A Romance of the Northern Trail
by James Oliver Curwood, 1913
TO CARLOTTA WHO IS WITH ME AND TO VIOLA WHO FILLS FOR ME A DREAM OF THE FUTURE I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE THIS BOOK
THE MOST TERRIBLE THING IN THE WORLD
At Point Fullerton, one thousand miles straight north of civilization, Sergeant William MacVeigh wrote with the stub end of a pencil between his fingers the last words of his semi-annual report to the Commissioner of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police at Regina.
"I beg to say that I have made every effort to run down Scottie Deane, the murderer. I have not given up hope of finding him, but I believe that he has gone from my territory and is probably now somewhere within the limits of the Fort Churchill patrol. We have hunted the country for three hundred miles south along the shore of Hudson's Bay to Eskimo Point, and as far north as Wagner Inlet. Within three months we have made three patrols west of the Bay, unraveling sixteen hundred miles without finding our man or word of him. I respectfully advise a close watch of the patrols south of the Barren Lands."
"There!" said MacVeigh aloud, straightening his rounded shoulders with a groan of relief. "It's done."
From his bunk in a corner of the little wind and storm beaten cabin which represented Law at the top end of the earth Private Pelliter lifted a head wearily from his sick bed and said: "I'm bloomin' glad of it, Mac. Now mebbe you'll give me a drink of water and shoot that devilish huskie that keeps howling every now and then out there as though death was after me."
"Nervous?" said MacVeigh, stretching his strong young frame with another sigh of satisfaction. "What if you had to write this twice a year?" And he pointed at the report.
"It isn't any longer than the letters you wrote to that girl of yours—"
Pelliter stopped short. There was a moment of embarrassing silence. Then he added, bluntly, and with a hand reaching out: "I beg your pardon, Mac. It's this fever. I forgot for a moment that— that you two— had broken."
"That's all right," said MacVeigh, with a quiver in his voice, as he turned for the water.
"You see," he added, returning with a tin cup, "this report is different. When you're writing to the Big Mogul himself something gets on your nerves. And it has been a bad year with us, Pelly. We fell down on Scottie, and let the raiders from that whaler get away from us. And— By Jo, I forgot to mention the wolves!"
"Put in a P. S.," suggested Pelliter.
"A P. S. to his Royal Nibs!" cried MacVeigh, staring incredulously at his mate. "There's no use of feeling your pulse any more, Pelly. The fever's got you. You're sure out of your head."
He spoke cheerfully, trying to bring a smile to the other's pale face. Pelliter dropped back with a sigh.
"No— there isn't any use feeling my pulse," he repeated. "It isn't sickness, Bill— not sickness of the ordinary sort. It's in my brain— that's where it is. Think of it— nine months up here, and never a glimpse of a white man's face except yours. Nine months without the sound of a woman's voice. Nine months of just that dead, gray world out there, with the northern lights hissing at us every night like snakes and the black rocks staring at us as they've stared for a million centuries. There may be glory in it, but that's all. We're 'eroes all right, but there's no one knows it but ourselves and the six hundred and forty-nine other men of the Royal Mounted. My God, what I'd give for the sight of a girl's face, for just a moment's touch of her hand! It would drive out this fever, for it's the fever of loneliness, Mac— a sort of madness, and it's splitting my 'ead."
"Tush, tush!" said MacVeigh, taking his mate's hand. "Wake up, Pelly! Think of what's coming. Only a few months more of it, and we'll be changed. And then— think of what a heaven you'll be entering. You'll be able to enjoy it more than the other fellows, for they've never had this. And I'm going to bring you back a letter— from the little girl—"
Pelliter's face brightened.
"God bless her!" he exclaimed. "There'll be letters from her— a dozen of them. She's waited a long time for me, and she's true to the bottom of her dear heart. You've got my letter safe?"
MacVeigh went back to the rough little table and added still further to his report to the Commissioner of the Royal Mounted in the following words:
"Pelliter is sick with a strange trouble in his head. At times I have been afraid he was going mad, and if he lives I advise his transfer south at an early date. I am leaving for Churchill two weeks ahead of the usual time in order to get medicines. I also wish to add a word to what I said about wolves in my last report. We have seem them repeatedly in packs of from fifty to one thousand. Late this autumn a pack attacked a large herd of traveling caribou fifteen miles in from the Bay, and we counted the remands of one hundred and sixty animals killed over a distance of less than three miles. It is my opinion that the wolves kill at least five thousand caribou in this patrol each year.
"I have the honor to be, sir,
"Your obedient servant, " WILLIAM MACVEIGH, Sergeant, "In charge of detachment."
He folded the report, placed it with other treasures in the waterproof rubber bag which always went into his pack, and returned to Pelliter's side.
"I hate to leave you alone, Pelly," he said. "But I'll make a fast trip of it— four hundred and fifty miles over the ice, and I'll do it in ten days or bust. Then ten days back, mebbe two weeks, and you'll have the medicines and the letters. Hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" cried Pelliter.
He turned his face a little to the wall. Something rose up in MacVeigh's throat and choked him as he gripped Pelliter's hand.
"My God, Bill, is that the sun ?" suddenly cried Pelliter.
MacVeigh wheeled toward the one window of the cabin. The sick man tumbled from his bunk. Together they stood for a moment at the window, staring far to the south and east, where a faint red rim of gold shot up through the leaden sky.
"It's the sun," said MacVeigh, like one speaking a prayer.
"The first in four months," breathed Pelliter.
Like starving men the two gazed through the window. The golden light lingered for a few moments, then died away. Pelliter went back to his bunk.
Half an hour later four dogs, a sledge, and a man were moving swiftly through the dead and silent gloom of Arctic day. Sergeant MacVeigh was on his way to Fort Churchill, more than four hundred miles away.
This is the loneliest journey in the world, the trip down from the solitary little wind-beaten cabin at Point Fullerton to Fort Churchill. That cabin has but one rival in the whole of the Northland— the other cabin at Herschel Island, at the mouth of the Firth, where twenty-one wooden crosses mark twenty-one white men's graves. But whalers come to Herschel. Unless by accident, or to break the laws, they never come in the neighborhood of Fullerton. It is at Fullerton that men die of the most terrible thing in the world— loneliness. In the little cabin men have gone mad.
The gloomy truth oppressed MacVeigh as he guided his dog team over the ice into the south. He was afraid for Pelliter. He prayed that Pelliter might see the sun now and then. On the second day he stopped at a cache of fish which they had put up in the early autumn for dog feed. He stopped at a second cache on the fifth day, and spent the sixth night at an Eskimo igloo at Blind Eskimo Point. Late en the ninth day he came into Fort Churchill, with an average of fifty miles a day to his credit.
From Fullerton men came in nearer dead than alive when they made the hazard in winter. MacVeigh's face was raw from the beat of the wind. His eyes were red. He had a touch of runner's cramp. He slept for twenty-four hours in a warm bed without stirring. When he awoke he raged at the commanding officer of the barrack for letting him sleep so long, ate three meals in one, and did up his business in a hurry.
His heart warmed with pleasure when he sorted out of his mail nine letters for Pelliter, all addressed in the same small, girlish hand. There was none for himself— none of the sort which Pelliter was receiving, and the sickening loneliness within him grew almost suffocating.
He laughed softly as he broke a law. He opened one of Pelliter's letters— the last one written— and calmly read it. It was filled with the sweet tenderness of a girl's love, and tears came into his red eyes. Then he sat down and answered it. He told the girl about Pelliter, and confessed to her that he had opened her last letter. And the chief of what he said was that it would be a glorious surprise to a man who was going mad (only he used loneliness in place of madness) if she would come up to Churchill the following spring and marry him there. He told her that he had opened her letter because he loved Pelliter more than most men loved their brothers. Then he resealed the letter, gave his mail to the superintendent, packed his medicines and supplies, and made ready to return.
On this same day there came into Churchill a halfbreed who had been hunting white foxes near Blind Eskimo, and who now and then did scout work for the department. He brought the information that he had seen a white man and a white woman ten miles south of the Maguse River. The news thrilled MacVeigh.
"I'll stop at the Eskimo camp," he said to the superintendent. "It's worth investigating, for I never knew of a white woman north of sixty in this country. It might be Scottie Deane."
"Not very likely," replied the superintendent. "Scottie is a tall man, straight and powerful. Coujag says this man was no taller than himself, and walked like a hunchback. But if there are white people out there their history is worth knowing."
The following morning MacVeigh started north. He reached the half-dozen igloos which made up the Eskimo village late the third day. Bye-Bye, the chief man, offered him no encouragement, MacVeigh gave him a pound of bacon, and in return for the magnificent present Bye-Bye told him that he had seen no white people. MacVeigh gave him another pound, and Bye-Bye added that he had not heard of any white people. He listened with the lifeless stare of a walrus while MacVeigh impressed upon him that he was going inland the next morning to search for white people whom he had heard were there. That night, in a blinding snow-storm, Bye-Bye disappeared from camp.
MacVeigh left his dogs to rest up at the igloo village and swung northwest on snow-shoes with the break of arctic dawn, which was but little better than the night itself. He planned to continue in this direction until he struck the Barren, then patrol in a wide circle that would bring him back to the Eskimo camp the next night. From the first he was handicapped by the storm. He lost Bye-Bye's snow-shoe tracks a hundred yards from the igloos. All that day he searched in sheltered places for signs of a camp or trail. In the afternoon the wind died away, the sky cleared, and in the wake of the calm the cold became so intense that trees cracked with reports like pistol shots.
He stopped to build a fire of scrub bush and eat his supper on the edge of the Barren just as the cold stars began blazing over his head. It was a white, still night. The southern timberline lay far behind him, and to the north there was no timber for three hundred miles. Between those lines there was no life, and so there was no sound. On the west the Barren thrust itself down in a long finger ten miles in width, and across that MacVeigh would have to strike to reach the wooded country beyond. It was over there that he had the greatest hope of discovering a trail. After he had finished his supper he loaded his pipe, and sat hunched close up to his fire, staring out over the Barren. For some reason he was filled with a strange and uncomfortable emotion, and he wished that he had brought along one of his tired dogs to keep him company.
He was accustomed to loneliness; he had laughed in the face of things that had driven other men mad. But to-night there seemed to be something about him that he had never known before, something that wormed its way deep down into his soul and made his pulse beat faster. He thought of Pelliter on his fever bed, of Scottie Deane, and then of himself. After all, was there much to choose between the three of them?
A picture rose slowly before him in the bush-fire, and in that picture he saw Scottie, the man-hunted man, fighting a great fight to keep himself from being hung by the neck until he was dead; and then he saw Pelliter, dying of the sickness which comes of loneliness, and beyond those two, like a pale cameo appearing for a moment out of gloom, he saw the picture of a face. It was a girl's face, and it was gone in an instant. He had hoped against hope that she would write to him again. But she had failed him.
He rose to his feet with a little laugh, partly of joy and partly of pain, as he thought of the true heart that was waiting for Pelliter. He tied on his snow-shoes and struck out over the Barren. He moved swiftly, looking sharply ahead of him. The night grew brighter, the stars more brilliant. The zipp, zipp, zipp of the tails of his snow-shoes was the only sound he heard except the first faint, hissing monotone of the aurora in the northern skies, which came to him like the shivering run of steel sledge runners on hard snow.
In place of sound the night about him began to fill with ghostly life. His shadow beckoned and grimaced ahead of him, and the stunted bush seemed to move. His eyes were alert and questing. Within himself he reasoned that he would see nothing, and yet some unusual instinct moved him to caution. At regular intervals he stopped to listen and to sniff the air for an odor of smoke. More and more he became like a beast of prey. He left the last bush behind him. Ahead of him the starlit space was now unbroken by a single shadow. Weird whispers came with a low wind that was gathering in the north.
Suddenly MacVeigh stopped and swung his rifle into the crook of his arm. Something that was not the wind had come up out of the night. He lifted his fur cap from his ears and listened. He heard it again, faintly, the frosty singing of sledge runners. The sledge was approaching from the open Barren, and he cleared for action. He took off his heavy fur mittens and snapped them to his belt, replaced them with his light service gloves, and examined his revolver to see that the cylinder was not frozen. Then he stood silent and waited.
BILLY MEETS THE WOMAN
Out of the gloom a sledge approached slowly. It took form at last in a dim shadow, and MacVeigh saw that it would pass very near to him. He made out, one after another, a human figure, three dogs, and the toboggan. There was something appalling in the quiet of this specter of life looming up out of the night. He could no longer hear the sledge, though it was within fifty paces of him. The figure in advance walked slowly and with bowed head, and the dogs and the sledge followed in a ghostly line. Human leader and animals were oblivious to MacVeigh, silent and staring in the white night. They were opposite him before he moved.
Then he strode out quickly, with a loud holloa. At the sound of his voice there followed a low cry, the dogs stopped in their traces, and the figure ran back to the sledge. MacVeigh drew his revolver. Half a dozen long strides and he had reached the sledge. From the opposite side a white face stared at him, and with one hand resting on the heavily laden sledge, and his revolver at level with his waist, MacVeigh stared back in speechless astonishment.
For the great, dark, frightened eyes that looked across at him, and the white, staring face he recognized as the eyes and the face of a woman. For a moment he was unable to move or speak, and the woman raised her hands and pushed back her fur hood so that he saw her hair shimmering in the starlight. She was a white woman. Suddenly he saw something in her face that struck him with a chill, and he looked down at the thing under his hand. It was a long, rough box. He drew back a step.
"Good God!" he said. "Are you alone?"
She bowed her head, and he heard her voice in a half sob.
He passed quickly around to her side. "I am Sergeant MacVeigh, of the Royal Mounted," he said, gently. "Tell me, where are you going, and how does it happen that you are out here in the Barren— alone."
Her hood had fallen upon her shoulder, and she lifted her face full to MacVeigh. The stars shone in her eyes. They were wonderful eyes, and now they were filled with pain. And it was a wonderful face to MacVeigh, who had not seen a white woman's face for nearly a year. She was young, so young that in the pale glow of the night she looked almost like a girl, and in her eyes and mouth and the upturn of her chin there was something so like that other face of which he had dreamed that he reached out and took her two hesitating hands in his own, and asked again:
"Where are you going, and why are you out here— alone?"
"I am going— down there," she said, turning her head toward the timber-line. "I am going with him— my husband—"
Her voice choked her, and, drawing her hands suddenly from him, she went to the sledge and stood facing him. For a moment there was a glow of defiance in her eyes, as though she feared him and was ready to fight for herself and her dead. The dogs slunk in at her feet, and MacVeigh saw the gleam of their naked fangs in the starlight.
"He died three days ago," she finished, quietly, "and I am taking him back to my people, down on the Little Seul."
"It is two hundred miles," said MacVeigh, looking at her as if she were mad. "You will die."
"I have traveled two days," replied the woman. "I am going on."
"Two days— across the Barren!"
MacVeigh looked at the box, grim and terrible in the ghostly radiance that fell upon it. Then he looked at the woman. She had bowed her head upon her breast, and her shining hair fell loose and disheveled. He saw the pathetic droop of her tired shoulders, and knew that she was crying. In that moment a thrilling warmth flooded every fiber of his body, and the glory of this that had come to him from out of the Barren held him mute. To him woman was all that was glorious and good. The pitiless loneliness of his life had placed them next to angels in his code of things, and before him now he saw all that he had ever dreamed of in the love and loyalty of womanhood and of wifehood.
The bowed little figure before him was facing death for the man she had loved, and who was dead. In a way he knew that she was mad. And yet her madness was the madness of a devotion that was beyond fear, of a faithfulness that made no measure of storm and cold and starvation; and he was filled with a desire to go up to her as she stood crumpled and exhausted against the box, to take her close in his arms and tell her that of such a love he had built for himself the visions which had kept him alive in his loneliness. She looked pathetically like a child.
"Come, little girl," he said. "We'll go on. I'll see you safely on your way to the Little Seul. You mustn't go alone. You'd never reach your people alive. My God, if I were he—"
He stopped at the frightened look in the white face she lifted to him.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing— only it's hard for a man to die and lose a woman like you," said MacVeigh. "There— let me lift you up on the box."
"The dogs cannot pull the load," she objected. "I have helped them—"
"If they can't, I can," he laughed, softly; and with a quick movement he picked her up and seated her on the sledge. He stripped off his pack and placed it behind her, and then he gave her his rifle. The woman looked straight at him with a tense, white face as she placed the weapon across her lap.
"You can shoot me if I don't do my duty," said MacVeigh. He tried to hide the happiness that came to him in this companionship of woman, but it trembled in his voice. He stopped suddenly, listening.
"What was that?"
"I heard nothing," said the woman. Her face was deadly white. Her eyes had grown black.
MacVeigh turned, with a word to the dogs. He picked up the end of the babiche rope with which the woman had assisted them to drag their load, and set off across the Barren. The presence of the dead had always been oppressive to him, but to-night it was otherwise. His fatigue of the day was gone, and in spite of the thing he was helping to drag behind him he was filled with a strange elation. He was in the presence of a woman. Now and then he turned his head to look at her. He could feel her behind him, and the sound of her low voice when she spoke to the dogs was like music to him. He wanted to burst forth in the wild song with which he and Pelliter had kept up their courage in the little cabin, but he throttled his desire and whistled instead. He wondered how the woman and the dogs had dragged the sledge. It sank deep in the soft drift-snow, and taxed his strength. Now and then he paused to rest, and at last the woman jumped from the sledge and came to his side.
"I am going to walk," she said. "The load is too heavy."
"The snow is soft," replied MacVeigh. "Come."
He held out his hand to her; and, with the same strange, white look in her face, the woman gave him her own. She glanced back uneasily toward the box, and MacVeigh understood. He pressed her fingers a little tighter and drew her nearer to him. Hand in hand, they resumed their way across the Barren. MacVeigh said nothing, but his blood was running like fire through his body. The little hand he held trembled and started uneasily. Once or twice it tried to draw itself away, and he held it closer. After that it remained submissively in his own, warm and thrilling. Looking down, he could see the profile of the woman's face.
A long, shining tress of her hair had freed itself from under her hood, and the light wind lifted it so that it fell across his arm. Like a thief he raised it to his lips, while the woman looked straight ahead to where the timber-line began to show in a thin, black streak. His cheeks burned, half with shame, half with tumultuous joy. Then he straightened his shoulders and shook the floating tress from his arm.
Three-quarters of an hour later they came to the first of the timber. He still held her hand. He was still holding it, with the brilliant starlight falling upon them, when his chin shot suddenly into the air again, alert and fighting, and he cried, softly:
"What was that?"
"Nothing," said the woman. "I heard nothing— unless it was the wind in the trees."
She drew away from him. The dogs whined and slunk close to the box. Across the Barren came a low, wailing wind.
"The storm is coming back," said MacVeigh. "It must have been the wind that I heard."
IN HONOR OF THE LIVING
For a few moments after uttering those words Billy stood silent listening for a sound that was not the low moaning of the wind far out on the Barren. He was sure that he had heard it— something very near, almost at his feet, and yet it was a sound which he could not place or understand. He looked at the woman. She was gazing steadily at him.
"I hear it now," she said. "It is the wind. It has frightened me. It makes such terrible sounds at times— out on the Barren. A little while ago— I thought— I heard— a child crying—"
Billy saw her clutch a hand at her throat, and there were both terror and grief in the eyes that never for an instant left his face. He understood. She was almost ready to give way under the terrible strain of the Barren. He smiled at her, and spoke in a voice that he might have used to a little child.
"You are tired, little girl ?"
"Yes— yes— I am tired—"
"And hungry and cold?"
"Then we will camp in the timber."
They went on until they came to a growth of spruce so dense that it formed a shelter from both snow and wind, with a thick carpet of brown needles under foot. They were shut out from the stars, and in the darkness MacVeigh began to whistle cheerfully. He unstrapped his pack and spread out one of his blankets close to the box and wrapped the other about the woman's shoulders.
"You sit here while I make a fire," he said.
He piled up dry needles over a precious bit of his birchbark and struck a flame. In the glowing light he found other fuel, and added to the fire until the crackling blaze leaped as high as his head. The woman's face was hidden, and she looked as though she had fallen asleep in the warmth of the fire. For half an hour Mac-Veigh dragged in fuel until he had a great pile of it in readiness.
Then he forked out a deep bed of burning coals and soon the odor of coffee and frying bacon aroused his companion. She raised her head and threw back the blanket with which he had covered her shoulders. It was warm where she sat, and she took off her hood while he smiled at her companionably from over the fire. Her reddish-brown hair tumbled about her shoulders, rippling and glistening in the fire glow, and for a few moments she sat with it falling loosely about her, with her eyes upon MacVeigh. Then she gathered it between her fingers, and MacVeigh watched her while she divided it into shining strands and pleated it into a big braid.
"Supper is ready," he said. "Will you eat it there?"
She nodded, and for the first time she smiled at him. He brought bacon and bread and coffee and other things from his pack and placed them on a folded blanket between them. He sat opposite her, cross-legged. For the first time he noticed that her eyes were blue and that there was a flush in her cheeks. The flush deepened as he looked at her, and she smiled at him again.
The smile, the momentary drooping of her eyes, set his heart leaping, and for a little while he was unconscious of taste in the food he swallowed. He told her of his post away up at Point Fullerton, and of Pelliter, who was dying of loneliness.
"It's been a long time since I've seen a woman like you," he confided. "And it seems like heaven. You don't know how lonely I am!" His voice trembled. "I wish that Pelliter could see you— just for a moment," he added. "It would make him live again."
Something in the soft glow of her eyes urged other words to his lips.
"Mebbe you don't know what it means not to see a white woman in— in— all this time," he went on. "You won't think that I've gone mad, will you, or that I'm saying or doing anything that's wrong? I'm trying to hold myself back, but I feel like shouting, I'm that glad. If Pelliter could see you—" He reached suddenly in his pocket and drew out the precious packet of letters. "He's got a girl down south— just like you," he said. "These are from her. If I get 'em up in time they'll bring him round. It's not medicine he wants. It's woman— just a sight of her, and sound of her, and a touch of her hand."
She reached across and took the letters. In the firelight he saw that her hand was trembling.
"Are they— married?" she asked, softly.
"No, but they're going to be," he cried, triumphantly. "She's the most beautiful thing in the world, next to—"
He paused, and she finished for him.
"Next to one other girl— who is yours."
"No, I wasn't going to say that. You won't think I mean wrong, will you, if I tell you? I was going to say next to— you. For you've come out of the blizzard— like an angel to give me new hope. I was sort of broke when you came. If you disappeared now and I never saw you again I'd go back and fight the rest of my time out, an' dream of pleasant things. Gawd! Do you know a man has to be put up here before he knows that life isn't the sun an' the moon an' the stars an' the air we breathe. It's woman— just woman."
He was returning the letters to his pocket. The woman's voice was clear and gentle. To Billy it rose like sweetest music above the crackling of the fire and the murmuring of the wind in the spruce tops.
"Men like you— ought to have a woman to care for," she said. "He was like that."
"You mean—" His eyes sought the long, dark box.
"Yes— he was like that."
"I know how you feel," he said; and for a moment he did not look at her. "I've gone through— a lot of it. Father an' mother and a sister. Mother was the last, and I wasn't much more than a kid— eighteen, I guess— but it don't seem much more than yesterday. When you come up here and you don't see the sun for months nor a white face for a year or more it brings up all those things pretty much as though they happened only a little while ago.'"
"All of them are— dead?" she asked.
"All but one. She wrote to me for a long time, and I thought she'd keep her word. Pelly— that's Pelliter— thinks we've just had a misunderstanding, and that she'll write again. I haven't told him that she turned me down to marry another fellow. I didn't want to make him think any unpleasant things about his own girl. You're apt to do that when you're almost dying of loneliness."
The woman's eyes were shining. She leaned a little toward him.
"You should be glad," she said. "If she turned you down she wouldn't have been worthy of you— afterward. She wasn't a true woman. If she had been, her love wouldn't have grown cold because you were away. It mustn't spoil your faith— because that is— beautiful."
He had put a hand into his pocket again, and drew out now a thin package wrapped in buckskin. His face was like a boy's.
"I might have— if I hadn't met you," he said. "I'd like to let you know— some way— what you've done for me. You and this."
He had unfolded the buckskin, and gave it to her. In it were the big blue petals and dried, stem of a blue flower.
"A blue flower!" she said.
"Yes. You know what it means. The Indians call it i-o-waka, or something like that, because they believe that it is the flower spirit of the purest and most beautiful thing in the world. I have called it woman."
He laughed, and there was a joyous sort of note in the laugh.
"You may think me a little mad," he said, "but do you care if I tell you about that blue flower?"
The woman nodded. There was a little quiver at her throat which Billy did not see.
"I was away up on the Great Bear," he said, "and for ten days and ten nights I was in camp— alone— laid up with a sprained ankle. It was a wild and gloomy place, shut in by barren ridge mountains, with stunted black spruce all about, and those spruce were haunted by owls that made my blood run cold nights. The second day I found company. It was a blue flower. It grew close to my tent, as high as my knee, and during the day I used to spread out my blanket close to it and lie there and smoke. And the blue flower would wave on its slender stem, an' bob at me, an' talk in sign language that I imagined I understood. Sometimes it was so funny and vivacious that I laughed, and then it seemed to be inviting me to a dance. And at other times it was just beautiful and still, and seemed listening to what the forest was saying— and once or twice, I thought, it might be praying. Loneliness makes a fellow foolish, you know. With the going of the sun my blue flower would always fold its petals and go to sleep, like a little child tired out by the day's play, and after that I would feel terribly lonely. But it was always awake again when I rolled out in the morning. At last the time came when I was well enough to leave. On the ninth night I watched my blue flower go to sleep for the last time. Then I packed. The sun was up when I went away the next morning, and from a little distance I turned and looked back. I suppose I was foolish, and weak for a man, but I felt like crying. Blue flower had taught me many things I had not known before. It had made me think. And when I looked back it was in a pool of sunlight, and it was waving at me! It seemed to me that it was calling— calling me back— and I ran to it and picked it from the stem, and it has been with me ever since that hour. It has been my Bible an' my comrade, an' I've known it was the spirit of the purest and the most beautiful thing in the world— woman. I—" His voice broke a little. "I— I may be foolish, but I'd like to have you take it, an' keep it— always— for me."
He could see now the quiver of her lips as she looked across at him.
"Yes, I will take it," she said. "I will take it and keep it— always."
"I've been keeping it for a woman— somewhere," he said. "Foolish idea, wasn't it? And I've been telling you all this, when I want to hear what happened back there, and what you are going to do when you reach your people. Do you mind— telling me?"
"He died— that's all," she replied, fighting to speak calmly. "I promised to take him back— to my people, And when I get there— I don't know— what I shall— do—"
She caught her breath. A low sob broke from her lips.
"You don't know— what you will do—"
Billy's voice sounded strange even to himself. He rose to his feet and looked down into her upturned face, his hands clenched, his body trembling with the fight he was making. Words came to his lips and were forced back again— words which almost won in their struggle to tell her again that she had come to him from out of the Barren like an angel, that within the short space since their meeting he had lived a lifetime, and that he loved her as no man had ever loved a woman before. Her blue eyes looked at him questioningly as he stood above her.
And then he saw the thing which for a moment he had forgotten— the long, rough box at the woman's back. His fingers dug deeper into his palms, and with a gasping breath he turned away. A hundred paces back in the spruce he had found a bare rock with a red bakneesh vine growing over it. With his knife he cut off an armful, and when he returned with it into the light of the fire the bakneesh glowed like a mass of crimson flowers. The woman had risen to her feet, and looked at him speechlessly as he scattered the vine over the box. He turned to her and said, softly:
"In honor of the dead!"
The color had faded from her face, but her eyes shone like stars. Billy advanced toward her with his hands reaching out. But suddenly he stopped and stood listening. After a moment he turned and asked again:
"What was that?"
"I heard the dogs— and the wind," she replied.
"It's something cracking in my head, I guess," said MacVeigh. "It sounded like—" He passed a hand over his forehead and looked at the dogs huddled in deep sleep beside the sledge. The woman did not see the shiver that passed through him. He laughed cheerfully, and seized his ax.
"Now for the camp," he announced. "We're going to get the storm within an hour."
On the box the woman carried a small tent, and he pitched it close to the fire, filling the interior two feet deep with cedar and balsam boughs. His own silk service tent he put back in the deeper shadows of the spruce. When he had finished he looked questioningly at the woman and then at the box.
"If there is room— I would like it in there— with me," she said, and while she stood with her face to the fire he dragged the box into the tent. Then he piled fresh fuel upon the fire and came to bid her good night. Her face was pale and haggard now, but she smiled at him, and to MacVeigh she was the most beautiful thing in the world. Within himself he felt that he had known her for years and years, and he took her hands and looked down into her blue eyes and said, almost in a whisper:
"Will you forgive me if I'm doing wrong? You don't know how lonesome I've been, and how lonesome I am, and what it means to me to look once more into a woman's face. I don't want to hurt you, and I'd— I'd"— his voice broke a little—"I'd give him back life if I could, just because I've seen you and know you and— and love you."
She started and drew a quick, sharp breath that came almost in a low cry.
"Forgive me, little girl," he went on. "I may be a little mad. I guess I am. But I'd die for you, and I'm going to see you safely down to your people— and— and— I wonder— I wonder— if you'd kiss me good night—"
Her eyes never left his face. They were dazzlingly blue in the firelight. Slowly she drew her hands away from him, still looking straight into his eyes, and then she placed them against each of his arms and slowly lifted her face to him. Reverently he bent and kissed her.
"God bless you!" he whispered.
For hours after that he sat beside the fire. The wind came up stronger across the Barren; the storm broke fresh from the north, the spruce and the balsam wailed over his head, and he could hear the moaning sweep of the blizzard out in the open spaces. But the sounds came to him now like a new kind of music, and his heart throbbed and his soul was warm with joy as he looked at the little tent wherein there lay sleeping the woman whom he loved.
He still felt the warmth of her lips, he saw again and again the blue softness that had come for an instant into her eyes, and he thanked God for the wonderful happiness that had come to him. For the sweetness of the woman's lips and the greater sweetness of her blue eyes told him what life held for him now. A day's journey to the south was an Indian camp. He would take her there, and would hire runners to carry up Pelliter's medicines and his letters. Then he would go on— with the woman— and he laughed softly and joyously at the glorious news which he would take back to Pelliter a little later. For the kiss burned on his lips, the blue eyes smiled at him still from out of the firelit gloom, and he knew nothing but hope.
It was late, almost midnight, when he went to bed. With the storm wailing and twisting more fiercely about him, he fell asleep. And it was late when he awoke. The forest was filled with a moaning sound. The fire was low. Beyond it the flap of the woman's tent was still down, and he put on fresh fuel quietly, so that he would not awaken her. He looked at his watch and found that he had been sleeping for nearly seven hours. Then he returned to his tent to get the things for breakfast. Half a dozen paces from the door flap he stopped in sudden astonishment.
Hanging to his tent in the form of a great wreath was the red bakneesh which he had cut the night before, and over it, scrawled in charcoal on the silk, there stared at him the crudely written words:
"In honor of the living."
With a low cry he sprang back toward the other tent, and then, as sudden as his movement, there flashed upon him the significance of the bakneesh wreath. The woman was saying to him what she had not spoken in words. She had come out in the night while he was asleep and had hung the wreath where he would see it in the morning. The blood rushed warm and joyous through his body, and with something which was not a laugh, but which was an exultant breath from the soul itself, he straightened himself, and his hand fell in its old trick to his revolver holster. It was empty.
He dragged out his blankets, but the weapon was not between them. He looked into the corner where he had placed his rifle. That, too, was gone. His face grew tense and white as he walked slowly beyond the fire to the woman's tent. With his ear at the flap he listened. There was no sound within— no sound of movement, of life, of a sleeper's breath; and like one who feared to reveal a terrible picture he drew back the flap. The balsam bed which he had made for the woman was empty, and across it had been drawn the big rough box. He stepped inside. The box was open— and empty, except for a mass of worn and hard-packed balsam boughs in the bottom. In another instant the truth burst in all its force upon MacVeigh. The box had held life, and the woman—
Something on the side of the box caught his eyes. It was a folded bit of paper, pinned where he must see it. He tore it off and staggered with it back into the light of day. A low, hard cry came from his lips as he read what the woman had written to him:
"May God bless you for being good to me. In the storm me have gone— my husband and I. Word came to us that you were on our trail, and we saw your fire out on the Barren. My husband made the box for me to keep me from cold and storm. When we saw you we changed places, and so you met me with my dead. He could have killed you— a dozen times, but you were good to me, and so you live. Some day may God give you a good woman who will love you as I love him. He killed a man, but killing is not always murder. We have taken your weapons, and the storm will cover our trail. But you would not follow. I know that. For you know what it means to love a woman, and so you know what life means to a woman when she loves a man. MRS. ISOBEL DEANE."
Like one dazed by a blow Billy read once more the words which Isobel Deane had left for him. He made no sound after that first cry that had broken from his lips, but stood looking into the crackling flames of the fire until a sudden lash of the wind whipped the note from between his fingers and sent it scurrying away in a white volley of fine snow. The loss of the note awoke him to action. He started to pursue the bit of paper, then stopped and laughed. It was a short, mirthless laugh, the kind of a laugh with which a strong man covers pain. He returned to the tent again and looked in. He flung back the tent flaps so that the light could enter and he could see into the box. A few hours before that box had hidden Scottie Deane, the murderer. And she was his wife ! He turned back to the fire, and he saw again the red bakneesh hanging over his tent flap, and the words she had scrawled with the end of a charred stick, "In honor of the living." That meant him. Something thick and uncomfortable rose in his throat, and a blur that was not caused by snow or wind filled his eyes. She had made a magnificent fight. And she had won. And it suddenly occurred to him that what she had said in the note was true, and that Scottie Deane could easily have killed him. The next moment he wondered why he had not done that. Deane had taken a big chance in allowing him to live. They had only a few hours' start of him, and their trail could not be entirely obliterated by the storm. Deane would be hampered in his flight by the presence of his wife. He could still follow and overtake them. They had taken his weapons, but this would not be the first time that he had gone after his man without weapons.
Swiftly the reaction worked in him. He ran beyond the fire, and circled quickly until he came upon the trail of the outgoing sledge. It was still quite distinct. Deeper in the forest it could be easily followed. Something fluttered at his feet. It was Isobel Deane's note. He picked it up, and again his eyes fell upon those last words that she had written: But you would not follow. I know that. For you know what it means to love a woman, and so you know what life means to a woman when she loves a man. That was why Scottie Deane had not killed him. It was because of the woman. And she had faith in him! This time he folded the note and placed it in his pocket, where the blue flower had been. Then he went slowly back to the fire.
"I told you I'd give him back his life— if I could," he said. "And I guess I'm going to keep my word." He fell into his old habit of talking to himself— a habit that comes easily to one in the big open spaces— and he laughed as he stood beside the fire and loaded his pipe. "If it wasn't for her!" he added, thinking of Scottie Deane. "Gawd— if it wasn't for her!"
He finished loading his pipe, and lighted it, staring off into the thicker spruce forest into which Scottie and his wife had fled. The entire force was on the lookout for Scottie Deane. For more than a year he had been as elusive as the little white ermine of the woods. He had outwitted the best men in the service, and his name was known to every man of the Royal Mounted from Calgary to Herschel Island. There was a price on his head, and fame for the man who captured him. Those who dreamed of promotions also dreamed of Scottie Deane; and as Billy thought of these things something that was not the man-hunting instinct rose in him and his blood warmed with a strange feeling of brotherhood. Scottie Deane was more than an outlaw to him now, more than a mere man. Hunted like a rat, chased from place to place, he must be more than those things for a woman like Isobel Deane still to cling to. He recalled the gentleness of her voice, the sweetness of her face, the tenderness of her blue eyes, and for the first time the thought came to him that such a woman could not love a man who was wholly bad. And she did love him. A twinge of pain came with that truth, and yet with it a thrill of pleasure. Her loyalty was a triumph— even for him. She had come to him like an angel out of the storm, and she had gone from him like an angel. He was glad. A living, breathing reality had taken the place of the dream vision in his heart, a woman who was flesh and blood, and who was as true and as beautiful as the blue flower he had carried against his breast. In that moment he would have liked to grip Scottie Deane by the hand, because he was her husband and because he was man enough to make her love him. Perhaps it was Deane who had hung the wreath of bakneesh on his tent and who had scribbled the words in charcoal. And Deane surely knew of the note his wife had written. The feeling of brotherhood grew stronger in Billy, and thought of their faith in him filled him with a strange elation.
The fire was growing low, and he turned to add fresh fuel. His eyes caught sight of the box in the tent, and he dragged it out. He was about to throw it on the fire when he hesitated and examined it more closely. How far had they come, he wondered? It must have been from the other side of the Barren, for Deane had built the box to protect Isobel from the fierce winds of the open. It was built of light, dry wood, hewn with a belt ax, and the corners were fastened with babiche cord made of caribou skin in place of nails. The balsam that had been placed in it for Isobel was still in the box, and Billy's heart beat a little more quickly as he drew it out. It had been Isobel's bed. He could see where the balsam was thicker, where her head had rested. With a sudden breathless cry he thrust the box on the fire.
He was not hungry, but he made himself a pot of coffee and drank it. Until now he had not observed that the storm was growing steadily worse. The thick, low-hanging spruce broke the force of it. Beyond the shelter of the forest he could hear the roar of it as it swept through the thin scrub and open spaces of the edge of the Barren. It recalled him once more to Pelliter. In the excitement of Isobel's presence and the shock and despair that had followed her flight he had been guilty of partly forgetting Pelliter. By the time he reached the Eskimo igloos there would be two days lost. Those two days might mean everything to his sick comrade. He jumped to his feet, felt in his pocket to see that the letters were safe, and began to arrange his pack. Through the trees there came now fine white volleys of blistering snow. It was like the hardest granulated sugar. A sudden blast of it stung his eyes; and, leaving his pack and tent, he made his way anxiously toward the more open timber and scrub. A few hundred yards from the camp he was forced to bow his head against the snow volleys and pull the broad flaps of his cap down over his cheeks and ears. A hundred yards more and he stopped, sheltering himself behind a gnarled and stunted banskian. He looked out into the beginning of the open. It was a white and seething chaos into which he could not see the distance of a pistol shot. The Eskimo igloos were twenty miles across the Barren, and Billy's heart sank. He could not make it. No man could live in the storm that was sweeping straight down from the Arctic, and he turned back to the camp. He had scarcely made the move when he was startled by a strange sound coming with the wind. He faced the white blur again, a hand dropping to his empty pistol holster. It came again, and this time he recognized it. It was a shout, a man's voice. Instantly his mind leaped to Deane and Isobel. What miracle could be bringing them back?
A shadow grew out of the twisting blur of the storm. It quickly separated itself into definite parts— a team of dogs, a sledge, three men. A minute more and the dogs stopped in a snarling tangle as they saw Billy. Billy stepped forth. Almost instantly he found a revolver leveled at his breast.
"Put that up, Bucky Smith," he called. "If you're looking for a man you've found the wrong one!"
The man advanced. His eyes were red and staring. His pistol arm dropped as he came within a yard of Billy.
"By— It's you, is it, Billy MacVeigh!" he exclaimed. His laugh was harsh and unpleasant. Bucky was a corporal in the service, and when Billy had last heard of him he was stationed at Nelson House. For a year the two men had been in the same patrol, and there was bad blood between them. Billy had never told of a certain affair down at Norway House, the knowledge of which at headquarters would have meant Bucky's disgraceful retirement from the force. But he had called Bucky out in fair fight and had whipped him within an inch of his life. The old hatred burned in the corporal's eyes as he stared into Billy's face. Billy ignored the look, and shook hands with the other men. One of them was a Hudson's Bay Company's driver, and the other was Constable Walker, from Churchill.
"Thought we'd never live to reach shelter," gasped Walker, as they shook hands. "We're out after Scottie Deane, and we ain't losing a minute. We're going to get him, too. His trail is so hot we can smell it. My God, but I'm bushed!"
The dogs, with the company man at their head, were already making for the camp. Billy grinned at the corporal as they followed.
"Had a pretty good chance to get me, if you'd been alone, didn't you, Bucky?" he asked, in a voice that Walker did not hear. "You see, I haven't forgotten your threat."
There was a steely hardness behind his laugh. He knew that Bucky Smith was a scoundrel whose good fortune was that he had never been found out in some of his evil work. In a flash his mind traveled back to that day at Norway House when Rousseau, the half Frenchman, had come to him from a sick-bed to tell him that Bucky had ruined his young wife. Rousseau, who should have been in bed with his fever, died two days later. Billy could still hear the taunt in Bucky's voice when he had cornered him with Rousseau's accusation, and the fight had followed. The thought that this man was now close after Isobel and Deane filled him with a sort of rage, and as Walker went ahead he laid a hand on Bucky's arm.
"I've been thinking about you of late, Bucky," he said. "I've been thinking a lot about that affair down at Norway, an' I've been lacking myself for not reporting it. I'm going to do it— unless you cut a right-angle track to the one you're taking. I'm after Scottie Deane myself!"
In the next breath he could have cut out his tongue for having uttered the words. A gleam of triumph shot into Bucky's eyes.
"I thought we was right," he said. "We sort of lost the trail in the storm. Glad we found you to set us right. How much of a start of us has he and that squaw that's traveling with him got ?"
Billy's mittened hands clenched fiercely. He made no reply, but followed quickly after Walker. His mind worked swiftly. As he came in to the fire he saw that the dogs had already dropped down in their traces and that they were exhausted. Walker's face was pinched, his eyes half closed by the sting of the snow. The driver was half stretched out on the sledge, his feet to the fire. In a glance he had assured himself that both dogs and men had gone through a long and desperate struggle in the storm. He looked at Bucky, and this time there was neither rancor nor threat in his voice when he spoke.
"You fellows have had a hard time of it," he said. "Make yourselves at home. I'm not overburdened with grub, but if you'll dig out some of your own rations I'll get it ready while you thaw out."
Bucky was looking curiously at the two tents.
"Who's with you?" he asked.
Billy shrugged his shoulders. His voice was almost affable.
"Hate to tell you who was with me, Bucky," he laughed, "I came in late last night, half dead, and found a half-breed camped here— in that silk tent. He was quite chummy— mighty fine chap. Young fellow, too— almost a kid. When I got up this morning—" Billy shrugged his shoulders again and pointed to his empty pistol holster. "Everything was gone— dogs, sledge, extra tent, even my rifle and automatic. He wasn't quite bad, though, for he left me my grub. He was a funny cuss, too. Look at that!" He pointed to the bakneesh wreath that still hung to the front of his tent. "'In honor of the living,' " he read, aloud, "Just a sort of reminder, you know, that he might have hit me on the head with a club if he'd wanted to." He came nearer to Bucky, and said, good-naturedly: "I guess you've got me beat this time, Bucky. Scottie Deane is pretty safe from me, wherever he is. I haven't even got a gun!"
"He must have left a trail," remarked Bucky, eying him shrewdly.
"He did— out there!"
As Bucky went to examine what was left of the trail Billy thanked Heaven that Deane had placed Isobel on the sledge before he left camp. There was nothing to betray her presence. Walker had unlaced their outfit, and Billy was busy preparing a meal when Bucky returned. There was a sneer on his lips.
"Didn't know you was that easy," he said. "Wonder why he didn't take his tent! Pretty good tent, isn't it?"
He went inside. A minute later he appeared at the flap and called to Billy.
"Look here!" he said, and there was a tremble of excitement in his voice. His eyes were blazing with an ugly triumph. "Your half-breed had pretty long hair, didn't he?"
He pointed to a splinter on one of the light tent-poles. Billy's heart gave a sudden jump. A tress of Isobel's long, loose hair had caught in the splinter, and a dozen golden-brown strands had remained to give him away. For a moment he forgot that Bucky Smith was watching him. He saw Isobel again as she had last entered the tent, her beautiful hair flowing in a firelit glory about her, her eyes still filled with tender gratitude. Once more he felt the warmth of her lips, the touch of her hand, the thrill of her presence near him. Perhaps these emotions covered any suspicious movement or word by which he might otherwise have betrayed himself. By the time they were gone he had recovered himself, and he turned to his companion with a low laugh.
"It's a woman's hair, all right, Bucky. He told me all sorts of nice things about a girl 'back home.' They must have been true."
The eyes of the two men met unflinchingly. There was a sneer on Buck's lips; Billy was smiling.
"I'm going to follow this Frenchman after we've had a little rest," said the corporal, trying to cover a certain note of excitement and triumph in his voice. "There's a woman traveling with Scottie Deane, you know— a white woman— and there's only one other north of Churchill. Of course, you're anxious to get back your stolen outfit?"
"You bet I am," exclaimed Billy, concealing the effect of the bull's-eye shot Bucky had made. "I'm not particularly happy in the thought of reporting myself stripped in this sort of way. The breed will hang to thick cover, and it won't be difficult to follow his trail."
He saw that Bucky was a little taken aback by his ready acquiescence, and before the other could reply he hurried out to join Walker in the preparation of breakfast. He made a gallon of tea, fried some bacon, and brought out and toasted his own stock of frozen bannock. He made a second kettle of tea while the others were eating, and shook out the blankets in his own tent. Walker had told him that they had traveled nearly all night.
"Better have an hour or two of sleep before you go on," he invited.
The driver's name was Conway. He was the first to accept Billy's invitation. When he had finished eating, Walker followed him into the tent. When they were gone Bucky looked hard at Billy.
"What's your game?" he asked.
"The Golden Rule, that's all," replied Billy, proffering his tobacco. "The half-breed treated me square and made me comfortable, even if he did take his pay afterward. I'm doing the same."
"And what do you expect to take— afterward?"
Billy's eyes narrowed as he returned the other's searching look.
"Bucky, I didn't think you were quite a fool," he said. "You've got a little decency in your hide, haven't you? A man might as well be in jail as up here without a gun. I expect you to contribute one— when you go after the half-breed— you or Walker. He'll do it if you won't. Better go in with the others. I'll keep up the fire."
Bucky rose sullenly. He was still suspicious of Billy's hospitality, but at the same time he could see the strength of Billy's argument and the importance of the price he was asking. He joined Walker and Conway. Fifteen minutes later Billy approached the tent and looked in. The three men were in the deep sleep of exhaustion. Instantly Billy's actions changed. He had thrown his pack outside the tent to make more room, and he quickly slipped a spare blanket in with his provisions. Then he entered the other tent, and a flush spread over his face, and he felt his blood grow warmer.
"You may be a fool, Billy MacVeigh," he laughed, softly. "You may be a fool, but we're going to do it!"
Gently he disentangled the long silken strands of golden brown from the tent-pole. He wound the hair about his fingers, and it made a soft and shining ring. It was all that he would ever possess of Isobel Deane, and his breath came more quickly as he pressed it for a moment to his rough and storm-beaten face. He put it in his pocket, carefully wrapped in Isobel's note, and then once more he went back to the tent in which the three men were sleeping. They had not moved. Walker's holster was within reach of his hand. For a moment the temptation to reach out and pluck the gun from it was strong. He pulled himself away. He would win in this fight with Bucky as surely as he had won in the other, and he would win without theft. Quickly he threw his pack over his shoulder and struck the trail made by Deane in his flight. On his snow-shoes he followed it in a long, swift pace. A hundred yards from the camp he looked back for an instant. Then he turned, and his face was grim and set.
"If you've got to be caught, it's not going to be by that outfit back there, Mr. Scottie Deane," he said to himself. "It's up to yours truly, and Billy MacVeigh is the man who can do the trick, if he hasn't got a gun!"
BILLY FOLLOWS ISOBEL
From the first Billy could see the difficulty with which Deane and his dogs had made their way through the soft drifts of snow piled up by the blizzard. In places where the trees had thinned out Deane had floundered ahead and pulled with the team. Only once in the first mile had Isobel climbed from the sledge, and that was where traces, toboggan, and team had all become mixed up in the snow-covered top of a fallen tree. The fact that Deane was compelling his wife to ride added to Billy's liking for the man. It was probable that Isobel had not gone to sleep at all after her hard experience on the Barren, but had lain awake planning with her husband until the hour of their flight. If Isobel had been able to travel on snow-shoes Billy reasoned that Deane would have left the dogs behind, for in the deep, soft snow he could have made better time without them, and snow-shoe trails would have been obliterated by the storm hours ago. As it was, he could not lose them. He knew that he had no time to lose if he made sure of beating out Bucky and his men. The suspicious corporal would not sleep long. While he had the advantage of being comparatively fresh, Billy's snow-shoes were smoothing and packing the trail, and the others, if they followed, would be able to travel a mile or two an hour faster than himself. That Bucky would follow he did not doubt for a moment. The corporal was already half convinced that Scottie Deane had made the trail from camp and that the hair he had found entangled in the splinter on the tent-pole belonged to the outlaw's wife. And Scottie Deane was too big a prize to lose.
Billy's mind worked rapidly as he bent more determinedly to the pursuit. He knew that there were only two things that Bucky could do under the circumstances. Either he would follow after him with Walker and the driver or he would come alone. If Walker and Conway accompanied him the fight for Scottie Deane's capture would be a fair one, and the man who first put manacles about the outlaw's wrists would be the victor. But if he left his two companions in camp and came after him alone—
The thought was not a pleasant one. He was almost sorry that he had not taken Walker's gun. If Bucky came alone it would be with but one purpose in mind— to make sure of Scottie Dean by "squaring up" with him first. Billy was sure that he had measured the man right, and that he would not hesitate to carry out his old threat by putting a bullet into him at the first opportunity. And here would be opportunity. The storm would cover up any foul work he might accomplish, and his reward would be Scottie Deane— unless Deane played too good a hand for him.
At thought of Deane Billy chuckled. Until now he had not taken him fully into consideration, and suddenly it dawned upon him that there was a bit of humor as well as tragedy in the situation. He cheerfully conceded to himself that for a long time Deane had proved himself a better man than either Bucky or himself, and that, after all, he was the man who held the situation well in hand even now. He was well armed. He was as cautions as a fox, and would not be caught napping. And yet this thought filled Billy with satisfaction rather than fear. Deane would be more than a match for Bucky alone if he failed in beating out the corporal. But if he did beat him out—
Billy's lips set grimly, and there was a hard light in his eyes as he glanced back over his shoulder. He would not only beat him out, but he would capture Scottie Deane. It would be a game of fox against fox, and he would win. No one would ever know why he was playing the game as he had planned to play it. Bucky would never know. Down at headquarters they would never know. And yet deep down in his heart he hoped and believed that Isobel would guess and understand. To save Deane, to save Isobel, he must keep them out of the hands of Bucky Smith, and to do that he must make them his own prisoners. It would be a terrible ordeal at first. A picture of Isobel rose before him, her faith and trust in him broken, her face white and drawn with grief and despair, her blue eyes flashing at him— hatred. But he felt now that he could stand those things. One moment— the fatal moment, when she would understand and know that he had remained true— would repay him for what he might suffer.
He traveled swiftly for an hour, and paused then to get his wind where the partly covered trail dipped down into a frozen swamp. Here Isobel had climbed from the sledge and had followed in the path of the toboggan. In places where the spruce and balsam were thick overhead Billy could make out the imprints of her moccasins. Deane had led the dogs in the darkness of the storm, and twice Billy found the burned ends of matches, where he had stopped to look at his compass. He was striking a course almost due west. At the farther edge of the swamp the trail struck a lake, and straight across this Deane had led his team. The worst of the storm was over now. The wind was slowly shifting to the south and east, and the fine, steely snow had given place to a thicker and softer downfall. Billy shuddered as he thought of what this lake must have been a few hours before, when Isobel and Deane had crossed it in the thick blackness of the blizzard that had swept it like a hurricane.
It was half a mile across the lake, and here, fifty yards from shore, the trail was completely covered. Billy lost no time by endeavoring to find signs of it in the open, but struck directly for the opposite timber field and swung along in the shelter of the scrub forest. He picked up the trail easily. Half an hour later he stopped. Spruce and balsam grew thick about him, shutting out what was left of the wind. Here Scottie Deane had stopped to build a fire. Close to the charred embers was a mass of balsam boughs on which Isobel had rested. Scottie had made a pot of boiling tea and had afterward thrown the grounds on the snow. The warm bodies of the dogs had made smooth, round pits in the snow, and Billy figured that the fugitives had rested for a couple of hours. They had traveled eight miles through the blizzard without a fire, and his heart was filled with a sickening pain as he thought of Isobel Deane and the suffering he had brought to her. For a few moments there swept over him a revulsion for that thing which he stood for— the Law. More than once in his experience he had thought that its punishment had been greater than the crime. Isobel had suffered, and was suffering, far more than if Deane had been captured a year before and hanged. And Deane himself had paid a penalty greater than death in being a witness of the suffering of the woman who had remained loyal to him. Billy's heart went out to them in a low, yearning cry as he looked at the balsam bed and the black char of the fire. He wished that he could give them, life and freedom and happiness, and his hands clenched tightly as he thought that he was willing to surrender everything, even to his own honor, for the woman he loved.
Fifteen minutes after he had struck the shelter of the camp he was again in pursuit. His blood leaped a little excitedly when he found that Scottie Deane's trail was now almost as straight as a plumb-line and that the sledge no longer became entangled in hidden windfalls and brush. It was proof that it was light when Deane and Isobel had left their camp. Isobel was walking now, and their sledge was traveling faster. Billy encouraged his own pace, and over two or three open spaces he broke into a long, swinging run. The trail was comparatively fresh, and at the end of another hour he knew that they could not be far ahead of him. He had followed through a thin swamp and had climbed to the top of a rough ridge when he stopped. Isobel had reached the bald cap of the ridge exhausted. The last twenty yards he could see where Deane had assisted her; and then she had dropped down in the snow, and he had placed a blanket under her. They had taken a drink of tea made back over the fire, and a little of it had fallen into the snow. It had not yet formed ice, and instinctively he dropped behind a rock and looked down into the wooded valley at his feet. In a few moments he began to descend.
He had almost reached the foot of the ridge when he brought himself short with a sudden low cry of horror. He had reached a point where the side of the ridge seemed to have broken off, leaving a precipitous wall. In a flash he realized what had happened. Deane and Isobel had descended upon a "snow trap," and it had given way under their weight, plunging them to the rocks below. For no longer than a breath he stood still, and in that moment there came a sound from far behind that sent a strange thrill through him. It was the howl of a dog. Bucky and his men were in close pursuit, and they were traveling with the team.
He swung a little to the left to escape the edge of the trap and plunged recklessly to the bottom. Not until he saw where Scottie Deane and the team had dragged themselves from the snow avalanche did he breathe freely again. Isobel was safe! He laughed in his joy and wiped the nervous sweat from his face as he saw the prints of her moccasins where Deane had righted the sledge. And then, for the first time, he observed a number of small red stains on the snow. Either Isobel or Deane had been injured in the fall, perhaps slightly. A hundred yards from the "trap" the sledge had stopped again, and from this point it was Deane who rode and Isobel who walked!
He followed more cautiously now. Another hundred yards and he stopped to sniff the air. Ahead of him the spruce and balsam grew close and thick, and from that shelter he was sure that something was coming to him on the air. At first he thought it was the odor of the balsam. A moment later he knew that it was smoke.
Force of habit brought his hand for the twentieth time to his empty pistol holster. Its emptiness added to the caution with which he approached the thick spruce and balsam ahead of him. Taking advantage of a mass of low snow-laden bushes, he swung out at a right angle to the trail and began making a wide circle. He worked swiftly. Within half or three-quarters of an hour Bucky would reach the ridge. Whatever he accomplished must be done before then. Five minutes after leaving the trail he caught his first glimpse of smoke and began to edge in toward the fire. The stillness oppressed him. He drew nearer and nearer, yet he heard no sound of voice or of the dogs. At last he reached a point where he could look out from behind a young ground spruce and see the fire. It was not more than thirty feet away. He held his breath tensely at what he saw. On a blanket spread out close to the fire lay Scottie Deane, his head pillowed on a pack-sack. There was no sign of Isobel, and no sign of the sledge and dogs. Billy's heart thumped excitedly as he rose to his feet. He did not stop to ask himself where Isobel and the dogs had gone. Deane was alone, and lay with his back toward him. Fate could not have given him a better opportunity, and his moccasined feet fell swiftly and quietly in the snow. He was within six feet of Scottie before the injured man heard him, and scarcely had the other moved when he was upon him. He was astonished at the ease with which he twisted Deane upon his back and put the handcuffs about his wrists. The work was no sooner done than he understood. A rag was tied about Deane's head, and it was stained with blood. The man's arms and body were limp. He looked at Billy with dulled eyes, and as he slowly realized what had happened a groan broke from his lips.
In an instant Billy was on his knees beside him. He had seen Deane twice before, over at Churchill, but this was the first time that he had ever looked closely into his face. It was a face worn by hardship and mental torture. The cheeks were thinned, and the steel-gray eyes that looked up into Billy's were reddened by weeks and months of fighting against storm. It was the face, not of a criminal, but of a man whom Billy would have trusted— blonde-mustached, fearless, and filled with that clean-cut strength which associates itself with fairness and open fighting. Hardly had he drawn a second breath when Billy realized why this man had not killed him when he had the chance. Deane was not of the sort to strike in the dark or from behind. He had let Billy live because he still believed in the manhood of man, and the thought that he had repaid Deane's faith in him by leaping upon him when he was down and wounded filled Billy with a bitter shame. He gripped one of Deane's hands in his own.
"I hate to do this, old man," he cried, quickly. "It's hell to put those things on a man who's hurt. But I've got to do it. I didn't mean to come— no, s'elp me God, I didn't— if Bucky Smith and two others hadn't hit your trail back at the old camp. They'd have got you— sure. And she wouldn't have been safe with them. Understand ? She wouldn't have been safe! So I made up my mind to beat on ahead and take you myself. I want you to understand. And you do know, I guess. You must have heard, for I thought you were sure-enough dead in the box, an' I swear to Heaven I meant all I said then. I wouldn't have come. I was glad you two got away. But this Bucky is a skunk and a scoundrel— and mebbe if I take you— I can help you— later on. They'll be here in a few minutes."
He spoke quickly, his voice quivering with the emotion that inspired his words, and not for an instant did Scottie Deane allow his eyes to shift from Billy's face. When Billy stopped he still looked at him for a moment, judging the truth of what he had heard by what he saw in the other's face. And then Billy felt his hand tighten for an instant about his own.
"I guess you're pretty square, MacVeigh," he said, "and I guess it had to come pretty soon, too. I'm not sorry that it's you— and I know you'll take care of her."
"I'll do it— if I have to fight— and kill!"
Billy had withdrawn his hand, and both were clenched. Into Deane's eyes there leaped a sudden flash of fire.
"That's what I did," he breathed, gripping his fingers hard. "I killed— for her. He was a skunk— and a scoundrel— too. And you'd have done it!" He looked at Billy again. "I'm glad you said what you did— when I was in the box," he added. "If she wasn't as pure and as sweet as the stars I'd feel different. But it's just sort of in my bones that you'll treat her like a brother. I haven't had faith in many men. I've got it in you."
Billy leaned low over the other. His face was flushed, and his voice trembled.
"God bless you for that, Scottie!" he said.
A sound from the forest turned both men's eyes.
"She took the dogs and went out there a little way for a load of wood," said Deane. "She's coming back."
Billy had leaped to his feet, and turned his face toward the ridge. He, too, had heard a sound— another sound, and from another direction. He laughed grimly as he turned to Deane.
"And they're coming, too, Scottie," he replied. "They're climbing the ridge. I'll take your guns, old man. It's just possible there may be a fight!"
He slipped Deane's revolver into his holster and quickly emptied the chamber of the rifle that stood near.
"Where's mine?" he asked.
"Threw 'em away," said Deane. "Those are the only guns in the outfit."
Billy waited while Isobel Deane came through low-hanging spruce with the dogs.
There was a smile for Deane on Isobel's lips as she struggled through the spruce, knee-deep in snow, the dogs tugging at the sledge behind her. And then in a moment she saw MacVeigh, and the smile froze into a look of horror on her face. She was not twenty feet distant when she emerged into the little opening, and Billy heard the rattling cry in her throat. She stopped, and her hands went to her breast. Deane had half raised himself, his pale, thin face smiling encouragingly at her; and with a wild cry Isobel rushed to him and flung herself upon her knees at his side, her hands gripping fiercely at the steel bands about his wrists. Billy turned away. He could hear her sobbing, and he could hear the low, comforting voice of the injured man. A groan of anguish rose to his own lips, and he clenched his hands hard, dreading the terrible moment when he would have to face the woman he loved above all else on earth.
It was her voice that brought him about. She had risen to her feet, and she stood before him panting like a hunted animal, and Billy saw in her face the thing which he had feared more than the sting of death. No longer were her blue eyes filled with the sweetness and faith of the angel who had come to him from out of the Barren. They were hard and terrible and filled with that madness which made him think she was about to leap upon him. In those eyes, in the quivering of her bare throat, in the sobbing rise and fall of her breast were the rage, the grief, and the fear of one whose faith had turned suddenly into the deadliest of all emotions; and Billy stood before her without a word on his lips, his face as cold and as bloodless as the snow under his feet.
"And so you— you followed— after— that!"
It was all she said, and yet the voice, the significance of the choking words, hurt him more than if she had struck him. In them there was none of the passion and condemnation he had expected. Quietly, almost whisperingly uttered, they stung him to the soul. He had meant to say to her what he had said to Deane— even more. But the crudeness of the wilderness had made him slow of tongue, and while his heart cried out for words Isobel turned and went to her husband. And then there came the thing he had been expecting. Down the ridge there raced a flurry of snow and a yelping of dogs. He loosened the revolver in his holster, and stood in readiness when Bucky Smith ran a few paces ahead of his men into the camp. At sight of his enemy's face, torn between rage and disappointment, all of Billy's old coolness returned to him.
With a bound Bucky was at Scottie Deane's side. He looked down at his manacled hands and at the woman who was clasping them in her own, and then he whirled on Billy with the quickness of a cat.
"You're a liar and a sneak!" he panted. "You'll answer for this at headquarters. I understand now why you let 'em go back there. It was her! She paid you— paid you in her own way— to free him! But she won't pay you again—"
At his words Deane had started as if stung by a wasp. Billy saw Isobel's whitened face. The meaning of Buck's words had gone home to her as swiftly as a lightning flash, and for an instant her eyes had turned to him! Bucky got no further than those last words. Before he could add another syllable Billy was upon him. His fist shot out— once, twice— and the blows that fell sent Bucky crashing through the fire. Billy did not wait for him to regain his feet. A red light blazed before his eyes. He forgot the presence of Deane and Walker and Conway. His one thought was that the scoundrel he had struck down had flung at Isobel the deadliest insult that a man could offer a woman, and before either Conway or Walker could make a move he was upon Bucky. He did not know how long or how many times he struck, but when at last Conway and Walker succeeded in dragging him away Bucky lay upon his back in the snow, blood gushing from his mouth and nose. Walker ran to him. Panting for breath, Billy turned toward Isobel and Deane. He was almost sobbing. He made no effort to speak. But he saw that the thing he had dreaded was gone. Isobel was looking at him again— and there was the old faith in her eyes. At last— she understood! Dean's handcuffed hands were clenched. The light of brotherhood shone in his eyes, and where a moment before there had been grief and despair in Billy's heart there came now a warm glow of joy. Once more they had faith in him!
Walker had raised Bucky to a sitting posture, and was wiping the blood from his face when Billy went to them. The corporal's hand made a limp move toward his revolver. Billy struck it away and secured the weapon. Then he spoke to Walker.
"There is no doubt in your mind that I hold a sergeancy in the service, is there, Walker?" he asked.
His tone was no longer one of comradeship. In it there was the ring of authority. Walker was quick to understand.
"And you are familiar with our laws governing insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer of the service?"
"Then, as a superior officer and in the name of his Majesty the King, I place Corporal Bucky Smith under arrest, and commission you, under oath of the service, to take him under your guard to Churchill, along with the letter which I shall give you for the officer in charge there. I shall appear against him a little later with the evidence that will outlaw him from the service. Put the handcuffs on him!"
Stunned by the sudden change in the situation, Walker obeyed without a word. Billy turned to Conway, the driver.
"Deane is too badly injured to travel," he explained, " Put up your tent for him and his wife close to the fire. You can take mine in exchange for it as you go back."
He went to his kit and found a pencil and paper. Fifteen minutes later he gave Walker the letter in which he described to the commanding officer at Churchill certain things which he knew would hold Bucky a prisoner until he could personally appear against him. Meanwhile Conway had put up the tent and had assisted Deane into it. Isobel had accompanied him. Billy then had a five-minute confidential talk with Walker, and when the constable gave instructions for Conway to prepare the dogs for the return trip there was a determined hardness in his eyes as he looked at Bucky. In those five minutes he had heard the story of Rousseau, the young Frenchman down at Norway House, and of the wife whose faithlessness had killed him. Besides, he hated Bucky Smith, as all men hated him. Billy was confident that he could rely upon him.
Not until dogs and sledge were ready did Bucky utter a word. The terrific beating he had received had stunned him for a few minutes; but now he jumped to his feet, not waiting for the command from Walker, and strode up close to Billy. There was a vengeful leer on his bloody face and his eyes blazed almost white, but his voice was so low that Conway and Walker could only hear the murmur of it. His words were meant for Billy alone.
"For this I'm going to kill you, MacVeigh," he said; and in spite of Billy's contempt for the man there was a quality in the low voice that sent a curious shiver through him. "You can send me from the service, but you're going to die for doing it!"
Billy made no reply, and Bucky did not wait for one. He set off at the head of the sledge, with Conway a step behind them. Billy followed with Walker until they reached the foot of the ridge. There they shook hands, and Billy stood watching them until they passed over the cap of the ridge.
He returned to the camp slowly. Deane had emerged from the tent, supported by Isobel. They waited for him, and in Deane's face he saw the look that had filled it after he had struck down Bucky Smith. For a moment he dared not look at Isobel. She saw the change in him, and her cheeks flushed. Deane would have extended his hands, but she was holding them tightly in her own.
"You'd better go into the tent and keep quiet," advised Billy. "I haven't had time yet to see if you're badly hurt."
"It's not bad," Deane assured him. "I bumped into a rock sliding down the ridge, and it made me sick for a few minutes."
Billy knew that Isobel's eyes were on him, and he could almost feel their questioning. He began to take wood from the sledge she had loaded and throw it on the fire. He wished that Scottie and she had remained in the tent for a little longer. His face burned and his blood seemed like fire when he caught a glimpse of the steel cuffs about Deane's wrists. Through the smoke he saw Isobel still clasping her husband. He could see one of her little hands gripping at the steel band, and suddenly he sprang across and faced them, no longer fearing to meet Isobel's eyes or Deane's. Now his face was aflame, and he half held out his arms to them as he spoke, as though he would clasp them both to him in this moment of sacrifice and self-abnegation and the dawning of new life.
"You know— you both know why I've done this!" he cried, "You heard what I said back there, Deane— when you was in the box; an' all I said was true. She came to me out of that storm like an angel— an' I'll think of her as an angel all my life. I don't know much about God— not the God they have down there, where they take an eye for an eye an' a tooth for a tooth and kill because some one else has killed. But there's something up here in the big open places, something that makes you think and makes you want to do what's right and square; an' she's got all I know of God in that little Bible of mine— the blue flower. I gave the blue flower to her, an' now an' forever she's my blue flower. I ain't ashamed to tell you, Deane, because you've heard it before, an' you know I'm not thinking it in a sinful way. It 'll help me if I can see her face an' hear her voice and know there's such love as yours after you're gone. For I'm going to let you go, Deane, old man. That's what I came for, to save you from the others an' give you back to her. I guess mebbe you'll know— now— how I feel—"
His voice choked him. Isobel's glorious eyes were looking into his soul, and he looked straight back into them and saw all his reward there. He turned to Deane. His key clicked in the locks to the handcuffs, and as they fell into the snow the two men gripped hands, and in their strong faces was that rarest of all things— love of man for man.
"I'm glad you know," said Billy, softly. "It wouldn't be fair if you didn't, Scottie. I can think of her now, an' it won't be mean and low. And if you ever need help— if you're down in South America or Africa— anywhere— I'll come if you send word. You'd better go to South America. That's a good place. I'll report to headquarters that you died— from the fall. It's a lie, but blue flower would do it, and so will I. Sometimes, you know, the friend who lies is the only friend who's true— and she'd do it— a thousand times— for you."
"And for you," whispered Isobel.
She was holding out her hands, her blue eyes streaming with tears of happiness, and for a moment Billy accepted one of them and held it in his own. He looked over her head as she spoke.
"God will bless you for this— some day," she said; and a sob broke in her voice. "He will bring you happiness— happiness— in what you have dreamed of. You will find a blue flower— sweet and pure and loyal— and then you will know, even more fully, what life means to me with him."
And then she broke down, sobbing like a child, and with her face buried in her hands turned into the tent.
"Gawd!" whispered Billy, drawing a deep breath.
He looked Deane in the eyes; and Deane smiled, a rare and beautiful smile.
For a quarter of an hour they talked alone, and then Billy drew a wallet from his pocket.
"You'll need money, Scottie," he said. "I don't want you to lose a minute in getting out of the country. Make for Vancouver. I've got three hundred dollars here. You've got to take it or I'll shoot you!"
He thrust the money into Deane's hands as Isobel came out of the tent. Her eyes were red, but she was smiling; and she held something in her hand. She showed it to the two men. It was the blue flower Billy had given her. But now its petals were torn apart, and nine of them lay in the palm of her hand.
"It can't go with one." She spoke softly and the smile died on her lips. "There are nine petals, three for each of us."
She gave three to her husband and three to Billy, and for a moment the men stared at them as they lay in their rough and calloused palms. Then Billy drew out the bit of buckskin in which he had placed the strands of Isobel's hair and slipped the blue petals in with them. Deane had drawn a worn envelope from his pocket. Billy spoke low to Deane.
"I want to be alone for a while— until dinner-time. Will you go into the tent— with her ?"
When they were gone Billy went to the spot where he had dropped his pack before crawling up on Deane. He picked it up and slipped it over his shoulders as he walked. He went swiftly back over his old trail, and this time it was with a heart leaden with a deep and terrible loneliness. When he reached the ridge he tried to whistle, but his lips seemed thick, and there was something in his throat that choked him. From the cap of the ridge he looked down. A thin mist of smoke was rising from out of the spruce. It blurred before his eyes, and a sobbing break came in his low cry of Isobel's name. Then he turned once more back into the loneliness and desolation of his old life.
"I'm coming, Pelly," he laughed, in a strained, hard way. "I haven't given you exactly a square deal, old man, but I'll hustle and make up for lost time!"
A wind was beginning to moan in the spruce tops again. He was glad of that. It promised storm. And a storm would cover up all trails.
THE MADNESS OF PELLITER
Away up at Fullerton Point amid the storm and crash of the arctic gloom Pelliter fought himself through day after day of fever, waiting for MacVeigh. At first he had been filled with hope. That first glimpse of the sun they had seen through the little window on the morning that Billy left for Fort Churchill had come just in time to keep reason from snapping in his head. For three days after that he looked through the window at the same hour and prayed moaningly for another glimpse of that paradise in the southern sky. But the storm through which Isobel had struggled across the Barren gathered over his head and behind him, day after day of it, rolling and twisting and moaning with the roar of the cracking fields of ice, bringing back once more the thick death-gloom of the arctic night that had almost driven him mad. He tried to think only of Billy, of his loyal comrade's race into the south, and of the precious letters he would bring back to him; and he kept track of the days by making pencil marks on the door that opened out upon the gray and purple desolation of the arctic sea.
At last there came the day when he gave up hope. He believed that he was dying. He counted the marks on the door and found that there were sixteen. Just that many days ago Billy had set off with the dogs. If all had gone well he was a third of the way back, and within another week would be "home."
Pelliter's thin, fever-flushed face relaxed into a wan smile as he counted the pencil marks again. Long before that week was ended he figured that he would be dead. The medicines— and the letters— would come too late, probably four or five days too late. Straight out from his last mark he drew a long line, and at the end of it added in a scrawling, almost unintelligible, hand: "Dear Billy, I guess this is going to be my last day." Then he staggered from the door to the window.
Out there was what was killing him— loneliness, a maddening desolation, a lifeless world that reached for hundreds of miles farther than his eyes could see. To the north and east there was nothing but ice, piled-up masses and grinning mountains of it, white at first, of a somber gray farther off, and then purple and almost black. There came to him now the low, never-ceasing thunder of the undercurrents fighting their way down from the Arctic Ocean, broken now and then by a growling roar as the giant forces sent a crack, like a great knife, through one of the frozen mountains. He had listened to those sounds for five months, and in those five months he had heard no other voice but his own and MacVeigh's and the babble of an Eskimo. Only once in four months had he seen the sun, and that was on the morning that MacVeigh went south. So he had gone half mad. Others had gone completely mad before him. Through the window his eyes rested on the five rough wooden crosses that marked their graves. In the service of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police they were called heroes. And in a short time he, Constable Pelliter, would be numbered among them. MacVeigh would send the whole story down to her, the true little girl a thousand miles south; and she would always remember him— her hero— and his lonely grave at Point Fullerton, the northernmost point of the Law. But she would never see that grave. She could never come to put flowers on it, as she put flowers on the grave of his mother; she would never know the whole story, not a half of it— his terrible longing for a sound of her voice, a touch of her hand, a glimpse of her sweet blue eyes before he died. They were to be married in August, when his service in the Royal Mounted ended. She would be waiting for him. And in August— or July— word would reach her that he had died.
With a dry sob he turned from the window to the rough table that he had drawn close to his bunk, and for the thousandth time he held before his red and feverish eyes a photograph. It was a portrait of a girl, marvelously beautiful to Tommy Pelliter, with soft brown hair and eyes that seemed always to talk to him and tell him how much she loved him. And for the thousandth time he turned the picture over and read the words she had written on the back:
"My own dear boy, remember that I am always with you, always thinking of you, always praying for you; and I know, dear, that you will always do what you would do if I were at your side."
"Good Lord!" groaned Pelliter. "I can't die! I can't! I've got to live— to see her—"
He dropped back on his bunk exhausted. The fires burned in his head again. He grew dizzy, and he talked to her, or thought he was talking, but it was only a babble of incoherent sound that made Kazan, the one-eyed old Eskimo dog, lift his shaggy head and sniff suspiciously. Kazan had listened to Pelliter's deliriums many times since MacVeigh had left them alone, and soon he dropped his muzzle between his forepaws and dozed again. A long time afterward he raised his head once more. Pelliter was quiet. But the dog sniffed, went to the door, whined softly, and nervously muzzled the sick man's thin hand. Then he settled back on his haunches, turned his nose straight up, and from his throat there came that wailing, mourning cry, long-drawn and terrible, with which Indian dogs lament before the tepees of masters who are newly dead. The sound aroused Pelliter. He sat up again, and he found that once more the fire and the pain had gone from his head.
"Kazan, Kazan," he pleaded, weakly, "it isn't time— yet!"
Kazan had gone to the window that looked to the west, and stood with his forefeet on the sill. Pelliter shivered.