A Stirring Tale of Strife for a Woman’s Love
ROBERT E. PINKERTON
Author of “Print of the French Heel”
AS the middle of the winter approached Tom Grassett admitted that his friends had been right, that a trapper’s cabin, north of Lac Seul, was no place for a woman who had been accustomed only to the settlements far to the south. He saw it in the half wistful, half resigned air of his wife when he left each morning. He had it forced upon him in the long evenings when he, busy with his fur, the scraping and stretching, could offer little to fill the void of those weary, lonesome days.
But it was not until the big storm came that he made up his mind to take her out before the spring break-up. He had not told her that last night of stinging, biting, deadly fury that roared down upon them from the Arctic circle, that last night of their four-day imprisonment, when the door had been shaken by something a little heavier than the blasts, and Nellie had opened it to see a head with whitened face flop loosely across the sill and the dim outlines of a body half hidden in the snow beyond.
Her cry brought Grassett, and the stranger was snatched in out of the storm and the door closed.
“Quick, Tom!” cried Nellie, the first to recover.
She was busy rubbing the frozen cheeks and chin and nose and tearing at the stiffened clothing at the man’s throat.
“Get off his clothes, quick, Tom! Hurry up the fire. There is whiskey in the cupboard. And put on the tea kettle. ’ ’
Together they got the man off the cold floor and onto a bunk. The white face, ghastly in its covering of dead skin, appeared more ghastly in the flickering flame of the moose-grease candle. The hair above it was black, and Nellie stopped to thrust a hand under the heavy shirt to feel for the heart-beats, so
deathlike did the face appear. She loosened the clothing, and, together, they rubbed the blood back to the skin, quickened the heart-beats and at last were rewarded by a feeble lifting of the eyelids.
“He’s all right!” cried Nellie. “He’ll live, Tom, but we were just in time. ”
The man on the bunk opened his eyes.
“Sort of just about made it, I guess,” he whispered. “It took me about two hours to get up from the river.”
A little exclamation broke from Nellie’s lips. Tom’s eyes involuntarily narrowed in pity as he thought of what that struggle across two hundred yards of deeply drifted snow must have been.
“And we here by the warm stove all the time!” Nellie gasped.
“Couldn’t have heard you holler in this wind,” explained Tom.
Except for the loss of much skin on his face, the stranger was not badly frozen. The next morning, when the wind had ceased and the intense cold that follows a northern storm had descended upon the wilderness, he sat at the breakfast table with the others. He explained that his name was Andrew Moir, that he was on his way from the north to the Hudson’s Bay Company post on Lac Seul when the storm struck him, and, being short of food, had pressed on, only to get off his course in the blinding snow whirl and finally, when nearly exhausted, strike one of Grassett’s trapping trails a mile from the cabin. He had crawled all afternoon and until long
after darkness fell.
Like a woodsman, he made little of the struggle, and, like a woodsman, Grassett made only one comment :
“It's a little nasty for traveling.”
Nellie, shut in, without social intercourse through the long, dreary months, leaped at once from depression even past her normally gay spirits. Grassett looked up in wonder several times as she talked, her words pressing hard upon each other as though bursting at last from a longlocked reservoir.
The cold was so bitter that Tom did not go out on his trap line that day. While Nellie washed the breakfast dishes he talked with the stranger. But. her work done, Nellie took the conversation into her own hands. By the middle of the afternoon Grassett was a silent listener, while his wife and Moir laughed and told the gossip of the wilderness.
Grassett’s wooing of the prettiest girl in a district large as a state had been short. Each had capitulated almost on sight. He had come in the early summer from nine months of loneliness. He was big, strong, aggressive, a man of the woods, clean, sober, successful. When he left in the fall Nellie went with him as his wife.
There had been no rival in the little post to which her father had brought her. Grassett had rarely seen his wife in the company of others, had only glimpsed her gaiety, only half-sensed her desire for companionship, for those things which mean so much to a woman and nothing to a woodsman. His love had been deep, but his vision had been narrowed by the hardships of his life. Naturally, there was much of the primitive in the woodsman, but the depth of his love, and the broadmindedness, characteristic of the man, but restricted by his training, had been shown in his decision to take Nellie out before the winter ended.
Taciturn always, he now dropped from the laughing conversation of his wife and Moir, and sat in a silence that at last became sullen. The next morning he went out on his trap lines and did not return until evening. The long ■day in the intense cold, the brooding of a man who loves, the silence of the great wilderness, joined forces, and he entered the cabin that night prepared to find things he did not wish to find.
And, because he was prepared, he found them in the intimacy which had grown between the stranger and Nellie. At supper and afterward there were references to things of which he knew nothing, topics of conversation from which his ignorance of persons and places excluded him.
That Moir was more than impressed by the pretty face constantly turned toward him, Grassett had no doubt. Admiration shone in the man’s eyes when he looked at her, there was a deference in his manner when he spoke. For the first time Grassett knew jealousy. As with his love, its coming was sudden and overpowering.
The next morning a second storm had begun, and the three remained in the cabin. Grassett busied himself with stretcher boards, traps and fur, while Nellie and Moir continued to talk of the settlements and of the people they knew.
At the end of the second day the storm blew out. The following morning Grassett started early on his trap lines. It was deadly cold, and the work of forcing his way through the newly fallen snow and digging out and resetting traps was a real hardship. It was not the weather or the work which drove Grassett back to the cabin in the middle of the forenoon, however. Perhaps it was more easy for him to stand the physical pain because of the new pain in his heart. He thought again and again of how Nellie and the stranger had so suddenly leaped to a plane of intimacy,of the change in her manner, the new smile in her face, the eager light in her eyes. And wdth each new thought, with each rehearsal of what he had seen and heard, his bitterness grew, his suspicions were aroused, his jealousy became more intense.
At last, driven by his new emotions, and more by the uncertainty, he turned back toward the cabin. Walking swiftly over the new trail, he at last entered the little clearing. Outside the door stood Nellie, dressed for a journey. Beside her knelt Moir, fastening on her snowshoes. The man slipped his feet into his own, and they started down the trail toward the river.
Grassett had stopped, hidden by a small spruce. He strode on, furious, and the crunching and squeaking of his snowshoes was heard by the hurrying pair.
“Oh, Tom’s come!” exclaimed Nellie as she turned and saw her husband. She started back toward the cabin.
“I must get you a lunch,
Tom,” she panted as she
came running up. “I didn’t think you’d be back before night. It is terribly cold. You must be hungry.”
Grassett was bending over his snowshoes, and his wife did not see his face as she slipped her feet from her own and hurried into the cabin. She followed, and soon afterward Moir came back.
The trapper was silent as his wife hurried from the stove to cupboard and set tea to boil. He watched Moir’s face, but it was in Nellie’s nervous chatter that he found confirmation of his suspicions. His wife and the stranger were running away!
“We were going down the trail to get Andrew’s outfit,” she had hastened to explain. “I’ve been shut up so long by the storms I wanted to get out and run over the drifts. I didn’t know whether I had forgotten how to use snowshoes.”
She laughed excitedly, and Grassett’s suspicions became a certainty. He was not expected back until after dark. They would have had a long half-day’s start, and, once out on wind-swept Lac Seul, their tracks would be covered up.
With the ending of the uncertainty all joy went from Grassett’s heart. In its place was something big and black and rending, something that urged him to reach across the little room and tear with his fingers at the throat of the young fellow who was the cause.
Through the afternoon Grassett sat in a silence more sullen, a brooding silence habitual to a man whose life has been spent in the solitudes of North. His manner conveyed something of his thoughts to his wife and the stranger, for they talked with re■ traint and with many glances a t the big figure by the stove.
Before supper Nellie went out to the little lean-to shed to saw off a piece of caribou for the evening meal. Grassett looked at Moir.
“You’re fit for traveling?” he asked.
“Yes,” was the careless answer. “I think I can bust on any day now.”
‘ ‘ To-morrow ? ’ ’
“Why, I hadn’t thought,” and Moir looked up quickly at the new tone in Grassett’s voice.
“Your rifle and outfit are up the trail. I’ll go with you in the morning to get them. I’ll take my rifle along.”
Moir straightened and looked at the other as though trying to read his face in the dim light.
“I’ll give you your chance, and we’ll settle it there,” went on Grassett as though in explanation.
Moir stared intently for a moment, started to speak, and then relaxed into his former position by the stove.
“Oh, very well,” he said carelessly.
The next morning it was fifty degrees below zero. After breakfast Grassett put on his cap and mittens. Moir did the same.
“You’re not going?” Nellie cried.
Grassett saw the look in her eyes, saw that Moir was about to speak.
“Just up the trail a bit to get his stuff,” the husband explained.
The men tramped through the forest without a word. Twice Grassett stopped to reset a trap covered by the drifting snow. In one he found the stiff little body of a weasel, stopped as though to remove it, and then turned on down the trail.
“When I come back,” he muttered.
A mile from the cabin they found Moir’s outfit. The young fellow pulled forth his rifle, shook out the snow, removed a cartridge, worked the lever, assured himself that the barrel was open, reloaded his weapon and turned to the waiting woodsman.
“I’ll walk into the brush here,” said Grassett, pointing to the spruce fifty yards away. “You get in over there. When we are both hidden, we start.”
Moir turned and then stopped.
“You’re wrong,” he said. “I admit I love your wife. A man couldn’t help it. But there’s no need—.”
Grassett turned, the rage he had repressed so long distorting every feature.
‘Shut up.” he cried. “Go on before I don’t give you your chance.”
Moir looked at him coolly and then went on. After a dozen steps he stopped again.
“It might be fair to say,” he called, “that this rifle and I have a reputation down below.”
“You’ll need it,” Gras-
sett growled without looking back.
The men walked toward the opposite fringes of brush. They were half way when both stopped to listen. Then Grassett walked on.
“Hush!” called Moir.
Through the still air came a shrill, low cry. Both heard it. Both knew what it was. Without a glance at each other they turned toward the cabin. Moir gained the easier going of the snowshoe trail first and began to leave the heavier and older man behind. When Grassett at last burst into the little clearing he saw the cabin completely enveloped in flames and Nellie lying in the snow near it. Moir was bending over her.
“She’s all right,” said the younger man as Grassett came up.
Nellie’s eyes were closed, but her lips moved slightly, and a hand reached out and grasped one of Moir’s. Grassett turned and looked at the burning building.
The cabin and all that was in it had been beyond saving long before they finished their mile run on snowshoes. Every bit of food, half the winter’s catch of fur, their blankets, everything except the clothes they wore, were gone. And the nearest source of aid was one hundred miles away, through the forest and across a great, snow-driven lake.
Grassett, the greater loss uppermost in his mind, did not realize the situation until Moir went to him.
“You haven’t any dogs?” he asked quietly.
Grassett shook his head.
“Her snowshoes and the toboggan were hanging in that spruce, and she can walk part of the time. Then we can pull her. We can get my blanket and axe on the way out. I was out of grub.”
Grassett only nodded, and Moir turned again to Nellie, who was sitting up in the snow and looking at the burning building.
“It was my fault,” she sobbed. “I had a big fire going in the stove, it was so cold, and then went down to the river for water. I was chopping a hole, and I heard a noise and turned and saw it, all fire inside. I hurried back, but I couldn’t get anything out. The heat drove me away, and I guess I fainted.”
“We got to get out as soon as we can, to grub and shelter,” Grassett replied absently, still looking at the cabin. Somehow, the burning of the little building to which he had brought his bride was symbolic of the death of his happiness, wiped out as suddenly and as completely as the flames devoured the dry timbers.
And, as he stood there, stunned, it was Moir who took the leadership, who got Nellie’s snowshoes, who gave her his coat. It was he who took down the toboggan, set the strap over his shoulders, and, with a cheery “mar-chons,” started down the trail. Nellie was close behind him, and, when they were half way to the river, Grassett turned from the ruins of the cabin and followed.
Moir alone realized the true situation. Nellie, in her excitement and ignorance, was unaware of what the hundred miles
of deep snow, the lack of food and the intense cold would mean. Grassett, plodding along in the rear, was the most competent to meet and deal with what faced them. But the agony of his spirit precluded realization of possible physical suffering.
All that day they forced their way through the heavy drifts. Moir kept the lead, and, when Nellie began to rest every fifty yards, he made way for Grassett to go ahead and, Nellie on the toboggan, he toiled on until darkness. Then he was the first to see a good camping spot in the thick spruce, the first to gather wood for a fire and to hurry through the work of cutting boughs for the beds and fuel for the night blaze. Grassett helped him mechanically, and Nellie, so stiff from her ride in the cold she could not sit up, lay shivering beside the fire.
Despite their hunger, they were ready for sleep. Nellie, made drowsy by the cold, and Moir, near exhaustion from the heavy, straining pull at the toboggan traces, dropped off immediately. But for a long time Grassett sat before the blaze. It was nearly midnight, when, heaping on more fuel, he lay
Two hours before daylight the next morning they were on the trail. It was fifty below then, and the darkness just before dawn brought its still lower temperature. Moir, in the first light, turned the toboggan over to Grassett and went into the brush. They heard him shoot twice, and he came running after them with two snowshoe rabbits.
They built a fire and began to roast the meat on sticks. But twenty-four hours had passed since they had tasted food, a day of exposure, of intense cold and ceaseless exertion, a night of fitful sleep on the boughs beside an inconstant fire. Nellie, whose exhaustion and hunger were the greatest, only seared the outside of a rabbit leg and then began to chew off the burned meat. Half raw, the two rabbits were soon eaten.
The weary work was resumed. The grueling, grinding, monotonous labor of breaking trail on snowshoes depressed their spirits as it depleted their strength. By mid-day Nellie was too exhausted to walk farther and, wearing Moir’s coat and with her husband’s coat and the blanket wrapped about her, she lay full length on the toboggan. At the traces Moir again strained until long after darkness.
When a fire had been started Moir left the camp-making to Grassett and went into a cedar swamp. He returned empty-handed, but he had set rabbit snares with his moccasin lashings. Supperless, trail-weary, drowsy from exhaustion and the cold, Nellie and Moir were asleep immediately.
Only Grassett sat looking into the flames and feeding the blaze. His thoughts were tumbling, struggling, writhing, twisting. He had known only the crises of the wilderness, situations in which his woodsmanship, his great experience and ingenuity, offered quick solutions. Other questions had never perplexed him, and, as he sat there in the
loneliness of the forest, his wife moaning in her sleep across the fire, the man who had stolen her stretched beside him, his muscles twitched in accord with his fierce desires arid emotions. At one moment his arms were about to stretch pleadingly toward Nellie. The next his hands would open stiffly, the fingers crooked, each fiber and tendon aching to grasp the throat of the sleeping man. In one thought he became submissive to the blow, as his wilderness training had taught him to submit to the inevitable; the next he barely choked back a cry as he longed to battle for what was his.
At last, his face drawn and haggard, his eyes dulled, he went to sleep, his problem solved. The next morning, as the others lay moaning and twisting in the cold, he followed Moir’s trail through the brush and returned with two rabbits. These he had partially roasted before the others wakened.
In the darkness they started, though Nellie begged the men to remain a day that they might hunt and she might rest. But they only shook their heads and fastened on their snowshoes and hers.
A little after daylight they turned a bend in a stream on which they had been traveling for fifteen miles and found themselves on Lac Seul. Instinctively both men stopped and looked at the sky, turned their cheeks for a breeze, and then looked at each other. There was doubt in Moir’s eyes.
“It’s the only chance,” exclaimed Grassett, as if in answer to a spoken objection. “There is good going across the big stretch, and the storm may not strike before night. We’ve got to take it.”
“And if it strikes sooner?”
“We may make it. If not, what’s the use?”
Silently they placed Nellie on the toboggan and lashed the coats and blanket about her. Then, both in the traces, they started out across the great, white plain.
The sun rose, and its rays shone straight into their eyes and glanced dazzling from countless frost crystals on the snow. After one hundred yards they reached the hardened, wind-swept surface of the lake and sprang into a trot. For an hour they did not stop. Then, as they paused to breathe and to wipe the frost and ice from their faces, the sun became dim and a light breeze struck their right shoulders. Moir looked anxiously toward the southeast, but there was nothing except the lake in sight. He turned inquiringly to Grassett. The woodman’s answer was a tug at the traces, and they were off again.
When they stopped to rest at the end of the second hour the storm struck them. They waited only a few minutes and then went on, each man taking careful bearings by the wind and their back trail as they struck out. Twice in that hour they stopped to ask Nellie if she were cold. Though wrapped in her own heavy garments, and with the mackinaw coats and blanket lashed about her, the wind crept in. She shivered but urged them on.
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It was three hours and a half after they had left the shore that the men stopped, puzzled.
“It’s only fifteen miles across here,” said Grassett. “We should have hit the point by now.”
“The wind was straight north when we started.”
“Neither spoke the fear that it had changed. Compassless, they turned and went on, the wind still at their left shoulders. Fifty yards away they could see nothing through the whirling, twistting, flying snow. Behind them their trail was obliterated in the same distance. Both men, their pace slackened, began to feel the wind, a wind which was a gale with the temperature twenty degrees below zero. But they kept on for another hour.
“The wind switched to the northeast,” Grassett said when one of their now frequent stops was made. “We’ve got to head straight into it and make back to the north shore, or drift across to the south side, and that means a long way around.”
Moir was silent. He was dead tired and stood listlessly, shielding his face from the storm. Grassett looked keenly at him and then turned squarely into the wind, straight back in the direction from which they had come.
Twice in the next hour Grassett stopped to help the other to his feet. The cold and exhaustion had ended Moir’s usefulness. After the second fall Grassett motioned him to the rear, where he stumbled along until, at last, unnoticed, he fell into the snow.
After a time Grassett looked back. Only the toboggan followed. He returned on the trail, which was fast filling. Suddenly he stopped. The toboggan could just be seen in the storm. There was nothing on the back trail.
Weary as be was, Grassett ran back to the toboggan, turned it around and again retraced his steps, dragging his burden. At last the trail vanished. Made on the hard packed snow on the ice, it was not deep and had filled quickly. He could not feel it with his snowshoes. For a hundred yards he kept straight on with the wind behind him. Then he stopped and looked around. There was nothing in sight. For a moment he stood irresolutely.
“I’ll give him one more chance,” he muttered, dropping the traces and going on alone, circling this way and that, turning every moment to be sure the toboggan could be seen. At last, when he was about to return, he saw a dark spot on the snow and hurried to it. It was Moir, lying huddled in a little ball over which the snow was fast deepening.
Shaking, striking, rolling, dragging the body, Grassett finally was rewarded by seeing the younger man’s eyes open.
“On your feet, quick, man!” he exclaimed.
The body did not move. Again it was struck, kicked, jerked and thumped until the legs straightened and Moir sat
up. Grassett seized his collar and yanked him to his feet.
Though semi-conscious, Moir understood when he was placed between the traces. He stumbled on after Grassett. When lie fell the toboggan struck him, and he was lifted to his feet again by the patient demon who kept pushing straight on into the storm.
Moir’s falls became more frequent. At last he could no longer stand. Grassett stood perplexed. Then, feeling a slight abatement in the wind, he turned to see the dim outline of trees off to the left.
He lifted the young man to his shoulders and, staggering beneath the weight and straining at the traces, made his way slowly toward the land. Soon the wind ceased to bite at his frozen face, the snow ceased to drive against his eyes, almost closed. One snowshoe caught on a boulder on the shore, and he and his burden fell into the drift.
Grassett, his body exhausted, his limbs numbed by the cold, his mind by his sorrow, welcomed the soft embrace of the snow. He vaguely sensed that the end had come and he was glad as all freezing men are glad in the stages just before death. And perhaps it would have ended there had not a faint call penetrated the wind and the snow drift, a call muffled by the gale and by the thick coat about Nellie’s head.
An hour later Nellie and Moir sat beside a large fire in a spruce thicket. Grassett, after getting them to shelter and starting the fire, had left. Slowly and painfully, the two rubbed life back to frosted skin and absorbed warmth in their chilled bodies. For a long while they sat silently, and it was after dark before they made anxious conjectures as to Tom’s whereabouts.
And then he came, a small pack on his shoulders, a kettle swinging in one hand. Without speaking, he built up the fire, melted snow for tea and placed strips of caribou meat and a round bannock before the flames to thaw. Then, for half an hour, the three silently ate and drank, reveling in the distended stomachs and the new life coursing through their blood.
“Where did you get it, Tomt” demanded Nellie, when she had finished.
“Old May-me-qweb’s tepee is back only a mile,” he answered. “This point is fifteen miles from the post. I recognized it when we struck. I knew the Indian was in the same place he was last year, on a little creek that flows into the lake just beyind the point.”
“And now,” he went on before they could comment, “you can make the post easy in the morning. You two will go on. I will go back to the tepee. I can trust May-me-qweb to keep quiet. After a day or two I’ll strike westward. You can rest at the post and then go below together. I’ll never bother you.”
Nellie, who had been half asleep when he began to speak, sat up quickly as his meaning came to her. She stared at the face of her husband and then looked quickly at Moir. He, too, had started, but at once looked back at the fire. Only in his eyes did he show that he had heard.
“I was wrong, Nellie, in thinking I could bring you up here and make you happy,” Grassett went on. “I am older than you, and we lived differently before we were married. I was just beginning to see when he came.
“And then I saw how it was with you two, how it couldn’t be with you and me together again. At first I wanted to kill him, and I was going to the morning the cabin burned. But this trip has shown me different. I know now he is a real man, and if you love him he’ll make
you happy. And I-1 want you to be
Grassett arose, put on his snowshoes. looked at the woman beside the fire and turned into the blackness of the spruce.
The man and woman sat motionless, staring at the retreating figure. As it disappeared, Moir’s hand stole across the boughs and rested on Nellie’s. As if she had touched the glowing coals, she sprang back and to her feet.
“Tom! Tom!” she cried. “Tom! Don’t leave me! It’s you. Tom, only you!”
Floundering in the deep snow, she struggled into the darkness after her husband.
“Tom. Tom,” she cried and fell into his waiting arms.
For a minute he held her silently. Then her hands reached up about his neck, and she burst into tears.
“There was only you,” she sobbed. “Didn’t you see that I was just lonesome for company, that I wanted someone to talk to after those long, weary, lonesome days? I didn’t love him, didn’t even think of loving him. You just didn’t understand, Tom. You’ve never known women, up here.”
Grassett carried his wife back through the snow to the fire. Moir was putting on his snowshoes. He arose and went toward the lake. Outside the circle of firelight he turned to see the woodsman sitting beside the blaze, his wife in his arms. Then he went on into the night.
New York’s Commerce Now Leads the World
New York City is now the world’s greatest port, according to recent statistics on the imports and exports of 10 of the largest ports. In the fiscal year ended June 30,1913, $1,973,981,693 worth of shipping passed through New York, giving her a lead of almost $200,000,000 over London. After New York and London, the other ports rank as follows : Hamburg, Liverpool, Antwerp, Marseilles, Havre, Bremen, Buenos Aires, Calcutta. New York’s position as the centre of the world’s trade will be strengthened by the Panama Canal, which will bring her 1,600 miles nearer Yokohama than Liverpool, 2,500 miles nearer Sydney, 4,000 miles nearer Wellington, and 2,574 miles nearer Valparaiso