Marooned on a narrow edge of rock, with the dizzy depths beneath him and unscalable rocks above, Harrington comes to himself— From there the story moves to a swift and dramatic climax.
So THAT was the worst he could threaten. How foolish these men were. What an easy way out they offered her. She looked at him and smiled.
He reddened with anger.
“I’m not fooling. I am going to count to thirty, and if before that you don’t signify that you are ready to do what we wish, you go out, see? I’m counting—one—two—three—four—” She shut her eyes and waited. His hissing breath counted out the dull seconds. Her mind went back to a little boy whom she had taught to count—one—two—three—four—she began to count silently with him, as she had done when he had been a reluctant, round-faced child—twenty-eight—twenty-nine — thirty — it would not be hard, just like a blow, she had heard someone say, and then darkness.
Howard threw the revolver on the floor and swore viciously. Eileen opened her dazed eyes. The Italian laughed.
“Man no kill hees sister, eeh? She pretty smart girl, that. She know it, boss. Come here, I got a better plan.”
They whispered together in a corner. Howard laughed and swore again, dashing his hand against his thigh in the enjoyment of the jest. He went into the corridor and conferred with someone there. As he came in again, footsteps ran quickly along the passage on his errand. The bandits surrounded her once more. “Now, miss,” said Howard, “we see you can’t be frightened, so we’re going to give you another chance. You’re just the girl for our business, can’t be bluffed or scared. So we’re going to have you. Say yes, won’t you?”
She shook her head.
“Oh, come on, don’t be a softy. What sort of a deal did you get from the world? Pretty raw, wasn’t it? Yes, and just you wait until you get out and try to do for yourself. You’ll find out how charitable folks are. Come in with us and you’ll share and share alike with us, and have the best of everything. There’s no harm in fleecing fools, and this country’s full of them, just asking for it. For the last time, will you?”
No answer, but as she looked steadily back at him, he read her determination and her scorn of him.
“All right then. We won’t ask you again, but we’ll break you, by God! You don’t scare worth a cent for yourself, but listen here. You are not the only prisoner we’re holding. Got a little surprise for you. Ah-ha, my brave lady! That spur makes you jump. Hey, Pete!” he shouted “just bring him in, will you? Leave him by the door there where the lady will get a good look at him.”
TWO burly members of the gang led in a man and placed him by the door, standing on either side of him. The man’s arms were tied close to his side, and his clothes were in such a state of mud and rags that she could not tell anything about them except that they were the usual dress of the mountaineer, such as she had seen Harrington wear. Over his head was a thick sack, evidently the same sort of blind which had been pulled over her head when the runners had captured her the night before. She did not at first recognize the prisoner, but he was tall and straight in spite of his bonds.
“Now take a good look at him,” said the chief. “Seen him before, haven’t you? Look at her stare, men. What a power love is,” and he laughed scornfully. “It’s going to make her unlock her lips where a gun shoved against her ear didn’t worry her. And keep your gun against him, too, Pete. Allow me, Miss Howard, to introduce to you Mr. Richard Harrington!”
So he had come seeking her after all. She had known it. Her heart throbbed exultantly, then stilled with fear. What would they do to him, bound and helpless?
“Yes. this is your friend. We’ve got him, hard and fast. He’ll not trouble us much longer. Now, my girl, here’s our proposition. Either you come through with what information you have, join our crowd and follow our instructions, or Pete there, who has his gun against Mr. Harrington’s ribs, will let go. We mean it. If you want to save his life, you know what you have to do.” The bound figure strained savagely at its bonds. Howard turned savagely on his prisoner.
“One word or one move from you, Harrington, and I’ll shoot you myself. Now, Eileen, we’re waiting.” What could she do? She would willingly have died a hundred deaths to save him, but it was required of her that she do not die, but live, live a life of shame in order that he might go free.
“All you have to say is the one word yes. Or nod your head. Then we loose him and he gets out of this district scot-free. We’ll take our chances on his troubling us any more. Your safety would be his bond.”
The girl found her voice, faint and distant.
“What surety have I that you will keep your word?”
“The same surety that we hold that you will keep yours. We’re not worrying about that. That’s your man, isn’t it?”
“Yes—God help him!”
“Not God, but you, can help him. Which is it to be?”
“What can it be?” cried the. girl. “Dick,” she called, “think of me as kindly as you can. It is because I love you so that I am doing this.”
She turned to Howard.
“It shall be as you ask. If you will not kill him, but let him go from this place, I’ll do your will. I will work for you—sin for you—anything. I cannot have him die for my life. I cannot—”
A great voice was booming through the room—not Harrington’s voice but another’s. The bound figure leaped and strained—she saw the slender rope snap and fly—calling her—her name!
“Miss Eileen! Mis’ Harrington! Look out, they’re tricking you! It isn’t Dick, it’s me—John Wetherby— don’t tell them anything—don’t promise—”
She felt rather than heard the crash of the revolver, echoing from the vaulted roof. She saw through the mist the bronzed face of the old mail-carrier, bloodstained, battered, reeling; she saw him hurl his captors aside and stand at bay, the broken leg of the table for a weapon against the ring of wolves. Silence through the smoke, and the tall Italian spoke from a distance, far above her:
“Let him alone—he’s gone. Chief, you have done it now. They will be down on us like eagles around carrion. Let the man be, I tell you, keep away—”
“Aye, stand back!” The dying man towered above them for a moment, his darkening eyes seeing far beyond the high mountain trails which he had traversed so long. His arms outspread above them.
“Away! Keep back! I'm comin’ through—the King’s mails!”
He lurched forward, and they fell away like whipped curs before his fall. And, triumphant, he passed through, bearing the King’s mail.
SHE was lying face downward on the rough gray blankets in the cave where the bandits had first confined her. Her store of tears was wept dry. The shuffling footsteps outside the door were the footsteps of a rough half-breed. The kindlier Wylie had been sent away. They would not trust a merciful man.
And here she must stay until death released her. Death would be more merciful than her brother. For it was his hand which had shot down the dauntless old mail-carrier who had saved her from worse than death with his own life. For in another moment she would have yielded to her brother’s stratagem and gone away to act the part of spy and out-runner for his band. She had never questioned the identity of the muffled figure. Such dastardly trickery had never occurred to her. Now she was more than ever resolved to hold out against the bootleggers. Were she inclined to falter and be afraid, her memory of the face of the dying man would have given her resolution. His death bound her irrevocably to these mountains and to the breed of men whose faith and courage were typified in him.
An old man, gray with long trails and heavy storms, performing an humble service to his fellow men. She dedicated herself to the service of such as he. The old mountaineer who in life had been to her only an interesting figure, now became paternal, supernal, regretted and reverenced as would have been her own father. And doubtless to the lonely old man this would have been sufficient reward.
SHE slept fitfully on her hard bed. Occasionally the dark face of the guard leered in at her. The man cursed her for the trouble she had brought upon them. The government spy had deserved death, but his body lay in their midst, an accusation and a proof of their guilt. That was no way to kill. It should be done quietly in out-of-the-way places whence could come no proof against the bold hand which did the deed. Sapristi! swore the tall Italian, had they known before that this Wetherby had been trailing them, he would have been dead months ago, high up in the pass. But a doddering old man, carrying mail-sacks on his spavined ponies, who would suspect him of being in the secret service? The Virgin only knew how close he had led the police before they had caught him. And this girl! Let but a woman come into the business, and ruin entered with her.
So they came and looked down at her, and cursed her. But she only motioned them away. She was immune to threats or persuasion now. She no longer hated or despised her brother. He was a creature of a lower plane to whom she was inaccessible. She desired only to be alone with her dead.
The shuffling thud of her sentry passed with wearying monotony, louder, now lower, as he approached and departed. Presently through her dreams she heard a whispering voice calling her. Louder when the footsteps departed, hushed when they were nearby. A dear, familiar voice, low and vibrant:
She smiled to herself, for she was dreaming that Harrington was calling her.
HARRINGTON came to himself in the gray dawn of morning. His eyes opened on the wall of an overarching cliff. He seemed to be lying at the bottom of a well. But his mind was clear immediately, and he remembered in accurate detail the events of the night before which had ended when he stepped backward over the cliff.
Beyond a crippling stiffness he seemed to be none the worse for his fall, although his first few attempts to rise and investigate his position were hindered by dizziness. He lay quietly until the vertigo passed, and then struggled into a sitting position.
He was on a narrow shelf of rock, some twenty feet long and four feet wide, an abutment of hard rock which had maintained itself where its softer neighbors had succumbed to centuries of weathering. Over his head the cliff projected so that he could not see the top, and at the outmost projection grew a stunted knobby pine. To this clung a fragment of dusty cloth. He had caught his strong khaki shirt on this limb, and been swerved by the sudden check inward onto the shelf of rock below, instead of plunging downward to death in the valley.
He dragged his bruised body to the edge and looked over. The opal mists of a perfect morning were rolling down the valley, and from under its mantle the green forests and clearings emerged in fresh splendour. A darker line through the forest marked the railway, where a train moved under its plume of white smoke. The broad river cut the valley with a blade of silver. Looking to either side, the weathered walls of the precipice buttressed like the walls of a Titanic tower. He could not judge exactly how far down its face he lay.
Above the projection the walls must slope backward, and down this slope he had rolled rather than fallen until the providential tree had caught him and thrown him into safety. He might be fifty feet down the face of the cliff.
It was cool now in his rocky refuge, but soon the sun would be scorching hot. He settled back against the wall to rest his aching head, and to contemplate his position. Somewhere, perhaps near him, Eileen lay in danger of her life. The bandits probably now thought him dead so that his fall had been a fortunate escape for him. If he could but once more reach the top of the cliff, he would have a clear start.
But at present he was a prisoner on the ledge. Overhead the rocky projection prevented him from reaching the accessible slopes above. The cliff faced the north, and twenty feet away to the right there was a break in the outward slope where a landslide had carried away the earth for some distance, but twenty feet of vertical wall without foothold, lay between him and that path upwards. He tried to pile the loose rocks on his shelf high enough to make a step upwards towards the tree which had broken his fall, but there were not enough rocks. The tree waved its thick stubby branches five feet above his outstretched hand. He had nothing with which to make a rope, except his rawhide belt, and that was too short. To call for help was out of the question, either above or below, for help from above would bring him short shrift of life, and below was no sign of living being. He sat down, discouraged.
THE sun was beginning to search him out, and heated by his exertions he welcomed the light breeze that blew through the valley. The wind made strange rumbling noises along the face of the rock, as if it were blown through pipes. It seemed to be laughing at his puny efforts. Shutting his eyes he could imagine himself sitting high on a roof, with the wind whistling and blowing through a multitude of chimney pots. His mind became engrossed with the strumming noises of the wind. Then, suddenly alert, he realized that the air must be passing through some hollow place to make such a noise.
The sound of the wind varied as he moved along the ledge. When he stood under the tree at the right end, the rumbling died away to a murmur. But as he walked towards the other end, it increased. The whistlings and rumblings rose and fell with the wind, and mingled with these sounds came a deeper, fuller note. It was the unmistakeable sound of falling water. This end of the ledge broke off suddenly. But before him rose a buttress of the rock, its surface broken, with old twisted roots and stunted pines clinging to every little horizontal rest. A strong man might haul himself up the face of that buttress using the little footholds of root and ledge. Six feet from the end of the shelf where he stocd, and below him a thousand feet of unbroken fall. He saw the green shadow of the tree-tops far below.
TWICE he walked back and forth on the ledge seeking other outlet. There was none. So he came resolutely to the end of his refuge, measured the distance carefully, tensed his muscles, and sprang, his eyes fixed on t e gnarled root of a stunted cedar on the opposite wall.
His hands gripped the root which sprang outward like elastic under his weight. But he found a narrow ledge beneath his feet, and stood, face pressed against the cold rock, his heart thumping wildly. The sound of the falling water roared in his ears like thunder. Suddenly the cedar root gave way, his weight tearing it from its scanty hold on the rock. By keeping his face tightly against the rock, he maintained his balance on the narrow ledge, while he carefully searched with one arm for a fresh hold. His groping fingers found a tiny projection. This enabled him to raise his head and reconnoitre his position. A few feet below was another cedar, which might prove stronger than the first.f His hand, searching for a sure hold among the rusty leaves of the cedar, suddenly slipped through a seemingly solid wall and caught an inner surface, as one thrusts an arm through an opened window and grasps the ledge inside. He leaned down until he had a firm grip on the inner edge, slipped his feet off their rest, swung himself upon the edge of the opening and sat astride. Moist air and spray cooled his hot face.
HE SAT in a natural window of the great buttress. It was a chimney—a crack or fault down which the water fell in a wide shallow fall. High above he saw the gleam of light where cracks or windows in the face of the cliff admitted light and air. He swung himself in and began the ascent.
The water fell in a series of immense steps or stories. The climb was difficult, for the stones were slippery with the constant spray from the fall, and he was more bruised and weak than he had known. His desperate leap, to which his resolution and anxiety for Eileen had keyed him, had taken a good deal of his nerve energy. So he climbed slowly, resting often, until his way led him close to the fall and he found cool fresh water lying in a deep pool. He drank deeply, bathed his face and arms, and felt revived. He was confident that this was the Hidden Water of which Wetherby had spoken, and that the bootleggers had their cache somewhere in the caves which this water had carved through the faulted formation of the cliff.
At this level the stream from above thundered down into a great pool, whirling round and round before it rushed over the high lip of the pool to continue its fall. Watching this pool, Harrington conceived of how the water had honeycombed the rock. Eons ago the great stream of which this trickle was a poor remnant, had smitten the crumbling rock and bored its way downwards as the borer of a drilling machine, driven with a circular motion, eats its way into the earth. At this place was a great split in the outer face of the cliff, so that the cave with its central pool of water was full of light and fresh air.
From the edge of the pool a flight of Tough steps led upwards. Stout stakes joined by rawhides, were thrust at intervals into the crevices of the rock as a protection against slipping. Thirty feet above he came to a second level, smaller than the one below, and here signs of human occupancy became more evident. There was a rude bench leaning against a wall, scattered with cigarette stubs. Here he found a low door built of split cedar which blocked a natural opening in the wall of the cave. The wood was solid and compact, showing no cracks through which he might peer. Pushing gently against it, he felt that it was barred on the inside. He listened, and at intervals thought he heard the murmur of voices, but he could not be sure because of the noise of the waterfall.
THIS no doubt was the stronghold of the bootleggers.
Hidden Water and its series of caves, unknown to the casual passerby, a half-believed tradition among the inhabitants of the country, its entrance along a watercourse smothered with thickly grown trees—no wonder the police had searched in vain for the cache. Here were gathered the spoils of shiploads, ready to be distributed down the main arteries of the mountain traffic. Little dribbles of the illicit fluid, hard to trace because of their insignificance, flowed from this main pool so securely hidden. Truly the bandits had cause to fear him. He was too close a neighbor for their safety. And the presence of Eileen, unwitting though she was of the activities of her brother and his gang, would most certainly confirm them in their suspicions.
He thought of her hidden away in some crevice of these dark caves, cold, hungry, tormented. Her courage and unselfishness, her devotion to those she loved, came back to him afresh as he stood before the heavy door which he believed separated her from him. He searched his pockets vainly for some tool which might enable him to open the door. His pocket-knife was too light, and its use would mean delay, during which discovery might come upon him at any time.
The chimney above him was dark and narrow, yet there might be other levels which would give him access to these caves. The whole body of the cliff might be honeycombed with caves. Since he could not force the door, he must try higher up.
The ascent now became most difficult. The footholds were narrow and slippery with continual wetting. In the dark it was impossible to see the way ahead. But Harrington was a skilful mountaineer, trained to use every inch of hold. Dizziness never troubled him. He ascended a foot at a time, until he was some thirty feet above the level below. Here his head rose suddenly above the floor of a small cave in the side of the chimney. And in this cave, lying on a disordered heap of blankets, was the figure of a man.
THE man was asleep, lying with outsprawled limbs flat on his back. Harrington studied him intently. The sleeper was young, bronzed with outdoor life, with an air of respect and cleanliness about him. The hollow in which he lay was eight feet square, badly-lighted and damp. It had no exit except into the shaft up which he had ascended, and Harrington wondered how the man entered or left. He cautiously lifted himself over the edge of the floor. The sleeper woke as he rose to his knees.
He appeared startled but not interested. Then he sat up quickly and smiled as the intruder braced himself for a rush.
“Rest, easy, stranger,” said the man. “I ain’t lookin’ for trouble. Come on in. There ain’t much to do here, but the sleepin’s good. Be you a new one?”
“Very much so,” replied Harrington, who was trying to get his bearing.
“That’s queer,” said the man; “they don’t often let new ones come down here.”
“I didn’t come down, I came up.”
“Up? What the—? G’wan, pard, give us it straight. And hand over the grub. I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” replied Harrington, “but you’re mistaken, friend. I came up from below and am as surprised as you are to find anybody here.”
“But there ain’t no entrance to the caves from below.”
"There is one, but I wouldn’t advise its use. There would be too many casualties. Are you an inhabitant of this underground abode?”
“Say,” said the fellow, “I don’t know who you are or how you got here, but you’re a nervy one, all right. Are you police?”
“No—were you expecting them?”
“Yes, and I hope to Gawd they get in and hang every manjack of this gang, myself included, for all I care.”
“Look here,” said Harrington, “suppose we explain ourselves to each other. I gather that you are harboring a grudge against someone. So am I, and probably against the same parties. Come across, friend, and I’ll do the same. If you are a member of this society, how is it that you are down in this hole?”
“Cause I’m a prisoner, that’s why—in the caboose. They ain’t trustin’ me no more. An’ I’m the only white man among them, I’m telling you!”
“Were you planning to give them away?”
“What, me? A dirty turncoat? I’ll say I’m not. No, but they’re afraid I’d help the girl out. They think I can’t stand a pretty face, so they clap me in here until they can get rid of her. Ain’t in favor of fightin’ women and kids, I ain’t.”
“A girl? Good God, man, where is she? Have they killed her?”
“No, she’s all right, as far’s I know. But that ain’t saying how long it’ll last. She’s a plucky one, but the boss is a fiend, and wouldn’t stop at killing his own mother when the dope is in him. I say, pard, is your name Harrington?”
“Well, they’re lookin’ for you.”
“And I’m looking for them, so the meeting ought to be interesting. See here, you seem to be a decent chap, how came you to be mixed in with this crowd? And isn’t that a service button I see on your coat?”
The man flushed darkly.
“Aw, what’s the use? I ain’t much, but I can say I served the old flag true. Two years in France, mister, and one in hospital. Then home to find my old job gone and nothing to do. I gotta wife and kid in Vancouver, as fine a girl as ever stepped, but she thinks I’m workin’ in the mines. I make enough to keep them this way, but I ain’t saying I like dirty money any better’n you do.”
“I believe it, and if you’ll help me I’ll do what I can for you. Will you tell me where the girl is?”
“Yes, gladly, though it won’t do you much good. She’s in a cave just above this, but there’s fifteen or so feet of smooth rock between here and there. A guy lets down a rope ladder twice a day with grub and water for me.”
“He does, eh? When is he next due?”
“Most anytime now. It’s about nine, ain’t it? I don’t know what you’re going to do, mister, but don’t let him find you here.”
"CAN I rely on your help?” said Harrington, after considering a moment.
“If it’s to help the girl, I’m with you—my own kid’s a girl. But I won’t lift a hand to giveaway my pals. They’re a bunch of scoundrels, but I’ve eaten bread with them and taken their pay, so I gotta stand by them. But I won’t interfere with you, either.”
“That’s all right. I wouldn’t ask you to do anything else. Now when this chap comes down the ladder, I’m going to nab him and go up. But first I’d better tie and gag you. Then you won’t be to blame for what happens.”
“All right,” said the bandit, “but better not talk so loud. Sound carries far here.”
“Thanks. Now will you tell me what you know about the young lady—Miss Howard.”
“Sure. I seen her first when two of the Italians bring her in. Looks a good deal like the chief, her brother, but as different as an angel from a devil. They sent me to guard her in the cave above, and a nice pretty girl she is. Didn’t preach at me, like some of the nervy ones do, or carry on like the fraid-cats. I stood guard turn and turn about with another man until the chief and his two men got back from Wymore. They were in a great stew about you, too. Say, what did you put over on them, eh? In the morning they told me to bring Miss Howard out, so I woke her and took her into the big cave where all the powwows is held. That’s one mean skunk, her brother, and wicked as a rattler when he’s got a skinful.”
“No—snow—cocaine, morphine, anything he can get. Only a kid, too, more’s the pity. So he begins rowing with his sister. It seems he’s got it into his noodle that you’re a police agent, and that she is standing in with you. But he can’t scare or persuade her. I takes it up myself to say a word for her, like a fool, and get landed down here for my pains. That’s all I know about her, mister, and much good may it do us both. Or them, either, for I could have told them that you weren’t in on the game.
“No,” he went on, like a man with a grievance who is pleased to have a sympathetic audience, “I know who’s been trailin’ us over this pass for the last six months. It’s that old mail-carrier. Crafty as a fox he is, a real old gov’mint man. But they laughed at me, and said he was a good customer of theirs and wouldn’t squeal. I’ll warrant he’ll lay them by the heels yet. The police have been mighty busy about here lately.”
“JUST one thing more,” said Harrington. “Do you know anything about this Howard? Where does he come from? Was he ever in any trouble that you know of?”
“Can’t say that I know much about him. But I have heard say that he was once a bank clerk in Vancouver. Some say he got mixed up in his accounts, and others tell me that it was some kind of a shootin’ up row he got into. Heard, too, that his sister stood by him and got him off by doin’ some pretty tall swearin’ as to where he was or wasn’t at the time of the affair. But, if-I remember rightly there wasn’t enough evidence either way to send him up for trial, and the dead man was a bad egg, too, with no friends to take up his quarrel. We don’t bother much about back records here, mister.”
“Well, thanks. If I can help you out of this, and something tells me that the time of this gang is short, I’ll do all I can to give you a hand up, and no questions asked. Of if nothing comes of this, and you simply want to clear out, ask for me at the City Club in Vancouver. I’ll leave word that you are to be looked after. I’d give you a letter but that might get you in wrong with the potentates here. What’s your name?”
“Wylie—Joe Wylie. But look out, pard, I hear something.”
There was an indistinct murmur of voices high above them. Harrington quickly tied Wylie’s hands and feet with pieces of his belt, and bound the man’s red handkerchief over his mouth. Then he left him in a comfortable position with a whispered assurance to him. He was only just in time. As he flattened himself against the wall of the cave the end of a rope ladder dropped at the entrance. It began to sway back and forth with the weight of the descending man.
The bandit came down his ladder whistling a merry tune. When his legs showed past the roof of the cave he called:
“Are you there yet, Wylie?”
And on receiving no answer muttered: “Asleep again. There’s no punishment in shutting up a guy with a bed.”
He continued on his downward way, swung his ladder inward and sprang off onto the floor of the cave. In that instant Harrington was upon him, his arm around the fellow’s neck, shutting off his calls for help. At the same time he kicked him violently at the back of the knees, throwing him off his balance. The man fell forward on his hands, and a smart tap with the revolver butt put him out of business.
WYLIE looked the admiration he could not speak for this quick bit of work. The artist wasted no time in tying the second man, slitting a blanket in strips for the purpose. Then, the man being still unconscious, he loosened Wylie’s gag.
“Now tell me the lay-out of the caves above.”
“Loosen my hands, and I’ll make you a plan.”
Harrington slipped the rawhide, and Wylie traced with his finger on the sandy floor of the cave.
“Startin’ in the cave just above us,” he whispered, “is a cave opening into a long passage. That leads to the biggest cave of all, and from it a second passage runs upward into a great cave open, on one side to the valley, though it is well screened with bush. It’s here that the men keep the pack horses. The booze is stored in the big cave. The open cave leads into a little one which in turn opens into the watercourse, just a few feet from the edge. The opening is only large enough to admit a man or a pony, and is covered by bushes. There’s always two guards there, night and day, and two more in the watercourse, just where the land starts to drop towards the edge. That’s the only way out of the caves that I know of, unless you could go back by the way you came.”
“That’s impossible,” said Harrington. “It would be out of the question for the girl to take the jump I did, and I doubt if I could do it again. We might hide in the caves below, but that would only give us a brief respite. No, I’ve got to go out the upper way.”
“Can’t be done, mister. You’ll both get it in the neck.”
“Well, there’s nothing to do but to go on. Something may turn up to help us. Now I’ll put the ropes on you again, for your friend here is beginning to grunt. If I get out of this, I promise you that you’ll get a clear way out, too. So long.”
“Good luck to you,” muttered Wylie, as the gag slipped on.
Harrington swung out on the ladder and began to climb steadily. Wylie had spoken truly, for the walls were as smooth as window glass. Ascent would have been impossible without the ladder. He reached the top safely and found himself in a short passage way. The ladder was looped over a projection in the floor. He raised, it, coiled it and hid it in a hollow in the wall.
He passed cautiously into the cave. It was darker even than the passage, and the air was close. Staring into its dimness, he presently made out a dim pile in the. farthest comer. There was a tiny glinting of light about it and when the figure moved he saw the sheen of bright hair. It was Eileen.
He saw her clearly now. Her face was flushed and showed trace of tears. The wide dark eyes opened and closed wearily. He leaned forward and called softly: “Eileen! Eileen!”
HER eyes opened again, but she did not answer his call.
Instead she smiled dreamily, and closed her eyes once more.
“She thinks she is dreaming,” thought Harrington. Then he left his shelter against the dark wall and went into the cave. She seemed not to hear his steps on the sandy floor and he knelt beside her and raised her in his arms. Her eyes opened again, looking up into his face.
He bent his head and kissed her, and she lay quietly, her head against his breast, the loosened glory of her hair framing the spiritual wanness of her features. No need now for speech, for each knew the love of the other. Presently her hand stole up and traced the outline of his face.
“Don’t you believe it is really me,” said Harrington, “or are you still dreaming?”
She smiled and shook her head.
“The rest is a dream—an evil nightmare. It is really you.”
The shuffling footsteps broke in upon their rapture. She woke from her dream, instantly alert and apprehensive for his safety.
“Oh, how did you come here? You must go away again at once. If they find you here they will kill you.”
“Nonsense! These men are not so anxious to run their heads into a noose. They may keep a prisoner, but that would not worry me—to be near you.”
“But these are no ordinary desperadoes,” said the girl. “They have killed Mr. Wetherby, the mail-carrier. They will kill you, too, for they stop at nothing.”
“Wetherby! Killed him? Are you sure?”
“They killed him before my eyes! Oh, Dick, he died to save me from worse than death!”
Harrington’s face grew hard and cold.
“Tell me,” he commanded.
SHE told him, then, her little cold trembling hands in his, of her capture by the bootleggers, and the ruse which they had used to force her co-operation with them.
“And you would have done that for me—to save my life, commit yourself to such things?”
“I was so sure it was you, Dick. Mr. Wetherby was tall and straight as you are, his clothes were much the same, and his face was covered. I could not see you killed before my eyes.”
“I would rather have died a thousand deaths than to go free, knowing how shamefully my life was purchased!
“I know—I did not think of that at the time. That brave old man showed me how wrong I was. If I had kept silence they might have let him go, but my weakness brought about his death. I shall never be happy again!”
“You did all for the best, Eileen. And I don’t think anything would have saved Wetherby. He was a government agent—a secret service man. He has been trailing this gang for months. I don’t know how they captured him, but you were surely not to blame for his death. Eileen, why did you run away? If you had only waited for me.”
“I should have trusted you, Dick, and told you everything at first. I had made up my mind to tell you as soon as you returned from Wymore. But instead of you, she came—she—”
“She told me who you were,” said the girl, sadly, “and I didn’t feel that I could stay. I knew what a dreadful shame and burden it is so carry another person’s guilt. I loved you too well to ask you to do that for me. But I was happy to know that you loved me.”
“And how did you know that?”
“By the picture. When did you paint my portrait, Dick? I didn’t know you could paint a portrait without a model.”
“You were engraved on my heart. When we are home again in the studio I shall paint a wonderful picture of you.”
“Over the stable?”
“Yes, didn’t you know it was there?”
“No—I went in there one morning, looking for books, but the door was locked.”
“Why, so it was. I had forgotten. Once I brought a couple of squaws to use as models for an Indian encampment scene, and they were so taken with the place that they kept coming in my absence and trying to make pictures for themselves. So I had to put a lock on the door to keep them out.”
“Miss Burton showed me your pictures. I am afraid she will be very unhappy.”
“Yes, as a child who had been denied a toy. She will soon smile through her tears and be grateful to you for saving her from the boredom of married life with me. She can’t understand how a man can possess at one and the same time an artistic temperament and a wallop in his fist.”
“Well, I can,” laughed Eileen. “But, Dick, you make me dreadfully uneasy by staying here. If that sentry should come in! And please let me fix those bandages on your head. There’s water here.”
“COURAGE, Eileen, it’s not like you to be afraid,” said the artist, as he submitted himself to her ministrations. “A crack or two on a tough skull like mine will only loosen up a few ideas. We’ll find a way out. But now we must get down to business. Tell me, have you seen or heard of a man named Wylie since you were captured?”
“Yes, he guarded me the first night, and he interceded for me with my—Oh!”—the girl broke down, with her hands over her face.
“Your brother,” said Harrington, gently.
“How did you know, Dick?”
“I know most of your story, Eileen. And I can’t tell you how brave and unselfish I think you. Women like you are mighty few in this world nowadays. I love you. But I asked you about Wylie, because I have seen and spoken with him.”
“Then he is not dead? I was afraid they had shot him as they did poor Mr. Wetherby.”
“He is a prisoner in a cave below this—down the waterfall. He told me of you.”
“Did you climb up from below? Couldn’t we go out that way?”
“We can take refuge there as a last resort, but it would be impossible for us to get away entirely.”
He told her then, of his search for her, his fight with the bootleggers on the edge of the cliff, his fall, and his desperate leap from the ledge to the face of the precipice which happily opened into the great caves of the waterfall.
“Even if we could regain this ledge there is no way up the face of the cliff. No, the only way out is the way you came in. Wylie showed me a plan of the caves. We may make it yet. Tell me, do the men come in here very often?”
“I can’t tell you that very clearly. I think they— my brother and some of his men—came in two or three times last night to argue and plead with me. They are terribly afraid of you. But I did not understand or care what they were talking about. Then the sentry came in with food early this morning, but there has been no one since.”
“Food? Where is it? I was going to eat Wylie’s breakfast, but hadn’t time.”
SHE roused herself smilingly and found the basket for him. He easily persuaded her to share the food and coffee with him, and it brought back the color to her face.
“Hadn’t you better hide yourself?” said she, still troubled about his safety. “Hide in the passage way and I’ll stand at the edge and talk with you there. The guard might come in at any moment.”
He found her a seat on a ledge of the wall, just at the entrance to the passage way, and took his stand behind her where he could retire discreetly before any intruder. Warm in the blankets, secure in the circle of his arms, she felt safe from any danger. Once more, even in this hopeless situation, she was in sanctuary.
“Now then,” he said, “that’s more comfy for both of us, and if your guard comes in before I’m ready for him, I can slip back out of sight. Tell me what the cave is like where you saw Wetherby.”
“It is a large one, and full of boxes and barrels. I saw men bottling liquor of some sort and pasting labels on bottles. There is a door on the opposite side but I don’t know what is beyond it. I was brought in with my eyes covered, but I heard people moving about and smelled horses."
“H’m,” said the artist, meditatively, “Wylie gave us the truth, anyway. My plan is this, as far as it goes. The door is bolted on the outside, of course. Well, the next time the guard comes in, we can slip behind the door. When he misses you he will go into the cave and through the passage to the edge of the fall. That will give us time to slip through the door, bolt it on him, and get into the big cave,
There we can hide among the boxes until we find a chance to work our way into the outer caves. I believe that we might then get outside.”
“They will search for us.”
“They don’t know of my arrival yet, and I am counting on the chance of their believing you have committed suicide, thrown yourself down the fall. That is the only thing to account for your disappearance. It is a chance, of course, but we can’t stay here. That mean death for both of us.”
But the sentry did not trouble them for a long time. At intervals his footsteps shuffled past the door. And freely, all barriers torn down by the strange chain of circumstances in which they innocently had been enmeshed, confidence flowed freely between them, He told her of his happy childhood, his kindly father, his mother beautiful and accomplished, the understanding and sympathy which his parents had given to his earliest ambitions, his years of happy hard work and travel in the pursuit of his art, his success. An even, happy existence, broken only by the maelstrom of the war through which he had passed, safely physically, but wiser and sadder for the experience.
“We will go back to my home in Montreal, and you will find a father and a mother there. And every summer we’ll come back to the mountains. Now tell me about yourself, Eileen.”
AND she told him all the bitter story, calmly, without exaggeration or appeal for sympathy. Her mother, a frail helpless woman, a widow with one daughter, an infant in arms, had married a kindly, improvident business man, too trusting, too impractical, to cope successfully with life. And within one year this second marriage had brought forth another child, a boy, whom they had loved and spoiled.
"Father—I always called him so, he was so gentle and kind—died when I was twelve and mother when I was seventeen. Mother’s last words to me were to take care of Jerry. He was just sixteen, and weak and kindly like his father. I promised her before God that I would do everything for him. So she died, and we were left with very little means.
"Jerry went on to high school, and though I was only eighteen months older than he, he depended on me for everythmg. Father had a partner—I-—I can hardly speak about him. He was our guardian—Jerry’s guardian. When Jerry was eighteen and had finished high school this man got him a position in a bank. That was four years ago. Things looked brighter for us.
And—then I cannot tell you the thousand and one Iittle things that made me distrust this man, but gradually grew suspicious of him and he soon learned that I distrusted him. In revenge he made things very hard for me with Jerry, who had never been easy to manage. I believe, though I have no real proof, that this man robbed my stepfather in business, robbed my mother after my father’s death, and he ruined my brother.
“At first Jerry did well in the bank, and he became teller at a good salary. But soon I noticed that he was worrying, and once or twice he asked me for small sums.
He said that he had made mistakes and was short in his accounts. His health began to fail and when I consulted our doctor about him, he looked at me queerly and said nothing. These worries increased until one awful night when Jerry came home, broken, and confessed to me. He had embezzled three thousand dollars, and this man, his guardian and his father’s friend, was responsible for his crime. He had taught Jerry to gamble, and to cover his losses had persuaded him that it would be no harm to borrow from the bank for a few days. He would help him out if the money were called for. It was called for, and this man withheld his help until Jerry would consent to certain infamous conditions. He wanted to make a tool of the boy to carry out some business—I never heard exactly what it was, except that it was outside the law.
“I REMEMBER how the poor boy rushed madly out of the house, and threatened to do away with himself. I determined to go to this man’s rooms and beg of him to save Jerry. I know that was foolish and impulsive, but can you realize my despair at seeing this boy, whom my mother had delivered into my care, ruined? I felt that I had betrayed my trust. So I went to his room and knocked, without any definite plan as to what I must do or say, but that my very desperation would force him to accede to my will. There was no answer, but the door was unlocked and I went in. He was lying dead on the living-room floor, shot through the heart, “Of course the police suspected us, and Jerry, poor weak driven boy, was guilty, He confessed to me, and we hid the revolver. It has never been found. I drew out of the bank every cent we had in the world and though it left me penniless, I gave it to my brother. It was enough to restore the sum he had taken. He went to the bank next morning and straightened his accounts. The police came and arrested us both. We had been seen by several witnesses, but strangely enough, no one could swear to the exact time at which we had been in the dead man’s rooms. I confess to you, without shame or excuse, that I swore falsely to save my brother—that we had gone together to consult him on a matter of family business, and had been at home again at the time the man was shot. We were let go, for the dead man had had many enemies who might have killed him. Then, hardest blow of all, Jerry told me that he was going away, He seemed in those few days to have utterly changed. He left me alone with only a few dollars in my purse, and disappeared. I never saw him again until he stood before me, a madman, in that loathesome hole yonder.
“My life was very hard after he left. I knew I was followed and watched, I could not obtain employment because of the suspicion against us. People have very little compassion for one who is attainted with an accusation, however false. But I struggled on, enduring as best I could, until one day I received an anonymous letter signed ‘A Friend of your Father.’ This unknown person warned me that the police had fresh evidence against my brother and were going to reopen the case.
“Then I think I went mad. Jerry was all I had. I pitied and loved him in spite of the crime to which this wicked man had driven him. I wanted to save him. I reasoned that if I fled suddenly, the police would follow me, believing me the guilty one. If I could get away and hide from them forever they would let Jerry alone. So I left the city secretly.
“See how I have been punished. What strange chance, do you believe, led me to the very place where my brother was?”
“No chance, dear heart,” said Harrington, who had listened in silence to the girl’s story. “But that kind Providence who has every mercy on those who give themselves for others, led you to me.”
“You do not despise me?”
“I honor you. As for your brother’s sin, you are guiltless of that. More so, I declare to you that even he is not to be altogether condemned. Tell me, Eileen, was not the murdered man’s name Charles Cartwright?”
"THIS man,” Harrington went on, “has been a disgrace to our country whose laws he has so far successfully eluded. I don’t doubt that he robbed your father and corrupted your brother. That sort of thing has been his trade for years. You have had so much to bear, Eileen, can you bear a little more? You spoke of your brother being a madman; he is, truly. But his madness is that he is a drug addict, and has been for years. It is to Cartwright that he owes that, also.
“The drug addict is not a responsible human being. He is insane. The healthy cells of his being have been rotted and broken down. Only the evil remains, cruelty, selfishness, greed. This man is not the child you loved and cared for. He is changed. Pity and forget him. You owe him no further responsibility. Only the state, personified in its willing officials through whose buttered palms this traffic slips, are responsible. Our bandits, our daring hold-up men, are drug addicts, nerved to any deviltry by the impulse of the poison they have used, nerved to greater crime when they are unable to satisfy their craving. This melodrama in which we are now unwilling actors is a symptom of the cancer which is destroying the life of our civilization—its youth. It engulfs the innocent as well as the guilty. It has destroyed John Wetherby, it may destroy us. But you will fight it now, with actual weapons, and later if we escape to the sunlight again, with all our powers for all our life.”
“You have comforted me, Dick. I understand now. My poor brother— Hush! the footsteps have stopped. Dick—”
“He is opening the door; now, Eileen.” With one kiss, perhaps their last, they stole to the shelter of the opening door.
Behind the door, with the girl’s body sheltered behind his own, Harrington watched the dark figure of the guard shuffling through the dimness in search of his charge. They heard his growl of angry astonishment when he did not see her on the pile of blankets. First he brutally kicked at the bed, then, alarm getting the better of his anger, he began to pull off the blankets, as if expecting to find his victim underneath. Finding nothing, he stood silently, and in the still hot darkness behind the door they heard the sound of his heavy breathing, strangely distinct against the dull fall of the water beyond.
EILEEN pressed her companion’s arm, and motioned with her head towards the door. But Harrington shook his head. Though he could not see the guard, he knew that their slightest movement would draw his attention.
A flare of light—the man was striking matches. The little gleam shone here and there as he searched the walls and floor. But the damp stones and the trampled sand told him nothing. So he came and stood in the doorway, one hand resting on the latch. His bony dirty fingers were visible to the prisoners behind the door. He was evidently very puzzled and alarmed at the disappearance of his charge.
Harrington lived an hour in the short moment in which the guard made his decision. Would he go to inform his superiors and thus ruin their only chance of making one short step towards freedom and the upper air? Or would he remember that the desperate girl might try the one plan of final escape which remained to her?
The dirty fingers twitched and thumbed the edge of the door. Then suddenly they relaxed their grasp. The breed turned and ran through the passage to the edge of the fall.
It was their moment. Harrington swung the girl before him through the doorway and dashed along the dark passageway. No need now to waste time in going quietly, for the sound of falling water covered their footfalls. Dull blows and curses echoed through the heavy door they had bolted behind them. The guard had almost instantly discovered that he had been tricked.
The great cave was brilliantly lighted. The great mounds of boxes threw eerie shadows across their way. Silently they tiptoed through the debris, hand-in-hand towards the door at the opposite side. Not a sound, not a footstep. One other step to freedom almost won.
BETWEEN the last pile of boxes and the door lay some ten feet of clear space. Harrington and Eileen, stepping cautiously out from this shelter, saw before them the desk-table where the records of the gang’s business were kept, and seated at it Howard was unconcernedly making entries in a ledger, while on the end of the table, dangling a heavy revolver in his hand, Murphy was amusedly watching their cautious approach.
IT WAS night again, but the white gasoline lanterns burned as steadily as when in the early morning, Howard had paused in the middle of his entry, and indicating the intruders with the blunt end of his pen had said merely: “Take them,” and had then calmly finished his bookkeeping.
Of course Harrington had struggled, fighting desperately, until he had been thrown down and roped like a steer in a corral. Someone struck him on the head, and he lost consciousness.
And now they were sitting, he and Eileen, waiting for morning and the end. Her eyes smiled at him above the gag of filthy cloth about her mouth. And wise as are men when death, the great teacher, walks beside them, he knew how greatly he loved her and what life would have been to them together, if they could have won safely up to the sunlight. Howard would stand them before the slippery wall of the cave and shoot them, or load them to the edge of the waterfall and cast them down. That would be the best way, in the cold clean water, through which he might see Eileen’s face, calm and white, not bloody or smoke-blackened.
But the girl’s eyes, calm and deep above the foul rag about her face awoke him from his delirium. He grew strong again. Why should he dodder like a sick old man when there was this girl to fight for? While he had life he would fight and hope. He looked up and faced his captors.
THERE was Howard, maddened with his drug, his lieutenants, the tall Italian and the stunted, red-haired man; Murphy, the renegade, and two others, marked with the smudge of their craft in their narrow squinting eyes.
These latter two lifted him neck and heels and carried him across to the bench where Eileen sat, and placed him on it with his back to the wall. He felt better. That was a good position to fight from. His two guards stood beside him, stolid, indifferent, ready to obey the slightest word of the bandit chief. With cigarettes hanging from their lips they gazed blankly at the opposite wall, puffing or remaking fresh lights. They waited for the killing, impersonal as guillotines.
“Loosen his feet,” said the chief to the guards.
“Aw—what’s the matter wit’ you?” broke in Rusty MacMahon. “Are you going to open the door and send him for the police?”
THE chief turned on him with such ferocity of gesture that the man shrank against the wall in terror.
“Loosen the rope on his feet, but hold it ready in case he starts anything. Now, Mr. Richard Harrington, what have you to say for yourself now?”
“You appear to have the advantage of me,” replied the artist, wriggling the muscles of his cramped ankles. “But I presume you are Mr. Gerald Howard?” The bootlegger’s face was convulsed.
“Yes, she has told you that, and how much more? That’s what I am going to find out. How did she happen to know you?”
“Take your time, captain,” said the Italian. “Go easy. And better lay the leetle gun aside. We have too much trouble that way already. We can make Mr. Harrington talk wit’out the leetle gun.”
“You mind your own business,” cried the boy, beside himself at the reference to the killing of the mail-carrier. “Answer me, you—how did you know that girl there—there—”
“If you are referring to your sister, Miss Howard,” answered Harrington, quietly, “I never saw or heard of her until she stepped off the train at Wymore, ten days ago—”
“You lie! She knew where to find you, the—!”
The foul name made Harrington strain at his bonds, and the guards pulled the rope tightly about his ankles so that he fell. Howard kicked him savagely in the face.
When Harrington was jerked upright all his cool courage had deserted him. He was beyond courage. He was a savage, white-hot, ice-cold, a killer. He had forgotten Eileen, remembering nothing but that he must kill this man. His face was white and twisted, his eyes slits.
THE Italian croaked a warning:
“If you’re going to croak this bird, do it quick. He looks like he might start something.”
“There’s plenty of time, friend Michael, plenty of time. I’ll croak him all right, and then I’m going to get her. She’s sold me out, the jade. Pretending to be concerned about my soul, prayers and tears and all the rest of it, and she running to the police. Saving her own skin by selling me out!”
“You lie,” broke in Harrington, “she never betrayed you, you hell-hound. It’s herself she’s sold, sold to save your worthless body from the punishment you merit!”
“And you bought her, didn’t you? A pretty little ceremony it was, with the police looking on, grinning, and waiting for birdie to lead them to the nest. Tell me I lie, do you? Then, here’s the lie back on your own mouth.”
He brought his fist crashing down on the bound man’s mouth.
Harrington never felt the blow, nor the thin line of blood trickling down his chin. He watched, a wild beast at bay.
The bootlegger drew his revolver. He seemed to be laboring under some fierce excitement. His eyes expanded and contracted, the muscles of his face twitched spasmodically. His voice was sibilant, hissing:
“Thought you’d got the price of my head, did you? Got the girl to lead you to it, and then you’d have a gay time with my blood money and me at the end of a rope. I don’t know when or where you got in with Eileen, but you’re going out! This will teach these police, cursed redcoats—” He broke into profanity, his voice bubbling, choking in the incoherence of rage. The muzzle of his automatic rose unsteadily.
TO HARRINGTON, watching with calm eyes the rise of the round black hole through which presently his soul would go forth, came the labored breathing of the watching men. Eileen’s face, a white blotch against the gray stone where the guard’s arm held her back, the quiet murmur of Hidden Water rolling down its rocks. The muzzle was opposite his eyes, halted, a gateway through which his soul must pass. The madman’s eyes behind it watched glassily. When their steady light flickered he knew the man would shoot. He watched for that. The muscles of his ankles tensed, and straining suddenly, loosened the rope, lying slack in the Italian’s hand. He bent his knees the fraction of an inch, and waited.
The eyes of the chief clouded and brightened, as a lens moves across the aperture of a camera. At the first perceptible flicker of the eyes opposite him, Harrington pitched downward and forward at the man’s knees. His bound hands struck heavily against his opponent’s thighs. Then with a roar, the wild beasts were on him.
He was thrown backwards and forwards in a turmoil of blows against which he could only flail his bound arms for protection. For any advantage in the fight he dared not hope. His feet were tangled in the rope. Only the suppleness of his body, strong and clean with health and plain living, availed. He literally fought with the muscles of his back. Twice the spasmodic lurching of his body, the sheer rebound of his elastic strength threw them off. Had his feet been free he might have won clear. But the loosened rope tangled him in its net, and the heavy blows weakened his strength.
He gained two respites: one was when Eileen, brave beyond her strength, struck at the men with a chair until they turned on her and threw her half-stunned to the floor and the other was gained through the madness of the chief, who struck random blows into the mass of struggling men with his revolver butt. Harrington could hear the Italian calling to him to throw away the gun. He had gone completely mad, and struck friend as well as foe indiscriminately. Harrington was little better. He scarcely felt the blows that weakened him. His only clear impression was a mocking wonder at his complete reversion to the primitive.
IN AN age that lasted five minutes, the unequal battle continued. He paid Rusty back with a double-fist thrust to the mouth, but the gaunt Italian clung to his back like a tiger to its prey. Save for his scattered blows with the revolver butt the chief was of little account in the fight. But steadily the heavier odds gained the upper hand. Harrington, blinded with blood, made one supreme effort, and struggled to his knees. Once down, he was done for. He fought on in a whirling darkness. Then suddenly, the room was filled with a roaring blaze of light, great bars of scarlet danced before his eyes, and the weight of his opponents fell from him. He struggled up to his knees, and then, for the second time that morning, pitched forward into oblivion.
HE BECAME aware of many people walking about him, of deft cooling hands winding bandages about his head, of an intolerable smart on his raw wrists, of frightful pains through his body. He was lying in a cool green place, amid quiet people who stood respectfully silent. They were alternately looking at him, and at a second group who stood listening to a broken voice saying terrible things.
A clear boyish voice broke in:
“He licked ’em, Jim, by gosh! He cleaned ’em up, held ’em until the police broke in, and him with his hands and feet tied—”
“Hush! Be quiet back there!” said the voice of authority, and his admirer was silent.
The man who was winding the white bandages said to his helper:
“Last will and testament, buddy; he’s cashing in, all right. What a mess! And I knew his dad, decent old chap, too, but unlucky, always unlucky. Here, what are you going to do? Don’t move him yet, I ain’t got him fixed up yet.”
Four men—two in blue coats and two in scarlet, lifted the blanket on which he was laid by the corners and carried him across the smooth turf to the dying man. Gently they laid him down and lifted him to a sitting position, the fuming doctor trailing along at the end of his half-wound bandages.
He saw the dying face of Howard, and thought:
“I have killed him, then.”
He must have spoken his thought, for a man in a scarlet coat, heavy with gold braid, answered:
“No, you didn’t, son, but no one could have said anything if you had. This man has something to say that you should hear. Give him a shot of that brandy, doctor. Now, go on, Howard.”
How changed the boy’s face. It was as if the near approach of death had cleansed him of every trace of impurity, and was offering him whole and clean to his eternal judge. He looked at Harrington without rancor, but with something akin to envy, the envy with which dying youth looks longingly back at the living whom it is leaving forever. Harrington’s eyes filled with tears.
The boy said: “Is that Harrington?” and the scarlet coat answered: “Yes.”
“I want you to tell Eileen that I have told these men everything, and that she is to go free. She is innocent, I am guilty. And ask her to forgive me—for our mother’s sake. She will know—it was the dope that did it. Tell her to tell you all. Tell her I love her—and that she is—to stay—with you.”
“You want her to stay with me?”
“Yes—you love her—you could not have fought—like that—back there, if you hadn’t. It was not—your life that you fought for—but Eileen. That’s all. You go to her.”
The policemen lifted him away again. The tall scarlet man called the doctor back from Harrington.
“Here, doctor, give this poor devil a shot of morphine. He might as well have his last hours in peace.”
Howard raised his hand.
“I’m not having any, doctor, thanks.”
“What’s that, my man? Do you know you are dying? And with a shot through the lungs you are going to have a bad time of it.”
“It’s all I’m asking of you fellows. I want to go clean. Take your dope away, friend. I would like to be a man once more, for the last hour.”
So they gave him his way, and he died, paying in one agonized hour all the arrears of pain and terror that he had fled from during his life. Harrington they carried away through the cool green trees, where sunshine and shadow crisscrossed a dim swaying world. On the way he saw through a distant frame, as one sees through a telescope, a line of manacled men squatting on the ground by ten lathered pack-ponies. And at the end they carried him past young Fergus, his scarlet coat torn, all his assurance gone, for he had got his man at last, and though it had been his life or the others, his first taste of blood had sickened his soul.
LYING on his bed, at ease and happy, he saw many people come and go, people whom he remembered in some troubled past, but who had no right in the happy content of the present. They sat by his bed and insisted on shaking his sore arms, which they dropped in abject remorse. They all were waiting for someone to come, and then would go away and leave him and Eileen in peace, but meantime how they talked!
The big gruff man, with the stubby moustache:
“If you had only waited a little longer, my lass. We knew you were on the square, but you shouldn’t have left the city. It made us think you knew where your brother was, and it was him we were after. But he’s dead and gone, and has paid for what he done, so we’ll say no more about him. And as you say he was never his true self.”
“Just one word more,” said the big man, rising. “You mustn’t think too hardly of us detectives. We’ve got a dirty job, handling dirt makes us a bit rough and heavy-handed ourselves. But the mother that rocks her child, the folk who go to and from their daily labor in peace, the treasure that we lay up for ourselves, not always where the Good Book says we ought to, is in safety because of our mean, thankless, underhand work. We haven’t the romance and dash of the Mounted, who can work open hand and open hearted; we have to prowl and hide, matching cunning with cunning, and trickery for trickery. So—here comes the Inspector, and we’ll say no more about it. You and your man here, who is no mean hand at the detectin’ business himself, have my best wishes for your happiness. The Inspector tells me he is a great painter, but I’ll say he could make a name for himself in the ring. I never see a neater scrap—coming, sir, coming!”
The old missionary hurried up the trail on his delayed errand.
“I heard that my services were required here in an emergency,” he said to the Inspector. “I hear that my old friend John Wetherby, is dead, and Dick Harrington hurt. To think we never suspected that we were harboring a gang of cutthroats.”
“You can never tell,” said the policeman. “Wetherby has gone on, but Harrington is more bruised than anything else. I hear you have been under the weather yourself, Mr. Gordon.”
“A bad cold from a wetting, and threatened with pneumonia, so the doctors tell me. But I have lived too long in this mountain air to suffer from lung trouble. Can I see my young friends?” he added, moving towards the door. “I hope Mrs. Harrington has not suffered any mishap.”
“Both Harrington and his wife have been anxious to see you, for some reason,” said the Inspector. “Go on in, and talk to them. I shall join you presently.”
“You sent me a letter saying that you wished to see me at once, Dick,” said the missionary. “But that stupid fellow Thompson kept back your message for a week. Then my poor faithful Aminadab was gone and I had to find another horse. So you see me here, better late than never. Now what can I do for you young people?”
The two culprits exchanged uneasy glances. Eileen did not know how to begin, but Dick spoke with his usual directness.
“Mr. Gordon, I am afraid that you have been deceived in regard to the ceremony you performed in Wymore. This young lady is not Miss Burton. She is a sister of that unfortunate boy who was killed.”
“So I understood from the Inspector.”
“Well—to tell the truth—we wish, Mr. Gordon, that the form of marriage that we went through in Wymore should be made legal. We have grown very dear to each other. I wish to make this young lady my wife.”
“Form of marriage? My dear children, you are married—”
“You don’t understand,” broke in Eileen. “Dick had never seen me before, had no intention of marrying me. He expected to meet Miss Burton on the train that day and be married to her. See this certificate—it is for Richard Harrington and Mildred Burton. But Miss Burton had changed her mind, and when Dick saw me in such trouble he thought of this way to save me. He had intended to send me on my way, but events intervened, and now—”
“In other words, you were married under an assumed name—”
“That does not make the marriage invalid when performed by an authorized clergyman in the presence of witnesses.”
“But the license?”
“That can be rectified, also the registration of your marriage,” said Mr. Gordon, smiling at their bewildered looks. “Call in James Bowden, who issued your license. He knows the law.”
The whiskered Solon expounded.
“I could have told you so at the time. Mind ye, Dick, I asked you that morning in Wymore if you weren’t holding something back on me. I thought you knew that the ceremony was binding. That is what made me so anxious about you. I believed Mildred Burton was a myth, invented by you to conceal this young lady’s real identity. You’d be surprised,” he complained, to the clergyman, “the bonny young things that get marriage papers made out and know no more about the law on them than the heathen about a bill of sale. Call in the Inspector, and if ye don’t believe him, we can go to Victoria to the law-makers.”
The Inspector finally convinced them. “It was this marriage that aroused our suspicion of you. We knew the young lady was Miss Howard, and thought that the name Burton was a blind to hide Miss Howard. But the real Miss Burton happily came along herself to set us right. So my dear fellow, there has been a misunderstanding all round, which came very nearly being your undoing.”
“Ay, laddie, laddie,” said the old Scotchman, as he rose to take his leave. “It was a great turn ye gave us. But I knew you were all right. I couldn’t tell ye what the police had told me in confidence, though if I had known ye would run your head into that hornet’s nest— well, well, the lassie is worth it. I knew a lassie once, Mistress Harrington, wi’ hair like yours—Good luck to ye both, and come down and see me,” and the kind old man took himself off to his neglected business.
Eileen had company, and she brought the guests to see her husband.
“Dick, here is Mildred; she wants to say good-bye to you before she goes, and Mr. Fergus, too, who has been badly hurt.”
“Well, old man, I suppose you are convinced about that whiskey cache.”
“Entirely,” said Harrington, laughing, then more soberly: “We owe you our thanks for your prompt arrival. You have saved our lives. I want to be your friend, always.”
“Sure thing,” said the constable, flushing with pleasure. Praise being the only thing that could make him blush.
“Me, too, Dick,” said Mildred, laying her soft hand on his. “I can only say I’m sorry, and hope that you will forgive me. I didn’t know. Don’t look so sad, child,” she added, to Eileen. “It was only one of Dick’s and my quarrels. I was more in love with having my own way about marrying Dick than in love with him. There, I am perfectly candid about it, you see.”
She tossed her head, but her eyes were full of tears. Harrington saw them, and to punish him she added:
“But I am taking Mr. Fergus home with me. Did you know he has lived in the East? We have discovered so many mutual friends. Besides, I admire a man of action, Dick, you know. The artistic temperament is so erratic.”
“Man of action!” groaned the artist, gingerly stretching his sore muscles. Being human, he could not refrain from parrying:
“I say, Fergus, what about that best girl of yours back home?”
“There’s always one better than the best,” grinned the young policeman, unabashed. “ ’Sides I got a postcard from Elsie on my way up here saying she was being married the next day. The old man has given me a month’s sick leave to get over this busted arm of mine, and Miss Burton has promised to see that I have a right good time in Vancouver. So long, old chap. Stick to your paint-brush, and don’t go mixing it up with any more bad men.”
And the impudent fellow took his departure, carrying the lady with him.
But Harrington had no hard feeling for the reckless boy, though Eileen’s tender heart was still troubled about Mildred.
“Mildred is different from you, sweetheart,” Harrington consoled her. “That young tiger-club will be good medicine for her.”
THE Inspector, marshalling his forces and his captives, came for a last hand-shake, and to recount to Harrington the story of the raid which had happened on the nick of time to save him and Eileen.
“Poor Wetherby had passed the word along to us that morning, and the three police you met in the pass the night before were on the trail to the cache. The men ahead led them in as the old mail-carrier had prophesied. But the old man had a personal grudge against the bootleggers— this young Moorehouse who was shot up the pass last winter was his grandson, and Wetherby always laid it to this gang. He evidently ventured too close in and the guards got him. And by the way, Harrington, you owe the old scout a good deal, for it was he who helped you out of Sligo Jim’s shack so neatly. He was convinced that you were not in the game, hut your riding off with Howard’s favorite horse from the corral where Fergus had put him, set us off the track again. We wanted to be sure the whole gang were in their hole, and it took some time to find out that the horse had gone home, for we were sure that it was Howard who had taken him. Miss Burton, who had become very anxious as to your absence, met us on the trail, and her evidence as to your identity cleared up the situation. So it has all come out right, with the exception of Wetherby’s death. You mustn’t hold a grudge against us for searching your house. It is an unpleasant duty we have to sometimes perform.
“IT TOOK US some time to break through the outer guards, even though they were taken by surprise. If you hadn’t been making such a devil of a row you’d have heard the shooting. It was Miss Howard who heard the noise, and guessing what was happening, opened the door. We were just in time, and glad to be of service to you.”
“Did you get them all?” asked the artist.
“Every manjack of them, and a few papers besides that will make some folk sit up and take notice. It is not these poor desperate wretches who ought to be punished, but the smug man higher up who takes their gains in safety. By the way, we will do our best for your friend Wylie, whom we found neatly trussed in the cave below. Miss Howard told us where to find him. It seems he was roped into the gang under false pretences, and then dared not quit.
“A remarkable formation, this system of caves. I wonder they are not more widely known. I have seen similar formations, though not to so great an extent, in the district round Banff, though the water there is mineral.”
“I have heard of Hidden Water,” said Mr. Gordon, who had been an interested listener to the Inspector’s recital, “but could never find anyone who had seen its caves. The Indians do not go there, as they believe the place to be haunted, though they profess to have known of this formation for centuries. But no doubt the caves will be well advertised now, and become a showplace for tourists.”
“Perhaps Mr. Harrington will paint a picture of them,” said the Inspector.
But Harrington laughingly refused.
“I have had enough of them. I prefer the outside of the mountains to their interiors.”
“And now, Mr. Gordon, I see the horses are ready. It only remains for us to start. Then you can have your honeymoon in peace, Mrs. Harrington, and I promise you will not be further molested. Take good care of Dick; we cannot afford to lose one of our most famous young Canadians. But I am sure he could not be in better hands. The doctor left commands for you to stay where you are for three days, Harrington, otherwise he prophecies rheumatism and other pleasantries. Now, if you have no objection to myself and the men as companions, Mr. Gordon, we will proceed.”
WHEN they had gone, Eileen opened the door of the cabin, and seated by her husband’s side, hand in hand they watched the great peak across the valley turn to rose and gold in the sunset. The great black dog lay across the threshold. The ponies grazed on the green turf outside the door. The kettle hummed and the fire danced merrily on the hearth. Peace and love, symbolized by these humble objects surrounded them. Pain, sorrow, misunderstanding had passed behind them. They might be before them, too, but to carry them through they now had love and understanding, youth, and life with its heights and depths to explore together.
And so at last came Eileen into her sanctuary.