In the Shadow of Old Creation
Archie P. McKishnie
Author of “Link Gaffum." etc.
UNDOUBTEDLY, Tibbit’s success in bringing criminals to justice lay in the fact that his appearance gave the direct lie to his wonderful prowess. Slender of form and mild of manner, with a plain, open face, which invited confidence, there was nothing in his personality to awaken suspicion in even the minds of the most wary; certainly not in that of his present companion and guide, Charlie Waters, who, while he inwardly believed the detective something more than he appeared to be outwardly, owned that whatever he was was his own business—and his only.
Sufficient for him that he found his companion a good paddler on lake and stream and game clean through on a rough portage, a poor talker, but an excellent listener. All of which, to the lanky guide, who had a tendency to wax poetic and sentimental in eulogy of the bigness and beauty of their shaggy, lake-shot environment, was most soothing and satisfactory.
And now, at the end of a stiff day’s paddle with Bigsweep Camp lying a mile away, on the other side of the Heights, Charlie paused in the act of lighting the camp-fire to glance at his trail-mate, who stood looking towards the sun-lipped hills of Old Creation, rising fold upon fold, westward.
“It’s gettin’ into him,” mused the guide. “It’s sure gettin’ into him, all this bigness like it gets into all of ’em.”
Which was true enough. In the face of that glorious, God-ehiseled ruggedness, any man might well have felt his littleness. And perhaps Tibbits, for the first time in his life, felt his, and despised the calling which was his.
Acting on impulse he had requested Charlie to make camp here, instead of going into Bigsweep. What he had to do could better be done in daylight; besides —well, he had been dreaming in a world of lights and fragrance, a world devoid of responsibilities. He would dream one long, spicy night longer.
Charlie called him to supper, which he ate in silence, his eyes on the changing
glories of the distant hills. The guide, respecting that silence, exulted, “It gets ’em; it gets ’em all!”
’ I ' IBBITS lighted a cigarette and forced his eyes away from the variegated woof which the shuttle of sunset was weaving above the hills. He had to think, think logically and clearly. He had to plan how best to do what he had come to do.
Gazing into the wall of swishing forest, he forced his mind back to the city of rumble, smoke and discord. In one of the low, musty offices of the Bureau he was standing before his chief, listening.
“We are putting the case into your hands, Tibbits,” the chief was saying, “because it will take a man like you to secure the criminal. You know the particulars. Clear case of manslaughter—under provocation, doubtless — but manslaughter nevertheless. This man, Thorp — you know him, I understand — of the firm Johns & Thorp, lumber dealers, falls in love with a pretty performer at Landon’s Lyceum, and marries her. She’s a fancy rifle-shot, or something of that sort; anyway Thorp, who is a rough chap and a hard drinker, takes her away from Landon. Landon’s sweet on the girl himself —at leaçt, that’s the supposition. He raises a row about her breaking contract, meets up with Thorp in a saloon and there’s a fight. Landon’s skull is fractured, a warrant is sworn out for Thorp, and — well, Wallace and Billings have been after him for nearly six months. Now, you go get him.”
Tibbit’s cigarette had died between his lips. His brow was wrinkled and his hands clenched as he turned towards Waters, crouched on his blanket before the fire, and said: “Talk to me, Charlie, I feel queer. I feel-” He stopped short and gazed at his companion.
“Like you’d reached the other end of your trek?” “Exactly.” "And that you’d almost like to turn back along trail again?” “That’s it.” Charlie was silent for a time, then: “Well, if you want to back-trail I’m with you. We can strike camp at sun-up. It’s fer you to say.” , He rose and threw another log on the fire. He stood watching the live coals bite it into flame, then flung himself on the blanket and asked : “Have you ever rode horseback any?” “No,” the other replied, “I have not Why do you ask?”
“Because maybe then you might get a clearer insight into what I’m going to tell you. Horse-back ridin’ is one of the finest, freest pastimes a human kin indulge in, I take it; only it has its drawbacks. For one thing it makes a darn poor walker out of a man, and another it puts him in the way of studyin’ things from an elevation. He goes along trail and. in a way, gets a closer view of the hedge, trees and blossoms, but he ain’t seein’ any how their roots cling tight, nor why. He’s takin’ things for granted without trying’ to get down to the roots of ’em, see?
“Me, I’ve rid horses for fifteen years, bad uns and good uns, and loved ’em all. even the devils that bucked me over the moon and back—and then some.
“What I’m tryin’ to drive home is this. I’ve noted lots of things in my star-andstriped career on ranch, mountain and in forest, and among ’em, standin’ up clear cut as that peak of Old Creation against the sky yonder is this. All of us do too much horse-back ridin’ through life. We’re seein’ plenty but we ain’t seein’ close enough to the roots. Men and
women are like plants. Take ’em at their face value, and you’ll never quite know ’em. Horse-back through life, and you ain’t gettin’ nowhere when it comes to plants and humans. Sometimes a feller gets throwed heavy and has to limp back trail; then he begins to realize that he’s missed.
“Take Bill Jordan’s case, f e r instance
For five years Bill rode the Splashred trails, prospectin’ in the hopeful beyond, and ridin’ to shack, head bowed and dead tired, every night. And for five years he played the game without either winnin’ or losin’. Then one night his bronco badger-holes and breaks a leg, and Bill he bids it a last good-bye, puts it out of misery with his 44, and starts home afoot.
“And what do you think? Two miles from shack, as he limps round a cliffsided trail, he comes face to face with fortun’. Yes, sir, gold! Gold, stickin’ free and yaller in the face of the rock. The sunset washed it and made it fair leap out at Bill. You’ve heard of Walkback Claim? Well, that’s it. That’s Bill’s; and say, would ye believe it?—fer five years he had passed that gold, mornin' and evenin’, passed it on horseback with his head too high to notice it. And if he hadn’t had to walk back he would never have found a fortune.”
Charlie slowly refilled his pipe. His
eyes, fastened on the fading, mauve tints above the distant hills, were humid to tenderness as he said, “Next to God, the biggest thing in the world is somethin’ you realize like, but don’t just understand, I’m thinkin’. There’s that now,” pointing to the sunset, “why, I reckon if all the colors that old mountain has drank in durin’ her centuries of guardin’ this here valley was spilled out on the world, all to onct, there wouldn’t be nuthin’ but jest one grand rainbow. But she can’t do that, and she wouldn’t if she could, ’cause then we’d have too much rainbow.
“Then there’s love. It’s an awful thing, love is. Any kind of love is big enough, only trouble is there’s
so many varieties of it, it’s mighty hard to classify. F e r that matter, though, there’s all kinds of colors and tints and each of ’em beautiful. But for eighteen-
carat grandeur, strained straight from Glory-be through the wings of angels, you can’t match them colors above the old mountain yonder.
“That’s as near classificàtion as you kin get. It’s perfection, and take it from me, there’s only one kind of love that seems to me fit to put into comparison, and that a man’s love fer a man. Hogtie, staple-snub or canthook any variety of affection you can name, and look at it close, and you'll find a big proportion of it downright selfishness; beautiful, but selfish.
“Not that I’m sayin’ this is plumb wrong, either, ’cause it’s human, and anything that’s human can’t be fatwrong. A mother’s love is a sacred thing. I’m not belittlin’ that fact. No, sir. Me, I sure know what a mother’s love is. But it was a mother’s love that spoiled me in my first degree of life and brought me to the painful realization that I wasn’t the onliest curly-headed boy on this orbit.
More than me, too, has got his first real perspective of life through a pair of black and blue eyes, so I’m not grumblin’. I’m saying’, though, that most love is selfish.
“But what I was aimin’ to run down the chute when I broke away from my moorin’ and drifted towards the jam, was how a mere slip of a kid with level eyes and quick hand brought big Boss Boston back to himself and manhood, and that through the purest, biggest variety of love of man for man this old world ever knowed save once.”
CHARLIE WATERS’ TALE.
Boston, at this time, was what you’d call a hard case—and then some. Nobody knowed what his real name was or why he came to stay into this God’s own wilder-’ ness, and there was that in his eyes that kept the overcurious from askin’. What he didn’t know about timber and handlin’ men wasn’t worth knowin’. Got along well with the men, too, but he allars reminded me of a pure-bred St Bernard dog that had come down to pullin’ with Huskies; lead dog on account of his superior intelligence and size, but handicapped through not bein’ able to forget that other somewhere he had been kicked out of.
Not that he didn’t try to forget, either, ’cause he did. Drank hard and often and raised hell for the mere excitement of the thing.
One night, after everybody but the boss had turned in, and I lay awake in my bunk watchin’ him drinkin’ from the jug, he sorter wilted and lay sprawlin’ across the table, and I slipped out and went over to him. He was sobbin’ but makin’ no sound.
“Boss,” says I, shaking his shoulder, “what is it?”
He looked up at me and, so help me God, my throat burned at sight of his face; it was fair ghastly with sufferin’.
“Charlie,” he says, “I’ve got to tell somebody, or I’ll go mad.”
I glanced over at the bunks. The boys were all snorin’.
“Spill it, boss,” I whispered, “maybe I kin help you pike-pole this old trouble o’ yours into shallow water.”
“No,” he says, slow and weary like, “you can’t do that, but I’ll tell you just the same. Charlie, I’ve a little wife away back in the city. She loved me, but I had to leave her. I’ll never see her again.”
“The hell !” I says, and to save my life I couldn’t think of another thing to say.
“Her name is Mary,” he goes on, as though speakin’ to himself, “and I’ll never see her again.”
I tried to get him to bed, but he shook me off and went back to the jug. All next day he was short and sullen and that night the Kid comes into camp.
A fresh water lizard on the shore of the Dead Sea couldn’t have felt any more out of its element than that kid did the night he landed in Bigsweep Camp. It was common knowledge clear from the Big Chutes to Kearney that no outsider herded with our outfit except through dire stress of circumstance, unless he was huntin’ somethin’ unique and unusual in the way of diversion, because we had a big Johnny Peasouper who believed respect to life lay in beatin’ up every newcomer.
The Kid wasn’t much bigger than a sliver and his voice when he spoke sounded like a cross-cut saw out of set; nuthin’ much to it but wheeze. His throat and face were all muffled up and his cap pulled down about his ears. In his arms he held
a small rifle. He stood there in the door, peerin’ in at us fellers settin’ at the table rollin’ matches fer a stack of chewin’ tobaccer, and he enquires:
“Is there any chance of a man gettin’ work in this camp?”
Boston, who was sittin’ with his back to the door swung round so sharp on the stranger that he liked to upset the lamp. “No,” says he, short and to the point, “there haint.”
I reckon Boss was mad. Anythin’ soundin’ like a breakin’ jam allars got his nanny goat, and the young feller’s voice had that in it that made you think of somethin’ breakin’ up. Besides Boss had been drinkin’ even harder than usual. Me, I ain’t no close observer at all nor I ain’t tender-hearted, but there was somethin’ in the slim stranger’s appearance that made me stand up and stick in my canthook where it didn’t belong at all. That’s one frailty I’ve allars possessed and I reckon it’s had quite a lot to do with my gettin’ the handle of Fightin’ Charlie down along the Ottawa where my prowess as a fist and foot artist is best known.
“Boss,” says I, “didn’t I hear you say we was needin’ a meat getter for camp? Why not give him a chance at that?” I says.
“God a’mighty, but you have an almost human intelligence you have, Charlie,” comes back Boston. “Why, all a feller
with a voice like his ud have to do is to go in the woods and talk natural like, and every deer within sound would drop dead of fright!”
“He’s got a cold, that’s all,” I spars. “In a day or so his voice will have slid back to its regular moorin’s. What I’m strong fer right now,” I says, “is meat; good, red, fresh meat. If I stow away any more jellied hock or sow-belly, I’m goin’ to turn wild pig, myself, and go rootin’ for acorns.”
“And amen to that,” puts in Dennie McCool. “It’s lie so much to my stomach that I’ve lost its respect entirely. Be gosh, it’s meself wishes ther’d niver been such an animal as a pig born ; it’s so hungry for a steak that I am, boss, I’d ate it on a Friday.”
Boston flopped back in his chair and crammed his fingers through his foretop as he allars did when he was considerin’. He was grinnin’ now, and that wasn't a half bad sign.
I’d pulled the slim feller further inside and set him on a bench by the fire. He seemed pretty well all in.
“Call cookie,” growls the Boss; and Dennis puts his head through the bunk
house door and yells, “Hey! Johnnie, the Boss wants you.”
PEASOUPER came in, rubbing his eyes and making faces like a bear that has mistook a porcupine for a black ant heap, allars a sure sign that he is in an ugly temper.
“What-the-dash-and-glory do you sometime want o’ me?” he growls, allowin’ his valler-grey eyes to wander to those of the Boss. Peasouper spoke English as though he was afraid the spirits of his French father and Esquimaux mother was hangin’ on his words, and like he feared either of ’em might think he was favorin’ the other. His manner of speakin’ put you in mind of a spring drive. The words started nice and easy but got crowded and stood on end towards the close of the sentence.
Me, I’ll confess, I allars had a weakness to ' get hold of his words with one hand and his wind-tube with the other and shove 'em back to where they started from. I reckon a scaler with a yardstick wouldn’t have had to work overtime to measure my affection fer that big Peasouper.
The Boss he knows just how to take Frenchy on the raw, and he starts in slow and easy like with this.
“I don’t suppose. Peasouper, a man\ eater like you would know what ordinarymeat tastes like; but we’ve some other animals in the cage here, who seem to feel the immediate need of grizzly tenderloins and moose steaks,” he says. “Without in the least wantin’ to break the trend of your tender thoughts of home and murder,” says he, “I’d like to know what you are goin’ to do about it?”
“Me? I do noting. I cook what I get to cook, no more. What more can I do? If you are no satisfy, well?” And Peasouper glowered about the room and shoved his short pipe in his jaw with a click that reminded you of a hame-snap on a frosty mornin’. The sulphur on the match twixt his horny fingers spluttered green and blue, and he seemed to breathe it down, inhale it, round it up to where it belonged, as it were. There ain’t no denyin’ there was a lot of hell in Peasouper’s make up.
The Boss turns to the young feller settin’ crouched by the stove in the shadder.
“Can you shoot?” he asks, a wire edge on his words.
“Yes,” says the stranger, “I can shoot.”
“Sacré!” scoffs Peasouper. “They all say dat at first, but when they get de job, w hat den?”
He was standin’ at the end of the table, sideways, his ugly eyes crowdin’ their sockets as he glowered at the youngster. There was a sneer on his black face and his thick lips mumbled the stem of his pipe like the lips of a hungry wolf on a bone.
“What’s your name?” asks Boston of the Kid.
The slim feller looks him straight in the
eyes—a long steady look it was, but he didn’t answer.
The Boss’s eyes fell and the red crept into his face. “I reckon you kin stay out of that play, if you so want to,” he says with a queer little laugh. “Up here, though, the men have all some sort of name or other. If you’re goin’ to work for me, I’ve got to have some sort of a moniker to handle you by, see?”
“Call me anythin’ you like,” says the Kid, still holdin’ to the shadders, “and do I get the job?”
_ “Providin’,” comes back the Boss, “you ain’t a bigger liar than you look to be. If you kin shoot and understand bushhuntin’, we kin use you. Only,” he adds, slow and distinct, “you’ve got to understand one thing, and that is a man’s obliged to make good what he says, up here; and when he’s told to do a thing he’s goin’ to side-step trouble by doin’ it, unless he’s had his common sense jolted out of him by buckin’ bronchos,” says he, lookin’ hard at me, or, lookin’ at McCool, “he’s been born damn-fool reckless!”
We all laughed at his sally, all ’cept Peasouper. Everything seemed shapin’ all hunky for the young feller for which we were not at all sorry.
The Kid spoke—slow and easy—strokin’ the brown barrel of his short rifle like he loved it. “I’m used to obeyin’ orders,” says he, “an’ I reckon you kin depend on what I say.”
Peasouper beat my remark of commendation of the young feller’s spirit to the chutes by a pole length. I was about to rise up and yell, “Bully fer ye, Kid, I’m with you till the last log’s rolled," when the Frenchman spilled a dishpan full of crippled English that smothered the fire of hope in my breast like the spray from a p'ugged dam, and made me wish I hadn’t pulled off my spiked boots before settin’ in to roll lucifers for tobacco.
“Dat man,” he snarled, pointin’ at the Kid, “he is no woodsman—no hunter. He
j® dbar. I know. Much men lake
heem have I seen before—no good. Pooh,” and he snapped his big fingers and grinned as though he would clinch the argument with his yaller teeth if necessary.
Everybody looked at the Kid. He was silent, bendin' above his gun like his thought was miles away.
Boss Boston clears his throat and the Kid looks up slow.
“Suppose you see if you kin cut that pipe off close to his mouth,” grates Boston, and the words are still makin’ vibrations when they are swallowed up in the wispy crack of a rifle.
T HAD a drownin’ man’s power give me
right then to observe a whole lot in a second’s time. I saw Peasouper’s pipe fly ceilin’ward, saw him standin’ grippin’ an inch of pipe stem atween his teeth, saw the Kid still setting’, half turned, with the rifle on his knees, saw Boston’s face ash-grey and set. Then I put tha brakes on my magnified sense of observation and, followin’ an old and tried practice, ducked fer cover.
And at that I was last one home, all 'cept the fat Chink under-cook who had tried a hole too small fer him and lay hopin’ but more or less exposed to uncer-
When I crawled out from under the bunk, I saw the young feller still settin’ there and the Boss standin’ between him and Peasouper. The Frenchman’s face was cobalt-blue with hate or fear, I don’t know which. Boston spoke to the Kid.
“Why did you do that?” he asked.
“Obeyin’ orders,” comes back the Kid. “I was tryin’ to side-step trouble by doin’ what I was told to do. He called me a liar. I want him to say—now—he was mistaken.”
He stood up and McCool and me edged over alongside him. Turkey Tom, the scaler, come in with us, sorter shamefaced like, and Abe Smart, a log rider with more or less of a record fer roughand-tumble, follered suit.
The Boss sized up the situation and shrugged. He looked at Peasouper and his face broke in a grin. “You hear, don’t you?” he says. “Apologize to the stranger and be quick about it, or I’ll pass along another order to him.”
“Sacré,” foamed the Frenchman, “I’ll speak no-thing of de kind. I say some more—he is liar. Liar !” he howled.
Boston turned to the Kid. “Could you —supposin’ I gave the word—could you put a bullet through his right ear—high up so’s it’ll show?” he asked. “Wait”—as the Kid made a slight move—“I haven’t given the order yet. I ask you could you do it?”
“It’s not an easy shot,” comes back the youngster, slow like. “I ain’t sayin’ as I could—but I kin try, if you say so.”
“Wait,” says Boston. “We’ll give him another chance. Now, Peasouper, do you still think this gentleman is lying about his marksmanship, or do you wish further proof of his prowess?” he asked. “Just spill yes or no, will you?”
The Frenchman looked towards the rear room. Me and McCool had moved round so’s to close that exit, and we shook our heads at him. He Couldn’t break fer the front ’cause Smart, the Boss and the Kid was there. He sorter sagged down on a stool and his big body seemed to collapse like a pricked balloon. His jaw fell / open and he breathed like a man after a long run; but I reckon at that he’d have took another run if the coast had been clear.
“Well, Peasouper?” snarls the Boss.
“Dat’s all right,” panted Frenchy, “I tak’ it all back. I was wrong, me. He kin shoot—damn well.”
Z’'1 OME along two weeks after his arrival, and the Kid was runnin’ true to form as an old-timer in our camp. The Boss quit drinkin’, and took to showin’ him the trail and lay of the land. And do you know that young meat-getter deersteaked his way into all our hearts, as easy as a pack-rat noses through a sack of flour. Meat! Land of glory, we had meat three times a day and any old night we felt the inner man clamorin’; fat, juicy, moose-steaks, venison-roasts and partridge as side-dishes.
And, oh lordy! how he could shoot!
He could plug a copper in mid-air with that little rifle of his as easy as I kin spit a fly offen a sappy block.
And nervy! Gosh, but that Kid was jest one big backbone when it comes to nerve. No matter how the snow was swirlin’ er how wild the wolves howled, he was allars out on his job—with Boss Boston sneakin’ along somewhares in the rear like a big St. Bernard. Only time we saw him the least bit nervous was one night a trade-rat paid us a visit and took a notion to the Kid’s moccasin. The young feller stood up on a stool then, and his face—allars white—went whiter. "Charlie,” says he to me—I was standin’ beside the stove, grinnin’, I ’spose—“Charlie, you damn fool,’ will you please open the door and let that rat outside.”
Jake, who was near the door, opened it. Peasouper, who never missed a chance at killin’ anythin’ that looked easy, grabbed a boot-jack, but the Kid he says. “Drop that, you! Drop that!” And the cook dropped the boot-jack and looked sheepish. “Thanks,” says the Kid, and disappeared into his bunk.
That bunk, by rights, belonged to the Boss. But it seems that Boston sorter felt the Kid should be humored a little on account of not bein’ used to rough camp life. Anyways, he gave up his big roomy bunk to'him, which same was more a bedroom than a bunk, and we all of us thought it mighty white of him. I’m not denyin’ the fact that I had my own opinion, which was that Boston though it best to play white with the Kid not knowin’ if he did otherwise how soon that young rifle-expert might take a fancy to shoot a few buttons offen his vest or some other playful turn. You see the Kid allars took his rifle to bed with him, which was again camp-laws, but not objected to by us to any extent worth mentionin’.
Right from the start, as I say, we took to our little meat-getter. Not so much that he was a king-hunter either, though he was that sure enough, but because he was—in his quiet way—a real boy among us. He’d set at a card-game and' fall asleep through sheer tiredness, jest to be a sport. And we liked that, we sure did. The funny part of it all was the Boss didn’t seem to relish our drawin’ the Kid in on the games at all. He used to set watchin’ him, and one night aTter the Kid had lost a month’s pay, the Boss gets up and goes outside, quick like, as though he couldn’t trust himself to stick there longer. I’m wonderin’ yet why he didn’t cuss us offin’ the earth or throttle Peasouper, ’cause the cook was there, happy and grinnin’ and right handy to manhandle.
THEN came a day — along towards spring it was — and we was timberin’ out fer the big drive and right busy you kin bet, the Boss comes to me and says, “Charlie, I want you to take four men and go down there in Spruce valley, pick out a nice sheltered spot and build a log cabin there,” he says.
I looks him fair in the eyes and if my face wasn’t an interrogation mark it must have been somethin’ jest as crooked, fer he says with a zip of the old bull-dog in his growl, “You do what I say and don’t ask fool questions. And,” he says, as I turns away, “when you get it built come back here and be my foreman.” That night arter I’d narrated my conversation with the Boss to the boys we all had a look fer the whiskey jug. It was so dry you could have lit a match on its inside, and we were sure up against it feT a reason for his goin’ plumb loco.
I’ll admit we were troubled, and trouble, somehow, don’t seem to belong to these big woods. At that we were denied any outpourin’ of our pent-up feelins’, jest, too, when things looked as though there might be a diversion. You see, the Boss and the Kid was still out in the woods, somewheres, and we were gettin’ surer every minute that somethin’ had happened to ’em, and was settin’ around like a pack of wolves caught in a fire-circle, when along comes Peasouper. He blows in playin’ seven-come-eleven with the English language and punctuatin’ his words with bits of brimstone-shrapnel made in Musk-rat Esquimo. “What-the-hell-goloop,” he shouts, “dat
Continued on page 83.
In the Shadow of Old Creation
Continued from paye 22.
Boss Boston is no more Boss. Sacré, he follow dat leetle hunter lak dog. He too good fer stay here. Bah, he mak me
I wasn’t wantin’ any more than just this little verbal offerin’ from Peasouper, and I was pullin’ on my spiked boots, which I had thoughtlessly removed when in my mood of low-souled depression, when the door opens and the Kid staggers in. He was alone and his face was white, his long black curls moist as though with rain.
“Boston.” he gasps afore we could frame a question, “he’s back there on the trail—hurt. t Go.” And then he caves
“Charlie,” says Jake, “you stay and bring him round. We’ll go look for the
Just then the Kid rallies. “He's back on the Fire-lick,” he says, weak like, “at junction of Oldcross and Poplar trails. Fire-bit tree come down with wind.”
AN hour later they carried the Boss in.
I could see right away he was hurt bad. Both legs crushed, and one of ’em broke clean. Besides, he had a deep gash across his temple.
“Put him in there,” said the Kid, pointin’ to his own bunk, “and be easy with him. Here you” — to the cook — “help Charlie off with this boiler of water.”
All night long we worked over the Boss, at least the Kid worked and we looked on. Talk about your surgeons. People of Penthorpe! but that Kid was sure a wonder. Afore morning poor old Boss was spliced fast and sure as a trussed turkey. Just daylight and he opened his eyes.
“Mary," says he, and tries to place his hand on the Kid’s head.
The Kid takes his hand and pats it. “That’s his wife’s name,” I explains. “He’s outin’ his mind. Just you humor him. Kid,” says I.
“Mary” Boss whispers again. “Is that you?”
“Say yes,” I whispers.
“Yes,” says the Kid, and damn me if I didn’t see tears in his eyes, and I loved him fer ’em.
The Boss lay qsuiet then, and I guess maybe he slept. I stayed in the camp next day, but I sent Tim Jacks and three others over the valley to start in on the | cabin. Along just afore noon the Kid j slips out fer a breath of fresh air and I’m left alone with the Boss.
For a long time he lay watchin’ me, | and I thought he was still wanderin’ in his mind. When he spoke I was sure of it 'cause he talked in a manner that seemed altogether crazy to me.
“Charlie,” says he, “can you shoot?” “Some,” I answers. “Yes."
He was quiet for a spell then, and lays as though thinkin’. Then he looked at me again.
“Boss,” says I, “you musn’t talk. Come to-morrow, and the doctor from Pine Centre will be here. Then we’ll know just how bad you are,” says I.
“Shut up,” he growls. “I’m all right and I’ll be up and around soon’s these old bones of mine knit. Charlie, listen,” he says. “To-morrow you are to go out with
the Kid and help him kill a deer. Get
“I do,” I says. “But it’s darned little help I’d be to a shot like the Kid is.”
The Boss laughed at that. “Charlie,” he says, “I want you to get hold of the puckerin’ string of your measly nature and draw it so tight that not an atom of what I’m goin’ to tell you can possibly slop out. Listen,” he says. “The Kid never shot a deer in his life. 1 shot ’em fer him!”
T COULDN’T say anythin’ to that. I *■ was too dumfounded to do anythin’. I swallered onct er twice; this much I know ’cause I could feel my Adam’s apple movin’ up and down, but whether I got jest plain wind er the chew of blackstrap I was cuddlin’, I’m not knowin’.
“Charlie,” says the Boss. “You go out with the Kid and shoot a deer. He’s nothing but a fancy target.shooter and never killed a live thing in his life. And Charlie, mum’s the word, remember.” Just here the Kid comes in and I backs out. It’s awful to know some chap you like a whole lot has gone clear off his nut, but it’s worse to have to carry around a secret that’s itchin’ to scrape its way out of your system, at the same time. A dog with inward fleas cou(dn’t suffer half the torture I was feelin’ when I met the boys cornin’ back to camp.
“How is he now?” they enquired, and I had to put both feet on my soul and grind it under my spikes as I sang back, “Cherk, and lookin’ forward to better things. How did you get along with the cabin?” I asks, hopin’ they’d tell me they hadn’t started, and so give me somethin’ to swear at.
But my hopes dimmed with their words. “She’s half up, already,” they told me, and if it hadn’t been just hashtime I’m dead sure I’d have slunk into the bunk house and set the soul of Peasouper soarin’ to Greenland heaven, I was that utter and dumgasted miserable with the secret I was obliged to hold tight onto.
THE Northern twilight had fallen soft and swift, a cowl of wood-spiced shadows. Day had dipped behind the far, fir-tipped hills; the still lake lay sleeping amidst ethereal shadows. Out on its bosom a pair of loons voiced their guttural love songs. Charlie stirred from his reflections, threw another log on the coals, and resumed :
And the Kid nursed him back to health, waited on him, fed him, tended him as gently as a woman could. But the spring drive was on and off before Boston felt the earth beneath his feet again.
On his orders I had sent Jake and another hand to the city for furnishings for the cabin. I didn’t see what was ordered, the order bein’ written and sealed; my work was to see that it got to the cabin as quick as human power could get it, and the furniture arrived at last. It was one of the early days of June. All these here woods were alive with glorious colors and song. Old Creation Hills, yonder, pointed green fingers to the blue skies, and I was there at the cabin, along with Boston and the Kid.
Everything was crated and boxed so’s I couldn’t begin to guess what the furnishings was to be; nor was I likely to know either, fer the Boss says to me, “Charlie, we can get along without you now. You go back to the shanty. I’m goin’ to stay here with the Kid.”
I turned away as they went into the cabin. I walked around to the other side
of the little home to get an axe Jake left there, and through the open window I saw them. The Kid was in Boston's arms and he was holdin’ him close, close as a man' holds a woman.
Charlie lay back on his blanket and sighed. The night mists were weaving a silver sheen from lifting moon to silent lake. A whip-poor-will whistled from a tangled copse along the shore.
That night I left Bigsweep Camp, he resumed softly, and I’ll tell you why. I was wantin’ to believe that the most splendid love in the world was a man’s love for a man . . . and I knowed if
I stayed that belief would be gone. I knowed I would learn the Kid and the Boss’s wife, Mary, were one and the same and—aw, hell, can’t you see it all yourself?
Just the same I carried away my belief and I’ve stayed away with it, too. And to-morrow, come sun-up, I’m goin’ to carry it away again. I wouldn’t go down in Bigsweep for a thousand dollars. No, sir. I’m goin' to back-trail to-morrow mornin’.
Tibbits threw away his unlighted cigarette. His eves were on the white lake.
“To-morrow, at day-break, we’ll backtrail together, Charlie,” he said softly.