C. Lintern Sibley
THE Indian had been lying on his stomach and gazing through the forest undergrowth with unblinking eyes. Suddenly he went tense with eager attention. The quick flattening crouch of his body was just such a movement as a cat, lazily watching birds, would make if one of the birds were to stray beyond the safety line.
His beady eyes, glittering with surface lights, were fixed upon a strange spectacle. One hundred yards away from him, on the side of a forest rivulet, a lone white man was behaving with all the abandon of a moonstruck rabbit. He had swung his hat round his head and flung it into the air, and was engaged in an excited and ludicrous burlesque of a ballet dance. Pretending to lift up skirts, he began to pirouette, essaying, in an uncouth way, all the professional flourishes of the stage.
His extraordinary movements came to an abrupt stop. It was as though that mysterious sixth sense which becomes especially acute in the wilds, even in the most civilized of men, had warned him of the two dark eyes,
low in the undergrowth, that were fixed on him with such eager attention. He, too, was now on the alert, but his attention was not fixed, like that of the Indian. He was uncertain what it was that warned him of a menace. Indeed, he was not certain of anything. He crouched low, listening, peering. Not a creature moved in the tangle of the forest floor. Not a breath of air played in the tops of the tall spruce. The instinct of the old hunters had revived in the Indian. He raised his rifle and sighted it. He lowered it again and sighed with a happy contentment in the sureness of his victim’s fate. He would wait.
Perceiving nothing to justify his suspicions, the white man stripped a considerable quantity of moss from a decayed log and planted it in the spot beside the rivulet over which he had danced so wildly. That done, he proceeded with the work which had been occupying him earlier in the day— that of thoroughly prospecting the neighborhood. Each time during the afternoon, when the results of his examination seemed satisfactory, he care-
fully covered up all traces of his operations, and toward dusk he disappeared.
The red man went to the rivulet and lifted up the moss laid there so carefully by the white man. He saw an outcropping of white rock, and on the face of the rock was a splash of yellow metal as big as the eye of a deer. He carefully replaced the moss, and following up the trail of the other, uncovered various holes which the white man had dug in the ground. At each spot he found rock just beneath the surface—rock that glistened, and that had in it many tiny specks and splashes of dull yellow. Presently, as the forest grew dark, the Indian stole back to his wigwam on the Kamistakwa Lake.
Two years before his hunting ground had been farther south, down in the Porcupine country. But a white man had come and discovered rocks that were dusted with yellow specks, and before he had been gone a month back to “the steel” thousands of white men had poured into what had been the Indian’s hunting country. The game fled, and with it the Indian retired to the North. His new hunting ground' was in the watershed of the Kamistakwa Lake, and it had been profitable. After his first winter he had carried more fur into the Hudson’s Bay post than ever before. But now the white man had come again. Apparently the rock with the yellow specks was about to cause another influx of the fortune-hunters and another exodus of the rightful tenants of the country. Picturing it to himself, he let a gleam of menace light his eyes for a moment and then pursued the preparations for his evening meal, impassive. He would strike when the spirit moved him ; when it pleased him to kill.
■Meanwhile, the unconscious cause of his apprehension went back to the camp. He was quite as perturbed as the Indian. For years, he, Reuben Bayes, had been engaged in mining work. He had been in at some of the
richest strikes that had been made in Canada’s last quarter-century of mining history. But he had always been somebody else’s employe—the tool in some other man’s hand. He had received a wage and a grub-stake, while the other man reaped the great profits. He had saved nothing. His youth had been spent in wild and lawless places, and yet he had never been a “bad man”-—merely shiftless.
He had lived in that way for years, in fact, until just recently—until he made his last visit to the rail-head at Cochrane. He had met a woman there, different, to him, from all other women. They had been thrown together in the panic of a fire in the little hotel in which both happened to be staying. He had not told her what he thought : women were a new thing to him. He went away to think it over and to earn enough and save enough to be able to go to that woman and tell her. But she guessed it, and laughed, afterward.
He joined Big Bob Callaway’s prospecting expedition into the country even beyond the new Porcupine country. He was employed as one of a number of men to each of whom, each day, a section of country was given to be examined inch by inch for traces of metal. Callaway, in turn, was employed by a group of New York financial men. The expedition, having been organized at a secret rendezvous, had covered a ribbon of land fifty miles wide. From the Temagami Forest Reserve it had worked its way north over the great Height of Land and had descended into the watershed of Hudson’s Bay. The work was organized with the precision of a factory system. Each man, each day, filled in a blank map of the region he had covered that day, with markings of the mineral indications, the water-courses, the timber and the contours. From these maps, and from the samples of rocks which the men were required to bring in, Callaway composed his map each evening. For with Callaway, prospecting was a science, grimlv in earnest, relentlessly logical.
So far, no important strikes had been made until Reuben Bayes made this find, this afternoon. Lying down on his face to take a drink from the clear rivulet which traversed his allotted piece of the day’s territory, Bayes had seen, beneath an over-hanging growth of ferns, the solid white quartz with the splash of gold upon its surface. He had followed the indications and discovered signs of a rich out-cropping, and it was in elation at his discovery that he went through the exercises which the Indian had watched. His hopes were maturing. His plan was working out. It was the only plan he had ever made in his life.
So there was no question is his mind as he walked back to the camp, as to what he intended doing. He had never had a motive in doing anything before now. He was going to keep the find a secret until he could get back to civilization and sell it. He knew it would bring a fabulous sum. Already he felt as independent as though the wealth were his. And yet, as he approached the clearing where the tents had been put up he felt weak, cowardly, he called it, to himself. He had never been really dishonest before. He had always been more or less strong and simple in his motives, and he felt that it would be hard to keep a secret from Callaway—that man with the stern mouth and determined jaw, whose keen grey eyes, night after night, as the samples and reports were brought in, reflected neither disappointment nor pleasure. He knew, vaguely, that Callaway was a man who made his own deductions without saying very many words. He knew that the other men of the party both admired him and feared him; and he knew that he was no better able to cheat Callaway than they were. But he remembered the light of that yellow metal. He saw what he might obtain with it-—not so much the fine clothes, the expensive habits and the luxurious surroundings which in his
earlier days he had contemplated with mild interest, but that woman, the daughter of a railroad contractor— that was what he saw. The money, to his mind, would give him access to her. and then—he would ask her, grandly, how much money she could spend, and he would give it to her. The thought of it sharpened his wits. He forgot Callaway. His ideas of women were childish.
He was thinking of his newly-made future as he took his place on a spruce log at the long supper table. He dumped the beans into his plate in a dream. He lifted his pewter spoon to stir his coffee, after he had had his soup out of the same dish, and forgetting to put it into the liquid, in his abstraction, held it suspended. He gripped the edge of his tin plate with his fist and dreamed, oblivious to his companions. As he dreamed a smile started to creep over his face, but he caught it in time and looked up—straight into Callaway’s unreadable eyes. But Callaway said nothing. After the meal the men handed in their reports and their samples. Bayes’ went in with the rest. His map was marked barren.
“Funny,” remarked Callaway, leafing over the soil-stained papers, “but I’d hoped to find the Mother Lode hereabouts. But howsomever!” he closed his jaws tightly, ran his eyes over the men with a swift glance of inspection, and lit his p?pe, “We’ll have to wait.”
Later that night Bayes paused on the edge of his bunk with one boot in his hand.
“Now, what the h-did he mean
by that?” he growled to himself.
“What in Hades are you talking to yourself about?” demanded a fellowprospector, half asleep in his bunk, “Get to bed, Rube, an’ put the light out.”
The camp was moved next day. Bayes left behind him a cache of supplies which he had stolen from the cook-tent. They moved again the next
clay-, and again Bayes made a cache. On the third day his plan was complete for escaping from the party. He knew that no excuse would secure for him the liberty he needed. He would be watched. Callaway knew the minds of a certain class of men in the North, and would be suspicious.
But he made a scheme. He found a piece of muskeg not far from the third day’s camp, which was covered with moss, but into which some unfortunate deer had apparently stumbled not long before and been swallowed up. He would make a trail to the morass in the morning and leave his hat on the spot where the deer had evidently disappeared. Then he would set out for the little rivulet, secure some good samples and make for the end of the steel.
He was elated with his plan. He was no longer dreamy, but the night before his plan was to be put into execution, he told stories with the best of them and made several jokes at the expense of Ba’tis’e, the FrenchCanadian, who was sharpening his axe in a corner of the tent. And yet, when Callaway thrust his head in at the opening, it sent a chill through the schemer. Why was that man always watching him, he wondered. He had told no one. He had been careful. And, why, too, had he always the feeling that something was following him? It wasn’t Callaway, he knew that much. But there seemed always a something behind him. Almost involuntarily he turned to look behind him. He went to sleep in his bunk, but woke up several times, and once he thought he felt something sharp pressing against his grey flannel shirt. He sweated with fear.
He was better in the morning and strolled around to the cook tent.
Breakfast late. Cook drunk. “Boss gone for a stroll, too,” remarked the cookee.
“Which way?” asked Bayes.
“That way,” said the boy, pointing, and Bayes, much relieved, took another direction, the one leading to the muskeg. He thought it better, now,
to go without breakfast. It would appear that he had been caught in the muskeg and dragged down while waiting.
Once out of sight of the camp he hurried. Arrived at the muskeg, he nibbed his hat in the slime as though it had been gripped by a struggling man, and tossed it on the place where the deer had broken the moss. Then away he struck into the brush, traveling lightly, choosing rocks for stepping-places, and leaving no trail. He stopped at times to listen. Twice, listening, he cocked his revolver and waited. But the woods were still, save for the soughing of a young wind in the spruce and the falling of a dried leaf. Once the stillness was so tense; and yet so seemingly full of a softfooted menace, that the man almost cried out with fear, and the beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. Lying down to sleep that night he thought he saw a brown figure, trailing a rifle, step out of the bush and standing smiling grimly, over him.
He was haggard, when, two days later, he arrived at the little creek. Trembling, he fell upon his knees in the wet ground and with shaking hands laid back the moss. There was the yellow-spattered rock! There was his fortune ! There was the hand of the railroad contractor’s daughter! There, indeed, lay a new life to Reuben Bayes !—but, as he looked up, a nugget in his hand, there stood Bob Callaway. He was not two yards away. His arms were folded. A sneer played over his grim face.
“So that’s what you were after, Rube!” he drawled. “Nice little game. I just happened to be taking a stroll myself. Had sort of a notion you were thinking too much about the work you did the day you discovered this and I knew the short cut. I see the nugget in your hand. Nice nugget, Reuben, but I’m afraid the little game is up.”
The sneer cut Bayes. He felt like slinking away and forgetting the thing.
but of a sudden the ambition which he had neglected to cultivate all his life, but which had grown so rapidly within him since his meeting with the woman in Cochrane, flared up. His passion took fire and he sprang at Callaway. Callaway’s revolver flashed out, but missed its target, and Bayes’ fist crashed into the face of his chief. But just then there was a report of a rifle. Bayes staggered back and fell, writhing weakly. Callaway, recovering from the blow from the fist, leaned over him, and another shot rang out. Callaway dropped heavily over the body of the other.
The woods were still. The little stream, finding an impediment to its course, rose several inches and found another path. It laughed, a tinkling, chromatic, secret, little laugh, as much as to say, “Oh, you can’t block me, you know.” As it rose it lapped the little mat of moss which overlaid the white rock, and the moss floated ofif, leaving the yellow splashes bare. The same sounds in the trees went on ; boughs, rubbing together, leaves slid-
ing down through the air, squirrels gossipping, and one other thing—a little cloud of gun smoke, over a place where an Indian had sighted his rifle five minutes before, floated up.
The second engineer took charge of the prospecting party, and it wTent on with its work, after sending a letter back to Toronto that Big Bob Callaway had been lost in a muskeg, and that Reuben Bayes, a prospector, had died with his trying to save his chief. They erected a monument to Callaway in Montreal, where his father was buried, and wired the news to his brother-in-law in Winnipeg. The railroad contractor’s daughter, meanwhile, heard about it and cried quite sincerely, to think that poor Mr. Bayes had been such a heroic sort of a fellow after all. And to this day she holds his memory quite sacred. Lynxfoot, the Indian, is the father of two more papooses. The hunting is good.
Only a pair of dark brown eyes,
Only a dimple sweet ;
Only a clouded autumn skies,
Only a muddy street.
Only a glance from the eyes of brown, Only a friendly smile ;
Only a maid in a fetching gown,
Only a bit of guile.
Only a boy with an ardent heart,
Only a gust of rain ;
Only a glance at a taxi-cart,
Only a sudden pain.
Only a deeply anxious thrill,
Only a frown of rue;
Only a lone lorn dollar bill,
Only a swift skiddoo!
—Wilberforce Jenkins in Harper’s Weekly.