The Trail of '98
Robert W. Service
Author of “ The Songs of a Sourdough ” and “ Ballads of a Cheechako.” *
Registered in accordance with the Copyright Act by Robert W. Service. Canadian serial rights own d by The MacLean Publishing Co.
At last, at last we had climbed over the divide, and left behind us forever the vampire valley. Oh, we were glad! But other troubles were coming. Soon the day came when the last of our grub ran out. I remember how solemnly we ate it We were already more than three-parts starved, and that meal was but a mouthful.
“Well,” said the Halfbreed, “we can’t be far from the Yukon now. It must be the valley beyond this one. Then, in a few days, we can make a raft and float down to Dawson.”
This heartened us, so once more we took up our packs and started. Jim did not move.
“Come on, Jim.”
Still no movement.
“What’s the matter, Jim? Come on.”
He turned to us a face that grey and death-like.
“Go on, boys. Don’t mind me. Mv time’s up. I’m an old man. I’m only keeping you back. Without me you’ve got a chance; with me you’ve got none. Leave me here with a gun. I can shoot an’ rustle grub. You boys can come back for me. You’ll find old Jim spry an’ chipper, awaitin’ you with a smile on his face. Now go, boys. You’ll go, won’t you?”
“Go be darned!” said the Prodigal. “You know we’ll never leave you, Jim.
You know the code of the trail. What d’ye take us for—skunks? Come on, we’ll carry you if you can’t walk.”
He shook his head pitifully, but once more he c.awled after us. We ourselves were making no great speed. Lack of food was beginning to tell on us. Our stomachs were painfully empty and dead.
“How d’ye feel?” asked the Prodigal. His face had an arrestivelv hollow look, but that frezen smile was set on it.
“All right,” I said, “only terribly weak. My head aches at times, but I’ve got no pain.”
“Neither have I. This starving racket’s a cinch. It’s dead easy. What rot they talk about the gnawing pains of hunger, an’ ravenous men chewing up their boottops. It’s easy. There’s no pain. I don’t even feel hungry any more.”
None of us did. It was as if our stomachs, in despair at not receiving any food, had sunk into apathy. Yet there was no doubt we were terribly weak. We only made a few miles a day now, and even that was an effort. The distance seemed to be elastic, to stretch out out under our feet. Every few yards we had to help Jim over a bad place. His body was emaciated and he was getting very feeble. A hollow fire burned in his eyes. The Halfbreed persisted that beyond those despotic mountains lay the Yukon Valley, and at night he would rouse us up :
“Say, boys, I hear the ‘toot’ of a steamer. Just a few more days and we’ll get there.”
Running through the valley, we found a little river It was muddy in color and appeared to contain no fish. We ranged along it eagerly, hoping to find a few minnows, but without success. It seemed to me, as I foraged here and there for food, it was not hunger that impelled me so much as the instinct of self-preservation. I knew that if I did not get something into my stomach I would surely die.
Down the river we trailed forlornly. For a week we had eaten nothing. Jim had held on bravely, but now he gave up.
“For God’s sake, leave me, boys! Don’t make me feel guilty of your death. Haven’t I got enough on my soul already? For God’s pity, lads, save yourselves! Leave me here to die.”
He pleaded brokenly. His legs seemed to have become paralysed. Every time we stopped he would pitch forward on his face, or while walking he would fall asleep and drop. The Prodigal and I supported him, but it was truly hard to sup port ourselves, and sometimes we collapsed, coming down all three together in a confused and helpless heap. The Prodigal still wore that set grin. His face was nigh fleshle-s, and, through the straggling beard, it sometimes minded me of a grinning skull. Always Jim moaned and pleaded :
“Leave me, dear boys, leave me!”
He was like a drunken man, and his every step was agony.
We threw away our packs. We no longer had the strength to bear them. The last thing to go was the Halfbreed’s rifle. Several times it dropped out of his hand. He picked it up in a dazed way. Again and again il dropped, but at last the time came when he no longer picked it up. He looked at it for a stupid while, then staggered on without it.
At night we would rest long hours round the camp-fire. Often far into the day would ,ve rest. Jim lay like a dead man, moaning continually, while we, staring into each other’s ghastly faces, talked in jerks. It was an effort to hunt food. It was an effort to goad ourselves to continue the journey.
“Sure the river empties into the Yukon, boys,’’ said the Halfbreed. “ ’Tain’t so far, either. If we can just make a few miles more we’ll be all right.”
At night, in my sleep, I was a prey to the strangest hallucinations. People I liad known came and talked to me. They were so real that, w hen I awaoke, I could scarce believe I had been dreaming. Berna came to me often. She came quite close, with great eyes of pity that looked into mine. Her lips moved.
“Be brave, my boy. Don’t despair,” she pleaded. Always in my dreams she pleaded like that, and I think that but for her I would have given up.
The Halfbreed was the most resolute of the party. He never lost his head. At times wTe others raved a little, or laughed a little, or cried a little, but the Halfbreed remained cool and grim. Ceaselessly he foraged for food. Once he found a nest of grouse eggs, and, breaking them open, discovered they contained half-formed birds. We ate them just as they were, crunched them between our swollen gums. Snails, too, we ate sometimes, and grass roots and moss which wTe scraped from the trees. But our greatest luck was the decayed grouse eggs.
Early one afternoon we were all resting by a camp-fire on which was boiling some moss, when suddenly the Halfbreed pointed. There, in a glade down by the river’s edge, were a cow moose and calf. They were drinking. Stupidly wre gazed. I saw the Halfbreed’s hand go out as if to clutch the rifle. ¿Has! his fingers closed on the empty air. So near they were we could have struck them with a stone. Taking his sheath knife in his mouth, the Halfbreed started to crawl on his belly toward* them. He had gone but a few yards when they winded him. One look they gave, and in a few moments they were miles away. That was the only time I saw the Half breed put out. He fell on his face and lay there for a long time.
Often we came to sloughs that w'e could not cross, and we had to go round them. We tried to build rafts, but we were too weak to navigate them. We were afraid we would roll off into the deep black water and drown feebly. So we went round, which in one case meant ten miles. Once, over a slough a few yards wide, the Halfbreed built a bridge of willows, and we crawled on hands and knees to the other side.
From a certain point our trip seems like a night-mare to me. I can only remem-
ber parts of it here and there. We reeled like drunken men. We sobbed sometimes, and sometimes we prayed. There was no word from Jim now, not even a whimper, as we half dragged, half carried him on. Our eyes were large with fever, our hands were like claws. Long sickly beards grew on our faces. Our clothes were rags, and vermin overran us. We had lost all track of time. Latterly we had been traveling about half a mile a day, and we must have been twenty days without proper food.
The HaUbreed had crawled ahead a mile or so, and he came back to where we lay. In a voice hoarse almost to a whisper he told us a bigger river joined ours down there, and on the bar was an old Indian camp. Perhaps in that place some one might find us. It seemed on the route of travel. So we made a last despairing effort and reached it. Indians had visited it quite recently. We foraged around and found some putrid fish bones, with which we made soup.
There was a grave set high on stilts, and within it a body covered with canvas. The Halfbreed wrenched the canvas from the body, and with it he made a boat eight feet in length by six in breadth. It was too lotten to hold him up, and he nearly drowned trying to float it, so he left it lying on the edge of the bar. I remember this was a terrible disappointment to us, and we wept bitterly. I think that about this time we were all halfcrazy. WÍJ lay on that bar like men already dead, with no longer hope of deliverance.
Then Jim passed in his checks. In the night he called me.
“Boy,” he whispered, “you an’ I’se been good pals, ain’t we?”
“Yes, old man.”
“Boy, I’m in agony. I’m suffering untold pain. Get the gun, for God’s sake, an’ put me out of my misery.”
“There’s no gun, Jim; we left it back on the trail.”
“Then take your knife.”
“Give me your knife.”
“Jim, vou’re crazy. Where’s your faith in God?”
“Gone, gone; I’ve no longer any right to look to Him. I’ve killed. I’ve taken life He gave. ‘Vengeance is mine,’ He
said, an’ I’ve taken it out of His hands. God’s curso is on me now. Oh, let me die, let me die!”
I sat by him all night. He moaned in agony, and his passing was hard. It was about three in the morning when he spoke again ;
“Say, boy, I’m going. I’m a useless old man. I’ve lived in sin, an’ I’ve repented, an’ I’ve backslid. The Lord don’t want old Jim any more. Say, kid, see that little girl of mine down in Dawson gets what money’s cornin’ to me. Tell her to keep straight, an’ tell her I loved her. Tell her I never let up on lovin’ her all these years. You’ll remember that, boy, won’t you?”
“I’ll remember, Jim.”
“Oh, it’s all a hoodoo, this Northern gold,” he moaned. “See what it’s done for all of us. We came to loot the land an’ it’s a-takin’ its revenge on us. It’s accursed. It’s got me at last, but maybe I can help you boys to beat it yet. Call the others.”
I called tnem.
“Boys,” said Jim, “I’m a-goin’. I’ve been a long time about it. I’ve been dying by inches, but I guess I’ll'finish the job pretty slick this time. Well, boys, I’m in possession of all my faculties. I want you to know that. I was crazy when I started off, but that’s passed away. My mind’s clear. Now, pardners, I’ve got you into this scrape. I’m responsible, an’ it seems to me I’d die happier if you’d promise me one thing. Livin’, I can’t help you ; dead, I can—you know how. Well, I want you to promise me you’ll do it. It’s a reasonable proposition. Don’t hesitate Don’t let sentiment stop you. I wish it..It’s my dying wish. You’re starvin’, an I can help you, can give you strength;. Will you promise, if it comes to the last’ pass, you’ll do it?”
We were afraid to look each other in the face. ..
“Oh, promise, boys, promise!”
“Promise him anyway,” said the Halfbreed. “He’ll die easier.”
So we nodded our heads as we bent over him, and he turned away his face; content. ■ . . . :
’Twas but a little after he called me again. ^ .•.?
“Boy, give me your hand. Say a prayer for me, won’t you? Maybe it’ll help
some, a prayer for a poor old sinner that’s backslid. Í can never pray again.”
“Yes, try' to pray, Jim, try. Come on;
say it after me: ‘Our Father-’ ”
“ ‘Our Father-’ ”
“ ‘Which art in Heaven-’ ”
“ |Whieh art in-’ ”
His head fell forward. “Bless you, my
boy. Father, forgive, forgive-”
He sank back very quietly.
He was dead.
Next morning the Halfbreed caught a minnow. We divided it into three and ate it raw. Later on he found some waterhce under a stone. We tried to cook them, but they did not help us much. Then, as night fell once more, a thought came into our minds and stuck there. It was a hidden thought, and yet it grew and grew. As we sat round in a circle we looked into each other’s faces, and there we read the same revolting thought. Yet did it not seem so revdting after all. It was as if the spirit of the dead man was urging us to this thing, so insistent did the thought become. It was our only hope of life. It meant strength again, strength and energy to make a raft and float us down the river. Oh, if only—but, no! We could not do it. Better, a hundred times better, die.
Yet life was sweet, and for twenty-three days we had starved. Here was a chance to live, with the dead man whispering in our ears to do it. You who have never starved a day in your lives, would you blame us? Life is sweet to you, too. What wouM you have done? The dead man was urging us, and life was sweet.
But we struggled, God knows we struggled. We did not give in without agony. ín our hopeless, staring eyes there was the anguish of the great temptation. We looked in each other’s death’s-head faces. We clasped skeleton hands round our rickety knees, and swayed as we tried to sit upright. Vermin crawled over us in our weakness. We were half-crazy, and muttered in our beards.
It was the Halfbreed who spoke, and his voice was just a wdiisper :
“It’s our only chance, boys, and we’ve promised him. God forgive me, but I’ve a wife and children, and I’m a-goin’ to do it.”
He was too weak to rise, and with his
knife in his mouth he crawled to the body.
It was ready, but we had not eaten. We waited and waited, hoping against hope Then, as we waited, God was merciful to us. He saved us from this thing.
“Say, I guess I’ve got a pipe-dream, but I think I see two men coming downstream on a raft.”
“No, it’s no dream,” I said; “two men.”
“Shout to them; I can’t,” said the Prodigal.
I tried to shout, but my voice came as a whisper. The Halfbreed, too, tried to shout. There was scarcely any sound to it. The men did not see us as we lay on that shingly bar. Faster and faster the\ came. In hopeless, helpless woe we watched them. We could do nothing. In a few moments they would be past. With eyes of terror we followed them, tried to make signais to them. O God, help us!
Suddenly they caught sight of that crazy boat of ours made of canvas and willows. They poled the raft in close, then one of them saw those three strange things writhing impotently on the sand. They were skeletons, thev were in rags, they were covered with vermin.—* * * *
We were saved; thank God, we were saved !
“Berna, we must get married.”
“Yes, dearest, whenever you wish.”
She smiled radiantly; then her face grew very serious.
. _ “What will I wear?” she asked plaintively.
“Wear? Oh, anything. That white dress you’ve got on—I never saw you looking so sweet. You mind me of a picture I know of Saint Cecilia, the same delicacy of feature, the same pure coloring. the same grace of expression.”
“Foolish one!” she chided; but her voiee was deliciouslv tender, and her eyes were love-lit. And indeed, as she stood by the window holding her embroidery to the falling light, you scarce could have imagined a eirl more gracefully sweet. In a fine mood of idealising, my eyes rested on her.
“Yes. fail y girl, that briar rose you are doing in the centre of your little canvas hoop is not more delicate in the tinting
than are your cheeks; your hands that ply the needle so daintily are whiter than the May blossoms on its border ; those coils of shining hair that crown your head would shame the silk you use for softness.”
“Don’t,” she sighed; “you spoil me.” “Oh no, it’s true, true. Sometimes I wish you were not so lovely. It makes me care so much for you that—it hurts. Sometimes 1 wish you were plain, then I would feel more sure of you. Sometimes 1 fear, fear some one will steal you away from me.”
“No, no,” she cried; “no one ever will. There will never be any one but you.”
She came over to me, and knelt by my chair, putting her arms around me pretti ■ ly. The pure, sweet face looked up into mine.
“We have been happy here, haven’t we, boy?” che asked.
“Exquisitely happy. Yet I have always been afraid.”
“Of what, dearest?”
“I don’t know. Somehow it seems too good to last ”
“Well, to-morrow we’ll be married.” “Yes, we should have done that a year ago. It’s all been a mistake. It didn’t matter at first; nobody noticed, nobody cared. But now it’s different. I can see it by the way the wives of the men look at us. I wonder do women resent the fact that virtue is only its own reward—they are so down on those who stray. Well, we don’t care anyway. We’ll marry and live our Ik-es. But there are other reasons.”
“Yes. Garry talks of coming out. You wouldn’t like him to find us living like this—without benefit of the clergy?”
“Not for the world !” she cried, in alarm.
“Well, he won’t. Garry’s old-fashioned and terribly conventional, but you’ll take to him at once. There’s a wonderful charm about him. He’s so good-looking, yet so clever. I think he could win any woman if he tried, only he’s too upright and sincere ”
“What will he think of me, I wonder, poor, ignorant me? I believe I’m afraid of him. I wish he’d stay away and leave us alone. Yet for your sake, dear, I do wish him to think well of me.”
“Don’t fear, Berna. He’ll be proud of
' vou. But there’s a second reason.” “What?”
I drew her up beside me on the great Morris-chair.
“Oh, my beloved! perhaps we’ll not always be alne as we are now. Perhaps perhaps some day there will be others— little ones—for their sakes.”
She did not speak. I could feel her nestle close1' to me. Her cheek was pressed to mine; her hair brushed my brov and her lir,á were like rose-petals on my own. So we sat there in the big, deep chair, in the glow of the open fire, silent, dreaming, and I saw on her lashes the glimmer of a glorious tear.
“Why do you cry, beloved?”
“Because I’m so happy. I never thought I could be so happy. I want it to last forever. I never want to leave this little cabin of ours. It will always be home to me. I love it; oh, how I love it!—every stick and stone of it! This dear little room—there will never be another like it in the world. Some day we may have a fine home, but I think I’ll always leave some of my heart here in the little cabin.” I kissed away her tears. Foolish tears! I blessed her for them. I held her closer to me. I was wondrous happy. No longer did the shadow of the past hang over us. Even as children forget, were we forgetting. Outside the winter’s day was waning fast. The ruddy firelight danced around us It flickered on the walls, the open piano, the glass front of the bookcase. It lio up the Indian corner, the lounge with its cushions and brass reading-lamp, tlie rack of music, the pictures, the lace curtains, the gleaming little bit of embroidery. Yes, to me, too, these things were wistfully precious, for it seemed as if pare of her had passed into them. It would have been like tearing out my heart-strings to part with the smallest of them.
“Husband. I’m so happy,” she sighed. “Wife, dear, dear wife, Í too.”
There was no need for words. Our lips met in passionate kisses, but the nex„ moment wo started apart. Some one was coming up the garden path—a tall figure of a man. I started as if I had seen a ghost. Could it be?—then I rushed to th > door.
There on the porch stood Garry.
As he stood before me once again it seemed as if the years had rolled away, and we were boys together. A spate of tender memories came over me, memories of the days of dreams and high resolves, when life rang true, when men were brave and women pure. Once more I stood upon that rock-9rivisaged coast, while below me the yeasty sea charged with a roar the echoing caves. The gulls were glinting in the sunshine, and by their little brown -thatched homes the fishermen were spreading out their nets. High on the hillside in her garden I could see mv mother idling among her flowers. It all came back to me, that sunny shore, the white-washed cottages, the old grey house among the birches, the lift of sheep-starred pasture, and above it the glooming dark of the heather hills.
And it was but three years ago. How life had changed! A thousand things had happened. Fortune had come to me, love had come to me. I had lived, I had learned. I was no longer a callow, uncouth iad. Yet, alas! I no longer looked futurewards with jov; the savour of life was no more sweet. It was another “me” I saw in my mhror that day, a “me” with a face sore'y lined, with hair grey-flecked, with eyes sad and bitter. Little wonder Garry, as he stood there, stared at me so sorrowfully.
“How you’ve changed, lad!” said he at last.
“Have I, Garry? You’re j’ust about the same.”
But indeed he, too, had changed, had grown finer than my fondest thoughts of him. He seemed to bring into the room the clean, sweet breath of Glengyle, and I looked at him with admiration in mv eyes. Coming out of the cold, his color was dazzling as that of a woman : his deep blue eyes sparkled; his fair silky hair, from the pressure of his cap, was moulded to the shape of his fine head. Oh, he was handsome, this brother of mine, and I was proud, proud of him !
“By all that’s wonderful, what brought you here ?”
His teeth flashed in that clever, confident smile.
“The stage. I j'ust arrived a few min-
utes ago, and hurried here at once. Aren’t you glad to see me ?”
“Glad ? Yes, indeed ! I can’t tell you how glad. But it’s a shock to me your coming so suddenly. You might have let me know.” -
“Yes, it was a sudden resolve; I should have wired you. However, I thought I would give you a surprise. How are you old man ?”
“Me—oh, I’m all right, thanks.”
“Why, what’s the matter with you, lad ? You look ten years older. You look older than your big brother now.”
“Yes, I daresay. It’s the life, it’s the land. A hard life and a hard land.” “Why don’t you go out?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I keep on planning to go out and then something turns up, and Î put it off a little longer. 1 suppose I ought to go, but I’m tied up with mining interests. My partner is away in the East, and I promised to stay and look after things. I’m making money, you see.”
“Not sacrificing vour youth and health for that, are you ?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
There was a puzzled look in his frank face, and for my part I was strangely ill at ease. With all my joy at his coming, there was a sense of anxiety, even of fear. 1 had not wanted him to come just then, to see me there. I was not ready for him. 1 had planned otherwise.
He was fixing me with a clear, penetrating look. For a moment his eyes seemed to bore into me, then like a flash the charm came back into his face. He laughed thatringing laugh of his.
“Well, I was tired of roaming round the old place. Things are in good order now. I saved a little money and I thought I could afford to travel a little, so I came up to see my wandering brother, and his wonderful North.”
His gaze roved round the room. Suddenly it fell on the piece of embroidery. He started slightly and I saw his eyes narrow, his mouth set. His glance shifted to the piano with its litter of Music. Ha looked at me again, in an odd, bewildered way. He went on speaking, but there was ? queer restraint in his manner.
“I am going to stay here for a month, and then I want you to come back with me, Come back home and get some of
the old colour into your cheeks. The country doesn’t agree with you, but we’ll have you all right pretty soon. We’ll have you flogging the trout pools and tramping over the heather with a gun. You remember how—whir-r-r—the black cock used to rise up right at one’s very feet. They’ve been very plentiful the last two years. Oh, we’ll have the good old times over again ! You’ll see, we’ll soon put you right.”
“It’s good of you, Garry, to think so much of me; but I’m afraid, I’m afraid I can’t come just yet. I’ve got so much to do. I’ve got thirty men working for me. I’ve just got to stay.”
“Well, if you stay I’ll stay, too. I don’t like the way you’re looking. You’re working too hard. Perhaps I can help you.”
“All right; I’m afraid you’ll find t rather awful, though. No one lives up here in winter if they can possibly avoil it. But for a time it will interest you.”
“I think it will.” And again his eyes stared fixedly at that piece of embroidery on its little hoop.
“I’m terribly glad to see you anyway, Garry. There’s no use talking, words can’t express things like that between us two. You know what I mean. I’m glad to see you, and I’ll do my best to make your visit a happy one.”
Between the curtains that hung over the bedroom door I could see Berna standing motionless. I wondered if he could see her too. His eyes followed mine. They rested on the curtains and the strong, stern look came into his face. Yet again he banished it with a sunny smile.
“Mother’s one regret was that you were not with her when she died. Do you know, old man, I think she was always fonder of you than of me? You were the sentimental one of the family, and Mother was alwavs a gentle dreamer. I took more after Dad; dry and practical, you know. Well, Mother used to worry a great deal about you. She missed you dreadfully, and before she died she made me promise I’d always stand by you, and look after you if anything happened.” “There’s not much need of that, Garry. But thanks all the same, old man. I’ve seen a lot in the past few years. I know
something of the world now. I’ve changed. I’m sort of disillusionised. I seem to have lost my zest for things—but I know how to handle men, how to fight and how to win.
“It’s not that, lad. You know that to win is often to lose. You were never made for the fight, my brother. It’s all been a mistake. You’re too sensitive, too highstrung for a fighting-man. You have too much sentiment in you. Your spirit urged you to fields of conquest and romance, yet by nature you were designed for the gentler life. If you could have curbed your impulse and onlv dreamed your adventures, you would have been the happier. Imagination’s been a curse to you. boy. You’ve tortured yourself all these years, and now you’re paying the penalty.”
“You’ve lost your splendid capacity for happiness; your health’s undermined: your faith in mankind is destroyed. Is it worth while? You’ve plunged into the fight and you’ve won. What does your victory mean? Can it compare with what you’ve lost? Here, I haven’t a third of what you have, and yet I’m magnificently happy. I don’t envy you. I am going to enjoy every moment of my life. Oh. mv brother, you’ve been making a sad mistake, but it’s not too late! You’re young, young. It’s not too late.”
Then I saw that his words were true.. I saw that I had never been meant for the; fierce battle of existence. Like those highstrung horses that were the first to break: their hearts on the trail, I was unsuited! for it all. Far better would I have been: living the sweet, simple life of my forefathers. My spirit had upheld me, but now I knew there was a poison in my veins, that I was a sick man, that I had1 played the game and won—at too great a cost. I was like a sprinter that breasts' the tape, only to be carried fainting from the field. Alas! I had gained success only to find it was another name for failure.
“Now,” said Garrv, “you must come home. Back there on the countryside we can find you a sweet girl to marrv. You will love her, have children and Æorget all this. Come.”
I rose. I could no longer put it off.
“Excuse me one moment,” I said. I parted the curtains and entered the bedroom.
►She was standing there, white to the lips and trembling. ¡Süe looked at me piteously-
“I’m afraid,” she faltered.
“Be brave, little girl,” I whispered, leading her forward. Then I threw aside the curtain.
“Garry,” I said, “this is—this is Berna.”
Garry, Berna—there they stood, face to face at last. Long ago I had visioned this meeting, planned for, yet dreaded it, and now with utter suddenness it had come.
The girl had recovered her calm, and I must say she bore herself well. In her clinging dress of simple white her figure was as slimly graceful as that of a wooinymph, her head poised as sweetly as a lily on its stem. The fair hair rippled away in graceful lines from the fine brow, and as she gazed at my brother there was a proud, high look in her eyes.
And Garry—his smile had vanished. His face was cold and stern. There was a stormy antagonism in his bearing. No doubt he saw in her a creature who was preying on me, an influence for evil, an overwhelming indictment against me of sin and guilt. All this I read in his eyes ; then Berna advanced to him with outstretched hand.
“How do you do? I’ve heard so much about you I feel as if I’d known you long ago.”
She was so winning, I could see he was quite taken aback. He took the little white hand and looked down from his splendid height to the sweet eyes that gazed into his. He bowed with icy politeness.
“I feel flattered, I assure you, that my brother should have mentioned me to you.”
Here he shot a dark look at me.
“Sit down again, Garry,” I said. “Berna and I want to talk to you.”
He complied, but with an ill grace. We all three sat down and a grave constraint was upon us. Berna broke the silence.
“What sort of a trip have you had? ’
He looked at her keenly. He saw a
simple girl, shy and sweet, gazing at him with a flattering interest.
“Oh, not so bad. Traveling sixty miles a day on a jolting stage gets monotonous, though. The roadhouses were pretty decent as a rule, but some were vile. However, it’s all new and interesting to me.”
“You will stay with us for a time, won’t you?”
He favored me with another grim look.
“Well, that all depends—I haven’t quite decided yet. I want to take Athol hero home with me.”
“Home-” There was a pathetic
catch in her voice. Her eyes went round the little room that meant “home” to her.
“Yes, that will be nice,” she faltered. Then, with a brave effort, she broke into a lively conversation about the North. A* she talked an inspiration seemed to come to her. A light beaconed in her eyes. Her face, fine as a cameo, became eager, rapt. She was telling him of the magical summers, of the midnight sunsets, of the glorious largess of the flowers, of the things that meant so much to her. She was wonderfully animated. As I watched her I thought what a perfect little lady she was; and I felt proud of her.
He was listening carefully, with evident interest. Gradually his look of stern antagonism had given way to one of attention. Yet I could see he was not listening so much to her as he was studying her. His intent gaze never moved from her face.
Then I talked awhile. The darkness had descended upon us, but the embers in the open fireplace lighted the room with a rosy glow. I could not see his eyes now, but I knew he was still watching us keenly. He merely answered “yes” and “no” to our questions, and his voice was very grave. Then, after a little, he rose to go.
“I’ll return to the hotel with you,” I said.
Berna gave us a pathetically anxious little look. There was a red spot on each cheek and her eyes were bright. I could see she wanted to cry.
“I’ll be back in half an hour, dear,” 1 said, while Garry gravely shook hands with her.
We did not speak on the way to his room. When we reached it he switched on the light and turned to me.
“Brother, who’s this girl?”
“She’s—she’s my housekeeper. That’s all I can say at present, Garry.” “Married?”
Stormily he paced the floor, while I watched him with a great calm. At last he spoke.
“Tell me about her.”
“Sit down, Garry; light a cigar. We may as well talk this thing over quietly.” “All right. Who is she?”
“Berna,” I said, lighting my cigar, “is a Jewess. She was born of an unwed mother, and reared in the midst of misery and corruption.”
He stared at me. His mouth hardened ; his brow contracted.
“But,” I went on, “I want to say this. You remember, Garry, Mother used to tell us of our sister who died when she was a baby. I often used to dream of my dead sister, and in my. old, imaginative days I used to think she had never died at all. but she had grown up and was with us. How we would have loved her, would we not, Garry? Well, I tell you this—if our sister had grown up she could have been no sweeter, purer, gentler than this girl of mine, this Berna.”
He smiled ironically.
“Then,” he said, “if she is so wonderful, why, in the name of Heaven, haven’t you married her?”
His manner towards her in the early part of the interview had hurt me, had roused in me a certain perversity. I determined to stand by my guns.
“Marriage,” said I, “isn’t everything; often isn’t anything. Love is, and alway-i will be, the great reality. It existed long before marriage was ever thought of. Marriage is a good thing. It protects the wife and the children. As a rule, it enforces constancy. But there’s a higher ideal of human companionship that is based on love alone, love so perfect, so absolute that legal bondage insults it; love that is its own justification. Such a love is ours.” The ironical look deepened to a sneer. “And look you here, Garry,” I went on, “I am living in Dawson in what you would call ‘shame.’ Well, let me tell you, there’s not ninety-nine in a hundred legally married couples that have formel such a sweet, love-sanctified union as we have. That girl is purest gold, a pearl
of untold price. There has never been a jar in the harmony of our lives. We love each other absolutely. We trust and believe in each other. We would make any sacrifice for each other. And, I say it again, our marriage is tenfold holier than ninety-nine out of a hundred of those performed with all the pomp of surplice and sacristy.”
“Oh, man, man!” he said crushingly, “what’s got into you? What nonsense, what clap-trap is this? I tell you that the old way, the way that has stood for generations, is the best, and it’s a sorry day I find a brother of mine talking such nonsense. I’m almost glad Mother’s dead. It would surely have broken her heart to know that her son was living in sin and shame, living with a-”
“Easy now, Garry,” I cautioned him. We faced each other with the table between us.
“I’m going to have my say out. I’ve come all this way to say it, and you’ve got to hear me. You’re my brother. God knows I love you. I promised I’d look after you, and now I’m going to save you if I can.”
“Garry,” I broke in, “I’m younger than you, and I respect you; but in the last few years I’ve grown to see things different from the way we wore taught; broad er, clearer, saner, somehow. We can’t always follow in the narrow path of our forefathers. We must think and act for ourselves in these days. I see no sin and shame in what I’m doing. We love each other—that is our vindication. It’s a pure, white light that dims all else. If you had seen and striven and suffered as I have done, you might think as I do. But you’ve got your smug old-fashioned notions. You gaze at the trees so hard you can’t see the forest. Yours is an ideal, too; but mine is a purer, more exalted one.”
“Balderdash!” he cried. “Oh, you anger me! Look here, Athol, I came all this way to see you about this matter. It’s a long way to come, but I knew my brother was needing me, and I’d have gone round the world for you. You never told me anything of this girl in your letters. You were ashamed.”
“I knew I could never make you understand.”
“You might have tried. I’m not so dense in the understanding. No, you would not tell me, and I’ve had letters, warning letters. It was left to other people to tell me how you drank and gambled and squandered your money ; how you were like to a madman. They told me you had settled down to live with one of the creatures, a woman who had made her living in the dance-halls, and every one knows no woman ever did that and remained straight. They warned me of the character of this girl, of your infatuation, of your callousness to public opinion. They told me how barefaced, how shameless you were. They begged me to try and save you. I would not believe it, but now I’ve come to see for myself, and it’s all true, it’s all true.”
He bowed his head in emotion.
“Oh, she’s good I” I cried. “If you knew her you would think so, too. You, too, ’would love her.”
“Heaven forbid ! Boy, I must save you. I must, for the honor of the old name that’s never been tarnished. I must make you come home with me.”
He put both hands on my shoulders, looking commandingly into my face.
“No, no,” I said, “I’ll never leave her.” “It will be all right. We can pay her. It can be arranged. Think of the honor of the old name, lad.”
I shook him off. “Pay!”—I laughed ironically. “Pay” in connection with the name of Berna—again I laughed.
“She’s good,” I said once again. “Wait a little till you know her. Don’t judge her yet. Wait a little.”
He saw it was of no use to waste further words on me. He sighed.
“Well, well,” he said, “have it your own way. I think she’s ruining you. She’s dragging you down, sapping your moral principles, lowering you standard of pure living. She must be bad, bad, or she wouldn’t live with you like that. But have it your own way, boy; I’ll wait and see.”
In the crystalline days that followed I did much to bring about a friendship between Garry and Berna. At first I had difficulty in dragging him to the house, but in a little while he came quite willingly. The girl, to,, aided me greatly. In
her sweet, shy way she did her best to win his regard, so that as the winter advanced a great change came over him. He threw off that stern manner of his as an actor throws off a part, and once again he was the dear old Garry I knew and loved.
His sunny charm returned, and with it his brilliant smile, his warm, endearing frankness. He was now twenty-eight, and if there was a handsomer man in the Northland I had yet to see him. I often envied him for his fine figure and his clean, vivid color. It was a wonderfully expressive face that looked at you, firm and manly, and, above all, clever. You found a pleasure in the resonant sweetness of his voice. You were drawn irresistibly to the man, even as you would have been drawn to a beautiful woman. He was winning, lovable, yet back of all his charm there was that great quality of strength, of austere purpose.
He made a hit with every one, and I \erily believe that half the women in the town were in love with him. However, he was quite unconscious of it, and h3 stalked through the streets with the gait of a young god. I knew there were some who for a smile would have followed him to the ends of the earth, but Garry was always a man’s man. Never do I remember the time when he took an interest in a woman. I often thought, if women could have the man of their choice, a few handsome ones like Garry would monopolise them, while we common mortals would go wifeless. Sometimes it has seemed to me that love is but a second-hand article, and that our matings are at best only makeshifts.
I must say I tried very hard to reconcile those two. I threw them together on every opportunity, for I wanted him to understand and to love her. I felt he had but to know her to appreciate her at her true value, and, although he spoke no word to me, I was soon conscious of a vast change in him. Short of brotherly regard, he was everything that could be desired to her—cordial, friendly, charming. Once I asked Berna what she thought of him.
“I think he’s splendid,” she said quietly. “He’s the handsomest man I’ve ever seen, and he’s as nice as he’s good-looking
In many ways you remind me of him— and yet there’s a difference.”
“I remind you of him—no, girl. I’m not worthy to be his valet. He’s as much above me as I am above—say a si wash. He has all the virtues; I, all the faults. Sometimes I look at him and I see in him my ideal self. Pie is all strength, all nobility, while I am but a commonplace mortal, full of human weaknesses. He is the self I should have been if the worst had been the best.”
“Hush! you are my sweetheart,” she assured me with a caress, “and the dearest in the world.”
“By the way, Berna,” I said, “you remember something we talked about before he came? Don’t! you think that now
“All right,” She flashed a glad, tender look at me and left the room. That night she was strangely elated.
Every evening Garry would drop in and talk to us. Berna would look at him as he talked and her eyes would brighten and her cheeks flush. On both of us he had a strangely buoyant effect. How happy we could be, just we three. It was splendid having near me the two I loved best on earth.
That was a memorable winter, mild and bright and buoyant. At last spring came with gracious days of sunshine. The sleighing was glorious, but I was busy, very busy, so that I was glad to send Garry and Berna off together in a smart cutter, and see them come home with their cheeks like roses, their eyes sparkling and laughter in their voices. I never saw Berna looking so well and happy.
I was head over ears in work. In a mail just arrived I had a letter from the Prodigal, and a certain paragraph in i; set me pondering. Here it was:
“You must look out for Locasto.
He was in New York a week ago. He’s down and out. Blood-poisoning set in in his foot after he got outside, and eventually he had to have it taken off. He’s got a false mit for the one Mac sawed off. But you should see him. He’s all shot to pieces with the ‘hooch.’ It’s a fright the pace he’s gone. I had an interview with him, and he raved and
blasphemed horribly. Seemed to have a terrible pick at you. Seems you have copped out his best girl, the only one he ever cared a red cent for. ^ Said he would get even with you if he swung for it. I think he’s dangerous, even a madman. He is leaving for the North how, so be on your guard.”
Locasto coming! I had almost forgotten his existence. Well, I no longer cared for him. I could afford to despise him. Surely he would never dare to molest us. If he did—he was a broken, discredited blackguard. I could crush him.
Coming here! He must even now be on the way. I had a vision of him speeding along that desolate trail, sitting in the sleigh wrapped in furs, and brooding, brooding. As day after day the spell of the great and gloomy land grew on his spirit, I could see the sombre eyes darken end deepen. I could see him in the roadhouse at night, gaunt and haggard, drinking at the bar, a desperate, degraded cripple. I could see him growing more reckless every day, every hour. He was coming back to the scene of his ruined fortunes, and God knows with what wild schemes of vengeance his heart was full. Decidely I must beware.
As I sat there dreaming, a ring came to the ’phone. It was the foreman at Gold Hill.
“The hoisting machine has broker* down,” he told me. “Can you come out and see what is required?”
“All right,” I replied. “I’ll leave at once.”
“Berna,” I said, “I’ll have to go out to the Porks to-night. I’ll be back early tomorrow. Get me a bite to eat, dear, while I go round ana order the horse.”
On my way I met Garry and told him I would be gone over night. “Won’t you come?” I asked.
“No, thanks, old man, I don’t feel like a night drive.”
“All right. Good-bye.”
So I hurried off, and soon after, with a jingle of bells, I drove up to my door. Berna had made supper. She seemed excited. Her eyes were starry bright, her cheeks burned.
“Aren’t you well, sweetheart?” I asked. “You look feverish.”
“Yes, dear, I’m well. But I don’t want you to go to-night. Something tells me you shouldn’t. Please don’t go, dear. Please, for my sake ”
“Oh, nonsense, Berna! You know I’ve been away before. Get one of the neighbor’s wives to sleep with you. Get in Mrs. Brooks.”
“Oh, don’t go, don’t go, I beg you. dear. I don’t want you to. I’m afraid, I’m afraid. Won’t some one else do?”
“Nonsense, girl. You mustn’t be so foolish. It’s only for a few hours. Here, I’ll ring up Mrs. Brooks and you can ask her.”
She sighed. “No, never mind. I’ll ring her up after you’ve gone.”
She clung to me tightly, so that I wondered what had got into the girl. Then gently I kissed her, disengaged her hands, and bade her good-night.
As I was rattling off through the darkness, a boy handed me a note. I put it in my pocket, thinking I would read it when I reached Ogilvie Bridge. Then I whipped up the horse.
The night was crisp and exhilarating. I had one of the best trotters in the country, and the sleighing was superb. As I sped along, with a jingle of bells, my spirits rose. Things were looking splendid. The mine was turning out far better than we had expected. Surely we could sell out soon, and I would have all the money I wanted. Even then the Prodigal was putting through a deal in New York that would realize our fortunes. My life-struggle was nearly over.
Then again, I had reconciled Garry to Berna. When I told him of a certain secret I was hugging to my breast he would capitulate entirely. How happy we would all be! I would buy a small estate near home, and we would settle down. But first we would spend a few years in travel. We would see the whole world. What good times we would have. Berna and I! Bless her! It had all worked out beautifuily.
Why was she so frightened, so loath to let me go? I wondered vaguely and flicked up the horse so that it plunged sharply forward. The vast blue-black sky was like an inverted gold-pan and the stars were flake colors adhering to it. The cold snapped at me till my cheeks tingled, and
my eyes felt as if they could spark. Oh, life was sweet!
Bother! In my elation I had forgotten to get off at the Old Inn and read my note. Never mind, I would keep it till I reached the Forks.
As I spun along, I thought of how changed it all was from the Bonanza I first knew. How I remembered tramping along that hillside slope, packing a sack of flour over a muddy trail, a poor miner in muddy overalls! Now I was driving a smart horse on a fine road. I was an operator of a first-class mine. I was a man of business, of experience. Higher and higher my spirits rose.
How fast the horse flew ! I would be at the Forks in no time. I flashed past cabin windows. I saw the solitary oil-lamp and the miner reading his book or filling his pipe. Never was there a finer, more intelligent man; but his day was passing. The whole country was falling into the hands of companies Soon, thought I, one or two big combines would control the whole wealth of that land. Already they had their eyes on it. The gold-ships would float and roar where the old-time miner toiled with pick and nan. Change ! Change !
I almost fancied I could see the monster dredges ploughing up the valley, where now men panted at the windlass. I could see vast heaps of tailings filling the creekbed; I could hear the crash of the steel grizzlies; I could see the buckets scooping up the pay-dirt. 1 felt strangely prophetic. My imagination ran riot in all kinds of wonders, great power plants, quartz discoveries. Change! Change!
Yes, the stamp-mill would add its thunder to the other voices; the country would be netted with wires, and clamorous for far and wide. Man had sought out this land where Silence had reigned so long. He had awakened the echoes with the shot of his rifle and the ring of his axe. Silence had raised a startled head and poised there, listening. Then, with crack of pick and boom of blast, man had hurled her back. Further and further had he driven her. With his advancing horde, mad in their lust for the loot of the valley, he had banished her. His engines had frightened her with their canorous roar. His crashing giants had driven her
cowering to the inviolate fastnesses of her hills. And there she broods and waits.
But Silence will return. To her was given the land that she might rule and have dominion over it forever. And in a few years the clamour will cease, the din will die away. In a few years the treasure will be exhausted, and the looters will depart. The engines will lie in rust and ruin ; the wind will sweep through the empty homes; the tailing-piles lie pallid in the moon. Then the last man will strike the last blow, and Silence will come again into her own.
Yea, Silence will come home once more. Again will she rule despotic over peak and plain. She is only waiting, brooding in the impregnable desolation of her hills. To her has been given empery of the land, and hand in hand with Darkness will she return.
Ha! here I had reached the Forks at last. As I drew up at the hotel, the clerk came out to meet me.
“Gent wants to speak to you at the ’phone, sir.”
It was Murray of Dawson, an old-timer, and rather a friend of mine.
“Hello! Say, Meldrum, this is Murray speaking. Say, just wanted to let you know there’s a stage due some time before morning. Locasto’s on board, and they say he’s heeled for you. Thought I’d better tell you so’s you can get fixed up for him.”
“All right,” I answered. “Thank you. I’ll turn and come right back.”
So I switched round the horse, and once more I drove over the glistening road. No longer did I plan and exult. Indeed a grim fear was gripping me. Of a sudden the shadow of Locasto loomed up sinister and menacing, Even now he was speeding Dawsonward with a great hatred of me in his heart.. Well, I would get back and prepare for him.
There came to my mind a comic perception of the awkwardness of returning to one’s own home unexpectedly, in the dead of night. At first I decided I would go to a hotel, then on second thoughts I determined to try the house, for I had a desire to be near Berna.
I knocked gently, then a little louder, then at last quite loudly. Within all was still, dark as a sepulchre. Curious! she was such a light sleeper, too. Why did she not hear me?
Once more I decided to go to the hotel; once more that vague, indefinite fear assailed me and again I knocked. And now my fear was becoming a panic. I had my latch-key in my pocket, so very quietly I opened the door.
I was in the front room, and it was dark, very dark and quiet. I could not even hear her breathe.
“Berna,” I whispered.
That dim, nameless dread was clutching at my heart, and I groped overhead in the darkness for the drop-light. How hard it was to find! A dozen times my hand circled in the air before I knocked my knuckles against it. I switched it on.
Instantly the cabin was flooded with light. In the dining-room I could see the remains of our supper lying untidily. That was not like her. She had a horror of dirty dishes. I passed into the bedroom —Ah ! the bed had never been slept on.
What a fool I was! It flashed on me she had gone over to Mrs. Brooks’ to sleep. She was afraid of being alone. Poor little girl! Plow surprised she would be to see me in the morning!
Well, I would go to bed. As I was pulling off my coat, I found the note that had been given to me. Blaming myself for my carelessness, I pulled it out of my pocket and opened it. As I unfolded the sheet, I noticed it was written in what looked like a disguised hand. Strange! I thought. The writing was small and faint. I rubbed my eyes and held it up to the light.
Merciful God! What was this? Oh no, it could not be! My eyes were deceiving me. It was some illusion. Feverishly I read again. Yes, they were the same words. What could they mean? Surely, surely—Oh, horror on horrors! They could not mean THAT. Again I read them. Yes, there they were:
“If you are fool enough to believe
that Berna is faithful to you visit
your brother’s room to-night.
Berna! Garry!—the two I loved. Oh, it could not be! It was monstrous! It was too horrible! I would not believe it; I would not. Curse the vile wretch that wrote such words! I would kill him. Berna! my Berna! she was as good as gold, as true as steel. Garry ! I vrould lay my life on his honor. Oh, vile calumny ! what devil had put so foul a thing in words? God! it hurt me so, it hurt me so!
Dazedly I sat down. A sudden rush of heat was followed by a sweat that pricked out of me and left me cold. I trembled. I saw a ghastly vision of myself in a mirror. I felt sick, sick. Going to the decanter on the bureau, I poured myself a stiff jolt of whisky.
Again I sat down. The paper lay on the hearth-rug, and I stared at it hatefully. It was unspeakably loathsome, yet I was fascinated by it. I longed to take it up, to read it again. Somehow I did not dare. I was becoming a coward.
Well, it was a lie, a black devil’s lie. She was with one of the neighbors. I trusted her. I -would trust her with my life. I would go to bed. In the morning she would return, and then I would unearth the wretch who had dared to write such things. I began to undress.
Slowly I unfastened my collar — that cursed paper; there it lay. Again it fascinated me. I stood glaring at it. Oh, fool! fool! go to bed.
Wearily I took off my clothes—Oh, that devilish note! It was burning into my brain—it would drive me mad. In a frenzy of rage, I took it up as if it were some leprous thing, and dropped it in the fire.
There I lay in bed with the darkness enfolding me, and I closed my eyes to make a double darkness. Ha! right in the centre of my eyes, burned the fatal paper with its atrocious suggestion. I sprang up. It was of no use. I must settle this thing once and for all. I turned on the light and deliberately dressed again.
I was going to the hotel where Garry had his room. I would tell him I had come back unexpectedly and ask to share his room. I was not acting on the note! I did not suspect her. Heaven forbid! But the thing had unnerved me. I could not stay in this place.
The hotel was quiet. A sleepy nightclerk stared at me, and I pushed past him. Garry’s rooms were on the third floor. As I climbed the long stairway, my heart was beating painfully, and when I reached his door I was sadly out of breath. Through the transom I could see his light was burning.
I knocked faintly.
There was a sudden stir.
Again I knocked.
Did my ears deceive me or did I hear a woman’s startled cry ? There was something familiar about it—Oh, my God!
I reeled. I almost fell. I clutched at the doorframe. I leaned sickly against the door for support. Heaven help me!
“I’m coming,” I heard him say.
The door was unlocked, and there he stood. He was fully dressed. He looked at me with an expression on his face I could not define, but he was very calm.
“Come in,” he said.
I went into his sitting-room. Everything was in order. I would have sworn I heard a woman scream, and yet no one was in sight. The bedroom door was slightly ajar. I eyed it in a fascinated way.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Garry,” I said, and I was conscious how strained and queer my voice sounded. “I got back suddenly, and there’s no one at home. I want to stay here with you, if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly, old man; only too glad to have you.”
His voiee was steady. I sat down on the edge of a chair. My eyes were riveted on that bedroom door.
“Had a good drive? ’ he went on genial‘ ly. “You must be cold. Let me give you some whisky.”
My teeth were chattering. I clutched the chair. Oh, that door! My eyes were fastened on it. I was convinced I heard some one in there. He rose to get the whisky.
I held the glass -with a shaking hand :
“What’s the matter, old man? You’re ill.”
I clutched him by the arm.
“Garry, there’s some one in that room.”
“Nonsense! there’s no one there.”
“There is, I tell vou. Listen! Don’t you hear them breathing?”
He was quiet. Distinctly I could hear the panting of human breath. I was going mad, mad. I could stand it no longer.
“Garry,” I gasped, “I’m going to see, I’m going to see.”
“Yes, I must, I say. Let me go. I’ll drag them out.”
“Leave go, man! I’m going, I say. You won’t hold me. Let go, I tell you, let go—Now come out, come out, whoever you are—Ah 1”
It was a woman.
“Ha!” I cried, “I told you so, brother; a woman. I think I know her, too. Here, let me see—I thought so.”
I had clutched her, pulled her to the light. It was Berna.
Her face was white as chalk, her eyes dilated with terror. She trembled. She seemed near fainting.
“I thought so.”
Now that it seemed the worst was betrayed to me, I was strangely calm.
“Berna, you’re faint. Let me lead you to a chair.”
I made her sit down. She said no word, but looked at me with a wild pleading in her eyes. No one spoke.
There we were, the three of us: Berna faint with fear, ghastly, pitiful; I calm, yet calm with a strange, unnatural calmness, and Garry—he surprised me. He had seated himself, and with the greatest sang-froid he was lighting a cigarette.
A long tense silence. At last I broke it.
“What have you got to say for yourself, Garry?” I asked.
It was wonderful how calm he was. “Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it, Brother?” he said gravely.
“Yes, it couldn’t look worse.”
“Looks as if I was a pretty base, despicable specimen of a man, doesn’t it?” “Yes, about as base as a man could be.” “That’s so.” He rose and turned up the light of a large reading-lamp, then coming to me he looked me square in the face. Abruptly his casual manner dropped. He grew sharp, forceful ; his voice rang clear. “Listen to me.”
“I came out here to save you, and I’m going to save you. You wanted me to believe that this girl was good. You believed it. You were bewitched, befooled, blinded. I could see it, but 1 had to make you see it. I had to make you realize how worthless she was, how her love for you was a sham, a pretence to prey on you. How could I prove it? You would not listen to reason: I had to take other means. Now, hear me.”
“I laid my plans. For three months I’ve tried to conquer her, to win her love, to take her from you. She was truer to you than I had bargained for ; I must give her credit for that. She made a good fight, but I think I have triumphed. Tonight she came to my room at my invitation.”
“Well. You got a note. Now, I wrote that note. I planned this scene, this discovery. I planned it so that your eyes would be opened, so that you would see what she was, so that you would cast her
from you—unfaithful, a wanton, a-”
“Hold on there,” I broke in, “brother of mine or no, I won’t hear you call her those names ; no, not if she were ten times as unfaithful. You won’t, I say. I’ll choke the words in your throat. I’ll kill you, if you utter a word against her. Oh, what have you done?”
“What have I done! Try to be calm, man. What have I done? Well, this is what I’ve done, and it’s the lucky day for you I’ve done it. I’ve saved you from shame; I’ve freed you from sin; I’ve shown you the baseness of this girl.”
He rose to his feet.
“Oh, my brother, I’ve stolen from you your mistress; that’s what I’ve done.”
“Oh, no, . you haven’t,” I groaned. “God forgive you, Garry; God forgive you ! She’s not my— not what you think. She’s my wife!
I thought that he would faint. His face went white as paper and he shrank back. He gazed at me with wild, straining eyes.
“God forgive me ! Oh, why didn’t you tell me, boy? Why didn’t you tell me?” In his voice there was a note more poignant than a sob.
“You should have trusted me,” he went on. “You should have told me. When were you married?”
“Just a month ago. I was keeping it as a surprise for you. I was waiting till you said you liked her and thought well of her. Oh, I thought you would be pleased and glad, and I was treasuring it up to tell you.”
“This is terrible, terrible!”
His voice was choked with agony. On her chair, Berna drooped wearily. Her wide, staring eyes were fixed on the floor in pitiful perplexity.
“Yes, it’s terrible enough. We were so happy. We lived so joyously together. Everything was perfect, a heaven for us both. And then you came, you with your charm that would lure an angel from high heaven. You tried your power on my poor little girl, the girl that never loved but me. And I trusted you, I tried to make you and her friends. I left you together. In my blind innocence I aided you in every way—a simple, loving fool. Oh, now I see!”
“Yes, yes, I know. Your words stab me. It’s all true, true.”
“You came like a serpent, a foul, crawling thing, to steal her from me, to wrong me. She was loving, faithful, pure. You would have dragged her in the mire. You-”
“Stop, brother, stop, for Heaven’s sake! You wrong me.”
He held out his hand commandinglv. A wonderful change had come over him. His face had regained its calm. It was proud, stern.
“You must not think I would have been guilty of that,” he said quietly. “I’ve played a part I never thought to play;
I’ve done a thing I never thought to have dirtied my hands in the doing, and I’m sorry and ashamed for it. But I tell you, Athol—that’s all. As God’s my witness, I’ve done you no wrong. Surely you don’t think me as low as that? Surely you don’t believe that of me? I did what Ï did for my very love for you, for your honor’s sake. I asked her here that you might see what she was—but that’s all, I swear it. She’s been as safe as if in a cage of steel.”
“I know it,”I said; “I know it. You don’t need to tell me that. You brought her here to expose her, to show me what a fool I was. It didn’t matter how much it hurt me, the more the better, anything to save the name. You would have broken my heart, sacrificed me on the altar of vour accursed pride. Oh, I can see plainlv now! There’s a thousand years of prejudice and bigotry concentrated in you. Thank God, I have a human heart!”
“I thought I was acting for the best!” he cried.
I laughed scornfully.
“I know it—according to your lights. You asked her here that I might see what she was. You tell me you have gained her love; you say she came here at your bidding; you swear she would have been unfaithful to me. Well, I tell you, brother of mine, in your teeth I tell you— 7 don’t believe you!”
Suddenly the little, drooping figure on the chair had raised itself ; the white, woebegone face with the wide, staring eyes was turned toward me; the pitiful look had gone, and in its stead was one of wild, unspeakable joy.
(To be Concluded.)