The Man who Knew How
The here was no "safety" in the matches Sarthe stole—and so he encountered the Frozen Death
G. W. STEPHENS
GRANTHAM took the evening paper from the waiter, spread it upon the table, and ran his finger down the list of theatrical advertisements. His companions, Stenhouse and Sarthe, commented briefly and usually with disfavor, upon the various items he read. Finally they agreed that Montreal, this night, had no show attractive enough to take them from the cheery restaurant into the snow of the January night.
They were eastern township men, in town on business in which they were jointly interested; three distinct types—Grantham, weather-tanned and blunt of speech: Stenhouse, keen-faced lawyer; Sarthe, youngest of the three, and still in the early thirties, good-looking, with quick, nervous gestures and restless eyes. The two elder men had long been financially established; Sarthe was a new-comer who had leaped in a very few years from timekeeper in one of the township mines to wealth. Lucky, there were naturally those who disparaged him, the gist of the criticism being that he had grown rich by exploiting the labors of other men. In the feverish war days, when the asbestos and chrome belt was being combed over for the minerals the Allies sorely needed, Sarthe had brought his alert abilities to the aid of prospecting miners who were better with pick than pen. Sarthe fixed things for them, and detractors said that when the miner had time to survey results he found that while he had the shells, Sarthe had the oyster. The criticism Sarthe took smilingly, as tribute to his abilities; the assassin shoots at kings, presidents, and millionaires, not the rank and file.
ABANDONING the entertainment quest, the eyes of ^ Grantham scanned the other pages of the last edition until something arrested them.
“So that New York murderer went to the chair this morning,” he said. “By the looks of it that was about the most ckan-cut job I evei read of. Woman killed in hotel bedroom with lead piping; nobody got a look at the man; he just nipped in, killed, and nipped out again, dropping into New York’s millions with a ten-hour start. If that ■dentist up in Harlem had wrapped the tooth powder, three months before the murder, in plain paper, instead of using a sheet with his name on -from the prescription pad, likely enough there would have been no scene in the Sing Sing death chamber this morning. It looked the perfect crime.”
“There is no such thing as the perfect crime,” said Stenhouse, laziiy crushing cigarette stump into ash tray. “There never can be one because of the fundamental law of things. A bad thing is always flawed.”
“Why are so many murders, then, never cleared up?” asked Sarthe.
“Genius of the criminal in covering up -lack of vision in those who should run him down,” replied Stenhouse. “The flaw has escaped the investigator’s vision. There’s always the loose thread in crime’s design.”
“I don’t believe it,” declared Sarthe bluntly. “Grime can be planned and executed as perfectly as any other project; it all depends on knowing how and being attentive to detail.”
"You can’t know how.”
“Of course, if the chap’s a bungler—”
“He is always a bungler,” said Stenhouse. “The criminal is up against an unknown spiritual factor he can’t figure on. Opposite him at the chessboard is an invisible, infinitely cleverer player -keen, ironic, humorous—he touches forward a pawn in the crisis and — checkmate! A button drops from the criminal’s coat, the cobbler patched the shoe oddly; the dentist, in Grantham’s .case, wrapped the powder in the slip months before the crime was probably ever thought of, and the criminal paid the price this morning.”
“There need be no mistake if the man keeps his wits,” said Sarthe.
“No use arguing with him,” interposed Grantham.
“Sarthe’s put over so many tricks that he knows what he’s talking about.”
Sarthe threw back his head and laughed noisily; it was tribute to him.
“Anyway, I put my tricks, as you call them, across,” he rejoined.
The topic dropped and the men gave themselves to enjoyment of the music and the scene’s vivacious gaiety.
“I see the Setons are here,” said Stenhouse, surveying the room.
“Ellen Seton?” queried Sarthe eagerly. “Where?” and I,is eyes followed the glance of the lawyer. “I wonder if I could get a dance.”
Impulsively he rose and crossed the room to the Setons’ table.
“Invincible nerve!” commented Grantham. “He’d shoulder his way through the pearly gates if Peter didn’t look out keenly.”
It, was clear, however, that Sarthe was not successful. “Sharp frost! Nothing doing!” observed Grantham drily.
Sarthe returned to the table, smiling and in no way abashed.
“Delightful girl, Ellen Seton,” he declared.
“But she wouldn’t dance,” said Grantham.
“Stop kidding,” grinned Sarthe. “Now there’s a girl with what I call style; if she’s the luck to pick the right man—a man with money to dress her right, and put her where she belongs in the social show, she’ll want some beating.”
“The Setons have been pretty much in that show for a few generations back,” mused Stenhouse drily.
“Trouble is they’re broke now,” said Sarthe. “Pedigree’s all right when there’s stuff back of it. You’ve got to bring together the old stock, with their traditions, and the new blood—the comers.”
“They say Miss Seton’s arranged for already,” observed Grantham. “Jack Cochrane’s the man, so I’ve heard.”
“Cochrane! Who’s Cochrane?” scoffed Sarthe. “What’s he got to offer a woman? He’s poor as Seton himself.”
“He’s got a fine name, first-grade mining engineer’s f ability, four and a half years’ record over across,” was Grantham’s answer.
A frown crossed Sarthe’s face; he hated war talk; during the war he had been at home doing “indispensable” work.
“Why, there’s Cochrane just coming in,” said Stenhouse.
THE new-comer saw the Setons in a rapid survey of the room, and made his way to their table. A few minutes later the orchestra struck up a particularly vivacious tune; Cochrane spoke smilingly to Ellen, and they rose and joined the dancers. Grantham glanced at Sarthe, whose eyes were on the pair; he noted the angry flush and the nervous biting on the cigar.
“Dancing, like kissing, goes by favor,” he twisted the barb.
“Oh/quit your funniments!” snapped Sarthe savagely. Shortly after the dance the Setons left, Cochrane accompanying them to the door. Returning, he caught sight of the three men, and crossed to them.
Sarthe seemed to have recovered poise, for be was cordial. Naturally, conversation turned on the inevitable mining. Cochrane told them that he had just returned from England, after completing a commission.
“Where next, Jack? Coming into the Townships?” asked Grantham.
“Yes, but off the beaten track a bit,” the other replied. “I’m going in on my own. You know that Dorgan track, up in the hills?”
“Thirty miles from everywhere,” nodded Grantham. “Not when the surveyed spur track is built,” replied Cochrane.
“Optioned the land?” asked Stenhouse.
"I would if I were going to put in work on it.”
“I probably shall.”
“Dorgan’s all right when he’s tied down,” the lawyei laughed.
“So I’ve heard; we have an understanding.”
C “Best understandings are on paper with signatures to them.”
After more or less desultory chat Cochrane left.
“Queer he should have hit on that Dorgan land,” commented Grantham. “I’ve always had a hunch there might be something in it. Dorgan’s always been spinning yarns about it, but all the farmers in that country do the same. Wouldn’t be surprised if Cochrane ran into luck; Fortune’s a woman and if she thinks a man isn’t breaking his neck about her, she’ll go near to break hers to get him. I’d like to see him make a killing for his own sake, as well as for the sake of that nice girl who’ll be Mrs. Cochrane one of these days.”
The effect of the last remark upon Sarthe was astonishing, but it was characteristic of his impulsive fieriness. He pushed back his chair angrily, rose and muttered something about taking in a show after all.
“That last shot got him where it hurt,” observed Stenhouse. “He has his mind fixed on Ellen Seton, and he’s a hard fighter and an unscrupulous one.”
“I meant it should get him,” said Grantham impenitently. “Fancy a man of his stripe thinking he can get Ellen Seton! That’s one thing he doesn’t know how.”
AUTUMN had been unusually prolonged. Cochrane had spent a hard seven months since he took to the hills in spring. It was now the first week in December, and practically no snow had fallen. The result of his toil had satisfied him.. The week before he had paid off the two men who had worked with him, and sent them back to their farms. He himself had lingered to put things shipshape for winter, rest up and consider plans at uninterrupted leisure. Fie proposed to go down to close matters up with Dorgan in a day or two. As the visible result of his toil there was a deep gash in the hillside, over which swung cable and dumping box from a small steam derrick.
Standing now on the ridge he filled his pipe reflectively, his gaze on the sweep of country beneath him. The brilliance of autumn foliage had vanished, and over the world about him had come that stillness which presages the lapse of Nature into her deep five months’ sleep.
The little stream that ran down the hillside was fringed deeply with ice; the half dozen small lakes dotting the country below were flat white patches, their waters already imprisoned; the trees, except the evergreens, were stripped and gauntly bare, prepared for overdue storm and bitter weather. Not a house was in sight, no living creature moved perceptibly over the broad expanse. The sun was setting in heavy clouds over the fringe of the western hills. The air was keen, but less sharp than it had been.
“Snow’s not far off,” mused Cochrane aloud, moving •toward the shack he had built at the edge of the clearing.
HE ENTERED the two-roomed shack, made a fire and put the kettle over it, then returned to the open to bring in firewood for the evening. With arms filled, he suddenly paused and listened, then dropped the wood and walked a little way to a spot whence he could see the end of the trail that ran through the small belt of trees. He had heard the trampling of a horse in the thickly strewn leaves; presently horse and rider emerged, and Cochrane saw Sarthe.
“I was over in Armagh, so thought I’d look you up,” Sarthe greeted.
“That was mighty good of you,” Cochrane welcomed his visitor. “Let me take your horse; I’ve a warm stable back of the shack, and lots of hay and oats; the men I had with m.e kept a horse here, and they’re gone, so we can make the old boy comfortable.” He patted the horse that nuzzled his arm in friendly fashion.
“And how are you making out?” Sarthe asked, as they came from the stable.
“Not half bad,” replied Cochrane. “Come and have a look.” They walked to the edge of the pit.
“Not half bad should mean wholly good,” smiled Sarthe, eyeing the excavation and the dump on the edge of the pit keenly. “I’m glad of it.” He picked up pieces of asbestos-bearing rock from the ground and picked at the vein. Then they entered the shack.
“I hope you’re hungry,” said the host. “The kettle’s boiling, and the rest won’t take much time preparing.” “Hungry as a bear,” laughed Sarthe.
“Fine—that is if you’re up to the fare I have. I’m closing up for winter in a day or two, so supplies are not very varied, but if bacon, beans, and a few eggs will do you, the establishment can rise to these.”
“What could a hungry man want more?” replied Sarthe cordially.
Soon the hot food and coffee were on the table, and both men eating with the zest of hungry outdoor folks. By the time dishes had been cleaned up darkness had fallen.
“I’d better be getting along,” said Sarthe, looking toward the sliver of moon over the tree fringe.
“Surely not,” replied Cochrane hospitably. “I’ve a decent bed to offer you, so there’s no use riding home to-night. Remember it’s seven months since I had anyone but my two Frenchmen to talk to, and their range of topics is not wide.”
“Suits me, if I’m not inconveniencing you.”
“You’re a veritable Good Samaritan,” responded Cochrane.
Sarthe took half a dozen cigars from his pocket and threw them on the table.
“Wonderful!” said Cochrane, lighting one, and blowing out a big column of smoke deliciously.
“May be a change after that native stuff you’re smoking.”
BEFORE the stove, in the dim light of the oil lamp they smoked and talked, Cochrane telling of his work. The shack was a roughly-built place of bare boards, with little about it by way of ornamentation, but on a small table near the window stood a silver portrait frame, with the photograph of Ellen Seton in it., Now and again Sarthe noted the absorbed gaze with which Cochrane regarded the picture, especially when he narrated something that indicated success. Sarthe knew that the prospector valued victory as it related to Ellen Seton, and a great envy tinged with hate swept over him. He could have bought up the man near him a hundred times over; that a man so inferior, measured by money standards, should stand in the way of his supreme ambition, seemed intolerable. Once, when Cochrane stepped out to see that the horse was snug for the night, Sarthe picked up the portrait and regarded it long and intensely, replacing it and mastering his emotion as he heard his host approach.
“It is snowing, but I don’t think it will amount to much,” said Cochrane, entering the shack.
Presently they went to their beds on opposite sides of the room. Cochrane fell asleep at once, but Sarthe was restless, his mind revolving what his host had told him about the prospect and thoughts of the connection between its success and Ellen Seton. If luck had come his way, then it would not be long before Grantham s prophecy regarding the marriage of Ellen and Cochrane would be fulfilled. One thing of all that his host had told or suggested stood out impressively—Cochrane had said that he had not left the place since first coming up, and Sarthe had heard that when he did first, come up there had been no arrangement with Dorgan other than a verbal one. What a fool the man was! What right had one so slack in affairs to make money?
The room was not quite dark, for flickering rays of light came through chinks in the top of the old stove, and across the room Sarthe could dimly see the picture of Ellen Seton. When at last he did lose consciousness his sleep was deep and long. Cochrane was busy about the place when the guest waked.
“Slept like a log,” said Sarthe as he dressed. “Breakfast’s ready when you’re fixed up. There are water, soap and towel on the box there that serves as wash-stand. What you want and don’t see, just ask for,” laughed Cochrane. _ ^ .
“It’s snowing heavily—been at it, might and main, all night. I was out in my guess,” he added.
“Guess I’d better be moving along,” said Sarthe, trying to peer through the snow-spattered window.
“Better wait till it stops,” replied Cochrane. “I think I’ll go along with you; there’s an old but quite usable sleigh at the back of the stable, and I’ve a set. of harness. Perhaps your horse will not mind the indignity of being put into the shafts in the emergency.”
He did not notice the black frown that swept over Sarthe’s face, but the man’s reply struck him unpleas-
“IFe’s never been in shafts that I know of, said Sarthe, quite untruthfully. Then, as he saw something of surprise on Cochrane’s face he added: “But we’ll make the best of it, and if he busts the rig we’ll have to scramble along some way.”
“If you don’t think it advisable—” began Cochrane. “My dear fellow—! of course it's advisable. We’ll move down together as soon as the show stops,” Sarthe answered.
Continued on page 45
Continued frOM page 13
INSTEAD of stopping the storm increased in vigor as the day wore on. The world without was a white, whirling wilderness; the wind had risen and was blowing in great gusts about the house; the cold had intensified, and sharpened perceptibly as the hours went by. The men planned to make a start early in the afternoon, whether the storm abated or not, and C ochrane hastened his closing-up arrangements. At noon he went to the pit and descended the ladder to bring up some tools that had been left on the floor of the excavation. He was ascending when, some distance from the bottom, his foot slipped on an icy rung of the ladder; he had but a loose hold on the sides, his hands being cumbered with the tools, and before he could get a firm grip he fell, his leg twisting under him, causing excruciating pain. Leaving the tools, he began the painful climb, and managed to scramble out of the pit and make his way to the shack as best he could.
“What’s the matter, Cochrane?” asked Sarthe,.as his host crawled into the room.
“Had a fall—twisted or broke my leg,
I don’t know which.”
Sarthe helped him to remove his clothes and made an examination.
"I don’t think it’s broken,” he said. “Seems more like a bad sprain: I’ll bandage it for you.”
He fetched water, bathed the leg, then bandaged it tightly. When the task was done Cochrane tried to walk, but dropped in sheer pain.
“I think we ought to make a start,” he said. “Things look as if they would be worse rather than better.”
Sarthe made no immediate reply to the suggestion, but opened the door, admitting a great flurry of snow, and looked out upon the storm-swept world. For minutes he stood there, deep in thought, heedless of bitter wind, and white, driving gale, as if calculating chances and debating decisions. Then he turned again and closed the door.
“We can’t go in this,” he said. “It would be foolish to make the attempt; why, you can’t see half a dozen yards ahead, and the darkness will be down in an hour or so. Perhaps the leg will be better in the morning; anyway, we’re better off here than in that white, howling hell outside; I don’t believe my horse would face it.”
The opinion seemed sound, so Cochrane acceded.
“Luckily we’ve plenty of provisions, such as they are,” he said. “There’s only one thing we are really short of—that’s matches. We must use the fire for pipelighting. I’ve just one small box left —up on the shelf there. Better take it down and put the matches in that cigar-box on the wall, then we’ll know just how they’re going. There’s a strip of the stuff to strike the safeties upon tacked on the cigar-box side.”
Sarthe took down the box and put the contents aside as directed. They looked astonishingly few.
“Yes, we must surely go easy,” he said, tossing the empty box back on the shelf. “I don’t think I’ve a match left on me; riding over I’d quite a task to get my cigar going, and must have wasted near a boxful.” He took out a silver match case, and : it was empty, searched every pocket with the same result.
All the afternoon the storm raged with j unabated fury, the snow veiling the landscape in vast whirling, thick clouds; the wind increased rather than decreased in ! violence, the trees at the back of the shack [ creaking and groaning under its onslaught ; ! now and again a crash told of the victorious rage of the tempest. Night brought no alleviation of the storm’s rage. Sarthe did not sleep after the light was extinguished, but lay in deep thought, his eyes turned toward the portrait of the girl on tire table. When the fire died down he thought of replenishing it, then changed his mind. Cochrane was restless, tossing ■ about in his sleep uneasily, occasionally uttering a groan as some twist hurt the ; injured limb.
Intently Sarthe listened to him; the ! darkness in the room grew more intense, the cold sharper. Would Cochrane never 1 fall asleep?
Then the wind ceased and the beating of I the snow on the window stopped, the stillness after the turbulence being eerie. It seemed that half the night had gone when the regular breathing of Cochrane told Sarthe that the sleep was deep. And still the listener waited—how long he could not have told—then he crept quietly from the bed, put on the upper clothes he had discarded, and dressed completely. Even now the cold within the room was sharp, and the man shivered. Softly he stole to Cochrane’s side, and, bending over, assured himself that he was in deep sleep. Then he returned to his own bedside, and for several minutes stood there in the darkness, in deep thought. In such moments men determine life; their decisions are vital and irrevocable; salvation or damnation pivots on them; Sarthe seemed to sense this, and so he paused and thought. His eyes turned in the darkness toward the unseen but visible portrait, then, slowly he veered away from, it, no longer desiring to visualize it; for the moment he desired to forget it. And there he stood, good, and evil oscillating, as if at the extremes of some delicately adjusted balance beam. Then he moved, went to the cigar-box, took out the matches and stowed them away carefully in his match safe, which was large; carefully he felt in order to make sure that he had not left one match. Stealthily he reached to the shelf and groped about seeking the box he had thrown upon it; presently his fingers found the small, squar e thing, and he put that, too, in a dry inside pocket.
He took his sheep-lined, riding coat, put it on; drew the fur cap snugly down over his ears, put on the heavy seal riding gloves, and opening the door stealthily, went out, closing it behind him. In the same spirit one Judas once went out from loyalty and companionship and salvation into as black a night. Outside the door he waited, wondering if Cochrane had been roused. If the man within called he would tell him that he was going to see if the horse was comfortable—but there came no sound. The whole world was wrapt in stillness as with a garment, and yet Sarthe knew that the darkness could not hide, and that invisible eyes were upon him; again he waited undecided, and the balances once more wavered.
Saddling the horse speedily, he led it out of the barn and clearing, mounting when he reached the trail, and going his way. Through the wood the going was easy, but when he emerged on the farther side difficulties began. It was a night of Egyptian darkness, the snow had begun to fall again and the wind whimpered like a r oused child. Sarthe had a general idea of the direction he should take, and headed thither. The task was one of infinite toil, the hjorse picking his slow way where the snow seemed to be lightest. When at last faint light mitigated the darkness, the way was no less difficult; no recognizable landmark could be seen; the world was but a whirling eddy of white particles that seemed bent on baffling with hellish purpose this man who sought safety. On and on man and beast struggled, slowly and still more slowly, the hidden sun, the shrouded world, the furious elements, all in one deadly league against them, lient on destroying and obliterating. Thus f ain, in terrific loneliness, once traveled a world in which all Nature stood aghast at his fratricidal iniquity. Whether Sarthe was traveling, east or west, south or north, or swinging always in a circle, he did not know.
His watch told him it was noon, and shortly after that he knew that his horse could go no further, its head drooped, its
sides sobbed convulsively, each time its foot sank in the deep snow it became more laborious to withdraw it again. Then it stopped, absolutely exhausted, and neither coaxing nor cursing nor blow could make it stir another step.
"^X^ITH a furious oath Sarthe dis-
VV mounted; with clenched fist he struck the spent animal on the icefringed nose, then stepped back and kicked the heaving sides. In utmost weariness the spent animal that had fought to bring the man to safety sank in the snow and lay there, neither oath nor kicking having power to get it to its feet again.
Sarthe turned away, maddened by the sense of impotence, and ploughed through the deep snow. The short day was ending and with the fall of darkness the snow stopped and the cold became more bitter. Hunger was on him sharply, weariness and blank hopelessness numbed the very soul of him. Darkness would fall presently like a funeral pall over his life; he would sink into the snow and that would be the end.
The end! After all his plannings, successes, scheming! The bitterness of the thought was worse than dread of death. He thought of his home—its light, warmth, food; of the money he had in the bank, and spread out in sound investments. “Soul,” he had said to it, “take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry!” Now God said, “Fool—this night shall thy soul be required of thee!” He felt like a defrauding steward bidden by overlord to render up bis soul’s account.
His riches! He’d barter them all in an instant for fire, safety, a hot meal. He realized that all he had was of no value as currency in the emergency" in which he was placed.
Memories crowded thick upon him; the men he had been in business with; the women he had known: things long forgotten surged about him as about the mind of a drowning man; the white wilderness was no longer lonely, but peopled, and none he saw were friends; some laughed and jeered at his agony of soul, while others were gravely silent. Again he was in the Montreal restaurant, and he recalled the discussion, word for word, gesture for gesture, what had been said about the perfect crime.
The knowing how! He recalled Stenhouse’s words about the terrible invisible player who laughed, pushed forward, the little pawn, and ended the game. At the picture Sarthe raised a furiously impotent fist and shook it toward the heavens, where it seemed an inscrutable face looked down and dumbly mocked. Furiously he cursed Stenhouse and his preachings, Grantham and his blunt jibes, Cochrane the loved of Ellen Seton. He thought he could see the face of the girl, but the smile had left her face, and accusation, reproach, condemnation, were there in its place.
She looked—he thought—as God would look, if there were a God.
The way he ploughed was up a slight incline; he had no hope that when he reached the top he would find anything to raise his dead hopes to life again; just as well sink down and die here, but something urged him on, and so he struggled forward, his breath coming in short gasps.
AT LAST he reached the top and gazed down the other side as dimly seen in the dusk, his eyes staring unbelievingly. Then hope leaped up with an exultant bound and he gave a hoarse cry of triumph; his weary figure straightened up, a new light was in his eyes, and he plunged onward to the shelter of the hut that stood a little way off. There he could rest, end the frightful struggle with cold, snow, storm, and be able to sleep He would fight his way through yet.
As if it were heaven, he toiled up to the hut. Evidently it had not been, occupied for some time, for the hinges were rusted and the door hard to open, though it was but latched and ice-locked. There was a window in the place and that was whole; the shack would be warmer for that.
In the room were an old table, a rusty stove, and a chair. Then his eyes gleamed with delight in the corner was a great pile of firewood, big sticks of maple, dry, and cut to stove length. If he were warm he could put up with hunger for some time. With pained, frost-bitten fingers, he managed to open his pocket knife and cut some shavings from one of the sticks for kindling; these be put in the grate and laid on them the wood very craftily, then fumbled in his pocket for the precious matches he had brought. He laid them on the table, rejoiced that they were quite dry, then felt for the box in his pocket, but as his fingers touched, it a look of alarm, swept into his face; it did not feel now like a matchbox, and minutes passed, despite his eagerness, before he found courage to draw it out; at last he did so, desperately, and glanced at it swiftly.
“Jilks’ Patented Cough Drops. Sample Box.” he read. With a wolf’s howl he flung the box into a far corner of the room. Then he picked up some of the matches, and though he knew the effort to be vain, tried to strike them on the stove and on the silver match box. One after another he tried, flinging each failure to the floor in impotent agony. Again he searched his pockets, then ransacked every nook and cranny of the shack. A single match! death or life hinging on so paltry a thing. His search vain, he staggered over to the chair, sank into it, his head on the table, his hands widespread. The darkness deepened, the stillness was absolute, but he paid no heed to either; a gust of wind blew open the door, as if to admit an imperious conqueror, to let the Tracker come up at last with his man, but it failed to move him; more icily bitter grew the cold, but the man with outstretched arms regarded it not.
Thus through the pitiless night—no longer terrible to him—Sarthe lay motionless.
* »It *
BY NOONTIME Cochrane was ready to attempt to break through. He knew his way, and though he guessed the kind of fight that lay before him, in his crippled _ condition, he was going to attempt it. Half a dozen miles of fierce battling, but he had a hunch that it was not his fate to be snuffed out thus. He had tried to make himself believe that Sarthe had gone off alone to bring aid, or that some mishap had occurred to the man, but the empty cigar box laughed at his faith.
Then he wondered if some accident might not have happened to the matches, and this be the cause of Sarthe’s disappearance. Hailing shouts from without confirmed his suppositions; there was Sarthe back again. It was not Sarthe, but Grantham and one of the burly Frenchmen who had worked with Cochrane all summer.
“Rosseau was in town and seemed worried about you being up here alone in the blizzard, so we hiked up to see how things were. Tough going, but we made it all right; there’s a pair-horse sleigh the other side of the bush, so get your traps together and come along. What’s the matter with your leg?”
“That made it awkward,” commented Grantham. “Pete here worried over you like a wife: I’d never have thought about you.”
“Good old Pete!” smiled Jack, gripping the big paw of the Frenchman. “Seen Sarthe?”
“Sarthe? Why, no. What about him?” “He left here last night.” said Cochrane.
“That so? Why did he leave you like this?” He pointed to the lame leg. “Probably to fetch help.”
“Did he say he was going to fetch help?”
“Not exactly, but I figured he would,” answered Cochrane.
Grantham eyed him a few moments, comprehendingly.
“Did you know he was leaving?” he asked.
“I was asleep, dead to the world,” answered Cochrane.
“Did he happen to know you were making good here?”
“Not exactly, he may have seen some of(the stuff.”
“Damn his soul, he’s gone to beat you to Dorgan. You never got that option on paper, I’ll bet,” exploded the fiery Grantham.
“No. I suppose I should, but give the man a chance,” said Jack. Grantham stared, finding no words to express his thoughts.
“What in hell do you keep this place like an ice-box for?” he asked irritably.
“Give me a match,” said Cochrane quietly.
“What, no matches? Dam fine prospector you are.”
Pete went to the cupboard in which he
knew the matches were kept, and produced the empty safety box. He regarded Cochrane gravely.
“The matches were put in the cigar box,” said Jack. “I have always been careless of matches.”
‘‘Dam queer!” pronounced Pete, examining the cigar box and finding it empty. ‘‘You were never so careless as that, M’sieu Cochrane.”
_ Grantham eyed Cochrane in his keenly direct way.
“I believe the skunk took them,” he said.
“Nonsense!” replied Jack. Pete put a match to paper and wood in the stove.
“A hot drink and we’ll be going; the darkness will be down soon,” said Grantham, knowing it was useless to question Cochrane further.
They had the drink and a swift mouthful to eat, thén Pete doused the fire and they set out.
“I can walk all right if you’ll help me,” said Cochrane.
‘‘On my legs,” replied Pete decisively, and with Cochrane on his back he marched out,
PETE had the handling of the stout horses, and knowing the route, he picked his way cleverly, latterly in the clear starshine.
“One little mile more,” he presently announced triumphantly. “Over the little hill and we are at the farm in ten — five minutes. Ai! what is that?” and he reined in sharply. “A horse, dead in the snow.”
He got down and made an examination. “Dead!—Frozeh!—with a saddle on,” he said.
“Sarthe’s horse,” exclaimed Cochrane, looking down. “Where’s Sarthe?”
They searched for some minutes vainly. “We’ll run you down to the farm first, then come back and look for Sarthe. No need to worry about him; he always knew how to take care of himself, and the devil’s good to his own,” said Grantham.
They went on and presently came to the shack; the door was wide open: the wind had drifted snow over the tracks the man had made.
Pete would have driven on, but Cochrane stopped him.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I want to look in there; he may have gone in for shelter.”
The two men helped him to the hut, and together they entered, Grantham switching on his flashlight.
There sat Sarthe, head on the table, arms wide out-spread..
“He’s asleep,” said Cochrane gently. “The sleep that knows no waking,” answered Grantham, after a swift examination. “He’s near frozen solid.”
The lid was off the stove, and they saw the wood laid on the shavings; then their eyes took in the matches strewn about the floor, and the silver match case on the table. In the corner the Frenchman picked up the cough-drop box that the questing light-beam revealed.
“Look, M’sieu Cochrane! The box that was on the shelf near the matches.”
“He took the wrong box when he swiped your matches and left you,” Grantham summed up acutely, “and he died of the death to which he had condemned you. It’s true what the Old Book say's: ‘God is not mocked’.”
“Let me see those matches, Pete,” said Cochrane, and Rosseau picked them up from the floor.
Cochrane regarded them, one by one, carefully.
“If he had only known how!” he said. “Poor Sarthe—if he had only known how!”
He laid the matches on the table, retaining one, then limped over to the window. With a quick, sharp sweep he drew the head of the safety match across the glass, and it ignited. He limped with it to the stove, touched the shavings, and the flames leapt up gloriously.
“He did not know that a safety match may be ignited on glass,” said Cochrane. “Poor Sarthe!”
Grantham seemed to have been transported to the Montreal restaurant, and he heard again the argument between Sarthe and Stenhouse. He thought of the invisible player on the other side of the chessboard, the touching forward of the little pawn; and the crackling of the burning wood in the stove was the laughter of the Master of the Game, invisible but inescapable. With him every man and every woman must play a game, and win—or lose.