Start this story now—Dick Harrington rescues Eileen from the police, goes through a form of marriage with her, and then—?
EILEEN laid her hand on his arm to check him. But she was unaccustomed to the innate courtesy of these mountaineers. Not for worlds would the carrier have asked why the newly-married couple so urgently wanted the parson, nor would he speak of the strange request to anyone else.
He stroked his ragged moustache, and ruminated.
“Wal, I tell you what you’d best do. Send your letter”—glancing at the envelope in his hand— “as you intended to do, to his home in Girvan. On my way back I’ll leave word with Ben Thompson to send word to Liftin’ Creek that you want to see Parson at once. Ben has deal in’s with the Creek folk and can get a message in to him if anyone can. An’ if I see any other chance I’ll send a message, and let you know as soon as I get word.”
“That will do all right, and much obliged, John.”
“No trouble at all,” said the old man, picking up his reins. “So long, Dick, and good-day to ye, ma’am.”
He clucked to his dozing steeds and clattered down the trail, the gray mail bags jerking to the motion of the ponies and the sun glinting on the long rifle barrel.
Eileen was glad to ride the pony up the hill. Under the thick boughs the sun steamed in a scented haze. Harrington’s forehead was beaded with sweat, but he walked easily, keeping pace with the pony, breathing lightly in spite of his efforts. The girl was kept busy holding her place on the smooth broad back. She kept slipping back to the haunches, and her efforts to regain her proper place were translated by the willing Bingo as a hint for more speed.
Harrington finally noticed her predicament and stopped the scrambling pony.
“Get astride him,” he said, laughing, “and hold on with your knees. He thinks you want him to trot. Whoa, Bingo!”
Eileen got astride the pony and rode more easily, though the effort of holding her knees tightly pressed against the pony’s sides made her muscles ache and her legs tremble. The heat and sweat of the creature seemed to be against her bare skin. She was very glad to be at the top of the hill, and on the ground again.
She felt inclined for work, she told Harrington, and the prospector gave her a free hand to indulge her housewifely propensities, as he considered the interest and exercise would be much better for her than idleness and brooding. Her elastic healthfulness had returned her to her normal cheerfulness and in the full light of day the inside of the cabin was not so dreary. The girl felt more at ease than she had been for days, and inclined to laugh at her companion, who showed her about the place, very apologetic for its disorder. She wondered he had not made some attempt to set his house in order, if, as he h ad said his expected wife was a woman of wealth and culture. The bundles which had been purchased from the Wymore storekeeper lay unopened in a corner. Harrington set upon them with his pocketknife, ripping the covers and scattering their contents to add to the already great confusion of the room. Eileen laughingly bade him leave them alone until she was ready for them.
“What can I do to help you, then?” he asked, looking helplessly about him. “It’s an awful mess. There’s nothing I like better than tidiness, but I can never achieve it myself.”
“I don't really need any help, thanks, if you will show me how to keep up fires in the fireplace.”
“There's a little cook-stove somewhere, but it seems to be buried deeply.”
“We’ll come across it later. Now, have you a broom?”
HARRINGTON found her a half-worn broom and for lack of a better she set bravely to work to make a clearance. He brought her buckets of water and wood in plenty for her fire, and she set him to carrying out the ashes from the cluttered hearth. When the stones of the hearth were scrubbed and shining, she felt that there was a spot to start from, and set happily to work at the rest.
She drove rubbish and dirt before her, keeping Harrington busy carrying away the debris, and spreading bedding to air in the sun. It was dark before the cabin was cleaned to her satisfaction, smelling of fresh air and soapsuds. Eileen felt damp and dusty, with disheveled hair, and hands reddened by the hot suds, but calmer and happier than she had been for many a day.
“Dare I set foot inside now?” asked Harrington, gazing with pleasure on his refurbished abode. “Honest, Eileen, I didn’t know there was so much junk in there. But aren’t you almost finished with the job? You’ll be tired.”
“I have found your stove, and we can rummage through the bundles to-morrow. This is my last job”—as she spread fresh newspapers on the shelves.
“I wish I had some material to hand for curtains.”
“I believe old Bowden did say something about stuff for curtains. ‘Make it homelike,’ said the old rascal, and put in a lot of stuff that will be of no use, doubtless.”
“Didn’t you tell him what you wanted?”
“I didn’t know. Besides, I expected that Mildred—er -Miss Burton would bring what was necessary. At any rate we can go down to town and buy what we lack.”
“I’ll be right out to help you with supper.”
“Nothing doin’. Supper will be ready in five minutes.”
It was dusk, with a pale moon rising when they sat down to their meal. Eileen sat on a folded blanket with a coat about her shoulders looking elfish in the silver sheen. The white glow crept along the valley as the moon rose higher, making the mountain world a symphony in black and silver. The red fire made the only spot of color. Beside her knelt Harrington, busily washing the dishes, the ruddy firelight turning his close bronzed hair to gold, as hers was silver.
WHEN he had finished his work, he lighted his pipe and threw himself down beside her on the turf. The black dog crept beside him and laid his head on his master’s knees.
Harrington rested his hand on the dog’s curly head, and Eileen noticed his hands with surprise. They were not the hands of a backwoodsman. They showed traces of work, and were brown and hard, but the fingers were slender and pointed and the nails well-kept.
“You don’t mind tobacco-smoke?” he asked, presently. “I am very fond of my old pipe. An Indian from the reservation gave it to me. Isn’t it quaintly carved?”
“Yes,” said Eileen, admiring it. “Like a tiny totem. But do you really like cigarettes?”
“Cigarettes? I hate the beastly things. They’re not a man’s smoke at all. What makes you think I like ’em?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought I saw the stains on your fingers.”
“You’ve got sharp eyes, as well as ears, little lady. But I don’t smoke cigarettes. Do a little tanning now and then—”
He changed the subject as if it were distasteful to him.
“Well, do you think you’ll be satisfied with your new home?”
“There’s no doubt in my mind about that. These are the first peaceful days I have had in months. I have you to thank for that.”
He looked up suddenly.
“Sure you can’t confide in me? I have a hunch that it will save us both a lot of trouble if you only would.”
She shook her head.
“I can’t see it that way. Not that I don’t trust you fully. Wait a little. Perhaps later—”
“All right. I shouldn’t have brought up the subject again. But I am anxious on your account. I’d like to spare you all the trouble I can.”
Eileen did not lie awake that night. She tumbled into her bunk and was asleep in five minutes. Her last waking sensation was of the moonlight, and warmed by the ruddy glow of the dying fire.
The next day Harrington went hunting, as he told Eileen, and she spent blissful hours in the entrancing task of discovering and arranging her new possessions. The storekeeper’s bundles revealed many treasures, and for a bachelor, Bowden had displayed a good knowledge of the needs of a household. Warm bedding was folded and laid away on the clean paper-covered shelves. A few good aluminum cooking utensils occupied her little cupboard, flanked by white ironstone dishes. The curtain stuff was a violent blue and rose combination, but it was at least cheerful. Scissors, needles and thread were in her bag which the friendly porter had thrown off the train, and she spent a happy morning making curtains for the two windows of the cabin. There was also enough of the material to make a broad curtain to cover the shelves. She found a blue-and-white checked cotton tablecloth, and a gay striped cover for the bunk. The small cook stove was set up, and Harrington supplied a neat box to contain small chunks of wood for fuel. But Eileen loved the fire-place, and the glow of the larger logs served them often for light.
Sunset brought Harrington home, and his shout of delight and surprise well repaid the girl for her hard work.
“This looks like a real home,” he cried. “Something smells mighty good, too. Look at the table-cloth and the clean dishes. And the curtains!”
Eileen blushed at his praise and hungered for more. Her heart gained fresh strength at his appreciation. So few people had noticed her willing services. She felt that she could serve anyone all her life for a few words of praise. But she could not tell him so, and spoke of commonplace things.
“Are you hungry for supper? How was the hunting?”
They ate hungrily. Labor in the high thin air of the mountains would sharpen the most jaded appetite, and these were two healthy young people, full of the zest of life. To-night Eileen cleared the table and washed the dishes while her companion sprawled contentedly in the battered armchair.
When her tasks were completed, the girl brought her sewing and sat on a bench in the circle of light from the fire. The soft dim arc of a coal-oil lamp on the rough table between them illumined her pale gold hair. Harrington felt that she had been sitting by his hearth, a familiar figure, all these years. The tidy woman-burnished room seemed to have always been about him. He had known her, not a woman hunted across a continent for an unknown crime, a pitiful refugee whom in a moment of pique he had impulsively aided—but a wife with whom he had lived long years. Why did this stranger appear familiar to him? He fell to studying her face, bent low under the lamp-light. As with a pencil he traced feature by feature—straight nose, rounded chin, the thin dark line of her eyebrows, strangely contrasting with her fair hair. Shutting his eyes, he retraced them again, feature by feature, then filled them in with splashes of color, as if the darkness of the room were a canvas against which the head of the girl was being painted in living hues.
“What are you sewing?” he asked.
“I found this dark cotton among the goods in your parcels. I am making a new dress. My blue frock is easily soiled, so that I need one for rough use.”
“I should think you wouldn’t need to do any more work for a year.”
Eileen laughed, and the prospector continued:
“Better leave a little work for another day, and come tramping with me. I’d like to show you around my place. And do you like reading? There’s a box of books in the loft over the stable. I’ve read them all, but some may be new to you. I’ll bring you an armful in the morning.” This reminded Eileen of her housewifely duties.
“Have you a comfortable bed? Perhaps I could arrange a better place for you.”
“I don’t need anything but hay and a couple of blankets. This shack is enough for you to look after. Don’t bother about the stable.”
CONVERSATION flagged between them. Had each known the other’s past, they might have spoken of places mutually known, of common friends that strangely enough most people possess, of books read and songs sung, of the common likes and dislikes which make up the theme of casual conversation. But beyond the few incidents of their short acquaintance they had no common ground, and these events they had agreed to forget. Their future they could not guess. So, presently, with a friendly goodnight he left her. Eileen sewed a long time on her simple garment. She wanted to have it ready to wear in the morning, not because she was anxious to save her woollen dress, but she thought Harrington might notice the new frock and praise her skill. She had labored so long and so thanklessly.
In the morning Harrington discovered that one of the ponies had broken through the gate and escaped. He had to repair the break and go in search of the culprit. But he promised to return shortly, and then they would go for their walk. Eileen, arrayed in the new blue cotton gown on which she had been much complimented, completed her few tasks. The cabin was aired and tidied, dishes washed and laid away. She prepared the remains of last night’s biscuits for a lunch. Then she went outside to watch for the prospector’s return.
An hour went by, and still no sign of her companion. Eileen walked along the edge of the precipice, wandered about the fringe of forest behind the cabin. Bingo came begging for tidbits and she fed him sugar. The dog had gone with his master. She wished she had one of the books that Harrington had mentioned.
This made her think of the stable which lay to the front and left of the cabin, almost on the edge of the cliff overlooking the valley. From there one could get an unbroken view for miles. Straight in front of the building the rock dropped a thousand feet to the treetops below. On this account, perhaps, the entrance was at the side towards the cabin, and a stout fence ran for a few yards along the edge of the precipice, lest the ponies crowd each other over. Eileen, leaning against this fence the better to follow the windings of the river far below her, happened to glance upward at the stable, and was astonished to see that the upper part of the wall, the part filling the angle of the gable, was composed of glass. This the more surprised her as the cabin had only two small windows, and Harrington had told her that it was most difficult to transport windows up the rocky trail on ponyback.
HER curiosity aroused, she went inside to explore further. The entrance door was wide and low, and the floor littered with clean hay fragrantly steaming in the morning sun. To her right were three stalls separated by long poles, with wide low mangers. On the other side lay a pile of sweet dry hay, and in its hollow centre were the disordered blankets where Harrington slept. Of the promised books she saw no sign, but then he never knew where any of his belongings were, so the box might be about the cabin.
Just then she noticed a door at the end of the stable. This reminded her of the glass windows she had seen from the outside. These did not show below the ceiling, so presumably there was an upstairs, and this door opened on a stairway. Stopping only to shake and straighten out the blankets on the hay, she started towards the door, intending to find the books for herself. But the wooden latch lifted stubbornly, and even when she had shaken it free she was no further ahead. Then she noticed a rude key-hole below the latch. She shook the door impatiently, but with no result. It was locked.
Harrington was coming over the brow of the trail, leading the mischievous pony. Eileen, before the locked door, felt like a child tampering with forbidden things. So she walked slowly out of the stable to meet him. He was busy making the fastenings of the gate more secure and apparently did not notice her until she stood quite close to him.
“I caught this rascal hiking down the main trail to Wymore as fast as he could scamper. Had to take a shortcut over the shoulder of the mountain and head him off. I almost broke my neck. I’ll put hobbles on you, my lad,” he admonished the pony, a sharp-looking sorrel.
“Did you buy him in the town, that he wants to go back?”
“No, he doesn’t belong around here. But he remembers the ease and warmth of his winter-quarters at Bowden’s, and was heading for there. Ready for your walk?”
“As soon as I fetch our lunch,” said the girl, running back to the cabin. As she went, she still thought of the locked door.
“Do we need the ponies?” she asked, as they strode over the short sun-warmed turf.
“I’m not going down the trail. This way—see.”
A few yards from the gate he rounded a clump of cedars, pushed through the smaller shrubbery, disclosing a narrow, well-trodden path up the mountain. Where the ascent was steepest, steps had been cut in the earth or built up of small stones, plastered with earth. Harrington walked ahead, stopping to give her a hand where the climb was hardest. The path was so thickly walled by the trees that he could see nothing but their immediate surroundings. Overhead the boughs made a roof of green, and below the bare trunks stood in close columns, growing at a sharp angle to the sloping earth.
“Look,” said the man, pointing down the hill.
EILEEN could see nothing at first, but following the direction of his hand, saw a blotch of yellow. It moved, and she discerned a doe and fawn. Harrington’s hand slipped to his pocket, then suddenly withdrew, but the girl had noticed the motion.
“Oh, don’t shoot them,” she cried.
“I’ve no intention of doing so,” he replied, somewhat amused at her solicitude. “No woodsman ever kills a doe with a young fawn at her side. Besides, do you think I have a rifle in my pocket?”
“I thought you might have a revolver.”
“Nothing but a pencil—see. I couldn’t kill the doe with that, and I don’t often pack a gun.”
“Aren’t you afraid to live alone here, without protection?”
“What is there to harm one here?”
“Wild beasts—or the bandits who attacked the mailcarrier.”
“As for the bandits, I am not rich or important enough to attract their notice, and for the beasts, the fat old bears and the squally mountain cats will do you no harm if you don’t molest them.”
“Don’t you ever lock your doors?” said Eileen, and then was ashamed of her prying question.
“There’s no need,” he answered, carelessly. Then changing the subject: “Do you see the light ahead? There’s a fine view from that open space, and we can eat our lunch there.”
Far below them lay the clearing, with the little black squares of house and stables, and tiny moving ants which were the ponies grazing. Along the river banks lay faint mists, and far to the west lay Wymore, a round pool of green clearing in the unbroken black of the forest. She was on the brow of the world, secure in its inaccessibility. Harrington sat beside her, his lean brown fingers pointing out to her the peaks, telling her their names, how high they stood above the distant sea. At noon they ate their simple food and drank icy water from a little rill whose source lay in the snows above. The noon-tide sun drew sleepy resinous vapors from the earth and drugged her into a deep sleep. Little icy breaths of wind alternated with the hot sunshine on her face.
All afternoon they followed the dim cathedral aisles of the forest, or rested in the open spaces where the rows of trees broke into disorderly groups like soldiers leaving their lines. Moving eastward around the shoulder of the mountain, they overlooked the trail to Wymore, a deep gash between the two peaks. A black line moved upward —a packtrain carrying supplies to some remote camp. Once shuffling footsteps hurried from them through the raspberry canes, and Harrington showed her, round-eyed, the jagged scratches on the rutted trunk where the bear had dug for grubs. Sunset brought them home again, where Eileen, too tired to move, curled like a kitten on the bunk, and the man cooked the evening meal.
HE CAME to wake her when it was ready, and stood by her silently pondering their strange situation. After the first swift hour in which he had rescued her by a pretense of marriage, he had expected to hate her all his life. Why do men do these mad things? Mildred had mocked him, but how had he avenged himself for that insult by linking his life irrevocably to this unknown woman? Beautiful she was, gentle as far as he had known her, he need never be ashamed of her. She would never shame him before his peers—but did he love her as a man would love his wife? No—he could only love one woman, and she had laughed at him. Yet here they waited, he and this woman, to each of whom the other’s past life was a forbidden record—waited to be joined together as man and wife, to be made one flesh, and as yet uncertain whether the stranger elements of their nature would mingle.
He was half-minded to quit this unholy bargain. It was folly: they would hate each other in six months. He would help her away to-morrow. And yet, looking at her, something tugged at his heart. His house would be bare without her. He felt again the light pleading touch of her fingers on his sleeve. He knew it was impossible for him to send her away, but he could not tell why it was so. He laid his hand on her shoulder to waken her.
Eileen, waking suddenly, found his flushed face bent over her and started up in alarm. Rising to her feet, she faced him—an old fear shivering within her. For a moment they stared breathlessly at each other, as people do who suddenly discover a strange thing. Some new impulse stirred within them. For the first time they were afraid.
The man recovered himself first.
“Frightened you, didn’t I? I’m sorry—didn’t know you were so sound asleep,” he said abruptly, then turned towards the table:
“Come and eat.”
The girl did not join him at once. She made a long business of bathing face and hands, smoothing her hair. But when at length she sat down beside him they both had recovered their composure, and talked contentedly before the hearth. He began to tell her strange tales of the frontier, myths of the remnants of the Indian tribes about them. The girl listened, leaning back in the old arm chair, her slender hands folded in her lap, while the musical voice talked on, of old half-remembered heroism, the epics of the first people who had crossed the mountains to the Pacific. She felt that she was one of them and could share in their greatness, for she, too, had come out from the old, strangling order of things, and would make a straight way in the wilderness for her children and children’s children.
FROM that hour there grew up between these two a great friendship. They no longer sat silent during the evenings. They had found their common ground, a mutual desire. They were builders, creators. They had scraped clean their little patch, winning it axe-blow by blow from the forest, the nucleus of a civilization. Eileen sometimes talked shyly of this to her companion, and he listened, somewhat sadly, she thought. Even here the shadow of what lay dark between them clouded the brightness of their future.
Each day Harrington tramped the hills, looking for mineral. Each day Eileen drank in the peace and beauty of her surroundings, working, reading, dreaming, each hour more secure in her sanctuary. Evenings were spent by both by the fireside, reading or talking. Never again were they troubled by the fear of each other’s presence.
Then at the end of the week they began to watch for the coming of the old missionary. Eileen looked forward to his arrival, and the change in her life which that coming might be expected to make, with neither fear nor doubt. Life would move on uneventfully and peacefully, summer by summer, winter by winter, in the same even happiness which to her troubled mind seemed the highest plane of living. When Harrington was absent, she sat long hours each day at the foot of a clump of firs which grew a few feet from the precipice edge. Here from morning until evening the sun soaked her tired nerves to restful health again. Here, too, she could see down the trail towards the pass. Presently there would emerge the gaunt figure of the old missionary riding his thin white horse up the sun-flecked path. Then she might glance up the hill behind her, and see the man’s tall figure, lithe as a panther leaping down toward her from rock to rock, appearing and disappearing among the trees. She saw him coming now, and suddenly at sight of him her heart throbbed. Quick tears filled her eyes unbidden, and bending her head, she began to pray.
High up on the mountainside Harrington had seen the mail-carrier and his train coming down the pass. His faint halloo had reached the old man’s quick ears, and in reply he had waved his hat and pointed up the trail. He had brought a message.
“Will you come with me?” said Harrington, and the girl rose, breathless and starry-eyed. Together they went rapidly down the trail. They did not speak to each other as they walked. The premonition of a coming event held them silent.
THE old carrier was waiting for them by the letterbox, one leg dangling free from the stirrup, the other round the high horn of his saddle. He chewed meditatively upon his tobacco while his ponies dozed, lop-eared, in the heat-filled pass. He held a wrapped newspaper in his hand, and a letter.
“Howdy, Dick—and Missis Dick,” he called, cheerily, as they came within hailing distance, _ “I’ve got a message for ye, boy; a couple of them. The first is about Parson. I tol’ ye no one had ever made the ford at Liftin Creek this time o’ year, and Parson he’s no better than the rest of us. That there old gray of his’n lost his footin’ and was drowned, but Parson managed to make the shore. Powerful swimmer he is for a man of his age. But he’s laid up with the pneumonia at Ben Thompson s place. They had the doctor over from Bruce Mines and he says it’ll be two months before he rides again, if he does pull through. Ben says the old man was too sick to hear your message, but he’ll tell him as soon as he can. Ben's missis is a good nurse, and they all owe the parson a kindness, so nobody need worry on account of him not gettin right care.”
“That there’s the first message—here's yer paper afore I forgit it. It seems there’s been a stranger hangin’ round Wymore for the past week. Powerful curious body he is, askin’ questions about everybody and everybody’s business. Bowden said as how he were supposed to be a detective what got off the Vancouver express by mistake. Well, anyway, he give me a message for you—that he was goin’ back to Vancouver. Also, that this belonged to you and he thanked you for the loan of it and was pleased to return it to you. Now I must hit the trail again, for I’m late now. Good-day to ye,” and he started his dozing train again.
Harrington tore open the long envelope. A crumpled yellow sheet fell out. Smoothing the paper, he saw it was the telegram from Mildred Burton which he had missed from his pocket. He did not doubt that the stranger who had picked it up was the detective, Holland, from Vancouver.
As unemotionally as when he had first read the message Harrington folded the telegram and put it, this time securely, in the pocket of his shirt. He looked doubtfully at the girl, who had been standing under the letter-box tree while the carrier delivered his messages. For once he was not able to carry the situation by the mere dash of courage. Here was something that must be thought out carefully.
“Let us go back to the cabin,” he said, cheerfully enough. “I want to think this over. Don’t worry, Eileen, it will turn out all right.”
But though he reassured his companion, he was by no means so confident himself. All the way up the hill, all through the remainder of the day, he puzzled over the situation. He cursed himself for his carelessness in losing the telegram. It had doubtless been pulled out of his pocket while he was in the village—probably yanked it out with the marriage license, he thought whimsically— and the detective, alert for the merest shred of information, had found the one thing which his opponent would have given worlds to keep from his knowledge. He would know that Mildred Burton had not come to her wedding. The only doubt that might remain in his mind would be that that fickle lady had changed her mind a second time, and at the last moment come to Wymore. To prove that point, he had gone back over his tracks to find out if there had been, as the obliging porter had said, a second fair-haired girl in a blue cloak who had dodged back to the south. Then he had only to discover the facts about Mildred Burton, to obtain a description of her appearance, to know for sure that it was not she who had gone through a marriage ceremony under the pine trees at Wymore. And Mildred was so easily discovered. Her home might be, as he had told Eileen, a thousand miles from Wymore, but that would only delay, not conceal, the establishment of the truth. Mildred was as well known as her socially prominent family could advertise her, and moreover she had been a notable visitor to Vancouver that spring.
Been asking questions, had he? How he hated the prowling, sneaking tribe! What better was the world for them? Life resolved itself into eternal warfare between the strong and the weak—the stronger who made laws and the weak who could not keep them, and the jackal tribe who hunted with the pack and devoured the offenders.
He looked at the girl as she went quietly about her work. He could conceive of no offence of which she could be guilty. She had said she was innocent, but bearing the guilt of another whom she loved. Another! What a strange, sharp pain that thought gave him.
The old missionary’s illness added another phase to the problem. It would not help the girl to be found living with a man to whom she was not rightfully married. No doubt Holland had formed his theory, and a correct one, as to how his prisoner had been snatched out of his hands. He had only gone to seek sure proof before returning to the scent. The hunt was on.
He rose, threw his pipe aside, and began to pace up and down the room. Eileen, arranging her clean dishes on the shelves, watched him with anxious eyes. Something more than the delay in their marriage troubled him. Cold fear chilled her; the stealthy footsteps began again to echo about the cabin.
She came and stood before him as he threw himself again into the chair before the fire.
“There is something troubling you,” said the girl. “Is it about me?”
He looked up at her, standing before him in her straight cotton gown. She was so childlike and frail. The firelight behind framed her in an aureole of light. Again he received the impression of innocence which emanated from her.
She continued bravely, though her hands opened and closed nervously, and he noticed the same twitching of her lips that he had seen when she heard the footsteps of the detective coming behind her at Wymore station.
“If it’s because Mr. Gordon can’t come, I—I am not afraid to stay here. You’re so good to me; I have been very happy here.”
“It will be a long time before he can come, Eileen. Are you not afraid that some one will come and find you here?”
“There is no one to come. Besides, the people hereabout think we are married.”
“You heard what old John said about the inquisitive stranger?”
“Yes, but he has gone away now.”
“The message he sent me, did you understand it?"
He spread the paper before her.
“Holland found this telegram. I must have lost it out of my pocket in Wymore. He will suspect that you are not Mildred Burton. He has gone away only to find proof. I am afraid he is coming back.”
Come back! She was again the hunted, furtive creature. All her fairy castle of dreams fell, and the magic wood in which she had hidden herself as an enchanted princess turned to barren plain and salty lake under the magician’s wand. Her figure drooped and shrivelled and she sank to her knees, trembling. She did not weep, but waited in a dumb despair which could not be comforted.
But suddenly she roused herself with determination, and began to go about the room as if seaching for something. Harrington who had remained silent in order to give her an opportunity for recovery was puzzled by her manner. She seemed distrait.
“What are you looking for, Eileen?”
“My coat. I must go away.”
“Go away! You are out of your mind, girl. Come here and sit down.”
“No, I can’t—they are after me.”
“It is after sundown now. Where would you go in these woods? You would be lost a hundred feet from the trail.”
“They will take you, too,” she cried wildly. “They will blame you for helping me. I bring trouble to everyone I love. You shouldn’t have taken me into your house. Don’t stop me. Oh, let me go, let me go!”
Harrington had caught the girl in his arms. She struggled wildly at first, then weakened and lay passive. He set her in the armchair and took her cloak, to which she still clung convulsively, out of her grasp.
“Listen to me, Eileen. You mustn’t lose your head like this. No one is coming here to take you away. Get that straight in your mind. You’re perfectly safe here.”
“You told me he was coming back?”
“Doubtless he will, but no one can walk into my house and take you. There is such a thing as law and justice, He must have proof, and good proof before he can obtain authority to lay hands on you.”
“You don’t know. They can do anything they like. An accused person is innocent in the eyes of the law but guilty before everyone else. Oh, I know, I have been through it all.”
“Eileen, Eileen, if you would only tell me!”
“Don’t ask me. Let me go and forget me. That is all I ask.”
“You ask too much. It is too late now for a careless parting between us. You are my promised wife. I have taken you, before God, if not before man as yet, for my wife, and I will hold you. But I warn you, Eileen, you are wrong to keep me in the dark. Surely my faith in you deserves your confidence. I do not ask from idle curiosity, but from a sincere conviction that candour is our only salvation. Come, am I not right?”
“Yes, you are right. But I am bound by a promise. I cannot purchase my own safety at the price of another’s life.”
“Life? Is it as bad as that, Eileen? Well, let’s not talk about it any more. You are forcing me to act in the dark. I can only do the best I can.”
“What can we do?” she asked, despairingly.
“I am going down to Wymore and find out what this fellow has been doing. I shall have to ask you to stay alone for a day, but I’ll come just as soon as I can. Tell me you are not going to be afraid.”
“But I shall be—I am afraid in the night. I hear things —footsteps following me.”
“That is only your imagination. There isn’t anyone but ourselves within twenty miles. Now I want you to go to bed and to sleep at once. I’ll leave Tim with you. You know how to use my rifle. You won’t need it, but it will be a help to know it is at hand. To-morrow morning early I am going to ride down to Wymore, but I’ll be back before night. You must be afraid of nothing. Holland couldn’t possibly be back before four days, and he only left to-day.”
“Couldn’t you take me with you?”
“No. Now I’m going outside, and when I come in again you’re to be in your bunk. Then I’ll fix your fire and light, and see you asleep. I’ll give you ten minutes,” he said, as he rose and went out.
For five minutes of her time, Eileen sat despairing in her chair. Of what use to start the struggle all over again? She would be hunted all her life. As well stand and wait for the hounds to come up with her as to strain and pant in futile flight. She was half-minded to be rebellious, to refuse, to stay alone with her fears. Then she remembered Harrington’s already great self-sacrifice, and before the example of his fortitude her hysteria vanished. She rose resolutely and prepared for bed.
HARRINGTON came in and nodded approvingly at her as she curled herself out of sight under the blankets. The big black dog trotted beside him. The prospector carried a pail of fresh water, from which he filled the kettle and set it over the fire. Wood was heaped in the box and on the hearth, and the flame leaped cheerfully. Then he fed the dog liberally, and the contented creature lay down before the blaze to wait his master’s further pleasure.
“I’m going to make you a hot lemonade,” said Harrington, when the kettle boiled. “You act as though you were taking a chill.”
“There are no lemons,” protested Eileen, faintly.
“Lemonade powder,” he said, rummaging in the pantry. He found the tin he wanted, poured a small quantity of the yellow powder into a cup and filled it with the boiling water. Then he forced the girl to drink the whole of the steaming liquid. When, with eyes streaming from the effort, she had complied, he ordered the dog to stand guard.
“Here, Tim. Stay with Eileen. Watch him! Keep him out!”
The intelligent beast trotted to the door, growled, and then hurried back to Eileen, thrusting his cold nose against her face to assure her of his fidelity. She meant to put out her hand to pat his curly head, but the hot lemonade seemed to boil all through her veins and her hands were too heavy to lift. Tim’s black head assumed the enormous proportions of a lion. Waves of warmth and comfort surged through her body. Her lids drooped slowly. The last impression she had was the sight of Harrington, sitting smoking in his chair, and staring into the glowing heart of the fire.
Half an hour later Harrington arose. The girl was breathing deeply and slowly. Little beads of perspiration stood on brow and lip. He carefully mended his fire, and with a muttered command to the dog, went quietly out and closed the door.
The night was dark and still. A faint rose in the West showed the day lately gone. Harrington went to the stable but he did not go to bed. After some little time he emerged, carrying a saddle on his shoulder. Quietly he saddled the bay pony, led him through the gate onto the downward trail. And as he rode, the reins loose upon his pony’s neck, he looked carefully to the loading of his revolver.
WHEN Eileen awoke the sun was shining through the windows. Something thumped the floor beside her bed. She raised herself and looked over. Tim, the big dog, was still keeping vigil. He whined eagerly as if begging her to get up.
But further effort brought to her a slight nausea. She was conscious of a dull blinding headache. The air of the room felt heavy and cold though the sun was warm on the roof. She determined to comply with Tim’s request, and go out into the fresh air. Glancing at her watch, she found it was nearly noon. She had slept the clock well around.
Perhaps Harrington would be gone to town by this time. Moving slowly, she dressed and went out. The dog frisked and barked as they came out into the sunshine.
The clearing was deserted except for the ponies. Bingo and his companions stood lazily switching at the flies under her favorite pines. The bay pony was missing. Harrington had gone.
But the dreaded night was over. The fresh cool air revived her. Headache and nausea disappeared, and she felt hungry. Instead of lying awake haunted by the menace of her past, she had slept soundly and risen comforted. Harrington would be home by nightfall as he had promised her. While the sun shone she would be happy and the menace of the dark would disappear before his coming.
So comforted once more, she went into the cabin. Its cool depths dark after the bright sunlight awoke none of the despair of the night before. She found her box piled high with wood and a pail of water ready for her use. Everything had been prepared for her comfort, and her heart warmed at these small tributes of his thoughtfulness. So she kindled her fire and filled the kettle for tea, and while waiting for it to boil, carried her blankets out to air in the sun, as he had taught her.
What comfort and happiness there was in the performance of these simple tasks. She loved the feel of the warm wool, hot in the sun. To arrange her few belongings was as inspiring a task as writing a poem or painting a picture. She picked up Harrington’s pipe, lying beside his chair in a ring of spilled ashes; his book lay face downward on the broad arm of his chair; a worn gray sweater on a box. She laid his belongings in order with the same tenderness which a mother feels when picking up the toys of a beloved child.
For he had become to her more than a protector. Secure as she now felt in his charge, she would have gladly exchanged that security for the assurance of his love. The fact that she was to become his wife did not satisfy her heart-hunger. That was only his ruse to protect her from the world, to save a good name already threatened. It would be far easier to go now and leave him forever, than that in time he should learn to hate and despise her. If they had not mutual love to bear them through the brunt of life his tolerance might be short-lived. Better to go now—
The thought came to her, as it had been long circling about in her brain, edging unaware to the light of clear consciousness, that perhaps Harrington had been right about her promise. Perhaps she was wrong to sacrifice her youth and innocence in order to preserve the guilty. Had she not the same right to life and love as he? Yet, a sacred promise to the dying—to watch over Jerry, to care for him—what right have the dying, going out of this world, to bind the living to their dead wills? She had said that she bore the guilt for one she loved better than anyone else in the world. But that was a week ago—seven long days—and now she loved Harrington. She owed him the greater debt and she was repaying it by entangling him in the same web of suspicion and censure that had caught her.
Still pondering her problem, she left the house and wandered restlessly about the clearing. She could not settle herself to work or read. She drove the ponies away from their shade, but rest was impossible there. Always she kept looking up the path where the prospector was accustomed to return from his tramps over the mountain. Finally, she lay face downwards at the edge of the cliff, and looked into the valley.
STRAIGHT below lay the blackness of the trees. She saw the projecting tops of old hummocks protruding through the forest, sunny glades where the grass showed a vivid green, and the blue of the great river flowing westward to the sea. High above the valley along which streamed the life that she had abandoned, she lay the long hot afternoon, searching with keen eyes the wonderland beneath her. There by the river she saw the narrow farm of a settler, discerning even at that height the chequered green of his little fields new-sprung with wheat. There was the dull blotch of a railway station, with the thin line of a train moving back and forth. Straight across rose the scarred walls of the opposing mountain whose name she had known from childhood. It towered even higher than the peak behind her, snow-crowned, majestic, the spire of a hemisphere. Up, up her eyes followed its towering lines to where it had stood since this continent had been upheaved from the welter of creation. Round its feet had lain for eons the solitude of a manless creation. The little creatures that now fretted its sides with their tiny pricks were new-born atoms of the moment. And'the girl, watching the mountain, felt herself before it infinitesimal, and her fears and perplexities vanished, falling to a nothingness wherein they became inconceivable.
She thought of her dead mother, who had been a golden-haired girl like herself. She remembered an open window looking towards the mountains whence the girl-mother had shown her the hills where she had been born. Eileen had said her evening prayers looking out on these far-off mountains. Together they had chanted the evening psalm that her mother loved, drawing from it the comfort which she found no where else:
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills From whence cometh my help.”
Perhaps that was why she had fled to the mountains.
Then she remembered the man who had given her refuge. From whence came her help? She rose with sudden resolution to tell him everything. It was borne in upon her soul that truth is always the only salvation. Let the guilty bear their own punishment, the weak suffer the consequences of their own folly. She would not wreck the life of the man she loved so greatly. She would tell him all and bid him be her judge. And then she would go.
SHE dragged her stiff limbs back to the cabin, unmindful of the glories of the sunset which she loved so well. Harrington had promised to return before dark, and she made the house ready against his coming. Had it not been for him she would have forgotten her own physical wants. For the struggle had renewed itself within her. She was afraid not of the present, but of the future. For now he was willing to go on without asking more of her than the knowledge he had gained, knowing her seven days. He would be hers forever then. There would be no danger of losing him. She wondered what he thought of the crime which had been charged against her—perhaps a simple shop-girl accused of theft—but if he knew—knew the damning chain of circumstance that hedged her about, would he still believe in her innocence? Perhaps because she was beautiful and appealing, he thought her good. But the beautiful is not always good. He must know that. Besides, he loved another woman, and might always love her, though she had treated him cruelly. Love can stand many hurts and still survive. If this love should re-awaken he would be glad to snatch at any chance to return to the old allegiance. This other woman might return to trouble them in the future—it might be when she had hopes of winning his love, when they had builded their home and were happy in peace and comfort. How much greater would that wreck be then than now. And this was a rich woman, a woman of the world. She was an artist who could command the applause of society. Why should she stoop to a poor man, a backwoodsman, a humble mountaineer, who groped through the hills every summer and in winter toiled in city mill or shop for a livelihood? “This woman has so much,—let her leave me my love,” she thought. It must be a whim, a fancy on her part. What woman of her sort would endure so humble and precarious an existence? For herself she asked no better than to serve him all her days, to plan and contrive comfort for him out of their scanty means, to love him and rear his children to honorable manhood and womanhood. Let this stranger choose her wealth and talent, to see the blue skies of Italy and the wonders of the old world. She would look in contentment all her life on these cool forests, the long valley below and the great mountain above her. These, and her love.
MOUNTAIN dusk, and the whisperings of twilight. Eileen stood at the door of the cabin. Sounds of little movements through the grass, tiny rustlings in the trees, the patter of the dog’s feet on the floor, the twinkling of the first star, and the shining eyes of the horses. A partridge nesting behind the cabin soared with explosive whirr of wings to the higher trees. Silence, while the rose faded to opal and the last breath of wind fell. The darkness closed in about her, but she was not afraid tonight. Across the valley the great mountain lifted its rosy crown, a cone of light above the darkness. It would be a moonless night. Far down the trail the shod hoof of a pony struck a bell-like note against the granite. She caught her hands to her heart. Harrington was coming.
She went inside the cabin, replenished the fire, prepared his evening meal. She heard the dog bark in greeting, but not even then did she go to meet him. She would wait until he opened the door, coming in from the dark night to the warmth and welcome of his own fireside.
Contentedly she listened to the trampling of hoofs outside. The door was on the latch and he would see the beckoning bar of light. Only when the door swung open did she go, smiling shyly, to meet him, wondering why he did not call to her as he usually did. The drooping heads of the ponies emerged from, the darkness into the square of light falling from the opening door. A stranger, a half-breed, held the reins of the packtrain, and on the threshold of the cabin, a tall girl, scarcely older than herself, regarded her with frankly hostile eyes.
WHEN Richard Harrington mounted his horse and started down the trail to Wymore, his definite plan was to discover the mysterious accusation which tormented Eileen. Less definite, perhaps, was his ideas as to how this might be accomplished. But with the reckless determination and the dash which had earned him his sobriquet of Wild Dick from the mountaineers, he attacked his problem, sure of the ultimate success which had hitherto attended former exploits.
He did not believe that the detective had left Wymore. That would have left a clear exit for his former prisoner. What Harrington suspected was that the message had been sent as a blind, that the detective was still at Wymore, and that, moreover, every exit, every trail was watched. With his usual desire for quick and decisive action, he determined to go straight to the apparent heart of the matter.
But though he might go directly to Wymore, he had no notion of walking into a trap. Hence his hurried night journey. The bay pony, tried companion of many a hard trail, would carry him into the settlement before dawn. That would give him an hour or two, all that would be necessary. At any rate, he would have time to look over the ground and consult one or two friends on whose judgment he could rely.
Gone back to Vancouver—did the man think him a fool? Like so many of his kind, city-bred, he underrated the natural shrewdness of the backwoodsman whose very existence depends upon his agility of mind and body. He was only surprised that Holland, reinforced by the proper documents and the sheriff of the county, had not been at his door before this. He judged that the detective, while watching that his quarry did not escape, had backtracked very carefully and now was convinced that it was the wanted woman who had been so daringly snatched out of his hands.
Yet the mountaineer would allow himself to form no suppositions. He would move one step at a time. He looked no further ahead than to get himself unnoticed into Wymore before daylight, and devoted every faculty to that task.
It was no slight labor. Gyp, the mountain pony, could be depended upon to do his best to the last ounce of his strength. Harrington felt the lithe creature’s body bending and swerving to the dips and falls of the treacherous trail, unevennesses that his own good eyes could not discern in the darkness. Lightly he swayed, feeling instinctively the impending movement of the horse. The pony moved with low-hung head and outpricked ear, trotting where even for a few feet he saw clear way, hunching himself to slide down the inclines, but never even in the roughest going, stumbling or slipping.
Once off the narrow clearing trail into the main road, the way was rougher. Here the utmost caution of horse and rider was demanded. The strain soon began to tell on the pony. Harrington could hear his heavy breathing, and the satin skin under his hand was wet with sweat which churned to foam where rein and girth rubbed. At midnight he drew aside from the trail and rested half an hour loosening the cinches and drawing off the bridle. He washed the pony’s mouth with water from a little stream that trickled down the rocky side of the canyon and, refreshed, they started out once more.
FROM then it became a test of endurance for man and horse. Rough as the going was in daylight, it was infinitely more trying at night. Harrington at times dismounted to ease his horse, but not being able to see the road he stumbled at every step. Their progress was lessened, and his endless jerking at rein and saddle as he missed his footing, irritated his mount. He began to pant and toss his head nervously, and the foam dripped from the snaffle. The rider decided that his weight was less trying to the pony, and mounting, left the nimble creature to choose his own way.
Swaying, lurching, now jolted in the uneven jog-trot of the pony, now barely moving as his hoofs shuffled among the loose stones for a sure footing, the hours went by. The sweating pony had settled into the even gait of his endurance. The rider, exhausted by the constant struggle of keeping his place in the rolling saddle, dozed, mechanically keeping his seat.
He thought of Eileen, sleeping soundly in his cabin on the mountain, the woman he would marry. Thought, too, of that other woman who was to have been his wife, and who, for a whim, had slighted and shamed him. And in the hour of his pique and pride had come the fugitive, appealing to all that was chivalrous and gentle in his nature, and demanding from him the sanctuary which he had never denied to the helpless and hunted.
What would their life be together? Would they satisfy each other’s demands of love, of companionship, of faith and forbearance? At least they started equal in one respect. He knew nothing of her, and she of his, past. They would take each other for better or for worse from an even start. But he decided that if they were to be secure in their alliance, there must be an end to this mystery. Sensitive to the core, he felt that she had not given him as perfect a trust as he had offered to her. She could not persuade herself to confide in him who might have saved her. She was placing before him in her love that unworthy one for whom she was sacrificing herself.
What manner of man was this, whom, guilty, she could so love that to save him she was going to give herself body and soul to a stranger that in his name she might lose her dishonored one? The man she loved had willingly left her to bear the consequences of his sin, purchasing his freedom by her suffering, and still she loved him! And he himself, why was he, unloved, giving her gladly and freely the protection she craved? Like a blinding flash, truth came to him. Because he loved her.
HE LOVED her. Little clinging, trembling hands, catching at his sleeve; dark eyes brimming with tears; a rosebud mouth, twisted with agonizing fear; madonna face, unstained by guilt, yet pursued by the avenger; gentle soul, brave and unselfish, slaying itself to save the unworthy. He loved her. That was all. Why else should a man do what he was doing? If she could give herself to a mockery of love, so would he. Rather than lose her.
And what of that other whom he had thought he loved Eileen eclipsed her as the sun the moon. Eileen, with her candid, clear eyes, her dear loving ways, he would be happy to worship afar off, and wait until she truly loved him. He and Mildred, boy and girl, man and woman, quarrelling, forgiving, taunting, restless, straining at their bonds—impossible! She had been right, had Mildred, to send him that message, but how like her to jibe at him, to be cruel to be kind. He moved in a waking dream where the two women came and went before him.
The pony jerked to a stop so suddenly that Harrington lurched forward against his upraised head. Gyp breathed strongly through his nostrils, then relaxed, twitching his ears. He had been startled. The rider slipped from the saddle and listened.
In between the walls of the canyon the night was hot and dark. No wind moved the branches of the pines, no stir of bird or beast. It was the dark still hour before the night turns towards day. But far down the trail sharp ears might catch the faint sound of thudding hoof-beats. Someone was coming up the pass.
Friend or foe, Harrington had no mind to be seen by them. From the position of the sound he judged that there was a steep declivity in the trail ahead of him, for the hoof-beats seemed to come up from, below. Edging behind his pony he felt with his hands that they had stopped by one of those loose masses of rock that the winter frosts and thaws dislodge and throw down from the cliffs above. Stepping carefully behind this, he struck a match. By its dim glow he discerned a thick clump of young pines some ten yards in from the beaten trail. He led his pony in that direction.
By the time they were hidden among the trees the hoof-beats were very near. He knelt in the thick bushes, and waited for them to pass. Watching in the direction in which the oncomers must appear, he could make out above the dense blackness of the trail a line of more opaque shadow where the dark road dropped down behind the slope and the bare rock reflected the upper light. And against this dark horizon as he watched, appeared with startling suddenness, the figure of a rider. Coming into sight from up the lower ground, he appeared to rise directly out of the earth, and as he passed over the crown of the slope to the nearer level, his figure merged with the darkness and disappeared, the echoing hoofs of his mount beating on the trail not twenty feet from Harrington. He waited, one hand over the pony’s nostrils, and the other on his revolver.
PRESENTLY other shadows rose over the slope and followed the first rider into the darkness. Harrington counted five riders, and with them ten pack-horses. He saw the long line of the rifle lying over each roan’s arm, and heard guttural voices muttering in a strange tongue. Their hoof-beats moved into distance up the pass. He half rose, then, warned by some sudden instinct of danger, waited. He was right. Three more riders rose above the ridge and passed silently by him.
Sitting upon his heels in the damp bushes the prospector waited, but no more riders were forthcoming. He pondered upon what he had seen: a packtrain moving hurriedly in the night, with a mounted guard, and a scout in advance, and behind them armed riders with their horses’ hoofs muffled. He had seen the wide hats of the riders and his ear had caught the quick step of the cavalry-trained horses, so unlike the shuffling walk of the mountain pony. Mounted police, on the heels of a packtrain. He sniffed disdainfully as he guessed the solution. Bootleggers. He remembered the strange words of the train escort. Dago rum-runners. Six against three. Hum-m-m! He was willing to bet that at Silico where the pack-trail turned down into the automobile road, there was a big car waiting for this pack-train.. Probably nine against three. He mentally wished the police good luck, and swung once more down the trail. He rubbed the damp neck of the pony.
“Thanks to you, old man, that we missed that first lot. We’d have been knifed a-plenty.”
The pony, refreshed by his rest among the cool trees, trotted along easily. The going was better, and Harrington judged that they were close to Wymore. A cool wind moved among the trees. Dawn was near. Gyp, his weariness again overmastering him, began to slacken speed, and to stumble, jerking himself erect with the shamed eagerness of the trail pony, to whom stumbling is the unforgiveable sin. But Harrington knew that the pony was coming to the end of his strength, and forebore to chide him.
It was four o’clock in the morning when they came down the last slope to the level where Wymore stood among the stumps of the new clearings. Harrington slid off his weary pony and loosened the cinches. He could feel the exhausted beast trembling. Holding him up firmly by the bridle he left the smooth trail that formed the main street of the little settlement, and took his way with the sure steps of one who knows the road through the stumps at the rear of the town. Log shacks loomed at him out of the darkness, cabins, or stables for the use of transient travelers. He moved warily among these but there was no sound nor glimmer of life from among them. Soon he came to the rear of a larger building, from which ran the jagged fence of a corral. Sliding his hand along the bars, he presently found a gate, opened it and led the pony through. But he did not leave him in the corral for prying eyes to wonder at. He took him into the barn, deserted now, and bedded him deep in straw, his hungry nose buried in a bundle of sweet meadow hay. He dared not delay longer, though he was loath to neglect the faithful Gyp. He reflected, as he watched him munching his breakfast, that the pony had not only served him to the limit of his powers, but had probably saved his life. He remembered Walt Moorehouse, of Lookout, who last summer had met a gang high up in the pass.
THE barn faced toward the railway track, and in front of it lay the bulk of a larger mass. Keeping close under the fence lest his head and shoulders show above the dark lines of the rails, Harrington stole in the direction of this building. He felt that the night was full of eyes. But he reached his objective unchallenged.
Assured by the silence, he moved around the building until he came to a staircase that went up one side, communicating with the rooms above. Up this he went cautiously and knocked gently at the door at his head. There was no answer. He risked a louder knock, and presently heard the patter of bare feet inside.
The whispered words were barely heard through the keyhole.
A bolt moved softly back and the door opened. Harrington slid through the narrow aperture. When his host had barred the door, he took him by the arm and led him into an inner room, where a dim light was gleaming on a bare deal table. The old man—it was Bowden, the storekeeper—looked at him curiously.
“You look as if you’d had a hard ride, Dick.”
“I’ve come from the ranch since dark last night. I want to talk to you, Bowden, before anyone knows I’m here.”
The old man nodded his tousled gray head.
“I was expecting you, lad,” he said. “Sit down and I’ll get ye a bite of breakfast. You’ll be ready for it if you’ve ridden all night.”
“I’m getting you up too early, I’m afraid.”
“It’s about five, and I am always up by six. That’s the only time I have for my housekeeping. Just lie down on the couch there and sleep if you can while I get the meal ready.”
Harrington took his old friend’s advice and stretched out on his bed. Every muscle ached and the heat which began to permeate through the room from the fire now crackling in the stove, made him drowsy. Through half-closed eyes he watched the old man moving about the room. Then suddenly he dropped into deep sleep.
Bowden woke him when breakfast was ready. The lamp was out and the blinds partly up, letting in the morning sun. He had been asleep an hour, the old man told him, and he rose refreshed as if he had slept all night, so elastic is youth and health.
THE prospector splashed in a large tin basin of rain-water, and rubbed face and arms to a glow on a coarse brown towel. When he came in again, the postmaster, with his spectacles perched high on his bald forehead, was gravely spearing browned sausages from the frying pan into a hot dish. Smoking bowls of porridge stood on the table, flanked by a blue jug and sugar-bowl. Harrington ate like a starving man. “Upon my word, Bowden, I never ate a better breakfast in my life. You do yourself very well, I’ll say.”
“It’s the only meal in the day that I get a chance to enjoy,” said Bowden, spooning a large supply of honey onto his plate. “Noon and night I have only time to snatch a cracker or a bit of bread and jam. If ye’d rather have toast than bread, lad, there’s a fine bed of coals in the stove.”
Harrington stopped eating suddenly, and pushed back his plate.
“Here I’ve been stuffing myself,” he said, “and I forgot the pony. The poor beast has had nothing but a mouthful of hay. He was too hot for grain or water.”
“Don’t fash yoursel’,” said Bowden, “I gave him a good drink and his oats. A fine sweat you had him in, too, and him the best trailer in the district. Take a fill of that tobacco for your pipe, my lad, and tell us your story. We’ve got a good hour ahead of us, and that’s long enough to state the hardest case in the world. We’ll just leave the dishes for now, and have our talk in peace. A man can always do that when there’re no women-folk potterin’about.”
“So there was a big time here last night?” asked Harrington.
“There was, and if you came to town for that you may be in time. I misdoubt if they settled down yet.”
“I didn’t come in for a spree, Bowden, but I’d like to know who was in the mixup. Any of our boys?”
“No, except young Fagin was achin’ to join. They just looked on—you know how mountain folks are, stranger’s quarrels, stranger’s business. Well, as near as I can find out, comes up the trail some eight or ten of these Eyetalian miners what have been let out down the line. They give out they are walking the tracks to the mines over Alberta way. That’s all right, and Dago Joe gave them a hand-out, being countrymen of his, and out o’ luck. But soon they get cheeky with Mrs. Joe, and then the fat is in the fire. Then on the top o’ that, comes in a bunch of these here fancy tourists, with guides and enough pack-ponies to carry an outfit for King George to go hunting. They’re going over the pass, and they buy a load of canned soups and condensed coffee and pork and beans, and make their camp at the far end of the town. The Eyetalians, being kicked out of the station house, set up their hearth on the opposite side of the street.”
THE two camps get real friendly, and there is a great going back and forth between them. The two head Eyetalians spend a lot of time with the head of the tourist outfit, a smooth-spoken, handsome young coot, with a shifty eye and a tallow-colored skin. Just about dark we heard a great hullaballoo, with the Eyetalian and the English flying fast and free. Tommy Fagin says there is a few fists shaken and a knife or two flashed. But anyway the head men got their fellows quieted, and the town left them to it, not caring much either way. And we’re hoping they’ll each go peaceable on their way and leave the place standing.”
“I’ll wager another fill of this pipe, Bowden, that when you go outside you’ll find those birds flown.”
“I met your Italians up the pass. Nearly ran into them, but got under cover in time, thanks to Gyp’s sharp ears. How many ponies had your tourist outfit?”
“Ten, and big packs.”
“Well, when I met them the Dagos had ten pack-horses in hand. Can you see the camp-ground from here?”
“Yes, out of the window in the other room. Let’s go look.”
THE two men went into the outer room. Bowden’s store was high above the rest of the street, and the window commanded a clear view as far as the first rise of the trail up the pass. There was, as Harrington had anticipated, not a soul in sight. Two dark circles marked the camp fires of the previous night.
The old storekeeper pulled his stubby beard meditatively.
“What do you make of that?” he asked.
“Yes—the pack ponies had the dope on board. The tourists brought it this far and the Dagos will run it across the line. The row was about the price, I’ll bet. Wonder you didn’t have a few casualties to look after.”
“Well, well! I like a wee drop o’ toddy myself, now and then—but this sort of thing is going too far. I wonder where the police is?”
“About fifty rods behind them!”
The storekeeper whistled.
“O-hoy, me lad. I was wonderin’. When I went to the barn to give your beastie a bit and sup, I found two horses in the stalls. There was your bay Gyp and a big roan mare lame in a forefoot, as I noticed, and as wet as your own. I’ll bet she has a broad arrow on her hoof. The police often leave their horses on my hands. That old barn is supposed to be used only as a warehouse, and it’s a good place to leave a nag that’s not to be seen.”
“I wonder what he thought about old Gyp?”
The store-keeper looked grave.
“There’s a lot of wondering being done these days, Dick. Folks that never before worked their brains hard enough to produce a single idea are buzzing about like bees in a honey-pot. And it’s one man that has stung them into believing they are thinking for themselves. You mind yon detective man that got off the train the other day and made things a bit unpleasant for Mistress Harrington?”
“That same man ought to be run out of town. But he’s gone now, and bad luck follow him. He’s been spreading tales.”
“When did he go away, and what has he been saying?”
“He went the night before last—and as to what he has been saying there’s nothing that you could lay finger on and say definitely; this was said. But it’s been questions here and questions there, a headshake or a sneer, and the silly folk that have never been off their own hillside, they say for him all that he wants said.”
“And what is that?” said Harrington angrily. “If he has said anything against my wife—”
“No more than he said on the station platform. But if he had stopped there, it would have been forgotten. But he keeps it going. Then he has been investigating your past, too, Dick.”
“And what has he found out about me?”
“Nothing; because nobody knows anything about you.”
“I have never asked any man for his confidence—”
“Nor am I asking you for yours now. You came to me, your old friend, because you need help.”
“I’m sorry, Bowden. Perhaps I should have said what is he trying to find out.”
“He asks who is this Dick Harrington —everybody says he works a claim on Lookout Mountain. How long has he lived there? Five years. Where does he come from? Nobody knows. Has he ever left the district since coming here? Yes, he goes away every winter. Where to? To the city. What city? Nobody knows. What does he do when he is away? Nobody knows. What does he do when he is here? A little prospecting. For what? Nobody knows. What sort of man is he? A good sort, but closemouthed. That’s the way it goes, Dick. As I’ve said before, I’m not asking you for any confidences, but it’s sometimes easier for a man if he can show the road he has come by.”
HARRINGTON walked back into the front room and threw himself down in the chair. The old man followed.
“Tell me just what this man is saying. Has he made any definite accusation against my wife?”
“No, he hasn’t. Only that she is wanted in Vancouver, and that he was sent to bring her back.”
“If she is wanted, how is it that he doesn’t arrest her?”
“That is the queer part of it. If Mistress Harrington has done ought against the law, which I for one do not believe, there is nothing to hinder him from walking out to your house and serving his warrant. Therefore I do not believe there is any direct accusation against her. But they may suspect her of knowing something about the trouble, whatever it is.”
Harrington rose and walked about the room.
“She tells me that she is innocent, but is bearing the blame to shield another person. She will tell me nothing of what the trouble is. My hands are tied. I came down here, Bowden, to see if I could find out anything. I have decided to go to Holland, and frankly tell him the whole story, and ask him what is the crime of which she is accused. That is the best way, and the only way, that I can see to clear up this whole miserable business.”
“Take my advice and keep away from Holland, for the present at least. Your taking the girl out of his hands so neatly has made him suspicious. He does not consider you entirely innocent, and will give you no satisfaction. Get the lay of the land first.”
“Do you think he has really left town?”
“He left on the train: I saw him mysel’. But that doesn’t prove that he went back to Vancouver.”
“I believe he has returned, or is in the neighborhood. He’ll lay low. Have there been any other strangers in town lately?”
“A good many, but that’s not unusual. Quite a few folk are bitten with this campin’ out madness, and several packtrains have passed through this last week, with guides, and tents—and the womenfolk in breeches,” and the old man grunted contemptuously.
Bang! A heavy hand pounded on the outer door.
“Sit you still until I see who is there, said Bowden, rising.
A cheerful boyish voice shouted from the outside.
“Bowden, you old Scotch son-of-a-gun! What d’ya mean by locking your door? Let me in, quick! My color-scheme is a fine mark for sharp-shooting when the sun is up. Hello, I didn’t know you had company.”
A YOUNG mounted policeman pushed past the old man and on into the living-room. His color-scheme was indeed sufficient reason for him to get under cover quickly. Scarlet coat, yellow-stripes, broad hat and all, he marched in, nodded at Harrington and began to investigate the breakfast table.
“Sausages, and only three left. Where are the others?” he asked, pulling his chair up to the table, and piling his plate. “Take away the porridge, Scotty, and give me some hot coffee.”
“This is a free country,” grumbled Bowden. “Yet the police is always runnin’ in and out of my house without knocking, if the door isn’t locked—”
“I’ve been shot at twice this morning, and I was in a deuce of a hurry.”
“Eating my vittles—”
“Dam good sausages!”
“And helping themselves to my hay and oats.”
“Yep, that was Elsie, my mount, named for my best girl at home. I hope you gave her a good feed.”
“If you’ll stop eatin’ long enough to lift your eyes from your plate, I’ll introduce you to my friend, Mr. Richard Harrington —Trooper Fergus.”
The boy nodded in response to the introduction, turning a pair of sharp gray eyes upon Bowden’s guest.
“Glad to know you. That your pony in the barn, huh?”
“Come a long way, didn’t you? Did you say you lived around here, Mr. Harrington?”
Dick was about to hazard some remark about not being on the witness stand, and that he hadn’t said anything about where he lived. But Bowden made a slight sign to him behind the policeman’s back, and he kept silence, leaving the whole matter to the shrewd old Scotchman.
“Dick’s claim is up the pass, half-way between here and Silice, but he trades here. I wonder you haven’t heard of him. Everybody in this district knows Dick.” “Yes, I’ve heard of him. Did you meet any of our men on your way down, Harrington?”
“I saw three of them?”
“Talkin’ to them?”
“No, I kept out of sight,” said Harrington, who thought he might as well be frank. “I had seen an armed gang a few rods ahead of them and got out of their way. I heard the last riders following and laid low until they were by, too.”
THE policeman seemed satisfied with the explanation, and resumed his conversation with the storekeeper.
“Guess we’ll want your pool-room for a court-room to-day, Bowden. The sergeant expects to be back with that gang he was trailing. Leastways he thinks he will be. But if you want to know my opinion, that crowd has a rendezvous somewhere up the pass. They’re not shooting all that booze into Alberta at once. If I were the sergeant,” he added, with the cocksureness of the irresponsible subordinate, “I’d keep a sharp eye out for their turnin’ off place. Depend upon it, they’ve got a hiding-place, and then run the stuff over in small lots as it’s called for. Ever see any suspicious travelers round your diggings, Mr. Harrington?”
“Never. I’ve prospected about my place quite a bit, constable, and there’s no sign of any hiding-place where booze could be stowed away. Besides I’m not located close enough to the border for them to run the stuff over quickly.”
The policeman lit his pipe, then turned his attention to Bowden, whom he evidently delighted to rag.
“Well, well! You’re a smart bunch in this town. Two gangs of bootleggers hold a pow-wow on your main street, exchange ten pack-loads of old Scotch, shoot each other up a bit, and depart, unmolested by the inhabitants. I thought you were a magistrate, Bowden. And there is a reward of five thousand bucks for the leader of that same gang. And you, a good Scotchman, let that through your fingers, Hoot, mon!”
But the old man only smiled amusedly, for young Fergus was a favorite of his.
“I wonder what we pay the police for,” he parried. “I’m too old a body to chase rum-runners. But I’ll tell ye, my lad, I got a good look at this head man, as you call him. A noisy bit of a boy he was, just like yoursel’, with dark eyes and fair hair, and the skin of a consumptive with the liver complaint.”
“Got him,” said the policeman. “A good bit, though, about his complexion. He’s a dope-fiend, that chap. We know his history all right. He was once a bank-clerk in Vancouver, was suspected of embezzlement, mixed up in a murder case, but got off by a clever alibi. Good family, too. Yes, we know him all right, but we can’t catch him with the goods, Twice I’ve ridden alongside him and his blessed pack-train on this pass, and searched him. Nothing but tents, blankets and canned goods.”
“Did ye look in the cans?”
“Yep. Can-opener is part of the regulation equipment now. But nothing doing. That’s what makes me think he has a hole somewhere around here where he drops the stuff.”
“Too bad you didn’t happen along last night with your can-opener,” put in Harrington, to whom the young trooper’s assurance was irritating. He wished the fellow would go away and give him a chance to talk to Bowden He had made up his mind to tell the old Scotchman the whole story. He had absolute trust in him. If they could only get rid of this fellow. His anxiety had made him irritable, and he might betray himself at any moment. At times he was cursed with a temperamental impulse.
Fergus regarded him with poker face. ‘‘Yes, too bad, wasn’t it? Never mind, we’ll get him some day. I’d like to draw down some of that five thou’ reward myself. I gotta girl back home—Elsie, her name is. Well, Bowden, thanks for the grub. Here’s your receipt. I’ll leave my mare with you for a few days until her foot is better. Damn farrier drove a nail into her frog. Ta-ta, Mister Harrington. Take a look around your claim for that whiskey cache. That five thousand bucks would be easier picking than prospecting.”
He went out with a slam of the door and an impudent whistle.
Bowden ran the blinds up high and let in the morning sun. Then he beckoned to Harrington. Across the street stood a familiar stocky figure. It was Holland, smoking his eternal cigar. To him went the assured young policeman, and together they moved down the street toward the bootleggers’ camp-ground. It was Harrington who now turned in bewilderment to the old man for explanation.
“Lad, lad, he trailed you down the pass last night. I knew it as soon as I saw his reeking horse in the barn besides yours.”
“Then he came in here to spy on me?”
“He is doing his duty as he sees it. But Dick, don’t you understand? They think that the stuff is cached somewhere on your claim, and that you stand in with the runners.”
Harrington’s face flushed red with anger.
“Me, a bootlegger! Why, confound it, man, how do they connect me with this rotten business? My goings and comings have been open and aboveboard. I’ve never had my door locked since I’ve been in this country. No man has ever seen me take a drink, for that matter.” “If you were familiar with the bootleggin’ business, my lad, that last statement would convict you. These men higher up in the business want no wastrel to run their affairs. They are as particular to find a sober, upright, god-fearin’ man as any legitimate corporation. A drunken man would blab.
A man such as you is an excellent blind. It’s only lately since the new automobile road has been opened through the mountains that the traffic has been switched this way. It’s a fair trail and an unsuspected country.”
“But I was here long before the booze started coming this way.”
“Well, I can’t account for it, Dick. But you’re suspected by the police of being the man who is running this district. You signal them when to move ahead and when to take cover, and their cache is supposed to be on your claim. The police have searched your land and watched your house but have found nothing. I’ve tried to get word to you several times but never got through. Why you are the man on whom suspicion falls I can’t say. I wish ye had brought Mistress Harrington down here until this trouble is cleared up. The police are going to come down on this rum-runnin’ like a ton of brick, and for once the people and the government is backin’ them up. Since these dagos killed a policeman up the pass there has been a terrible cry gone up for the suppression of this traffic. But I’m going to stand by you, Dick. I know you too well to believe you mixed up in any such dirty work.”
“Thanks, Bowden, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your faith in me. But just the same I believe the best way for me is to go to the police, tell them that I have heard they suspect me, and put myself in their hands for an investigation.”
‘‘Take my advice and don’t do it.. Let them come to you,” the old man urged.
Harrington could not understand the attitude of his friend. He began to doubt the value of speaking openly to him. It was not that he distrusted him, but suddenly he could not bear to tell him about Eileen. Bowden was an old man, disgruntled with women, and he might misjudge the situation. He might suspect evil of Eileen, though he would still be loyal to his friend. And Harrington was impatient of the idea of concealment in a case where frankness seemed to be the only hope of salvation.
“Bowden,” he said, “Are you concealing anything from me?”
The old Scotchman combed his beard with his fingers, a habit he had when perplexed.
“Aweel,” he replied, dryly, “have you come through with your half of the story?”
Harrington picked up his hat.
“We are working at cross-purposes,. Bowden. I’ll go out and look around for myself. Do you know where Tommy Fagin is?”
"I canna say. I’m going down to the store now. It’s nigh eight o’clock. Ye’d better mind your step. Come to me again, if you want help.”
“You’re a good sort, Bowden. I’m sorry if I don’t seem to appreciate it. But I’m going to do what I think is right. There’s been too much underhandedness about this affair already.”
“It’s all right, Dick, and good luck to ye!”
The old Scotchman ruminated as he cleared the long-neglected table.
“Aweel, it’s only once that a lad loves a lass. If my ain Margery had lived--. But all the women-folk are daft these days. There’s Dick’s lassie shielding a worthless coot, and Dick shielding her, and me shielding the lot of them--and a king’s magistrate, too, o’ the province of British Columbia. Let him fight for her, then! An’ I suppose he thinks I am in my dotage. Simon, Simon!” he shouted down the stairway to the halfbreed proprietor of the pool-room. “Open the shop. I’ll be down in five minutes.”
Dick was indeed thinking that Bowden was becoming childish. He felt that his visit to the magistrate, from which he had expected so much, had brought him nothing but an impasse. He did not consider the fact that he was under observation by the police as worth a moment’s notice. In fact he was very apt to make the mistake of underestimating the worth of such men as Fergus, who concealed under his arrogant assurance a shrewd observation and an iron determination which his youthful appearance denied. Harrington wished above all things to discover the reason for Eileen’s fear, and he had found out nothing but wild tales of bootlegging which he was much inclined to scout. He had been riding the pass all summer and had seldom met anyone for whose appearance he could not account.
The long street was deserted save for two shaggy ponies tied in front of the storee--early customers for Bowden. Station and pool-room were deserted. The young policeman and the detective had disappeared. He made up his mind to find his friend, Tommy Fagin, and worm the whole truth from him. It would be easy, for Tommy knew everything that ever happened in the district, and he loved to talk.
But Tommy for once was nowhere in sight. He looked in the store where Simon was serving two lanky mountaineers, but he had not been either there or in the pool-room. Harrington was miserable and helpless. He had ridden bravely into town to solve the mystery which surrounded the women he loved. By now he should be started on his return journey if he were to keep his promise to be back that night. But instead he was wandering aimlessly about, having accomplished nothing, and as he shrewdly suspected, laughed at by Fergus and the Vancouver man, and unwisely shielded from the knowledge he craved by Bowden.
An Indian boy came from behind the store into the middle of the street, gazing about him as if in search of someone.
He saw Harrington standing before the pool-room, and came toward him, running with the steady jog-trot of the Indian messenger.
“You Mist’ Harrington?”
“Yes. Got anything for me?”
“Gottum letter for you from Mist’ Tommy. He say you come damn quick. Heap big trouble.”
“Where is he?”
“Sligo Jim’s shack. Wantum you quick right away.”
“All right, kid. Here’s two bits for your trouble.”
Sligo Jim’s shack was a long low log structure a quarter of a mile west of the town, dose hidden, in the thick bush along the track. In the short-lived wild days of railroad construction it had been .a gambling and drinking joint where the wilder spirits of the settlement worked off their surplus energy by giving a ’third-class imitation of the old-time Western bad man. Here even yet volatile souls like Tommy Fagin tried their luck against the traveling poker player, and Harrington had often had similar calls for help from Tommy when the luck ran against him. However, he had found his man. He would get him out of the game, souse his head in the horse-trough, and tear the truth out of him. He started off down the street towards the shack. The Indian boy had disappeared.
Sligo Jim’s shack lay hidden amid its thick ambush of ferns and cedar. Curiously quiet, too, for it showed no sign of the noisy parties which usually occupied it when Tommy was the leading spirit. Harrington surmised that the crowd was sleeping it off, and that Tommy was waiting to borrow sufficient money from him to pay his poker debts before departing for his much neglected homestead. He knocked at the heavy plank door.
A strange voice answered:
“Who’s there? What’s wanted?”
“It’s Dick Harrington. Is Tommy Fagin here?”
A whispered consultation, then a high musical voice answered:
“He’s inside. Come in, friend.” Harrington pushed against the heavy door and stepped inside. The cool dark of the low room was quiet and inviting, yet scarcely had he taken three strides before he instinctively felt hidden danger. But blinded by the sudden change from light to darkness he could not find the door again. He heard it slam heavily shut behind him, and as his hand fumbled for his automatic, someone pushed him violently forward, a heavy weapon descended upon his head, and he knew no more.
When he awoke he was lying on the dirty floor of an inner room. His hands were bound behind him and his feet strapped tightly together. Two men were talking in the outer room.
“It’s a fool piece of business. We ought to be a hundred miles from here this minute.”
The clear musical voice which had so treacherously invited him inside answered :
“Am I running this or not, Mike? You can quit any time you like, but as long as I am chief, you obey orders, see?”
“I don’t mind obeying orders that, concern the business we’re on. But I don’t consider that I’m tied to you when it comes to any of this here personal spite-work. My advice to you is to kick this hick out onto the right-of-way, and let’s beat it while the going is good.”
“Are you afraid?”
“I am, and I’m not scared to own up to it. Do you know who is walking around this burg this morning?”
" Who? That fat bull from Vancouver?”
“Yes, and Jack Fergus is walking with him.”
A silence followed this pregnant statement.
“You know as well as I do,” went on the man called Mike, “that whenever that red-bird shows up there’s trouble for the gang.”
"You’re getting woozy in your old age, man. That guy has held me up twice already, and I’ve gotten away with it. As for that young gentleman that Rusty sandbagged so neatly, I’ve got a crow to pick with him, and I’m going to do it thoroughly before I hit the pike.”
“Aw, forget the jane, can’t yer?” broke in a new voice, husky and coarse. “That’s another peck of trouble. Why can’t yuh let the girl go? She did you a mighty good turn, I’ll say. If she wants to love this guy, let her have him, say I. She’s well out of the way.”
"Is she? Then why did she pick out this territory to land in? Who’s this fellow that meets her so neatly and picks her out of Holland’s gamebag? Haven’t I told you that Fergus went up to the Old Scotty’s rooms when this guy was there? You thought you had some news when you told me about Fergus. You poor simps! This is the man who’s got us by the neck, and now that he’s got his hands on Eileen where are we going to get off at?”
In the silence that followed this argument Harrington left off calling himself all kinds of a fool and began to consider himself in luck. His head throbbed from the ugly blow, his arms and feet were numbed by the pressure of his bonds, but his heart beat happily. Eileen! Where heretofore his utmost endeavor had failed him, by heedlessness and folly he would gain the desired object. There was no doubt but that these men in the next room could unfold the strange tangle which surrounded the girl. Bound and helpless as he was, in the hands of men to whom murder was of no account, he yet felt sure that he would win through He would know the truth, nor did he fear that that truth when revealed, would mar the shining image of the girl which he had set up in his heart.
The room was dark, hot and evil-smelling. He knew now where he was— in the room where the inebriates, incapable of handling themselves, were rolled to sleep off their intoxication, out of the way of harm and the police. The sour, heavy smell of stale liquor still clung to its walls. Used to the mountain purity of air, the reeking atmosphere nauseated him and turned him faint. Great drops of perspiration rolled down his face, and he was wrapped in a whirling darkness.
A fresh current of pure air blowing across his face roused him. As he came up through the darkness, he had the vague impression of a spot of light hovering on his closed eyes, a hand over his hurt head, and in his clearer memory, stealthy footsteps moving from him.
To be Continued