E-text prepared by Al Haines
Author of The Short Cut, Etc.
With Frontispiece in Color by Frank Tenney Johnson
[Frontispiece: SHE STOOD UPON A MONSTER BEAR SKIN. UPON THE RUG, STREWN ABOUT HER CARELESSLY, THEIR BRIGHT DISCS ADANCE WITH REFLECTED LIGHT, A THOUSAND MINTED GOLD PIECES CAUGHT THE GLINT OF THE LOW SUN.]
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Copyright, 1916, By Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.
JACKSON GREGORY, Jr.
I OPEN HOUSE AT PERE MARQUETTE'S II THE COMING OF NO-LUCK DRENNEN III THE MAN UNDER THE CLOAK IV THE LUCK OF NO-LUCK DRENNEN V THE WAY OF THE NORTH VI THE PROMISE OF A RAINBOW VII "A PRINCESS, SENT TO PACK WITH WOLVES!" VIII DUST OF IDOLS IX "TO THE GIRL I AM GOING TO KISS TONIGHT!" X SEEKERS AFTER GOLD XI THE WITCHERY OF YGERNE XII MERE BRUTE . . . OR JUST PLAIN MAN? XIII YGERNE'S ANSWER XIV DRENNEN MAKES A DISCOVERY XV THE TALE OF le Beau Diable XVI THE LOST GOLDEN GIRL PAYS AN OLD DEBT XVII THE PASSION OF ERNESTINE DUMONT XVIII THE LAW AND A MAN'S DESIRE XIX THE LONG TRAIL XX THE FIRES WHICH PURIFY XXI CHANCE HEARD IN THE NIGHT XXII THE PATH DOWN THE CLIFF XXIII CHATEAU BELLAIRE XXIV THE SPEAKING OF GUNS XXV THE BELATED DAWN
OPEN HOUSE AT PERE MARQUETTE'S
Mid June, and the eager spring had burst triumphant into the North Woods. The mountain tops, still white hostages of the retreating winter, fettered in frozen manacles, were alone in their reminiscence of the implacable season. And even they made their joyous offerings to the newborn springtime, pouring a thousand flashing cascades to leap down the rocky sides and seek out the hidden nooks and valleys where seeds were bursting and the thawed earth lay fruitful under warm, lush grass. The birds were back from their southern voyaging, once more the squirrels chattered in the open, noisily forgetful of the rigours of winter in the joy of green things growing, and in the clear blue arch of the sky the sun wheeled gloriously through a long day. The air, always wine, was now a sparkling, bubbling, rare vintage champagne, dancing in the blood, making laughter in the heart and sweet tumult in the brain. It was the season of long, golden days, of clear, silver nights, of budding life everywhere.
Because of three unmistakable signs did even the most sceptical of the handful of hardy spirits at MacLeod's Settlement know that in truth the spring had come. They read the welcome tidings in the slipping of the snows from the flinty fronts of Ironhead and Indian Peak a thousand feet above the greening valley; in the riotous din of squirrels and birds interwoven with the booming of frogs from the still ponds; and finally in the announcement tacked upon the post-office door. The two line scrawl in lead pencil did not state in so many words the same tidings which the blue birds were proclaiming from the thicket on the far bank of the Little MacLeod; it merely announced that to-night Pere Marquette and his beloved wife, Mere Jeanne, were keeping open house. Every one in the Settlement knew what that meant, just as well as he understood the significance of the noises of the ice splitting upon the ponds.
Once every year until now this was the fiftieth had such an announcement appeared. Not always upon the door of the post-office, for when the announcements began there was no post-office in MacLeod's Settlement. But annually at the chosen time set apart by the season and himself Pere Marquette would appear upon the little narrow street, earlier than the earliest, cock his bright eye up at old Ironhead towering high above him, rub his chin complacently, turn his head sidewise so that he might hearken to the thin voices of the wild creatures, and then, his message tacked up, return to the private room behind his store to kiss Mere Jeanne awake and inform her with grave joy that their "jour de l'an" had come to them. Then, and with much frolicking and wine and music, would their new year begin.
"It is our anniversary, m'sieu'," he would say with an air of vast confidence to the first man he met upon the street. "To-night we keep open house here." He would wave his hand toward the long, low log building, clay chinked. "We will be proud of your presence and that of your frien's."
It had been remarked that the anniversary had come one year upon the twenty-sixth of May, another year as late as the last of June. Pere Marquette had laughed softly and had shaken his head. "What matter?" he had demanded. "I, I marry myself with my beloved Mam'selle Jeanne the first fine day of spring. Voila."
The central door of the Marquette house, broadest and heaviest and most conspicuous both from its position in the middle of its valiant line of brothers, had been closed and barred since last night. It gave entrance to the store; here behind his long counter, peering over boxes neatly piled or between great heaps of bacon and tobacco and men's clothing, Pere Marquette looked out upon the world some three hundred and sixty-four days of the ordinary year. But upon the first day of spring it was closed and locked until noon. If a man needed plug cut for his pipe, why then let him borrow from his friend or steal from his enemy; it was no concern of Pere Marquette. If a woman required flour for her baking let her do without; it would serve her right for having failed to remember the great day. . . . Then at high noon, not measured by any ticking clock in the Settlement, the matter being decided by Pere Marquette and the sun alone, the middle door was flung open. The old man, dressed in his best black suit, his newest skull cap set like a crown upon his head, stood at one side of the entrance, gravely courteous, his black eyes twinkling, twin withered roses in his old cheeks. Mere Jeanne, silver buckles on her shoes, her ample form surrounded almost but not quite by a great white, stiff-starched apron, a bouquet of flowers in one hand, took her place at the other side. And then the guests began to arrive.
You could list the men, women, children and four footed live stock of MacLeod's Settlement upon a printed page and still have room left for a brief biography of each. They all came, all dressed in their best holiday raiment, all happy and eager for the celebration. From far down the Little MacLeod river men trod the slushy trails, rough fellows for the most part and silent, but with a tongue in each head to propose a toast to host and hostess. From over the ridge, from French Valley, from as far east as St. Croix and as far west as Dunvegan's Post, the guests trooped in. Miners, trappers, little stock men; scions of old French families with grand names, descendants of younger English sons with riotous blood, Americans who had crossed the border with much haste and scant baggage; many men whom the world had outlawed and whom the North Woods had accepted as empire builders; men of pure blood knocking elbows with swarthy "breeds," oddly alike in the matters of keenly alert eyes and magnificent bodies.
As they filed through the Frenchman's door they entered not the store at all but what was Pere Marquette's idea of a drawing room. The long counters and shelves were there, but the barrels of pickled meat, the piles of soap and tinned meats, the bags of flour, the stacks of men's clothing, all this had been whisked away and out of sight as though by magic. A strip of new red oilcloth upon one counter, a strip of blue upon another, transformed both into auxiliary seats. Benches, recently brought in from the rear storeroom by Pere Marquette's man, Jules, and freshly dusted by him, lined the walls. Even Mere Jeanne's bedroom had been robbed of chairs; boxes dressed gaily in gingham or perchance even flaunting remnants of chintz, were amply good enough for the boys and girls.
"My frien', you do me the honour," said Pere Marquette over and over as some stranger upon whom his quick black eyes had never rested until now accepted his hand and entered to be again welcomed by Mere Jeanne. "You make mamma and me ver' happy."
Let the frontier push out as far and as fast as it pleases, the violin always goes with it. Men march the more intrepidly to the scraping of the skilful bow. There were two fiddles already going in the next room; Pere Marquette had seen to that. And in the same room stood a great, sturdy homemade table, crippled in one leg, yet standing valiantly, like an old soldier home from the wars. Mere Jeanne's own plump hands had placed the best tablecloth upon it, and there, in its nest of field flowers, was the great bowl which had been the most serviceable of the handful of wedding gifts fifty years ago. Since the crisp sting had not yet gone out of the air the high red tide in the bowl was steaming an invitation which was irresistible.
Long before one o'clock all of the Settlement had arrived, each one had had his bit of the heady punch, small glasses for the women, great pewter mugs many times refilled for the men. The big bowl was proverbially like the purse of Fortunatus in its scorn of emptiness. Mere Jeanne ceremoniously replenished it time and again, carried brimming cups to the fiddlers, and the merry music, having ceased just long enough for the musicians to gulp down "Your health," went on more inspiringly than before. Heavy booted feet, moving rythmically, made the dance a thing to hear as well as see, deep throated laughter boomed out incessantly, the lighter, fewer voices of women weaving in and out of the clamour.
All afternoon men came in, now and then a woman with them. They drank and ate, they smoked Pere Marquette's tobacco from the jars set about everywhere, they traded old news for new and new for old, they speculated upon the coming thaws and trapping to be found down on the Little MacLeod and up towards the Silver Lake country, they told of the latest gold strike in the Black Bear hills and predicted fresh strikes to be made before the thaw was ten days old. Many types of men and women, some no doubt good, some bad no doubt, all mingling freely.
At five o'clock Pere Marquette cleared his voice, scrambled with rare agility upon one of his own counters and made the expected announcement:
"Ah, my frien's, you make us ver' happy, me an' Mamma Jeanne. We wish our leetle house she was more big to-day, big like our heart, that she can hold the whole worl'." He hugged his thin old arms to his breast and smiled upon them. "Tonight, all night long, mes amis, you are welcome. The doors of Pere Marquette have forgot how to close up to-night! But listen, one instant! Jus' across the road my warehouse she is open. The violins have gone there. There you may dance, dance as Mam'selle Jeanne an' I dance it is fifty year to-night. Dance all night long. And while the yo'ng folk whose hearts are in their heels walse yonder, here we older ones . . . Ah!" as sudden voices, cheering, cut into his running words. "You have not forgot, eh?"
It was the signal for division. The few women who had children took them home with them; the other women, young and old, following like a holiday flotilla in the wake of Mere Jeanne, tacked through the muck of the road to the warehouse; many of the younger and some few of the older men followed them; and in the house of Pere Marquette, in the yellow light of a half dozen kerosene lamps and many tall candles, the real affair of the evening began.
Great logs oozing molten pitch were burning noisily in the two rock fireplaces, the red flames swept up into the blackened chimneys to spread cheer within and to scatter sparks like little stars in the clear night without, the punch bowl had at last been allowed to stand empty not because men were through drinking but because stronger drink, men's drink, had appeared in many bottles upon the shelves, a game of poker was running in one corner of a room, a game of solo in another; yonder, seen through an open door, six men were shaking dice and wagering little and bigger sums recklessly; a little fellow with a wooden leg and a terribly scarred face was drawing shrieking rag time from an old and asthmatic accordion while four men, their big boots clumping noisily upon the bare floor, danced like awkward trained bears when the outer door, closed against the chill of the evening, was flung open and a stranger to MacLeod's settlement stood a moment framed against the outside night. A score of eyes, going to him swiftly, studied him with unhidden curiosity.
THE COMING OF NO-LUCK DRENNEN
All sorts and conditions of men come to the North Woods; some because they want to, some because they have to. Some because they are drawn by the fine lure of adventure and the urge of the restless spirit, some because they are driven by that bloodhound which is the law. All types, all classes. And yet now, standing jauntily upon Pere Marquette's threshold, was a type of which as yet the Settlement had had no knowledge.
He was young and wore his black mustaches with all of the fierceness of youth. His boots were at once the finest and the smallest which MacLeod's had ever seen upon a man's feet. He wore gloves, and when in due time the hands came out of the gloves, they were little like a woman's and white and soft. He was a handsome young devil-of-a-fellow with all of the soft, graceful beauty of the far southland. His mouth, smiling now, was red lipped, his teeth a glistening white. Eyes very big, very black, very soft, very tender, smiling too. From the crown of his wide black hat to the tall heels of his dainty boots he was such a dandy as demanded more than a casual glance.
"Amigos," he cried, the door closed now, his back to it, his wide hat describing a slow, graceful arc as he raised it gallantly from his black hair, "I have the thirst of a lost soul. Who will drink with me?"
He whipped the glove from his right hand, caught his hat under his arm and brought from his pocket a shining gold piece which he tossed to one of Pere Marquette's counters. A few of the men laughed, seeing his mistake, while others murmured, "Dago," a little disgustedly and returned their attention to their drink, gaming or talk. Pere Marquette came forward briskly.
"M'sieu," he said graciously, offering his hand, "your presence honours Mamma Jeanne an' me. We are to-night fifty year marry . . . you shall put your money in your pocket, m'sieu. One does not pay to drink at the place of Pere Marquette to-night."
The young fellow looked at him in surprise, then turned wondering eyes about him, even peering through the open door into the further rooms as though asking himself what manner of place was this where men drank and did not pay. Then he laughed softly.
"Your pardon, senor," he said politely, taking the old man's proffered hand and bending over it gracefully. "Outside I was athirst like a man in hell . . ."
A queer change came over his smiling face as his eyes, journeying beyond the thin, black coated figure of Pere Marquette, rested upon a secluded corner of the room where in the nook by the fireplace a quiet game of cards was in progress.
"Senorita! Senorita!" he cried softly, pushing by Pere Marquette and coming forward swiftly. "Dispensame! Forgive me, senorita!"
It was Ernestine, the one woman remaining in the room, Ernestine Dumont, who had come from over the ridge with big Kootanie George, her latest lover. She was sitting close to Kootanie's side now, whispering occasionally in his ear as a hand was dealt him, for the most part contentedly sipping at her little glass of sweet wine as she sat back and watched. She, with the others, had turned toward the entrant, her eyes remaining upon him until now. She smiled, no doubt pleased at his notice, while Kootanie George, wide-shouldered, mighty limbed, the biggest man within a hundred miles of the Settlement, glared at him in frowning wonder.
"Forgive you?" laughed Ernestine, after a quick glance at George upon whose shoulder she laid her hand lightly. "What for?"
"I did not know that a lady was here," explained the young fellow eagerly. He was almost standing over her, his eyes for her alone as he turned up his mustaches more fiercely yet and his eyes grew the more tender. "I speak roughly and not guarding my tongue which should suffer and not taste wine for a week, senorita. I am ashamed."
Ernestine blushed; again several men had laughed. He had said "hell" and had apologised to her . . .
"We'll let it go this time," she laughed a trifle awkwardly. "And as for not drinking anything. . . . Look out or you'll spill what Papa Marquette is bringing you now."
"We are all frien's, m'sieu," said Papa Marquette courteously, offering a brimming glass. "You, too. And it is wrong that one should thirst to-night."
The other took the glass with another of his graceful bows.
"May you have other fifty years of happiness with your senora," he said warmly. "Your health and her health, senor." The glass, at his lips, halted and came away for a moment while he thought to introduce himself. "I am Ramon Garcia."
He said it as one might have said, "I am the King of Spain." Simply enough but with a proud simplicity. Then he put back his head and drank.
After that Ramon Garcia needed no coaxing to remain. He fitted into the throng as he seemed to do all things, gracefully. Since he could not spend his money to-night for wine and since spend it he must he ventured it pleasantly at the table where the dice rolled. Between throws he made many slender cigarettes of fine tobacco and thin white papers; winning, he forgot to note how much in turning his eyes with tender admiration upon Ernestine Dumont, whose glance more than once met his; losing, he hummed languid snatches of Mexican love songs in a remarkably pure tenor voice.
Before he had been with them an hour it was evident to many, not last of all to big Kootanie George, that the "Mex" was flirting openly with the yellow haired Ernestine. It was equally evident that his notice did not embarrass her as his apology had done. She curved her red lips at him when George was not looking, she glanced down as demure as a bashful school girl when her big lover was watching her. George began to lose at his cards and when he swore at his luck did not apologise.
At last Ramon Garcia wearied of the dice. He pocketed his winnings and pushed back his chair. A guitar in its case in a corner of the room had caught his roving eye. Standing with his back to the wall, leaning indolently, he sent his white fingers wandering across the strings and his eyes drifting bade to find those of Ernestine Dumont. Then through the discordance of other voices, of clicking chips, rustling cards, dice snapped down upon the hard table tops, chink of glass and bottle neck, the voice of Ramon Garcia, liberated softly, filled the room with its richness as a room is filled with the perfume of flowers. Such music as he made did not often come into the North Woods, and men . . . and one woman . . . listened.
He sang it in the Spanish, a tongue which no other man here understood. Yet they must all guess the meaning of the words. They were love words, tenderly lilted. And they were being sung to Ernestine Dumont. There was a little smile upon young Ramon's lips, a hint of gay laughter in his voice and in his soft eyes a deal of love making. Kootanie George scowled, Ernestine twirled her glass in her fingers, one or two men laughed.
When he had done Ramon Garcia swept his fingers across the strings in a sort of mournful regret. Then, when there was a sudden clapping of hands, he bowed, smiled and sang again, this time putting the words of his little song, the same song, into English:
"The perfume of roses, of little red roses; (Thou art a rose, oh, so sweet, corazon!) The laugh of the water who falls in the fountain; (Thou art the fountain of love, corazon!) The brightness of stars, of little stars golden; (Estrella de mi vida! My little life star!) The shine of the moon through the magnolia tree; I am so sad till thou come, mi amor! Dios! It is sweet to be young and to love! More sweet than wine . . . to be young and to love!"
In the clapping of hands which broke out when he had done Ernestine's was to be heard above Kootanie George's grunt of disgust.
"No man talk, that," he snorted, careless of who heard. "Dam' slush."
"Your deal, Koot," laughed Blunt Rand, the American trapper from the headwaters of the Little MacLeod. "Don't let the Mexican gent spoil your play that-away. Deal 'em up, why don't you?"
Kootanie George glared at Rand and gathered in the cards. He understood as did Ernestine and the others at the table the gibe which lay under Rand's words. The American's fancies, too, had run toward Ernestine Dumont not so long ago, and she had not deigned to take notice of him after the coming of Kootanie.
"Mexican gent, huh?" said George slowly. "If you mean Greaser why don't you say Greaser?"
Ramon Garcia had again approached the table. He stopped suddenly as George's snarl came to him, and his white teeth showed for a quick flash under his lifted lip. Then, his eyes smiling darkly, he came on again, bending intimately over Ernestine's chair.
"They are dancing over there," he said softly. "Will you dance with me, senorita?"
George merely looked at them sidewise. Ernestine glanced up sharply and for a moment indecision stood easily readable in her eyes. Then she shook her head.
"Not now," she said quietly. "Maybe after a while. I don't know. Anyway not now."
"Gracias, senorita." He thanked her quite as though she had taken his proffered arm. And turning away he went back to the game of dice and his wine glass. Kootanie laughed.
"Better look out for him, Koot," grinned Blunt Rand. "Them kind carry cold steel sharp on both edges. They get it between your shoulder blades and then twist it. It's awful uncomfortable."
Rand had drunk his share of toasts to the eternal joy of the Marquettes and the drinking had given to his tongue a wee bit of recklessness, to his heart a little venom. Out of a clear sky, his words falling crisply through the little silence, he demanded of no one in particular and in all seeming innocence:
"What's happened to No-luck Drennen? I ain't seen him here of late."
Kootanie George turned his head slowly and stared at him. Rand was fingering his cards, his eyes hastily busied with their corners. George turned from him to Ernestine. She bit her lips and a spurt of red leaped up into her cheeks. Her eyes met his a moment, steely and hard. Then they went to Blunt Rand, as bright and hateful as twin daggers.
The man upon Rand's right started to laugh. He altered his mind as Kootanie George's eyes turned slowly upon him and changed the laugh to a cough behind his hand. Nobody offered to answer the question; it was accepted as one of those utterances put into the form of an interrogation merely for rhetorical reasons and requiring no reply. For it was common talk through the camps that No-luck Drennen had done the impossible and gotten blood from a turnip; in other words that he had drawn love out of the heart of Ernestine Dumont. And it was known that the miracle had been a twin wonder in that Drennen had refused to see and when he had at last seen had refused to accept. Ernestine's love had been like Ernestine herself, reckless. And, yes, Drennen had laughed at her. He had told her brutally that he had no more use for a woman in his life than he had for a cat. Certainly not for a woman like her. His words had been given after Drennen's fashion; like a slap in the face. All this had been less than a year ago.
Elated at the success with which his words had met, Blunt Rand laughed. Again Kootanie George looked at him steadily.
"What are you lookin' for Drennen for?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, nothin'," rejoined the other lightly. "Only when I come through Little Smoky the other day an ol' flame of his asked about him. The Fire Bird they call her. Know her?"
Ernestine Dumont's face grew a shade redder in its mortification even while she knew that the man was lying to tease her. Then she sat back with a little gasp and even slow moving Kootanie George turned quickly as a heavy voice called from the door:
"You're a liar, Blunt Rand."
It was No-luck Drennen just come in and standing now, his hat far back upon his head, his hands upon his hips, staring across the room at Blunt Rand.
THE MAN UNDER THE CLOAK
Dave Drennen was a big man, no man here so big save Kootanie George alone, who was two inches the taller and fully thirty pounds the heavier. The Canadian stood four inches better than six feet in his squat, low-heeled boots and must turn sideways to get his massive shoulders through most doors hereabouts. Unlike most very tall men George carried himself straight, his enormous chest thrust forward.
Drennen was younger by half a dozen years, slenderer, of cleaner build. Any man at Pere Marquette's would have emptied his pockets that night to witness a fight between the two. Men as a rule liked Kootanie George, slow moving, slow spoken, heavily good humoured. And as an even more unbroken rule they disliked Dave Drennen. Throughout the far places of the great northwest into which of recent years he had fitted restlessly he was known as a man at once too silent and too quarrelsome. He trod his own trail alone. Other men had "pardners"; Drennen was no man's friend. He was hard and he was bitter. Not yet at the end of his first score and ten, his mouth had grown set in stern, harsh lines, his heavy brows had acquired the habit of bunching ominously over eyes in which was the glint of steel. He was a man whose smile was unpleasant, whose laugh could be as ugly as many a man's curse.
It looked like a quarrel between No-luck Drennen and Blunt Rand. And yet the men who ceased their playing at the snap of his voice forgot Rand and hungered for trouble between Drennen and Kootanie George. Rand had been measured long ago and didn't count. He blabbed big words when he was drunk and whined when a man struck him. He would swallow his words now and swallow with them No-luck Drennen's vicious "You're a liar, Blunt Rand." Even if Drennen slapped his face he would merely crawl away like a little bug, spitting venom.
Drennen was standing ten feet from him and made no move to draw closer.
"Did you hear me, Rand?" he demanded sharply.
"I heard you," grumbled the trapper. "What's eatin' you, Dave, anyway?"
"Tell them you lied."
Rand flushed, and inspired by his liquor a sudden, unusual stubbornness sprang up in his eyes. He heard Ernestine laugh softly.
"You go to hell," he cried hotly. "I got a right . . ."
"No man has a right to lie about me," announced Drennen crisply. The big hands at his sides had clenched swiftly with knotting muscles. At last he took a quick step forward, his quarrelsome mood riding him. "If you don't want me to choke the tongue out of your head tell them you lied."
"Messieurs, messieurs," cried poor old Marquette imploringly. "For the love of God! Tonight all mus' be gay, all mus' be frien's. It is the night Mamma Jeanne an' me we are marry fifty year . . ."
Drennen snarled at him, shaking the thin old hand away angrily. Rand was upon his feet, some of the stubbornness already fled from his eyes, the sound of Ernestine Dumont's taunting laugh lost to him in the harsh voice of Drennen.
"I don't want no trouble to-night, Dave," he said swiftly. "It's old Papa Marquette's weddin' night. I . . . I was jus' joshin', Dave." And then as Ernestine laughed again, he spat out, "Jus' joshin' to tease Ernestine here."
"Sangre de dios!" murmured Ramon Garcia gently, his black eyes liquid fire. "He is a little coward, that Rand."
Hardly more than a whisper and Garcia quite across the room from Rand. And yet the stillness was so perfect that Rand heard and jerked his head up, swinging toward the Mexican.
"You little Greaser!" he cried shrilly. "You dirty breed, you!" He pushed through the crowd to Garcia's table. "Coward, am I? I'll show you."
Ramon Garcia's laughter greeting the hot words was a clear burst of unaffected, boyish merriment. He tilted his chair back against the wall and turned a delighted face up to Rand's flushed one.
"Senor," he chided softly, shaking a slender white finger very close to Rand's nose, "have you forgot it is the gala night of our good host, the Papa Francais? That you don't care for trouble to-night? Mama mia! You are a comic—no?"
Then bringing his hand away and hooking both thumbs impudently into the armholes of his gay vest the Mexican smiled as he hummed softly, glancing away briefly to where Ernestine Dumont was watching them:
"The perfume of roses, of little red roses; (Thou art a rose, oh, so sweet, corazon!)"
With men laughing at him Blunt Rand struck. The young Mexican was still in his chair. Like a cat he slipped from it now, avoiding the heavy, swinging blow, moving to one side with swift gracefulness, standing with the table between him and Rand. As he moved his right hand slid into his pocket.
"You dago!" Rand shouted at him, lunging forward while men scrambled out of the way. "Call me coward an' then go for your knife! Fight with your hands, damn you."
Again Garcia avoided him easily, calm and quick eyed, offering pantherine swiftness against the blind fury of Rand.
"Si, senor," he answered lightly. "With the hands. But the hands I mus' keep without dirt, senor!"
His hand came away from his pocket and he made a sudden gesture, still laughing, toward Rand's face. The trapper jerked back quickly. Then a great booming swell of laughter went up, even the slow rumble of Kootanie George's voice and the tinkling tremulo of Ernestine Dumont's joining it Ramon Garcia had brought out his gloves and had drawn them on before Rand had understood.
In size and physique Rand was the average there. The young Mexican was the shortest, slightest man in the house. But none knows better than the dwellers in the North Woods that it is unwise to judge men by mere size of body. It is well to look to the eyes of one's antagonist.
Garcia sprang forward and slapped Rand's face so that the face burned and the sound of the blow was like a pistol shot in the quiet room. And as Rand's return threshing blow sought him he sprang away, laughing.
"For calling me Greaser," he cried lightly. "When I have said out loud that I am Ramon Garcia."
Bellowing curses Rand charged at him again. Garcia avoided and seemed to have no difficulty whatever in so doing.
"Will you open the door, senor?" he called to a man standing near the entrance.
"He wants to have an open trail to run," jeered Rand. And again striking heavily his blow found the empty air and a second resounding slap reddened his other cheek.
"For calling me a breed," taunted Garcia, so that all might hear the words with the slap of the open hand. "Me who have the blood of kings, blue like the skies."
The man standing at the door . . . it chanced to be young Frank Marquette . . . obeyed Garcia's command silently and promptly. Rand, his rage flaring ever higher as men drawing chairs and tables out of the way laughed at him and as the Mexican's sallies taunted him, hurled himself forward purposing to get his enemy in a corner of the room. But at the best the trapper was awkward and Ramon Garcia's little feet in his little boots carried him much as the fabled winged sandals bore the hero Perseus in his encounter with the dragon. Not once had Rand landed a square blow; not once had Garcia been where the big red fists looked for him. And while Rand breathed heavily, Ramon Garcia, whose soul was as deeply steeped in the dramatic as Pere Marquette's in colour, sang maddening little snatches of love songs and stole swift glances now and then at Ernestine Dumont.
From the beginning it was clear that Garcia was playing with the other. But the end, coming swiftly, was not what men had looked for. A great gasp went up at it, followed by a shout of applause and a roar of laughter. Garcia had tantalised his antagonist, but beyond slapping his face twice had not touched him. He skipped about him like a French dancing master and so allowed Rand to make a fool of himself for the moment. Presently, so had the Mexican engineered it, they were not five steps from the open door and the way was clear. One instant he had seemed about to draw back again, to avoid Rand as he had avoided him so many times.
"You little monkey-man!" Rand was shouting at him. "Stand still and . . ."
That was all that he said. Garcia had leaped forward; his two gloved hands had sped like lightning to Rand's wrists, he had seized the bigger man and had pushed him backward, had suddenly whirled him about, with a bunching of strength which men had not guessed was in him he had thrown Rand out through the open door, and as the trapper plunged forward into the muddy road the Mexican lifted his foot and kicked.
"For calling me dago!" smiled Garcia. "Me, whose blood is of Castile." He stripped off his gloves and tossed them into the road. "They are spoil! Bah. Pig!"
Rand was back at the threshold, his face blood red, his hands dripping the mud from the slushy road. But young Frank Marquette had stepped out to meet him and had closed the door.
For a little all eyes in the room rested intent upon Ramon Garcia. The first estimate, founded upon dandified clothes and manner, had changed swiftly. He was a man even though he wore gloves and was overfond of posing. Even though everything he did was overdone, whether it be the bowing over an old Frenchman's hand, the wide sweep of his hat in a flourish of slow gracefulness, the tender love making to a woman for whom he did not care the snap of his little white fingers, upon occasion his soft eyes knew how to grow keen and hard and he carried himself with the assurance of fearlessness. It was as though he had worn a lace cloak over a capable, muscled body; as though the cloak had been blown aside by a sudden gust and men had seen the true man underneath.
In Kootanie George's eyes where there had come to be a widening of slow astonishment during the brief struggle now was a dawning admiration. He put out his great hand as he shambled forward.
"I called you Greaser, too," he said heavily. "I take it back, Garcia. You're a white man. Shake."
Garcia took his hand readily, laughing.
"And you, senor, whom I thought a clown are a gentleman," he answered, a trifle of impudence in the gaze which swept the big man from head to heel. Kootanie grinned a bit, passed over the innuendo in silence and went back to his chair. Garcia, giving an added twist of fierceness to his mustaches, returned to his dice game.
For a little Dave Drennen had been forgotten. Now he was remembered. His appearance here to-night provoked interest for two reasons. For one thing he had packed off on a lonely prospecting trip two weeks before, impatient at the delayed thaw, unwilling to wait until the trails were open enough for a man to travel off the beaten route. For another thing one never sought Dave Drennen where other men drew together as they had congregated now. If under that hard exterior he felt any of the emotions which other men feel, if he had his joys and his griefs, he chose to experience them alone. Consequently the mere fact of his appearance here now brought a flicker of curious interest with it. Unless he had a quarrel with some man in the Frenchman's house, what had brought him?
"M'sieu," Pere Marquette was saying the worn phrase, "you do me an' Mamma Jeanne the honour! You are welcome, m'sieu!"
With the usual phrase came the customary offering. Drennen caught the glass from Marquette's hand and drank swiftly. The glass he set on the counter, putting down a coin with it.
"There's your money, old man," he said shortly. "Give me my change."
"But, m'sieu," smiled Pere Marquette, pushing the money back toward his latest guest, "one does not pay to-night! It is fifty year . . ."
"I pay my way wherever I go," cut in Drennen curtly. "Will you give me my change?"
Marquette lifted his two hands helplessly. Never had a man paid for drink upon such an occasion, and this was the fiftieth! And yet never before had Drennen come, and there must be no trouble to-night. With a little sigh the old man took up the money, fumbled in his pockets and laid down the change. Drennen took it up without a word and without counting and strode through the room to the table where Ramon Garcia sat, the one table where men were throwing dice. He drew up a chair and sat down, his hat brought forward over his eyes.
When the last man to throw had rattled and rolled the dice across the table top the cup sat at Drennen's right hand. He took it up, asking no question, saw what the bet was which they were making, put his own money in front of him and threw. He was in the game. And no man living in MacLeod's Settlement had ever known Dave Drennen to sit into any sort of game until now.
"Tiens!" whispered a dried up little fellow who had come down the river from Moosejaw during the afternoon. "There shall be fon, mes enfants! One day I see heem play la roulette in the place of Antoine Duart'. There shall be fon, mes enfants! Sacre nom de dieu," and he rubbed his hands in the keenness of his anticipation, "he play like me when I am yo'ng."
THE LUCK OF NO-LUCK DRENNEN
Drennen's entrance into the game, informal as it had been, elicited no comment from the other players. He had made his little stack of silver in front of him, coins of the States. There was other American money staked, jingling fraternally against pieces struck in the Canadian mint. Even a few pesos had found their way from Garcia's pockets and were accepted without challenge.
For fifteen minutes the game was quiet and slow enough. Then at a smiling suggestion from the Mexican the original bet was doubled. It was poker dice now, having begun as razzle dazzle. There were no horses since horses delayed matters. Beside Drennen and Garcia there were five other men playing. The Mexican when he suggested doubled stakes was losing. Then his fortunes began to mend. The man across the table from him, cleaned out of his few dollars, got up and went to watch the game of solo. Quite steadily for a little Garcia won. He sang his fragments of love songs and between throws made eyes at Ernestine Dumont. Drennen frowned at him, both for his singing and for his love making. Garcia continued to win and to sing.
Drennen lost as steadily as Garcia won. "No-luck" his nickname was—"No-luck" the goddess at his elbow to-night. Without speaking, when the dice cup came around to him, he doubled the already doubled stakes. One other man, shaking his head, silently drew out of the game. The others accepted the challenge as it had been given, in silence. Garcia, with every air of confidence, turned out the high throw and fingered his winnings smilingly. Drennen's hand sought his pocket.
"Double again?" he asked bluntly, his hard grey eyes upon the Mexican.
Ramon Garcia laughed.
"As you will, senor," he said lightly. And under his breath, musically, his eyes going to the nook by the fireplace, "Dios! It is sweet to be young and to love!"
Drennen's hand brought from his pocket a canvas bag heavy with gold. There was a goodly pile of money in front of the Mexican. The stakes were doubling fast, the two evidently meant business, and when the dice rolled again they were playing alone and a little knot of men was watching.
"You shall see," chuckled the dried-up little man from Moosejaw.
Ernestine Dumont was whispering in Kootanie George's ear. From the mesh bag at her wrist she took something, offering it to him eagerly. George stared at her and then shook his head.
"Keep it," he muttered. "I don't need it."
He didn't look at the hand which was being dealt him but left his table and went across the room to where Drennen and Ramon Garcia were sitting, carrying with him the money he had had before him. As he went he thrust his big hand down into his pocket and as he slumped heavily into a chair opposite Drennen he brought out another canvas bag. It too struck heavily against the table top. Drennen did not look at him. Garcia smiled and nodded brightly, and in turn, dropped to the table his purse, heavy like the others and giving forth the musical metallic chink.
"Ah! But this is pretty!" murmured Pere Marquette, glad at once to see peace and a game which would interest his guests. "Jules, bring more wine, plenty. Make the fires up, big."
"How big are you bettin' 'em?" Kootanie George demanded as he emptied his canvas bag and piled several hundred dollars in neat yellow stacks.
Garcia lifted his shoulders, showed his fine white teeth pleasantly and looked to Drennen.
"As big as you like," retorted Drennen crisply. And then, lifting his voice a little, "Marquette!"
"Oui, m'sieu." Marquette came quickly to the table.
"I want some money . . . for this."
Then Drennen spilled the contents of his bag upon the table and for a moment every man who saw sat or stood riveted to his place, absolutely without motion. Then a gasp went up, a gasp of wonder, while here and there a quick spurt of blood in the face or a brilliant gleam of the eye told of quickened heart beats and the grip of that excitement which man never lived who could fight down altogether. Drennen had turned out upon the table top a veritable cascade of nuggets.
The word sped about the room, whispered, booming loudly, creating a sudden tense eagerness. Men shoved at one another, craning necks, to peer at the thing which Drennen so coolly had disclosed. Gold! Nuggets that were, in the parlance of the camp, "rotten" with gold. Drennen two weeks ago had left the Settlement with his last cent gone in a meagre grub stake; now he was back and he had made a strike. A strike such as no man here had ever dropped his pick into in all of the ragged years of adventuresome search; a strike which could not be a week's walk from MacLeod's, a strike which might mean millions to the first few who would stake out claims.
Pere Marquette stared and muttered strange, awestruck French oaths and made no move to unclasp his hands, lifted before him in an attitude incongruously like that of prayer. Kootanie George, whom men called rich and who owned a claim for which two companies were contending, stared and a little pallor crept into his cheeks. Ramon Garcia broke off in the midst of his little song softly whispering, "Jesus Maria." No-luck Drennen had found gold!
"Well?" demanded Drennen savagely, swinging about upon Marquette, who was bending tremulously over him. "Didn't you hear me?"
"Mais oui, m'sieu," Marquette said hastily, his tongue running back and forth between his lips. "But, m'sieu, I have not so much money in the house."
The men who had surged about the table dropped back silently and began speaking in half whispers, each man after a moment seeking for his "pardner." One of them upon such a quest carried the word across the street to the warehouse and the dance came to an end in noisy confusion. . . . To-night the Settlement was filled to overflowing; to-morrow it would be deserted.
"Give me what you've got," Drennen commanded, his hand lying very still by the heap of dull-gleaming rock. "Bring the scales here."
The scales were brought, and after a mixture of guessing and weighing, Drennen pushed two of the nuggets across the table to Marquette and accepted minted gold amounting to six hundred dollars.
"The rest, m'sieu?" offered Marquette. "Shall I put it in the safe for you?"
"No, thanks," said Drennen drily, as he put the remainder into his pocket. "I prefer to bank for myself." The brief words, the insult of the glance which went with them, whipped a flush into the old man's cheeks. He offered no remark, however, and went back with his scales to the counter where he was surrounded by men who wanted the "feel" of the nuggets in their palms.
No longer was Ernestine the only woman in the rooms. Flush-cheeked and sparkling eyed, old women and young, alike impressed with the story which in its many forms was already going its rounds, came trooping back from the dance. Many hands at once reached out for the two nuggets, tongues clacked incessantly, while old prospectors and young girls alike ventured their surmises concerning the location of the strike. It was to be noted that no one had asked the only man who knew.
No-luck Drennen's luck had come to him. That was the word which again ran through the babel of conjectures. And when a man has had the luck which had been Drennen's for the years which the North had known him, and that luck changed, the change would be sweeping. Men might follow in his wake to a path of gold.
Meanwhile Dave Drennen played his game of dice in sombre silence. Over and over, losing almost steadily, he named a larger wager and Garcia and Kootanie George met his offer. He bet fifty dollars and lost, a hundred and lost, two hundred on a single cast and lost. In three throws over half of his money was gone. Three hundred and fifty dollars; he had two hundred and fifty left to him. Twice had the Mexican won; once George, taking in the two-hundred dollar bet. George's face was flushed; he had won four hundred dollars at one throw since the Mexican's two hundred had come to him with Drennen's. George had never played dice like this and the madness of it got into his slow blood and stood glaring out of his eyes.
"Two hundred fifty," offered Drennen briefly. He shoved the last of his pile out on the table. George covered it quickly, his big, square fingers shaking.
Garcia smiled at them both, then transferred his smile to his own money. In two throws he had won three hundred dollars, in one he had lost two hundred. He seemed to hesitate a moment; then he saw Ernestine Dumont standing upon a deserted card table, her cheeks rosy with excitement, and the sight of her decided him. He sighed, raked his money from the table to his pocket and got to his feet, moving gracefully through the crowd with many, "Dispensame, senor," and went to Ernestine's side. Kootanie George did not mark his going. For it was Kootanie George's throw and two hundred and fifty dollars were to be won . . . or lost.
George turned out the cubes and a ripping oath followed them. He had thrown a pair of deuces. His big fist came down upon the table with a crash. Drennen stared at him a brief moment while the cup was raised in his hand, contempt unveiled in his eyes. Then he rolled out the dice. Something akin to a sob burst from Kootanie George's lips. Drennen had turned out a "stiff," no pair at all.
"It's mine!" cried George, his great body half thrown across the table as he tossed out both arms to sweep in his winnings. "Mine, by God!"
Ernestine was clapping her hands, her eyes dancing with joy even while they were shot through with malice. Drennen's glance went to her, came back to Kootanie George to rest upon him sneeringly. Then he laughed, that ugly laugh which few men had heard and those few had remembered.
"Gold!" jeered Drennen. "It's a little pinch of gold, and you go crazy over it! You are a fool."
"It's mine!" cried George again. He had won only a little over six hundred dollars and he could have afforded to have lost as much. But he was in the grip of the passion of the game.
"You've got about a thousand dollars there," said Drennen eyeing the jumble of coins in front of the big Canadian. He jerked the old canvas bag out of his pocket and let it fall heavily to the table. "One throw for the whole thing, mine against yours."
Kootanie George knew gold when he saw it and now he knew that there was nearer two thousand than one in that bag. He gripped the dice box, glared at Drennen angrily, hesitated, then with a sudden gesture turned out the dice.
He had cursed before when he had made his throw; now he just slumped forward a little in his chair, his jaw dropping, the color dribbling out of his cheeks, finding all words inadequate. He had thrown two deuces again. Again Drennen looked at him contemptuously. Again George heard his ugly laugh. Drennen threw his dice carelessly. And upon the table, between the canvas bag and the glitter of minted gold, there stared up into George's face five fives.
"Damn you," cried the Canadian hoarsely, his fingers hooked and standing apart like claws as he half rose from his chair. "Damn you!"
His nerves were strung high and tense and the words came from him involuntarily. They were the clean words of rage at which no man in the world could take offence unless he sought a quarrel. And yet Drennen, as he moved forward a little to draw his winnings toward him, thrust his face close up to Kootanie George's and said crisply:
"Say that again and I'll slap your face!"
"Damn you!" shouted George.
And with the words came the blow, Drennen's open palm hard against George's cheek.
"And now George will kill him!" cried Ernestine through her set teeth.
THE WAY OF THE NORTH
"Oh, mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" half sobbed old Marquette. "They will kill one the other! Another time it matters not. But to-night, here! . . . Stop; I forbid it!"
One blow had been struck and already the compact circle about the two men had squared as those who watched drew back along the walls leaving the centre of the room clear. They had jerked tables and chairs away with them. One table, the one at which Drennen and George had sat a moment ago, with its load of virgin gold and minted coins, was now against the further counter, young Frank Marquette guarding it, that the gold upon it might go to Drennen when the fight was over. . . .
"If he is alive then," he muttered, his eyes narrowing as they took note of the black rage distorting the big Canadian's face. "If George does not kill him it is a miracle of Satan."
"You are come to-night for trouble." Slowly Kootanie George slipped his heavy coat from his shoulders. His deep, hairy chest, swelling to the breath which fairly whistled through his distended nostrils, popped a button back through a frayed button hole and stood out like an inflated bellows. "I just say, 'Damn you.' That is nothin' for a man to fight. You look for trouble, an' by God, I am ready!"
He flung the coat from him and lifted his big hands. Drennen was standing waiting for him, his own hands at his sides, his steely eyes filled with an evil light. He made no answer beyond the silent one of a slight lifting of his lip, like a soundless wolfish snarl.
"I forbid!" screamed Pere Marquette again. "Another time it is nothing. To-night it is to insult Mamma Jeanne. Stop it, chiens!"
But Mamma Jeanne had her own word to say. Her plump arms were about her indignant spouse, dragging him back.
"Let them be," she commanded. "Is not George a guest and has he not the right to put his heel upon an evil serpent? It is just," she cried, her eyes all fire. "It will be but a little minute and, pouf! it is all over. Let them be!"
She had great faith in the prowess of her man, had Mere Marquette. Had there been a thunder storm outside, had Pere Marquette wished it to stop while Mere Marquette wanted it to continue, she would have put her arms about him and pleaded, "Let it be."
"There shall be fon, mes enfants," whispered the old prophet from Moosejaw.
Slowly, but light footed enough, lifting his great hands still a little higher, Kootanie George came forward. Drennen waited, his lip raised in the bitter snarl which seemed frozen upon his dark face, his grey eyes malevolent. He had fought with many men, he was not afraid to fight; all men there knew that. But they wondered, looking at him and then at the other, if he understood the thing standing unhidden in Kootanie George's eyes.
Yes, he understood. For, just the wee fraction of a second before the Canadian struck, Drennen jerked up his own hands, ready for him. And the two struck at the same instant. There was to be no finesse of boxing; these men had no knowledge of fistic trickery. All that they knew was to fight, to strike hard and straight from the shoulder, opposing strength with strength, swiftness with swiftness, merciless hatred with a hatred as merciless. And so it happened that both blows landed, two little coughing grunts following close upon the impact telling how mightily, and both men reeled back. There was blood upon Drennen's lower lip. The upper was still lifted snarlingly from the red-stained teeth.
Ramon Garcia, watching with an interested smile, nodded his head as though in approval and glanced at Ernestine Dumont upon the table above him. Much of the colour had gone out of her cheeks, leaving them drawn and pallid. Her parted lips too showed the whiteness of her hard set teeth.
"I," meditated Ramon Garcia as his eyes returned to the two men, "I should be less frightened of George than of her. Her eyes are like a devil."
A bare fisted, relentless, give and take fight such as this promised to be is common enough wherever hard men foregather, dirt-common in a country where the fag end of a long winter of enforced idleness leaves restless nerves raw. The uncommon thing about the brief battle or in any way connected with it lay in the attitude of the onlookers. Rarely is a crowd so unanimous both in expectation and desire. George would kill Drennen or would nearly kill him, and it would be a good thing. A man of no friends, Drennen had no sympathiser. No man who watched with narrowed eyes, no woman on table or chair or hiding her face in her hands, but asked and looked for the same ending.
Though from the first it was apparent that George was the bigger man, the heavier, the stronger, it was silently conceded that these qualities though they mean much do not count for everything. It became clear almost as they met for the first blows that the slenderer was quicker and that if Kootanie George was confident Drennen was no less so. And, when they both reeled backward, a many-voiced murmur of surprise was like a reluctant admission: Drennen had done two things which no other man had ever done before him; he had kept his feet against the smashing drive of that big fist in his face and he had made George stagger. For the moment it looked as though the two would fall.
Once more George came forward slowly while Drennen waited for him, again they met, Drennen leaping forward just as the Canadian's sledge of a clenched hand was lifted. Each man threw up a guarding left arm only to have his brawny guard beaten through as again the two resounding blows landed almost like one; this time there was a trickle of red from the Canadian's mouth, a panting, wheezing cough from the American as he received the other's blow full in the chest. For a dizzy moment they stood separated by the very fury of their onslaught, each balancing.
"They are men!" murmured Garcia in delight. And Ernestine, leaning far out from her table, cried breathlessly:
"George! If you love me . . ."
George glanced at her, a slow smile upon his battered lips. He ran the back of his hand across his mouth and again moved forward, slowly. And again Drennen snarling, awaited him.
This time George crouched a little as he made his attack, and as he drew closer he moved more swiftly, bunching his big muscles, fairly hurling his great body as he leaped and struck, reckless of what blows might find him, determined by his superior weight alone to carry the other back and down. And as though Drennen had read the purpose in the smouldering eyes he too leaped forward so that the two big bodies met in mid air. Like one blow came the sounds of the two blows given and taken as the impact of the two bodies gave out its soft thud. And as one man the two went down together, fighting, beating brutally at each other, all rules of the game forgotten save that one alone which says, "He wins who wins!"
For a little they clenched and rolled upon the floor like two great, grim cats. Through the sound of scuffling came the noise of short-armed jabs, the deep throated curses of Kootanie George and once . . . his first vocal utterance . . . one of Dave Drennen's laughs. It was when he had again driven his fist against George's mouth, drawing blood from both lips and hand cut by breaking teeth.
Kootanie George's left arm was flung about the neck of the man at whose body his white knuckled fist was driving like a piston; the American had craned his neck and in order to protect his face held it pressed close to George's breast. Drennen's right arm was about George's body, caught against the floor as they fell, Drennen's left hand with thumb sunken deep was already at the Canadian's throat. The snarl upon Drennen's face was the more marked now, more filled with menace and hate as his body experienced the torture of the other's regular blows.
For a little they were strangely silent, Kootanie having given over his ripping oaths, strangely quiet as they lay with no movement apparent beyond the ceaseless rhythmic striking of George's arm. Even those blows ceased in a moment as George's hand went hurriedly to the wrist at his breast. The thumb at his throat had sunk until the place where it crooked at the joint was lost; George's face from red had gone to white, then to a hectic purple. Now they strove for the mastery of the hand at the throat, George dragging at it mightily, Drennen's fingers crooked like talons with the tendons standing out so that they seemed white cords in the lamplight. George's breath came in short, shorter gasps, he tugged with swelling muscles, his own hand a terrible wrenching vice at Drennen's wrist. And when the purple face grew more hideously purple, when the short gasps were little dry sounds, speaking piteously of agony and suffocation, when still the relentless grip at his throat was unshaken, men began for the first time to guage the strength which lay in the great, gaunt frame of Dave Drennen.
And George too had begun to understand. Suddenly his hand came away from the iron wrist and sought Drennen's throat for which his wide bulging eyes quested frantically. His hand found what it sought at last, but Drennen had twisted his head still a little further to the side, brought his face still lower and closer against the Canadian's chest, and George could not get the grip where he wanted it, full upon the front of the throat. He tore at the rigid muscles below the jaw a moment and the bloody, broken skin of Drennen's neck told with what fury George had striven.
But George must hasten now and he knew it. Again his right hand sought Drennen's left, fought at the deadly grip at his own throat. In his reach a quick cunning came to him and his groping fingers passed along Drennen's wrist and did not tarry there. Up and up they went, the great questing fingers of the Canadian, until at last they found the fingers of the other man. Here they settled. And then those who watched saw the middle finger of Drennen's hand drawn back from the flesh of George's neck, saw it bent back and back, still further back until it was a pure wonder that Drennen held on, back and back. . . . And then there was a little snap of a bone broken and Drennen's hand fell away and Kootanie George, drawing a long, sobbing breath, rolled clear of him and slowly rose to his feet.
Drennen too rose but not so slowly. His left hand was at his side, the one broken finger standing oddly apart from its fellows, as he ran the three steps to meet Kootanie George. George threw up his arm, but the savagery of the blow beating upon him struck the guard aside and Kootanie George, caught fairly upon the chin flung out his arms and went down. He brushed against the wall behind him in falling and so came only to his knees on the floor, his hands out before him. Drennen stood over him, breathing deeply, gathering his strength for a last effort. George staggered perceptibly as he got to his feet, a queer look in his eyes. Drennen struck swiftly, his fist grinding into the pit of Kootanie's stomach and, as the big man crumpled, finding his chin again. And as George staggered a second time Drennen was upon him, Drennen's laugh like the snarl of a wolf, Drennen's hand, the right this time, at George's throat. . . .
A thin scream from Ernestine Dumont quivering with a strange blend of emotions, a spit of flame, a puff of smoke hanging idly in the still air of the room, the sharp bark of a small calibre revolver, and Drennen's hand dropped from Kootanie's throat. He swayed unsteadily a moment, stepped toward her, his eyes flecked with red and brimming with rage, his hand going to the wound in his side.
"Cat," said Drennen deliberately.
As he fell back, a sudden weakness upon him, settling unsteadily into a chair, Ramon Garcia struck up the barrel of the smoking gun in Ernestine's hand and the second bullet ripped into the papered ceiling. Then Kootanie George turned slowly, his eyes full upon Ernestine's, and said as Drennen had said it,
"You are one big brute!" cried Mere Jeanne angrily. "You, to call her that when she shoot because she love you! I should do like that for Marquette here."
"She has put me to shame, made me a man for men to laugh at," said George heavily. "What, am I no man but a little baby that a woman must fight my fight? I am done with her."
Drennen's face had gone white; the fingers gripping his torn side were sticky and wet and red. He rose half way from his chair only to drop back, the rigid muscles along his jaw showing how the teeth were hard set. He had seemed to forget Ernestine, George, all of them, his gaze seeking and finding the table where his gold lay, then lifting to Frank Marquette's face suspiciously. Then it was that he noted and that others marked for the first time how again the outer door had opened that night to admit tardy guests. A little flicker of surprise came into his eyes, and small wonder.
Three persons had entered before Ernestine had cried out and fired the first shot, two men and a girl. The men would come in for their share of attention later; the girl demanded hers now, like a right and a tribute. She stood a little in front of her companions. Her eyes widened, growing a little hard as they watched the end of the fight, passed from Drennen and Kootanie George to Ernestine Dumont, came slowly back to George, rested finally upon Drennen as though their chief interest lay with him. She did not show fear as a woman of her appearance might be looked upon to show it; there were interest and curiosity in her look and, finally, when after a long time she looked again from Drennen to Ernestine, a high contempt.
In spite of the heavy white sweater whose collar was drawn high about her throat, in spite of the white hood concealing all but one stray wisp of brown hair, her loveliness was unhidden, looking out in all of the splendid glory of youthful health and vigour. Her eyes were as grey as Drennen's own, but with little golden flecks seeming to float upon sea-grey, unsounded depths. She might have been seventeen, she could not have been more than twenty, and yet her air was one of confidence and in it was an indefinable something which was neither arrogance nor yet hauteur, and which in its subtle way hinted that the blood pulsing through her perfect body was the blood of those who had known how to command since babyhood and who had never learned to obey. When later men learned that that blood was drawn in riotous, converging currents from unconquerable fighting Scotch highlanders and from a long line of French nobility there came no surprise in the discovery. Men and women together, Kootanie George and Ernestine, Garcia and Drennen, Pere Marquette and Mere Marquette, felt the difference between her and themselves.
"We seem to interrupt," she said coolly, her voice deeply musical, as she turned to Pere Marquette. He, looking a little dazed and stupid from all that had taken place, but never forgetful of his duties as host, had come toward her hesitantly, his lips seeking to form a new phrase of greeting. "We are tired and need food. Everything seemed closed but your place. So we came in."
"You are welcome, mam'selle," he said hurriedly. "Mos' welcome. It is unfortunate . . ."
"Captain Sefton," went on the girl quite calmly, "will you see what you can do for that man? He is losing a great deal of blood."
Captain Sefton, a thin, hawk-eyed man with a coppery Vandyke beard, shrugged his shoulders distastefully but passed her, drawing near Dave Drennen. The girl turned toward the second of her companions, a younger man by half a dozen years, who brought the stamp of the cities in his fashionable clothes, the relentless marks of a city's dissipation about his small mouth and light eyes and, in air and features, a suggestion of the French.
"Marc," she said, drawing at her gauntlets, her back upon Sefton and Drennen, "if you can arrange for a room for me I shall go to it immediately."
Marc obeyed her as Captain Sefton had done, turning to Marquette with an inquiry. Drennen's eyes were only for a fleeting moment upon Sefton whose quick fingers were busy at the wound. Then they returned to the table at which he had diced. Frank Marquette, seeing the look, poured the gold all into the canvas bag and brought it to him.
The eyes of one man alone did not waver once while the girl was in the room, black eyes as tender as a woman's, eloquent now with admiration, their glance like a caress. Ramon Garcia spoke softly, under his breath. Ernestine Dumont looked down at him curiously. She had nor understood the words for they were Spanish. They had meant,
"Now am I resigned to my exile!"
THE PROMISE OF A RAINBOW
For a week Dave Drennen lay upon the bunk in the one room dugout which had been home for him during the winter. Stubborn and sullen and silent at first, snarling his anger as sufficient strength came back into him, he refused the aid which the Settlement, now keenly solicitous, offered. He knew why the men who had not spoken to him two weeks ago sought to befriend him now. He knew that the swift change of attitude was due to nothing in the world but to a fear that he might die without disclosing his golden secret.
"And I am of half a mind to die," he told the last man to trouble him; "just to shame Kootanie George, to hang Ernestine Dumont and to drive a hundred gold seekers mad."
During the week a boy from Joe's Lunch Counter brought him his meals and gave him the scant attention he demanded. The boy went away with money in his pockets and with tales to tell of a man like a wounded bull moose. Always there were eager hands to detain him, eager tongues to ask if Drennen had let anything drop. Always the same answer, a shake of the head; he had learned nothing.
The day after the affair at Pere Marquette's had seen MacLeod's Settlement empty of men. Each one following his own hope and fancy they had gone into the mountains, heading toward the north as Drennen had headed two weeks before, some following the main trail for a matter of many miles, others breaking off to right or to left at tempting cross-trails, hastening feverishly, dreaming dreams and finding rude awakenings. The snows were melting everywhere upon the slopes, the dirty waters running down the trails making an ooze at midday which sucked up and destroyed the tracks of the men who travelled over it in the crisp early mornings.
There was no sign to tell whether Drennen had gone straight on during the seven days he might have been pushing away from the camp and had made his strike at the end of them, or whether he had turned off somewhere hardly out of sight of the handful of shacks marking MacLeod's Settlement. No sign to tell that the golden vein or pocket lay within shouting distance from the Settlement or fifty, seventy-five miles removed. And Drennen, lying on his back upon his hard bunk, stared up at the blackened beams across his ceiling and smiled his hard, bitter smile as he pictured the frantic, fruitless quest.
Sefton, the man with the coppery Vandyke beard, thin-jawed and with restless eyes, had given him certain rude help at Marquette's and had been among the first the following day to offer aid. Drennen dismissed him briefly, offering to pay for what he had already done but saying he had no further need of clumsy fingers fooling with his hurt. Sefton favoured him with a keen scrutiny from the door, hesitated, shrugged his thin shoulders and went away. Drennen wondered if the girl, who seemed in the habit of ordering people around, had sent him.
At the end of the week Drennen was about again. He had kept his wound clean with the antiseptic solutions to be obtained from the store and under its bandages it was healing. He found that he was weaker than he had supposed but with a grunt drove his lax muscles to stiffen and obey his will. From the door he came back, found a broken bit of mirror and looked curiously at the face reflected in it. No beautiful sight, he told himself grimly. It was haggard, drawn and wan. A beard three weeks old, the black of it shot through here and there with white hairs, made the stern face uncouth.
"I look a savage," he told himself disgustedly, tossing the glass to the cluttered table. Then, with a grim tightening of the lips, "And why not?"
He made his way slowly, his side paining him no little, to Joe's Lunch Counter. It was late afternoon and the street was deserted. A gleam of satisfaction showed fleetingly in his eyes; he knew why the street was deserted and the knowledge pleased him.
None of the Settlement was in Joe's restaurant, but the presence of the two strangers who had come with the girl saved it from utter desertion. They were finishing a light meal as Drennen entered and looked up at him curiously. Drennen saw a quick glance interchanged. He knew the meaning of this, too, knew that the story of his strike had gone its way to them, that because of those nuggets which even now weighted his pocket he was a marked man, a man to be reckoned with, to be watched, to be followed, to be fawned upon if possible. He frowned at Sefton's nod and took his place at the lunch counter.
Presently the younger of the two, Captain Sefton's companion, got up and came to Drennen's side, offering his hand.
"I am glad to see you around again," he said, pleasantly.
Drennen did not look toward him.
"Some more coffee, Joe," he said shortly.
The young fellow stared at him a moment, a quick retort upon his lips. It was checked however by Sefton saying quickly:
"Come on, Lemarc. It's none of your funeral if a man wants to be left alone. Let's go find Ygerne."
Ygerne. So that was her name, Drennen thought as he stirred two heaping spoons of sugar into his coffee and out of the corner of his eye watched the two men go out. Well, what was the difference? One name would do as well as another and she was an adventuress like the rest of them in this land of hard trails. Else why should she be here at all, and with men like Lemarc and Sefton? Had he not distrusted all men by sweeping rule these two at least he would have distrusted for the craft in their eyes.
He drank his second cup of coffee, stuffed his old pipe full of coarse tobacco and went outside. Sefton and Lemarc had passed out of sight. Drennen hesitated just a second, pausing at the door. He was pitifully weak. He supposed that the thing for him to do was to crawl back to his bunk for the remainder of the day and the long night to follow. He clamped his pipe stem hard between his teeth. He'd do nothing of the kind. Did strength, any more than anything else in the world, come to a man who lay on his back and waited for it? He needed exercise.
So he strolled down through the quiet Settlement, turned into the trail which leads upward along old Ironhead's flank, driving his body mercilessly to the labour of the climb. There was a spot he knew where he could sit and look down across the valley and from which far out somewhere to north or south he might see fools seeking for the gold he had found. It was a little cup set in the side of the mountain, a tiny valley at once beautiful and aloof, and he had not been here since last fall. In it he could rest unmolested, unwatched.
During the day there had been showers; now the sun was out warmly while here and there the sky was hidden by clouds and in places he could see the little mists shaken downward through the bright air. Warm rains would mean a quickened thaw, open trails and swifter travel. In a way a propitious season was making it up to him for the time he was losing in idleness with a hole in his side.
An odd incident occurred that afternoon. Drennen, hard man as he was, Inured to the heavy shocks of a life full of them, felt this little thing strangely. He was resting, sitting upon a great boulder under a pine tree. The cup-like valley, or depressed plateau, lay at his left, himself upon an extreme rim of it. As he brooded he noted idly how the sunshine was busied with the vapour filled air, building of it a triumphant arch, gloriously coloured. His mood was not for brightness and yet, albeit with but half consciousness, he watched. Did a man who has followed the beck of hope of gold ever see a rainbow without wondering what treasure lay at the far end of the radiant promise? So, idly, Dave Drennen now.
At first just broken bits of colour. Then slowly the bits merged into one and the arc completed, the far end seeming to rest upon the further rim of the level open space. It seemed a tangible thing, not a visioned nothing born of nothingness and to perish utterly in a twinkling.
"A promise that is a lie," he said to himself bitterly. "Like the promises of men."
And then . . . to his startled fancies she had come into being like the rainbow, from nothingness . . . where the foot of the arch had appeared to rest stood the girl, Ygerne. A quarter of a mile between Drennen sitting here and her standing there, a stretch of boulder strewn mountain side separating them, God's covenant joining them. Drennen stiffened, started to his feet as though he had looked upon magic. At the foot of the rainbow not just gold . . . gold he had in plenty now . . . but a woman . . .
He laughed his old ugly laugh and settled back upon his rock, his eyes jerked away from her, sent back down the slope of the mountain to the green fringe of the Little MacLeod. He knew that his senses had tricked him as one's senses are so prone to do; that she had merely stepped into sight from behind a shoulder of blackened cliff; that the most brilliantly coloured rainbow is just so much sunlight and water. And he knew, too, that she would have to pass close to him on her way back to the Settlement unless she went to considerable effort to avoid him.
He saw her shadow upon a patch of snow in the trail where the rock protected it. He did not turn his head. He heard her step, knew when it had stopped and her shadow had grown motionless. She was not ten paces from him.
Stubbornly he ignored the silent challenge of her pausing. With slope shoulders he sat motionless upon his rock, his face turned toward the Little MacLeod, his freshly relighted pipe going calmly. Yet he was aware, both from the faint sound of her tread upon the soft ground and from her shadow, cast athwart the path, that she had come on another couple of steps, that she had stopped again, that her gaze was now no doubt concerned with his profile. He did not seek to make it the less harsh, to soften the expression of bitterness and uncouth hardness which his bit of a mirror had shown him in the dugout. He found that without turning to see he could remember just what her eyes looked like. And he had seen them only once and that when his chief concern was a bullet hole in his side.
While Drennen drew five or six slow puffs at his pipe neither he nor the girl moved. Then again she drew a pace nearer, again stopped. He sent his eyes stubbornly up and down the willow fringed banks of the Little MacLeod. His thought, used to obeying that thing apart, his will, concerned itself with the question of just where the gold seekers were driving their fools' search for his gold.
Stubbornness in the man had met a stubbornness no less in the girl. Though his attitude might not be misread she refused to heed it. He had half expected her to go on, and was idly looking for a shrug of the shadow's shoulders and then a straightening of them as she went past; he half expected her to address him with some commonplace remark. He had not thought to have her stand there and laugh at him.
"A PRINCESS SENT TO PACK WITH WOLVES!"
But laugh she did, softly, unaffectedly and with plainly unsimulated amusement. She laughed as she might have done had he been a little child indulging in a fit of pouting, she the child's mother. Her laughter irritated him but did not affect a muscle of his rigid aloofness. Then she moved again, drawing no nearer but making a little half circle so that she stood just in front of him breaking his view of the river. The hard grey of his eyes met the soft greyness of hers.
"Why are the interesting men always rude?" she asked him out of a short silence.
He stared at her coolly a moment, of half a mind to reply to the foolishness of her question with the answer which it deserved, mere silence.
"I don't know," he retorted bluntly.
"Yes, they are," she told him with deep gravity of tone, just as though he had done the logical thing, been communicative and said, "Are they?" The gravity in her voice, however, was notably in contrast with the crinkling merriment about the corners of her eyes. "Perhaps," she went on, "that is one of the very reasons why they are interesting."
He made no answer. His regard, sweeping her critically, went its way back down the mountain side. Not, however, until the glorious lines of her young figure had registered themselves in his mind.
"Perhaps," she ran on, her head a little to one side as she studied him frankly, "you didn't realise just how interesting a type you are? In feminine eyes, of course."
"I know about things feminine just as much as I care to know," he said with all of the rudeness with which she had credited him. "Namely, nothing whatever."
Without looking to see how she had taken his words he felt that he knew. She was still laughing at him, silently now, but none the less genuinely.
"You are not afraid of me, are you?" she queried quite innocently.
"I think not," he told her shortly. "Since your sex does not come into the sphere of my existence, Miss Ygerne, there is no reason why I should be afraid of it."
"Oh!" was her rejoinder. "So you know my name, Mr. Drennen?"
"I learned it quite accidentally, young lady. Please don't think that the knowledge came from a premeditated prying into your affairs."
She ignored the sneer as utterly negligible and said,
"And you used to be a gentleman, once upon a time, like the prince in the fairy tale before the witches got him. Cherchez la femme. Was it a woman who literally drove you wild, Mr. Drennen?"
"No," he told her in his harshly emphatic way.
"You are very sure?"
He didn't answer.
"You are thinking that I am rather forward than maidenly?"
"I am thinking that a good warm rain will help to clear the trails."
"You wish that I would go away?"
"Since you ask it . . . yes."
"That is one reason why I am staying here," she laughed at him. "By the way, Mr. Newly-made Croesus, does this mountain belong to you, too? Together with the rest of the universe?"
He knocked out the ashes of his pipe, refilled the bowl, stuffing the black Settlement tobacco down with a calloused, soil-grimed forefinger. And that was her answer. She saw a little glint of anger in his eyes even while she could not fully understand its cause. A maid of moods, her mood to-day had been merely to pique him, to tease a little and the hint of anger told her that she had succeeded. But she was not entirely satisfied. With truly feminine wisdom she guessed that something of which she was not aware lay under the emotion which had for a second lifted its head to the surface. She could not know that she awoke memories of another world which he had turned his back upon and did not care to be reminded of; she did not know that the very way she had caught her hair up, the way her clothes fitted her, brought back like an unpleasant fragrance in his nostrils memories of that other world when he had been a "gentleman."
"Your wound is healing nicely?" she offered. And, knowing instinctively that again his answer would be silence, she went on, "It was very picturesque, your little fight the other night. The woman who did the shooting, I wondered whether she really loved Kootanie George most . . . or you?"
"Look here, Miss Ygerne . . ."
"Ygerne Bellaire," she said with an affected demureness which dimpled at him. "So you may say: 'Miss Bellaire.'"
"I say what I damned please!" he snapped hotly, and through the crisp words she heard the click of his teeth against his pipe stem. "If the flattery is not too much for a modest maiden to stand you may let me assure you that the one thing about you which I like is your name, Ygerne. Speaking of fairy tales, it sounds like the name of the Princess before the witches changed her into an adventuress, and sent her to pack with wolves. When it becomes necessary for me to call you anything whatever I'll call you Ygerne."
It was enough to drive her in head-erect, defiant, orderly retreat down the mountainside. But she seemed not to have heard anything after the first curt sentence.
"So you do 'what you damned please'? That sounds interesting. But is it the truth?"
Her perseverance began, in spite of him, to puzzle him. What in all the world of worlds did she want of him? Also, and again in spite of him, he began to wonder what sort of female being this was.
"And so my name is really the only thing commendable about me?" she went on. "My nose isn't really pug, Mr. Drennen."
She crinkled it up for his inspection, turning sideways so that he might study her profile, then challenging his eyes gaily with her own.
"It is said to be my worst feature," she continued gravely. "And after all, don't you think one's nose is like one's gown in that it's true effect lies in the way one wears it?"
"How old are you?" he said curiously, the ice of him giving the first evidence of thaw.
"Less than three score and ten in actual years," she told him. "Vastly more than that in wisdom. Who's getting impertinent now?"
He hadn't said half a dozen sentences to a woman in half a dozen years. But then he hadn't seen a woman of her class and type in nearly twice that length of time. Besides, a week of enforced idleness in his dugout, of blank inactivity, had brought a new sort of loneliness. A bit surprised at what he was doing, a bit amused, not without a feeling of contempt for himself, he let the bars down. He leaned back a little upon his rock, caught up a knee in his clasped hands, thus easing the ache in his side, and set his eyes to meet hers searchingly.
"This is an odd place for a girl like you, Ygerne," he said meditatively.
"Is it? And why?"
"Because," he answered slowly, "so far as I know, only two kinds of people ever come this way. Some are human hogs come to get their feet into a trough of gold; some are here because there is such a thing as the law outside and it has driven them here."
"But surely some come just through a sense of curiosity?"
"Curiosity is too colourless a motive to beckon or drive folks out here."
"Why are you asking me a question like this? You have succeeded in making it rather plain that you feel no interest whatever in me."
"I am allowing myself, for the novelty of the thing, to talk nonsense," he told her drily. "You seemed insistent upon it."
"So that's it? Well, I at least can answer a question. Two motives are to thank or to blame for my being here. One," she said coolly, her eyes steady upon his, "has beckoned, as you put it; the other has driven. One is the desire to get my feet into the golden trough, the other to get my body out of the way of the law. Your hypothesis seems, in my case as in the others, to be correct, Mr. Drennen."
In spite of him he stared at her a little wonderingly. For himself he gauged her years at nineteen. He was rather inclined to the suspicion that she was lying to him in both particulars. But something of the coolness of her regard, its vague insolence, something in the way she carried her head and shoulders, her whole sureness of poise, the intangible thing called personality in her tempered like fine steel, made his suspicion waver. She was young and good to look upon; there was the gloriously fresh bloom of youth upon her; and yet, were it not for the mere matter of sex, he might have looked upon her as a gay and utterly unscrupulous young adventurer of the old type, the kind to bow gallantly to a lady while wiping the stain of wet blood from a knife blade.
"You are after gold . . . and the law wants you back there in the States?" he demanded with quiet curiosity.
"I am after gold and the law has sought me back there in the States," she repeated after him coolly.
"The law has long arms, Ygerne."
"It has no arms at all, Mr. Drennen. It has a long tail with a poisonous sting in it."
"What does it want you for?" He was making light of her now, his question accompanied by a hard, cynical look which told her that she could say as much or as little as she chose and he'd suit himself in the extent of his credulity. "Were you the lovely cashier in an ice cream store? And did you abscond with a dollar and ninety cents?"
"Don't you know of Paul Bellaire?" she flung at him angrily.
"I have never met the gentleman," he laughed at her, pleased with the flush which was in her cheeks.
"He died long before you were born," she said sharply. "If you talked with men you would know. He was my grandfather. We of the blood of Paul Bellaire are not shop girls, Mr. Drennen."
"Oho," sneered Drennen. "We are in the presence of gentry, then?"
"You are in the presence of your superior by birth if not in all other matters," she told him hotly.
"We, out here, don't believe much in the efficacy of blue blood," he said contemptuously.
"The toad has little conception of wings!" she gave him back, in the coin of his own contempt. "Queer, isn't it?"
He laughed at her, more amused than he had been heretofore and more interested.
"You haven't told me definitely about your terrible crime."
"You have been equally noncommittal."
Drennen shrugged. "I am not greatly given to overtalkativeness," he said shortly. "I have no desire to usurp woman's prerogative."
"But are quite willing to let me babble on?"
"I'm going to put in time for a couple of hours. You are less maddening than the walls of my dugout."
She looked at him keenly, silent and thoughtful for a little. Then she said abruptly:
"Have you told any one yet of your discovery?"
So that was it. His eyes grew hard again with the sneer in them.
"No," he informed her with a bluntness full of finality.
"You spoke of the hogs with their feet in the trough. You are going to let no one in with you?"
"I am not in the habit of giving away what I want for myself."
"But you can't keep it secret always. You'll have to file your claim, and you can't file on all of Canada. . . . I want to ask you something about it."
"No doubt," with his old bitter smile. "For a fortune you'd repay me with a smile, would you? You'd find easier game in the gilded youth on Broadway."
Her lips grew a little cruel as she answered him.
"You may tell me as much or as little as you like. You may lie to me and tell me that your gold is twenty miles westward of here while it may be twice or half that distance eastward. Or you may leave that part out altogether. But it would be another matter to answer the one question I will ask." Her eyes were upon him, very alert, watchful for a sign as she asked her question: "Were the nuggets free and piled up somewhere where some man before you had placed them?"
If she sought to read his mind against his will she had come to the wrong man. It was as though Drennen had not heard her.
"Are you married to either of the hang dogs with whom you are travelling?" he asked.
"No," she answered indifferently.
"They're both in love with you, no doubt?"
"I fancy that neither is," she retorted equably. "Both want to marry me, that's all."
Drennen gazed thoughtfully down into the valley, pursing his lips about his pipe stem.
"I'll make a bargain with you," he said finally from the silence in which the girl had stood watching him. "You have dinner with me; we'll have the best the Settlement knows how to serve us, and I'll let you try to pump me."
She looked at him curiously.
"You have the name of a trouble seeker, Mr. Drennen. Do you fancy that you can anger Marc and Captain Sefton this way?"
"That, too, we can talk about at dinner, if you like."
For a moment she looked at him, gravely thoughtful, her brows puckered into a thoughtful frown. Then she put back her head with a gesture indefinably suggestive of recklessness, and laughed as she had laughed when she had first come upon him.
"The novel invitation is accepted," she said lightly. "I must hurry down to dress for the grand occasion, Mr. Drennen."
Before she could flash about and turn from him David Drennen did a thing he had done for no woman in many years. He rose to his feet, making her a sweeping bow as he lifted his hat with the old grace which the years had not taken from him. And as she went down the mountain side he dropped back to his rock, his teeth again hard, clamped upon his pipe stem, his eyes steely and bitter and filled with cynical irony.
DUST OF IDOLS
David Drennen's statement concerning the two powerful motives responsible for the presence in the North Woods of the greater portion of her hardy denizens had been essentially truthful. The shadow of prison bars or perhaps the gaunt silhouette of the gallows, vivid in an overstimulated fancy, has sent many a man roving; the whisper down the world of yellow gold to be taken from the earth, transforming the blackened claw gripping it into the potent fingers of a money king, has entered the ear of many a wanderer and drawn him to such a land as this. An evil nature, a flare of temper, a wrong done and redressed in hot wrath and red blood, a mistake or a weakness or a wild spirit born a hundred years too late, any of these things might send a man into the North Woods. But Drennen, who made the statement to Ygerne Bellaire, was in himself an exception to it.
For half a score of years this land of hard trails, this far out place where man met man without veneer, where nature's breasts lay stripped of covering and naked, where life was the old life of things elemental, where primal laws were good laws, where there was room enough for the strong and scant room for the weak, David Drennen had found a spacious walled home. Half of the year his house had the lofty, snow-capped mountains for its only walls, the sweeping blue arch for its roof, sun, moon and stars for its lamps. There were months when he knew of no other footfall than his own throughout the vastness of his house. There had been times when, seeing the thin wisp of smoke against the dawn telling of a camp fire five miles away, he had grumbled and trampled out his own embers and moved on, seeking solitude.
He had brought into the mountains a heart at once sore and bitter. The soreness had been drawn out of it in time; the bitterness had but grown the more intense. Hard, mordacious, no man's friend . . . that was the David Drennen who at Pere Marquette's fete sought any quarrel to which he might lay his hands. The world had battled and buffeted him; it had showered blows and been chary of caresses; he had struck back, hard-fisted, hard-hearted, a man whom a brutal life had made brutal in its own image.
There had been a scar made in his world of men and women to mark his leaving it, such a scar as a thorn leaves in the flesh when rudely drawn out. A tiny cicatrix soon almost entirely lost as the niche which had been his was filled and the healing over was perfected. It doesn't take long for the grass to grow over the graves of the dead; the dew forming upon the mounded turf is less like tears than like glistening jewels to deck the earth in the joyous time of her bridehood in the spring; the flight of birds over it and their little bursts of melody are eloquent of an ecstasy which does not remember. How little time then must pass to wipe out the memory of the passing of a David Drennen from the busy thoroughfares into the secluded trails?
He had been a young man, the lightest hearted of his care-free set, when the crash came. The chief component characteristics of the young David Drennen of twenty were, perhaps, a careless generosity, a natural spontaneous gaiety which accepted each day as it came, a strong though unanalysed faith in his fellow being. Life made music in tuneful chords upon the strings of his heart. The twin wells of love and faith were always brimming for his friends; overflowing for the one man whose act was to turn their waters brackish and bitter. That man was his father, John Harper Drennen, a man prominent enough in the financial world to make much copy for the newspapers up and down the country and to occupy no little place in transoceanic cable messages when the story broke.
A boy must have his hero worship. Rarely enough does he find his Alexander the Great, his Washington or his Daniel Boone, his Spartacus or his Horatius in his own household. But the motherless David had proved the exception and had long ago begun to shape his own life in the picture of his father's, investing him with attributes essentially divine. John Harper Drennen was a great man; the boy made of him an infallible hero who should have been a demigod in face of the crisis. And when that crisis came his demigod fled before it, routed by the vengeance seeking him.
Young Drennen had struck a man in the face for breaking the news to him and had felt a virtuous glow as he called the man "Liar!" He experienced a double joy upon him, the lesser one of his militant manhood, the greater of realising that it had been granted him, even in a small way, to fight a bit of his father's battle. He had gone out upon the street and a newsboy's paper, thrust to him, offered him the glaring lie in great black letters for a penny. He had torn the thing across, flinging it away angrily. There would be a libel suit to-morrow and such an apology as this editorial cur had never dreamed he had it in him to write. He heard men talk of it in the subway and laugh, and saw them turn wondering eyes to meet his glare. He made short his trip home, anxious to enlist under his father's standard, thrilled with the thought of gripping his father's hand.
When he found that his father, who should have returned two days ago from a trip to Chicago had not come back, he despatched a telegram to the lake city. The telegram was returned to him in due course of time; his father was not in Chicago and had not been there recently. He wired Boston, Washington, Philadelphia. His father was at none of his hotels in any of these cities. The boy prepared himself in calm, cold anger to wait for his father's return. But John Harper Drennen had never returned.
During the week which dragged horribly, he refused to read the papers. They were filled with such lies as he had no stomach for. Only the knowledge that the older Drennen was eminently capable to cope with his own destiny and must have his own private reasons for allowing this hideous scandal to continue unrefuted, held him back from bursting into more than one editorial room to wreak physical, violent vengeance there. His respect for his father was so little short of reverent awe, that he could take no step yet without John Harper's command. Quizzed by the police, questioned by the Chief, knowing himself dogged wherever he went, feeling certain that even his mail was no longer safe from prying eyes, he said always the same thing:
"Some of you are fools, some liars! When Dad comes back . . ."
He had choked up under the keen eyes of the Chief. And what angered him most was the look in the Chief's eyes. It was not incredulity; it was merely pity.