The Print of the French Heel
Editor’s Note.—The first instalment of this clever mystery story appeared in the July number. The conclusion will follow in the September number.
Robert E. Pinkerton
Mr. Burt presided over the table with the ease and geniality that would have marked a similar dinner in his former home in Chicago. Only once did he apologize.
“I am sorry that I cannot offer you some wine,” he said, “but the canoe in which two cases were coming up last summer was wrecked, and we have been without it for a year.”
Not once, in word or feature, in his eyes or in the tone of his voice, did Mr. Burt betray the feeling he had so frankly stated he held for his guest.
In compliance with his determination, Lawrence did not tell how it happened that he was in the country.
Their talk was from the first of their alma mater, for early in the dinner Lawrence had spoken of the fact that they were from the same college.
Mr. Burt’s affability and geniality increased when he learned this, and he talked of his college days for an hour or more.
When the cigarettes were lighted there was a pause in the conversation. Finally Lawrence burst forth impetuously :
“I may be treading on forbidden ground^ Mr. Burt, but I cannot down my curiosity. I can account for the books, the bath-tub, the electric lights, the pictures, all this,” and he indicated the table, “but the hardwood floors are a mystery that I cannot fathom.
Mr. Burt laughed.
“They were a mystery to me, too, until I discovered the answer. When I built this cabin there was a grove of
oak-trees on a point a mile down the lake.
“I could not imagine how they got there, but I took them anyhow. Only last year I learned that late in the seventeenth century there was a Hudson Bay Company post on that point, and that the factor, an Englishman, because of a love for the tree of his native land, had sent for a gallon of acorns and planted them.
“They did not fare very well, but the grove was two hundred years old when I came, and I managed to get enough timber for the floors. What is your explanation of the rest?”
“I did not see how you could have hauled in the lumber,” replied Lawrence, “but I did see how it was possible to transport the rest by canoe. But it must have been a stupendous undertaking.”
“Yes, and it required three years to get all this in and into shape,” said Mr. Burt. “The piano, bath-tub, dynamo, waterwheel machinery, furnace, cooking-range and several other things were, of course, made to order so that they could be taken apart and transported in pieces weighing no more than one hundred pounds.
“Everything was assembled in England and shipped to Fort Severn, on Hudson Bay, at the mouth of Severn River. From Fort Severn to this place is almost three hundred miles by canoe, with many portage. In all there are one hundred and sixty-four canoeloads in the house and its furnishings. Indians spent three summers getting it in.”
The conversation turned to the far
north country, and a new bond was formed by the love of both for the wilderness, for the north, for the canoe and the rifle.
Mr. Burt told how he got the big moose head in the library down north of Cat Lake, and the record caribou antlers northwest toward the Nelson River.
For the first time the girl in tlie canoe was mentioned when he said that his daughter was responsible for the big bear rug in the living-room, having killed the animal when canoeing alone up the river.
So interested was his host, and so great was Lawrence’s interest in the things of the forest, it was after midnight before he took his leave and went to his own room across the hall.
At six o’clock the next morning he was called by the valet.
“Your canoe is ready, and your outfit packed, sir,” he said. “Your breakfast will be brought to you here. Afterward Mr. Burt will see you for a moment in the library.”
Lawrence quickly dressed, and ate the breakfast the valet brought him.
He found Mr. Burt standing by the window in the library. He was dressed in woolen clothing, the botte sauvage on his feet, his clothing more in keeping with the tan of his face and neck than had been the evening clothes of the night before.
As Lawrence saw him standing there, looking out over the lake, his first impulse was to explain his relations with his father, convince his host that he had not come on the errand he believed.
As he was about to begin, Mr. Burt turned.
# His courtesy and good nature had disappeared with his evening clothes, and only hatred was in the eyes behind the glasses.
“Young man,” he said, “you are the third sent by your father to this house. As you undoubtedly know, the others never returned. They left here safely, fully equipped, but, I have learned, never reached the outside.
“In view of their failure, I wonder that even your father should send you on so dangerous an errand. The others
delivered written messages. Yours, undoubtedly, was to be verbal. There is no need for you to give it. I know it.
“I might add that I have to thank you for a pleasant evening. I was glad of this first opportunity in years to talk with one of my own kind, one from my own college. My offer of a truce may appear to be inconsistent with my true feeling, but I think you can understand.”
Lawrence, moved by a note of loneliness which was the first indication of weakness on the part of his host, felt an irrestible desire to tell his true story.
He liked this gray-haired exile, and the memory of a tumbled mass of brown hair beneath a gray felt hat, a lithe, strong, young figure swaying in the rhythmic stroke of the expert paddler, all but forced him to speak. But Mr. Burt went on:
“You are to leave this morning. You will have supplies sufficient to reach the Canadian Pacific. This is the second day of June, and you should reach there the last of the month, with good luck.
“Were it not that I know your father so well, and were it not that I believe no good can come from such stock, I would be tempted to be less harsh with you, for, frankly, you surprised me last night.
“I would believe that the fact that my daughter saved your life would lead you to report that you return emptyhanded. As it is, I expect nothing and ask nothing of you. Your canoe is ready.”
Mr. Burt opened the door, and, dazed, Lawrence went out.
The vehemence of his host’s denunciation had not affected him, but the knowledge that he owed his life to his lady of‘the French heels momentarily robbed him of speech, and he stood motionless in the hall.
Burt, about to close the door, and mistaking the reason for Willson’s remaining, said:
“Perhaps you have heard how the Hudson Bay Company sent those who had incurred its disfavor out on the long traverse?
“You know that, under the circumstances, I would be justified in doing the
same with you. You will notice that I am sending you away—but fully equipped.’
He abruptly shut the door, and Lawrence went down the hall and out onto the verandah.
There the valet waited for him, and led the way down to the beach, where a birch canoe, with a well-filled pack-sack in the bow, and a rifle leaning against a thwart, rested half out of the water. ^
“The mouth of the river by which you came is five miles down the west shore,” he said and turned up the bank.
Lawrence did not realize at the time that the man had omitted the “sir.”
He was occupied with the thought that the direction he was to travel was the same as that taken the preceding morning by the girl in the canoe.
An hour and a half later Lawrence reach the mouth of the river.
He found a waterfall there and a portage on the east side. He went across first with the pack-sack.
Half-way over, when at the top of the end of a ridge, he found that the trail was hard packed.
The place seemed vaguely familiar, and he set down the pack. Before him, in the now hardened clay, was the print of the French heel that had been the last thing he remembered before waking in Mr. Burt’s house!
“This is where she found me,” he thought, looking at the little hole in the ground, now slightly distorted by the drying earth. “Í wonder how she got me over to the cabin.”
All that day and the next Lawrence poled and paddled and portaged up the river.
The third day was the same, and late in the afternoon of the fourth day, when his canoe was given a sudden twist by the current as he was poling up through a stretch of rapids, the bow was thrown heavily against a jagged rock and suffered a bad tear in the bark.
He was just above an island in the middle of the river and drifted quickly to the upstream point. Landing, he examined the break and then went up the bank to find some spruce pitch with which to mend the hole.
Lighting a small fire to dry poplar twugs, which burned without smoke and gave a hot blaze, he melted the pitch. While applying it to the patch over the tear he glanced up to see an Indian, alone in a birch canoe, poling up the stream along the west bank.
It was the half-breed he had seen at the Burt cabin. The native saw him but gave no sign and continued on up the stream.
His canoe mended, Lawrence went on until sunset, when he stopped and made camp for the night.
After the first two days of the journey his strength had fully returned, and he traveled all of the long days.
The next morning he was up at daylight, which, in that latitude and at that time of the year, came early.
Opening the pack-sack to get the materials for his breakfast, he found that all the food was gone. At first he thought nothing else had been disturbed, until he searched for the box of cartridges and found they, too, were missing. For a moment Lawrence was dazed.
Except that he had a canoe and a blanket, his condition was little better than wdien his own canoe had been wrecked and Hardy lost.
His first thought was to return at once to Burt’s. Then he remembered the Indian who had passed him at the island, and, as a shock, came the last wTords of Franklin Burt :
“You will notice that I am sending you away—but fully equipped.’’
Burt had emphasized “sending you away.”
“He was clearing his own skirts in case his actions should become known,” thought Lawrence. “He’s a pleasant sort of murderer. There is no use in returning to his place.
“He meant to kill me, to prevent my getting to the outside, but he didn’t want me smeared around his place. That Indian is probably down-stream waiting to see what I do. ^
“I could make Burt’s in a long day, down-stream, but that is useless. It’s at least fifty miles, with the long portage, to Cat Lake, and then, after crossing that, I will have a good run down
Cat Lake River to St. Joseph Lake and Osnaburg house.
“But it will take me five long days, and maybe eight or ten, and there’s nothing to eat between here and there. That’s the only way, and there is no use delaying.”
Lawrence immediately set his canoe into the water and poled on up-stream.
He smiled grimly when he made the first portage, for only one trip, with his blanket and the canoe, was necessary. For two hours he poled steadily.
Turning a sharp bend in the river, and working over to the west bank to avoid some bad rocks, he almost ran the bow of the canoe on a pack-sack which was washing gently in the shallow water near the bank. Pulling it out, he pushed in to shore and opened his find.
In it were a tea-pail, a small fryingpan, raisins, ten pounds of flour, three pounds of bacon and baking-powder.
“I guess that fools old Burt, unless he ordered the half-breed to keep on my trail and see that I die,” he mused. “But how did this pack-sack happen to be here? It hasn’t been in the water long, and it is not one of the sacks Jerry and I lost. But I’m not asking any questions. It’ll see me through to Osnaburg house.’
Spreading the contents of the packsack on the bottom of the canoe to dry, Lawrence pushed out and started upstream. He poled steadily for two hours and turned a bend into the foot of the rapids in which he and Jerry had been upset.
The river made another and sharper bend just bevond, and around this he knew he could find good going on the beach and carry around the worst of the rapids.
But fast water lay between that point and himself, and every energy was devoted to the pole.
Standing sidewise in the canoe and toiling in the worst of the current, Lawrence ' was so startled that he almost dropped the pole when he heard a cheery “B’jou” at his back.
Turning, he saw, not more than fifteen feet away, a girl sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream.
A MIDNIGHT BATTLE.
As Lawrence stared, hardly believing what he saw, the current caught the bow of his canoe and swept it back down the stream.
“You are not going to leave me when I have waited so long?” she said laughingly, and Lawrence snubbed the^ canoe, quickly turned its head again up stream and over toward the rock on which the girl was sitting.
The water boiled and foamed below the rock, but the current was not so swift, and, in three minutes, the girl had grasped the bow and pulled the canoe alongside.
“Thank you,” she said as she stepped in and picked up a paddle. Settling to her knees, Indian fashion, her feet, thrust out behind, touched the bacon.
“You will have to take that meat away,” she said. “I can’t stand the sight of food. I haven’t had a bite since yesterday morning when we upset.”
“What !” exclaimed Lawrence. “Nothing to eat for more than a day? We’ll go ashore and fix up something. You must be nearly starved. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had anything to eat since last night.
“Some one stole all my grub and ammunition last night, and I found this pack-sack in some shallows a couple of hours ago. I thought I would go on until noon before I breakfasted. How did you get onto that rock?” he asked as they landed.
“You know yourself wdiat the rapids above are,” she said. “I saw your canoe lodged against a rock. Ashawa, the old Indian who was with me, and I portaged and set in just above where the worst begins.
“As we pushed off he caught his paddle between two rocks and broke it square off. Before I could turn her up-stream the canoe was swept back and into the rapids, sidewise. I haven’t seen poor Ashawa since. His head must have hit a rock.
“I went through, how I don’t remember much, and landed up against
that rock. I struck awfully hard, but managed to hang on and crawl up on top. I have been there ever since.
“I would have tried to swim to shore, but I was bruised when I hit the rock and did not feel able.”
“You plucky little thing!” exclaimed Lawrence as he pushed the canoe to the bank.
“Here, lie down on this blanket and get warm. You look as though you were chilled through. I’ll get the quickest meal you ever saw.”
He tucked the blanket around her and started a fire.
Cutting a couple of slices of bacon, he put them into the frying-pan and set it over the fire.
Then he filled the tea-pail at the river and hung it in the blaze.
After getting more wood, he mixed flour, baking-powder and salt, poured in the grease friend out of the bacon, added water, and turned the mixture into the frying-pan.
Thirty-fivé minutes after he had started the fire he set a big loaf of bread on a warm rock near the coals and sliced more of the bacon.
“You brown a bannock beautifully,” said the girl, who had been watching him, although pretending to doze when he looked at her.
“Thank you,” said Lawrence. “I hope it is as good as it looks. The tea is ready, and as soon as I have fried the bacon our feast will be ready.”
And there, in the midst of the greatest, and least inhabited wilderness in the world, four hundred miles from civilization, the young man and the young woman sat down to a meal of baking-powder bread, bacon and tea.
Raised in cities, but lovers of the woods, both of that bigness and broadness, directness and simplicity which [he woods instil in those who love them, it was the most natural thing in the world that, boylike and girllike, they should sit and laugh and make merry over their meal, forgetful of the strangeness of their meeting, death just averted and even possible future perils.
“We have enough food to last until we reach your home,” said Lawrence as they finished and the necessity of de-
ciding what should be done confronted them.* “It must be more than a hundred miles.’
“I’m ready,” said the girl as she got stiffly to her feet. “Rut we will have to hurry to make it by to-morrow night. I have made this trip twice, and it generally takes two days from here.”
“Where do you go, and where, if I may ask, were you going when this happened?” asked Lawrence, as he set the canoe into the water and held it while the girl took her place in the bow.
“Ashawa’s brother, who has been trapping over east of Cat Lake this last season has a sick child, and Ashawa and I were going to his camp. I’m sort of a doctor for the Indians around here,” she said laughingly, “and they always send for me.”
“And you go out alone with them?”
“No, only with Ashawa. Father and I would trust him anywhere. But don’t let’s talk about it,” and she shook two big tears from her cheeks. “Ashawa, if he was an Indian, was like an old uncle to me, and I don’t know what I’ll do without him.”
She turned her face ahead, and Lawrence did not see the tears that ran down her cheeks and fell into her lap.
They swung out into the stream, each paddling strongly and swiftly.
For an hour little was said.
They passed Lawrence’s camp of the night "before, the island where he had seen the Indian, through rapids and smooth water, across a lake and into the river again.
If Lawrence had not hesitated to turn again to the house of the man who had tried, for some unknown reason, to kill him, he did hesitate to broach the subject to that man’s daughter.
Ás he watched her shoulders and back plying the long, quick stroke of the expert, keeping to the pace despite the pain which she must feel in her bruised legs, as he thought of her courage and cheerfulness in the face of the death of her friend, and of her own peril, he had a feeling that this daughter of the forest knew nothing of Burt’s efforts to have him killed, or of the reasons for the exile of her father and
herself in the desolate northland.
He did not stop to think that his return with Burt’s rescued daughter might result in the father permitting him to leave the country unmolested. He knew the only thing to do was to get the girl safely back.
In any event, that would only square himself with her, for she had saved his life less than ten days before.
They did not land until sunset. Then, at a point where the beach widened and ran back to a perpendicular bank, Lawrence turned the canoe in.
As the craft gently grounded, nose upstream, the girl made an ineffectual effort to rise. Lawrence saw the movement and the pain in her eyes.
“Wait and I’ll help you,” he cried, stepping out into the water and hurrying to the bow. Grasping her elbows he lifted her to her feet and then to the beach.
“I’m all right now,” she said, with a wry little smile. “I’m just sore and stiff, and—look out—the canoe!” and Lawrence sprang to catch the boat as the current caught it.
“Canoes are our hoodoos,’ he laughed, in an attempt to cover the agitation which had seized him upon his nearness to the girl, and which had almost resulted in their craft being swept off down-stream.
“We’ll fix it' so that it can’t get away,” and he carried it to the overhanging rocks of the bank.
“You sit down while I get wood and cook supper,” Lawrence said, fixing the blanket so that the girl might rest against a rock. “You must be very tired.”
“Oh, I’ve stood lots more than this, but I never went a whole day without food, sitting on a rock In the middle of white water,” she laughed.
“I really am ashamed of myself because I don’t help make camp, but I guess I am tired.”
“Luckily it’s cold, and there will be no mosquitoes after dark,” said Lawrence as he started a fire. “I suppose you are accustomed to them, having lived here so long,”
“Did father tell you how long we had been here?” asked the girl. ^
“No,’ he said, looking up quickly to determine just what the girl meant by the question, “but, from things he said, I imagined it must be five or six years.
“Do you like it, up here so many hundred miles from any one? I dare say there is not a white woman within four hundred miles of your house.”
“I love it here, and, with father, I never get lonesome. Then, I would love it any way, for father must live in a place like this to keep well. I would go anywhere with him if it were to benefit his health.”
“Eh! Yes, of course. You seem to be thoroughly of the woods woodsy, and there are few girls who would like it, who would become so expert as you.
“In fact, I feel that it is due to your love for the woods and the water that I am alive. I am sorry I did not see you to thank you before you left.”
“I did not save you,” quickly disclaimed the girl. “Ï just happened to paddle over to the mouth of the river for some pike fishing and found you on the lake portage. Ashawa was with me, fishing near the lake, and I ran to get him. He carried you to the canoe and paddled you home.”
“Nevertheless I think I owe it to you, and I’ll never be able to tell how grateful I am.”
“But what did you do for me today?”
“Oh, I only paid back a little of what I owe.”
“Oh, ho! And my life is of so little value that it has to be saved a number of times to compensate for the rescue of your own precious self?”
“You know that is not what I mean,” Lawrence hastened to say. “I—I—how did you and your father learn my name?”
“You told us, of course,” laughed the girl. “All the way across the lake you kept repeating your name and your father’s.
This story will be continued in the September issue of this magazine.—Editor.