw revealing itself in his companion's face and attitude, and the lightness of Whittemore's manner in beginning his explanation for inducing him to come into the north had helped to complete the mask. There occurred to him, for an instant, a picture which he had once drawn of Whittemore as he had known him in certain stirring times still fresh in the memory of each—a picture of the old, cool, irresistible Whittemore, smiling in the face of danger, laughing outright at perplexities, always ready to fight with a good-natured word on his lips. He had drawn that picture for Burke's, and had called it "The Fighter." Burke himself had criticized it because of the smile. But Gregson knew his man. It was Whittemore.
There was a change now. He had grown older, surprisingly older. There were deeper lines about his eyes. His face was thinner. He saw, now, that Philip's lightness had been but a passing flash of his old buoyancy, that the old life and sparkle had gone from him. Two years, he judged, had woven things into Philip's life which he could not understand, and he wondered if this was why in all that time he had received no word from his old college chum.
They had seated themselves at opposite sides of the table, and from an inside pocket Philip produced a small bundle of papers. From these he drew forth a map, which he smoothed out under his hands.
"Yes, there are possibilities—and more, Greggy," he said. "I didn't ask you up here to help me fight air and moonshine. And I've promised you a fight. Have you ever seen a rat in a trap with a blood-thirsty terrier guarding the little door that is about to be opened? Thrilling sport for the prisoner, isn't it? But when the rat happens to be human—"
"I thought it was a fish," protested Gregson, mildly. "Pretty soon you'll be having it a girl in a trap—or at the end of a fish-line—"
"And if I should?" interrupted Philip, looking steadily at him. "What if I should say there is a girl—a woman—in this trap—not only one, but a score, a hundred of them? What then, Greggy?"
"I'd say there was going to be a glorious scrap."
"And so there is, the biggest and most unusual scrap of its kind you ever heard of, Greggy. It's going to be a queer kind of fight—and queer fighting. And it's possible—very probable—that you and I will get lost in the shuffle somewhere. We're two, no more. And we're going up against forces which would make a dozen South American revolutions look like thirty cents. More than that, it's likely we'll be in the wrong locality when certain people rise in a wrath which a Helen of Troy aroused in another people some centuries ago. See here—"
He turned the map to Gregson, pointing with his finger.
"See that red line? That's the new railroad to Hudson's Bay. It is well above Le Pas now, and its builders plan to complete it by next spring. It is the most wonderful piece of railroad building on the American continent, Greggy—wonderful because it has been neglected so long. Something like a hundred million people have been asleep to its enormous value, and they're just waking up now. That road, cutting across four hundred miles of wilderness, is opening up a country half as big as the United States, in which more mineral wealth will be dug during the next fifty years than will ever be taken from Yukon or Alaska. It is shortening the route from Montreal, Duluth, Chicago, and the Middle West to Liverpool and other European ports by a thousand miles. It means the making of a navigable sea out of Hudson's Bay, cities on its shores, and great steel-foundries close to the Arctic Circle—where there is coal and iron enough to supply the world for hundreds of years. That's only a small part of what this road means, Greggy. Two years ago—you remember I asked you to join me in the adventure—I came up seeking opportunity. I didn't dream then—"
Whittemore paused, and a flash of his old smile passed over his face.
"I didn't dream that fate had decreed me to stir up what I'm going to tell you about, Greggy. I followed the line of the proposed railroad, looking for chances. All Canada was asleep, or too much interested in its west, and gave me no competition. I was alone west of the surveyed line; east of it steel-corporation men had optioned mountains of iron and another interest had a grip on coal-fields. Six months I spent among the Indians, French, and half-breeds. I lived with them, trapped and hunted with them, and picked up a little Cree and French. The life suited me. I became a northerner in heart and soul, if not quite yet in full experience. Clubs and balls and cities grew to be only memories. You know how I have always hated that hothouse sort of existence, and you know that same world of clubs and balls and cities has gripped at my throat, downing me again and again, as though it returned my sentiment with interest. Up here I learned to hate it more than ever. I was completely happy. And then—"
He had refolded the map, and drew another from the bundle of papers. It was drawn in pencil.
"And then, Greggy," he went on, smoothing out this map where the other had been, "I struck my chance. It fairly clubbed me into recognizing it. It came in the middle of the night, and I sat up with a camp-fire laughing at me through the flap in my tent, stunned by the knockout it had given me. It seemed, at first, as though a gold-mine had walked up and laid itself down at my feet, and I wondered how there could be so many silly fools in this world of ours. Take a look at that map, Greggy. What do you see?"
Gregson had listened like one under a spell. It was one of his careless boasts that situations could not faze him, that he was immune to outward betrayals of sensation. This seeming indifference—his light-toned attitude in the face of most serious affairs would have made a failure of him in many things. But his tense interest did not hide itself now. A cigarette remained unlighted between his fingers. His eyes never took themselves for an instant from his companion's face. Something that Whittemore had not yet said thrilled him. He looked at the map.
"There's not much to see," he said, "but lakes and rivers."
"You're right," exclaimed Philip, jumping suddenly from his chair and beginning to walk back and forth across the cabin. "Lakes and rivers—hundreds of them—thousands of them! Greggy, there are more than three thousand lakes between here and civilization and within forty miles of the new railroad. And nine out of ten of those lakes are so full of fish that the bears along 'em smell fishy. Whitefish, Gregson—whitefish and trout. There is a fresh-water area represented on that map three times as large as the whole of the five Great Lakes, and yet the Canadians and the government have never wakened up to what it means. There's a fish supply in this northland large enough to feed the world, and that little rim of lakes that I've mapped out along the edge of the coming railroad represents a money value of millions. That was the idea that came to me in the middle of the night, and then I thought—if I could get a corner on a few of these lakes, secure fishing privileges before the road came—"
"You'd be a millionaire," said Gregson.
"Not only that," replied Philip, pausing for a moment in his restless pacing. "I didn't think of money, at first; at least, it was a secondary consideration after that night beside the camp-fire. I saw how this big vacant north could be made to strike a mighty blow at those interests which make a profession of cornering meatstuffs on the other side, how it could be made to fight the fight of the people by sending down an unlimited supply of fish that could be sold at a profit in New York, Boston, or Chicago for a half of what the trust demands. My scheme wasn't aroused entirely by philanthropy, mind you. I saw in it a chance to get back at the very people who brought about my father's ruin, and who kept pounding him after he was in a corner until he broke down and died. They killed him. They robbed me a few years later. They made me hate what I was once, a moving, joyous part of—life down there. I went from the north, first to Ottawa, then to Toronto and Winnipeg. After that I went to Brokaw, my father's old partner, with the scheme. I've told you of Brokaw—one of the deepest, shrewdest old fighters in the Middle West. It was only a year after my father's death that he was on his feet again, as strong as ever. Brokaw drew in two or three others as strong as himself, and we went after the privileges. It was a fight from the beginning. Hardly were our plans made public before we were met by powerful opposition. A combination of Canadian capital quickly organized and petitioned for the same privileges. Old Brokaw knew what it meant. It was the hand of the trust—disguised under a veneer of Canadian promoters. They called us 'aliens'—American 'money-grabbers' robbing Canadians of what justly belonged to them. They aroused two-thirds of the press against us, and yet—"
The lines in Whittemore's face softened. He chuckled as he pulled out his pipe and began filling it.
"They had to go some to beat the old man, Greggy. I don't know just how Brokaw pulled the thing off, but I do know that when we won out three members of parliament and half a dozen other politicians were honorary members of our organization, and that it cost Brokaw a hundred thousand dollars! Our opponents had raised such a howl, calling upon the patriotism of the country and pointing out that the people of the north would resent this invasion of foreigners, that we succeeded in getting only a provisional license, subject to withdrawal by the government at any time conditions seemed to warrant it. I saw in this no blow to my scheme, for I was certain that we could carry the thing along on such a square basis that within a year the whole country would be in sympathy with us. I expressed my views with enthusiasm at our final meeting, when the seven of us met to complete our plans. Brokaw and the other five were to direct matters in the south; I was to have full command of affairs in the north. A month later I was at work. Over here"—he leaned over Gregson's shoulder and placed a forefinger on the map—"I established our headquarters, with MacDougall, a Scotch engineer, to help me. Within six months we had a hundred and fifty men at Blind Indian Lake, fifty canoemen bringing in supplies, and another gang putting in stations over a stretch of more than a hundred miles of lake country. Everything was working smoothly, better than I had expected. At Blind Indian Lake we had a shipyard, two warehouses, ice-houses, a company store, and a population of three hundred, and had nearly completed a ten-mile roadbed for narrow-gauge steel, which would connect us with the main line when it came up to us. I was completely lost in my work. At times I almost forgot Brokaw and the others. I was particularly careful of the funds sent up to me, and had accomplished my work at a cost of a little under a hundred thousand. At the end of the six months, when I was about to make a visit into the south, one of our warehouses and ten thousand dollars' worth of supplies went up in smoke. It was our first misfortune, and it was a big one. It was about the first matter that I brought up after I had shaken hands with Brokaw."
Philip's face was set and white as he stood in the middle of the room looking at Gregson.
"And what do you think was his reply, Greggy? He looked at me for a moment, a peculiar twitching around the corners of his mouth, and then said, 'Don't allow a trivial matter like that to worry you, Philip. Why—we've already cleaned up a million on this little fish deal!'"
Gregson sat up with a jerk.
"A million! Great Scott—"
"Yes, a million, Greggy," said Philip, softly, with his old fighting smile. "There was a hundred thousand dollars to my credit in a First National Bank. Pleasant surprise, eh?"
Gregson had dropped his cigarette. His slim hands gripped the edges of the table. He made no reply as he waited for Whittemore to continue.
For a full minute Philip paced back and forth without speaking. Then he stopped, and faced Gregson, who was staring at him.
"A million, Greggy," he repeated, in the same soft voice. "A hundred thousand dollars to my credit—in a First National Bank! While I was up here hustling to get affairs on a working basis, eager to show the government and the people what we could do and would do, triumphing in our victory over the trust, and figuring each day on my scheme of making this big, rich north deal a staggering blow to those accursed combinations down there, they were at work, too. While I was dreaming and doing these things, Brokaw and the others had formed the Great Northern Fish and Development Company, had incorporated it under the laws of New Jersey, and had already sold over a million dollars' worth of stock! The thing was in full swing when I reached headquarters. I had authorized Brokaw to act for me, and I found that I was vice-president of one of the biggest legalized robbery combinations of recent years. More money had been spent in advertising than in development work. Hundreds of thousands of copies of my letters from the north, filled to the brim with the enthusiasm I had felt for my work and projects, had been sent out broadcast, luring buyers of stock. In one of these letters I had said that if a half of the lakes I had mapped out were fished the north could be made to produce a million tons of fish a year. Two hundred thousand copies of this letter were sent out, but Brokaw and his associates had omitted the words, 'If a half of the lakes mapped out were fished.' It would take fifteen thousand men, a thousand refrigerator cars, and a capital of five million to bring this about. I was stunned by the enormity of their fraud, and yet when I threatened to bring the whole thing to smash Brokaw only laughed and pointed out that not a single caution had been omitted. In all of the advertising it was frankly stated that our license was provisional, subject to withdrawal if the company did not keep within laws. That very frankness was an advertisement. It was something different. It struck home where it was meant to strike—among small and unfledged investors. It roped them in by thousands. The shares were ten dollars each, and non-assessable. Five out of six orders were from one to five shares; ninety-nine out of every hundred were not above ten shares. It was damnable. The very people for whom I wanted the north to fight had been humbugged to the tune of a million and a quarter dollars. Within a year Brokaw and the others had floated a scheme which was worse than any trust, for the trusts pay back a part of their steals in dividends. And I was responsible! Do you realize that, Greggy? It was I who started the project. It was my reports from the north which chiefly induced people to buy. And this company—a company of robbers licensed under the law—I am its founder and its vice-president!"
Philip dropped back into his chair. The face that he turned to Gregson was damp with perspiration, though the room was chilly.
"You stayed in," said Gregson.
"I had to. There wasn't a loophole left open to me. There wasn't a single point at which I could bring attack against Brokaw and the others. They were six veritable Bismarcks of deviltry and shrewdness. They hadn't over-stepped the law. They had sold a million and a quarter of stock on a hundred-thousand-dollar investment, but Brokaw only laughed when I raged at this. 'Why, Philip,' he said, 'we value our license alone at over a million!' And there was no law which could prevent them from placing that value upon it, or more. There was one thing that I could do—and only one. I could resign, decline to accept my stock and the hundred thousand, and publicly announce why I had broken off my connections with the company. I was about to do this when cooler judgment prevailed. It occurred to me that there would have to be an accounting. The company might sell a million and a quarter of stock—but in the end there would have to be an accounting. If I was out of the game it would be easily made. If I was in—well, do you see, Greggy? There was still a chance of making the company win out as a legitimate enterprise, even though it began under the black flag of piratical finance and fraud. Brokaw and the others were astonished at the stand I took. It was like throwing a big, ripe plum into the fire Brokaw was the first to hedge. He came over to my side in a private interview which we had, and for the first time I convinced him completely of the tremendous possibilities before us. To my surprise he began to show actual enthusiasm in my favor. We figured out how the company, if properly developed, could be made to pay a dividend of fifty cents a share on the stock issued within two years. This, I thought, would be at least a partial return of the original steal. Brokaw worked the thing through in his own way. He was authorized to vote for one of the directors, who was in Europe, and he won over two of the others. As a consequence we voted all of the money in the treasury, nearly six hundred thousand dollars, and the remainder of the stock that was on the market, for development purposes. Brokaw then made the proposition that the company buy up any interest that wished to withdraw. The two M. P.'s and a professional promoter from Toronto immediately sold out at fifty thousand each. With their original hundred thousand these three retired with an aggregate steal of nearly half a million. Pretty good work for yours truly, eh, Greggy! Good Heaven, think of it! I started out to strike a blow, to launch a gigantic project for the people, and this was what I had hatched! Robbery, bribery, fraud—"
He paused, his hands clenched until the blue veins stood out on them like whipcords.
Gregson spoke, uneasily.
Philip's fingers relaxed their grip on the table.
"If that had been all, I wouldn't have called you up here," he continued. "I've taken a long time in coming down to the real hell of the affair, because I wanted you to understand the situation from the beginning. After I left Brokaw I came north again. I possessed all the funds necessary to make an honest working organization out of the Northern Fish and Development Company. I hired two hundred additional men, added twenty new fishing-stations, began a second road-bed to the main line, and started a huge dam at Blind Indian Lake. We had thirty horses, driven up through the wilderness from Le Pas, and twenty teams on the way. There didn't appear to be an important obstacle in the path of our success, and I had recovered most of my old enthusiasm when Brokaw sprung a new mine under my feet.
"He had written a long letter almost immediately after I left him, which had been delayed at several places. In it he told me that he had discovered a plot to wreck our enterprise, that some powerful force was about to be pitted against us in the very country we were holding. I could see that Brokaw was tremendously worked up when he wrote the letter, and that for once he felt himself outwitted by a rival faction, and realized to the full a danger which it took me some time to comprehend. He had discovered absolute evidence, he said, that the bunch of trust capitalists whom he had beaten were about to attack us in another way. Their forces were already moving into the north country. Their object was to stir up the country against us, to bring about that condition of unrest and antagonism between the people of the north and ourselves which would compel the government to take away our license. Remember, this license was only provisional. It was, in fact, left to the people of the north to decide whether we should remain among them or not. If they turned against us there would be only one thing for the government to do.
"At first Brokaw's letter caused me no very great uneasiness. I knew the people up here. I knew that the Indian, the Breed, the Frenchman, and the White of this God's country were as invulnerable to bribery as Brokaw himself is to the pangs of conscience. I loved them. I had faith in them. I knew them to possess an honor which is not known down there, where we have a church on every four corners, and where the Word of God is preached day and night on the open streets. I felt myself warming with indignation as I replied to Brokaw, resenting his insinuations as to the crimes which a 'half-savage' people might be induced to commit for a little whisky and a little money. And then—"
Whittemore wiped his face. The lines settled deeper about his mouth.
"Greggy, a week after I received this letter two warehouses were burned on the same night at Blind Indian Lake. They were three hundred yards apart. There is absolutely no doubt that it was incendiarism."
He waited in silence, but Gregson still sat watching him in silence.
"That was the beginning—three months ago. Since then some mysterious force has been fighting us at every step. A week after the warehouses burned, a dredge and boat-building yard, which we had constructed at considerable expense at the mouth of the Gray Beaver, was destroyed by fire. A little later a 'premature' explosion of dynamite cost us ten thousand dollars and two weeks' labor of fifty men. I organized a special guard service, composed of fifty of my best men, but it seemed to do no good. Since then we have lost three miles of road-bed, destroyed by a washout. A terrific charge of dynamite had been used to let down upon us the water of a lake which was situated at the top of a ridge near our right of way. Whoever our enemies are, they seem to know our most secret movements, and attack us whenever we leave a vulnerable point open. The most surprising part of the whole affair is this: in spite of my own efforts to keep our losses quiet the rumor has spread for hundreds of miles around us, even reaching Churchill, that the northerners have declared war against our enterprise and are determined to drive us out. Two-thirds of my men believe this. MacDougall, my engineer, believes it. Between my working forces and the Indians, French, and half-breeds about us there has slowly developed a feeling of suspicion and resentment. It is growing—every day, every hour. If it continues it can result in but two things—ruin for ourselves, triumph for those who are getting at us in this dastardly manner. If something is not done very soon—within a month—perhaps less—the country will run with the blood of vengeance from Churchill to the Barrens. If what I expect to happen does happen there will be no government road built to the Bay, the new buildings at Churchill will turn gray with disuse, the treasures of the north will remain undisturbed, the country itself will slip back a hundred years. The forest people will be filled with hatred and suspicion so long as the story of great wrong travels down from father to son. And this wrong, this crime—"
Philip's face was white, cold, almost passionless in the grim hardness that had settled in it. He unfolded a long typewritten letter, and handed it to Gregson.
"That letter is the final word," he explained. "It will tell you what I have not told you. In some way it was mixed in my mail and I did not discover the error until I had opened it. It is from the headquarters of our enemies, addressed to the man who is in charge of their plot up here."
"He waited, scarce breathing, while Gregson bent over the typewritten pages. He noted the slow tightening of the other's fingers as he turned from the first sheet to the second; he watched Gregson's face, the slow ebbing of color, the gray white that followed it, the stiffening of his arms and shoulders as he finished. Then Gregson looked up.
"Good God!" he breathed.
For a full half-minute the two men gazed at each other across the table, without speaking.
Philip broke the silence.
"It is impossible!" gasped Gregson. "I cannot believe this! It—it might have happened a thousand—two thousand years ago—but not now. My God, man!" he cried, more excitedly. "You do not mean to tell me that you believe this will be done?"
"Yes," replied Philip.
"It is impossible!" exclaimed Gregson again, crushing the letter in his hand. "A man doesn't live—a combination doesn't exist—that would start such a hell loose as this—in this way!"
Philip smiled grimly.
"The man does live, and the combination does exist," he said, slowly. "Greggy, I have known of men, and of combinations who have spent millions, who have sacrificed everything of honor and truth, who have driven thousands of men, women, and children to starvation—and worse—to achieve a victory in high finance. I have known of men and combinations who have broken almost every law of man and God in the fight for money and power. And so have you! You have associated with some of these men. You have laughed and talked with them, smoked with them, and have dined at their tables. You spent a week at Selden's summer borne, and it was Selden who cornered wheat three years ago and raised the price of bread two cents a loaf. It was Selden who brought about the bread riots in New York, Chicago, and a score of other cities, who swung wide the prison doors for thousands, whose millions were gained at a cost of misery, crime, and even death. And Selden is only one out of thousands who live to-day, watching for their opportunities, giving no heed to those who may fall under the juggernaut of their capital. This isn't the age of petty discrimination, Greggy. It's the age of the almighty dollar, and of the fight for it. And there's no chivalry, no quarter shown in this fight. Men of Selden's stamp don't stop at women and children. The scrubwoman's dollar is just as big as yours or mine, and if a scheme could be promoted whereby every scrubwoman in America could be safely robbed of a dollar you'd find thousands of men down there in our cities ready to go into it to-morrow. And to such men as these what is the sacrifice of a few women up here?"
Gregson dropped the letter, crumpled and twisted, upon the table.
"I wonder—if I understand," he said, looking into Philip's white face. "There has undoubtedly been previous correspondence, and this letter contains the final word. It shows that your enemies have already succeeded in working up the forest people against you, and have filled them with suspicion. Their last blow is to be—"
He stopped, and Philip nodded at the horrified question in his eyes.
"Greggy, up here there is one law which reigns above all other law. When I was in Prince Albert a year ago I was sitting on the veranda of the little old Windsor Hotel. About me were a dozen wild men of the north, who had come down for a day or two to the edge of civilization. Most of those men had not been out of the forests for a year. Two of them were from the Barrens, and this was their first glimpse of civilized life in five years. As we sat there a woman came up the street. She turned in at the hotel. About me there was a sudden lowering of voices, a shuffling of feet. As she passed, every one of those twelve rose from their seats and stood with bowed heads and their caps in their hands until she had gone. I was the only one who remained sitting! That, Greggy, is the one great law of life up here, the worship of woman because she is woman. A man may steal, he may kill, but he must not break this law. If he steals or kills, the mounted police may bring the offender to justice; but if he breaks this other law there is but one punishment, and that is the punishment of the people. That is what this letter purposes to do—to break this law in order that its penalty may fall upon us. And if they succeed, God help us!"
It was Gregson who jumped to his feet now. He took half a dozen nervous steps, paused, lighted a cigarette, and looked down into Philip's upturned face.
"I understand now where the fight is coming in," he said. "If this thing goes through, these people will rise and wipe you off the map. They'll lay it to you and your men, of course. And I fancy it won't be a job half done if they feel about it as I'd feel. But," he demanded, sharply, "why don't you put the affair into the hands of the proper authorities—the police or the government? You've got—By George, you must have the name of the man to whom that letter was addressed!"
Philip handed him a soiled white envelope, of the kind in which official documents are usually mailed.
"That's the man."
Gregson gave a low whistle.
"Lord—Fitzhugh—Lee!" he read, slowly, as though scarce believing his eyes. "Great Scott! A British peer!"
The cynical smile on Philip's lips cut his words short.
"Perhaps," he said. "But if there is a British lord up here he isn't very well known, Greggy. No one knows of him. No one has heard a rumor of him. That is why we can't go to the police or the government. They'd give small credence to what we've got to show. This letter wouldn't count the weight of a feather without further evidence, and a lot of it. Besides, we haven't time to go to the government. It is too far away and too slow. And as for the police—I know of three in this territory, and there are fifteen thousand square miles of mountains and plains and forest in their 'beat.' It's up to you and me to find this Lord Fitzhugh. If we can do that we will be in a position to put a kibosh on this plot in a hurry. If we fail to run him down—"
"We'll have to watch our chances. I've told you all that I know, and you're on an even working basis with me. At first I thought that I understood the object of those who are planning to ruin us in this cowardly manner. But I don't now. If they ruin us they also destroy the chances of any other company that may be scheming to usurp our place. For that reason I—"
"There must still be other factors in the game," said Gregson, as Philip hesitated.
"There are. I want you to work out your own suspicions, Greggy, and then we'll compare notes. Lord Fitzhugh is the key to the whole situation. No matter who is at the bottom of this plot, Lord Fitzhugh is the man at the working end of it. We don't care so much about the writer of this letter as the one to whom it was written. It is evident that he had planned to be at Churchill, for the letter is addressed to him here. But he hasn't shown up. He has never been here, so far as I can discover."
"I'd give a year's growth for a copy of the BRITISH PEERAGE or a WHO'S WHO," mused Gregson, flecking the ashes from his cigarette. "Who the deuce can this Lord Fitzhugh be? What sort of an Englishman would mix up in a dirty job of this kind? You might imagine him to be one of the men behind the guns, like Brokaw. But, by George, he's working the dirty end of it himself, according to that letter!"
"You're beginning to use your head already, Greggy," said Philip, a little more cheerfully. "I've asked myself that question a hundred times during the last three days, and I'm more at sea than ever. If it had been plain Tom Brown or Bill Jones, the name would not have suggested anything beyond what you have read in the letter. That's the question: Why should a Lord Fitzhugh Lee be mixed up in this affair?"
The two men looked at each other keenly for a few moments in silence.
"It suggests—" began Gregson.
"That there may be a bigger scheme behind this affair than we imagine. In fact, it suggests to me that the northerners are being stirred up against you and your men for some other and more powerful reason than to make you get out of the country and compel the government to withdraw your license. So help me God, I believe there's more behind it!"
"So do I," said Philip, quietly.
"Have you any suspicions of what might be the more powerful motive?"
"None. I know that British capital is heavily interested in mineral lands east of the surveyed line. But there is none at Churchill. All operations have been carried on from Montreal and Toronto."
"Have you written to Brokaw about this letter?"
"You are the first to whom I have revealed its contents," said Philip. "I have neglected to tell you that Brokaw is so worked up over the affair that he is joining me in the north. The Hudson's Bay Company's ship, which comes over twice a year, touches at Halifax, and if Brokaw followed out his intentions he took passage there. The ship should be in within a week or ten days. And, by the way"—Philip stood up and thrust his hands deep in his pockets as he spoke, half smiling at Gregson—"it gives me pleasure to hand you a bit of cheerful information along with that," he added. "Miss Brokaw is coming with him. She is very beautiful."
Gregson held a lighted match until it burnt his finger-tips.
"The deuce you say! I've heard—"
"Yes, you have heard of her beauty, no doubt. I am not a special enthusiast in your line, Greggy, but I will confirm your opinion of Miss Brokaw. You will say that she is the most beautiful girl you have ever seen, and you will want to make heads of her for BURKE'S. I suppose you wonder why she is coming up here? So do I."
There was a look of perplexity in Philip's eyes which Gregson might have noticed if he had not gone to the door to look out into the night.
"What makes the stars so big and bright up in this country, Phil?" he asked.
"Because of the clearness of the atmosphere through which you are looking," replied Philip, wondering what was passing through the other's mind. "This air—compared with ours—is just like a piece of glass that has been cleaned of a year's accumulation of dirt."
Gregson whistled softly for a few moments. Then he said, without turning:
"She's got to go some if she beats the girl I saw this evening, Phil." He turned at Philip's silence, and laughed. "I beg your pardon, old man, I didn't mean to speak of her as if she were a horse. I mean Miss Brokaw."
"And I don't particularly like the idea of betting on the merits of a pretty girl," replied Philip, "but I'll break the rule for once, and wager you the best hat in New York that she does beat her."
"Done!" said Gregson. "A little gentle excitement of this sort will relieve the tension of the other thing, Phil. I've heard enough of business for to-night. I'm going to finish a sketch that I have begun of her before I forget the fine points. Any objection?"
"None at all," said Philip. "Meanwhile I'll go out to breathe a spell."
He put on his coat and took down his cap from a peg in the wall. Gregson had seated himself under the lamp and was sharpening a pencil. As Philip went to go out Gregson drew an envelope from his pocket and tossed it on the table.
"If you should happen to see any one that looks like—her," he said, nodding toward the envelope, "kindly put in a word for me, will you? I did that in a hurry. It's not half flattering."
Philip laughed as he picked up the envelope.
"The most beau—" he began.
He caught himself with a jerk. Gregson, looking up from his pencil-sharpening, saw the smile leave his lips and a quick flush leap into his bronzed cheeks. He stared at the face on the envelope for a half a minute, then gazed speechlessly at Gregson.
It was Gregson who laughed, softly and without suspicion.
"How does your wager look now?" he taunted.
"She—is—beautiful," murmured Philip, dropping the envelope and turning to the door, "Don't wait for me, Greggy. Go to bed."
He heard Gregson laugh behind him, and he wondered, as he went out, what Gregson would say if he told him that he had drawn on the back of the old envelope the beautiful face of Eileen Brokaw!
A dozen steps beyond the door Philip paused in the shadow of a dense spruce, half persuaded to return. From where he stood he could see Gregson bending over the table, already at work on the picture. He confessed that the sketch had startled him. He knew that it had sent the hot blood rushing to his face, and that only through a fortunate circumstance had Gregson ascribed its effect upon him to something that was wide of the truth. Miss Brokaw was a thousand or more miles away. At this moment she was somewhere in the North Atlantic, if their ship had left Halifax. She had never been in the north. More than that, he knew that Gregson had never seen Miss Brokaw, and had heard of her only through himself and the society columns of the newspapers. How could he explain his possession of the sketch?
He drew a step or two nearer to the open door, and stopped again. If he returned to question Gregson it would draw him perilously near to explanations which he did not care to make, to the one secret which he wished to guard from his friend's knowledge. After all, the picture was only a resemblance. It could be nothing but a resemblance, even though it was so striking and unusual that it had thrown him off his guard at first. When he returned later and looked at it again he would no doubt be able to see his error.
He walked on through the spruce shadows and up a narrow trail that led to the bald knob of the ridge, feeling his way with his right hand before him when the denseness of the forest shut out the light of the stars and the moon, until at last he stood out strong and clear under the glow of the skies, with the world sweeping out in black and gray mystery around him. To the north was the Bay, reaching away like a vast black plain. Half a mile distant two or three lights were burning over Fort Churchill, red eyes peering up out of the deep pool of darkness; to the south and west there swept the gray, starlit distances which lay between him and civilization.
He leaned against a great rock, resting his elbows in a carpet of moss, and his eyes turned into the mystery of those distances. The sea of spruce-tops that rose out of the ragged valley at his feet whispered softly in the night wind; from out of their depths trembled the low hoot of an owl; over the vaster desolation beyond hovered a weird and unbroken silence. More than once the spirit of this world had come to him in the night and had roused him from his slumber to sit alone out under the stars, imagining all that it might tell him if he could read the voice of it in the whispering of the trees, if he could but understand it as he longed to understand it, and could find in it the peace which he knew that it all but held for him. The spirit of it had never been nearer to him than to-night. He felt it close to him, so near that it seemed like the warm, vibrant touch of a presence at his side, something which had come to him in a voiceless loneliness as great as his own, watching and listening with him beside the rock. It seemed nearer to him since he had seen and talked with Gregson. It was much nearer to him since a few minutes ago, when he had looked upon what he had first thought to be the face of Eileen Brokaw.
And this was the world—the spirit—that had changed him. He wondered if Gregson had seen the change which he tried so hard to conceal. He wondered if Miss Brokaw would see it when she came, and if her soft, gray eyes would read to the bottom of him as they had fathomed him once before upon a time which seemed years and years ago. Thoughts like these troubled him. Twice that day he had found stealing over him a feeling that was almost physical pain, and yet he knew that this pain was but the gnawing of a great loneliness in his heart. In these moments he had been sorry that he had brought Gregson back into his life. And with Gregson he was bringing back Eileen Brokaw. He was more than sorry for that. The thought of it made him grow warm and uncomfortable, though the night air from off the Bay was filled with the chill tang of the northern icebergs. Again his thoughts brought him face to face with the old pictures, the old life. With them came haunting memories of a Philip Whittemore who had once lived, and who had died; and with these ghosts of the past there surged upon him the loneliness which seemed to crush and stifle him. Like one in a dream he was swept back. Over the black spruce at his feet, far into the gray, misty distances beyond, over forests and mountains and the vast, grim silences his vision reached out until he saw life as it had begun for him, and as he had lived it for a time. It had opened fair. It had given promise. It had filled him with hope and ambition. And then it had changed.
Unconsciously he clenched his hands as he thought of what had followed, of the black days of ruin, of death, of the dissolution of all that he had hoped and dreamed for. He had fought, because he was born a fighter. He had risen again and again, only to find misfortune still at his face. At first he had laughed, and had called it bad luck. But the bad luck had followed him, dogging him with a persistence which developed in him a new perspective of things. He dropped away from his clubs. He began to measure men and women as he had not measured them before, and there grew in him slowly a revulsion for what those measurements revealed. The spirit that was growing in him called out for bigger things, for the wild freedom which he had tasted for a time with Gregson—for a life which was not warped by the gilded amenities of the crowded ballroom to-night, by the frenzied dollar-fight to-morrow. No one could understand that change in him. He could find no spirit in sympathy with him, no chord in another breast that he could reach out and touch and thrill with understanding. Once he had hoped—and tried—
A deep breath, almost a sigh, fell from his lips as he thought of that last night, at the Brokaw ball. He heard again the laughter and chatter of men and women, the soft rustle of skirts—and then the break, the silence, as the low, sweet music of his favorite waltz began, while he stood screened behind a bank of palms looking down into the clear gray eyes of Eileen Brokaw. He saw himself as he had stood then, leaning over her slim white shoulders, intoxicated by her beauty, his face pale with the fear of what he was about to say; and he saw the girl, with her beautiful head thrown a little back, so that her golden hair almost touched his lips, waiting for him to speak. For months he had fought against the fascination of her beauty. Again and again he had almost surrendered to it, only to pull himself back in time. He had seen this girl, as pure-looking as an angel, strike deeply at the hearts of other men; he had heard her laugh and talk lightly of the wounds she had made. Behind the eyes which gazed up at him, dear and sweet as pools of sunlit water, he knew there lay the consuming passion for power, for admiration, for the froth-like pleasures of the life that was swirling about them. Sincerity was but their mask. He knew that the beautiful gray eyes lied to him when he saw in them all that he held glorious in womanhood.
He laughed softly to himself as the picture grew in his mind, and he saw Ransom come blundering in through the palms, mopping his red face and chattering inane things to little Miss Meesen. Ransom was always blundering. This time his blunder saved Philip. The passionate words died on his lips; and when Ransom and Miss Meesen turned about in a giggling flutter, he spoke no words of love, but opened up his heart to this girl whom he would have loved if she had been like her eyes. It was his last hope—that she would understand him, see with him the emptiness of his life, sympathize with him.
And she had laughed at him!
She had risen to her feet; there had come for an instant a flash like that of fire in her eyes; her voice trembled a little when she spoke. There was resentment in the poise of her white shoulders as Ransom's voice came to them in a loud laugh from behind the palms; her red lips showed disdain and anger. She hated Ransom for breaking in; she despised Philip for allowing the interruption to tear away her triumph. Her own betrayal of herself was like tonic to Philip. He laughed joyously when he was alone out in the cool night air. Ransom never knew why Philip hunted him out and shook his fat hand so warmly at parting.
Philip again felt himself in the fever of that night as he turned from the rock and began picking his way down the side of the ridge toward the Bay. He found himself wondering what had become of good-natured, dense-headed Ransom, who had all he could do to spend his father's allowance. From Ransom his thoughts turned to little Harry Dell, Roscoe, big Dan Philips, and three or four others who had sacrificed their hearts at Miss Brokaw's feet. He grimaced as he thought of young Dell, who had worshiped the ground she walked on, and who had gone straight to the devil when she threw him over. He wondered, too, where Roscoe was. He knew that Roscoe would have won out if it had not been for the financial crash which took his brokerage firm off its feet and left him a pauper. He had heard that Roscoe had gone up into British Columbia to recuperate his fortune in Douglas fir. As for big Dan—
Philip stumbled over a rock, and rose with a bruised knee. The shock brought him back to realities, and a few moments later he stood upon the narrow boulder-strewn beach, rubbing his knee and calling himself a fool for allowing the old thoughts to stir him up. Out there, somewhere, Brokaw and his daughter were coming. That Miss Brokaw was with her father was a circumstance which was of no importance to him. At least he told himself so, and set his face toward Churchill.
To-night the stars and the moon seemed to be more than usually brilliant. About him the great masses of rock, the tumbling surf, the edge of the forest, and the Bay itself were illumined as if by the light of a softly radiant day. He looked at his watch and found that it was past midnight. He had been up since dawn, and yet he felt no touch of fatigue, no need of sleep. He took off his cap and walked bareheaded in the mellow light, his moccasined feet falling lightly, his eyes alert to all that this wonderful night world might hold for him. Ahead of him rose a giant mass of rock, worn smooth and slippery by the water dashed against it in the crashing storms of countless centuries, and this he climbed, panting when he reached the top. His eyes turned to where he saw Fort Churchill sleeping along the edge of the Bay.
In that same spot, a great pool of night-glow between two forest-crowned ridges, it had lain for hundreds of years. He passed the ancient landing-place of rocks, built a hundred and fifty years ago for the first ships that came over the strange sea; he stood upon the tumbled foundations of the Fort, that was still older, and saw the starlight glinting on one of the brass cannon that lay where it had fallen amid the debris, untouched and unmoved since the days, ages-gone, when it had last thundered its welcome or its defiance through the solitudes; he walked slowly along the shore where the sea had lashed wearily for many a year, to reach the wilderness dead, and where now, triumphant, the frothing surf bared gun-case coffins and tumbled the bones of men down into its sullen depths. And such men! Men who had lived and died when the world was unborn in a half of its knowledge and science, when red blood was the great capital, strong hearts the winners of life. And there were women, too, women who had come with these men, and died with them, in the opening-up of a new world. It was such men as these, and such women as these, that Philip loved, and he walked with bared head and swiftly beating heart over the unmarked jungle of the dead.
And then he came to other things, the first low log buildings of Churchill, to the silence of sleeping life. New buildings loomed up—working quarters of men who were grubbing for dollars, the new wharves, the skeletons of elevators, sullen, windowless warehouses, the office-buildings of men who were already fighting and quarreling and gripping at one another's throats in the struggle for supremacy, for the biggest and ripest plums in this new land of opportunity. The dollar-fight had begun, and the things that already marked its presence loomed monstrous and grotesque to Philip, as if jeering at the forgotten efforts of those whom the sea was washing away. And suddenly it struck Philip that the sea, working ceaselessly, digging away at its dead, was not the enemy of the nameless creatures in the gun-case coffins, but that it was a friend, stanch through centuries, rescuing them now from the desecration that was to come; and for a moment he was resistless to the spirit that moved him about and made him face that sea with something that was almost a prayer in his heart.
As he turned he saw that a light had appeared in one of the low log buildings which contained the two offices of the Keewatin Mines and Lands Company. The light, and the bulky shadow of old Pearce, which appeared for a moment on one of the drawn curtains, aroused Philip to other thoughts. Since his arrival at Churchill he had made the acquaintance of Pearce, and it struck him now that just such a man as this might be Lord Fitzhugh Lee. The Keewatin Mines and Lands Company had no mines and few lands, and yet Pearce had told him that they were doing a hustling business down south, selling stock on mineral claims that couldn't be worked for years. After all, was he any better than Pearce?
The old bitterness rose in him. He was no better than Pearce, no better than this Lord Fitzhugh himself, and it was fate—fate and people, that had made him so. He walked swiftly now, following close along the shore in the hard stretch kept bare by the tides, until he came to the red coals of half a dozen Indian fires on the edge of the forest beyond the company's buildings. A dog scented him and howled. He heard a guttural voice break in a word of command from one of the tepees, and there was silence again.
He turned to the right, burying himself deeper and deeper into the great silence of the north, his quick steps keeping pace with the thoughts that were passing through his brain. Fate, bad luck, circumstance—they had been against him. He had told himself this a hundred times, had laughed at them with the confidence of one who knew that some day he would rise above these things in triumph. And yet what were these elements of fortune, as he had called them, but people? A feeling of personal resentment began to oppress him. People had downed him, and not circumstance and bad luck. Men and women had made a failure of him, and not fate. For the first time it occurred to him that the very men and women whom Brokaw and his associates had duped, whom Pearce was duping, would play the game in the same way if they had the opportunity. What if he had played on the winning side, if he had enlisted his fighting energies with men like Brokaw and Pearce, fought for money and power in place of this other thing, which seemed to count so little? Other men would have given much to have been in his favor with Eileen Brokaw. He might have been in the front of this other fight, the winning fight, the possessor of fortune, a beautiful woman—
He stopped suddenly. It seemed to him that he had heard a voice. He had climbed from out of the shadow of the forest until he stood now on a gray cliff of rock that reached out into the Bay, like the point of a great knife guarding Churchill. A block of sandstone rose in his path, and he passed quietly around it. In another instant he had flattened himself against it.
A dozen feet away, full in the moonlight, three figures sat on the edge of the cliff, as motionless as though hewn out of rock. Instinctively Philip's hand slipped to his revolver holster, but he drew it back when he saw that one of the three figures was that of a woman. Beside her crouched a huge wolf-dog; on the other side of the dog sat a man. The man was resting in the attitude of an Indian, with his elbows on his knees, his chin in the palms of his hands, gazing steadily and silently out over the Bay toward Churchill.
It was his companion that held Philip motionless against the face of the rock. She, too, was leaning forward, gazing in that same steady, silent way toward Churchill. She was bareheaded. Her hair fell loose over her shoulders and streamed down her back until it piled itself upon the rock, shining dark and lustrous in the light of the moon. Philip knew that she was not an Indian.
Suddenly the girl sat erect, and then sprang to her feet, partly facing him, the breeze rippling her hair about her face and shoulders, her eyes turned to the vast gray depths of the world beyond the forests. For an instant she turned so that the light of the moon fell full upon her, and in that moment Philip thought that her eyes had searched him out in the shadow of the rock and were looking straight into his own. Never had he seen such a beautiful face among the forest people. He had dreamed of such faces beside camp-fires, in the deep loneliness of long nights in the forests, when he had awakened to bring before him visions of what Eileen Brokaw might have been to him if he had found her one of these people. He drew himself closer to the rock. The girl turned again to the edge of the cliff, her slender form silhouetted against the starlit sky. She leaned over the dog, and he heard her voice, soft and caressing, but he could not understand her words. The man lifted his head, and he recognized the swarthy, clear-cut features of a French half-breed. He moved away as quietly as he had come.
The girl's voice stopped him.
"And that is Churchill, Pierre—the Churchill you have told me of, where the ships come in?"
"Yes, that is Churchill, Jeanne."
For a moment there was silence. Then, clear and low, with a wild, sobbing note in her voice that thrilled Philip, the girl cried:
"And I hate it, Pierre. I hate it—hate it—hate it!"
Philip stepped out boldly from the rock.
"And I hate it, too," he said.
Scarce had he spoken when he would have given much to have recalled his words, wrung from his lips by that sobbing note of loneliness, of defiance, of half pain in the girl's voice. It was the same note, the same spirit crying out against his world that he had listened to in the moaning of the surf as it labored to carry away the dead, and in the wind that sighed in the spruce-tops below the mountain, only now it was the spirit speaking through a human voice. Every fiber in his body vibrated in response to it, and he stood with bared head, filled with a wild desire to make these people understand, and yet startled at the effect which his appearance had produced.
The girl faced him, her eyes shining with sudden fear. Quicker than her own was the movement of the half-breed. In a flash he was upon his feet, his dark face tense with action, his right hand gripping at something in his belt as he bent toward the figure in the center of the rock. His posture was that of an animal ready to spring. Close beside him gleamed the white fangs of the wolf-dog. The girl leaned over and twisted her fingers in the tawny hair that bristled on the dog's neck. Philip heard her speak, but she did not move her eyes from his face. It was the tableau of a moment, tense, breathless. The only thing that moved was the shimmer of steel. Philip caught the gleam of it under the half-breed's hand.
"Don't do that, M'sieur," he said, pointing at the other's belt. "I am sorry that I disturbed you. Sometimes I come up here—alone—to smoke my pipe and listen to the sea down there. I heard you say that you hate Churchill, and I hate it. That is why I spoke."
He turned to the girl.
"I am sorry. I beg your pardon."
He looked at her with new wonderment. She had tossed back her loose hair, and stood tall and straight in the moonlight, her dark eyes gazing at him now calmly and without affright. She was dressed in rich yellow buckskin, as soft as chamois. Her throat was bare. A deep collar of lace fell over her shoulders. One hand, raised to her breast, revealed a wide gauntlet cuff of red or purple plush, of a fashion two centuries old. Her lips were parted, and he saw the faintest gleam of her white teeth, the quick rising and falling of her bosom. He had spoken directly to her, yet she gave no sign of having heard him.
"You startled us, that is all, M'sieur," said Pierre, quietly. His English was excellent, and as he spoke he bowed low to Philip. "It is I whom you must pardon, M'sieur—for betraying so much caution."
Philip held out his hand.
"My name is Whittemore—Philip Whittemore," he said. "I'm staying at Churchill until the ship comes in and—and I hope you'll let me sit here on the rock."
For an instant Pierre's fingers gripped his hand, and he bowed low again like a courtier. Philip saw that he, too, wore the same big, old-fashioned cuffs, and that it was not a knife that hung at his belt, but a short rapier.
"And I am Pierre—Pierre Couchee," he said. "And this—is my sister—Jeanne. We do not belong to Fort Churchill, but come from Fort o' God. Good night, M'sieur!"
The girl had taken a step back, and now she swept him a courtesy so low that her fallen hair streamed over her shoulders. She spoke no word, but passed quickly with Pierre up the rock, and while Philip stood stunned and speechless they disappeared swiftly into the white gloom of the night.
Mutely he gazed after them. For a long time he stood staring beyond the rocks, marveling at the strangeness of this thing that had happened. An hour before he had stood with bared head over the ancient dead at Churchill, and now, on the rock, he had seen the resurrection of what he had dreamed those dead to be in life. He had never seen people like Pierre and Jeanne. Their strange dress, the rapier at Pierre's side, his courtly bow, the low, graceful courtesy that the girl had made him, all carried him back to the days of the old pictures that hung in the factor's room at Churchill, when high-blooded gallants came into the wilderness with their swords at their sides, wearing the favors of court ladies next their hearts. Pierre, standing there on the rock, with his hand on his rapier, might have been Grosellier himself, the prince's favorite, and Jeanne—
Something white on the rock near where the girl had been sitting caught Philip's eyes. In a moment he held in his fingers a small handkerchief and a broad ribbon of finely knit lace. In her haste to get away she had forgotten these things. He was about to run to the crest of the cliff and call loudly for Pierre Couchee when he held the handkerchief and the lace close to his face and the delicate perfume of heliotrope stopped him. There was something familiar about it, something that held him wondering and mystified, until he knew that he had lost the opportunity to recall Pierre and his companion. He looked at the handkerchief more, closely. It was a dainty fabric, so soft that it gave barely the sensation of touch when he crushed it in the palm of his hand. For a few moments he was puzzled to account for the filmy strip of lace. Then the truth came to him. Jeanne had used it to bind her hair!
He laughed softly, joyously, as he wound the bit of fabric about his fingers and retraced his steps toward Churchill. Again and again he pressed the tiny handkerchief to his face, breathing of its sweetness; and the action suddenly stirred his memory to the solution of its mystery. It was this same sweetness that had come to him on the night that he had looked down into the beautiful face of Eileen Brokaw at the Brokaw ball. He remembered now that Eileen Brokaw loved heliotrope, and that she always wore a purple heliotrope at her white throat or in the gold of her hair. For a moment it struck him as singular that so many things had happened this day to remind him of Brokaw's daughter. The thought hastened his steps. He was anxious to look at the picture again, to convince himself that he had been mistaken. Gregson was asleep when he re-entered the cabin. The light was burning low, and Philip turned up the wick. On the table was the picture as Gregson had left it. This time there was no doubt. He had drawn the face of Eileen Brokaw. In a spirit of jest he had written under it, "The Wife of Lord Fitzhugh."
In spite of their absurdity the words affected Philip curiously. Was it possible that Miss Brokaw had reached Fort Churchill in some other way than by ship? And, if not, was it possible that in this remote corner of the earth there was another woman who resembled her so closely? Philip took a step toward Gregson, half determined to awaken him. And yet, on second thought, he knew that Gregson could not explain. Even if the artist had learned of his affair with Miss Brokaw and had secured a picture of her in some way, he would not presume to go this far. He was convinced that Gregson had drawn the picture of a face that he had seen that day. Again he read the words at the bottom of the sketch, and once more he experienced their curious effect upon him—an effect which it was impossible for him to analyze even in his own mind.
He replaced the picture upon the table and drew the handkerchief and bit of lace from his pocket. In the light of the lamp he saw that both were as unusual as had been the picturesque dress of the girl and her companion. Even to his inexperienced eyes and touch they gave evidence of a richness that puzzled him, of a fashion that he had never seen. They were of exquisite workmanship. The lace was of a delicate ivory color, faintly tinted with yellow. The handkerchief was in the shape of a heart, and in one corner of it, so finely wrought that he could barely make out the silken letters, was the word "Camille."
The scent of heliotrope rose more strongly in the closed room, and from the handkerchief Philip's eyes turned to the face of Eileen Brokaw looking at him from out of Gregson's sketch. It was a curious coincidence. He reached over and placed the picture face down. Then he loaded his pipe, and sat smoking, his vision traveling beyond the table, beyond the closed door to the lonely black rock where he had come upon Jeanne and Pierre. Clouds of smoke rose about him, and he half closed his eyes. He saw the girl again, as she stood there; he saw the moonlight shining in her hair, the dark, startled beauty of her eyes as she turned upon him; he heard again the low sobbing note in her voice as she cried out her hatred against Churchill. He forgot Eileen Brokaw now, forgot in these moments all that he and Gregson had talked of that day. His schemes, his fears, his feverish eagerness to begin the fight against his enemies died away in thoughts of the beautiful girl who had come into his life this night. It seemed to him now that he had known her for a long time, that she had been a part of him always, and that it was her spirit that he had been groping and searching for, and could never find. For the space of those few moments on the cliff she had driven out the emptiness and the loneliness from his heart, and there filled him a wild desire to make her understand, to talk with her, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pierre out there in the night, a comrade.
Suddenly his fingers closed tightly over the handkerchief. He turned and looked steadily at Gregson. His friend was sleeping, with his face to the wall.
Would not Pierre return to the rock in search of these articles which his sister had left behind? The thought set his blood tingling. He would go back—and wait for Pierre. But if Pierre did not return—until to-morrow?
He laughed softly to himself as he drew paper toward him and picked up the pencil which Gregson had used. For many minutes he wrote steadily. When he had done, he folded what he had written and tied it in the handkerchief. The strip of lace with which Jeanne had bound her hair he folded gently and placed in his breast pocket. There was a guilty flush in his face as he stole silently to the door. What would Gregson say if he knew that he—Phil Whittemore, the man whom he had once idealized as "The Fighter," and whom he believed to be proof against all love of woman—was doing this thing? He opened and closed the door softly.
At least he would send his message to these strange people of the wilderness. They would know that he was not a part of that Churchill which they hated, that in his heart he had ceased to be a thing of its breed. He apologized again for his sudden appearance on the rock, but the apology was only an excuse for other things which he wrote, in which for a few brief moments he bared himself to those whom he knew would understand, and asked that their acquaintance might be continued. He felt that there was something almost boyish in what he was doing; and yet, as he hurried over the ridge and down into Churchill again, he was thrilled as no other adventure had ever thrilled him before. As he approached the cliff he began to fear that the half-breed would not return for the things which Jeanne had left, or that he had already re-visited the rock. The latter thought urged him on until he was half running. The crest of the cliff was bare when he reached it. He looked at his watch. He had been gone an hour.
Where the moonlight seemed to fall brightest he dropped the handkerchief, and then slipped back into the rocky trail that led to the edge of the Bay. He had scarcely reached the strip of level beach that lay between him and Churchill when from far behind him there came the long howl of a dog. It was the wolf-dog. He knew it by the slow, dismal rising of the cry and the infinite sadness with which it as slowly died away until lost in the whisperings of the forest and the gentle wash of the sea. Pierre was returning. He was coming back through the forest. Perhaps Jeanne would be with him.
For the third time Philip climbed back to the great moonlit rock at the top of the cliff. Eagerly he faced the north, whence the wailing cry of the wolf-dog had come. Then he turned to the spot where he had dropped the handkerchief, and his heart gave a sudden jump.
There was nothing on the rock. The handkerchief was gone!
Philip stood undecided, his ears strained to catch the slightest sound. Ten minutes had not elapsed since he had dropped the handkerchief. Pierre could not have gone far among the rocks. It was possible that he was concealed somewhere near him now. Softly he called his name.
"Pierre—ho, Pierre Couchee!"
There was no answer, and in the next breath he was sorry that he had called. He went silently down the trail. He had come to the edge of Churchill when once more he heard the howl of the dog far back in the forest. He stopped to locate as nearly as he could the point whence the sound came, for he was certain now that the dog had not returned with Pierre, but had remained with Jeanne, and was howling from their camp.
Gregson was awake and sitting on the edge of his bunk when Philip entered the cabin.
"Where the deuce have you been?" he demanded. "I was just trying to make up my mind to go out and hunt for you. Stolen—lost—or something like that?"
"I've been thinking," said Philip, truthfully.
"So have I," said Gregson. "Ever since you came back, wrote that letter, and went out again—"
"You were asleep," corrected Philip. "I looked at you."
"Perhaps I was—when you looked. But I have a hazy recollection of you sitting there at the table, writing like a fiend. Anyway, I've been thinking ever since you went out of the door, and—I'd like to read that Lord Fitzhugh letter again."
Philip handed him the letter. He was quite sure from his friend's manner of speaking that he had seen nothing of the handkerchief and the lace.
Gregson seized the paper lazily, yawned, and slipped it under the blanket which he had doubled up for a pillow.
"Do you mind if I keep it for a few days. Phil?" he asked.
"Not in the least, if you'll tell me why you want it," said Philip.
"I will—when I discover a reason myself," replied his friend, coolly, stretching himself out again in the bunk. "Remember when I dreamed that Carabobo planter was sticking a knife into you, Phil?—and the next day he tried it? Well, I've had a funny dream, I want to sleep on this letter. I may want to sleep on it for a week. Better turn in if you expect to get a wink between now and morning."
For half an hour after he had undressed and extinguished the light Philip lay awake reviewing the incidents of his night's adventure. He was certain that his letter was in the hands of Pierre and Jeanne, but he was not so sure that they would respond to it. He half expected that they would not, and yet he felt a deep sense of satisfaction in what he had done. If he met them again he would not be quite a stranger. And that he would meet them he was not only confident, but determined. If they did not appear in Fort Churchill he would hunt out their camp.
He found himself asking a dozen questions, none of which he could answer. Who was this girl who had come like a queen from out of the wilderness, and this man who bore with him the manner of a courtier? Was it possible, after all, that they were of the forests? And where was Fort o' God? He had never heard of it before, and as he thought of Jeanne's strange, rich dress, of the heliotrope-scented handkerchief, of the old-fashioned rapier at Pierre's side, and of the exquisite grace with which the girl had left him he wondered if such a place as this Fort o' God must be could exist in the heart of the desolate northland. Pierre had said that they had come from Fort o' God. But were they a part of it?
He fell asleep, the resolution formed in his mind to investigate as soon as he found the opportunity. There would surely be those at Churchill who would know these people; if not, they would know of Fort o' God.
Philip found Gregson awake and dressed when he rolled out of his bunk a few hours later. Gregson had breakfast ready.
"You're a good one to have company," growled the artist. "When you go out mooning again please take me along, will you? Chuck your head in that pail of water and let's eat. I'm starved."
Philip noticed that his companion had tacked the sketch against one of the logs above the table.
"Pretty good for imagination, Greggy," he said, nodding. "Burke will jump at that if you do it in colors."
"Burke won't get it," replied Gregson, soberly, seating himself at the table. "It won't be for sale."
Gregson waited until Philip had seated himself before he answered.
"Look here, old man—get ready to laugh. Split your sides, if you want to. But it's God's truth that the girl I saw yesterday is the only girl I've ever seen that I'd be willing to die for!"
"To be sure," agreed Philip. "I understand."
Gregson stared at him in surprise. "Why don't you laugh?" he asked.
"It is not a laughing matter," said Philip. "I say that I understand. And I do."
Gregson looked from Philip's face to the picture.
"Does it—does it hit you that way, Phil?"
"She is very beautiful."
"She is more than that," declared Gregson, warmly. "If I ever looked into an angel's face it was yesterday, Phil. For just a moment I met her eyes—"
"And they were—"
"I mean—the color," said Philip, engaging himself with the food.
"They were blue or gray. It is the first time I ever looked into a woman's eyes without being sure of the color of them. It was her hair, Phil—not this tinsel sort of gold that makes you wonder if it's real, but the kind you dream about. You may think me a loon, but I'm going to find out who she is and where she is as soon as I have done with this breakfast."
"And Lord Fitzhugh?"
A shadow passed over Gregson's face. For a few moments he ate in silence. Then he said:
"That's what kept me awake after you had gone—thinking of Lord Fitzhugh and this girl. See here, Phil. She isn't one of the kind up here. There was breeding and blood in every inch of her, and what I am wondering is if these two could be associated in any way. I don't want it to be so. But—it's possible. Beautiful young women like her don't come, traveling up to this knob-end of the earth alone, do they?"
Philip did not pursue the subject. A quarter of an hour later the two young men left the cabin, crossed the ridge, and walked together down into Churchill. Gregson went to the Company's store, while Philip entered the building occupied by Pearce. Pearce was at his desk. He looked up with tired, puffy eyes, and his fat hands lay limply before him. Philip knew that he had not been to bed. His oily face strove to put on an appearance of animation and business as Philip entered.
Philip produced a couple of cigars and took a chair opposite him.
"You look bushed, Pearce," he began. "Business must be rushing. I saw a light in your window after midnight, and I came within an ace of calling. Thought you wouldn't like to be interrupted, so I put off my business until this morning."
"Insomnia," said Pearce, huskily. "I can't sleep. Suppose you saw me at work through the window?" There was almost an eager haste in his question.
"Saw nothing but the light," replied Philip, carelessly. "You know this country pretty well, don't you, Pearce?"
"Been 'squatting' on prospects for eight years, waiting for this damned railroad," said Pearce, interlacing his thick fingers. "I guess I know it!"
"Then you can undoubtedly tell me the location of Fort o' God?"
"Fort o' What?"
"Fort o' God."
Pearce looked blank.
"It's a new one on me," he said, finally. "Never heard of it." He rose from his chair and went over to a big map hanging against the wall. Studiously he went over it with the point of his stubby forefinger. "This is the latest from the government," he continued, with his back to Philip, "but it ain't here. There's a God's Lake down south of Nelson House, but that's the only thing with a God about it north of fifty-three."
"It's not so far south as that," said Philip, rising.
Pearce's little eyes were fixed on him shrewdly.
"Never heard of it," he repeated. "What sort of a place is it, a post—"
"I have no idea," replied Philip. "I came for information more out of curiosity than anything else. Perhaps I misunderstood the name. I'm much obliged."
He left Pearce in his chair and went directly to the factor's quarters. Bludsoe, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company in the far north, could give him no more information than had Pearce. He had never heard of Fort o' God. He could not remember the name of Couchee. During the next two hours Philip talked with French, Indian, and half-breed trappers, and questioned the mail runner, who had come in that morning from the south. No one could tell him of Fort o' God.
Had Pierre lied to him? His face flushed with anger as this thought came to him. In the next breath he assured himself that Pierre was not a man who would lie. He had measured him as a man who would fight, and not one who would lie. Besides, he had voluntarily given the information that he and Jeanne were from Fort o' God. There had been no excuse for falsehood.
He purposely directed his movements so that he would not come into contact with Gregson, little dreaming that his artist friend was working under the same formula. He lunched with the factor, and a little later went boldly back to the cliff where he had met Jeanne and Pierre the preceding night. Although he had now come to expect no response to what he had written, he carefully examined the rocks about him. Then he set out through the forest in the direction from which had come the howling of the wolf-dog.
He searched until late in the afternoon, but found no signs of a recent camp. For several miles he followed the main trail that led northward from Fort Churchill. He crossed three times through the country between this trail and the edge of the Bay, searching for smoke from the top of every ridge that he climbed, listening for any sound that might give him a clue. He visited the shack of an old half-breed deep in the forest beyond the cliff, but its aged tenant could give him no information. He had not seen Pierre and Jeanne, nor had he heard the howling of their dog.
Tired and disappointed, Philip returned to Churchill. He went directly to his cabin and found Gregson waiting for him. There was a curious look in the artist's face as he gazed questioningly at his friend. His immaculate appearance was gone. He looked like one who had passed through an uncomfortable hour or two. Perspiration had dried in dirty streaks on his face, and his hands were buried dejectedly in his trousers pockets. He rose to his feet and stood before his companion.
"Look at me, Phil—take a good long look," he urged.
"Am I awake?" demanded the artist. "Do I look like a man in his right senses? Eh, tell me!"
He turned and pointed to the sketch hanging against the wall.
"Did I see that girl, or didn't I?" he went on, not waiting for Philip to answer. "Did I dream of seeing her? Eh? By thunder, Phil—" He whirled upon his companion, a glow of excitement taking the place of the fatigue in his eyes. "I couldn't find her to-day. I've hunted in every shack and brush heap in and around Churchill. I've hunted until I'm so tired I can hardly stand up. And the devil of it is, I can find no one else who got more than a glimpse of her, and then they did not see her as I did. She had nothing on her head when I saw her, but I remember now that something like a heavy veil fell about her shoulders, and that she was lifting it when she passed. Anyway, no one saw her like—that." He pointed to the sketch. "And she's gone—gone as completely as though she came in a flying-machine and went away in one. She's gone—unless—"
"Unless she is in concealment right here in Churchill. She's gone—or hiding."
"You have reason to suspect that she would be hiding," said Philip, concealing the effect of the other's words upon him.
Gregson was uneasy. He lighted a cigarette, puffed at it once or twice, and tossed it through the open door. Suddenly he reached in his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope.
"Deuce take it, if I know whether I have or not!" he cried. "But—look here, Phil. I saw the mail come in to-day, and I walked up as bold as you please and asked if there was anything for Lord Fitzhugh. I showed the other letter, and said I was Fitzhugh's agent. It went. And I got—this!"
Philip snatched at the letter which Gregson held out to him. His fingers trembled as he unfolded the single sheet of paper which he drew forth. Across it was written a single line:
Don't lose an hour. Strike now.
There was nothing more, except a large ink blot under the words. The envelope was addressed in the same hand as the one he had previously received. The men stared into each other's face.
"It's singular, that's all," pursued Gregson. "Those words are important. The writer expects that they will reach Lord Fitzhugh immediately, and as soon as he gets them you can look for war. Isn't that their significance? I repeat that it is singular this girl should come here so mysteriously, and disappear still more so, just at this psychological moment; and it is still more puzzling when you take into consideration the fact that two hours before the runner came in from the south another person inquired for Lord Fitzhugh's mail!"
"And they told you this?"
"Yes. It was a man who asked—a stranger. He gave no name and left no word. Now, if it should happen to be the man who was with the girl when I saw her—and we can find him—we've as good as got this Lord Fitzhugh. If we don't find him—and mighty soon—it's up to us to start for your camps and put them into fighting shape. See the point?"
"But we've got the letter," said Philip. "Fitzhugh won't receive the final word, and that will delay whatever plot he has ready to spring."
"My dear Phil," said Gregson, softly. "I always said that you were the fighter and I the diplomat, yours the brawn and mine the brain. Don't you see what this means? I'll gamble my right hand that these very words have been sent to Lord Fitzhugh at two or three different points, so that they would be sure of reaching him. I'm just as positive that he has already received a copy of the letter which we have. Mark my words, it's catch Lord Fitzhugh within the next few days—or fight!"
Philip sat down, breathing heavily.
"I'll send word to MacDougall," he said. "But I—I must wait for the ship!"
"Why not leave word for Brokaw and join MacDougall?"
"Because when the ship comes in I believe that a large part of this mystery will be cleared up," replied Philip. "It is necessary that I remain here. That will give us a few days in which to make a further search for these people."
Gregson did not urge the point, but replaced the second letter in his pocket with the first. During the evening he remained at the cabin. Philip returned to Churchill. For an hour he sat among the ruins of the old fort, striving to bring some sort of order out of the chaos of events that had occurred during the past few days. He was almost convinced that he ought to reveal all that he knew to Gregson, and yet several reasons kept him from doing so. If Miss Brokaw was on the London ship when it arrived at Churchill, there would be no necessity of disclosing that part of his own history which he was keeping secret within himself. If Eileen was not on the ship her absence would be sufficient proof to him that she was in or near Churchill, and in this event he knew that it would be impossible for him to keep from associating with her movements not only those of Lord Fitzhugh, but also those of Jeanne and Pierre and of Brokaw himself. He could see but two things to do at present, wait and watch. If Miss Brokaw was not with her father, he would take Gregson fully into his confidence.
The next morning he despatched a messenger with a letter for MacDougall, at Blind Indian Lake, warning him to be on his guard and to prepare the long line of sub-stations for possible attack. All this day Gregson remained in the cabin.
"It won't do for me to make myself too evident," he explained. "I've called for Lord Fitzhugh's mail, and I'd better lie as low as possible until the corn begins to pop."
Philip again searched the forests to the north and west with the hope of finding some trace of Pierre and Jeanne. The forest people were beginning to come into Churchill from all directions to be present at the big event of the year—the arrival of the London ship—and Philip made inquiries on every trail. No one had seen those whom he described. The fourth and fifth days passed without any developments. So far as he could discover there was no Fort o' God, no Jeanne and Pierre Couchee. He was completely baffled. The sixth day he spent in the cabin with Gregson. On the morning of the seventh there came from far out over the Bay the hollow booming of a cannon.
It was the signal which for two hundred years the ships from over the sea had given to the people of Churchill.
By the time the two young men had finished their breakfasts and climbed to the top of the ridge overlooking the Bay, the vessel had dropped anchor half a mile off shore, where she rode safe from the rocks at low tide. Along the shore below them, where Churchill lay, the forest people were gathered in silent, waiting groups. Philip pointed to the factor's big York boat, already two-thirds of the way to the ship.
"We should have gone with Bludsoe," he said. "Brokaw will think this a shabby reception on our part, and Miss Brokaw won't be half flattered. We'll go down and get a good position on the pier."
Fifteen minutes later they were thrusting themselves through the crowd of men, women, children, and dogs congregated at the foot of the long stone pier alongside which the ship would lie for two or three hours at each high tide. Philip stopped among a number of Crees and half-breeds, and laid a detaining hand upon Gregson's arm.
"This is near enough, if you don't want to make yourself conspicuous," he said.
The York boat was returning. Philip pulled a cigar from his pocket and lighted it. He felt his heart throbbing excitedly as the boat drew nearer. He looked at Gregson. The artist was taking short, quick puffs on his cigarette, and Philip wondered at the evident eagerness with which he was watching the approaching craft.
Until the boat ran close up under the pier its sail hid the occupants. While the canvas still fluttered in the light wind Bludsoe sprang from the bow out upon the rocks with a rope. Three or four of his men followed. With a rattle of blocks and rings the sheet dropped like a huge white curtain, and Philip took a step forward, scarce restraining the exclamation that forced itself to his lips at the picture which it revealed. Standing on the broad rail, her slender form poised for the quick upward step, one hand extended to Bludsoe, was Eileen Brokaw! In another instant she was upon the pier, facing the strange people before her, while her father clambered out of the boat behind. There was a smile of expectancy on her lips as she scanned the dark, silent faces of the forest people. Philip knew that she was looking for him. His pulse quickened. He turned for a moment to see the effect of the girl's appearance upon Gregson.