OF THE FIRST WATER
WILLIAM MERRIAM ROUSE
SOME men know the only girl in the world when they see her; and some men don’t. Some understand their sensations but don’t get the sand to do anything about it until it’s too late.
Big Bill Harriman knew his own when he saw her, at the first glance; and sand, next to size, was the thing with which he was most abundantly endowed.
She appeared about fifty feet away, near a hickory tree and her errand in the woods was revealed when she dropped to her knees and began to gather nuts. Her small brown hands moved as gracefully as ground swal-
Big Bill had just finished his lunch, sitting upon the stump of a giant birch; otherwise she would have heard the sound of his axe as she approached the cut of wood as noiselessly as a squirrel pops into the crotch of a limb—in a moment she would be hidden again by the intervening tree trunks, and within five minutes she would finish gathering the nuts under that particular hickory and go
Bill stood up—six feet three from boot-soles to brown hair—and drew a trembling breath. If it had been just any girl he would have called a greeting as he lighted his pipe, chuckled at her exclamation of surprise, and gone to work again with the double-bitted axe that he had driven into a log when he sat down to eat.
But Bill Harriman had got a full, fair look at this girl and something never before experienced by him had taken place underneath the wide breast of his blue flannel shirt. Her skin was a golden brown, her hair was a golden red, she moved as easily as a branch waving in the wind, and he had an intuitive feeling that her eyes were very deep and dark. Five minutes before he could not have said what kind of a girl he liked—he would probably have said that he liked a pipe and a hound dog better than any kind of girl—but now he knew all about it. The most desirable thing in the world was less than three rods away.
Harriman did not make a sound until he got within twenty feet of her, and then he purposely stepped upon a dry branch. She sprang to her feet with the flashing movement of a bird and he saw that her eyes, wide with sudden alarm, were indeed deep and dark and blacklashed. He was more scared than she was, when he read that look, but a kind of bulldog courage sustained him. He couldn’t possibly let the only girl in the world get away from him, now that he had seen her.
“Scare you?” he asked, in the gentlest tones to which he could reduce his ordinarily booming voice. “I. . . .1 didn’t mean to come on you so sudden!”
She looked him over, and the alarm in her eyes died to caution.
“You don’t make any more noise than a catamount!” Her teeth gleamed in a quick smile. “You after r.uts, too?”
“No.” Bill’s heart leaped with joy that the crucial moment was passed, and that he had not been scorned. “I’m chopping up here on Crowquill. My partner and I, Pierre Beaudry, have got a wood job. We’re in the cabin beyond the next ravine.”
“Oh!” Now he could see that she relaxed even caution; he not only looked honest but he had established himself as a woodsman. “I heard there was a couple of choppers this side of the mountain.”
“My name’s Bill Harriman,” he said, tentatively. She
gave him a mischievous little grin — and appeared to be considering, while he felt himself growing red.
“I’ll tell you,” she said at l^st, cheerfully, “I’m Marie Malloy.” “That’s what I call a regular name!” breathed Bill, with all sincerity. He’d have thought the same, however, if she had said it was Abigail Dusenbury. “Live around here?”
“Now you’re acting as though you belonged to the family, Mr. Harriman.”
“I didn’t mean to be fresh,” stammered Bill. “Honest, I didn’t—”
He stopped, catching a twinkle in her eye.
“You’ll find out where I live if you’ve got a long job here,’’ she said.
“I sure have!” he assured her, earnestly. “I’ve got so much to do I could knock off a little while this afternoon and help you, just as well as not.”
“All right,” she agreed. “You help me get what I can . carry in that sack and some day or other I’ll give you a pie. I’ll bet you two men can’t make a decent pie.”
“No,” he admitted. “It’s mostly salt pork and potatoes for us... . and you just watch me go after these hickorynuts!”
Immediately Bill set himself seriously to the task in hand, thus unconsciously making progress in the esteem of Marie Malloy. Although he did not know it, literal honesty of purpose carried him further with most strangers than any amount of glibness would have done.
Even those who did not like Big Bill Harriman admitted that he was to be depended upon as surely as sunrise and sunset.
BILL, being wholly absorbed in the task of getting a sackful of hickory nuts as swiftly as possible, moved out from the tree and away from the girl. Possibly five minutes passed. He had his hat nearly full and was kneeling over a little drift of dead leaves, sorting out the green shucked nuts, when from a point that at the instant seemed to be directly above his head came a human voice.
“Caught ye at it, didn’t I?”
Harriman jerked his head up, and leaped to his feet.
Within reach of his arm stood the man who had spoken; a bearded, thickset individual whose arms filled full the sleeves of a shirt made with the idea of giving free movement to the wearer. He crowded his shirt, this man.
He bulged with solid brawn, and Harriman knew at a glance that he was not onlyable but willing to fight.
However, Bill could not understand why there should be any fight.
“Caught me at what?” he demanded, a little disconcertedly.
“Stealing my hick’ry nuts!"
“Oh!” Bill grinned amicably. “Well, mister, generally people leave hickory nuts for the squirrels when they’re on woodland like this. But I’m willing to pay—”
“What are you doing on my land, anyway?” cut in the
“Chopping,” answered Bill, now growing quiet and quite grave as he began to grow angry. “My partner and I have got a wood job. . . you can almost see where I’m working from here.”
“All right. But I own the land you’re standing on now. The line is blazed between here and your job. Keep your eyes open! Chopping for Zeb Smith, ain’t you?”
“Stay on his land and they won’t be no trouble.” The stranger stopped suddenly and Bill, half turning to follow his gaze, saw that Marie Malloy had appeared. It seemed to him that her face had grown a little white under its tan, but she was looking the other man straight in the eye.
“Hello, Mr. Barnes,” she said.
“Hello, Marie,” black-whiskered Barnes was embarrassed for no more than a second. Almost instantly his brows drew down into a deeper scowl as he looked suspiciously from Bill to the girl. “Are you chopping, too, Marie?”
She flushed; and for the first time Bill felt a whole hearted desire to drive his fist into the middle of Barnes’ whiskers.
“Mr. Harriman was helping me for a few minutes,” she said; and then, before either of the men could speak, she ran to her sack and dumped the contents on the ground. “There! It’s the first time I ever saw a man in this country who was mean enough to begrudge hickory nuts to anybody that wanted ’em!” Bill Harriman laughed, and upon him Barnes turned a gaze of concentrated hatred. Marie Malloy faded into the woods, the empty sack in her hand, and the two men were left facing each other.
“Well?” demanded Barnes. “Well what?” asked Bill, mildly. His anger was fading. Now that the girl had got the better of this disagreeable person he wanted to get back to work, and to his own thoughts about her.
“This is what!” roared Barnes. “I’m Murdock Barnes. Maybe you’ve heard of me, and maybe you ' ain’t. I own enough land to make a graveyard for an army like you. You keep on your wood job and let that gal alone. Do you hear?”
“I’ll get right over on Smith’s land now,” replied Big Bill. “But otherwise I’ll do as I darn well please, and if you want trouble you can find it by hunting me up, ’most any time.”
For a matter of five seconds he stood looking into the eyes of Murdock Barnes; then he turned deliberately and walked through the woods to where his axe awaited him. He jerked it out of the log, picked out a fresh beech for cutting, and took his position where the footing was good.
Murdock Barnes did not follow him.
Through the afternoon Bill’s axe rose and fell with the precision of a machine; and as it sent the chips singing about his head his heart sang with gladness at the memory of the girl. Of course
he would be able to find out where she lived; and then he would set out to marry that girl. She was the wife he wanted. Barnes, especially as a rival, hardly entered at all into his thoughts.
“No,” agreed Beaudry. “Trouble! It is not necessary.” That was the most gloomy meal that the partners had ever eaten together. In silence they smoked the excellent five-cent cigars and in silence they finally rolled into their bunks.
A day’s chopping will put a man to sleep, even though he be in love, and Bill Harriman did not lose more than an hour or two of his accustomed rest. But in that time he had made his simple plans for the future. He would do his best to win the girl by any open means; when he mentioned Pierre to her it would be to speak well of him.
THE next morning Bill and Pierre went each to his own cut of wood. They were chopping separately so that each could measure his own wood when the time came to draw pay for the work. It was because of this method of working that Harriman had his second opportunity to see Marie Malloy alone.
He had just felled a tree and was getting ready to log off when he became conscious of that feeling which says that one is watched. He swung his gaze around this little clearing and found himself looking into the eyes of the girl. She had come out from behind his pile of cordwood and stood watching him, a half smile upon her lips. In one hand she held a pail and in the other the sack she had carried the day before.
“I’ve brought you that pie, Mr. Bill Harriman. A fresh apple pie, with plenty of sugar and cinnamon in it.” Bill, mumbling and blushing gratitude, looked at a flaky, light brown crust which oozed odors and juices. “I haven’t seen a pie like that for ten years!” “Your partner likes apple pie, too. He stopped at our house yesterday for a drink of water. . . and ate half a
pie. Pop thinks he’s a real fine fellow, Pop does.” “He said he saw you.” said Bill, with a slightly sinking heart. “You’ve come back for more nuts?”
“More?” laughing. “I didn’t get any] If you don’t care, I’m going to pick up some on Zeb Smith’s land.” “Care? I’ll help you get every blamed hickory nut between here and Turner’s Falls, if you want me too.” “I don’t want any from Murdock Barnes’ trees!” “What’s the matter with him, anyway?” asked Harriman, as he took the sack from her.
“Murdock Barnes is about the biggest thing around here,” she replied, evasively. “He owns three farms and a lot of woodland. Besides that he’s the town supervisor. He usually comes pretty close to getting what he wants.” A sudden thought began to stir wrath within Big Bill. He tried to look into the girl’s eyes, but she would not meet his gaze squarely.
“Does Barnes want you?” he demanded.
“He’s said. ...” She hesitated, and finally looked up to Bill with a revelation of pain that startled him. “. . . . he’s said I’ve got to marry him, or....”
“He can do what he likes. Pop is only Jim Malloy, the fisherman.”
“How can a man make a girl marry him if she don’t want to?”
“Let’s. .. .let’s go and get those hickory nuts!” Harriman had the sense not to press her further at the moment, in spite of his desire. He made the most of the hour that followed and then, somewhat against her desire, he carried the sack of nuts home for her.
The dwelling of Jim Malloy and his daughter was hardly more than a shack. It stood a considerable distance back from the little used roadway that led from Turner’s Falls to Crowquill mountain, and it had never attained the dignity of clapboards, shingles or paint. It would have been a disreputable looking place had it not been for the scrupulous neatness that prevailed all about thebuilding. Harriman understood something of the reason for this incongruity when Marietoldhimthatlier father had lost a good half of his interest in life at the death of her mother.
Jim Malloy sat upon the plank that served for a door-step when they approached. He was a small, neat man, who looked at them with snapping black eyes. A short clay pipe was held in a firm mouth.
“This is Mr. Harriman, Pop,” said Marie, with a hint of nervousness. “He's Pierre Beaudry’s partner. You remember Pierre spoke about him yesterday?” “Howdy do, Mr. Harriman.” Malloy did not offer to shake hands, nor did he ask Bill to enter the house. There was a little atmosphere of chill, if not of hostility. Moreover, they called Beaudry by his first name, while neither father nor daughter failed to say “Mr. Harriman.”
For a matter of five minutes Bill did his best to make himself agreeable. He asked about the fishing and learned that Malloy was able to get most of his living from Lake Champlain, a couple of miles to the eastward. Tn the winter be put out a line of traps. It took the old man but a short time to reduce the conversation to nothing and Harri m a n found himself forced to leave. Nor did he have an opportunity to ask Marie when he could see her again.
With feelings mixed to the point of dizziness Big Bill Harriman went back to his chopping, only to find more trouble was due that day. He had barely lifted Continued on page ís
PIERRE BEAUDRY had gone to Turner’s Falls, five miles away, for provisions. Bill had chosen to stay on the job and work; while Pierre, being of a highly gregarious nature, had preferred the trip to the little village.
The mingled odors of frying salt pork and boiling coffee met Harriman as he entered, stooping, the low doorway of his temporary home. Beaudry, darkly handsome and lithe as a cat, was leaping from the rusty stove to the rough board table and back again; a knife in one hand, a fork in the other, and a song of Canada upon his lips.
A trip to the village was always as good as a bottle of red wine to Beaudry, but it seemed to Bill that this time he was even more than ordinarily elated. Moreover, his green and black plaid shirt was decorated by a flaring crimson necktie; his hair had been cut.
“My friend!” he cried, at sight of Bill. “I have a feast for us! A can of peaches? Some most excellent five-cent cigars! Parbleu! I am happy!”
Harriman grinned, and set down his axe. He, also, was happy.
“What’s happened?” he asked, as he went to the water pail and prepared to wash for supper.
“Me, I have seen the most beautiful girl in the world!” Beaudry attempted to kiss his fingers to the air and nearly stuck the fork into his mouth. “I have talk’ to her. I have also talk’ to her most droll pere. He is Irish, that excellent man, and the mother of Miss Malloy was French. You yourself shall see her. I promise!”
“Malloy?” echoed Bill, stupidly. “Marie Malloy?”
“But yes!” Beaudry dropped the platter of salt pork onto the table with a bang. “Mile. Marie Malloy. She lives not a mile from here. And you. .. you know her?”
• “I guess so,” rumbled Harriman. He sat down heavily at the table, his appetite gone. “The girl I mean looks like an angel would look if there was one here on Crowquill Moun-
“Mon Dieu!” Beaudry collapsed like a pricked balloon. “It is the same, my
For a long minute they sat looking into each other’s eyes, in silence. It was Bill who spoke first.
“Pete,” he said, “let’s get this all straight and square.
You and I have been partners and worked together and got along first-class for a good while. You know I ain’t much of a hand for women. This is the only girl I ever saw that I wanted to marry. I don’t know anything at all about her except that. And I mean it.”
“My friend,” replied Pierre, “I, also, should like to marry Mademoiselle. I say so for the firs’ time in my life.”
Bill Harriman was surprised, but notfor a moment did he doubt the honesty of his partner’s intention.
“That’s fair enough,” he said. “She’ll take the one she likes best, I guess. All we got to do is play the game square. We don’t need to have any trouble.”
Of the First Water
Continued from page 17
his axe for the first time when the crackle of a footstep made him turn. Murdock Barnes had come to see him.
A FEW seconds the men faced each other, taking mental measurements. Bill’s first thought, that he had a fight on his hands, dimmed somewhat; for Barnes drove his big hands into his pockets and contented himself for the moment with a
.“You’ve just been over to Malloy’s,” he
“That,” replied Bill, “is none of your business.”
“Let it go that way if ye want to,” snapped Barnes. “I didn’t come up here to-day to fight, young feller! I come up here to tell you something.”
“All right.” Bill leaned upon the helve of his axe. “Go ahead and tell it.”
“If you don’t keep away from Marie Malloy,” said the older man, “I’m going to run you out of this country. . out of the township, anyways. That goes for you and your partner, too, and it ain’t fool talk, young feller. I can do it!”
“Maybe so." Harriman grinned, but
he was as earnest as Murdock Barnes. “We’ve got a right here, as far as that counts. If you start a fight it won’t be the first one we’ve had. You better go home and cool off.”
Barnes seemed about to burst. Then he controlled himself, and turned away.
“Keep right on foolin’ yourself and you’ll wish you’d never seen Crowquill. Y ou don’t know half as much as you think you do.”
He left Big Bill Harriman with plenty to think about, although without any marked degree of apprehension. Bill had always found that men who talked big were very apt to do little. Thus far he was of the opinion that Barnes was bluffing, and he was a little surprised that a man of his physique did not at least start a fight. That Barnes had not attacked him lessened his belief in Barnes. He wondered how it was that the black-bearded man could have made any impression upon Marie, who evidently feared him as much as she detested him. To Bill the coolness of Jim Malloy seemed to be of much more importance than the enmity of Murdock Barnes.
Harriman held this attitude of mind only until he had told Pierre, that evening, of what had passed between himself and Barnes at their two meetings. He laughed as he told the story, but no answering laugh came from Beaudry, who was ordinarily ready to be amused at anything. He smoked in grave silence until Bill had finished his story.
“This Barnes is a very bad man,” said Pierre. “I know, me. You and me better look out. I tole you, Bill, he is big man ’round here!”
“Well,” replied Bill, somewhat impressed, “if he’s mean enough he sure can do a lot of damage without getting into trouble himself. He could set a fire, for instance, when the wind is blowing away from his line, and spoil our whole job... . burn up the cabin, like as not, too. There wouldn’t be any way of proving it on him, not that I can see.”
“Eh bien, my Bill!” exclaimed Beaudry. “I guess mebbe you got some firs’ class brains, after all. Most probably Barnes have think of that, also.”
“That’s about all he can do, outside of murder,” reflected Harriman.
“Murder, she ain’t so very safe,” said Beaudry.
“If I was going to set a fire like that,” continued Bill, thinking aloud, “I’d most likely start it in that place where I’ve been chopping, over near his line. I g.ot some big piles of brush there, and the brush has dried out this weather so it’s all ready for a spark."
“Certainement,” agreed Pierre.
“So I guess we’d better stand watch, Pete. It’ll kind of break up our work, but that’s better than getting run off the mountain.”
To this Pierre Beaudry did not immediately reply; and with surprise Big Bill realized that his partner was not meeting his own frank gaze. He was looking anywhere in the cabin rather than at Harriman. For the first time in five years there was shiftiness between them.
“I was going to tole you, Bill,” said Pierre, finally. “I guess I go board on Jim Malloy’s house, me. He ask me if I want to come board on his house. I guess I go there to-morrow, Bill.”
BILL HARRIMAN was stunned. It was a clean preliminary victory for Beaudry in the contest for the love of Marie Malloy; not necessarily decisive but certainly of the first importance. Moreover, the affair smacked of desertion. Bill knew that he would not have left Beaudry to face Murdock Barnes alone. If it had not been for the Barnes situation he could hardly have blamed Pierre for taking advantage of an opportunity to see the girl every evening and every morning; under the circumstances it was not what he expected of the French-Canadian, whom he had long regarded as a brother. But of this feeling he said nothing.
“All right, Pete,” he agreed, after a considerable pause. “I guess I can rig me up a sleeping bag and stay out in the clearing. That way I’ll get my rest and at the same time be on the job if Barnes does start anything. You’re getting along pretty good with old man Malloy, Pete. It looks like you had the inside track.” Beaudry shrugged.
“His wife was Française. For that he likes me.”
Nothing more was said of the affair
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that night; nor the next morning when Pierre, with a shame-faced farewell, made up his pack and started.
“I speak a good word for you to ol’ man Jim,” he said.
“All right,” said Bill. But for the first time he did not believe the promise of his partner.
IT WAS later than usual that night.
when Bill Harriman went out to the clearing: and in spite of the fatigue which always follows a hard day’s work he did not find himself sleepy for a long time. The first grateful drowsiness had just come upon him when that for which he had waited so long happened. Footsteps that were unmistakably human sounded in the clearing.... they came on with steadiness of purpose. Harriman, sitting up and peering around a corner of his woodpile, saw a human bulk outlined in the starlight. There was no difficulty in identifying the contour of Murdock Barnes.
Harriman gathered himself up, quietly getting clear of the sleeping bag. He expected Barnes to stop at one of the brush piles; but to his astonishment his enemy went on across the clearing and disappeared in the woods. Bill was puzzled, until lie decided that Barnes would be bound for the cabin. He drew on his shoepacks and hurriedly followed.
The cabin, however, was not the objective of Murdock Barnes. Bill had followed him a considerably distance beyond it before it flashed upon him where the man was going. Barnes was going to make a midnight visit to the cabin of Jim Malloy! He was headed directly for it.
This seemed impossible. If he had evil intentions he was acting like a fool, for Malloy, like every man in the mountains, owned a rifle and a shotgun. And Beaudry was there.
Yet Murdock Barnes broke into a dog trot twenty feet from the door of the Malloy cabin, hurled himself like a catapult against the flimsy boards, and sent that door completely from its hinges.
“Now, looky here.” Barnes brought an enormous fist down upon the table. “You know I can. Who’s Pop Malloy? Nothing but a shiftless old fisherman. ’Spose he comes up to my place gunning fer me? I’ll Put a slug of lead into him and the coroner’s jury’ll say I done jest right! Who’re you? Nothing but old Pop Malloy’s gal, and if you make a holler nine-tenths of the folks in this township ’ll say you’re trying to blackmail me. I’ve got ^mortgages on half of ’em and they won’t dast to say anything else. Gal, I’m worth fifty thousand dollars and I’m offering to marry you. You must be fool in the head.”
“I help take care of mademoiselle,” Beaudry replied, almost softly. “The Pop Malloy, he go to fish pickerel every night. I stay here. To-night I hear while she make you say somethings to her. She have a witness now. You will go backhome, M’sieu Barnes, and if ever you make bother for mademoiselle again we hunt up those sheriff. He is bigger man than you!”
Now Harriman began to understand something of the mystery which had baffled him. Beaudry had enabled Malloy to fish at night while he waited to get evidence that would restrain Barnes. This did not help Bill but it helped his opinion of Pierre.
BARNES was confused, even while he boiled with rage. His plan had been feasible enough for a man of wealth and power while his antagonist was old Pop Malloy, but with another man in the game the odds were nearly even. He could go home and admit defeat—give up the girl—or he could dispose of the witness permanently. He chose the latter course.
His hand dipped into his pocket, and snapped out again with a heavy revolver. A fraction of a second behind the movement of Barnes the hand of Beaudry went to his hip and drew a gun; a fraction of a second behind Barnes he leveled the weapon.
Barnes’ revolver roared in the small room. Pierre staggered against the wall, sank to his knees and managed to hold
his body upright by clinging to a chair. The arm which held hls gun rested over the bottom of that chair and the muzzle was trained upon the body of Murdock Barnes. White to the lips, Pierre managed to smile.
“We are going to kill each other, M’sieu Barnes! Mademoiselle will be very well rid of you.”
Big Bill Harriman, poised upon the doorstep, knew that this would be true unless he acted instantly. In a heartbeat of time Bill’s great temptation took hqld of his soul, and shook it. A second more i and they would both shoot. Pierre Beaudry, his really dangerous rival, would be dead. No one, not even Marie, would know that he had delayed.
Bill Harriman would know it.
That thought sent him over the threshold with a spring that sent him against the back of Murdock Barnes with the force of a battering ram. The big revolver roared a second time, the bullet ploughed into the floor, and Barnes brought up against the wall with a thud that shook the house.
Big Bill gave him no time to recover. His hands clasped the wrist that held the gun, and with a twist wrenched it away. Barnes, with his free hand, drove a blinding fist between his eyes, and he closed to save himself.
For the first time since Bill had reached maturity he found his match in close fighting. His holds slipped from the thick and sloping shoulders of Murdock Barnes, the jolts with which he had finished more than one battle failed even to stagger this giant, and he had to defend himself against every foul known to dirty fighting.
Chairs smashed beneath their feet.... the stove pipe fell in a cloud of soot. Dimly Big Bill saw Marie snatch the lamp as they swung that way. The table collapsed like a toy. They fell, locked together, and rolled into a corner. Bill spat out a mouthful of blood. He was worried.
Then it was that the nature of Murdock Barnes proved his own undoing. Bill turned his head slightly and Barnes, freeing an arm, jerked Harriman’s head down and set his teeth into an ear. Even while excruciating pain sent Bill faint and blind he seized his opportunity. Barnes had lifted his chin a little, exposing his throat. Big Bill’s fingers dug through the black whiskers and into the corded throat. They closed upon the wind-pipe. They drew closer. . thumb almost met finger.
The jaws of Murdock Barnes unlocked. He lay inert, unconscious, upon the
FIFTEEN minutes later Pierre Beaudry.
his shoulder tightly bandaged, lay in his bed. On one side of him sat Jim Malloy, who had arrived in time to help wind Murdock up in stout half inch rope. Upon the bed sat Bill Harriman, much damaged upon the surface. Marie, with shining eyes, stood by the pillows she had just arranged.
“I shall not die ■this time, my Bill," whispered Pierre, with a faint attempt at a grin. “The good ol’ Pop Malloy here, he want me to make marry with Marie, because I am Francais. Me, I want that also. But I know that Marie have come to love my frien’, the Big Bill. The good Pop will not believe it, he will not let me tell about this Barnes. Parbleu! I mus’ watch alone and save Marie for my frien’, the Big Bill.”
Beneath the brown of sun and wind Marie Malloy grew crimson. The good Pop, with a hint of brogue and more than a hint of mist in his eyes, snorted:
“Next to the Irish and the French yu’r all right, Harriman, me boy! There’s no doubt about your being a fighting man of the fir-r-st water!”
Big Bill Harriman clasped the hand of his friend, and at the same time he took the little fingers of Marie and held them in a mighty but gentle grip.