Sanctuary has proven a most popular serial — the best for years. It is now drawing to a breathless, spectacular finish, and will conclude in the March issue. A novel of diplomatic intrigue, by E. Phillips Oppenheim, starts March 15.
HARRINGTON stood in the safe shelter of the trees beside the settlement. Before stepping out into the sunny clearing he paused to look over the scene before him. Smoke was issuing from the chimneys of the inhabited houses, children played in the streets. The monotonous daily life of the settlement was astir. He did not wish to be seen again on the street, so he once more struck into the forest, moving a few paces from the open ground on his left, and keeping a careful watch behind, lest his late opponents should take him in the rear. In this way he continued until he was directly behind Bowden's stable, where the trees grew within a few yards of the back of the corral. It was a minute's careful work to glide across to the shelter of the high rail fence, and from thence to the safety of the old barn.
The ramshackle building was empty of human life. The bay pony was curled up like a dog in the deep straw of his stall. Across from him stood a tall cavalry mare, evidently the Elsie beloved of the young policeman. He noticed that she stood on three legs, easing her lame forefoot from the ground. Her number was burned on her hoof, and the brand MP on her right shoulder. The faulty shoe hung on a nail at the end of the stall.
The bay mountain pony was unfit for the journey back. His master left him snoring in comfort and went to the corral where several horses of various degrees and colors were sunning themselves. He intended to help himself to a mount from among these. Bowden allowed him the run of his stable, as he had usually several horses on hand. One of these, a strong, well-bred gray, he kept for his own use in the few spare hours he had for riding.
AMONG them Harrington noticed a slim, wiry, brown horse, sharp of eye and quick of heel, but to his keen eye more apt for the trail than the stolid heavy steeds of the farmer settlers. He had some difficulty in catching the stranger, but finally laid hands on him and led him inside the barn, where he tied him and left him to the consolation of a good feed of oats, while he once more went to the door to look over the land.
For during his walk through the trees he had decided on his course of action. He would return to his claim at once and bring Eileen down to the settlement until such time as this matter was definitely settled one way or another. He would leave her with Bowden, who would be glad of a housekeeper, or with Mrs. Joe, the section foreman’s wife. In either case she would be safe. His adventures with the bootleggers made him realize the danger the girl was in, alone in the clearing on the mountain. That was his first duty, to place her in safety. Then he would settle with the gang who had tormented her.
He led his horse outside, mounted, and trotted along through the stumps of the clearing at the back of the town. No one paid any attention to him. A woman, washing clothes at the back of her shack, looked up at the dull hoofbeats, but Harrington did not speak to her and she dropped her head over her tub again, uninterested. At the point where the street ran up to the trail there was no one in sight either on the street or up the winding track, and unnoticed he turned his horse’s head up the mountain road.
HE PUSHED the willing beast to the limit. Once free from his own danger, his mind reverted more keenly than ever to Eileen. He was tormented with visions of her in the hands of the ruffians of the shack, abused, threatened, tortured, perhaps even killed, by her unnatural brother. Harrington remembered the words of the policeman—a dope fiend—those fellows will do anything when under the influence of their drug.
He was sure in his own mind that Eileen did not know of this latest development. Whatever was the crime from the consequences of which she had endeavored to shield her brother, he believed that she knew nothing of his latest activities along the line to easy wealth. The illicit traffic was surely the path to which a broken man like Howard would turn. Yet why had Eileen fled to this district? She had told him that she had no remembrance of her flight from Vancouver between the inception of the plan and the time when she had found herself in a parlor car running through a mountainous district. Yet she had bought a ticket to, and taken a train for, this country, when the more logical plan would have been to go south across the border, or into the fastnesses of the north. He did not believe that chance had led her hither. Somewhere in the working of the subconscious in which the dazed and driven girl had lived while fleeing from her persecutors had been some image or remembrance of the haven towards which she drove.
And because he had sheltered her, the police believed that he was sheltering the runners whose leader was her brother. On the other hand the bootleggers believed that he was an agent of the government and was using Eileen as a decoy.
“I am going to catch it, going or coming,” he mused. “There’s going to be a lively mix-up. Wish Eileen was safely out of it. That’s my first job—to take her to Wymore to Mrs. Joe.”
He clucked to the brown horse to quicken its pace. It was an unusual creature, slim-legged, long necked, restive. He judged it highly-bred, and wondered how Bowden had come into possession of it. Perhaps if his head had not throbbed so badly he might have given more thought to the matter of taking a horse out of another man’s corral. But he had often borrowed a horse from Bowden, or had himself lent a mount to a friend.
THE accumulated fatigue of a lost night’s sleep, his long ride, hunger, the heat of the afternoon sun beating down through the pass on his bare head, made him sick and giddy. The light, glimmering in narrow heat waves on the rocks, blinded him. The effects of the blow, which excitement and his own good strength had so far warded off came suddenly upon him as the defence of his vitality was lowered. He dozed in the saddle, waking suddenly to see vague forms flit before him, and drifting into a hazy unconsciousness again before his mind could grasp the shadowy figures. He lost his sense of direction and rode, he knew not whether right or wrong, the reins lying loosely on the brown horse’s neck.
The coolness of evening woke him. The sun had fallen behind the peaks and the heat of mid-afternoon had waned. He came suddenly to a clear mind and wondered where he was. The trail up the pass branched off into several lesser canyons, and he wondered if the strange horse had wandered into one of these. There was nothing he could do, however, but push on until he should recognize some landmark or met with some rider who could put him right. He experienced a strange sense of unfamiliarity with his surroundings. The canyons of the district were well known to him, but he was as much lost as is a man who is suddenly set down in a strange country. To a stranger the tangle of rock and tree looks the same in one place as in another. Harrington was undergoing this experience, and it added to the confusion of his mind.
NIGHT fell, with a pale moon, and in the slow light the mountains took on an eerie aspect. The brown horse plodded steadily on. Harrington was surprised at his mount’s endurance. Evidently the horse was an experienced trailer. His gait and agility were even superior to Gyp’s, famous through the district for his surefootedness.
Through all the flow of vague thought and impression through his mind there ran an undercurrent of uneasiness. He was in a hurry, he was anxious about some matter, but he could not remember what. It was pleasant and restful to ride slowly through the cool moonlight. He alternately dozed, wakened, was vaguely restless, and dozed again. Yet with the instinct of the true trailsman he woke with a start to the realization that the horse had changed his direction. He checked him, his mind suddenly clear, and considered his position. They had left the main trail, and it was the scrambling of the horse up a narrow side track that had roused him. But the darkness of the thick pines prevented him from seeing any landmark which might identify the place. However, on looking back, he saw a dim white mark on a tree a few feet away. It might be a sign such as the outlying settlers and prospectors mark on trees for a guide—their name, the directions and the distance to the nearest settlement. He dismounted and keeping the reins in his hand, went back to the white mark, the pony trailing behind him. It was a box nailed to the tree—a letter box. He struck a match, and to his astonishment read his own name on the box. The strange horse had brought him home.
Here was an enigma. He was familiar with the homing instinct of the mountain pony. This horse had forged steadily ahead with home in view. He had turned off the main trail on the track that led to Harrington’s claim, passing on his way several better trails that he might have taken. There was no other conclusion—the horse was familiar with the road into the claim.
HARRINGTON examined him as closely as he could in the dim light. He could find no visible brand. His color, a dark chestnut brown, was unusual among mountain horses. He was marked with a three-cornered blaze on the forehead, and both hind feet were white-stockinged above the fetlocks. There was about him that fineness, that air of nervous alertness which is characteristic of horses that possess a strong strain of thoroughbred blood. But Harrington could remember no one in that district who owned a thoroughbred. He gave up the riddle, and mounted, and rode on.
But the brown horse, up to this time the most docile and willing of steeds, evidently resented the upward trail. With difficulty his rider forced him up the steep road. He was possessed with a mania for turning to the right Into the fringe of trees that lined the precipice, Harrington had no wish to be dashed over the edge, and was forced to use his utmost horsemanship in order to hold his unwilling steed on the trail. But after much exertion he finally got to the bars which separated the meadow on his claim from the outward trail.
A light was shining in the window of the cabin. So far, then, Eileen was safe. Tim came leaping at his whistle. Harrington, in his relief, felt that his exertions had not been in vain. He watched for the door to open so that he might see the girl’s figure outlined against the lighted square. That was what men fought for, to come home at night, and see the one they loved waiting for them, with the lighted hearth behind her.
But here the brown horse caused another diversion. Harrington had led the uneasy creature inside the gate, and dropped the rein while he fastened the gate. But the horse, the instant he felt himself free, sprang away, and before his rider could seize him, leaped the high rails as lightly as a cat and disappeared down the trail. The sound of his mad scrambling echoed from the mountainside. Then suddenly the noise ceased. Listening for several moments, Harrington heard nothing more, and supposed that the flying reins had caught on a limb and stopped the runaway’s progress. He determined to leave the culprit to cool his heels, supperless, until he had assured himself of Eileen’s safety.
STILL believing herself the victor the dark girl waited for the man’s return. Cunning and selfishness had taken advantage of the self-sacrifice of a true love. She had only one thing to reckon with now, one obstacle to her victory, and that was the man himself. Did he love this girl well enough to follow her, knowing what he would know of her past? Or would her own allure, which had held him for so many years, make him forget this other woman? The canvas under her hand answered no. The face was painted as the great artists have ever painted the face of a loved woman. The magic of its coloring spoke of a power drawn from the dear object - an inspiration which had given that power to the artist which years of study had denied. The portrait told her that his love for Eileen had given him the magic touch which had transferred her to the canvas, even as she was engraved on his heart.
But yet she would not believe. Even Harrington, as she had known him, proud even in his simplicity, demanding the highest and best of himself and of those about him, would not choose a woman, beautiful though she might be, who had sinned so deeply and so grossly as she knew Eileen had done. He might have forgiven her the quick act that had avenged her wrongs, but he could never condone the besmirching of her soul. She would use this weapon to the utmost.
MILDRED BURTON had from her earliest girlhood lived with but one object—to win Evan Harrington for herself. Aside from his acknowledged social position, his genius which had made him famous, his winning personality had drawn her. She had riches for both of them which would enable him to pursue in comfort and peace the art which he loved. As cousins they had been much together as boy and girl, and the friendship of youth had grown into something more definite and mature. The natural growth of this attachment had marked them out more and more for each other, until Harrington had grown to believe in the hints and suggestions of his friends, that the beautiful Miss Burton, his rich cousin, would be the ideal wife for a rising artist, destined even by his severest critics to be the greatest painter of his generation. Men, seeing the dazzling lights of his mountain sunsets, compared him to Tenier. But Harrington had revealed one great limitation. He could not paint the human form. His figures introduced into a few of his great landscapes were wooden statues, not living souls. This strange limitation had been the one barrier which kept him from the fullest development of his art. There had been hints that the artist was cold, a woman-hater, but he had never been that. Yet some part of his nature was undeveloped, even as his art lacked completion.
IN THIS frame of mind he was naturally drawn closer to Mildred, whose beauty, ever an attraction to an artistic mind, entranced him. And for him this spoiled girl endeavored to cultivate the fine sympathy which she knew was so necessary to the artist, but which she herself really lacked. She no doubt loved him as much as she was capable, but more than her love for him was desire to shine in the reflected glory which his position would shed upon her.
HE HAD begged her to marry him that spring and come west with him. Here, where for five summers he had lived and worked among the most beautiful mountain scenery on the earth, would be the ideal place for the honeymoon. But the girl, now secure in her future, lowered the guard which she had placed against her own whimsical fancy. Her train of admirers had always danced to her tune. She came to Vancouver, and at once demanded of her fiance that he play his part in the social life which she adored. She could not bear to miss the chance to shine in a fashionable ceremony as the bride of the great artist. But Harrington, who detested the ugly ceremonial of public marriage, had wanted the simple wedding among the mountains and his friends. Mildred, to punish him for his lack of consideration of her wishes, had promised to come, and then had sent him a telegram to the effect that she had changed her mind and would not marry him.
FOR a woman of the world, as that phrase is understood, she showed herself plainly lacking in common sense. She did not realize how slight her hold was on Harrington. Her egotistical mind, saturated with flattery, believed that he would be thrown into a dumb despair from which her romantic entrance would rouse him with all the thrills and emotions which her giddy nature loved. But Harrington never dreamed that this was one of Mildred’s teasing whims. In fact, he had always found her considerate and equable in her dealings with him, though he was well aware of her nature in regard to others. He was most utterly dejected and hurt by her act. He felt very bitter and angry with her, and had no longer any intention of considering her.
And then had come Eileen and he had learned what love is.
But this Mildred did not know. She waited only his coming to throw herself into his arms, to be forgiven and welcomed, praised and flattered. If he made any demur about deserting the girl who had seized upon his sympathies when he was ripe for consolation of any kind, she had a weapon which would kill any consideration which he might still have for her. As for the portrait, that was nothing. He had suddenly found himself, as she had always believed he would.
But the girl, spinning her silken plots, knew nothing of the strong web of suspicion which had bound about the man she loved. Murder and rapine, treachery and folly, the enemies of life, of which she knew nothing in her padded existence, lurked even in these peaceful valleys and ran, panther-like over the sunlit hills. Had she only known, Fate was laughing at her, a silly butterfly, hovering over the swirling waters of the rapids, thinking to turn aside the raging torrent by the slight fluttering of her wings.
SHE rose and walked about the room. It was not like Dick who loved order, but could never achieve it for himself. The litter of the dusty studio over the stable was his, but here another personality was evident. A quiet and orderly beauty was evidenced in this rough room. Someone who loved life and a home had planned it. She wondered how soon she could persuade Dick to leave and go back to the coast. Plenty of mountains there to paint, and plenty of friends to entertain them. She would die of boredom here in two days.
Outside, she heard no sound of a coming wayfarer. The two men in the stable were asleep. She wondered, vaguely uneasy, where the girl was. If she would only keep on going and not lurk about, waiting to waylay Dick as he came in. The big black dog trotted out of the darkness, sniffing and whining. She called him to come inside to keep her company, but the brute growled and made off again. Disgusted with her surroundings, she re-entered the cabin, and drawing up a chair before the fire, wrapped herself warmly in a blanket and sat down to wait for Dick’s return.
Someone had opened the door and come in. Mildred sprang up with a start. She must have fallen asleep. The fire was low, and the lamp dim, so that she could not clearly see the face of the man who entered. But she recognized the upright figure and the square shoulders of Harrington. She stirred the dull logs and as the blaze flared she saw that he leaned heavily against the lintel of the door, and that his face was pale and blood-streaked. He, on his part, did not see the fair-haired girl he sought, but in her place, tall and smiling before the fire, he met the dark contemptuous eyes of Eileen’s guest.
“It is I, Dick. Come in. I am delighted to see you.”
HE CAME in and sat down in his old chair, leaning his throbbing head on his hands. Mildred, standing in her contemptuous pose before the fire waiting for him to throw himself at her feet, to sue for forgiveness, to plead with her to relent and stay with him, held her pose until for very weariness her shoulders ached. The man before her did not lift his bowed head. Was he, then, so much ashamed? Condescending, she moved to his side and laid her hand on his shoulder. He impatiently threw it off.
“What are you doing here?”
Her astonishment prevented her replying at once, and Harrington went on:
“Where is Eileen—Miss Howard—the young lady who was here? Will you call her, please. I want to see her at once.”
Then, as if conscious of her presence, he repeated: “What are you doing here, Mildred?”
The cool, matter-of-factness of his tone stung her. “How can you ask such a question?”
He looked up at her quizzically.
“I certainly did not expect you. My question is, I think, quite a natural one. Some unexpected circumstance must have brought you here, and I am anxious to know what it is and what I can do for you.”
“Why, Dick, that is a strange speech for a man to make to his intended wife. I believe you asked me to marry you—”
“That is so, Mildred, but you have refused me, so we’ll let the matter rest there. Or we can talk it over later, if you wish. I believed you had given your decision. But I have pressing business now. Do you think you could get me a basin of water and some clean cotton? I’ve had a nasty clip on the head, and I’m going to need my brain clear.”
THE stunned girl tried to obey him, partly because his masterful personality compelled her, and partly because her surprise at his strange attitude left her incapable of acting for herself. Here was a flat ending to her expected denouement—her presence taken as much a matter of course as a maid opening the door, and instead of pressing beseeching kisses on her hands, he coldly requests her to fetch him a basin of water.
She wandered aimlessly about the room, while Harrington removed his coat and loosened the neckband of his shirt. She inspected Bowden’s array of shining aluminum pans—everything necessary for a young couple starting housekeeping—but she did not know -which one would do. Finally she took down the deep lower half of Eileen’s beloved double boiler. By good chance she found the pail beside the stove, and dipping the utensil into the water, she brought it dripping and slopping over to the table.
“Not that,” he said, impatiently, fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. “That’s too narrow and deep—a wide shallow basin—the hand basin, girl, it’s somewhere by the stove. And get me warm water, this blood is clotted and dried.” She obeyed him, and then stood helplessly by, shaking the water drops from her fingers.
“Get some cotton to make a bandage. You can’t find any? Look in that cupboard. I know there’s some there, for Eileen tore a bandage for my hand the other day. My word, Mildred, you can’t make anything of that stiff towel. Go and call Eileen—she will know what to do. There that will do,” and he feverishly tore the towel into strips, and tried to sop the water onto the clotted hair about his wound. The girl watched him helplessly. She tried to assist him, but the sight of the ugly cut made her sick and the bloody water dripped on her silk shirt. This was a strange Dick to her, dusty, dishevelled, sousing his head in the red water in the basin, muttering under his breath; impatient and cold to her whose every word he had once obeyed.
PRESENTLY, when he had washed his head and bound strips of the torn towel about it, he asked her for food. But here again she was at a loss, and he had to rummage for himself in the cupboard. Luckily the kettle was boiling and the hot tea revived him. Mildred saw that as he moved about the cabin he constantly listened for someone—whether Eileen or not, she did not know. She was beginning to be very angry.
“This is rather a harsh welcome you offer me,” she complained, as he sat eating his supper.
“I’m sorry, Mildred. I was very much upset when I came in. It’s all right now. Sit down and talk to me. But first, how did you come and what is your errand?”
“I came by pony from the station. A guide brought me up. Paul is with me, so you need have no anxiety on my account. As to what brought me, that is surely a strange question to ask. You invited me—a warm invitation, too, if I remember rightly.”
“But you refused my invitation, didn’t you? Have you come to tell me that you have changed your mind again?”
“My mind hadn’t changed in the first place. Oh, Dick, can’t you understand? I confess my folly, but I never meant that telegram—not one word of it. It was only a joke, to tease you. I was sure you would be so glad when you found out it was only a joke.”
“Surely that was a most serious subject to joke upon. But if you have confessed, Mildred, I also have a confession to make to you. Let me say it frankly and spare ourselves the pain of cross-purposes. I cannot marry you.”
“Do you wish to break our engagement?”
“No, for you have already done so. But such a relation between us is now impossible. Had you come at the appointed time we would have married and perhaps been as happy as most people, in spite of our opposite natures. I thought I loved you, Mildred, but forgive me, I have since learned that I knew nothing of love.”
“You mean you love another woman—now?”
“Yes, and loving her, I could not honorably marry you.”
“Honorably? And what about your honor in setting me aside? That wire was a joke—”
“You did not say so at the time. And that phase of our lives is past and done with. You see I am being very plain-spoken. But that’s always the best way. I don’t think we really loved each other, Mildred. It would have been a very great mistake.”
So—the portrait had been right, after all. She must change her tactics and use a sharper weapon.
“Well, I am not one to force myself on any man. Let it go at that. But Dick, you haven’t told me whom you are going to marry.”
“How long have you been here, Mildred?”
“Since eight o’clock.”
“Did you not see her?”
“Dick, do you know whom you are marrying?”
“Of course I do.”
“You know her name, but do you know anything else about her?”
“What does she know of me? I might be a bandit, for all she knows.”
“You couldn’t be anything else but what you appear to be—a gentleman. You say I don’t love you, but, dear, I want to see you marry the right girl. Perhaps you are right, we might not have been happy. I am capricious and silly; but I love you enough to be anxious about your future.”
“YOU are very kind, Mildred, and I do feel a cad I about the way I have spoken to you. This clip on my head may account for some of it. But, dear girl, don’t worry about me and my future.”
“I can’t help it, Dick. Your life is so full of promise. Don’t spoil it. You love this girl dearly now, but are you sure you will not be ashamed of her later on?”
“Why should I be? She is beautiful, well educated, what women of your class call a lady.”
“I admit that. She is even prettier than I am—”
“Then you have seen her?”
“Yes—she has gone out for the present. But Dick—I am sorry to sow suspicion in your mind —are you sure she is a good woman?”
“Mildred! That is not like you.”
“Oh, I know. You think it is one woman decrying another. But it isn’t that, I swear to you. I love you so much that I am willing to have you hate and despise me if only you are saved!”
“You have something to tell me?”
“Yes, although you may hate me for telling you. But I must speak. I can’t see you ruin yourself or your career unwarned. I will speak in spite of the cost to myself.”
“Mildred, I have risked my life a dozen times to-day, once I have stood at death’s door, to find out what you are going to tell me. Had I had patience, you would have brought the knowledge I sought to my door. I have always been too impetuous. Go on with your story. I am listening.”
“What do you mean by that? Did you know there was something wrong with the girl?”
“I know that she is in great trouble and needs my help.”
“Did she tell you what the trouble was?”
“No. She could not do that without violating a trust to which she felt herself committed.”
“Oh, that’s what they all say.”
“Don’t sneer, Milly. You know how I hate it. Come and sit down here beside me and tell me what you have to say without any more fencing.”
“Well, then—Dick, when did you last read a newspaper?”
“A newspaper? Let me see, this is late June. I bought and read a paper on the train on my way here last spring, the end of March. You know I never read paper a when I’m working. They distract me.”
“I thought so. Another question—did you make any acquaintances while in Vancouver?”
“Only with the Wilders, your friends. I dined with them one evening. However, I was in the city only three days. I don’t know whether I read the papers then or not.”
“Here is your story, then. In April last a woman was brought up for preliminary examination on a charge of murder. The case occupied the attention of the papers and of society on account of the reputable family to which the woman belonged.
“The slain man had been a friend of the family—a business partner of the father of this woman. He was shot through the heart at his apartments. No one heard the shot, but this girl was seen leaving the room of this man at a time when the shot must have been fired.”
“But was there no other proof that she had killed him?”
“No, even the revolver was never found. All that was proved was that this woman had visited the dead man’s apartment.”
“Might she not have gone to see this friend of the family on business?”
“Perhaps, but if she had been discreet she would have visited him at his office, not at his room. However, she was examined by the police for her share in the crime. She was let go free for the moment, until more evidence could be obtained.”
“And this woman was--”
“Eileen Howard, the woman you say you are going to marry. Oh, Dick, can’t you see that it would be madness? A woman accused of a terrible crime, and whose reputation is besmirched. She has seduced you as she won the heart of the man she killed. Think of the horror of dragging such an accusation with you all your life.”
“I HAVE thought of that, and thought also of the pain this girl has suffered, to know herself innocent, and yet believed guilty by every one who has heard of the crime. The human heart unhappily finds pleasure rather in the sin of its fellows than in their innocence. You speak as if you had certain proofs of her guilt. But where are they, other than in your own willingness to believe her guilty?”
“You believe her innocent, then?”
“I know it.”
“How? Because she has said so, because she is beautiful and has appealing ways? Because you are willing to believe her so? Oh, you men, so easily fooled by a pretty face! Why, then, if she is innocent did she run away? She could not face trial.”
“And what became of the rest of her family? Don’t they know anything of her whereabouts?”
“Her parents are dead, but she has a younger brother, I believe. Everybody has great sympathy for him. He was forced to resign a lucrative position in a bank because of the notoriety this case brought to him. These are the facts, Dick. The police are hunting for this woman now. At any time they may come to your door. How will it be when you stand beside your wife in the murderer’s dock? Your career will be ruined.”
“Listen to me, Mildred. My career is not going to be ruined because I have helped an innocent girl. You have given me a few facts that I required. I thank you and will use them to advantage. But you have not turned me from the course I have decided upon. You have only made some things clear that were doubtful before. There now only remains for me to find Eileen. I am sure that she will now be able to speak freely to me. You say you saw her this evening? Strange that she has not returned. Did she tell you where she was going?”
“She did not volunteer the information and I did not inquire.”
“Mildred! What mischief have you done now?”
“What do you accuse me of? Your friend and I had a confidential chat as regards her position here, and she rightly decided that she had no right to tie herself and her burden to you. She has gone away.”
“Did you tell her who I am?”
“I showed her your latest effort,” and she indicated the portrait. “She could hardly fail to grasp the idea then. I strengthened her in her resolution, however, by showing her into your studio. That will be your finest picture, Dick. Why are you spoiling it by introducing the human form into the foreground of the noblest landscape in America?”
“Because there is no other background worthy of those features. What have you done, Mildred? Have you driven her away?”
“I hope so, Dick. If you won’t save yourself, I shall do my best to help you. You will live to thank me.”
“What right have you to interfere in my affairs? Do you realize that you have driven that helpless girl into the forest, of which she knows nothing? She will be lost—starved—killed. And it will be your fault. You accuse her of murder. What did you do when you sent her out into the night?”
“I didn’t send her. She went of her own free will. Something about loving you too well to hinder you—”
“I’ll warrant it! She has had no other happiness than that of offering herself as a sacrifice for the sins of others. But I am going to change all that. Answer me, what time did she leave?”
“About four hours ago, if I remember rightly. What are you looking for, Dick? Can I get you anything? Oh, put that horrid pistol back in the drawer! You won’t need anything like that!”
But Harrington was intent only upon his lost love.
“Four hours,” he muttered. “Good God, she may be dead--”
“Where are you going, Dick? Come back and we’ll talk it over. She won’t come to any harm; she’s probably listening behind the door there. You can’t go out in your condition. Be reasonable.”
“I have talked too long to you already, Milly. There is no more to be said.”
She went to him as he drew on his coat and laid her hand on his arm.
“Dick, oh, Dick, don’t think so hardly of me. I can t bear to lose you. You loved me once, surely you haven’t lost that love?”
He paused to place his hand on hers in farewell.
“Perhaps I did love you, Mildred, but you took back your love, and now it is too late. If this other had not happened I could not refuse you. But now I cannot do what you ask. Try to think as well of me as you can.”
He was gone, and the girl who loved him, yet loved herself more, laid her head on the rough table of the shack and wept for him—wept as a child weeps for a broken toy, yet in this lighter weeping was mingled the more bitter tears of those who have a vision of a promised but lost land—a sudden intuition of a divinity to which they can never attain.
WHEN Harrington stepped out of his shack into the night, he was filled with a bitter indignation against Mildred. How like her, for an idle caprice, to turn her contemplated marriage into a jest, and then when the jest went against her, to protest. He foresaw that had they married, unhappiness would have been their portion. Sooner or later he would have loved; sooner or later, her caprice would have sought new outlet; either way, disaster for both.
For five years now he had been gloriously happy in his mountain home. In the obscurity of his cabin studio he had been able to work uninterruptedly and to dream and plan for the future. The kindly folk among whom he had lived, had grown very dear to him and their courageous toil had earned his respect. To them he was, however, merely a good neighbor, and if their insight, keen in the discernment of strangers and their ways, had noticed something in him different to themselves, they had been guided by his unobtrusive manner into laying that difference to some kindly trait of character rather than to a difference in caste, wealth or genius.
Mildred had been right in regard to his art. His inability to paint the human form had been the one weakness in his genius. True, his figures had been perfection in technique and coloring, but they lacked soul. Their eyes were of glass, shallow, even as their exquisite limbs had been wooden and stiff. On the very night on which he wakened Eileen from her sleep in the cabin, his figures had tingled with the wish to draw her. Closing his eyes, he had drawn mentally line for line, color for color, of her form and features; then he had gone to his studio, lighted his lamps, and transferred her to paper. That had been the beginning. He made dozens of sketches of her, living in a few quickly drawn lines. Power and inspiration gripped his pencil. The last lesson of his art had been learned. He was perfect.
And now she was gone.
He went first to the stable. Mildred’s ponies dozed in their stalls. The men stirred at his approach. Paul half-rose to see if his services were required, but the independent guide, less servile, merely opened and closed his eyes. Harrington went up the stairs to his studio.
She was not there, and he smiled bitterly at himself for thinking she would be. Sketches of her lay scattered about his tables, smears of paint where he had tried to catch the marvelous coloring of her hair and eyes. She must have seen them all. The great picture alone was undisturbed. But closer inspection showed him that some hand had lately touched it. It would not be Mildred if she were not thorough in her methods. Only this would be needed to convince Eileen that the man she was to marry might find her an incumbrance.
He bared the picture. The great mountain at sunset, and in the foreground, the girl’s face, rosy in the reflected glow. It was the same pose which he had painted on the smaller frame in the knapsack, but larger, more perfected, and with the living spirit as he had known it, self-forgetful, immaculate, more divinely shown. The very lips seemed to move, the throbbing of her pulse in the white rounded throat, the wistful eyes, the silken hair. And all this had been lost to him by the malicious artifice of an empty-souled woman.
MILDRED was shrewd enough. Where she could never have forced Eileen, dauntless for all her gentleness, to abandon her position, she had used the very unselfishness of the girl, her gratitude, her sense of honor, to gain her ends. Eileen would see the force of Mildred's arguments, and would yield, effacing herself to save him from the consequences of that guilt for which she had elected herself alone to suffer.
Murder—an ugly word. A light woman in her lover's apartments— jealousy—anger—a revolver shot. That was not Eileen. Someone else had done the evil deed. He sat down on a bench and began to think.
He was not much given to deduction. Creation was his forte, the weaving together of strands into the perfect pattern. Yet as love of Eileen had given to his fingers the skill that they lacked, so it drove his mind to run in unaccustomed grooves. Nevertheless his brain worked more by inspiration than by reason. As in his painting a sudden line, a dash of live color, thrown in unpremeditatively had given soul to his canvasses, so now he leaped from point to point of the puzzle that was spread before him.
But most vivid of all the pictures he had seen was the remembrance of the boastful young policeman. Something he had said that at the time had gone unheeded, now came to his mind. He had it at last—a bank-clerk in Vancouver— embezzlement—a shooting affray—a clever alibi. That was one point. Next the sight of the leader of the bootleggers who had Eileen’s features. And the girl herself, fleeing for another’s guilt, and her despairing cry: “Guilty, oh God, how guilty!”
Something scratched at the door and whined. He opened it and Tim crept in. The dog laid his head against his knees and faintly wagged his drooping tail.
“Poor Tim! You loved her, too. Come on, we’ll go find her again.”
He went downstairs and woke the guide.
Had he seen the young lady?
“No, no, the young lady from the cabin, the fair-haired young lady.”
“Mais oui, m’sieur.” She had brought them food and bedding and had talked graciously with them. Then she gone back to the cabin, oh, four hours past. Eh, M’sieur Paul?
The gray-haired servant nodded.
Had they heard any strange sounds?
“Non, m’sieur,” from the guide.
“Yes, sir,” from Paul. They had heard the black dog barking down the trail a long time since, possibly a couple of hours ago. He had barked so fiercely that the servant had awakened the guide, but Francois said he had probably treed a panther, and they had lain down again.
Harrington picked up the stable lantern and examined his dog. His curly black coat was dusty as if he had rolled in the dirt. He saw flecks of blood on his long ears. The dog flinched from the pressure of his hand, and gently examining him further, he found the wound at the top of his head just behind the line of the ears. He had been struck with a blunt weapon.
He leaped to his feet with a cry of alarm. The men rolled out of their blankets, catching his uneasiness.
“You want help, m’sieur?” said the guide, reaching for his mackinaw.
“No—you might do more harm than good. But dress and be ready. Come as fast as you can down the trail if you hear me whistle—two short calls. The sound will carry far on a night like this. Bring your revolvers. And have either of you a flashlight?”
Paul found a small electric torch in his pack, and thrusting this into his jacket-pocket, Harrington started out, with the black dog limping beside him.
HE STEPPED into a well of darkness.
Presently, as his pupils expanded, dim shapes moved about him—his ponies, snuffling for sugar. His hand fell on Bingo’s short-clipped mane. Then Eileen had gone on foot, for she was timid of mounting the other ponies. Alone, on foot in that wild darkness, and no haven except the cabin whose shelter she had abandoned forever,
At the gate he turned his flashlight on the ground, and instantly found what he sought-the imprint of a small shoe. He called the dog and set him on the scant. The eager animal trotted off rapidly down the trail.
Harrington shut off his flash and followed him noiselessly. He was prepared for anything to happen, a sudden attack, the most unexpected event, nothing or anything. The dim shape of the dog, a blacker spot against the darkness, was barely discernible before him. He believed that Tim had followed Eileen from the cabin, had tried to defend her against some danger, had been struck senseless, and then had returned to his master for help. It was also evident that the blow upon his head had been dealt by a human hand, for it was the dull bruised wound that is inflicted by a stick or rifle butt, not the tearing wound of claw or tooth. Indeed against a creature of the woods the dog would have held his own. A halfbred Newfoundland, the offspring of a pure-bred mother, owned by a friend of his, who had run away and contracted a misalliance, the big black dog combined the courage and fidelity of the Newfoundland with the intelligence and jovial friendliness of the mongrel stray, forced to live upon his wits, and yearning for the master he never finds. Harrington had come to his friend’s house when the litter was about to be destroyed, and delighted with the round black puff-ball of a puppy, had begged it of the owner; The dog had been his companion ever since and had shown an intelligence and fidelity beyond the ordinary.
Tim’s pads made no sound in the darkness, but at times he returned to his master’s side and thrust a cold nose of encouragement into his hand. At a whispered command he moved ahead, nose to the ground. Under the shadow of the trees it became so dark that the man could no longer see his guide and was forced to find his way by taking hold of the dog’s bushy tail.
In a few minutes Tim halted and growled. He bade him be quiet and listened intently. The forest was silent. Stooping, he turned the flashlight on the ground. The tiny spot of light passed over the dusty worn stones of the trail. Broken twigs, a pine-cone, the sandy bevelled surface of a dry watercourse, and then, clear in the smooth surface, the girl’s footprint, and overstopping it, the larger mark of a coarse hob-nailed boot.
As he traced the marks with the thin pencil of light, he saw that the larger marks followed Eileen’s footprints, and remembering the threats of the bootleggers, he feared the worst for her. Her unnatural brother, hardened to all mercy by the drug in which he steeped himself, could not be expected to show any forgiveness to the sister whom his maddened brain believed to have betrayed him. He would not remember that she had risked her life, her liberty, even her honor, to save him from the consequences of a crime.
HOW had these men known where she was? They must have been on the watch for her, waiting until she should leave the cabin or the clearing. And he, blind fool that he had been, had left her here alone. He called to mind the old store-keeper’s warning, how the police suspected that the runners had their rendezvous in this district; more, in the neighborhood of his cabin. He remembered the thinly veiled threat of the policeman to seek the whiskey cache on his own claim. Bowden had known more than he pretended, but why had he not told him the whole truth? Perhaps the old Scotchman believed that his friend had had dealings with the illicit traffic, and loving him, would shield him from the consequences of his crime. He knew well the sharp tongue and the soft heart of the old man.
The double line of footsteps showed, now here, now there. Always the bootmarks overstepped the little shoe prints, until half-way down the trail he came to a spot where the dust was trampled and marked. The girl’s footsteps were lost completely under the tread of heavier feet, and over the whirl of dust lay the many prints of Tim’s paws, and towards the edge of the trees a broken bush whose leaves were spattered with blood. Here the men had thrown the dog’s body, believing him dead. But the thick skull of the Newfoundland had saved him. Tim recovered from his blow to find his mistress gone, and had dragged himself home to find help. Why had he not followed the girl’s captors? It was not like the dog to abandon a scent. He realized that the girl had been carried away on a horse, and carefully searching lower down on the slope he found the marks of hoofs.
The dog was of no further use, and was likely to give away his presence by barking or by the bearlike rushes which he used in attacking, and which he would doubtless try the instant he sighted an enemy. Tim turned reluctantly homewards, and Harrington noiselessly concealed himself under the trees and considered his position.
Precious as were the minutes to him, he knew nothing could be gained and everything might easily be lost, by hurried action on his part. He now believed that the police were right and that the bootleggers had their centre of operations close at hand. If the police knew the connection between Eileen and the leader of the band, they had very good grounds for suspecting that he was co-operating with them. The bootleggers, on their part, believed him to be a spy for the police, and that he had won over Eileen to betray them. Their instructions would most likely be to seize the girl and take her to their hiding-place. There her brother would deal with her.
But Harrington knew that Gerald Howard was in hiding in Sligo Jim’s shack on the outskirts of Wymore. With the police in town he could not leave there before nightfall. That would mean that with the best of luck and of horseflesh they could not reach their rendezvous until early morning. Eileen would be safe until her brother’s arrival. It was now, he supposed, well after mid! night. He had, therefore, six hours at the most.
There were three disadvantages to be overcome. First, he did not know where the rendezvous of the runners was. Second, wherever it was, it was well guarded and sentinelled, and he had to outwit both guards and sentinels, and force an entrance. Thirdly, he had singlehanded to take the girl out of the hands of her captors. Truly, Herculean tasks for one man.
IF THE rendezvous was close at hand, he might at any moment stumble against a sentinel. One might be within armslength at this moment. His safest plan would be to wait and listen. He knew well the restless nerve-racked temperament of the runners, with every man’s hand and gun against them. Whoever moved first would betray his presence to the other. He did not believe there had been anyone along the trail when he and Tim had followed the girl’s tracks. He remembered hearing it said that these men moved along, patrolling their district.
Over his head the low-sloping boughs of the fir-tree formed a tent. He sat back against the trunk, his knees drawn to his chin, covering as small a space as possible. He did not lie flat in the underbrush for a man to fall over. And as he waited, every sense alert to catch the first sound, he mentally reviewed the ground on which his claim lay. Up the slope above the cabin he knew every foot. It was smooth incline, thickly clumped with fir and larch, clear of underbrush and boulders, no place where anyone could hide. From its top one could command a view of the slopes. Before the cabin lay the precipice and below that the wooded valley. They would not be down there —too much traffic and it would be impossible to lower and raise the loads over the face of the cliff without being seen by patrols below. The cache would have to be close to the trail and over a road which would be passable to ponies, and most of the land on his claim was too broken and craggy to permit the passage of horses. Again and again he reviewed the district which was accessible and could not remember a suitable place for a cache.
“They must have water for their camp, too,” he ruminated, “and there is nothing between my spring and Wymore. except Hidden Water—Hidden Water—” He sat up with a start.
Hidden Water was a watercourse—a freshet in April, a rivulet in May, a trickle of water in June. It had its source in the rains and snow on the mountain above, and it crossed this trail halfway between the cabin and the main Wymore road. He had never thought about Hidden Water except that it was a nuisance when the water was high, and the rough stones of the dry course were hard on the ponies’ feet. He had never explored the watercourse, but Long John Wetherby, the mail-carrier, had once told him that it went over the precipice behind the trail, but that the waterfall was invisible from the valley below, where it fell into a great pool. It was fed by underground spring or stream whose surplus water flowed over the surface during the wet season. The Indians had a name for it whose translation meant Hidden Water, but because the upper course was dry in the summer he had never thought it important enough to explore. And also he remembered the chestnut pony which he had taken out of Bowden’s corral and ridden up from Wymore. It had balked just at the point where the watercourse crossed the trail into his claim. That was why the horse knew the way home. It had probably carried many a packload of illicit goods on the same road. He wondered how it had gotten into Bowden’s hands; the police had evidently had a run-in with the bootleggers and perhaps taken some of their ponies. He chuckled to himself, thinking of young Fergus’ rage when he found one of the ponies missing. “He sure will have a case against me now,” he thought.
SO HE left the shelter of the trees and began to crawl on hands and knees down the trail towards the watercourse. He kept close to the edge of the trees but far enough away from the underbrush so that he might not betray himself by the rustling of the leaves. The sharp stones cut and bruised his palms and knees. Now and then he rested, listening intently. There was no sound. The still hot darkness of the night walled him in. He could not see three feet in front of him, and he dared not stand upright, lest he stumble on the rough stones.
Half an hour’s slow toil brought him near the watercourse. He knew it by the increase of smooth, water-worn stones under his hands. The ground sloped gently downwards. He halted and edged himself into the bush. Here was the most likely place for the first watchman of the band to be stationed.
But another half-hour’s careful watch on his part showed neither sight nor sound of any living being. He had gradually worked his way to the edge of the bank. He could hear the thin trickle of water murmuring among its stones. Over an hour of his precious time was gone.
He had no idea of the way before him. If there had been a moon he would have risked betrayal by its light for the advantage a sight of his surroundings would have given him. Yet, if he were discovered, the girl would be as much lost as if he had stayed at home in bed. A plan formed in his mind that he would follow along the river-bed until he came to a guard, steal upon him, bind and gag him, and then compel him at revolver’s point to lead on to the cache. A desperate plan, and with nine chances of ten against it. But he must do something at once.
He edged closer to the screen of trees at the edge of the water course. And here he came upon the first evidence of another living being. Lying motionless he heard near him the gentle breathing of some creature. The grasses rustled as if the weight of a body were shifted from one foot to another. Something moved quickly through the brushes—an arm moving from side to side. He took his revolver in his hand, and moved noiselessly, a fraction of an inch at a time, in the direction of the sound, until he saw the shadow of something very tall and upright. He could have touched it with his hand. Its sighing breath stirred the light leaves above its head. He saw the two legs braced—the thicker bulk of the body above. A sentinel, and asleep!
The luck of the world! He gathered himself to his knees—to his feet, ready for the spring. There, for the throat. His gun in his teeth, his muscles tensed for the choking clutch at the man’s breath. It was like a race—the tense crouch at the tape and the starter counting out the seconds before you—one—two—three—go!
His headlong rush stopped in mid-air. The gentle breathing of his enemy voided itself in an amazed snort. The two legs rose in mid-air and crashed down. Two eye-balls glowed in an astonished fire as their owner leaped back from the onset. Harrington sprang, but not for the throat of a human enemy. He caught the flying rein as it snapped from the bough where it had caught. It needed only a soothing word and a firm hand on the bit. He could hardly believe his good fortune. It was the chestnut horse he had ridden up from Wymore.
HE HAD been right, then, about Hidden Water. The runaway had headed for his home, and taking a short cut through the trees to the watercourse, had caught the loose rein on a limb. Here while waiting for release he had dozed, and it was the sound of his breathing and the gentle swishing of his long brown tail that had caught Harrington’s attention. He held the key to the situation now. The brown horse would lead him to the cache of the bootleggers.
The road in was evidently clear of guards for some distance, for his encounter with the horse had created considerable disturbance. For safety’s sake he waited for a few minutes. If there were anyone in the neighborhood they might recognize the noise as made by a startled horse, and by keeping hidden in the bushes he would escape notice. But nothing happened. The chestnut horse recognized his former rider, and was quite reconciled to his company. He rubbed velvety nostrils against Harrington’s hand, glad of anyone who might lead him to his well-filled stall of which he began to feel the need.
Harrington stripped off his saddle and hid it in the bushes nearby. Then he removed the long reins from the bridle and buckled them together, tying one end round the horse’s neck. This gave him a long lead rein and it was his intention to turn the horse loose in the watercourse, giving him his head, but keeping hold of the end of the buckled reins. In this way he could follow the horse’s lead and at the same time keep in the background, for he could at the first alarm drop the end of the long rein and conceal himself in the bushes. The noise of the horse’s hoofs would cover the sound of his own approach.
The chestnut gave no trouble. Once he found himself in the water-course, and seemingly free to follow his own bent, he set out with the directness of one who knows his way. Harrington followed at the end of the rein. If the horse went too quickly for his stumbling footsteps among the rough boulders, a slight pull brought his guide to a halt. When he wished him to hurry, the horse obeyed a gentle shake of the rein. He needed urging more often than restraint, for the grasses that grew along the edge of the bank proved tempting to his appetite.
They followed the watercourse until Harrington began to fear he must soon step over the precipice. Yet the horse walked steadily on. The bottom of the course became smoother, as the sand embedded the stones more deeply. Stooping to feel the surface of this sand with his hand, he felt the marks of hoofs and of boots. The ground sloped alarmingly. They were approaching the edge of the cliff.
Harrington halted his guide, who this time stopped unwillingly, tossing his head impatiently at the restraint. Evidently he was near his stable, so there was nothing to do but to let him go on. When the ground sloped so much that it was hard to keep on his feet, he heard the first sound of alarm. The horse snorted and stopped. Harrington dropped the end of the lead-rein, and hid behind a large boulder.
He had acted just in time. A thin ray of light pierced the darkness and searched the watercourse. Secure in the dark shadow of his boulder, he watched the narrow beam search the sandy bed and the deep overhanging foliage of its banks. So thick were the trees that he reckoned the course would be completely concealed from sight of a watcher on the hill above. He heard a low laugh and gruff voice. The light snapped off.
“Well, look who’s here! Old Flier, if you please. Come ’ere, Bill.”
There were two of them.
“Is he saddled?”
“Naw, he’s been tied up and got loose, the old reskil.”
“The Chief must be gettin’ careless. If anyone had seen the horse we might have had visitors.”
“We got ’em now. Two too many. I agree with Dago Mike, personal affairs should be kept out of this here business. Howsumdever, the chief will bump hisself off wit’ a overdose of snow some of these days, and then things will be different. What’re we to do with this here gee-gee?”
“I reckon one of us had ought to take him in. He’ll make more noise than a circus. You go, Jack.”
“Well, you know, Bill, orders is to stand guard in pairs. There’s been quite a few nipped off by bein’ beaned when alone, and that leaves the road open.”
“It’ll only be a few minutes. Put him in the first corral and Murphy will lead him down. Better that than havin’ him make a racket that’ll tell anybody within a mile where to come to. If he hears the other horses, he’ll whinner.”
“Take a hitch round his snout.”
“Then you would have a row. Get on in with you, and hurry back.”
JACK, grumbling, took the horse, and Harrington began to drag himself noiselessly from behind his rock in the direction of the lone sentinel. He had scarcely five minutes in which to do his work, but when four of them were past, he stood erect behind the guard. Thirty seconds more and the butt of his revolver fell. He eased the still body to the ground, as he heard quiet steps behind, and deftly transferring the fallen man’s soft felt hat to his own head, he stood erect and waited for the second guard.
At this place sounds of life were all around him, low murmur of voices, faint footsteps, the dull stamping of horses’ hoofs, yet all so indistinct that the traveler moving through the bushes even as close to the cache as he was, might lose these faint sounds in the noise of his own movement. He tried to locate the position of the sounds and finally concluded that they came from below him and to the left. That, too, was the direction in which the approaching footsteps came. The guard was close beside him before he spoke.
“Murphy says to keep your eye peeled,” advised the guard in a sibilant whisper. “There’s something queer about that there nag coming home the way he did. We took a good look at him and he’s got marks of saddle sweat on him. He’s been rid.”
Harrington grunted to show his complete agreement with this deduction.
“But we can’t tell how long ago it was, for he’s pretty well dried off. He’s probably broke away from the chief and beat it back here again. Wish Howard would get a regular bronc. Them blooded horses is so unexpected. Heard anythin’ while I was gone?”
Harrington grunted again, and shook his head.
“What’s got into you, Bill? Got the belly-ache? I never heard ye grunt so much before.”
The man peered into his companion’s face but Harrington put him aside by feigning anxiety. He laid his hand on the man’s arm, uttering a warning phist, and leaned forward as though he had suddenly heard some unusual sound. His plan was not so much to draw the bootlegger’s attention from himself as to manoeuvre slightly behind him in a position where it might be possible to throttle the man. He could not do this while standing face to face with him. At the first sudden movement of his hands the man would shout a warning to his fellows. But the half-second’s advantage which might be gained by getting his hand at the fellow’s throat before he could utter a sound would decide the issue. Therefore he pointed high up the watercourse, and the bootlegger, still unsuspicious of his companion, took a step forward and listened in the direction pointed out to him.
That one step was his undoing. As quickly as the slashing of a cat’s claw, Harrington had his hands tight round the man’s throat. And with the same movement he wound his legs about his enemy’s knees and threw him down. He dared not risk the sound of a struggle. Better to run the risk of broken limbs or cuts on the stones on which they fell than the certain disaster which the noise of a scuffle would bring upon him.
THE guard went down without a struggle. He was taken completely by surprise. His breath was cut off by the ring of iron fingers about his throat and his legs were pinioned. But his arms were free and he flailed fiercely at his opponent. At first he struck aimlessly, for Harrington was underneath and behind him, sheltered by his body. But the artist, steel and sinew as he was, was much lighter than the man he had seized. His opponent seemed to sense this, for he left off his idle blows and struggled to tear his legs free.
He had short seconds to do his work. His breath cut off and his legs bound, he heaved mightily with his body, crushing the man underneath against the stones. Harrington felt as though his ribs were being snapped off and when his head hit the stones, the blows made him dizzy. But he hung on, for his enemy’s strength was failing. A few seconds more and the way would be cleared.
But the bootlegger was also a man of courage and resource. With almost his last conscious thought he realized that he could not shake off his enemy. In the silent struggle which in reality had lasted scarcely two minutes, he knew his strength of no avail against the advantage won by his foe. He left off his aimless struggle and began to grope blindly with his arms. Harrington felt the elation of victory at this sign of defeat, then, all too late understanding, left off his grip on the man’s throat. The fumbling hands found, and grasped a dead limb, a faggot scarce two inches in diameter. With his last strength the guard snapped off the stick and with the effort lost consciousness.
But he had accomplished his warning. The stick snapped with the noise of an exploded gun in the still night air. Had the man shouted to his fellows he could not have alarmed them more. Harrington heard the murmur of voices cease, then rise and fall and rise in the confusion of hurried alarm, then turn towards him in an increasing wave of sound. Dizzy and bruised he struggled to his feet, thrust the unconscious man from him, and pushed into the bushes. When he had put a few yards between him and the scene of his struggle, he dropped to his knees and crept through the underbrush.
Behind him he heard the scuffling of many feet and voices, rising in excitement, suddenly hushed. They had found the guards. He heard the sharp decisive tones of a voice giving orders, then silence, and a glow through the forest where the searchlight moved along the trees. Once the yellow beam moved in his direction and he lay flat on the brown earth until it passed. Then he began again to widen the distance between himself and his pursuers.
Would they find trace of his flight through the bushes? If so, his chances were indeed desperate. Quiet behind him, not a sound now of voice or step—very suspicious. He half rose and waited, poised for flight. Twenty yards behind him a twig snapped.
FURTHER concealment was useless.
He rose and walked as quickly as he could through the trees, dodging from trunk to trunk. They too came to the same conclusion as to the uselessness of concealment. The narrow beam of light flashed among the trees, centred, and a rain of bullets hailed about him. He could hear the lead spattering against the bark where he stood behind a broad trunk. The hail died down, and peering cautiously through a small cluster of pine-fronds, he saw his pursuers. He took deliberate aim at their leader, a tall man in a Stetson hat, and fired. The man threw up his arms and fell. The searchlight went out. This was what Harrington wanted—to force them to put out their light. He left the shelter of the tree and plunged ahead.
Five—ten—twenty yards he gained, but no more. If he tried to move uphill towards the trail, he heard, as he paused to listen every few steps, a slight scuffling above him. They were surrounding him and cutting him off from the trail, and forcing him down towards the precipice where he would have no alternatives but to surrender or plunge over the edge.
His position now became desperate. Every attempt to turn up the hill was cut off by that quiet scuffling of footsteps. They were as able to hear him as he them. Standing still only brought the circle of footsteps nearer. Yet he could not think of any thing that would help him out of his desperate straits. Step by step he was driven towards the edge. The ground began to dip, the trees grew at sharp angles to the rocky earth. He walked backwards with outthrust foot feeling for the edge. The rustling footsteps were closing in. They would rush him at the edge.
Eileen’s face glimmered before him in the darkness. The sweat running down his face seemed to be her tears. He thought, in one moment of helpless anguish for her, that he had gone impetuously forth to rescue her, and had run his head into this noose. Wild Dick, indeed, with his high impetuous spirit, to end thus, shoved over the edge of a precipice, dying a useless death, fighting a losing battle against the scum of the earth, the rotting parasites of a foolish generation.
His face set. There, where that dying tree leaned over the void, he would stand at bay. Alone, defeated, there is still something left to the Anglo-Saxon in his last moments. He can die—on his feet.
The footsteps scuffled nearer. Here, a branch shook. There, a dim form showed. Now for it. He raised his automatic, drew a deep breath and braced himself for the final rush. The earth suddenly dropped from beneath his feet, and he went over.
EILEEN left the house which for ten short days had been her refuge and walked out into the night. She was back in the same position as when she had left the train at Wymore and fled along the platform. Her pursuers still followed, and though for the moment they no longer pressed so closely upon her, she would not again find in her hour of need the sanctuary which had then so opportunely opened before her.
Looking back at the lighted house, the full bitterness of the past few months rushed again upon her. Her mind was not blurred nor confused as it had been when she first started her flight from Vancouver. She had had ten days of rest and quiet, and her physical and mental condition had returned under their healing influence to normality with the elastic rebound of health and youth. But she suffered now more deeply because she was able to realize to the fullest extent the loss she was sustaining. The sacrifice she had made before was nothing to that which her honor and love now demanded of her.
The girl in the cabin was right. No matter how innocent she might be or how soon her good name might be vindicated, the stain would still remain. The idle whisper of gossip, the unkindly memory that cannot forget, would follow her. At first she had been minded to wait for Harrington and tell him all her story, but she knew that his love for her and his honor would not permit him to let her go. No—there was no other way. She sat down under her favorite pine tree, where she had passed so many happy hours, and gave way to her despair.
A stealthy patter of footsteps roused her. At first they caused a vague alarm against which she was too unhappy to bestir herself. But her dull fears proved vain, for a cold wet nose was thrust into her face, muddy paws scraped persuasively on her lap. It was the black Newfoundland, Tim, who had sought her out to comfort her. Here was a true friend. She clasped her arms tight around his burly neck, and hid her face in the thick curls of his fur. With the dog’s warm body pressing against her, she took courage and began to think what she must do.
She had no intention of returning to Wymore and giving herself up to the police. She was now minded to keep her first trust—the promise which had sent her on her desperate flight across the mountains. She tried to recall the artist’s descriptions of the district and especially of the long trail over the pass which joined onto the automobile highway. There was a chance of making her way unobserved across into Alberta, perhaps to Calgary. There she could find work as a domestic if nothing else, for she had kept her father’s house, and kept it well. Her music she dared not use, lest it bring her under observation. Then, when she had saved the means from her wages, she would go south across the line, and vanish among the millions there. Desperate plans, truly, for she had neither food, money nor extra clothing. Her boots, which Harrington had intended replacing in Wymore, were thin-soled and worn. She had come out of the house without her cloak and would not go back for it. But she would manage somehow, and at any mountain cabin food was hers for asking.
But at the gate, her hand, fumbling in the darkness for the fastening, fell upon soft wool. It was a sweater of Harrington’s which he had laid on the rail while he unfastened the gate, and careless of his belongings, had forgotten the moment it was out of his hands. She put it on. He would not begrudge her that much. The dog followed her through the gate.
“Oh, no, Tim, you must go back. Go home, sir, go home!”
THE black fellow wagged his tail, then squatted on his haunches and yawned. He had no intention of returning while his goddess went unprotected through the night. Eileen stroked his great head. He would be good company for to-night. and she could send him home in the morning. She walked on down the trail, her hand resting on the dog’s head. She was not afraid of the darkness nor the menace of the forest. It had been friendly, and she moved through the kindly shade warm-scented with the balm of pine. The quiet of the woods fell like a benediction on her troubled mind. The lighted city streets with the stealthy footsteps following had not been so secure.
The dog left her side and halted. She waited patiently for him to come back to her, for she liked the feel of his warm fur under her hand. But Tim still waited, growling softly in his throat. Behind her a twig snapped.
The dog gave a bellowing roar and charged, bull-like, into the darkness. At the same instant two strong hands seized her arms from behind and a thick covering was pulled down over her head and wrapped tightly about face and throat.
Eileen’s first sensation was one of dumb astonishment. She had not dreamed of any human being near her, still less that she would be molested. Had her opponents approached openly she would have gone unsuspiciously to meet them. But when her voice and strength returned her cries were muffled in the thick sack over her. head. Through it she heard Tim’s barking roar, but even this was suddenly silenced. Another pair of hands lifted her feet and she was carried rapidly through the darkness.
She was set upon a seat that moved uneasily under her—a saddled horse. Then a man’s voice spoke to her for the first time, a strange voice, with a foreign accent:
“If mees will keep quiet—no hurt. She scream, we tie her tight.”
Guttural voices in a strange tongue, sibilantly musical, whispered about her. The horse under her moved forward slowly. She could do nothing but submit. Though there seemed to be only two assailants, she was helpless in their hands. Tim was nowhere about; poor, faithful friend, they had killed him.
She was inclined to be more passive as she believed herself to be the victim of a mistake. When they came to a light and took the smothering covering off her face, they would let her go. She wondered who these men were. Bandits, perhaps; and she thought of Long John Wetherby who had twice beaten off bandits from the mails. But they would not covet anything of hers. Like a flash came the idea that they might have mistaken her for Mildred Burton who was rich and could pay ransom. Were such things done in these days and in this country? She had read in the newspapers of kidnappings, but the crime had been committed by organized bands in large cities. Except for the loss of poor Tim she did not greatly care about the out-come of her present adventure. Life was not of great interest to her. It did not occur to her that there might be any connection between these men and Harrington.
IT WAS impossible to tell where she was being taken except that the way lay downhill. But presently the little band halted and turned to the left. She gripped the horn of the saddle. That way led to the precipice. Were they going to thrust her over? A halt, and someone speaking. She sat rigidly still and listened intently. “You got her, huh?”
An affirmative grunt from the two men in reply.
“Sure you got the right one, Steve? There’s two skirts at the rancho now. Some guy wit’ the ladies, this Harrington party.”
Then it was Miss Burton they wanted. She gripped the sack over her head and tried to pull it off that she might show these men that they were mistaken in their captive. Her hands were seized and twisted cruelly down.
“Keep quiet, you! Try that again, will you, and I’ll tie them behind you.”
“But I’m not—” she gasped, half-smothered in the sack.
“You needn’t tell us anything about yourself. We know who you are. Keep your mouth shut, or I’ll put a gag in it. Take her on in, boys, and don’t take your eyes off of her for one second. Dames is slippery.”
She had to submit, and wait patiently until the covering was taken off her face. The horse moved ahead again, down a smoother road where its feet fell soundlessly. She had never heard of a trail leading to the left. The precipice lay a few yards ahead. Surely they had not gone far enough to reach the main road.
The horse’s forequarters dropped suddenly and she cried out in alarm. The men placed her hands on the saddle-horn and told her to hang tight. They seemed to be sliding down a steep bank. Then suddenly they came to level ground. Feet echoed hollowly from a stony road. Even through the thick sack she could see the gleam of light. Many voices clamored around her, low laughs and rude oaths. She listened in vain for a woman’s voice.
Lifted from the saddle, her feet felt a smooth hard floor, cement or levelled rock. Someone led her away. The people about her, evil-smelling, jostling, were left behind. She passed alternately through light and darkness into a quiet space where the air was sweet and the sound of falling water came pleasantly to her ears. The sack was lifted from her head, but before she had a chance to discern her captors she was thrust through a rude door into an inner room and the door slammed shut behind her.
The room was full of a dim light, which dazzled her after the darkness of her sack. But soon she was able to see that she was in a hollow or cave in the rock, some ten feet in diameter. The floor was sanded and a current of air blew freshly about her. Over-head the roof rose high and undiscemible into the darkness. The soft dim light entered her prison from the side.
For a few moments she could not realize that she had been kidnapped and carried off to a secret cave. She had heard much of strange rock formations, but had not known of any in this district. Harrington had explored the mountain, but he had never spoken of the existence of caves. But caves there surely were, and in the face of the precipice below his claim.
SHE explored the walls of her prison.
They were smooth as rock that is worn by the action of water. Then she noticed that in certain positions the noise of the falling water was more distinct. Following round the angle nearest the wooden floor she discovered a narrow passage hidden by the angle of the wall. At the far end there ' was light, and the noise of the water came clearly. She made her way carefully through the passage and looked down a great shaft. One side of this chimney was pierced by openings through which light and air came, and on the opposite side the water fell in a shallow broad stream.
“Look down,” said a voice, so close behind her that, startled, she almost lost her balance. A man was standing beside her. She obeyed him and saw the dimness of the depths below her, through which lay, like a ribbon, the whiteness of the falling water.
“No way out there,” said the man. “Better come back, miss. You might turn dizzy.”
“I wasn’t looking for a way out,” said Eileen complacently, as she turned back. “I heard water falling and came to see what it was. Can you tell me about it, or is it against your rules?”
“You’re a cool one, you are,” returned the man. “But since you’re here and to stay, I suppose there’s no harm in telling you. This stream is called Hidden Water. It comes partly underground and, in the rainy season, through a watercourse on top of the ground. It falls into the valley below through this chimney. In the old days it cut a lot of caves in the rock. Must have been a big fall then.”
They had reached the inner cave now. The man had left a lantern burning, and beside it on the sandy floor a pile of blankets and a basket of food.
“I was told to make you comfortable,” he said, civilly enough.
“Orders, you know, miss.”
“That’s good of you, and thanks. Are you the head man here?”
“Not I,” he said, laughing.
“Well, someone is, I suppose,” said Eileen. “But—did you ever see me before?”
“No, I didn’t, miss,” said the man. “But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing you often.”
Eileen ignored the implied compliment. “I asked you that,” she said, “because I believe your people have made a mistake. I am poor and have no money to pay you a ransom.”
“We ain’t looking for a ransom, miss.”
“No ransom?” cried Eileen. “Why, do you know who I am? Isn’t it Miss Burton that you are wanting?”
The bandit laughed.
“Burton? Hell, no, miss. Her old man is our head push in this business. This is how he makes his money, not in his brokerage office. Our goose would be cooked sure if we touched his gal. No, you’re the lady we want. Your name’s Howard, isn’t it?”
And without waiting to see the effect of this information upon his prisoner he went out, leaving Eileen sitting flat on the bundle of blankets upon which her astonishment had set her.
THEN it had been she whom the band had sought. Perhaps they had been following her for days, ever since she came to the cabin. Her guard knew her name and was sure she was the girl they had been sent to capture. But. she could not imagine what they wanted with her. No ransom—then what? What connection could she have with these wild men of whose existence she had never dreamed. For one wild moment she thought that perhaps they had heard of her connection with a crime, and had deemed her a fitting person for a bandit queen. Perhaps the chief had seen her and was making love to her in proper bandit fashion. But her common sense dismissed such melodrammatic reasons. Being without undue vanity, she did not think she would be attractive to men of that stamp. They would admire robust, buxom, highly-colored women. She was pale, slight and fair, of the type that only the spiritual, poets, artists and sculptors have praised. Had she not now been acquainted with Harrington’s antecedents, she might have even imagined him to be the robber chief —not a ruffian, but of the heroic type— unjustly outlawed, righting other’s wrongs as well as his own in a romantic but illegal fashion.
She gave up the puzzle. And strange to say, though she had left the shelter of the clearing on the edge of despair—she now felt elated and hopeful. The wine of adventure stimulated her. She felt that she was on the edge of some event which might bring back to her the happiness she had lost. And having a good share of our j common earthly faults, she chuckled to herself at the memory of the bandit’s speech anent the paternal Burton.
She thought fondly of the artist. What would he do when he returned from Wymore and found her gone? Would he yield to the blandishments of the girl to whom j she had abandoned him? She did not believe so. Rather would he set out to find her and bring her back. Well, she was surely well hidden from him, and from those others who sought her. She was in the hands of desperate men who wanted her for some dark purpose. Dampness, cold and the dully lighted prison hemmed her in.
Judging that she might be left unmolested until morning, she decided with her usual placid courage, to make the best of things. Heaped up sand and the thick blankets made a bed for her cold aching body. Investigation of the basket brought to light two huge pork sandwiches, a I saucer of cold baked beans, a wedge of soggy dried apple pie and a thermos bottle of coffee, hot and strong. She curled herself among the blankets and ate what she could of the coarse food. The hot coffee brought back warmth and strength to her. Leaving the lantern lighted, she fell asleep.
Voices in her ears awoke her. It was morning and the cave was full, of light. Her guard of the night before stood beside her.
“Goin’ to sleep all day? Get up and look sharp. You’re wanted.”
She crawled out from the blankets, stiff and stupid with drowsiness, and tried to pull on her shoes with fumbling fingers. The man watched her with increasing impatience.
“Is there any water?” she asked him.
“Naw—hurry, can’t you, for Gawd’s sake!” He seemed surly and anxious, keeping a worried eye on the door as if he expected some dreaded authority to appear and tax him with delay. “I can’t get you anything now, miss. Maybe in a little while—out this way, if you’re ready.”
THE girl would have given a year of her life for another hour’s sleep. Her head ached and her throat was parched. She walked wearily after her guard. The man took her not ungently by the arm and led her through a dim way, rough underfoot. They emerged from this passage way into a large cave, well lighted with gasoline lanterns, for though it was daylight outside, this cave had no openings towards the face of the precipice and consequently was always dark. For this reason it was used as a convocation hall by the bandits. At first the lantern glare dazzled Eileen, but her sight clearing, she saw that the cave was very large, forty feet across, and on every side were piled boxes, crates and wooden cases of all descriptions. Many of these were lettered with black stencil, or bore brightly colored trade-marks, which she dared not observe too closely. Half a dozen roughly dressed men were sorting these boxes and piling them in heaps, while in a far corner two others were pasting bright labels on bottles. A heavy sour odor filled the cave.
These men looked at her curiously, then turned to their work again. But a group of three others leaning against a rough table in the centre of the cave beckoned to her guide to lead her to them. With a shock she recognized one of these men. He was a tall fellow, flint-eyed, hatchet-faced, with a long bristling mustache.
“Peter Murphy!” cried the girl, going to him. “What are you doing here? Can you tell me what all this means?”
The tall man looked sheepishly at her, but only for a moment. Then the sharp ferocity of his face returned.
“Yes, it’s me, Miss Eileen,” he said, simply, without any excuse or explanation.
“Are you going to take me home again, Murphy?”
The man paid no attention to her, but began a whispered conversation with his fellows, two rascally Italians. Eileen suspected they were her captors of the night before. She was very uneasy, fearing she knew not what. Murphy had once been an employee of her father’s, who had discharged him during a season of the hard times which periodically disorganize industry. He had been a handy man about the place, gardener, furnaceman, errand-man, a general factotum. Always he had been diffident, courteous, grateful. This hard-faced insolent man was not the old Murphy of her girlhood days. Wild thoughts ran through her mind. Standing, seemingly patient, waiting for her fate to be declared, she was busily engaged in putting two and two together. Murphy—in charge of this gang—and wanting her enough to kidnap her. A man pasting labels dropped the bottle on the stone floor and the rank odor of its contents gave her a cue to the activities of these men. For the odor was the odor of whiskey. She glanced furtively at the nearest cases. They were stenciled with the names of famous brands of whisky, brandy, and gin. She knew— these men were bootleggers.
The door opened, and another man entered.
“Jerry!” she gasped, and then stood dumb, the full enormity of his offence breaking in upon her.
HE PAID no attention to her further than to cast a threatening glance in her direction. He went to the three men at the table, and joined their consultation. She could see that he was in authority here. The others deferred to him, stood in awe of him. He appeared masterful and overbearing, he, the eager laughing boy whose dreadful mistake she had given her all to cover. There seemed no end to the blows she must take, in silence and without defence.
The consultation was over.
“Send those men out,” her brother commanded, and the workers filed out quickly. She was left alone with the three men, the guard and her brother.
“Bring her over here, Wylie,” said Howard, “and let’s get a look. So, my lady, we have you at last!”
“You might have had me at any hour, Jerry,” she replied quietly. “There was no need to seize me in the dark and carry me here trussed like a fowl.”
He regarded her grimly, his thin lips drawn back in a sneering smile. Then he seized her roughly by the arm.
“See here, Eileen, what kind of game is this you are playing? We want the truth from you. What are you up to? Come on now, come across.”
“I might ask the same questions of you,” she replied, spiritedly, trying to wrest her arm out of his grasp. “What sort of place is this you frequent, and who are these men whose leader you appear to be? These seem to be forbidden goods you deal in.”
“You bet they are. Take a good look at them. The real article, worth thousands.”
“Jerry—is this what you are doing? You told me you had a job—with Murphy -—and were going away to make a fresh start.”
“Yes, I have a job—with Murphy. here. And you, you hypocritical little saint, you are trying to get me in wrong. Think you’ve got me tied up hard and fast, don’t you?”
“Jerry, what do you mean? Don’t twist my arm so; you are hurting me. Why in heaven’s name should you accuse me of trying to hinder you? Haven’t I done all I could for you? And it has all been for nothing. You are consorting with criminals—with—with bootleggers—”
“I admit I am, and getting a squarer deal from them than I ever got from your strait-laced, law-abiding hypocrites, who buy the dope from us that they arrest us for selling! But you—you snake, you spy, with your white face and holy airs, you have come crawling and sneaking after us, leading the police. Going to have me jugged, are you, and that rascal you consort with will have a fine pot of money to enjoy. But it don’t go. I’m not going to be done in by you this time. You’re here, and you’ll stay here until we find out just what you’ve told your friends the police. I know a way to make you speak.”
“Gerald Howard, you have gone mad or you are drunk! I did not know you were in this district or God knows it would have been the last place I would have come to. I have never told the police anything about you except that one lie I told to get you out of their clutches. I have been hiding from the police so that they might let you go unsuspected and follow me. I have given up everything for you, and yet you accuse me of hunting you down and betraying you. Are you not ashamed? Have you no natural gratitude or affection? You are not the Jerry I loved! How can you, oh, how can you!” She broke down in utter despair, weeping bitterly like a child betrayed and abandoned by those it trusted.
EVEN that hard-hearted company was touched. Murphy pulled at his long mustache, the guard, Wylie, coughed and blinked his eyes. The boy, touched at last by his sister’s tears, yet not wholly convinced, paced up and down the room.
“Eileen,” he said, at last, more gently, “why, then, did you come to Wymore?”
“I don’t know,” she cried, wildly. “I can’t say. You know that.”
“You can say anything you like. These men know everything. Speak freely before them. Why did you come to Wymore?”
“I don’t know, I tell you. After we were let go, and you had gone out of town, I saw for some time, that I was followed and spied upon. The police were still suspicious. I was afraid that if they questioned me again they would find out everything. I believed that if I ran away they would then be sure it was I who was guilty and you would be let alone. Oh, Jerry, I promised my mother and your father that I would look after you and guard you. It was to save you that I ran away. I was foolish, crazed, and then when I was on the train, I found out that I was followed again, and I left the train with some wild idea of running through the woods and losing myself. I did not know where I was. That is why I got off the train at Wymore.”
“It sounds crazy enough. But will you explain why you had a friend to meet you when you got off the train?”
“A friend? I ran into a stranger’s arms, and he rescued me. I had never seen or heard of him before.”
“It’s too thin, Eileen. I can’t believe you. You’ve been very good to me, but I guess you’re as desperate as I am. People always look out for themselves first, and small blame to them, either. Your friend the detective gave you up too readily. He saw your friend the spotter take you up—”
“He is not a spotter. He doesn’t even know that there are bootleggers in this district—”
A roar of laughter cut short her words. “Know? Why, the son-of-a-gun is right after us,” shouted the taller of the two Italians. “He’s got our pictures drawn, the dog, and will publish us all through the country!”
“Did he draw your portraits?” cried the girl.
“He is an artist, you know.”
“He’s an artist, all right,” replied Murphy, producing a folded sheet of paper. “Look here, girl, he’s got your brother, and Dago Mike, and Rusty Maloney, here, right as rain. A pretty thing for the police to have, isn’t it?”
He did not tell her that they had tried to kill the artist, but had failed.
“Let’s cut out the talking,” interrupted Howard. “Here are the facts. This fellow’s after us, and he’s got the proofs. This girl is in league with the police. She will save herself by giving us away. I know their rotten King’s evidence stunts. But they’ll get nothing more from this jane. And we’re going to find out just who and what this friend of yours is, my girl.”
EILEEN knew that she could produce no argument that would convince them. She kept stubborn silence. Of what use to tell them that there was one man in the world chivalrous enough to take pity upon her and offer her the sanctuary of his home and his name, asking nothing in return?
“You’re no better than we are,” continued her brother. “You’re living with a man who is not your husband, so there’s no use pretending to be a saint. Give it up, Eileen. We can give you a better deal than he can. There’s plenty of easy money ; here and you’ll have your share of it. We could use her handily in the business, couldn’t we?” he added, turning to his lieutenants.
“Sure,” the men nodded.
“And how, may I ask, could I be of assistance to you?” demanded the girl.
“In lots of ways. You’re a good-looking girl, Eileen, and you could do advance work for us. It would be easy for you to get in with rich people at big hotels. We’d give you a free hand at fitting yourself out. Take orders for us, you understand. You could get away with it where a man like old Murphy here would be arrested on sight. Come on now, there’s a fair offer for you. We’ll let by-gones be by-gones. What do you say?”
He seemed to be laboring under some strange excitement. His eyes were dilated, his skin waxy and sweat-dewed, the muscles of his mouth twitched. There was about him an air alike loathely and mysterious, as of one who has obtained power by dabbling in evil magic. | Eileen listened to his outrageous proposals dully. Nothing she could say would convince them that the relations she had had with the artist were honorable. Those men, trading in human weakness, would never believe in the existence of anything fine and honest. To them she was a clever minx who was going to use her good looks and her wits to the best advantage. She would be useful to them. It behooved them to outbargain the other side.
But her brother’s attitude alike puzzled and outraged her. He had been a rather weak, impulsive boy, hard to lead, not always honest or outright, but at least loving and kind. This man before her was devoid of the ordinary kindnesses and faiths of common daily life. He was of that old order who are possessed of demons. She was sick at heart, looking at the ring of faces about her, cunning, avaricious, distrustful.
“I know that none of you will believe me, but I have told you the truth,” she said at last. “Mr. Harrington, whom you accuse of being a police spy, does not even know of your existence. I myself did not now my brother was engaged in this wretched business or that he was in this district. You Jerry, know why I left Vancouver, and whether I am innocent or guilty. As to your suggestions concerning myself and the man who has given me shelter, you are so vile yourself that you can conceive of nothing good. Your proposals for my assistance in selling your wares, I refuse. That’s all I have to say. You are wasting time to question me further.”
“Well, you’ve heard her,” said the chief. “What are we to do now’?’
The tall Italian stirred.
“She knows. Make her speak.”
But Wylie, the guard, interposed.
“Gawd knows,” he said, with an oath, “I ain’t got no reason to uphold the law and the police, but I ain’t for making war on women.”
EILEEN looked eagerly toward him as from his friendliness she might obtain help. But his remarks only produced scornful laughter from the rest of the gang.
“You see,” cried Howard, with a shout of ribald laughter, “she’s got one victim already. If we had her working for us she’d bring them in like sheep. Cheerio, Wylie, we won’t make her squeak even if she is a pretty mousel caught in our trap.” The guard’s interference was dissolved in laughter. Had they threatened him, fought with him, he might have stood steadfastly by her. But their ridicule disarmed him and left him acquiescent. He turned away sullenly, and left the girl to her fate.
Howard turned to his sister. “Now my pretty little saint,” he sneered, “we’ve talked enough and too much. We are asking you who this Harrington is, if he knows of our cache, and just how he is connected with the police. Come on now, what?”
The girl regarded him in silence.
“I’ll give you fifteen minutes to make up your mind.” He placed his watch on the table. “While the lady is making up her mind,” he said to his fellows, “we’ll check up those invoices for that last shipment.”
The men followed him to a long, desk-like table, strewn with papers, and began checking over the shipment of their illicit goods. They paid no further attention to Eileen. She shifted uneasily on the cold hard floor. Wylie stood some ten feet from her, leaning against a pile of cases, his arms folded across his breast. His face was moodily set. She observed him closely—an honest man turned to the wrong road. He caught her glance, pleading, expectant, then lowered his eyes, gently shaking his head. She could expect nothing further from him. He had gotten himself in wrong already with his leaders on her account. They would not trust him any more.
She watched the minutes speeding away on the glistening dial of the watch. Five—seven—ten—and the men calmly checked their papers, heedless of her presence. She did not try to plan, for her course was plain,—to be steadfast and faithful. It was inconceivable that she should purchase her freedom by co-operating with these men. She knew nothing and therefore could tell them nothing of the activities of the police who were pressing hard on the heels of their lucrative expeditions.
HER thoughts turned to the man she loved, and who loved her, who because he had befriended her was hated and threatened by this gang of cutthroats. Well had she done to go away. What man desired a thief and a murderer for a brother-in-law? Yet he would not go back on his word on that account. But she had no right to ask him to make that sacrifice for her. She herself had suffered and lost so much through sacrifice demanded. Her thoughts were far away from this dark den, with hard-faced men counting up their ill-gotten gain, far up the sunny hill-side under the sweet scent of pines, the cold bright wind, and the great mountain red with sunset, and the man, clean and strong, by her side.
“Time’s up, Eileen!”
Her brother was standing before her, with the three bandits at his back. Wylie had gone. They had sent him away. He was too prone to be merciful. For a moment cold fear took possession of her, and she stood with shut eyes, rocking on her shivering limbs. But it passed, and she waited firmly, opening her eyes calmly on her captors:
“For everything you have asked me I have only one answer: No! Do with me as you will.”
“Eileen, we’re in earnest. Do you think we are going to give up all we have gained for your fancy? We’re not going to have a mere girl block us. Come through with it now.”
“You are wasting time questioning me. I shall not answer.”
She looked—into the vicious round mouth of a revolver.
“I mean business. You answer me. or I blow your brains out!”
To be Concluded