Infomotions, Inc.The Spoilers / Beach, Rex Ellingwood, 1877-1949



Author: Beach, Rex Ellingwood, 1877-1949
Title: The Spoilers
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): glenister; mcnamara; dextry; struve; helen; cherry malotte; bronco kid; kid; cherry
Contributor(s): Wormeley, Katharine Prescott, 1830-1908 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 86,942 words (short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 72 (easy)
Identifier: etext5076
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Title: The Spoilers

Author: Rex Beach

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Proofreading Team.



THE SPOILERS

By REX BEACH

Author of "THE AUCTION BLOCK" "RAINBOW'S END" "THE IRON TRAIL"
Etc.


Illustrated




       THIS BOOK
IS LOVINGLY DEDICATED TO
       MY MOTHER




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

    I. THE ENCOUNTER

   II. THE STOWAWAY

  III. IN WHICH GLENISTER ERRS

   IV. THE KILLING

    V. WHEREIN A MAN APPEARS

   VI. AND A MINE IS JUMPED

  VII. THE "BRONCO KID'S" EAVESDROPPING

 VIII. DEXTRY MAKES A CALL

   IX. SLUICE ROBBERS

    X. THE WIT OF AN ADVENTURESS

   XI. WHEREIN A WRIT AND A RIOT FAIL

  XII. COUNTERPLOTS

 XIII. IN WHICH A MAN IS POSSESSED OF A DEVIL

  XIV. A MIDNIGHT MESSENGER

   XV. VIGILANTES

  XVI. IN WHICH THE TRUTH BEGINS TO BARE ITSELF

 XVII. THE DRIP OF WATER IN THE DARK

XVIII. WHEREIN A TRAP IS BAITED

  XIX. DYNAMITE

   XX. IN WHICH THREE GO TO THE SIGN OF THE SLED AND BUT TWO RETURN

  XXI. THE HAMMER-LOCK

 XXII. THE PROMISE OF DREAMS




CHAPTER I

THE ENCOUNTER


Glenister gazed out over the harbor, agleam with the lights of
anchored ships, then up at the crenelated mountains, black against
the sky. He drank the cool air burdened with its taints of the
sea, while the blood of his boyhood leaped within him.

"Oh, it's fine--fine," he murmured, "and this is my country--my
country, after all, Dex. It's in my veins, this hunger for the
North. I grow. I expand."

"Careful you don't bust," warned Dextry. "I've seen men get plumb
drunk on mountain air. Don't expand too strong in one spot." He
went back abruptly to his pipe, its villanous fumes promptly
averting any danger of the air's too tonic quality.

"Gad! What a smudge!" sniffed the younger man. "You ought to be in
quarantine."

"I'd ruther smell like a man than talk like a kid. You desecrate
the hour of meditation with rhapsodies on nature when your
aesthetics ain't honed up to the beauties of good tobacco."

The other laughed, inflating his deep chest. In the gloom he
stretched his muscles restlessly, as though an excess of vigor
filled him.

They were lounging upon the dock, while before them lay the Santa
Maria ready for her midnight sailing. Behind slept Unalaska,
quaint, antique, and Russian, rusting amid the fogs of Bering Sea.
Where, a week before, mild-eyed natives had dried their cod among
the old bronze cannon, now a frenzied horde of gold-seekers paused
in their rush to the new El Dorado. They had come like a locust
cloud, thousands strong, settling on the edge of the Smoky Sea,
waiting the going of the ice that barred them from their Golden
Fleece--from Nome the new, where men found fortune in a night.

The mossy hills back of the village were ridged with graves of
those who had died on the out-trip the fall before, when a plague
had gripped the land--but what of that? Gold glittered in the
sands, so said the survivors; therefore men came in armies.
Glenister and Dextry had left Nome the autumn previous, the young
man raving with fever. Now they returned to their own land.

"This air whets every animal instinct in me," Glenister broke out
again. "Away from the cities I turn savage. I feel the old
primitive passions--the fret for fighting."

"Mebbe you'll have a chance."

"How so?"

"Well, it's this way. I met Mexico Mullins this mornin'. You mind
old Mexico, don't you? The feller that relocated Discovery Claim
on Anvil Creek last summer?"

"You don't mean that 'tin-horn' the boys were going to lynch for
claim-jumping?"

"Identical! Remember me tellin' you about a good turn I done him
once down Guadalupe way?"

"Greaser shooting-scrape, wasn't it?"

"Yep! Well, I noticed first off that he's gettin fat; high-livin'
fat, too, all in one spot, like he was playin' both ends ag'in the
centre. Also he wore di'mon's fit to handle with ice-tongs.

"Says I, lookin' at his side elevation, 'What's accented your
middle syllable so strong, Mexico?'

"'Prosperity, politics, an' the Waldorf-Astorier,' says he. It
seems Mex hadn't forgot old days. He claws me into a corner an'
says, 'Bill, I'm goin' to pay you back for that Moralez deal.'

"'It ain't comin' to me,' says I. 'That's a bygone!'

"'Listen here,' says he, an', seein' he was in earnest, I let him
run on.

"'How much do you value that claim o' yourn at?'

'"Hard tellin',' says I. 'If she holds out like she run last fall,
there'd ought to be a million clear in her."

"'How much'll you clean up this summer?'

"''Bout four hundred thousand, with luck.'

"'Bill,' says he, 'there's hell a-poppin' an' you've got to watch
that ground like you'd watch a rattle-snake. Don't never leave 'em
get a grip on it or you're down an' out.'

"He was so plumb in earnest it scared me up, 'cause Mexico ain't a
gabby man.

"'What do you mean?' says I.

"'I can't tell you nothin' more. I'm puttin' a string on my own
neck, sayin' THIS much. You're a square man, Bill, an' I'm a
gambler, but you saved my life oncet, an' I wouldn't steer you
wrong. For God's sake, don't let 'em jump your ground, that's
all.'

"'Let who jump it? Congress has give us judges an' courts an'
marshals--' I begins.

"'That's just it. How you goin' to buck that hand? Them's the best
cards in the deck. There's a man comin' by the name of McNamara.
Watch him clost. I can't tell you no more. But don't never let 'em
get a grip on your ground.' That's all he'd say."

"Bah! He's crazy! I wish somebody would try to jump the Midas;
we'd enjoy the exercise."

The siren of the Santa Maria interrupted, its hoarse warning
throbbing up the mountain.

"We'll have to get aboard," said Dextry.

"Sh-h! What's that?" the other whispered.

At first the only sound they heard was a stir from the deck of the
steamer. Then from the water below them came the rattle of
rowlocks and a voice cautiously muffled.

"Stop! Stop there!"

A skiff burst from the darkness, grounding on the beach beneath. A
figure scrambled out and up the ladder leading to the wharf.
Immediately a second boat, plainly in pursuit of the first one,
struck on the beach behind it.

As the escaping figure mounted to their level the watchers
perceived with amazement that it was a young woman. Breath sobbed
from her lungs, and, stumbling, she would have fallen but for
Glenister, who ran forward and helped her to her feet.

"Don't let them get me," she panted.

He turned to his partner in puzzled inquiry, but found that the
old man had crossed to the head of the landing ladder up which the
pursuers were climbing.

"Just a minute--you there! Back up or I'll kick your face in."
Dextry's voice was sharp and unexpected, and in the darkness he
loomed tall and menacing to those below.

"Get out of the way. That woman's a runaway," came from the one
highest on the ladder.

"So I jedge."

"She broke qu--"

"Shut up!" broke in another. "Do you want to advertise it? Get out
of the way, there, ye damn fool! Climb up, Thorsen." He spoke like
a bucko mate, and his words stirred the bile of Dextry.

Thorsen grasped the dock floor, trying to climb up, but the old
miner stamped on his fingers and the sailor loosened his hold with
a yell, carrying the under men with him to the beach in his fall.

"This way! Follow me!" shouted the mate, making up the bank for
the shore end of the wharf.

"You'd better pull your freight, miss," Dextry remarked; "they'll
be here in a minute."

"Yes, yes! Let us go! I must get aboard the Santa Maria. She's
leaving now. Come, come!"

Glenister laughed, as though there were a humorous touch in her
remark, but did not stir.

"I'm gettin' awful old an' stiff to run," said Dextry, removing
his mackinaw, "but I allow I ain't too old for a little diversion
in the way of a rough-house when it comes nosin' around." He moved
lightly, though the girl could see in the half-darkness that his
hair was silvery.

"What do you mean?" she questioned, sharply.

"You hurry along, miss; we'll toy with 'em till you're aboard."
They stepped across to the dockhouse, backing against it. The girl
followed.

Again came the warning blast from the steamer, and the voice of an
officer:

"Clear away that stern line!"

"Oh, we'll be left!" she breathed, and somehow it struck Glenister
that she feared this more than the men whose approaching feet he
heard.

"YOU can make it all right," he urged her, roughly. "You'll get
hurt if you stay here. Run along and don't mind us. We've been
thirty days on shipboard, and were praying for something to
happen." His voice was boyishly glad, as if he exulted in the fray
that was to come; and no sooner had he spoken than the sailors
came out of the darkness upon them.

During the space of a few heart-beats there was only a tangle of
whirling forms with the sound of fist on flesh, then the blot
split up and forms plunged outward, falling heavily. Again the
sailors rushed, attempting to clinch. They massed upon Dextry only
to grasp empty air, for he shifted with remarkable agility,
striking bitterly, as an old wolf snaps. It was baffling work,
however, for in the darkness his blows fell short or overreached.

Glenister, on the other hand, stood carelessly, beating the men
off as they came to him. He laughed gloatingly, deep in his
throat, as though the encounter were merely some rough sport. The
girl shuddered, for the desperate silence of the attacking men
terrified her more than a din, and yet she stayed, crouched
against the wall.

Dextry swung at a dim target, and, missing it, was whirled off his
balance. Instantly his antagonist grappled with him, and they fell
to the floor, while a third man shuffled about them. The girl
throttled a scream.

"I'm goin' to kick 'im, Bill," the man panted hoarsely. "Le' me
fix 'im." He swung his heavy shoe, and Bill cursed with stirring
eloquence.

"Ow! You're kickin' me! I've got 'im, safe enough. Tackle the big
un."

Bill's ally then started towards the others, his body bent, his
arms flexed yet hanging loosely. He crouched beside the girl,
ignoring her, while she heard the breath wheezing from his lungs;
then silently he leaped. Glenister had hurled a man from him, then
stepped back to avoid the others, when he was seized from behind
and felt the man's arms wrapped about his neck, the sailor's legs
locked about his thighs. Now came the girl's first knowledge of
real fighting. The two spun back and forth so closely entwined as
to be indistinguishable, the others holding off. For what seemed
many minutes they struggled, the young man striving to reach his
adversary, till they crashed against the wall near her and she
heard her champion's breath coughing in his throat at the
tightening grip of the sailor. Fright held her paralyzed, for she
had never seen men thus. A moment and Glenister would be down
beneath their stamping feet--they would kick his life out with
their heavy shoes. At thought of it, the necessity of action smote
her like a blow in the face. Her terror fell away, her shaking
muscles stiffened, and before realizing what she did she had
acted.

The seaman's back was to her. She reached out and gripped him by
the hair, while her fingers, tense as talons, sought his eyes.
Then the first loud sound of the battle arose. The man yelled in
sudden terror; and the others as suddenly fell back. The next
instant she felt a hand upon her shoulder and heard Dextry's
voice.

"Are ye hurt? No? Come on, then, or we'll get left." He spoke
quietly, though his breath was loud, and, glancing down, she saw
the huddled form of the sailor whom he had fought.

"That's all right--he ain't hurt. It's a Jap trick I learned.
Hurry up!"

They ran swiftly down the wharf, followed by Glenister and by the
groans of the sailors in whom the lust for combat had been
quenched. As they scrambled up the Santa Maria's gang-plank, a
strip of water widened between the boat and the pier.

"Close shave, that," panted Glenister, feeling his throat
gingerly, "but I wouldn't have missed it for a spotted pup."

"I've been through b'iler explosions and snowslides, not to
mention a triflin' jail-delivery, but fer real sprightly
diversions I don't recall nothin' more pleasin' than this."
Dextry's enthusiasm was boylike.

"What kind of men are you?" the girl laughed nervously, but got no
answer.

They led her to their deck cabin, where they switched on the
electric light, blinking at each other and at their unknown guest.

They saw a graceful and altogether attractive figure in a trim,
short skirt and long, tan boots. But what Glenister first saw was
her eyes; large and gray, almost brown under the electric light.
They were active eyes, he thought, and they flashed swift,
comprehensive glances at the two men. Her hair had fallen loose
and crinkled to her waist, all agleam. Otherwise she showed no
sign of her recent ordeal.

Glenister had been prepared for the type of beauty that follows
the frontier; beauty that may stun, but that has the polish and
chill of a new-ground bowie. Instead, this girl with the calm,
reposeful face struck a note almost painfully different from her
surroundings, suggesting countless pleasant things that had been
strange to him for the past few years.

Pure admiration alone was patent in the older man's gaze.

"I make oration," said he, "that you're the gamest little chap I
ever fought over, Mexikin, Injun, or white. What's the trouble?"

"I suppose you think I've done something dreadful, don't you?" she
said. "But I haven't. I had to get away from the Ohio to-night
for--certain reasons. I'll tell you all about it to-morrow. I
haven't stolen anything, nor poisoned the crew--really I haven't."
She smiled at them, and Glenister found it impossible not to smile
with her, though dismayed by her feeble explanation.

"Well, I'll wake up the steward and find a place for you to go,"
he said at length. "You'll have to double up with some of the
women, though; it's awfully crowded aboard."

She laid a detaining hand on his arm. He thought he felt her
tremble.

"No, no! I don't want you to do that. They mustn't see me to-
night. I know I'm acting strangely and all that, but it's happened
so quickly I haven't found myself yet. I'll tell you to-morrow,
though, really. Don't let any one see me or it will spoil
everything. Wait till to-morrow, please."

She was very white, and spoke with eager intensity.

"Help you? Why, sure Mike!" assured the impulsive Dextry, "an',
see here, Miss--you take your time on explanations. We don't care
a cuss what you done. Morals ain't our long suit, 'cause 'there's
never a law of God or man runs north of Fifty-three,' as the
poetry man remarked, an' he couldn't have spoke truer if he'd
knowed what he was sayin'. Everybody is privileged to 'look out'
his own game up here. A square deal an' no questions asked."

She looked somewhat doubtful at this till she caught the heat of
Glenister's gaze. Some boldness of his look brought home to her
the actual situation, and a stain rose in her cheek. She noted him
more carefully; noted his heavy shoulders and ease of bearing, an
ease and looseness begotten of perfect muscular control. Strength
was equally suggested in his face, she thought, for he carried a
marked young countenance, with thrusting chin, aggressive
thatching brows, and mobile mouth that whispered all the changes
from strength to abandon. Prominent was a look of reckless energy.
She considered him handsome in a heavy, virile, perhaps too purely
physical fashion.

"You want to stowaway?" he asked.

"I've had a right smart experience in that line," said Dextry,
"but I never done it by proxy. What's your plan?"

"She will stay here to-night," said Glenister quickly. "You and I
will go below. Nobody will see her."

"I can't let you do that," she objected. "Isn't there some place
where I can hide?" But they reassured her and left.

When they had gone, she crouched trembling upon her seat for a
long time, gazing fixedly before her. "I'm afraid!" she whispered;
"I'm afraid. What am I getting into? Why do men look so at me? I'm
frightened. Oh, I'm sorry I undertook it." At last she rose
wearily. The close cabin oppressed her; she felt the need of fresh
air. So, turning out the lights, she stepped forth into the night.
Figures loomed near the rail and she slipped astern, screening
herself behind a life-boat, where the cool breeze fanned her face.

The forms she had seen approached, speaking earnestly. Instead of
passing, they stopped abreast of her hiding-place; then, as they
began to talk, she saw that her retreat was cut off and that she
must not stir.

"What brings her here?" Glenister was echoing a question of
Dextry's. "Bah! What brings them all? What brought 'the Duchess,'
and Cherry Malotte, and all the rest?"

"No, no," said the old man. "She ain't that kind--she's too fine,
too delicate--too pretty."

"That's just it--too pretty! Too pretty to be alone--or anything
except what she is."

Dextry growled sourly. "This country has plumb ruined you, boy.
You think they're all alike--an' I don't know but they are--all
but this girl. Seems like she's different, somehow--but I can't
tell."

Glenister spoke musingly:

"I had an ancestor who buccaneered among the Indies, a long time
ago--so I'm told. Sometimes I think I have his disposition. He
comes and whispers things to me in the night. Oh, he was a devil,
and I've got his blood in me--untamed and hot--I can hear him
saying something now--something about the spoils of war. Ha, ha!
Maybe he's right. I fought for her to-night--Dex--the way he used
to fight for his sweethearts along the Mexicos. She's too
beautiful to be good--and 'there's never a law of God or man runs
north of Fifty-three.'"

They moved on, his vibrant, cynical laughter stabbing the girl
till she leaned against the yawl for support.

She held herself together while the blood beat thickly in her
ears, then fled to the cabin, hurling herself into her berth,
where she writhed silently, beating the pillow with hands into
which her nails had bitten, staring the while into the darkness
with dry and aching eyes.




CHAPTER II

THE STOWAWAY


She awoke to the throb of the engines, and, gazing cautiously
through her stateroom window, saw a glassy, level sea, with the
sun brightly agleam on it.

So this was Bering? She had clothed it always with the mystery of
her school-days, thinking of it as a weeping, fog-bound stretch of
gray waters. Instead, she saw a flat, sunlit main, with occasional
sea-parrots flapping their fat bodies out of the ship's course. A
glistening head popped up from the waters abreast, and she heard
the cry of "seal!"

Dressing, the girl noted minutely the personal articles scattered
about the cabin, striving to derive therefrom some fresh hint of
the characteristics of the owners. First, there was an elaborate,
copper-backed toilet-set, all richly ornamented and leather-bound.
The metal was magnificently hand-worked and bore Glenister's
initial. It spoke of elegant extravagance, and seemed oddly out of
place in an Arctic miner's equipment, as did also a small set of
De Maupassant.

Next, she picked up Kipling's Seven Seas, marked liberally, and
felt that she had struck a scent. The roughness and brutality of
the poems had always chilled her, though she had felt vaguely
their splendid pulse and swing. This was the girl's first venture
from a sheltered life. She had not rubbed elbows with the world
enough to find that Truth may be rough, unshaven, and garbed in
homespun. The book confirmed her analysis of the junior partner.

Pendent from a hook was a worn and blackened holster from which
peeped the butt of a large Colt's revolver, showing evidence of
many years' service. It spoke mutely of the white-haired Dextry,
who, before her inspection was over, knocked at the door, and,
when she admitted him, addressed her cautiously:

"The boy's down forrad, teasin' grub out of a flunky. He'll be up
in a minute. How'd ye sleep?"

"Very well, thank you," she lied, "but I've been thinking that I
ought to explain myself to you."

"Now, see here," the old man interjected, "there ain't no
explanations needed till you feel like givin' them up. You was in
trouble--that's unfortunate; we help you--that's natural; no
questions asked--that's Alaska."

"Yes--but I know you must think--"

"What bothers me," the other continued irrelevantly, "is how in
blazes we're goin' to keep you hid. The steward's got to make up
this room, and somebody's bound to see us packin' grub in."

"I don't care who knows if they won't send me back. They wouldn't
do that, would they?" She hung anxiously on his words.

"Send you back? Why, don't you savvy that this boat is bound for
Nome? There ain't no turnin' back on gold stampedes, and this is
the wildest rush the world ever saw. The captain wouldn't turn
back--he couldn't--his cargo's too precious and the company pays
five thousand a day for this ship. No, we ain't puttin' back to
unload no stowaways at five thousand per. Besides, we passengers
wouldn't let him--time's too precious." They were interrupted by
the rattle of dishes outside, and Dextry was about to open the
door when his hand wavered uncertainly above the knob, for he
heard the hearty greeting of the ship's captain.

"Well, well, Glenister, where's all the breakfast going?"

"Oo!" whispered the old man--"that's Cap' Stephens."

"Dextry isn't feeling quite up to form this morning," replied
Glenister easily.

"Don't wonder! Why weren't you aboard sooner last night? I saw
you--'most got left, eh? Served you right if you had." Then his
voice dropped to the confidential: "I'd advise you to cut out
those women. Don't misunderstand me, boy, but they're a bad lot on
this boat. I saw you come aboard. Take my word for it--they're a
bad lot. Cut 'em out. Guess I'll step inside and see what's up
with Dextry."

The girl shrank into her corner, gazing apprehensively at the
other listener.

"Well--er--he isn't up yet," they heard Glenister stammer; "better
come around later."

"Nonsense; it's time he was dressed." The master's voice was
gruffly good-natured. "Hello, Dextry! Hey! Open up for
inspection." He rattled the door.

There was nothing to be done. The old miner darted an inquiring
glance at his companion, then, at her nod, slipped the bolt, and
the captain's blue bulk filled the room.

His grizzled, close-bearded face was genially wrinkled till he
spied the erect, gray figure in the corner, when his cap came off
involuntarily. There his courtesy ended, however, and the smile
died coldly from his face. His eyes narrowed, and the good-
fellowship fell away, leaving him the stiff and formal officer.

"Ah," he said, "not feeling well, eh? I thought I had met all of
our lady passengers. Introduce me, Dextry."

Dextry squirmed under his cynicism.

"Well--I--ah--didn't catch the name myself."

"What?"

"Oh, there ain't much to say. This is the lady--we brought aboard
last night--that's all."

"Who gave you permission?"

"Nobody. There wasn't time."

"There wasn't TIME, eh? Which one of you conceived the novel
scheme of stowing away ladies in your cabin? Whose is she? Quick!
Answer me." Indignation was vibrant in his voice.

"Oh!" the girl cried--her eyes widening darkly. She stood slim and
pale and slightly trembling.

His words had cut her bitterly, though through it all he had
scrupulously avoided addressing her.

The captain turned to Glenister, who had entered and closed the
door.

"Is this your work? Is she yours?"

"No," he answered quietly, while Dextry chimed in:

"Better hear details, captain, before you make breaks like that.
We helped the lady side-step some sailors last night and we most
got left doing it. It was up to her to make a quick get-away, so
we helped her aboard."

"A poor story! What was she running away from?" He still addressed
the men, ignoring her completely, till, with hoarse voice, she
broke in:

"You mustn't talk about me that way--I can answer your questions.
It's true--I ran away. I had to. The sailors came after me and
fought with these men. I had to get away quickly, and your friends
helped me on here from gentlemanly kindness, because they saw me
unprotected. They are still protecting me. I can't explain how
important it is for me to reach Nome on the first boat, because it
isn't my secret. It was important enough to make me leave my uncle
at Seattle at an hour's notice when we found there was no one else
who could go. That's all I can say. I took my maid with me, but
the sailors caught her just as she was following me down the
ship's ladder. She had my bag of clothes when they seized her. I
cast off the rope and rowed ashore as fast as I could, but they
lowered another boat and followed me."

The captain eyed her sharply, and his grim lines softened a bit,
for she was clean-cut and womanly, and utterly out of place, He
took her in, shrewdly, detail by detail, then spoke directly to
her:

"My dear young lady--the other ships will get there just as
quickly as ours, maybe more quickly. To-morrow we strike the ice-
pack and then it is all a matter of luck."

"Yes, but the ship I left won't get there."

At this the commander started, and, darting a great, thick-
fingered hand at her, spoke savagely:

"What's that? What ship? Which one did you come from? Answer me."

"The Ohio," she replied, with the effect of a hand-grenade. The
master glared at her.

"The Ohio! Good God! You DARE to stand there and tell me that?" He
turned and poured his rage upon the others.

"She says the Ohio, d'ye hear? You've ruined me! I'll put you in
irons--all of you. The Ohio!"

"What d'ye mean? What's up?"

"What's up? There's small-pox aboard the Ohio! This girl has
broken quarantine. The health inspectors bottled up the boat at
six o'clock last night! That's why I pulled out of Unalaska ahead
of time, to avoid any possible delay. Now we'll all be held up
when we get to Nome. Great Heavens! do you realize what this
means--bringing this hussy aboard?"

His eyes burned and his voice shook, while the two partners stared
at each other in dismay. Too well they knew the result of a small-
pox panic aboard this crowded troop-ship. Not only was every
available cabin bulging with passengers, but the lower decks were
jammed with both humanity and live stock all in the most
unsanitary conditions. The craft, built for three hundred
passengers, was carrying triple her capacity; men and women were
stowed away like cattle. Order and a half-tolerable condition were
maintained only by the efforts of the passengers themselves, who
held to the thought that imprisonment and inconvenience would last
but a few days longer. They had been aboard three weeks and every
heart was aflame with the desire to reach Nome--to reach it ahead
of the pressing horde behind.

What would be the temper of this gold-frenzied army if thrown into
quarantine within sight of their goal? The impatient hundreds
would have to lie packed in their floating prison, submitting to
the foul disease. Long they must lie thus, till a month should
have passed after the disappearance of the last symptom. If the
disease recurred sporadically, that might mean endless weeks of
maddening idleness. It might even be impossible to impose the
necessary restraint; there would be violence, perhaps mutiny.

The fear of the sickness was nothing to Dextry and Glenister, but
of their mine they thought with terror. What would happen in their
absence, where conditions were as unsettled as in this new land;
where titles were held only by physical possession of the
premises? During the long winter of their absence, ice had held
their treasure inviolate, but with the warming summer the jewel
they had fought for so wearily would lie naked and exposed to the
first comer. The Midas lay in the valley of the richest creek,
where men had schemed and fought and slain for the right to
inches. It was the fruit of cheerless, barren years of toil, and
if they could not guard it--they knew the result.

The girl interrupted their distressing reflections.

"Don't blame these men, sir," she begged the captain. "I am the
only one at fault. Oh! I HAD to get away. I have papers here that
must be delivered quickly." She laid a hand upon her bosom. "They
couldn't be trusted to the unsettled mail service. It's almost
life and death. And I assure you there is no need of putting me in
quarantine. I haven't the smallpox. I wasn't even exposed to it."

"There's nothing else to do," said Stephens. "I'll isolate you in
the deck smoking-cabin. God knows what these madmen on board will
do when they hear about it, though. They're apt to tear you to
shreds. They're crazy!"

Glenister had been thinking rapidly.

"If you do that, you'll have mutiny in an hour. This isn't the
crowd to stand that sort of thing."

"Bah! Let 'em try it. I'll put 'em down." The officer's square
jaws clicked.

"Maybe so; but what then? We reach Nome and the Health Inspector
hears of small-pox suspects, then we're all quarantined for thirty
days; eight hundred of us. We'll lie at Egg Island all summer
while your company pays five thousand a day for this ship. That's
not all. The firm is liable in damages for your carelessness in
letting disease aboard."

"MY CARELESSNESS!" The old man ground his teeth.

"Yes; that's what it amounts to. You'll ruin your owners, all
right. You'll tie up your ship and lose your job, that's a cinch!"

Captain Stephens wiped the moisture from his brow angrily.

"My carelessness! Curse you--you say it well. Don't you realize
that I am criminally liable if I don't take every precaution?" He
paused for a moment, considering. "I'll hand her over to the
ship's doctor."

"See here, now," Glenister urged. "We'll be in Nome in a week--
before the young lady would have time to show symptoms of the
disease, even if she were going to have it--and a thousand to one
she hasn't been exposed, and will never show a trace of it. Nobody
knows she's aboard but we three. Nobody will see her get off.
She'll stay in this cabin, which will be just as effectual as
though you isolated her in any other part of the boat. It will
avoid a panic--you'll save your ship and your company--no one will
be the wiser--then if the girl comes down with small-pox after she
gets ashore, she can go to the pest-house and not jeopardize the
health of all the people aboard this ship. You go up forrad to
your bridge, sir, and forget that you stepped in to see old Bill
Dextry this morning. Well take care of this matter all right. It
means as much to us as it does to you. We've GOT to be on Anvil
Creek before the ground thaws or we'll lose the Midas. If you make
a fuss, you'll ruin us all."

For some moments they watched him breathlessly as he frowned in
indecision, then--

"You'll have to look out for the steward," he said, and the girl
sank to a stool while two great tears rolled down her cheeks. The
captain's eyes softened and his voice was gentle as he laid his
hand on her head.

"Don't feel hurt over what I said, miss. You see, appearances
don't tell much, hereabouts--most of the pretty ones are no good.
They've fooled me many a time, and I made a mistake. These men
will help you through; I can't. Then when you get to Nome, make
your sweetheart marry you the day you land. You are too far north
to be alone."

He stepped out into the passage and closed the door carefully.




CHAPTER III

IN WHICH GLENISTER ERRS


"Well, bein' as me an' Glenister is gougin' into the bowels of
Anvil Creek all last summer, we don't really get the fresh-grub
habit fastened on us none. You see, the gamblers down-town cop out
the few aigs an' green vegetables that stray off the ships, so
they never get out as far as the Creek none; except, maybe, in the
shape of anecdotes.

"We don't get intimate with no nutriments except hog-boosum an'
brown beans, of which luxuries we have unstinted measure, an'
bein' as this is our third year in the country we hanker for bony
fido grub, somethin' scan'lous. Yes, ma'am--three years without a
taste of fresh fruit nor meat nor nuthin'--except pork an' beans.
Why, I've et bacon till my immortal soul has growed a rind.

"When it comes time to close down the claim, the boy is sick with
the fever an' the only ship in port is a Point Barrow whaler,
bound for Seattle. After I book our passage, I find they have
nothin' aboard to eat except canned salmon, it bein' the end of a
two years' cruise, so when I land in the States after seventeen
days of a fish diet, I am what you might call sated with canned
grub, and have added salmon to the list of things concernin' which
I am goin' to economize.

"Soon's ever I get the boy into a hospital, I gallop up to the
best restarawnt in town an' prepare for the huge pot-latch. This
here, I determine, is to be a gormandizin' jag which shall live in
hist'ry, an' wharof in later years the natives of Puget Sound
shall speak with bated breath.

"First, I call for five dollars' worth of pork an' beans an' then
a full-grown platter of canned salmon. When the waiter lays 'em
out in front of me, I look them vittles coldly in their disgustin'
visages, an' say in sarcastic accents:

"'Set there, damn you! an' watch me eat REAL grub,' which I
proceed to do, cleanin' the menu from soda to hock. When I have
done my worst, I pile bones an' olive seeds an' peelin's all over
them articles of nourishment, stick toothpicks into 'em, an'
havin' offered 'em what other indignities occur to me, I leave the
place."

Dextry and the girl were leaning over the stern-rail, chatting
idly in the darkness. It was the second night out and the ship lay
dead in the ice-pack. All about them was a flat, floe-clogged sea,
leprous and mottled in the deep twilight that midnight brought in
this latitude. They had threaded into the ice-field as long as the
light lasted, following the lanes of blue water till they closed,
then drifting idly till others appeared; worming out into leagues
of open sea, again creeping into the shifting labyrinth till
darkness rendered progress perilous.

Occasionally they had passed herds of walrus huddled sociably upon
ice-pans, their wet hides glistening in the sunlight. The air had
been clear and pleasant, while away on all quarters they had seen
the smoke of other ships toiling through the barrier. The spring
fleet was knocking at the door of the Golden North.

Chafing at her imprisonment, the girl had asked the old man to
take her out on deck under the shelter of darkness; then she had
led him to speak of his own past experiences, and of Glenister's;
which he had done freely. She was frankly curious about them, and
she wondered at their apparent lack of interest in her own
identity and her secret mission. She even construed their silence
as indifference, not realizing that these Northmen were offering
her the truest evidence of camaraderie.

The frontier is capable of no finer compliment than this utter
disregard of one's folded pages. It betokens that highest faith in
one's fellow-man, the belief that he should be measured by his
present deeds, not by his past. It says, translated: "This is
God's free country where a man is a man, nothing more. Our land is
new and pure, our faces are to the front. If you have been square,
so much the better; if not, leave behind the taints of artificial
things and start again on the level--that's all."

It had happened, therefore, that since the men had asked her no
questions, she had allowed the hours to pass and still hesitated
to explain further than she had explained to Captain Stephens. It
was much easier to let things continue as they were; and there
was, after all, so little that she was at liberty to tell them.

In the short time since meeting them, the girl had grown to like
Dextry, with his blunt chivalry and boyish, whimsical philosophy,
but she avoided Glenister, feeling a shrinking, hidden terror of
him, ever since her eavesdropping of the previous night. At the
memory of that scene she grew hot, then cold--hot with anger, icy
at the sinister power and sureness which had vibrated in his
voice. What kind of life was she entering where men spoke of
strange women with this assurance and hinted thus of ownership?
That he was handsome and unconscious of it, she acknowledged, and
had she met him in her accustomed circle of friends, garbed in the
conventionalities, she would perhaps have thought of him as a
striking man, vigorous and intelligent; but here he seemed
naturally to take on the attributes of his surroundings, acquiring
a picturesque negligee of dress and morals, and suggesting rugged,
elemental, chilling potentialities. While with him--and he had
sought her repeatedly that day--she was uneasily aware of his
strong personality tugging at her; aware of the unbridled
passionate flood of a nature unbrooking of delay and heedless of
denial. This it was that antagonized her and set her every mental
sinew in rigid resistance.

During Dextry's garrulous ramblings, Glenister emerged from the
darkness and silently took his place beside her, against the rail.

"What portent do you see that makes you stare into the night so
anxiously?" he inquired.

"I am wishing for a sight of the midnight sun or the aurora
borealis," she replied.

"Too late for one an' too fur south for the other," Dextry
interposed. "We'll see the sun further north, though."

"Have you ever heard the real origin of the Northern Lights?" the
young man inquired.

"Naturally, I never have," she answered.

"Well, here it is. I have it from the lips of a great hunter of
the Tananas. He told it to me when I was sick, once, in his cabin,
and inasmuch as he is a wise Indian and has a reputation for
truth, I have no doubt that it is scrupulously correct.

"In the very old days, before the white man or corned beef had
invaded this land, the greatest tribe in all the North was the
Tananas. The bravest hunter of these was Itika, the second chief.
He could follow a moose till it fell exhausted in the snow and he
had many belts made from the claws of the brown bear which is
deadly wicked and, as every one knows, inhabited by the spirits of
'Yabla-men,' or devils.

"One winter a terrible famine settled over the Tanana Valley. The
moose departed from the gulches and the caribou melted from the
hills like mist. The dogs grew gaunt and howled all night, the
babies cried, the women became hollow-eyed and peevish.

"Then it was that Itika decided to go hunting over the saw-tooth
range which formed the edge of the world. They tried to dissuade
him, saying it was certain death because a pack of monstrous white
wolves, taller than the moose and swifter than the eagle, was
known to range these mountains, running madly in chase. Always, on
clear, cold nights, could be seen the flashing of the moonbeams
from their gleaming hungry sides, and although many hunters had
crossed the passes in other years, they never returned, for the
pack slew them.

"Nothing could deter Itika, however, so he threaded his way up
through the range and, night coming, burrowed into a drift to
sleep in his caribou-skin. Peering out into the darkness, he saw
the flashing lights a thousand times brighter than ever before.
The whole heavens were ablaze with shifting streamers that raced
and writhed back and forth in wild revel. Listening, he heard the
hiss and whine of dry snow under the feet of the pack, and a
distant noise as of rushing winds, although the air was deathly
still.

"With daylight, he proceeded through the range, till he came out
above a magnificent valley. Descending the slope, he entered a
forest of towering spruce, while on all sides the snow was
trampled with tracks as wide as a snow-shoe. There came to him a
noise which, as he proceeded, increased till it filled the woods.
It was a frightful din, as though a thousand wolves were howling
with the madness of the kill. Cautiously creeping nearer, he found
a monstrous white animal struggling beneath a spruce which had
fallen upon it in such fashion as to pinion it securely.

"All brave men are tender-hearted, so Itika set to work with his
axe and cleared away the burden, regardless of the peril to
himself. When he had released it, the beast arose and instead of
running away addressed him in the most polite and polished Indian,
without a trace of accent.

"'You have saved my life. Now, what can I do for you?'

"'I want to hunt in this valley. My people are starving,' said
Itika, at which the wolf was greatly pleased and rounded up the
rest of the pack to help in the kill.

"Always thereafter when Itika came to the valley of the Yukon the
giant drove hunted with him. To this day they run through the
mountains on cold, clear nights, in a multitude, while the light
of the moon flickers from their white sides, flashing up into the
sky in weird, fantastic figures. Some people call it Northern
Lights, but old Isaac assured me earnestly, toothlessly, and with
the light of ancient truth, as I lay snow-blind in his lodge, that
it is nothing more remarkable than the spirit of Itika and the
great white wolves."

"What a queer legend!" she said. "There must be many of them in
this country. I feel that I am going to like the North."

"Perhaps you will," Glenister replied, "although it is not a
woman's land."

"Tell me what led you out here in the first place. You are an
Eastern man. You have had advantages, education--and yet you
choose this. You must love the North."

"Indeed I do! It calls to a fellow in some strange way that a
gentler country never could. When once you've lived the long, lazy
June days that never end, and heard geese honking under a warm,
sunlit midnight; or when once you've hit the trail on a winter
morning so sharp and clear that the air stings your lungs, and the
whole white, silent world glistens like a jewel; yes--and when
you've seen the dogs romping in harness till the sled runners
ring; and the distant mountain-ranges come out like beautiful
carvings, so close you can reach them--well, there's something in
it that brings you back--that's all, no matter where you've lost
yourself. It means health and equality and unrestraint. That's
what I like best, I dare say--the utter unrestraint.

"When I was a school-boy, I used to gaze at the map of Alaska for
hours. I'd lose myself in it. It wasn't anything but a big, blank
corner in the North then, with a name, and mountains, and mystery.
The word 'Yukon' suggested to me everything unknown and weird--
hairy mastodons, golden river bars, savage Indians with bone
arrow-heads and seal-skin trousers. When I left college I came as
fast as ever I could--the adventure, I suppose....

"The law was considered my destiny. How the shades of old Choate
and Webster and Patrick Henry must have wailed when I forswore it.
I'll bet Blackstone tore his whiskers."

"I think you would have made a success," said the girl, but he
laughed.

"Well, anyhow, I stepped out, leaving the way to the United States
Supreme bench unobstructed, and came North. I found it was where I
belonged. I fitted in. I'm not contented--don't think that. I'm
ambitious, but I prefer these surroundings to the others--that's
all. I'm realizing my desires. I've made a fortune--now I'll see
what else the world has."

He suddenly turned to her. "See here," he abruptly questioned,
"what's your name?"

She started, and glanced towards where Dextry had stood, only to
find that the old frontiersman had slipped away during the tale.

"Helen Chester," she replied.

"Helen Chester," he repeated, musingly. "What a pretty name! It
seems almost a pity to change it--to marry, as you will."

"I am not going to Nome to get married."

He glanced at her quickly.

"Then you won't like this country. You are two years too early;
you ought to wait till there are railroads and telephones, and
tables d'hote, and chaperons. It's a man's country yet."

"I don't see why it isn't a woman's country, too. Surely we can
take a part in taming it. Yonder on the Oregon is a complete
railroad, which will be running from the coast to the mines in a
few weeks. Another ship back there has the wire and poles and
fixings for a telephone system, which will go up in a night. As to
tables d'hote, I saw a real French count in Seattle with a
monocle. He's bringing in a restaurant outfit, imported snails,
and pate de joies gras. All that's wanting is the chaperon. In my
flight from the Ohio I left mine. The sailors caught her. You see
I am not far ahead of schedule."

"What part are you going to take in this taming process?" he
asked.

She paused long before replying, and when she did her answer
sounded like a jest.

"I herald the coming of the law," she said.

"The law! Bah! Red tape, a dead language, and a horde of shysters!
I'm afraid of law in this land; we're too new and too far away
from things. It puts too much power in too few hands. Heretofore
we men up here have had recourse to our courage and our Colts, but
we'll have to unbuckle them both when the law comes. I like the
court that hasn't any appeal." He laid hand upon his hip.

"The Colts may go, but the courage never will," she broke in.

"Perhaps. But I've heard rumors already of a plot to prostitute
the law. In Unalaska a man warned Dextry, with terror in his eye,
to beware of it; that beneath the cloak of Justice was a drawn
dagger whetted for us fellows who own the rich diggings. I don't
think there's any truth in it, but you can't tell."

"The law is the foundation--there can't be any progress without
it. There is nothing here now but disorder."

"There isn't half the disorder you think there is. There weren't
any crimes in this country till the tenderfeet arrived. We didn't
know what a thief was. If you came to a cabin you walked in
without knocking. The owner filled up the coffee-pot and sliced
into the bacon; then when he'd started your meal, he shook hands
and asked your name. It was just the same whether his cache was
full or whether he'd packed his few pounds of food two hundred
miles on his back. That was hospitality to make your Southern
article look pretty small. If there was no one at home, you ate
what you needed. There was but one unpardonable breach of
etiquette--to fail to leave dry kindlings. I'm afraid of the
transitory stage we're coming to--that epoch of chaos between the
death of the old and the birth of the new. Frankly, I like the old
way best. I love the license of it. I love to wrestle with nature;
to snatch, and guard, and fight for what I have. I've been beyond
the law for years and I want to stay there, where life is just
what it was intended to be--a survival of the fittest."

His large hands, as he gripped the bulwark, were tense and corded,
while his rich voice issued softly from his chest with the hint of
power unlimited behind it. He stood over her, tall, virile, and
magnetic. She saw now why he had so joyously hailed the fight of
the previous night; to one of his kind it was as salt air to the
nostrils. Unconsciously she approached him, drawn by the spell of
his strength.

"My pleasures are violent and my hate is mighty bitter in my
mouth. What I want, I take. That's been my way in the old life,
and I'm too selfish to give it up."

He was gazing out upon the dimly lucent miles of ice; but now he
turned towards her, and, doing so, touched her warm hand next his
on the rail.

She was staring up at him unaffectedly, so close that the faint
odor from her hair reached him. Her expression was simply one of
wonder and curiosity at this type, so different from any she had
known. But the man's eyes were hot and blinded with the sight of
her, and he felt only her beauty heightened in the dim light, the
brush of her garments, and the small, soft hand beneath his. The
thrill from the touch of it surged over him--mastered him.

"What I want--I take," he repeated, and then suddenly he reached
forth and, taking her in his arms, crushed her to him, kissing her
softly, fiercely, full upon the lips. For an instant she lay
gasping and stunned against his breast, then she tore her fist
free and, with all her force, struck him full in the face.

It was as though she beat upon a stone. With one movement he
forced her arm to her side, smiling into her terrified eyes; then,
holding her like iron, he kissed her again and again upon the
mouth, the eyes, the hair--and released her.

"I am going to love you--Helen," said he.

"And may God strike me dead if I ever stop HATING you!" she cried,
her voice coming thick and hoarse with passion.

Turning, she walked proudly forward towards her cabin, a trim,
straight, haughty figure; and he did not know that her knees were
shaking and weak.




CHAPTER IV

THE KILLING


For four days the Santa Maria felt blindly through the white
fields, drifting north with the spring tide that sets through
Behring Strait, till, on the morning of the fifth, open water
showed to the east. Creeping through, she broke out into the last
stage of the long race, amid the cheers of her weary passengers;
and the dull jar of her engines made welcome music to the girl in
the deck state-room.

Soon they picked up a mountainous coast which rose steadily into
majestic, barren ranges, still white with the melting snows; and
at ten in the evening under a golden sunset, amid screaming
whistles, they anchored in the roadstead of Nome. Before the
rumble of her chains had ceased or the echo from the fleet's
salute had died from the shoreward hills, the ship was surrounded
by a swarm of tiny craft clamoring about her iron sides, while an
officer in cap and gilt climbed the bridge and greeted Captain
Stephens. Tugs with trailing lighters circled discreetly about,
awaiting the completion of certain formalities. These over, the
uniformed gentleman dropped back into his skiff and rowed away.

"A clean bill of health, captain," he shouted, saluting the
commander.

"Thank ye, sir," roared the sailor, and with that the row-boats
swarmed inward pirate-like, boarding the steamer from all
quarters.

As the master turned, he looked down from his bridge to the deck
below, full into the face of Dextry, who had been an intent
witness of the meeting. With unbending dignity, Captain Stephens
let his left eyelid droop slowly, while a boyish grin spread
widely over his face. Simultaneously, orders rang sharp and fast
from the bridge, the crew broke into feverish life, the creak of
booms and the clank of donkey-hoists arose.

"We're here, Miss Stowaway," said Glenister, entering the girl's
cabin. "The inspector passed us and it's time for you to see the
magic city. Come, it's a wonderful sight."

This was the first time they had been alone since the scene on the
after-deck, for, besides ignoring Glenister, she had managed that
he should not even see her except in Dextry's presence. Although
he had ever since been courteous and considerate, she felt the
leaping emotions that were hidden within him and longed to leave
the ship, to fly from the spell of his personality. Thoughts of
him made her writhe, and yet when he was near she could not hate
him as she willed--he overpowered her, he would not be hated, he
paid no heed to her slights. This very quality reminded her how
willingly and unquestioningly he had fought off the sailors from
the Ohio at a word from her. She knew he would do so again, and
more, and it is hard to be bitter to one who would lay down his
life for you, even though he has offended--particularly when he
has the magnetism that sweeps you away from your moorings.

"There's no danger of being seen," he continued, "The crowd's
crazy, and, besides, we'll go ashore right away. You must be mad
with the confinement--it's on my nerves, too."

As they stepped outside, the door of an adjacent cabin opened,
framing an angular, sharp-featured woman, who, catching sight of
the girl emerging from Glenister's state-room, paused with
shrewdly narrowed eyes, flashing quick, malicious glances from one
to the other. They came later to remember with regret this chance
encounter, for it was fraught with grave results for them both.

"Good evening, Mr. Glenister," the lady said with acid cordiality.

"Howdy, Mrs. Champian?" He moved away.

She followed a step, staring at Helen.

"Are you going ashore to-night or wait for morning?"

"Don't know yet, I'm sure." Then aside to the girl he muttered,
"Shake her, she's spying on us."

"Who is she?" asked Miss Chester, a moment later.

"Her husband manages one of the big companies. She's an old cat."

Gaining her first view of the land, the girl cried out, sharply.
They rode on an oily sea, tinted like burnished copper, while on
all sides, amid the faint rattle and rumble of machinery, scores
of ships were belching cargoes out upon living swarms of scows,
tugs, stern-wheelers, and dories. Here and there Eskimo oomiaks,
fat, walrus-hide boats, slid about like huge, many-legged water-
bugs. An endless, ant-like stream of tenders, piled high with
freight, plied to and from the shore. A mile distant lay the city,
stretched like a white ribbon between the gold of the ocean sand
and the dun of the moss-covered tundra. It was like no other in
the world. At first glance it seemed all made of new white canvas.
In a week its population had swelled from three to thirty
thousand. It now wandered in a slender, sinuous line along the
coast for miles, because only the beach afforded dry camping
ground. Mounting to the bank behind, one sank knee-deep in moss
and water, and, treading twice in the same tracks, found a bog of
oozing, icy mud. Therefore, as the town doubled daily in size, it
grew endwise like a string of dominoes, till the shore from Cape
Nome to Penny River was a long reach of white, glinting in the low
rays of the arctic sunset like foamy breakers on a tropic island.

"That's Anvil Creek up yonder," said Glenister. "There's where the
Midas lies. See!" He indicated a gap in the buttress of mountains
rolling back from the coast. "It's the greatest creek in the
world. You'll see gold by the mule-load, and hillocks of nuggets.
Oh, I'm glad to get back. THIS is life. That stretch of beach is
full of gold. These hills are seamed with quartz. The bed-rock of
that creek is yellow. There's gold, gold, gold, everywhere--more
than ever was in old Solomon's mines--and there's mystery and
peril and things unknown."

"Let us make haste," said the girl. "I have something I must do
to-night. After that, I can learn to know these things."

Securing a small boat, they were rowed ashores the partners plying
their ferryman with eager questions. Having arrived five days
before, he was exploding with information and volunteered the
fruits of his ripe experience till Dextry stated that they were
"sourdoughs" themselves, and owned the Midas, whereupon Miss
Chester marvelled at the awe which sat upon the man and the
wondering stare with which he devoured the partners, to her own
utter exclusion.

"Sufferin' cats! Look at the freight!" ejaculated Dextry. "If a
storm come up it would bust the community!"

The beach they neared was walled and crowded to the high-tide mark
with ramparts of merchandise, while every incoming craft deposited
its quota upon whatever vacant foot was close at hand, till bales,
boxes, boilers, and baggage of all kinds were confusedly
intermixed in the narrow space. Singing longshoremen trundled
burdens from the lighters and piled them on the heap, while
yelling, cursing crowds fought over it all, selecting, sorting,
loading.

There was no room for more, yet hourly they added to the mass.
Teams splashed through the lapping surf or stuck in the deep sand
between hillocks of goods. All was noise, profanity, congestion,
and feverish hurry. This burning haste rang in the voice of the
multitude, showed in its violence of gesture and redness of face,
permeated the atmosphere with a magnetic, electrifying energy.

"It's somethin' fierce ashore," said the oarsman. "I been up fer
three days an' nights steady--there ain't no room, nor time, nor
darkness to sleep in. Ham an' eggs is a dollar an' a half, an'
whiskey's four bits a throw." He wailed the last, sadly, as a
complaint unspeakable.

"Any trouble doin'?" inquired the old man.

"You KNOW it!" the other cried, colloquially. "There was a
massacree in the Northern last night."

"Gamblin' row?"

"Yep. Tin-horn called 'Missou' done it."

"Sho!" said Dextry. "I know him. He's a bad actor." All three men
nodded sagely, and the girl wished for further light, but they
volunteered no explanation.

Leaving the skiff, they plunged into turmoil. Dodging through the
tangle, they came out into fenced lots where tents stood wall to
wall and every inch was occupied. Here and there was a vacant spot
guarded jealously by its owner, who gazed sourly upon all men with
the forbidding eye of suspicion. Finding an eddy in the confusion,
the men stopped.

"Where do you want to go?" they asked Miss Chester.

There was no longer in Glenister's glance that freedom with which
he had come to regard the women of the North. He had come to
realize dully that here was a girl driven by some strong purpose
into a position repellent to her. In a man of his type, her
independence awoke only admiration and her coldness served but to
inflame him the more. Delicacy, in Glenister, was lost in a
remarkable singleness of purpose. He could laugh at her loathing,
smile under her abuse, and remain utterly ignorant that anything
more than his action in seizing her that night lay at the bottom
of her dislike. He did not dream that he possessed characteristics
abhorrent to her; and he felt a keen reluctance at parting.

She extended both hands.

"I can never thank you enough for what you have done--you two; but
I shall try. Good-bye!"

Dextry gazed doubtfully at his own hand, rough and gnarly, then
taking hers as he would have handled a robin's egg, waggled it
limply.

"We ain't goin' to turn you adrift this-a-way. Whatever your
destination is, we'll see you to it."

"I can find my friends," she assured him.

"This is the wrong latitude in which to dispute a lady, but
knowin' this camp from soup to nuts, as I do, I su'gests a male
escort."

"Very well! I wish to find Mr. Struve, of Dunham & Struve,
lawyers."

"I'll take you to their offices," said Glenister. "You see to the
baggage, Dex. Meet me at the Second Class in half an hour and
we'll run out to the Midas." They pushed through the tangle of
tents, past piles of lumber, and emerged upon the main
thoroughfare, which ran parallel to the shore.

Nome consisted of one narrow street, twisted between solid rows of
canvas and half-erected frame buildings, its every other door that
of a saloon. There were fair-looking blocks which aspired to the
dizzy height of three stories, some sheathed in corrugated iron,
others gleaming and galvanized. Lawyers' signs, doctors',
surveyors', were in the upper windows. The street was thronged
with men from every land--Helen Chester heard more dialects than
she could count. Laplanders in quaint, three-cornered, padded caps
idled past. Men with the tan of the tropics rubbed elbows with
yellow-haired Norsemen, and near her a carefully groomed Frenchman
with riding-breeches and monocle was in pantomime with a skin-clad
Eskimo. To her left was the sparkling sea, alive with ships of
every class. To her right towered timberless mountains, unpeopled,
unexplored, forbidding, and desolate--their hollows inlaid with
snow. On one hand were the life and the world she knew; on the
other, silence, mystery, possible adventure.

The roadway where she stood was a crush of sundry vehicles from
bicycles to dog-hauled water-carts, and on all sides men were
laboring busily, the echo of hammers mingling with the cries of
teamsters and the tinkle of music within the saloons.

"And this is midnight!" exclaimed Helen, breathlessly. "Do they
ever rest?"

"There isn't time--this is a gold stampede. You haven't caught the
spirit of it yet." They climbed the stairs in a huge, iron-sheeted
building to the office of Dunham

"Anybody else here besides you?" asked her escort of the lawyer.

"No. I'm runnin' the law business unassisted. Don't need any help.
Dunham's in Wash'n'ton, D. C., the lan' of the home, the free of
the brave. What can I do for you?"

He made to cross the threshold hospitably, but tripped, plunged
forward, and would have rolled down the stairs had not Glenister
gathered him up and borne him back into the office, where he
tossed him upon a bed in a rear room.

"Now what, Miss Chester?" asked the young man, returning.

"Isn't that dreadful?" she shuddered. "Oh, and I must see him to-
night!" She stamped impatiently. "I must see him alone."

"No, you mustn't," said Glenister, with equal decision. "In the
first place, he wouldn't know what you were talking about, and in
the second place--I know Struve. He's too drunk to talk business
and too sober to--well, to see you alone."

"But I MUST see him," she insisted. "It's what brought me here.
You don't understand."

"I understand more than he could. He's in no condition to act on
any important matter. You come around to-morrow when he's sober."

"It means so much," breathed the girl. "The beast!"

Glenister noted that she had not wrung her hands nor even hinted
at tears, though plainly her disappointment and anxiety were
consuming her.

"Well, I suppose I'll have to wait, but I don't know where to go--
some hotel, I suppose."

"There aren't any. They're building two, but to-night you couldn't
hire a room in Nome for money. I was about to say 'love or money.'
Have you no other friends here--no women? Then you must let me
find a place for you. I have a friend whose wife will take you
in."

She rebelled at this. Was she never to have done with this man's
favors? She thought of returning to the ship, but dismissed that.
She undertook to decline his aid, but he was half-way down the
stairs and paid no attention to her beginning--so she followed
him.

It was then that Helen Chester witnessed her first tragedy of the
frontier, and through it came to know better the man whom she
disliked and with whom she had been thrown so fatefully. Already
she had thrilled at the spell of this country, but she had not
learned that strength and license carry blood and violence as
corollaries.

Emerging from the doorway at the foot of the stairs, they drifted
slowly along the walk, watching the crowd. Besides the universal
tension, there were laughter and hope and exhilaration in the
faces. The enthusiasm of this boyish multitude warmed one. The
girl wished to get into this spirit--to be one of them. Then
suddenly from the babble at their elbows came a discordant note,
not long nor loud, only a few words, penetrating and harsh with
the metallic quality lent by passion.

Helen glanced over her shoulder to find that the smiles of the
throng were gone and that its eyes were bent on some scene in the
street, with an eager interest she had never seen mirrored before.
Simultaneously Glenister spoke:

"Come away from here."

With the quickened eye of experience he foresaw trouble and tried
to drag her on, but she shook off his grasp impatiently, and,
turning, gazed absorbed at the spectacle which unfolded itself
before her. Although not comprehending the play of events, she
felt vaguely the quick approach of some crisis, yet was unprepared
for the swiftness with which it came.

Her eyes had leaped to the figures of two men in the street from
whom the rest had separated like oil from water. One was slim and
well dressed; the other bulky, mackinawed, and lowering of
feature. It was the smaller who spoke, and for a moment she
misjudged his bloodshot eyes and swaying carriage to be the result
of alcohol, until she saw that he was racked with fury.

"Make good, I tell you, quick! Give me that bill of sale, you--."

The unkempt man swung on his heel with a growl and walked away,
his course leading him towards Glenister and the girl. With two
strides he was abreast of them; then, detecting the flashing
movement of the other, he whirled like a wild animal. His voice
had the snarl of a beast in it.

"Ye had to have it, didn't ye? Well, there!"

The actions of both men were quick as light, yet to the girl's
taut senses they seemed theatrical and deliberate. Into her mind
was seared forever the memory of that second, as though the
shutter of a camera had snapped, impressing upon her brain the
scene, sharp, clear-cut, and vivid. The shaggy back of the large
man almost brushing her, the rage-drunken, white shirted man in
the derby hat, the crowd sweeping backward like rushes before a
blast, men with arms flexed and feet raised in flight, the glaring
yellow sign of the "Gold Belt Dance Hall" across the way--these
were stamped upon her retina, and then she was jerked violently
backward, two strong arms crushed her down upon her knees against
the wall, and she was smothered in the arms of Roy Glenister.

"My God! Don't move! We're in line!"

He crouched over her, his cheek against her hair, his weight
forcing her down into the smallest compass, his arms about her,
his body forming a living shield against the flying bullets. Over
them the big man stood, and the sustained roar of his gun was
deafening. In an instant they heard the thud and felt the jar of
lead in the thin boards against which they huddled. Again the
report echoed above their heads, and they saw the slender man in
the street drop his weapon and spin half round as though hit with
some heavy hand. He uttered a cry and, stooping for his gun,
plunged forward, burying his face in the sand.

The man by Glenister's side shouted curses thickly, and walked
towards his prostrate enemy, firing at every step. The wounded man
rolled to his side, and, raising himself on his elbow, shot twice,
so rapidly that the reports blended--but without checking his
antagonist's approach. Four more times the relentless assailant
fired deliberately, his last missile sent as he stood over the
body which twitched and shuddered at his feet, its garments muddy
and smeared. Then he turned and retraced his steps. Back within
arm's-length of the two who pressed against the building he came,
and as he went by they saw his coarse and sullen features drawn
and working pallidly, while the breath whistled through his teeth.
He held his course to the door they had just quitted, then as he
turned he coughed bestially, spitting out a mouthful of blood. His
knees wavered. He vanished within the portals and, in the sickly
silence that fell, they heard his hob-nailed boots clumping slowly
up the stairs.

Noise awoke and rioted down the thoroughfare. Men rushed forth
from every quarter, and the ghastly object in the dirt was hidden
by a seething mass of miners.

Glenister raised the girl, but her head rolled limply, and she
would have slipped to her knees again had he not placed his arm
about her waist. Her eyes were staring and horror-filled.

"Don't be frightened," said he, smiling at her reassuringly; but
his own lips shook and the sweat stood out like dew on him; for
they had both been close to death. There came a surge and swirl
through the crowd, and Dextry swooped upon them like a hawk.

"Be ye hurt? Holy Mackinaw! When I see 'em blaze away I yells at
ye fit to bust my throat. I shore thought you was gone. Although I
can't say but this killin' was a sight for sore eyes--so neat an'
genteel--still, as a rule, in these street brawls it's the
innocuous bystander that has flowers sent around to his house
afterwards."

"Look at this," said Glenister. Breast-high in the wall against
which they had crouched, not three feet apart, were bullet holes.

"Them's the first two he unhitched," Dextry remarked, jerking his
head towards the object in the street. "Must have been a new gun
an' pulled hard--throwed him to the right. See!"

Even to the girl it was patent that, had she not been snatched as
she was, the bullet would have found her.

"Come away quick," she panted, and they led her into a near-by
store, where she sank upon a seat and trembled until Dextry
brought her a glass of whiskey.

"Here, Miss," he said. "Pretty tough go for a 'cheechako.' I'm
afraid you ain't gettin' enamoured of this here country a whole
lot."

For half an hour he talked to her, in his whimsical way, of
foreign things, till she was quieted. Then the partners arose to
go. Although Glenister had arranged for her to stop with the wife
of the merchant for the rest of the night, she would not.

"I can't go to bed. Please don't leave me! I'm too nervous. I'll
go MAD if you do. The strain of the last week has been too much
for me. If I sleep I'll see the faces of those men again."

Dextry talked with his companion, then made a purchase which he
laid at the lady's feet.

"Here's a pair of half-grown gum boots. You put 'em on an' come
with us. We'll take your mind off of things complete. An' as fer
sweet dreams, when you get back you'll make the slumbers of the
just seem as restless as a riot, or the antics of a mountain-goat
which nimbly leaps from crag to crag, and--well, that's restless
enough. Come on!"

As the sun slanted up out of Behring Sea, they marched back
towards the hills, their feet ankle-deep in the soft fresh moss,
while the air tasted like a cool draught and a myriad of earthy
odors rose up and encircled them. Snipe and reed birds were noisy
in the hollows and from the misty tundra lakes came the honking of
brant. After their weary weeks on shipboard, the dewy freshness
livened them magically, cleansing from their memories the recent
tragedy, so that the girl became herself again.

"Where are we going?" she asked, at the end of an hour, pausing
for breath.

"Why, to the Midas, of course," they said; and one of them vowed
recklessly, as he drank in the beauty of her clear eyes and the
grace of her slender, panting form, that he would gladly give his
share of all its riches to undo what he had done one night on the
Santa Maria.




CHAPTER V

WHEREIN A MAN APPEARS


In the lives of countries there are crises where, for a breath,
destinies lie in the laps of the gods and are jumbled, heads or
tails. Thus are marked distinctive cycles like the seven ages of a
man, and though, perhaps, they are too subtle to be perceived at
the time, yet, having swung past the shadowy milestones, the
epochs disclose themselves.

Such a period in the progress of the Far Northwest was the
nineteenth day of July, although to those concerned in the
building of this new empire the day appealed only as the date of
the coming of the law. All Nome gathered on the sands as lighters
brought ashore Judge Stillman and his following. It was held
fitting that the Senator should be the ship to safeguard the
dignity of the first court and to introduce Justice into this land
of the wild.

The interest awakened by His Honor was augmented by the fact that
he was met on the beach by a charming girl, who flung herself upon
him with evident delight.

"That's his niece," said some one. "She came up on the first boat-
-name's Chester--swell looker, eh?"

Another new-comer attracted even more notice than the limb of the
law; a gigantic, well-groomed man, with keen, close-set eyes, and
that indefinable easy movement and polished bearing that come from
confidence, health, and travel. Unlike the others, he did not
dally on the beach nor display much interest in his surroundings;
but, with purposeful frown strode through the press, up into the
heart of the city. His companion was Struve's partner, Dunham, a
middle-aged, pompous man. They went directly to the offices of
Dunham & Struve, where they found the white-haired junior partner.

"Mighty glad to meet you, Mr. McNamara," said Struve. "Your name
is a household word in my part of the country. My people were
mixed up in Dakota politics somewhat, so I've always had a great
admiration for you and I'm glad you've come to Alaska. This is a
big country and we need big men."

"Did you have any trouble?" Dunham inquired when the three had
adjourned to a private room.

"Trouble," said Struve, ruefully; "well, I wonder if I did. Miss
Chester brought me your instructions O.K. and I got busy right
off. But, tell me this--how did you get the girl to act as
messenger?"

"There was no one else to send," answered McNamara. "Dunham
intended sailing on the first boat, but he was detained in
Washington with, me, and the Judge had to wait for us at Seattle.
We were afraid to trust a stranger for fear he might get curious
and examine the papers. That would have meant--" He moved his hand
eloquently.

Struve nodded. "I see. Does she know what was in the documents?"

"Decidedly not. Women and business don't mix. I hope you didn't
tell her anything."

"No; I haven't had a chance. She seemed to take a dislike to me
for some reason, I haven't seen her since the day after she got
here."

"The Judge told her it had something to do with preparing the way
for his court," said Dunham, "and that if the papers were not
delivered before he arrived it might cause a lot of trouble--
litigation, riots, bloodshed, and all that. He filled her up on
generalities till the girl was frightened to death and thought the
safety of her uncle and the whole country depended on her."

"Well," continued Struve, "it's dead easy to hire men to jump
claims and it's dead easy to buy their rights afterwards,
particularly when they know they haven't got any--but what course
do you follow when owners go gunning for you?"

McNamara laughed.

"Who did that?"

"A benevolent, silver-haired old Texan pirate by the name of
Dextry. He's one half owner in the Midas and the other half
mountain-lion; as peaceable, you'd imagine, as a benediction, but
with the temperament of a Geronimo. I sent Galloway out to
relocate the claim, and he got his notices up in the night when
they were asleep, but at 6 A.M. he came flying back to my room and
nearly hammered the door down. I've seen fright in varied forms
and phases, but he had them all, with some added starters.

"'Hide me out, quick!' he panted.

"'What's up?' I asked.

"'I've stirred up a breakfast of grizzly bear, smallpox, and
sudden death and it don't set well on my stummick. Let me in.'

"I had to keep him hidden three days, for this gentle-mannered old
cannibal roamed the streets with a cannon in his hand, breathing
fire and pestilence."

"Anybody else act up?" queried Dunham.

"No; all the rest are Swedes and they haven't got the nerve to
fight. They couldn't lick a spoon if they tried. These other men
are different, though. There are two of them, the old one and a
young fellow. I'm a little afraid to mix it up with them, and if
their claim wasn't the best in the district, I'd say let it
alone."

"I'll attend to that," said McNamara.

Struve resumed:

"Yes, gentlemen, I've been working pretty hard and also pretty
much in the dark so far. I'm groping for light. When Miss Chester
brought in the papers I got busy instanter. I clouded the title to
the richest placers in the region, but I'm blamed if I quite see
the use of it. We'd be thrown out of any court in the land if we
took them to law. What's the game--blackmail?"

"Humph!" ejaculated McNamara. "What do you take me for?"

"Well, it does seem small for Alec McNamara, but I can't see what
else you're up to."

"Within a week I'll be running every good mine in the Nome
district."

McNamara's voice was calm but decisive, his glance keen and alert,
while about him clung such a breath of power and confidence that
it compelled belief even in the face of this astounding speech.

In spite of himself, Wilton Struve, lawyer, rake, and gentlemanly
adventurer, felt his heart leap at what the other's daring
implied. The proposition was utterly past belief, and yet, looking
into the man's purposeful eyes, he believed.

"That's big--awful big--TOO big," the younger man murmured. "Why,
man, it means you'll handle fifty thousand dollars a day!"

Dunham shifted his feet in the silence and licked his dry lips.

"Of course it's big, but Mr. McNamara's the biggest man that ever
came to Alaska," he said.

"And I've got the biggest scheme that ever came north, backed by
the biggest men in Washington," continued the politician. "Look
here!" He displayed a type-written sheet bearing parallel lists of
names and figures. Struve gasped incredulously.

"Those are my stockholders and that is their share in the venture.
Oh, yes; we're incorporated--under the laws of Arizona--secret, of
course; it would never do for the names to get out. I'm showing
you this only because I want you to be satisfied who's behind me."

"Lord! I'm satisfied," said Struve, laughing nervously. "Dunham
was with you when you figured the scheme out and he met some of
your friends in Washington and New York. If he says it's all
right, that settles it. But say, suppose anything went wrong with
the company and it leaked out who those stockholders are?"

"There's no danger. I have the books where they will be burned at
the first sign. We'd have had our own land laws passed but for
Sturtevant of Nevada, damn him. He blocked us in the Senate.
However, my plan is this." He rapidly outlined his proposition to
the listeners, while a light of admiration grew and shone in the
reckless face of Struve.

"By heavens! you're a wonder!" he cried, at the close, "and I'm
with you body and soul. It's dangerous--that's why I like it."

"Dangerous?" McNamara shrugged his shoulders. "Bah! Where is the
danger? We've got the law--or rather, we ARE the law. Now, let's
get to work."

It seemed that the Boss of North Dakota was no sluggard. He
discarded coat and waistcoat and tackled the documents which
Struve laid before him, going through them like a whirlwind.
Gradually he infected the others with his energy, and soon behind
the locked doors of Dunham & Struve there were only haste and
fever and plot and intrigue.

As Helen Chester led the Judge towards the flamboyant, three-
storied hotel she prattled to him light-heartedly. The fascination
of a new land already held her fast, and now she felt, in
addition, security and relief. Glenister saw them from a distance
and strode forward to greet them.

He beheld a man of perhaps threescore years, benign of aspect save
for the eyes, which were neither clear nor steady, but had the
trick of looking past one. Glenister thought the mouth, too,
rather weak and vacillating; but the clean-shaven face was
dignified by learning a acumen and was wrinkled in pleasant
fashion.

"My niece has just told me of your service to her," the old
gentleman began. "I am happy to know you, sir."

"Besides being a brave knight and assisting ladies in distress,
Mr. Glenister is a very great and wonderful man," Helen explained,
lightly. "He owns the Midas."

"Indeed!" said the old man, his shifting eyes now resting full on
the other with a flash of unmistakable interest. "I hear that is a
wonderful mine. Have you begun work yet?"

"No. We'll commence sluicing day after to-morrow. It has been a
late spring. The snow in the gulch was deep and the ground thaws
slowly. We've been building houses and doing dead work, but we've
got our men on the ground, waiting."

"I am greatly interested. Won't you walk with us to the hotel? I
want to hear more about these wonderful placers."

"Well, they ARE great placers," said the miner, as the three
walked on together; "nobody knows HOW great because we've only
scratched at them yet. In the first place the ground is so shallow
and the gold is so easy to get, that if nature didn't safeguard us
in the winter we'd never dare leave our claims for fear of
'snipers.' They'd run in and rob us."

"How much will the Anvil Creek mines produce this summer?" asked
the Judge.

"It's hard to tell, sir; but we expect to average five thousand a
day from the Midas alone, and there are other claims just as
good."

"Your title is all clear, I dare say, eh?"

"Absolutely, except for one jumper, and we don't take him
seriously. A fellow named Galloway relocated us one night last
month, but he didn't allege any grounds for doing so, and we could
never find trace of him. If we had, our title would be as clean as
snow again." He said the last with a peculiar inflection.

"You wouldn't use violence, I trust?"

"Sure! Why not? It has worked all right heretofore."

"But, my dear sir, those days are gone. The law is here and it is
the duty of every one to abide by it."

"Well, perhaps it is; but in this country we consider a man's mine
as sacred as his family. We didn't know what a lock and key were
in the early times and we didn't have any troubles except famine
and hardship. It's different now, though. Why, there have been
more claims jumped around here this spring than in the whole
length and history of the Yukon."

They had reached the hotel, and Glenister paused, turning to the
girl as the Judge entered. When she started to follow, he detained
her.

"I came down from the hills on purpose to see you. It has been a
long week--"

"Don't talk that way," she interrupted, coldly. "I don't care to
hear it."

"See here--what makes you shut me out and wrap yourself up in your
haughtiness? I'm sorry for what I did that night--I've told you so
repeatedly. I've wrung my soul for that act till there's nothing
left but repentance."

"It is not that," she said, slowly. "I have been thinking it over
during the past month, and now that I have gained an insight into
this life I see that it wasn't an unnatural thing for you to do.
It's terrible to think of, but it's true. I don't mean that it was
pardonable," she continued, quickly, "for it wasn't, and I hate
you when I think about it, but I suppose I put myself into a
position to invite such actions. No; I'm sufficiently broad-minded
not to blame you unreasonably, and I think I could like you in
spite of it, just for what you have done for me; but that isn't
all. There is something deeper. You saved my life and I'm
grateful, but you frighten me, always. It is the cruelty in your
strength, it is something away back in you--lustful, and
ferocious, and wild, and crouching."

He smiled wryly.

"It is my local color, maybe--absorbed from this country. I'll try
to change, though, if you want me to. I'll let them rope and throw
and brand me. I'll take on the graces of civilization and put away
revenge and ambition and all the rest of it, if it will make you
like me any better. Why, I'll even promise not to violate the
person of our claim-jumper if I catch him; and Heaven knows THAT
means that Samson has parted with his locks."

"I think I could like you if you did," she said, "but you can't do
it. You are a savage."

 There are no clubs nor marts where men foregather for business in
the North--nothing but the saloon, and this is all and more than a
club. Here men congregate to drink, to gamble, and to traffic.

It was late in the evening when Glenister entered the Northern and
passed idly down the row of games, pausing at the crap-table,
where he rolled the dice when his turn came. Moving to the
roulette-wheel, he lost a stack of whites, but at the faro "lay-
out" his luck was better, and he won a gold coin on the "high-
card." Whereupon he promptly ordered a round of drinks for the men
grouped about him, a formality always precedent to overtures of
general friendship.

As he paused, glass in hand, his eyes were drawn to a man who
stood close by, talking earnestly. The aspect of the stranger
challenged notice, for he stood high above his companions with a
peculiar grace of attitude in place of the awkwardness common in
men of great stature. Among those who were listening intently to
the man's carefully modulated tones, Glenister recognized Mexico
Mullins, the ex-gambler who had given Dextry the warning at
Unalaska. As he further studied the listening group, a drunken man
staggered uncertainly through the wide doors of the saloon and,
gaining sight of the tall stranger, blinked, then approached him,
speaking with a loud voice:

"Well, if 'tain't ole Alec McNamara! How do, ye ole pirate!"

McNamara nodded and turned his back coolly upon the new-comer.

"Don't turn your dorsal fin to me; I wan' to talk to ye."

McNamara continued his calm discourse till he received a vicious
whack on the shoulder; then he turned for a moment to interrupt
his assailant's garrulous profanity:

"Don't bother me. I am engaged."

"Ye won' talk to me, eh? Well, I'm goin' to talk to YOU, see? I
guess you'd listen if I told these people all I know about you.
Turn around here."

His voice was menacing and attracted general notice. Observing
this, McNamara addressed him, his words dropping clear, concise,
and cold:

"Don't talk to me. You are a drunken nuisance. Go away before
something happens to you."

Again he turned away, but the drunken man seized and whirled him
about, repeating his abuse, encouraged by this apparent patience.

"Your pardon for an instant, gentlemen." McNamara laid a large
white and manicured hand upon the flannel sleeve of the miner and
gently escorted him through the entrance to the sidewalk, while
the crowd smiled.

As they cleared the threshold, however, he clenched his fist
without a word and, raising it, struck the sot fully and cruelly
upon the jaw. His victim fell silently, the back of his head
striking the boards with a hollow thump; then, without even
observing how he lay, McNamara re-entered the saloon and took up
his conversation where he had been interrupted. His voice was as
evenly regulated as his movements, betraying not a sign of anger,
excitement, or bravado. He lit a cigarette, extracted a note-book,
and jotted down certain memoranda supplied him by Mexico Mullins.

All this time the body lay across the threshold without a sign of
life. The buzz of the roulette-wheel was resumed and the crap-
dealer began his monotonous routine. Every eye was fixed on the
nonchalant man at the bar, but the unconscious creature outside
the threshold lay unheeded, for in these men's code it behooves
the most humane to practise a certain aloofness in the matter of
private brawls.

Having completed his notes, McNamara shook hands gravely with his
companions and strode out through the door, past the bulk that
sprawled across his path, and, without pause or glance,
disappeared.

A dozen willing, though unsympathetic, hands laid the drunkard on
the roulette-table, where the bartender poured pitcher upon
pitcher of water over him.

"He ain't hurt none to speak of," said a bystander; then added,
with enthusiasm:

"But say! There's a MAN in this here camp!"




CHAPTER VI

AND A MINE IS JUMPED


"Who's your new shift boss?" Glenister inquired of his partner, a
few days later, indicating a man in the cut below, busied in
setting a line of sluices.

"That's old 'Slapjack' Simms, friend of mine from up Dawson way."

Glenister laughed immoderately, for the object was unusually tall
and loose-jointed, and wore a soiled suit of yellow mackinaw. He
had laid off his coat, and now the baggy, bilious trousers hung
precariously from his angular shoulders by suspenders of alarming
frailty. His legs were lost in gum boots, also loose and
cavernous, and his entire costume looked relaxed and flapping, so
that he gave the impression of being able to shake himself out of
his raiment, and to rise like a burlesque Aphrodite. His face was
overgrown with a grizzled tangle that looked as though it had been
trimmed with button-hole scissors, while above the brush heap
grandly soared a shiny, dome-like head.

"Has he always been bald?"

"Naw! He ain't bald at all. He shaves his nob. In the early days
he wore a long flowin' mane which was inhabited by crickets, tree-
toads, and such fauna. It got to be a hobby with him finally, so
that he growed superstitious about goin' uncurried, and would back
into a corner with both guns drawed if a barber came near him. But
once Hank--that's his real name--undertook to fry some slapjacks,
and in givin' the skillet a heave, the dough lit among his forest
primeval, jest back of his ears, soft side down. Hank polluted the
gulch with langwidge which no man had ought to keep in himself
without it was fumigated. Disreppitableness oozed out through him
like sweat through an ice-pitcher, an' since then he's been known
as Slapjack Simms, an' has kept his head shingled smooth as a gun
bar'l. He's a good miner, though; ain't none better--an' square as
a die."

Sluicing had begun on the Midas. Long sinuous lengths of canvas
hose wound down the creek bottom from the dam, like gigantic
serpents, while the roll of gravel through the flumes mingled
musically with the rush of waters, the tinkle of tools, and the
song of steel on rock. There were four "strings" of boxes abreast,
and the heaving line of shovellers ate rapidly into the creek bed,
while teams with scrapers splashed through the tail races in an
atmosphere of softened profanity. In the big white tents which sat
back from the bluffs, fifty men of the night shift were asleep;
for there is no respite here--no night, no Sunday, no halt, during
the hundred days in which the Northland lends herself to pillage.

The mine lay cradled between wonderful, mossy, willow-mottled
mountains, while above and below the gulch was dotted with tents
and huts, and everywhere, from basin to hill crest, men dug and
blasted, punily, patiently, while their tracks grew daily plainer
over the face of this inscrutable wilderness.

A great contentment filled the two partners as they looked on this
scene. To wrest from reluctant earth her richest treasures, to add
to the wealth of the world, to create--here was satisfaction.

"We ain't robbin' no widders an' orphans doin' it, neither,"
Dextry suddenly remarked, expressing his partner's feelings
closely. They looked at each other and smiled with that rare
understanding that exceeds words.

Descending into the cut, the old man filled a gold-pan with dirt
taken from under the feet of the workers, and washed it in a
puddle, while the other watched his dexterous whirling motions.
When he had finished, they poked the stream of yellow grains into
a pile, then, with heads together, guessed its weight, laughing
again delightedly, in perfect harmony and contentment.

"I've been waitin' a turrible time fer this day," said the elder.
"I've suffered the plagues of prospectin' from the Mexicos to the
Circle, an' yet I don't begretch it none, now that I've struck
pay."

While they spoke, two miners struggled with a bowlder they had
unearthed, and having scraped and washed it carefully, staggered
back to place it on the cleaned bed-rock behind. One of them
slipped, and it crashed against a brace which held the sluices in
place. These boxes stand more than a man's height above the bed-
rock, resting on supporting posts and running full of water.
Should a sluice fall, the rushing stream carries out the gold
which has lodged in the riffles and floods the bed-rock, raising
havoc. Too late the partners saw the string of boxes sway and bend
at the joint. Then, before they could reach the threatened spot to
support it, Slapjack Simms, with a shriek, plunged flapping down
into the cut and seized the flume. His great height stood him in
good stead now, for where the joint had opened, water poured forth
in a cataract, He dived under the breach unhesitatingly and,
stooping, lifted the line as near to its former level as possible,
holding the entire burden upon his naked pate. He gesticulated
wildly for help, while over him poured the deluge of icy, muddy
water. It entered his gaping waistband, bulging out his yellow
trousers till they were fat and full and the seams were bursting,
while his yawning boot-tops became as boiling springs. Meanwhile
he chattered forth profanity in such volume that the ear ached
under it as must have ached the heroic Slapjack under the chill of
the melting snow. He was relieved quickly, however, and emerged
triumphant, though blue and puckered, his wilderness of whiskers
streaming like limber stalactites, his boots loosely "squishing,"
while oaths still poured from him in such profusion that Dextry
whispered:

"Ain't he a ring-tailed wonder? It's plumb solemn an' reverent the
way he makes them untamed cuss-words sit up an' beg. It's a
privilege to be present. That's a GIFT, that is."

"You'd better get some dry clothes," they suggested, and Slapjack
proceeded a few paces towards the tents, hobbling as though
treading on pounded glass.

"Ow--w!" he yelled. "These blasted boots is full of gravel."

He seated himself and tugged at his foot till the boot came away
with a sucking sound, then, instead of emptying the accumulation
at random, he poured the contents into Dextry's empty gold-pan,
rinsing it out carefully. The other boot he emptied likewise. They
held a surprising amount of sediment, because the stream that had
emerged from the crack in the sluices had carried with it pebbles,
sand, and all the concentration of the riffles at this point.
Standing directly beneath the cataract, most of it had dived
fairly into his inviting waistband, following down the lines of
least resistance into his boot-legs and boiling out at the knees.

"Wash that," he said. "You're apt to get a prospect."

With artful passes Dextry settled it in the pan bottom and washed
away the gravel, leaving a yellow, glittering pile which raised a
yell from the men who had lingered curiously.

"He pans forty dollars to the boot-leg," one shouted.

"How much do you run to the foot, Slapjack?"

"He's a reg'lar free-milling ledge."

"No, he ain't--he's too thin. He's nothing but a stringer, but
he'll pay to work."

The old miner grinned toothlessly.

"Gentlemen, there ain't no better way to save fine gold than with
undercurrents an' blanket riffles. I'll have to wash these
garments of mine an' clean up the soapsuds 'cause there's a
hundred dollars in gold-dust clingin' to my person this minute."
He went dripping up the bank, while the men returned to their work
singing.

After lunch Dextry saddled his bronco.

"I'm goin' to town for a pair of gold-scales, but I'll be back by
supper, then we'll clean up between shifts. She'd ought to give us
a thousand ounces, the way that ground prospects." He loped down
the gulch, while his partner returned to the pit, the flashing
shovel blades, and the rumbling undertone of the big workings that
so fascinated him. It was perhaps four o'clock when he was aroused
from his labors by a shout from the bunk-tent, where a group of
horsemen had clustered. As Glenister drew near, he saw among them
Wilton Struve, the lawyer, and the big, well-dressed tenderfoot of
the Northern--McNamara--the man of the heavy hand. Struve
straightway engaged him.

"Say, Glenister, we've come out to see about the title to this
claim."

"What about it?"

"Well, it was relocated about a month ago." He paused.

"Yes. What of that?"

"Galloway has commenced suit."

"The ground belongs to Dextry and me. We discovered it, we opened
it up, we've complied with the law, and we're going to hold it."
Glenister spoke with such conviction and heat as to nonplus
Struve, but McNamara, who had sat his horse silently until now,
answered:

"Certainly, sir; if your title is good you will be protected, but
the law has arrived in Alaska and we've got to let it take its
course. There's no need of violence--none whatever--but, briefly,
the situation is this: Mr. Galloway has commenced action against
you; the court has enjoined you from working and has appointed me
as receiver to operate the mine until the suit is settled. It's an
extraordinary procedure, of course, but the conditions are
extraordinary in this country. The season is so short that it
would be unjust to the rightful owner if the claim lay idle all
summer--so, to avoid that, I've been put in charge, with
instructions to operate it and preserve the proceeds subject to
the court's order. Mr. Voorhees here is the United States Marshal.
He will serve the papers."

Glenister threw up his hand in a gesture of restraint.

"Hold on! Do you mean to tell me that any court would recognize
such a claim as Galloway's?"

"The law recognizes everything. If his grounds are no good, so
much the better for you."

"You can't put in a receiver without notice to us. Why, good Lord!
we never heard of a suit being commenced. We've never even been
served with a summons and we haven't had a chance to argue in our
own defence."

"I have just said that this is a remarkable state of affairs and
unusual action had to be taken," McNamara replied, but the young
miner grew excited.

"Look here--this gold won't get away. It's safe in the ground.
We'll knock off work and let the claim lie idle till the thing is
settled. You can't really expect us to surrender possession of our
mine on the mere allegation of some unknown man. That's
ridiculous. We won't do it. Why, you'll have to let us argue our
case, at least, before you try to put us off."

Voorhees shook his head. "We'll have to follow instructions. The
thing for you to do is to appear before the court to-morrow and
have the receiver dismissed. If your title is as good as you say
it is, you won't have any trouble."

"You're not the only ones to suffer," added McNamara. "We've taken
possession of all the mines below here." He nodded down the gulch.
"I'm an officer of the court and under bond--"

"How much?"

"Five thousand dollars for each claim."

"What! Why, heavens, man, the poorest of these mines is producing
that much every day!"

While he spoke, Glenister was rapidly debating what course to
follow.

"The place to argue this thing is before Judge Stillman," said
Struve--but with little notion of the conflict going on within
Glenister. The youth yearned to fight--not with words nor quibbles
nor legal phrases, but with steel and blows. And he felt that the
impulse was as righteous as it was natural, for he knew this
process was unjust, an outrage. Mexico Mullins's warning recurred
to him. And yet--. He shifted slowly as he talked till his back
was to the door of the big tent. They were watching him carefully,
for all their apparent languor and looseness in saddle; then as he
started to leap within and rally his henchmen, his mind went back
to the words of Judge Stillman and his niece. Surely that old man
was on the square. He couldn't be otherwise with her beside him,
believing in him; and a suspicion of deeper plots behind these
actions was groundless. So far, all was legal, he supposed, with
his scant knowledge of law; though the methods seemed
unreasonable. The men might be doing what they thought to be
right. Why be the first to resist? The men on the mines below had
not done so. The title to this ground was capable of such easy
proof that he and Dex need have no uneasiness. Courts do not rob
honest people nowadays, he argued, and moreover, perhaps the
girl's words were true, perhaps she WOULD think more of him if he
gave up the old fighting ways for her sake. Certainly armed
resistance to her uncle's first edict would not please her. She
had said he was too violent, so he would show her he could lay his
savagery aside. She might smile on him approvingly, and that was
worth taking a chance for--anyway it would mean but a few days'
delay in the mine's run. As he reasoned he heard a low voice
speaking within the open door. It was Slapjack Simms.

"Step aside, lad. I've got the big un covered."

Glenister saw the men on horseback snatch at their holsters, and,
just in time, leaped at his foreman, for the old man had moved out
into the open, a Winchester at shoulder, his cheek cuddling the
stock, his eyes cold and narrow. The young man flung the barrel up
and wrenched the weapon from his hands.

"None of that, Hank!" he cried, sharply. "I'll say when to shoot."
He turned to look into the muzzles of guns held in the hands of
every horseman--every horseman save one, for Alec McNamara sat
unmoved, his handsome features, nonchalant and amused, nodding
approval. It was at him that Hank's weapon had been levelled.

"This is bad enough at the best. Don't let's make it any worse,"
said he.

Slapjack inhaled deeply, spat with disgust, and looked over his
boss incredulously.

"Well, of all the different kinds of damn fools," he snorted, "you
are the kindest." He marched past the marshal and his deputies
down to the cut, put on his coat, and vanished down the trail
towards town, not deigning a backward glance either at the mine or
at the man unfit to fight for.




CHAPTER VII

THE "BRONCO KID'S" EAVESDROPPING


Late in July it grows dark as midnight approaches, so that the
many lights from doorway and window seem less garish and strange
than they do a month earlier. In the Northern there was good
business doing. The new bar fixtures, which had cost a king's
ransom, or represented the one night's losings of a Klondike
millionaire, shone rich, dark, and enticing, while the cut glass
sparkled with iridescent hues, reflecting, in a measure, the
prismatic moods, the dancing spirits of the crowd that crushed
past, halting at the gambling games, or patronizing the theatre in
the rear. The old bar furniture, brought down by dog team from "Up
River," was established at the rear extremity of the long
building, just inside the entrance to the dancehall, where patrons
of the drama might, with a modicum of delay and inconvenience,
quaff as deeply of the beaker as of the ballet.

Now, however, the show had closed, the hall had been cleared of
chairs and canvas, exposing a glassy, tempting surface, and the
orchestra had moved to the stage. They played a rollicking, blood-
stirring two-step, while the floor swam with dancers.

At certain intervals the musicians worked feverishly up to a
crashing crescendo, supported by the voices of the dancers, until
all joined at the top note in a yell, while the drummer fired a
.44 Colt into a box of wet sawdust beside his chair--all in time,
all in the swinging spirit of the tune.

The men, who were mostly young, danced like college boys, while
the women, who were all young and good dancers, floated through
the measures with the ease of rose-leaves on a summer stream.
Faces were flushed, eyes were bright, and but rarely a voice
sounded that was not glad. Most of the noise came from the men,
and although one caught, here and there, a hint of haggard lines
about the girlish faces, and glimpsed occasional eyes that did not
smile, yet as a whole the scene was one of genuine enjoyment.

Suddenly the music ceased and the couples crowded to the bar. The
women took harmless drinks, the men, mostly whiskey. Rarely was
the choice of potations criticised, though occasionally some ruddy
eschewer of sobriety insisted that his lady "take the same,"
avowing that "hootch," having been demonstrated beneficial in his
case, was good for her also. Invariably the lady accepted without
dispute, and invariably the man failed to note her glance at the
bartender, or the silent substitution by that capable person of
ginger-ale for whiskey or of plain water for gin. In turn, the
mixers collected one dollar from each man, flipping to the girl a
metal percentage-check which she added to her store. In the
curtained boxes overhead, men bought bottles with foil about the
corks, and then subterfuge on the lady's part was idle, but, on
the other hand, she was able to pocket for each bottle a check
redeemable at five dollars.

A stranger, straight from the East, would have remarked first upon
the good music, next upon the good looks of the women, and then
upon the shabby clothes of the men--for some of them were in
"mukluk," others in sweaters with huge initials and winged
emblems, and all were collarless.

Outside in the main gambling-room there were but few women. Men
crowded in dense masses about the faro lay-out, the wheel, craps,
the Klondike game, pangingi, and the card-tables. They talked of
business, of home, of women, bought and sold mines, and bartered
all things from hams to honor. The groomed and clean, the unkempt
and filthy jostled shoulder to shoulder, equally affected by the
license of the goldfields and the exhilaration of the New. The
mystery of the North had touched them all. The glad, bright wine
of adventure filled their veins, and they spoke mightily of things
they had resolved to do, or recounted with simple diffidence the
strange stories of their accomplishment.

The "Bronco Kid," familiar from Atlin to Nome as the best "bank"
dealer on the Yukon, worked the shift from eight till two. He was
a slender man of thirty, dexterous in movement, slow to smile,
soft of voice, and known as a living flame among women. He had
dealt the biggest games of the early days, and had no enemies.
Yet, though many called him friend, they wondered inwardly.

It was a strong play the Kid had to-night, for Swede Sam, of
Dawson, ventured many stacks of yellow chips, and he was a quick,
aggressive gambler. A Jew sat at the king end with ten neatly
creased one-thousand-dollar bills before him, together with piles
of smaller currency. He adventured viciously and without system,
while outsiders to the number of four or five cut in sporadically
with small bets. The game was difficult to follow; consequently
the lookout, from his raised dais, was leaning forward, chin in
hand, while the group was hedged about by eager on-lookers.

Faro is a closed book to most people, for its intricacies are
confusing. Lucky is he who has never persevered in solving its
mysteries nor speculated upon the "systems" of beating it. From
those who have learned it, the game demands practice, dexterity,
and coolness. The dealer must run the cards, watch the many
shifting bets, handle the neatly piled checks, figure, lightning-
like, the profits and losses. It was his unerring, clock like
regularity in this that had won the Kid his reputation. This night
his powers were taxed. He dealt silently, scowlingly, his long
white fingers nervously caressing the cards.

This preoccupation prevented his noticing the rustle and stir of a
new-comer who had crowded up behind him, until he caught the
wondering glances of those in front and saw that the Israelite was
staring past him, his money forgotten, his eyes beady and sharp,
his rat-like teeth showing in a grin of admiration. Swede Sam
glared from under his unkempt shock and felt uncertainly towards
the open collar of his flannel shirt where a kerchief should have
been. The men who were standing gazed at the new-comer, some with
surprise, others with a half smile of recognition.

Bronco glanced quickly over his shoulder, and as he did so the
breath caught in his throat--but for only an instant. A girl stood
so close beside him that the lace of her gown brushed his sleeve.
He was shuffling at the moment and dropped a card, then nodded to
her. speaking quietly, as he stooped to regain the pasteboard:

"Howdy, Cherry?"

She did not answer--only continued to look at the "lay-out." "What
a woman!" he thought. She was not too tall, with smoothly rounded
bust and hips, and long waist, all well displayed by her perfectly
fitting garments. Her face was oval, the mouth rather large, the
eyes of dark, dark-blue, prominently outlined under thin, silken
lids. Her dull-gold hair was combed low over the ears, and her
smile showed rows of sparkling teeth before it dived into twin
dimples. Strangest of all, it was an innocent face, the face and
smile of a school-girl.

The Kid finished his shuffling awkwardly and slid the cards into
the box. Then the woman spoke:

"Let me have your place, Bronco."

The men gasped, the Jew snickered, the lookout straightened in his
chair.

"Better not. It's a hard game," said the Kid, but her voice was
imperious as she commanded him:

"Hurry up. Give me your place."

Bronco arose, whereupon she settled in his chair, tucked in her
skirts, removed her gloves, and twisted into place the diamonds on
her hands.

"What the devil's this?" said the lookout, roughly. "Are you
drunk, Bronco? Get out of that chair, miss."

She turned to him slowly. The innocence had fled from her features
and the big eyes flashed warningly. A change had coarsened her
like a puff of air on a still pool. Then, while she stared at him,
her lids drooped dangerously and her lip curled.

"Throw him out, Bronco," she said, and her tones held the hardness
of a mistress to her slave.

"That's all right," the Kid reassured the lookout. "She's a better
dealer than I am. This is Cherry Malotte."

Without noticing the stares this evoked, the girl commenced. Her
hands, beautifully soft and white, flashed over the board. She
dealt rapidly, unfalteringly, with the finish of one bred to the
cards, handling chips and coppers with the peculiar mannerisms
that spring from long practice. It was seen that she never looked
at her check-rack, but, when a bet required paying, picked up a
stack without turning her head; and they saw further that she
never reached twice, nor took a large pile and sized it up against
its mate, removing the extra disks, as is the custom. When she
stretched forth her hand she grasped the right number unerringly.
This is considered the acme of professional finish, and the Bronco
Kid smiled delightedly as he saw the wonder spread from the
lookout to the spectators and heard the speech of the men who
stood on chairs and tables for sight of the woman dealer.

For twenty minutes she continued, until the place became
congested, and never once did the lookout detect an error.

While she was busy, Glenister entered the front-door and pushed
his way back towards the theatre. He was worried and distrait, his
manner perturbed and unnatural. Silently and without apparent
notice he passed friends who greeted him.

"What ails Glenister to-night?" asked a by-stander. "He acts
funny,"

"Ain't you heard? Why, the Midas has been jumped. He's in a bad
way--all broke up."

The girl suddenly ceased without finishing the deck, and arose.

"Don't stop," said the Kid, while a murmur of dismay came from the
spectators. She only shook her head and drew on her gloves with a
show of ennui.

Gliding through the crowd, she threaded about aimlessly, the
recipient of many stares though but few greetings, speaking with
no one, a certain dignity serving her as a barrier even here. She
stopped a waiter and questioned him.

"He's up-stairs in a gallery box."

"Alone?"

"Yes'm. Anyhow, he was a minute ago, unless some of the rustlers
has broke in on him."

A moment later Glenister, watching the scene below, was aroused
from his gloomy absorption by the click of the box door and the
rustle of silken skirts.

"Go out, please," he said, without turning. "I don't want
company." Hearing no answer, he began again, "I came here to be
alone"--but there he ceased, for the girl had come forward and
laid her two hot hands upon his cheeks.

"Boy," she breathed--and he arose swiftly.

"Cherry! When did you come?"

"Oh, DAYS ago," she said, impatiently, "from Dawson. They told me
you had struck it. I stood it as long as I could--then I came to
you. Now, tell me about yourself. Let me see you first, quick!"

She pulled him towards the light and gazed upward, devouring him
hungrily with her great, languorous eyes. She held to his coat
lapels, standing close beside him, her warm breath beating up into
his face,

"Well," she said, "kiss me!"

He took her wrists in his and loosed her hold, then looked down on
her gravely and said:

"No--that's all over. I told you so when I left Dawson."

"All over! Oh no, it isn't, boy. You think so, but it isn't--it
can't be. I love you too much to let you go."

"Hush!" said he. "There are people in the next box."

"I don't care! Let them hear," she cried, with feminine
recklessness. "I'm proud of my love for you. I'll tell it to them-
-to the whole world."

"Now, see here, little girl," he said, quietly, "we had a long
talk in Dawson and agreed that it was best to divide our ways. I
was mad over you once, as a good many other men have been, but I
came to my senses. Nothing could ever result from it, and I told
you so."

"Yes, yes--I know. I thought I could give you up, but I didn't
realize till you had gone how I wanted you. Oh, it's been a
TORTURE to me every day for the past two years." There was no
semblance now to the cold creature she had appeared upon entering
the gambling-hall. She spoke rapidly, her whole body tense with
emotion, her voice shaken with passion. "I've seen men and men and
men, and they've loved me, but I never cared for anybody in the
world till I saw you. They ran after me, but you were cold. You
made me come to you. Perhaps that was it. Anyhow, I can't stand
it. I'll give up everything--I'll do anything just to be where you
are. What do you think of a woman who will beg? Oh, I've lost my
pride--I'm a fool--a fool--but I can't help it."

"I'm sorry you feel this way," said Glenister. "It isn't my fault,
and it isn't of any use."

For an instant she stood quivering, while the light died out of
her face; then, with a characteristic change, she smiled till the
dimples laughed in her cheeks. She sank upon a seat beside him and
pulled together the curtains, shutting out the sight below.

"Very well"--then she put his hand to her cheek and cuddled it.
"I'm glad to see you just the same, and you can't keep me from
loving you."

With his other hand he smoothed her hair, while, unknown to him
and beneath her lightness, she shrank and quivered at his touch
like a Barbary steed under the whip.

"Things are very bad with me," he said. "We've had our mine
jumped."

"Bah! You know what to do. You aren't a cripple--you've got five
fingers on your gun hand."

"That's it! They all tell me that--all the old-timers; but I don't
know what to do. I thought I did--but I don't. The law has come
into this country and I've tried to meet it half-way. They jumped
us and put in a receiver--a big man--by the name of McNamara. Dex
wasn't there and I let them do it. When the old man learned of it
he nearly went crazy. We had our first quarrel. He thought I was
afraid--"

"Not he," said the girl. "I know him and he knows you."

"That was a week ago. We've hired the best lawyer in Nome--Bill
Wheaton--and we've tried to have the injunction removed. We've
offered bond in any sum, but the Judge refuses to accept it. We've
argued for leave to appeal, but he won't give us the right. The
more I look into it the worse it seems, for the court wasn't
convened in accordance with law, we weren't notified to appear in
our own behalf, we weren't allowed a chance to argue our own case-
-nothing. They simply slapped on a receiver, and now they refuse
to allow us redress. From a legal stand-point, it's appalling, I'm
told--but what's to be done? What's the game? That's the thing.
What are they up to? I'm nearly out of my mind, for it's all my
fault. I didn't think it meant anything like this or I'd have made
a fight for possession and stood them off at least. As it is, my
partner's sore and he's gone to drinking--first time in twelve
years. He says I gave the claim away, and now it's up to me and
the Almighty to get it back. If he gets full he'll drive a four-
horse wagon into some church, or go up and pick the Judge to
pieces with his fingers to see what makes him go round."

"What've they got against you and Dextry--some grudge?" she
questioned.

"No, no! We're not the only ones in trouble; they've jumped the
rest of the good mines and put this McNamara in as receiver on all
of them, but that's small comfort. The Swedes are crazy; they've
hired all the lawyers in town, and are murdering more good
American language than would fill Bering Strait. Dex is in favor
of getting our friends together and throwing the receiver off. He
wants to kill somebody, but we can't do that. They've got the
soldiers to fall back on. We've been warned that the troops are
instructed to enforce the court's action. I don't know what the
plot is, for I can't believe the old Judge is crooked--the girl
wouldn't let him."

"Girl?"

Cherry Malotte leaned forward where the light shone on the young
man's worried face.

"The girl? What girl? Who is she?"

Her voice had lost its lazy caress, her lips had thinned. Never
was a woman's face more eloquent, mused Glenister as he noted her.
Every thought fled to this window to peer forth, fearful, lustful,
hateful, as the case might be. He had loved to play with her in
the former days, to work upon her passions and watch the changes,
to note her features mirror every varying emotion from tenderness
to flippancy, from anger to delight, and, at his bidding, to see
the pale cheeks glow with love's fire, the eyes grow heavy, the
dainty lips invite kisses. Cherry was a perfect little spoiled
animal, he reflected, and a very dangerous one.

"What girl?" she questioned again, and he knew beforehand the look
that went with it.

"The girl I intend to marry," he said, slowly, looking her between
the eyes.

He knew he was cruel--he wanted to be--it satisfied the clamor and
turmoil within him, while he also felt that the sooner she knew
and the colder it left her the better. He could not note the
effect of the remark on her, however, for, as he spoke, the door
of the box opened and the head of the Bronco Kid appeared, then
retired instantly with apologies.

"Wrong stall," he said, in his slow voice. "Looking for another
party." Nevertheless, his eyes had covered every inch of them--
noted the drawn curtains and the breathless poise of the woman--
while his ears had caught part of Glenister's speech.

"You won't marry her," said Cherry, quietly. "I don't know who she
is, but I won't let you marry her."

She rose and smoothed her skirts.

"It's time nice people were going now." She said it with a sneer
at herself. "Take me out through this crowd. I'm living quietly
and I don't want these beasts to follow me."

As they emerged from the theatre the morning air was cool and
quiet, while the sun was just rising. The Bronco Kid lighted a
cigar as they passed, nodding silently at their greeting. His eyes
followed them, while his hands were so still that the match burned
through to his fingers--then when they had gone his teeth met and
ground savagely through the tobacco so that the cigar fell, while
he muttered:

"So that's the girl you intend to marry? We'll see, by God!"




CHAPTER VIII

DEXTRY MAKES A CALL


The water front had a strong attraction for Helen Chester, and
rarely did a fair day pass without finding her in some quiet spot
from which she could watch the shifting life along its edge, the
ships at anchor, and the varied incidents of the surf.

This morning she sat in a dory pulled high up on the beach, bathed
in the bright sunshine, and staring at the rollers, while lines of
concentration wrinkled her brow. The wind had blown for some days
till the ocean beat heavily across the shallow bar, and now, as it
became quieter, longshoremen were launching their craft, preparing
to resume their traffic.

Not until the previous day had the news of her friends' misfortune
come to her, and although she had heard no hint of fraud, she
began to realize that they were involved in a serious tangle. To
the questions which she anxiously put to her uncle he had replied
that their difficulty arose from a technicality in the mining laws
which another man had been shrewd enough to profit by. It was a
complicated question, he said, and one requiring time to thrash
out to an equitable settlement. She had undertaken to remind him
of the service these men had done her, but, with a smile, he
interrupted; he could not allow such things to influence his
judicial attitude, and she must not endeavor to prejudice him in
the discharge of his duty. Recognizing the justice of this, she
had desisted.

For many days the girl had caught scattered talk between the Judge
and McNamara, and between Struve and his associates, but it all
seemed foreign and dry, and beyond the fact that it bore on the
litigation over the Anvil Creek mines, she understood nothing and
cared less, particularly as a new interest had but recently come
into her life, an interest in the form of a man--McNamara.

He had begun with quiet, half-concealed admiration of her, which
had rapidly increased until his attentions had become of a
singularly positive and resistless character.

Judge Stillman was openly delighted, while the court of one like
Alec McNamara could but flatter any girl. In his presence, Helen
felt herself rebelling at his suit, yet as distance separated them
she thought ever more kindly of it. This state of mind contrasted
oddly with her feelings towards the other man she had met, for in
this country there were but two. When Glenister was with her she
saw his love lying nakedly in his eyes and it exercised some spell
which drew her to him in spite of herself, but when he had gone,
back came the distrust, the terror of the brute she felt was there
behind it all. The one appealed to her while present, the other
pled strongest while away. Now she was attempting to analyze her
feelings and face the future squarely, for she realized that her
affairs neared a crisis, and this, too, not a month after meeting
the men. She wondered if she would come to love her uncle's
friend. She did not know. Of the other she was sure--she never
could.

Busied with these reflections, she noticed the familiar figure of
Dextry wandering aimlessly. He was not unkempt, and yet his air
gave her the impression of prolonged sleeplessness. Spying her, he
approached and seated himself in the sand against the boat, while
at her greeting he broke into talk as if he was needful only of
her friendly presence to stir his confidential chords into active
vibration.

"We're in turrible shape, miss," he said. "Our claim's jumped.
Somebody run in and talked the boy out of it while I was gone, and
now we can't get 'em off. He's been tryin' this here new law game
that you-all brought in this summer. I've been drunk--that's what
makes me look so ornery."

He said the last, not in the spirit of apology, for rarely does
your frontiersman consider that his self-indulgences require
palliation, but rather after the manner of one purveying news of
mild interest, as he would inform you that his surcingle had
broken or that he had witnessed a lynching.

"What made them jump your claim?"

"I don't know. I don't know nothin' about it, because, as I
remarked previous, I 'ain't follered the totterin' footsteps of
the law none too close. Nor do I intend to. I simply draws out of
the game fer a spell, and lets the youngster have his fling; then
if he can't make good, I'll take the cards and finish it for him.

"It's like the time I was ranchin' with an Englishman up in
Montana. This here party claimed the misfortune of bein' a younger
son, whatever that is, and is grubstaked to a ranch by his people
back home. Havin' acquired an intimate knowledge of the West by
readin' Bret Harte, and havin' assim'lated the secrets of ranchin'
by correspondence school, he is fitted, ample, to teach us natives
a thing or two--and he does it. I am workin' his outfit as
foreman, and it don't take long to show me that he's a good-
hearted feller, in spite of his ridin'-bloomers an' pinochle eye-
glass. He ain't never had no actual experience, but he's got a
Henry Thompson Seton book that tells him all about everything from
field-mice to gorrillys.

"We're troubled a heap with coyotes them days, and finally this
party sends home for some Rooshian wolf-hounds. I'm fer pizenin' a
sheep carcass, but he says:

"'No, no, me deah man; that's not sportsman-like; we'll hunt 'em.
Ay, hunt 'em! Only fawncy the sport we'll have, ridin' to hounds!'

"'We will not,' says I. 'I ain't goin' to do no Simon Legree
stunts. It ain't man's size. Bein' English, you don't count, but
I'm growed up.'

"Nothin' would do him but those Uncle Tom's Cabin dogs, however,
and he had 'em imported clean from Berkshire or Sibeery or
thereabouts, four of 'em, great, big, blue ones. They was as
handsome and imposin' as a set of solid-gold teeth, but somehow
they didn't seem to savvy our play none. One day the cook rolled a
rain bar'l down-hill from the kitchen, and when them blooded
critters saw it comin' they throwed down their tails and tore out
like rabbits. After that I couldn't see no good in 'em with a spy-
glass.

"'They 'ain't got no grit. What makes you think they can fight?' I
asked one day.

"'Fight?' says H'Anglish. 'My deah man, they're full-blooded. Cost
seventy pun each. They're dreadful creatures when they're roused--
they'll tear a wolf to pieces like a rag--kill bears--anything.
Oh! Rully, perfectly dreadful!'

"Well, it wasn't a week later that he went over to the east line
with me to mend a barb wire. I had my pliers and a hatchet and
some staples. About a mile from the house we jumped up a little
brown bear that scampered off when he seen us, but bein' agin' a
bluff where he couldn't get away, he climbed a cotton-wood.
H'Anglish was simply frothin' with excitement.

"'What a misfortune! Neyther gun nor hounds.'

"'I'll scratch his back and talk pretty to him,' says I, 'while
you run back and get a Winchester and them ferocious bull-dogs.'

"'Wolf-hounds,' says he, with dignity, 'full-blooded, seventy pun
each. They'll rend the poor beast limb from limb. I hate to do it,
but it 'll be good practice for them.'

"'They may be good renders,' says I, 'but don't forgit the gun.'

"Well, I throwed sticks at the critter when he tried to unclimb
the tree, till finally the boss got back with his dogs. They set
up an awful holler when they see the bear--first one they'd ever
smelled, I reckon--and the little feller crawled up in some forks
and watched things, cautious, while they leaped about, bayin' most
fierce and blood-curdlin'.

"'How you goin' to get him down?' says I.

"'I'll shoot him in the lower jaw,' says the Britisher, 'so he
cawn't bite the dogs. It 'll give 'em cawnfidence.'

"He takes aim at Mr. Bear's chin and misses it three times
runnin', he's that excited.

"'Settle down, H'Anglish,' says I. 'He 'ain't got no double chins.
How many shells left in your gun?' "When he looks he finds there's
only one more, for he hadn't stopped to fill the magazine, so I
cautions him.

"'You're shootin' too low. Raise her.'

"He raised her all right, and caught Mr. Bruin in the snout. What
followed thereafter was most too quick to notice, for the poor
bear let out a bawl, dropped off his limb into the midst of them
ragin', tur'ble, seventy-pun hounds, an' hugged 'em to death, one
after another, like he was doin' a system of health exercises. He
took 'em to his boosum as if he'd just got back off a long trip,
then, droppin' the last one, he made at that younger son an' put a
gold fillin' in his leg. Yes, sir; most chewed it off. H'Anglish
let out a Siberian-wolf holler hisself, an' I had to step in with
the hatchet and kill the brute though I was most dead from
laughin'.

"That's how it is with me an' Glenister," the old man concluded.
"When he gets tired experimentin' with this new law game of hisn,
I'll step in an' do business on a common-sense basis."

"You talk as if you wouldn't get fair play," said Helen.

"We won't," said he, with conviction. "I look on all lawyers with
suspicion, even to old bald-face--your uncle, askin' your pardon
an' gettin' it, bein' as I'm a friend an' he ain't no real
relation of yours, anyhow. No, sir; they're all crooked."

Dextry held the Western distrust of the legal profession--
comprehensive, unreasoning, deep.

"Is the old man all the kin you've got?" he questioned, when she
refused to discuss the matter.

"He is--in a way. I have a brother, or I hope I have, somewhere.
He ran away when we were both little tads and I haven't seen him
since. I heard about him, indirectly, at Skagway--three years ago-
-during the big rush to the Klondike, but he has never been home.
When father died, I went to live with Uncle Arthur--some day,
perhaps, I'll find my brother. He's cruel to hide from me this
way, for there are only we two left and I've loved him always."

She spoke sadly and her mood blended well with the gloom of her
companion, so they stared silently out over the heaving green
waters.

"It's a good thing me an' the kid had a little piece of money
ahead," Dextry resumed later, reverting to the thought that lay
uppermost in his mind, "'cause we'd be up against it right if we
hadn't. The boy couldn't have amused himself none with these court
proceedings, because they come high. I call 'em luxuries, like
brandied peaches an' silk undershirts.

"I don't trust these Jim Crow banks no more than I do lawyers,
neither. No, sirree! I bought a iron safe an' hauled it out to the
mine. She weighs eighteen hundred, and we keep our money locked up
there. We've got a feller named Johnson watchin' it now. Steal it?
Well, hardly. They can't bust her open without a stick of 'giant'
which would rouse everybody in five miles, an' they can't lug her
off bodily--she's too heavy. No; it's safer there than any place I
know of. There ain't no abscondin' cashiers an' all that. Tomorrer
I'm goin' back to live on the claim an' watch this receiver man
till the thing's settled."

When the girl arose to go, he accompanied her up through the deep
sand of the lane-like street to the main, muddy thoroughfare of
the camp. As yet, the planked and gravelled pavements, which later
threaded the town, were unknown, and the incessant traffic had
worn the road into a quagmire of chocolate-colored slush, almost
axle-deep, with which the store fronts, show-windows, and awnings
were plentifully shot and spattered from passing teams. Whenever a
wagon approached, pedestrians fled to the shelter of neighboring
doorways, watching a chance to dodge out again. When vehicles
passed from the comparative solidity of the main street out into
the morasses that constituted the rest of the town, they
adventured perilously, their horses plunging, snorting, terrified,
amid an atmosphere of profanity. Discouraged animals were down
constantly, and no foot-passenger, even with rubber boots,
ventured off the planks that led from house to house.

To avoid a splashing team, Dextry pulled his companion close in
against the entrance to the Northern saloon, standing before her
protectingly.

Although it was late in the afternoon the Bronco Kid had just
arisen and was now loafing preparatory to the active duties of his
profession. He was speaking with the proprietor when Dextry and
the girl sought shelter just without the open door, so he caught a
fair though fleeting glimpse of her as she flashed a curious look
inside. She had never been so close to a gambling-hall before, and
would have liked to peer in more carefully had she dared, but her
companion moved forward. At the first look the Bronco Kid had
broken off in his speech and stared at her as though at an
apparition. When she had vanished, he spoke to Reilly:

"Who's that?"

Reilly shrugged his shoulders, then without further question the
Kid turned back towards the empty theatre and out of the back
door.

He moved nonchalantly till he was outside, then with the speed of
a colt ran down the narrow planking between the buildings, turned
parallel to the front street, leaped from board to board, splashed
through puddles of water till he reached the next alley. Stamping
the mud from his shoes and pulling down his sombrero, he sauntered
out into the main thoroughfare.

Dextry and his companion had crossed to the other side and were
approaching, so the gambler gained a fair view of them. He
searched every inch of the girl's face and figure, then, as she
made to turn her eyes in his direction, he slouched away. He
followed, however, at a distance, till he saw the man leave her,
then on up to the big hotel he shadowed her. A half-hour later he
was drinking in the Golden Gate bar-room with an acquaintance who
ministered to the mechanical details behind the hotel counter.

"Who's the girl I saw come in just now?" he inquired.

"I guess you mean the Judge's niece."

Both men spoke in the dead, restrained tones that go with their
callings.

"What's her name?"

"Chester, I think. Why? Look good to you, Kid?"

Although the other neither spoke nor made sign, the bartender
construed his silence as acquiescence and continued, with a
conscious glance at his own reflection while he adjusted his
diamond scarf-pin: "Well, she can have ME! I've got it fixed to
meet her."

"BAH! I guess not," said the Kid, suddenly, with an inflection
that startled the other from his preening. Then, as he went out,
the man mused:

"Gee! Bronco's got the worst eye in the camp! Makes me creep when
he throws it on me with that muddy look. He acted like he was
jealous."

 At noon the next day, as he prepared to go to the claim, Dextry's
partner burst in upon him. Glenister was dishevelled, and his eyes
shone with intense excitement.

"What d'you think they've done now?" he cried, as greeting.

"I dunno. What is it?"

"They've broken open the safe and taken our money."

"What!"

The old man in turn was on his feet, the grudge which he had felt
against Glenister in the past few days forgotten in this common
misfortune.

"Yes, by Heaven, they've swiped our money--our tents, tools,
teams, books, hose, and all of our personal property--everything!
They threw Johnson off and took the whole works. I never heard of
such a thing. I went out to the claim and they wouldn't let me go
near the workings. They've got every mine on Anvil Creek guarded
the same way, and they aren't going to let us come around even
when they clean up. They told me so this morning."

"But, look here," demanded Dextry, sharply, "the money in that
safe belongs to us. That's money we brought in from the States.
The court 'ain't got no right to it. What kind of a damn law is
that?"

"Oh, as to law, they don't pay any attention to it any more," said
Glenister, bitterly. "I made a mistake in not killing the first
man that set foot on the claim. I was a sucker, and now we're up
against a stiff game. The Swedes are in the same fix, too. This
last order has left them groggy." "I don't understand it yet,"
said Dextry.

"Why, it's this way. The Judge has issued what he calls an order
enlarging the powers of the receiver, and it authorizes McNamara
to take possession of everything on the claims--tents, tools,
stores, and personal property of all kinds. It was issued last
night without notice to our side, so Wheaton says, and they served
it this morning early. I went out to see McNamara, and when I got
there I found him in our private tent with the safe broken open."

"'What does this mean?' I said. And then he showed me the new
order.

"'I'm responsible to the court for every penny of this money,'
said he, 'and for every tool on the claim. In view of that I can't
allow you to go near the workings.'

"'Not go near the workings?' said I. 'Do you mean you won't let us
see the clean-ups from our own mine? How do we know we're getting
a square deal if we don't see the gold weighed?'

"'I'm an officer of the court and under bond,' said he, and the
smiling triumph in his eyes made me crazy.

"'You're a lying thief,' I said, looking at him square. 'And
you're going too far. You played me for a fool once and made it
stick, but it won't work twice.'

"He looked injured and aggrieved and called in Voorhees, the
marshal. I can't grasp the thing at all; everybody seems to be
against us, the Judge, the marshal, the prosecuting attorney--
everybody. Yet they've done it all according to law, they claim,
and have the soldiers to back them up."

"It's just as Mexico Mullins said," Dextry stormed; "there's a
deal on of some kind. I'm goin' up to the hotel an' call on the
Judge myself. I 'ain't never seen him nor this McNamara, either. I
allus want to look a man straight in the eyes once, then I know
what course to foller in my dealings."

"You'll find them both," said Glenister, "for McNamara rode into
town behind me."

The old prospector proceeded to the Golden Gate Hotel and inquired
for Judge Stillman's room. A boy attempted to take his name, but
he seized him by the scruff of the neck and sat him in his seat,
proceeding unannounced to the suite to which he had been directed.
Hearing voices, he knocked, and then, without awaiting a summons,
walked in.

The room was fitted like an office, with desk, table, type-writer,
and law-books. Other rooms opened from it on both sides. Two men
were talking earnestly--one gray-haired, smooth-shaven, and
clerical, the other tall, picturesque, and masterful. With his
first glance the miner knew that before him were the two he had
come to see, and that in reality he had to deal with but one, the
big man who shot at him the level glances.

"We are engaged," said the Judge, "very busily engaged, sir. Will
you call again in half an hour?"

Dextry looked him over carefully from head to foot, then turned
his back on him and regarded the other. Neither he nor McNamara
spoke, but their eyes were busy and each instinctively knew that
here was a foe.

"What do you want?" McNamara inquired, finally.

"I just dropped in to get acquainted. My name is Dextry--Joe
Dextry--from everywhere west of the Missouri--an' your name is
McNamara, ain't it? This here, I reckon, is your little French
poodle--eh?" indicating Stillman.

"What do you mean?" said McNamara, while the Judge murmured
indignantly.

"Just what I say. However, that ain't what I want to talk about. I
don't take no stock in such truck as judges an' lawyers an' orders
of court. They ain't intended to be took serious. They're all
right for children an' Easterners an' non compos mentis people, I
s'pose, but I've always been my own judge, jury, an' hangman, an'
I aim to continue workin' my legislatif, executif, an' judicial
duties to the end of the string. You look out! My pardner is young
an' seems to like the idee of lettin' somebody else run his
business, so I'm goin' to give him rein and let him amuse himself
for a while with your dinky little writs an' receiverships. But
don't go too far--you can rob the Swedes, 'cause Swedes ain't
entitled to have no money, an' some other crook would get it if
you didn't, but don't play me an' Glenister fer Scandinavians.
It's a mistake. We're white men, an' I'm apt to come romancin' up
here with one of these an' bust you so you won't hold together
durin' the ceremonies."

With his last words he made the slightest shifting movement, only
a lifting shrug of the shoulder, yet in his palm lay a six-
shooter. He had slipped it from his trousers band with the ease of
long practice and absolute surety. Judge Stillman gasped and
backed against the desk, but McNamara idly swung his leg as he sat
sidewise on the table. His only sign of interest was a quickening
of the eyes, a fact of which Dextry made mental note.

"Yes," said the miner, disregarding the alarm of the lawyer, "you
can wear this court in your vest-pocket like a Waterbury, if you
want to, but if you don't let me alone, I'll uncoil its main-
spring. That's all."

He replaced his weapon and, turning, walked out the door.




CHAPTER IX

SLUICE ROBBERS


"We must have money," said Glenister a few days later. "When
McNamara jumped our safe he put us down and out. There's no use
fighting in this court any longer, for the Judge won't let us work
the ground ourselves, even if we give bond, and he won't grant an
appeal. He says his orders aren't appealable. We ought to send
Wheaton out to 'Frisco and have him take the case to the higher
courts. Maybe he can get a writ of supersedeas."

"I don't rec'nize the name, but if it's as bad as it sounds it's
sure horrible. Ain't there no cure for it?"

"It simply means that the upper court would take the case away
from this one."

"Well, let's send him out quick. Every day means ten thousand
dollars to us. It 'll take him a month to make the round trip, so
I s'pose he ought to leave tomorrow on the Roanoke."

"Yes, but where's the money to do it with? McNamara has ours. My
God! What a mess we're in! What fools we've been, Dex! There's a
conspiracy here. I'm beginning to see it now that it's too late.
This man is looting our country under color of law, and figures on
gutting all the mines before we can throw him off. That's his
game. He'll work them as hard and as long as he can, and Heaven
only knows what will become of the money. He must have big men
behind him in order to fix a United States judge this way. Maybe
he has the 'Frisco courts corrupted, too."

"If he has, I'm goin' to kill him," said Dextry. "I've worked like
a dog all my life, and now that I've struck pay I don't aim to
lose it. If Bill Wheaton can't win out accordin' to law, I'm goin'
to proceed accordin' to justice."

During the past two days the partners had haunted the court-room
where their lawyer, together with the counsel for the
Scandinavians, had argued and pleaded, trying every possible
professional and unprofessional artifice in search of relief from
the arbitrary rulings of the court, while hourly they had become
more strongly suspicious of some sinister plot--some hidden,
powerful understanding back of the Judge and the entire mechanism
of justice. They had fought with the fury of men who battle for
life, and had grown to hate the lines of Stillman's vacillating
face, the bluster of the district-attorney, and the smirking
confidence of the clerks, for it seemed that they all worked
mechanically, like toys, at the dictates of Alec McNamara. At
last, when they had ceased, beaten and exhausted, they were too
confused with technical phrases to grasp anything except the fact
that relief was denied them; that their claims were to be worked
by the receiver; and, as a crowning defeat, they learned that the
Judge would move his court to St. Michael's and hear no cases
until he returned, a month later.

Meanwhile, McNamara hired every idle man he could lay hand upon,
and ripped the placers open with double shifts. Every day a stream
of yellow dust poured into the bank and was locked in his vaults,
while those mine-owners who attempted to witness the clean-ups
were ejected from their claims. The politician had worked with
incredible swiftness and system, and a fortnight after landing he
had made good his boast to Struve, and was in charge of every good
claim in the district, the owners were ousted, their appeals
argued and denied, and the court gone for thirty days, leaving him
a clear field for his operations. He felt a contempt for most of
his victims, who were slow-witted Swedes, grasping neither the
purport nor the magnitude of his operation, and as to those
litigants who were discerning enough to see its enormity, he
trusted to his organization to thwart them.

The two partners had come to feel that they were beating against a
wall, and had also come squarely to face the proposition that they
were without funds wherewith to continue their battle. It was
maddening for them to think of the daily robbery that they
suffered, for the Midas turned out many ounces of gold at every
shift; and more maddening to realize the receiver's shrewdness in
crippling them by his theft of the gold in their safe. That had
been his crowning stroke.

"We MUST get money quick," said Glenister. "Do you think we can
borrow?"

"Borrow?" sniffed Dextry. "Folks don't lend money in Alaska."

They relapsed into a moody silence.

"I met a feller this mornin' that's workin' on the Midas," the old
man resumed. "He came in town fer a pair of gum boots, an' he says
they've run into awful rich ground--so rich that they have to
clean up every morning when the night shift goes off 'cause the
riffles clog with gold."

"Think of it!" Glenister growled. "If we had even a part of one of
those clean-ups we could send Wheaton outside."

In the midst of his bitterness a thought struck him. He made as
though to speak, then closed his mouth; but his partner's eyes
were on him, filled with a suppressed but growing fire. Dextry
lowered his voice cautiously:

"There'll be twenty thousand dollars in them sluices to-night at
midnight."

Glenister stared back while his pulse pounded at something that
lay in the other's words.

"It belongs to us," the young man said. "There wouldn't be
anything wrong about it, would there?"

Dextry sneered. "Wrong! Right! Them is fine an' soundin' titles in
a mess like this. What do they mean? I tell you, at midnight to-
night Alec McNamara will have twenty thousand dollars of our
money--"

"God! What would happen if they caught us?" whispered the younger,
following out his thought. "They'd never let us get off the claim
alive. He couldn't find a better excuse to shoot us down and get
rid of us. If we came up before this Judge for trial, we'd go to
Sitka for twenty years."

"Sure! But it's our only chance. I'd ruther die on the Midas in a
fair fight than set here bitin' my hangnails. I'm growin' old and
I won't never make another strike. As to bein' caught--them's our
chances. I won't be took alive--I promise you that--and before I
go I'll get my satisfy. Castin' things up, that's about all a man
gets in this vale of tears, jest satisfaction of one kind or
another. It'll be a fight in the open, under the stars, with the
clean, wet moss to lie down on, and not a scrappin'-match of freak
phrases and law-books inside of a stinkin' court-room. The cards
is shuffled and in the box, pardner, and the game is started. If
we're due to win, we'll win. If we're due to lose, we'll lose.
These things is all figgered out a thousand years back. Come on,
boy. Are you game?"

"Am I game?" Glenister's nostrils dilated and his voice rose a
tone. "Am I game? I'm with you till the big cash-in, and Lord have
mercy on any man that blocks our game to-night."

"We'll need another hand to help us," said Dextry. "Who can we
get?"

At that moment, as though in answer, the door opened with the
scant ceremony that friends of the frontier are wont to observe,
admitting the attenuated, flapping, dome-crowned figure of
Slapjack Simms, and Dextry fell upon him with the hunger of a
wolf.

 It was midnight and over the dark walls of the valley peered a
multitude of stars, while away on the southern horizon there
glowed a subdued effulgence as though from hidden fires beneath
the Gold God's caldron, or as though the phosphorescence of Bering
had spread upward into the skies. Although each night grew longer,
it was not yet necessary to light the men at work in the cuts.
There were perhaps two hours in which it was difficult to see at a
distance, but the dawn came early, hence no provision had been
made for torches.

Five minutes before the hour the night-shift boss lowered the
gates in the dam, and, as the rush from the sluices subsided, his
men quit work and climbed the bluff to the mess tent. The
dwellings of the Midas, as has already been explained, sat back
from the creek at a distance of a city block, the workings being
thus partially hidden under the brow of the steep bank.

It is customary to leave a watchman in the pit during the noon and
midnight hours, not only to see that strangers preserve a neutral
attitude, but also to watch the waste-gates and water supply. The
night man of the Midas had been warned of his responsibility, and,
knowing that much gold lay in his keeping, was disposed to gaze on
the curious-minded with the sourness of suspicion. Therefore, as a
man leading a pack-horse approached out of the gloom of the creek-
trail, his eyes were on him from the moment he appeared. The road
wound along the gravel of the bars and passed in proximity to the
flumes. However, the wayfarer paid no attention to them, and the
watchman detected an explanatory weariness in his slow gait.

"Some prospector getting in from a trip," he thought.

The stranger stopped, scratched a match, and, as he undertook to
light his pipe, the observer caught the mahogany shine of a
negro's face. The match sputtered out and then came impatient
blasphemy as he searched for another.

"Evenin', sah! You-all oblige me with a match?"

He addressed the watcher on the bank above, and, without waiting a
reply, began to climb upward.

No smoker on the trail will deny the luxury of a light to the most
humble, so as the negro gained his level the man reached forth to
accommodate him. Without warning, the black man leaped forward
with the ferocity of an animal and struck the other a fearful
blow. The watchman sank with a faint, startled cry, and the
African dragged him out of sight over the brow of the bank, where
he rapidly tied him hand and foot, stuffing a gag into his mouth.
At the same moment two other figures rounded the bend below and
approached. They were mounted and leading a third saddle-horse, as
well as other pack-animals. Reaching the workings, they
dismounted. Then began a strange procedure, for one man clambered
upon the sluices and, with a pick, ripped out the riffles. This
was a matter of only a few seconds; then, seizing a shovel, he
transferred the concentrates which lay in the bottom of the boxes
into canvas sacks which his companion held. As each bag was
filled, it was tied and dumped into the cut. They treated but four
boxes in this way, leaving the lower two-thirds of the flume
untouched, for Anvil Creek gold is coarse and the heart of the
clean-up lies where it is thrown in. Gathering the sacks together,
they lashed them upon the pack-animals, then mounted the second
string of sluices and began as before. Throughout it all they
worked with feverish haste and in unbroken silence, every moment
flashing quick glances at the figure of the lookout who stood on
the crest above, half dimmed in the shadow of a willow clump.
Judging by their rapidity and sureness, they were expert miners.

From the tent came the voices of the night shift at table, and the
faint rattle of dishes, while the canvas walls glowed from the
lights within like great fire-flies hidden in the grass. The
foreman, finishing his meal, appeared at the door of the mess
tent, and, pausing to accustom his eyes to the gloom, peered
perfunctorily towards the creek. The watchman detached himself
from the shadow, moving out into plain sight, and the boss turned
back. The two men below were now working on the sluices which lay
close under the bank and were thus hidden from the tent.

 McNamara's description of Anvil Creek's riches had fired Helen
Chester with the desire to witness a clean-up, so they had ridden
out from town in time for supper at the claim. She had not known
whither he led her, only understanding that provision for her
entertainment would be made with the superintendent's wife. Upon
recognizing the Midas, she had endeavored to question him as to
why her friends had been dispossessed, and he had answered, as it
seemed, straight and true.

The ground was in dispute, he said--another man claimed it--and
while the litigation pended he was in charge for the court, to see
that neither party received injury. He spoke adroitly, and it
satisfied her to have the proposition resolved into such
simplicity.

She had come prepared to spend the night and witness the early
morning operation, so the receiver made the most of his
opportunity. He showed her over the workings, explaining the many
things that were strange to her. Not only was he in himself a
fascinating figure to any woman, but wherever he went men regarded
him deferentially, and nothing affects a woman's judgment more
promptly than this obvious sign of power. He spent the evening
with her, talking of his early days and the things he had done in
the West, his story matching the picturesqueness of her canvas-
walled quarters with their rough furnishings of skins and
blankets. Being a keen observer as well as a finished raconteur,
he had woven a spell of words about the girl, leaving her in a
state of tumult and indecision when at last, towards midnight, he
retired to his own tent. She knew to what end all this was
working, and yet knew not what her answer would be when the
question came which lay behind it all. At moments she felt the
wonderful attraction of the man, and still there was some distrust
of him which she could not fathom. Again her thoughts reverted to
Glenister, the impetuous, and she compared the two, so similar in
some ways, so utterly opposed in others.

It was when she heard the night shift at their meal that she threw
a silken shawl about her head, stepped into the cool night, and
picked her way down towards the roar of the creek. "A breath of
air and then to bed," she thought. She saw the tall figure of the
watchman and made for him. He seemed oddly interested in her
approach, watching her very closely, almost as though alarmed. It
was doubtless because there were so few women out here, or
possibly on account of the lateness of the hour. Away with
conventions! This was the land of instinct and impulse. She would
talk to him. The man drew his hat more closely about his face and
moved off as she came up. Glenister had been in her thoughts a
moment since, and she now noted that here was another with the
same great, square shoulders and erect head. Then she saw with a
start that this one was a negro. He carried a Winchester and
seemed to watch her carefully, yet with indecision.

To express her interest and to break the silence, she questioned
him, but at the sound of her voice he stepped towards her and
spoke roughly.

"What!"

Then he paused, and stammered in a strangely altered and unnatural
voice:

"Yass'm. I'm the watchman."

She noted two other darkies at work below and was vaguely
surprised, not so much at their presence, as at the manner in
which they moved, for they seemed under stress of some great
haste, running hither and yon. She saw horses standing in the
trail and sensed something indefinably odd and alarming in the
air. Turning to the man, she opened her mouth to speak, when from
the rank grass under her feet came a noise which set her a-tingle,
and at which her suspicions leaped full to the solution. It was
the groan of a man. Again he gave voice to his pain, and she knew
that she stood face to face with something sinister. Tales of
sluice robbers had come to her, and rumors of the daring raids
into which men were lured by the yellow sheen--and yet this was
incredible. A hundred men lay within sound of her voice; she could
hear their laughter; one was whistling a popular refrain. A
quarter-mile away on every hand were other camps; a scream from
her would bring them all. Nonsense, this was no sluice robbery--
and then the man in the bushes below moaned for the third time.

"What is that?" she said.

Without reply the negro lowered the muzzle of his rifle till it
covered her breast and at the same time she heard the double click
of the hammer.

"Keep still and don't move," he warned. "We're desperate and we
can't take any chances, Miss."

"Oh, you are stealing the gold--"

She was wildly frightened, yet stood still while the lookout
anxiously divided his attention between her and the tents above
until his companions signalled him that they were through and the
horses were loaded. Then he spoke:

"I don't know what to do with you, but I guess I'll tie you up."

"What!" she said.

"I'm going to tie and gag you so you can't holler."

"Oh, don't you DARE!" she cried, fiercely. "I'll stand right here
till you've gone and I won't scream. I promise." She looked up at
him appealingly, at which he dipped his head, so that she caught
only a glimpse of his face, and then backed away.

"All right! Don't try it, because I'll be hidden in those bushes
yonder at the bend and I'll keep you covered till the others are
gone." He leaped down the bank, ran to the cavalcade, mounted
quickly, and the three lashed their horses into a run,
disappearing up the trail around the sharp curve. She heard the
blows of their quirts as they whipped the pack-horses.

They were long out of sight before the girl moved or made sound,
although she knew that none of the three had paused at the bend.
She only stood and gazed, for as they galloped off she had heard
the scrap of a broken sentence. It was but one excited word,
sounding through the rattle of hoofs--her own name--"Helen"; and
yet because of it she did not voice the alarm, but rather began to
piece together, bit by bit, the strange points of this adventure.
She recalled the outlines of her captor with a wrinkle of
perplexity. Her fright disappeared entirely, giving place to
intense excitement. "No, no--it can't be--and yet I wonder if it
IS!" she cried. "Oh, I wonder if it could be!" She opened her lips
to cry aloud, then hesitated. She started towards the tents, then
paused, and for many moments after the hoof-beats had died out she
stayed undecided. Surely she wished to give the signal, to force
the fierce pursuit. What meant this robbery, this defiance of the
law, of her uncle's edicts and of McNamara? They were common
thieves, criminals, outlaws, these men, deserving punishment, and
yet she recalled a darker night, when she herself had sobbed and
quivered with the terrors of pursuit and two men had shielded her
with their bodies.

She turned and sped towards the tents, bursting in through the
canvas door; instantly every man rose to his feet at sight of her
pallid face, her flashing eyes, and rumpled hair.

"Sluice robbers!" she cried, breathlessly. "Quick! A hold-up! The
watchman is hurt!"

A roar shook the night air, and the men poured out past her, while
the day shift came tumbling forth from every quarter in various
stages of undress.

"Where? Who did it? Where did they go?"

McNamara appeared among them, fierce and commanding, seeming to
grasp the situation intuitively, without explanation from her.

"Come on, men. We'll run 'em down. Get out the horses. Quick!"

He was mounted even as he spoke, and others joined him. Then
turning, he waved his long arm up the valley towards the
mountains. "Divide into squads of five and cover the hills! Run
down to Discovery, one of you, and telephone to town for Voorhees
and a posse."

As they made ready to ride away, the girl cried:

"Stop! Not that way. They went DOWN the gulch--three negroes."

She pointed out of the valley, towards the dim glow on the
southern horizon, and the cavalcade rode away into the gloom.




CHAPTER X

THE WIT OF AN ADVENTURESS


Up creek the three negroes fled, past other camps, to where the
stream branched. Here they took to the right and urged their
horses along a forsaken trail to the head-waters of the little
tributary and over the low saddle. They had endeavored to reach
unfrequented paths as soon as possible in order that they might
pass unnoticed. Before quitting the valley they halted their
heaving horses, and, selecting a stagnant pool, scoured the grease
paint from their features as best they could. Their ears were
strained for sounds of pursuit, but, as the moments passed and
none came, the tension eased somewhat and they conversed
guardedly. As the morning light spread they crossed the moss-
capped summit of the range, but paused again, and, removing two
saddles, hid them among the rocks. Slapjack left the others here
and rode southward down the Dry Creek Trail towards town, while
the partners shifted part of the weight from the overloaded pack-
mules to the remaining saddle-animals and continued eastward along
the barren comb of hills on foot, leading the five horses.

"It don't seem like we'll get away this easy," said Dextry,
scanning the back trail. "If we do, I'll be tempted to foller the
business reg'lar. This grease paint on my face makes me smell like
a minstrel man. I bet we'll get some bully press notices to-
morrow."

"I wonder what Helen was doing there," Glenister answered,
irrelevantly, for he had been more shaken by his encounter with
her than at his part in the rest or the enterprise, and his mind,
which should have been busied with the flight, held nothing but
pictures of her as she stood in the half darkness under the fear
of his Winchester. "What if she ever learned who that black
ruffian was!" He quailed at the thought.

"Say, Dex, I am going to marry that girl."

"I dunno if you be or not," said Dextry. "Better watch McNamara."

"What!" The younger man stopped and stared. "What do you mean?"

"Go on. Don't stop the horses. I ain't blind. I kin put two an'
two together."

"You'll never put those two together. Nonsense! Why, the man's a
rascal. I wouldn't let him have her. Besides, it couldn't be.
She'll find him out. I love her so much that--oh, my feelings are
too big to talk about." He moved his hands eloquently. "You can't
understand."

"Um-m! I s'pose not," grunted Dextry, but his eyes were level and
held the light of the past.

"He may be a rascal," the old man continued, after a little; "I'll
put in with you on that; but he's a handsome devil, and, as for
manners, he makes you look like a logger. He's a brave man, too.
Them three qualities are trump-cards and warranted to take most
any queen in the human deck--red, white, or yellow."

"If he dares," growled Glenister, while his thick brows came
forward and ugly lines hardened in his face.

In the gray of the early morning they descended the foot-hills
into the wide valley of the Nome River and filed out across the
rolling country to the river bluffs where, cleverly concealed
among the willows, was a rocker. This they set up, then proceeded
to wash the dirt from the sacks carefully, yet with the utmost
speed, for there was serious danger of discovery. It was
wonderful, this treasure of the richest ground since the days of
'49, and the men worked with shining eyes and hands a-tremble. The
gold was coarse, and many ragged, yellow lumps, too large to pass
through the screen, rolled in the hopper, while the aprons bellied
with its weight. In the pans which they had provided there grew a
gleaming heap of wet, raw gold.

Shortly, by divergent routes, the partners rode unnoticed into
town, and into the excitement of the hold-up news, while the tardy
still lingered over their breakfasts. Far out in the roadstead lay
the Roanoke, black smoke pouring from her stack. A tug was
returning from its last trip to her.

Glenister forced his lathered horse down to the beach and
questioned the longshoremen who hung about.

"No; it's too late to get aboard--the last tender is on its way
back," they informed him. "If you want to go to the 'outside'
you'll have to wait for the fleet. That only means another week,
and--there she blows now."

A ribbon of white mingled with the velvet from the steamer's
funnel and there came a slow, throbbing, farewell blast.

Glenister's jaw clicked and squared.

"Quick! You men!" he cried to the sailors. "I want the lightest
dory on the beach and the strongest oarsmen in the crowd. I'll be
back in five minutes. There's a hundred dollars in it for you if
we catch that ship."

He whirled and spurred up through the mud of the streets. Bill
Wheaton was snoring luxuriously when wrenched from his bed by a
dishevelled man who shook him into wakefulness and into a portion
of his clothes, with a storm of excited instructions. The lawyer
had neither time nor opportunity for expostulation, for Glenister
snatched a valise and swept into it a litter of documents from the
table.

"Hurry up, man," he yelled, as the lawyer dived frantically about
his office in a rabbit-like hunt for items. "My Heavens! Are you
dead? Wake up! The ship's leaving." With sleep still in his eyes
Wheaton was dragged down the street to the beach, where a knot had
assembled to witness the race. As they tumbled into the skiff,
willing hands ran it out into the surf on the crest of a roller. A
few lifting heaves and they were over the bar with the men at the
oars bending the white ash at every swing.

"I guess I didn't forget anything," gasped Wheaton as he put on
his coat. "I got ready yesterday, but I couldn't find you last
night, so I thought the deal was off."

Glenister stripped off his coat and, facing the bow, pushed upon
the oars at every stroke, thus adding his strength to that of the
oarsmen. They crept rapidly out from the beach, eating up the two
miles that lay towards the ship. He urged the men with all his
power till the sweat soaked through their clothes and, under their
clinging shirts, the muscles stood out like iron. They had covered
half the distance when Wheaton uttered a cry and Glenister
desisted from his work with a curse. The Roanoke was moving
slowly.

The rowers rested, but the young man shouted at them to begin
again, and, seizing a boat-hook, stuck it into the arms of his
coat. He waved this on high while the men redoubled their efforts.
For many moments they hung in suspense, watching the black hull as
it gathered speed, and then, as they were about to cease their
effort, a puff of steam burst from its whistle and the next moment
a short toot of recognition reached them. Glenister wiped the
moisture from his brow and grinned at Wheaton.

A quarter of an hour later, as they lay heaving below the ship's
steel sides, he thrust a heavy buckskin sack into the lawyer's
hand.

"There's money to win the fight, Bill. I don't know how much, but
it's enough. God bless you. Hurry back!"

A sailor cast them a whirling rope, up which Wheaton clambered;
then, tying the gripsack to its end, they sent it after.

"Important!" the young man yelled at the officer on the bridge.
"Government business." He heard a muffled clang in the engine-
room, the thrash of the propellers followed, and the big ship
glided past.

As Glenister dragged himself up the beach, upon landing, Helen
Chester called to him, and made room for him beside her. It had
never been necessary to call him to her side before; and equally
unfamiliar was the abashment, or perhaps physical weariness, that
led the young man to sink back in the warm sand with a sigh of
relief. She noted that, for the first time, the audacity was gone
from his eyes.

"I watched your race," she began. "It was very exciting and I
cheered for you."

He smiled quietly.

"What made you keep on after the ship started? I should have given
up--and cried."

"I never give up anything that I want," he said.

"Have you never been forced to? Then it is because you are a man.
Women have to sacrifice a great deal."

Helen expected him to continue to the effect that he would never
give her up--it was in accordance with his earlier presumption--
but he was silent; and she was not sure that she liked him as well
thus as when he overwhelmed her with the boldness of his suit. For
Glenister it was delightful, after the perils of the night, to
rest in the calm of her presence and to feel dumbly that she was
near. She saw him secretly caress a fold of her dress.

If only she had not the memory of that one night on the ship.
"Still, he is trying to make amends in the best way he can," she
thought. "Though, of course, no woman could care for a man who
would do such a thing." Yet she thrilled at the thought of how he
had thrust his body between her and danger; how, but for his
quick, insistent action, she would have failed in escaping from
the pest ship, failed in her mission, and met death on the night
of her landing. She owed him much.

"Did you hear what happened to the good ship Ohio?" she asked.

"No; I've been too busy to inquire. I was told the health officers
quarantined her when she arrived, that's all."

"She was sent to Egg Island with every one aboard. She has been
there more than a month now and may not get away this summer."

"What a disappointment for the poor devils on her!"

"Yes, and only for what you did, I should be one of them," Helen
remarked.

"I didn't do much," he said. "The fighting part is easy. It's not
half so hard as to give up your property and lie still while--"

"Did you do that because I asked you to--because I asked you to
put aside the old ways?" A wave of compassion swept over her.

"Certainly," he answered. "It didn't come easy, but--"

"Oh, I thank you," said she. "I know it is all for the best. Uncle
Arthur wouldn't do anything wrong, and Mr. McNamara is an
honorable man."

He turned towards her to speak, but refrained. He could not tell
her what he felt certain of. She believed in her own blood and in
her uncle's friends--and it was not for him to speak of McNamara.
The rules of the game sealed his lips.

She was thinking again, "If only you had not acted as you did."
She longed to help him now in his trouble as he had helped her,
but what could she do? The law was such a confusing, intricate,
perplexing thing.

"I spent last night at the Midas," she told him, "and rode back
early this morning. That was a daring hold-up, wasn't it?"

"What hold-up?"

"Why, haven't you heard the news?"

"No" he answered, steadily. "I just got up."

"Your claim was robbed. Three men overcame the watchman at
midnight and cleaned the boxes."

His simulation of excited astonishment was perfect and he rained a
shower of questions upon her. She noted with approval that he did
not look her in the eye, however. He was not an accomplished liar.
Now McNamara had a countenance of iron. Unconsciously she made
comparison, and the young man at her side did not lose thereby.

"Yes, I saw it all," she concluded, after recounting the details.
"The negro wanted to bind me so that I couldn't give the alarm,
but his chivalry prevented. He was a most gallant darky."

"What did you do when they left?"

"Why, I kept my word and waited until they were out of sight, then
I roused the camp, and set Mr. McNamara and his men right after
them down the gulch."

"DOWN the gulch!" spoke Glenister, off his guard.

"Yes, of course. Did you think they went UP-stream?" She was
looking squarely at him now, and he dropped his eyes. "No, the
posse started in that direction, but I put them right." There was
an odd light in her glance, and he felt the blood drumming in his
ears.

She sent them down-stream! So that was why there had been no
pursuit! Then she must suspect--she must know everything!
Glenister was stunned. Again his love for the girl surged
tumultuously within him and demanded expression. But Miss Chester,
no longer feeling sure that she had the situation in hand, had
already started to return to the hotel. "I saw the men
distinctly," she told him, before they separated, "and I could
identify them all."

At his own house Glenister found Dextry removing the stains of the
night's adventure.

"Miss Chester recognized us last night," he announced.

"How do you know?"

"She told me so just now, and, what's more, she sent McNamara and
his crowd down the creek instead of up. That's why we got away so
easily."

"Well, well--ain't she a brick? She's even with us now. By-the-
way, I wonder how much we cleaned up, anyhow--let's weigh it."
Going to the bed, Dextry turned back the blankets, exposing four
moose-skin sacks, wet and heavy, where he had thrown them.

"There must have been twenty thousand dollars with what I gave
Wheaton," said Glenister.

At that moment, without warning, the door was flung open, and as
the young man jerked the blankets into place he whirled, snatched
the six-shooter that Dextry had discarded, and covered the
entrance.

"Don't shoot, boy!" cried the new-comer, breathlessly. "My, but
you're nervous!"

Glenister dropped his gun. It was Cherry Malotte; and, from her
heaving breast and the flying colors in her cheeks, the men saw
she had been running. She did not give them time to question, but
closed and locked the door while the words came tumbling from her:

"They're on to you, boys--you'd better duck out quick. They're on
their way up here now."

"What!"

"Who?"

"Quick! I heard McNamara and Voorhees, the marshal, talking.
Somebody has spotted you for the hold-ups. They're on their way
now, I tell you. I sneaked out by the back way and came here
through the mud. Say, but I'm a sight!" She stamped her trimly
booted feet and flirted her skirt.

"I don't savvy what you mean," said Dextry, glancing at his
partner warningly. "We ain't done nothin'."

"Well, it's all right then. I took a long chance so you could make
a get-away if you wanted to, because they've got warrants for you
for that sluice robbery last night. Here they are now." She darted
to the window, the men peering over her shoulder. Coming up the
narrow walk they saw Voorhees, McNamara, and three others.

The house stood somewhat isolated and well back on the tundra, so
that any one approaching it by the planking had an unobstructed
view of the premises. Escape was impossible, for the back door led
out into the ankle-deep puddles of the open prairie; and it was
now apparent that a sixth man had made a circuit and was
approaching from the rear.

"My God! They'll search the place," said Dextry, and the men
looked grimly in each other's faces.

Then in a flash Glenister stripped back the blankets and seized
the "pokes," leaping into the back room. In another instant he
returned with them and faced desperately the candid bareness of
the little room that they lived and slept in. Nothing could be
hidden; it was folly to think of it. There was a loft overhead, he
remembered, hopefully, then realized that the pursuers would
search there first of all.

"I told you he was a hard fighter," said Dextry, as the quick
footsteps grew louder. "He ain't no fool neither. 'Stead of our
bein' caught in the mountains, I reckon we'll shoot it out here.
We should have cached that gold somewhere."

He spun the cylinder of his blackened Colt, while his face grew
hard and vulture-like.

Meanwhile, Cherry Malotte watched the hunted look in Glenister's
face grow wilder and then stiffen into the stubbornness of a man
at bay. The posse was at the door now, knocking. The three inside
stood rigid and strained. Then Glenister tossed his burden on the
bed.

"Go into the back room, Cherry; there's going to be trouble."

"Who's there?" inquired Dextry through the door, to gain time.
Suddenly, without a word, the girl glided to the hot-blast heater,
now cold and empty, which stood in a corner of the room. These
stoves, used widely in the North, are vertical iron cylinders into
which coal is poured from above. She lifted the lid and peered in
to find it a quarter full of dead ashes, then turned with shining
eyes and parted lips to Glenister. He caught the hint, and in an
instant the four sacks were dropped softly into the feathery
bottom and the ashes raked over. The daring manoeuvre was almost
as quick as the flash of woman's wit that prompted it, and was
carried through while the answer to Dextry's question was still
unspoken.

Then Glenister opened the door carelessly and admitted the group
of men.

"We've got a search-warrant to look through your house," said
Voorhees.

"What are you looking for?"

"Gold-dust from Anvil Creek."

"All right--search away."

They rapidly scoured the premises, covering every inch, paying no
heed to the girl, who watched them with indifferent eyes, nor to
the old man, who glared at their every movement. Glenister was
carelessly sarcastic, although he kept his right arm free, while
beneath his sang-froid was a thoroughly trained alertness.

McNamara directed the search with a manner wholly lacking in his
former mock courtesy. It was as though he had been soured by the
gall of defeat. The mask had fallen off now, and his character
showed--insistent, overbearing, cruel. Towards the partners he
preserved a contemptuous silence.

The invaders ransacked thoroughly, while a dozen times the hearts
of Cherry Malotte and her two companions stopped, then lunged
onward, as McNamara or Voorhees approached, then passed the stove.
At last Voorhees lifted the lid and peered into its dark interior.
At the same instant the girl cried out, sharply, flinging herself
from her position, while the marshal jerked his head back in time
to see her dash upon Dextry.

"Don't! Don't!" She cried her appeal to the old man. "Keep cool.
You'll be sorry, Dex--they're almost through."

The officer had not seen any movement on Dextry's part, but
doubtless her quick eye had detected signs of violence. McNamara
emerged, glowering, from the back room at that moment.

"Let them hunt," the girl was saying, while Dextry stared dazedly
over her head. "They won't find anything. Keep cool and don't act
rash."

Voorhees's duties sat uncomfortably upon him at the best, and,
looking at the smouldering eyes of the two men, he became averse
to further search in a powdery household whose members itched to
shoot him in the back.

"It isn't here," he reported; but the politician only scowled,
then spoke for the first time directly to the partners:

"I've got warrants for both of you and I'm tempted to take you in,
but I won't. I'm not through yet--not by any means. I'll get you--
get you both." He turned out of the door, followed by the marshal,
who called off his guards, and the group filed back along the
walk.

"Say, you're a jewel, Cherry. You've saved us twice. You caught
Voorhees just in time. My heart hit my palate when he looked into
that stove, but the next instant I wanted to laugh at Dextry's
expression."

Impulsively Glenister laid his hands upon her shoulders. At his
look and touch her throat swelled, her bosom heaved, and the
silken lids fluttered until she seemed choked by a very flood of
sweet womanliness. She blushed like a little maid and laughed a
timid, broken laugh; then pulling herself together, the merry,
careless tone came into her voice and her cheeks grew cool and
clear.

"You wouldn't trust me at first, eh? Some day you'll find that
your old friends are the best, after all."

And as she left them she added, mockingly:

"Say, you're a pair of 'shine' desperadoes. You need a governess."




CHAPTER XI

WHEREIN A WRIT AND A RIOT FAIL


A Raw, gray day with a driving drizzle from seaward and a leaden
rack of clouds drifting low matched the sullen, fitful mood of
Glenister.

During the last month he had chafed and fretted like an animal in
leash for word of Wheaton. This uncertainty, this impotent waiting
with folded hands, was maddening to one of his spirit. He could
apply himself to no fixed duty, for the sense of his wrong preyed
on him fiercely, and he found himself haunting the vicinity of the
Midas, gazing at it from afar, grasping hungrily for such scraps
of news as chanced to reach him. McNamara allowed access to none
but his minions, so the partners knew but vaguely of what happened
on their property, even though, under fiction of law, it was being
worked for their protection.

No steps regarding a speedy hearing of the case were allowed, and
the collusion between Judge Stillman and the receiver had become
so generally recognized that there were uneasy mutterings and
threats in many quarters. Yet, although the politician had by now
virtually absorbed all the richest properties in the district and
worked them through his hirelings, the people of Nome as a whole
did not grasp the full turpitude of the scheme nor the system's
perfect working.

Strange to say, Dextry, the fire-eater, had assumed an Oriental
patience quite foreign to his peppery disposition, and spent much
of his time in the hills prospecting.

On this day, as the clouds broke, about noon, close down on the
angry horizon a drift of smoke appeared, shortly resolving itself
into a steamer. She lay to in the offing, and through his glasses
Glenister saw that it was the Roanoke. As the hours passed and no
boat put off, he tried to hire a crew, but the longshoremen spat
wisely and shook their heads as they watched the surf.

"There's the devil of an undertow settin' along this beach," they
told him, "and the water's too cold to drownd in comfortable." So
he laid firm hands upon his impatience.

Every day meant many dollars to the watcher, and yet it seemed
that nature was resolute in thwarting him, for that night the wind
freshened and daylight saw the ship hugging the lee of Sledge
Island, miles to the westward, while the surf, white as boiling
milk, boomed and thundered against the shore.

Word had gone through the street that Bill Wheaton was aboard with
a writ, or a subpoena, or an alibi, or whatever was necessary to
put the "kibosh" on McNamara, so public excitement grew. McNamara
hoarded his gold in the Alaska Bank, and it was taken for granted
that there would lie the scene of the struggle. No one supposed
for an instant that the usurper would part with the treasure
peaceably.

On the third morning the ship lay abreast of the town again and a
life-boat was seen to make off from her, whereupon the idle
population streamed towards the beach.

"She'll make it to the surf all right, but then watch out."

"We'd better make ready to haul 'em out," said another. "It's
mighty dangerous." And sure enough, as the skiff came rushing in
through the breakers she was caught.

She had made it past the first line, soaring over the bar on a
foamy roller-crest like a storm-driven gull winging in towards the
land. The wiry figure of Bill Wheaton crouched in the stern while
two sailors fought with their oars. As they gathered for their
rush through the last zone of froth, a great comber rose out of
the sea behind them, rearing high above their heads. The crowd at
the surf's edge shouted. The boat wavered, sucked back into the
ocean's angry maw, and with a crash the deluge engulfed them.
There remained nothing but a swirling flood through which the
life-boat emerged bottom up, amid a tangle of oars, gratings, and
gear.

Men rushed into the water, and the next roller pounded them back
upon the marble-hard sand. There came the sound of splitting wood,
and then a group swarmed in waist-deep and bore out a dripping
figure. It was a hempen-headed seaman, who shook the water from
his mane and grinned when his breath had come.

A step farther down the beach the by-standers seized a limp form
which the tide rolled to them. It was the second sailor, his scalp
split from a blow of the gunwale. Nowhere was Wheaton.

Glenister had plunged to the rescue first, a heaving-line about
his middle, and although buffeted about he had reached the wreck,
only to miss sight of the lawyer utterly. He had time for but a
glance when he was drawn outward by the undertow till the line at
his waist grew taut, then the water surged over him and he was
hurled high up on the beach again. He staggered dizzily back to
the struggle, when suddenly a wave lifted the capsized cutter and
righted it, and out from beneath shot the form of Wheaton, grimly
clutching the life-ropes. They brought him in choking and
breathless.

"I got it," he said, slapping his streaming breast. "It's all
right, Glenister, I knew what delay meant so I took a long chance
with the surf." The terrific ordeal he had undergone had blanched
him to the lips, his legs wabbled uncertainly, and he would have
fallen but for the young man, who thrust an arm about his waist
and led him up into the town.

"I went before the Circuit Court of Appeals in 'Frisco," he
explained later, "and they issued orders allowing an appeal from
this court and gave me a writ of supersedeas directed against old
Judge Stillman. That takes the litigation out of his hands
altogether, and directs McNamara to turn over the Midas and all
the gold he's got. What do you think of that? I did better than I
expected."

Glenister wrung his hand silently while a great satisfaction came
upon him. At last this waiting was over and his peaceful yielding
to injustice had borne fruit; had proven the better course after
all, as the girl had prophesied. He could go to her now with clean
hands. The mine was his again. He would lay it at her feet,
telling her once more of his love and the change it was working in
him. He would make her see it, make her see that beneath the
harshness his years in the wild had given him, his love for her
was gentle and true and all absorbing. He would bid her be patient
till she saw he had mastered himself, till he could come with his
soul in harness,

"I am glad I didn't fight when they jumped us," he said. "Now
we'll get our property back and all the money they took out--that
is, if McNamara hasn't salted it."

"Yes; all that's necessary is to file the documents, then serve
the Judge and McNamara. You'll be back on Anvil Creek to-morrow."

Having placed their documents on record at the court-house, the
two men continued to McNamara's office. He met them with courtesy.

"I heard you had a narrow escape this morning, Mr. Wheaton. Too
bad! What can I do for you?"

The lawyer rapidly outlined his position and stated in conclusion:

"I filed certified copies of these orders with the clerk of the
court ten minutes ago, and now I make formal demand upon you to
turn over the Midas to Messrs. Glenister and Dextry, and also to
return all the gold-dust in your safe-deposit boxes in accordance
with this writ." He handed his documents to McNamara, who tossed
them on his desk without examination.

"Well," said the politician, quietly, "I won't do it."

Had he been slapped in the face the attorney would not have been
more astonished.

"Why--you--"

"I won't do it, I said," McNamara repeated, sharply. "Don't think
for a minute that I haven't gone into this fight armed for
everything. Writs of supersedeas! Bah!" He snapped his fingers.

"We'll see whether you'll obey or not," said Wheaton and when he
and Glenister were outside he continued:

"Let's get to the Judge quick."

As they neared the Golden Gate Hotel they spied McNamara entering.
It was evident that he had slipped from the rear door of his
office and beaten them to the judicial ear.

"I don't like that," said Glenister. "He's up to something."

So it appeared, for they were fifteen minutes in gaining access to
the magistrate and then found McNamara with him. Both men were
astounded at the change in Stillman's appearance. During the last
month his weak face had shrunk and altered until vacillation was
betrayed in every line, and he had acquired the habit of furtively
watching McNamara's slightest movement. It seemed that the part he
played sat heavily upon him.

The Judge examined the papers perfunctorily, and, although his air
was deliberate, his fingers made clumsy work of it. At last he
said:

"I regret that I am forced to doubt the authenticity of these
documents."

"My Heavens, man!" Wheaton cried. "They're certified copies of
orders from your superior court. They grant the appeal that you
have denied us and take the case out of your hands altogether.
Yes--and they order this man to surrender the mine and everything
connected with it. Now, sir, we want you to enforce these orders."

Stillman glanced at the silent man in the window and replied:

"You will, of course, proceed regularly and make application in
court in the proper way, but I tell you now that I won't do
anything in the matter."

Wheaton stared at him fixedly until the old man snapped out:

"You say they are certified copies. How do I know they are? The
signatures may all be false. Maybe you signed them yourself."

The lawyer grew very white at this and stammered until Glenister
drew him out of the room.

"Come, come," he said, "we'll carry this thing through in open
court. Maybe his nerve will go back on him then. McNamara has him
hypnotized, but he won't dare refuse to obey the orders of the
Circuit Court of Appeals."

"He won't, eh? Well, what do you think he's doing right now?" said
Wheaton. "I must think. This is the boldest game I ever played in.
They told me things while I was in 'Frisco which I couldn't
believe, but I guess they're true. Judges don't disobey the orders
of their courts of appeal unless there is power back of them."

They proceeded to the attorney's office, but had not been there
long before Slapjack Simms burst in upon them.

"Hell to pay!" he panted. "McNamara's taking your dust out of the
bank."

"What's that?" they cried.

"I goes into the bank just now for an assay on some quartz
samples. The assayer is busy, and I walk back into his room, and
while I'm there in trots McNamara in a hurry. He don't see me, as
I'm inside the private office, and I overhear him tell them to get
his dust out of the vault quick."

"We've got to stop that," said Glenister. "If he takes ours, he'll
take the Swedes', too. Simms, you run up to the Pioneer Company
and tell them about it. If he gets that gold out of there, nobody
knows what'll become of it. Come on, Bill."

He snatched his hat and ran out of the room, followed by the
others. That the loose-jointed Slapjack did his work with
expedition was evidenced by the fact that the Swedes were close
upon their heels as the two entered the bank. Others had followed,
sensing something unusual, and the space within the doors filled
rapidly. At the disturbance the clerks suspended their work, the
barred doors of the safe-deposit vault clanged to, and the cashier
laid hand upon the navy Colt's at his elbow. "What's the matter?"
he cried.

"We want Alec McNamara," said Glenister.

The manager of the bank appeared, and Glenister spoke to him
through the heavy wire netting.

"Is McNamara in there?"

No one had ever known Morehouse to lie. "Yes, sir." He spoke
hesitatingly, in a voice full of the slow music of Virginia. "He
is in here. What of it?"

"We hear he's trying to move that dust of ours and we won't stand
for it. Tell him to come out and not hide in there like a dog."

At these words the politician appeared beside the Southerner, and
the two conversed softly an instant, while the impatience of the
crowd grew to anger. Some one cried:

"Let's go in and drag him out," and the rumble at this was not
pleasant. Morehouse raised his hand.

"Gentlemen, Mr. McNamara says he doesn't intend to take any of the
gold away."

"Then he's taken it already."

"No, he hasn't."

The receiver's course had been quickly chosen at the interruption.
It was not wise to anger these men too much. Although he had
planned to get the money into his own possession, he now thought
it best to leave it here for the present. He could come back at
any time when they were off guard and get it. Beyond the door
against which he stood lay three hundred thousand dollars--
weighed, sacked, sealed, and ready to move out of the custody of
this Virginian whose confidence he had tried so fruitlessly to
gain.

As McNamara looked into the angry eyes of the lean-faced men
beyond the grating, he felt that the game was growing close, and
his blood tingled at the thought. He had not planned on a
resistance so strong and swift, but he would meet it. He knew that
they hungered for his destruction and that Glenister was their
leader. He saw further that the man's hatred now stared at him
openly for the first time. He knew that back of it was something
more than love for the dull metal over which they wrangled, and
then a thought came to him.

"Some of your work, eh, Glenister?" he mocked. "Were you afraid to
come alone, or did you wait till you saw me with a lady?"

At the same instant he opened a door behind him, revealing Helen
Chester. "You'd better not walk out with me, Miss Chester. This
man might--well, you're safer here, you know. You'll pardon me for
leaving you." He hoped he could incite the young man to some rash
act or word in the presence of the girl, and counted on the
conspicuous heroism of his own position, facing the mob single-
handed, one against fifty.

"Come out," said his enemy, hoarsely, upon whom the insult and the
sight of the girl in the receiver's company had acted powerfully.

"Of course I'll come out, but I don't want this young lady to
suffer any violence from your friends," said McNamara. "I am not
armed, but I have the right to leave here unmolested--the right of
an American citizen." With that he raised his arms above his head.
"Out of my way!" he cried. Morehouse opened the gate, and McNamara
strode through the mob.

It is a peculiar thing that although under fury of passion a man
may fire even upon the back of a defenceless foe, yet no one can
offer violence to a man whose arms are raised on high and in whose
glance is the level light of fearlessness. Moreover, it is safer
to face a crowd thus than a single adversary.

McNamara had seen this psychological trick tried before and now
took advantage of it to walk through the press slowly, eye to eye.
He did it theatrically, for the benefit of the girl, and, as he
foresaw, the men fell away before him--all but Glenister, who
blocked him, gun in hand. It was plain that the persecuted miner
was beside himself with passion. McNamara came within an arm's-
length before pausing. Then he stopped and the two stared
malignantly at each other, while the girl behind the railing heard
her heart pounding in the stillness. Glenister raised his hand
uncertainly, then let it fall. He shook his head, and stepped
aside so that the other brushed past and out into the street.

Wheaton addressed the banker:

"Mr. Morehouse, we've got orders and writs of one kind or another
from the Circuit Court of Appeals at 'Frisco directing that this
money be turned over to us." He shoved the papers towards the
other. "We're not in a mood to trifle. That gold belongs to us,
and we want it."

Morehouse looked carefully at the papers.

"I can't help you," he said. "These documents are not directed to
me. They're issued to Mr. McNamara and Judge Stillman. If the
Circuit Court of Appeals commands me to deliver it to you I'll do
it, but otherwise I'll have to keep this dust here till it's drawn
out by order of the court that gave it to me. That's the way it
was put in here, and that's the way it'll be taken out."

"We want it now."

"Well, I can't let my sympathies influence me"

"Then we'll take it out, anyway," cried Glenister. "We've had the
worst of it everywhere else and we're sick of it. Come on, men."

"Stand back!--all of you!" cried Morehouse. "Don't lay a hand on
that gate. Boys, pick your men."

He called this last to his clerks, at the same instant whipping
from behind the counter a carbine, which he cocked. The assayer
brought into view a shot-gun, while the cashier and clerks armed
themselves. It was evident that the deposits of the Alaska Bank
were abundantly safeguarded.

"I don't aim to have any trouble with you-all," continued the
Southerner, "but that money stays here till it's drawn out right."

The crowd paused at this show of resistance, but Glenister railed
at them:

"Come on--come on! What's the matter with you?" And from the light
in his eye it was evident that he would not be balked.

Helen felt that a crisis was come, and braced herself. These men
were in deadly earnest: the white-haired banker, his pale helpers,
and those grim, quiet ones outside. There stood brawny, sun-
browned men, with set jaws and frowning faces, and yellow-haired
Scandinavians in whose blue eyes danced the flame of battle. These
had been baffled at every turn, goaded by repeated failure, and
now stood shoulder to shoulder in their resistance to a cruel law.
Suddenly Helen heard a command from the street and the quick tramp
of men, while over the heads before her she saw the glint of rifle
barrels. A file of soldiers with fixed bayonets thrust themselves
roughly through the crowd at the entrance.

"Clear the room!" commanded the officer.

"What does this mean?" shouted Wheaton.

"It means that Judge Stillman has called upon the military to
guard this gold, that's all. Come, now, move quick." The men
hesitated, then sullenly obeyed, for resistance to the blue of
Uncle Sam comes only at the cost of much consideration.

"They're robbing us with our own soldiers," said Wheaton, when
they were outside.

"Ay," said Glenister, darkly. "We've tried the law, but they're
forcing us back to first principles. There's going to be murder
here."




CHAPTER XII

COUNTERPLOTS


Glenister had said that the Judge would not dare to disobey the
mandates of the Circuit Court of Appeals, but he was wrong.
Application was made for orders directing the enforcement of the
writs--steps which would have restored possession of the Midas to
its owners, as well as possession of the treasure in bank--but
Stillman refused to grant them.

Wheaton called a meeting of the Swedes and their attorneys,
advising a junction of forces. Dextry, who had returned from the
mountains, was present. When they had finished their discussion,
he said:

"It seems like I can always fight better when I know what the
other feller's game is. I'm going to spy on that outfit."

"We've had detectives at work for weeks," said the lawyer for the
Scandinavians; "but they can't find out anything we don't know
already."

Dextry said no more, but that night found him busied in the
building adjoining the one wherein McNamara had his office. He had
rented a back room on the top floor, and with the help of his
partner sawed through the ceiling into the loft and found his way
thence to the roof through a hatchway. Fortunately, there was but
little space between the two buildings, and, furthermore, each
boasted the square fronts common in mining-camps, which projected
high enough to prevent observation from across the way. Thus he
was enabled, without discovery, to gain the roof adjoining and to
cut through into the loft. He crept cautiously in through the
opening, and out upon a floor of joists sealed on the lower side,
then lit a candle, and, locating McNamara's office, cut a peep-
hole so that by lying flat on the timbers he could command a
considerable portion of the room beneath. Here, early the
following morning, he camped with the patience of an Indian,
emerging in the still of that night stiff, hungry, and atrociously
cross. Meanwhile, there had been another meeting of the mine-
owners, and it had been decided to send Wheaton, properly armed
with affidavits and transcripts of certain court records, back to
San Francisco on the return trip of the Santa Maria, which had
arrived in port. He was to institute proceedings for contempt of
court, and it was hoped that by extraordinary effort he could gain
quick action.

At daybreak Dextry returned to his post, and it was midnight
before he crawled from his hiding-place to see the lawyer and
Glenister.

"They have had a spy on you all day, Wheaton," he began, "and they
know you're going out to the States. You'll be arrested to-morrow
morning before breakfast."

"Arrested! What for?"

"I don't just remember what the crime is--bigamy, or mayhem, or
attainder of treason, or something--anyway, they'll get you in
jail and that's all they want. They think you're the only lawyer
that's wise enough to cause trouble and the only one they can't
bribe."

"Lord! What 'll I do? They'll watch every lighter that leaves the
beach, and if they don't catch me that way, they'll search the
ship."

"I've thought it all out," said the old man, to whom obstruction
acted as a stimulant.

"Yes--but how?"

"Leave it to me. Get your things together and be ready to duck in
two hours."

"I tell you they'll search the Santa Maria from stem to stern,"
protested the lawyer, but Dextry had gone.

"Better do as he says. His schemes are good ones," recommended
Glenister, and accordingly the lawyer made preparation.

In the mean time the old prospector had begun at the end of Front
Street to make a systematic search of the gambling-houses.
Although it was very late they were running noisily, and at last
he found the man he wanted playing "Black Jack," the smell of tar
in his clothes, the lilt of the sea in his boisterous laughter.
Dextry drew him aside.

"Mac, there's only two things about you that's any good--your
silence and your seamanship. Otherwise, you're a disreppitable,
drunken insect."

The sailor grinned.

"What is it you want now? If it's concerning money, or business,
or the growed-up side of life, run along and don't disturb the
carousals of a sailorman. If it's a fight, lemme get my hat."

"I want you to wake up your fireman and have steam on the tug in
an hour, then wait for me below the bridge. You're chartered for
twenty-four hours, and--remember, not a word."

"I'm on! Compared to me the Spinks of Egyp' is as talkative as a
phonograph."

The old man next turned his steps to the Northern Theatre. The
performance was still in progress, and he located the man he was
hunting without difficulty.

Ascending the stairs, he knocked at the door of one of the boxes
and called for Captain Stephens.

"I'm glad I found you, Cap," said he. "It saved me a trip out to
your ship in the dark."

"What's the matter?"

Dextry drew him to an isolated corner. "Me an' my partner want to
send a man to the States with you."

"All right."

"Well--er--here's the point," hesitated the miner, who rebelled at
asking favors. "He's our law sharp, an' the McNamara outfit is
tryin' to put the steel on him."

"I don't understand."

"Why, they've swore out a warrant an' aim to guard the shore to-
morrow. We want you to--"

"Mr. Dextry, I'm not looking for trouble. I get enough in my own
business."

"But, see here," argued the other, "we've GOT to send him out so
he can make a pow-wow to the big legal smoke in 'Frisco. We've
been cold-decked with a bum judge. They've got us into a corner
an' over the ropes."

"I'm sorry I can't help you, Dextry, but I got mixed up in one of
your scrapes and that's plenty."

"This ain't no stowaway. There's no danger to you," began Dextry,
but the officer interrupted him:

"There's no need of arguing. I won't do it."

"Oh, you WON'T, eh?" said the old man, beginning to lose his
temper. "Well, you listen to me for a minute. Everybody in camp
knows that me an' the kid is on the square an' that we're gettin'
the hunk passed to us. Now, this lawyer party must get away to-
night or these grafters will hitch the horses to him on some phony
charge so he can't get to the upper court. It 'll be him to the
bird-cage for ninety days. He's goin' to the States, though, an'
he's goin'--in--your--wagon! I'm talkin' to you--man to man. If
you don't take him, I'll go to the health inspector--he's a friend
of mine--an' I'll put a crimp in you an' your steamboat, I don't
want to do that--it ain't my reg'lar graft by no means--but this
bet goes through as she lays. I never belched up a secret before.
No, sir; I am the human huntin'-case watch, an' I won't open my
face unless you press me. But if I should, you'll see that it's
time for you to hunt a new job. Now, here's my scheme." He
outlined his directions to the sailor, who had fallen silent
during the warning. When he had done, Stephens said:

"I never had a man talk to me like that before, sir--never. You've
taken advantage of me, and under the circumstances I can't refuse.
I'll do this thing--not because of your threat, but because I
heard about your trouble over the Midas--and because I can't help
admiring your blamed insolence." He went back into his stall.

Dextry returned to Wheaton's office. As he neared it, he passed a
lounging figure in an adjacent doorway.

"The place is watched," he announced as he entered. "Have you got
a back door? Good! Leave your light burning and we'll go out that
way." They slipped quietly into an inky, tortuous passage which
led back towards Second Street. Floundering through alleys and
over garbage heaps, by circuitous routes, they reached the bridge,
where, in the swift stream beneath, they saw the lights from Mac's
tug.

Steam was up, and when the Captain had let them aboard Dextry gave
him instructions, to which he nodded acquiescence. They bade the
lawyer adieu, and the little craft slipped its moorings, danced
down the current, across the bar, and was swallowed up in the
darkness to seaward. "I'll put out Wheaton's light so they'll
think he's gone to bed."

"Yes, and at daylight I'll take your place in McNamara's loft,"
said Glenister. "There will be doings to-morrow when they don't
find him."

They returned by the way they had come to the lawyer's room,
extinguished his light, went to their own cabin and to bed. At
dawn Glenister arose and sought his place above McNamara's office.

To lie stretched at length on a single plank with eye glued to a
crack is not a comfortable position, and the watcher thought the
hours of the next day would never end. As they dragged wearily
past, his bones began to ache beyond endurance, yet owing to the
flimsy structure of the building he dared not move while the room
below was tenanted. In fact, he would not have stirred had he
dared, so intense was his interest in the scenes being enacted
beneath him.

First had come the marshal, who imported his failure to find
Wheaton.

"He left his room some time last night. My men followed him in and
saw a light in his window until two o'clock this morning. At seven
o'clock we broke in and he was gone."

"He must have got wind of our plan. Send deputies aboard the Santa
Maria; search her from keel to topmast, and have them watch the
beach close or he'll put off in a small boat. You look over the
passengers that go aboard yourself. Don't trust any of your men
for that, because he may try to slip through disguised. He's
liable to make up like a woman. You understand--there's only one
ship in port, and--he mustn't get away."

"He won't," said Voorhees, with conviction, and the listener
overhead smiled grimly to himself, for at that moment, twenty
miles offshore, lay Mac's little tug, hove to in the track of the
outgoing steamship, and in her tiny cabin sat Bill Wheaton eating
breakfast.

As the morning wore by with no news of the lawyer, McNamara's
uneasiness grew. At noon the marshal returned with a report that
the passengers were all aboard and the ship about to clear.

"By Heavens! He's slipped through you," stormed the politician.

"No, he hasn't. He may be hidden aboard somewhere among the coal-
bunkers, but I think he's still ashore and aiming to make a quick
run just before she sails. He hasn't left the beach since
daylight, that's sure. I'm going out to the ship now with four men
and search her again. If we don't bring him off you can bet he's
lying out somewhere in town and we'll get him later. I've
stationed men along the shore for two miles."

"I won't have him get away. If he should reach 'Frisco--Tell your
men I'll give five hundred dollars to the one that finds him."

Three hours later Voorhees returned.

"She sailed without him."

The politician cursed. "I don't believe it. He tricked you. I know
he did."

Glenister grinned into a half-eaten sandwich, then turned upon his
back and lay thus on the plank, identifying the speakers below by
their voices.

He kept his post all day. Later in the evening he heard Struve
enter. The man had been drinking.

"So he got away, eh?" he began. "I was afraid he would. Smart
fellow, that Wheaton."

"He didn't get away," said McNamara. "He's in town yet. Just let
me land him in jail on some excuse! I'll hold him till snow
flies." Struve sank into a chair and lit a cigarette with wavering
hand.

"This's a hell of a game, ain't it, Mac? D'you s'pose we'll win?"

The man overhead pricked up his ears.

"Win? Aren't we winning? What do you call this? I only hope we can
lay hands on Wheaton. He knows things. A little knowledge is a
dangerous thing, but more is worse. Lord! If only I had a MAN for
judge in place of Stillman! I don't know why I brought him."

"That's right. Too weak. He hasn't got the backbone of an
angleworm. He ain't half the man that his niece is. THERE'S a girl
for you! Say! What'd we do without her, eh? She's a pippin!"
Glenister felt a sudden tightening of every muscle. What right had
that man's liquor-sodden lips to speak so of her?

"She's a brave little woman all right. Just look how she worked
Glenister and his fool partner. It took nerve to bring in those
instructions of yours alone; and if it hadn't been for her we'd
never have won like this. It makes me laugh to think of those two
men stowing her away in their state-room while they slept between
decks with the sheep, and her with the papers in her bosom all the
time. Then, when we got ready to do business, why, she up and
talks them into giving us possession of their mine without a
fight. That's what I call reciprocating a man's affection."

Glenister's nails cut into his flesh, while his face went livid at
the words. He could not grasp it at once. It made him sick--
physically sick--and for many moments he strove blindly to beat
back the hideous suspicion, the horror that the lawyer had
aroused. His was not a doubting disposition, and to him the girl
had seemed as one pure, mysterious, apart, angelically incapable
of deceit. He had loved her, feeling that some day she would
return his affection without fail. In her great, unclouded eyes he
had found no lurking-place for double-dealing. Now--God! It
couldn't be that all the time she had KNOWN!

He had lost a part of the lawyer's speech, but peered through his
observation-hole again.

McNamara was at the window gazing out into the dark street, his
back towards the lawyer, who lolled in the chair, babbling
garrulously of the girl. Glenister ground his teeth--a frenzy
possessed him to loose his anger, to rip through the frail ceiling
with naked hands and fall vindictively upon the two men.

"She looked good to me the first time I saw her," continued
Struve. He paused, and when he spoke again a change had coarsened
his features, "Say, I'm crazy about her, Mac. I tell you, I'm
crazy--and she likes me--I know she does--or, anyway, she would--"

"Do you mean that you're in love with her?" asked the man at the
window, without shifting his position. It seemed that utter
indifference was in his question, although where the light shone
on his hands, tight-clinched behind his back, they were bloodless.

"Love her? Well--that depends--ha! You know how it is--" he
chuckled, coarsely. His face was gross and bestial. "I've got the
Judge where I want him, and I'll have her--"

His miserable words died with a gurgle, for McNamara had silently
leaped and throttled him where he sat, pinning him to the wall.
Glenister saw the big politician shift his fingers slightly on
Struve's throat and then drop his left hand to his side, holding
his victim writhing and helpless with his right despite the man's
frantic struggles. McNamara's head was thrust forward from his
shoulders, peering into the lawyer's face. Strove tore
ineffectually at the iron arm which was squeezing his life out,
while for endless minutes the other leaned his weight against him,
his idle hand behind his back, his legs braced like stone columns,
as he watched his victim's struggles abate.

Struve fought and wrenched while his breath caught in his throat
with horrid, sickening sounds, but gradually his eyes rolled
farther and farther back till they stared out of his blackened
visage, straight up towards the ceiling, towards the hole through
which Glenister peered. His struggles lessened, his chin sagged,
and his tongue protruded, then he sat loose and still. The
politician flung him out into the room so that he fell limply upon
his face, then stood watching him. Finally, McNamara passed out of
the watcher's vision, returning with a water-bucket. With his foot
he rolled the unconscious wretch upon his back, then drenched him.
Replacing the pail, he seated himself, lit a cigar, and watched
the return of life into his victim. He made no move, even to drag
him from the pool in which he lay.

Struve groaned and shuddered, twisted to his side, and at last sat
up weakly. In his eyes there was now a great terror, while in
place of his drunkenness was only fear and faintness--abject fear
of the great bulk that sat and smoked and stared at him so
fishily. He felt uncertainly of his throat, and groaned again.

"Why did you do that?" he whispered; but the other made no sign.
He tried to rise, but his knees relaxed; he staggered and fell. At
last he gained his feet and made for the door; then, when his hand
was on the knob, McNamara spoke through his teeth, without
removing his cigar.

"Don't ever talk about her again. She is going to marry me."

When he was alone he looked curiously up at the ceiling over his
head. "The rats are thick in this shack," he mused. "Seems to me I
heard a whole swarm of them."

A few moments later a figure crept through the hole in the roof of
the house next door and thence down into the street. A block ahead
was the slow-moving form of Attorney Struve. Had a stranger met
them both he would not have known which of the two had felt at his
throat the clutch of a strangler, for each was drawn and haggard
and swayed as he went.

Glenister unconsciously turned towards his cabin, but at leaving
the lighted streets the thought of its darkness and silence made
him shudder. Not now! He could not bear that stillness and the
company of his thoughts. He dared not be alone. Dextry would be
down-town, undoubtedly, and he, too, must get into the light and
turmoil. He licked his lips and found that they were cracked and
dry.

At rare intervals during the past years he had staggered in from a
long march where, for hours, he had waged a bitter war with cold
and hunger, his limbs clumsy with fatigue, his garments wet and
stiff, his mind slack and sullen. At such extreme seasons he had
felt a consuming thirst, a thirst which burned and scorched until
his very bones cried out feverishly. Not a thirst for water, nor a
thirst which eaten snow could quench, but a savage yearning of his
whole exhausted system for some stimulant, for some coursing fiery
fluid that would burn and strangle. A thirst for whiskey--for
brandy! Remembering these occasional ferocious desires, he had
become charitable to such unfortunates as were too weak to
withstand similar temptations.

Now with a shock he caught himself in the grip of a thirst as
insistent as though the cold bore down and the weariness of
endless heavy miles wrapped him about. It was no foolish wish to
drown his thoughts nor to banish the grief that preyed upon him,
but only thirst! Thirst!--a crying, trembling, physical lust to
quench the fires that burned inside. He remembered that it had
been more than a year since he had tasted whiskey. Now the fever
of the past few hours had parched his every tissue.

As he elbowed in through the crowd at the Northern, those next him
made room at the bar for they recognized the hunger that peers
thus from men's faces. Their manner recalled Glenister to his
senses, and he wrenched himself away. This was not some solitary,
snow-banked road-house. He would not stand and soak himself,
shoulder to shoulder with stevedores and longshoremen. This was
something to be done in secret. He had no pride in it. The man on
his right raised a glass, and the young man strangled a madness to
tear it from his hands. Instead, he hurried back to the theatre
and up to a box, where he drew the curtains.

"Whiskey!" he said, thickly, to the waiter. "Bring it to me fast.
Don't you hear? Whiskey!"

Across the theatre Cherry Malotte had seen him enter and jerk the
curtains together. She arose and went to him, entering without
ceremony.

"What's the matter, boy?" she questioned.

"Ah! I am glad you came. Talk to me."

"Thank you for your few well-chosen remarks," she laughed. "Why
don't you ask me to spring some good, original jokes? You look
like the finish to a six-day go-as-you please. What's up?"

She talked to him for a moment until the waiter entered, then,
when she saw what he bore, she snatched the glass from the tray
and poured the whiskey on the floor. Glenister was on his feet and
had her by the wrist.

"What do you mean?" he said, roughly.

"It's whiskey, boy," she cried, "and you don't drink."

"Of course it's whiskey. Bring me another," he shouted at the
attendant.

"What's the matter?" Cherry insisted. "I never saw you act so. You
know you don't drink. I won't let you. It's booze--booze, I tell
you, fit for fools and brawlers. Don't drink it, Roy. Are you in
trouble?"

"I say I'm thirsty--and I will have it! How do you know what it is
to smoulder inside, and feel your veins burn dry?"

"It's something about that girl," the woman said, with quiet
conviction. "She's double-crossed you."

"Well, so she has--but what of it? I'm thirsty. She's going to
marry McNamara. I've been a fool." He ground his teeth and reached
for the drink with which the boy had returned.

"McNamara is a crook, but he's a man, and he never drank a drop in
his life." The girl said it, casually, evenly, but the other
stopped the glass half-way to his lips.

"Well, what of it? Goon. You're good at W. C. T. U. talk. Virtue
becomes you."

She flushed, but continued, "It simply occurred to me that if you
aren't strong enough to handle your own throat, you're not strong
enough to beat a man who has mastered his."

Glenister looked at the whiskey a moment, then set it back on the
tray.

"Bring two lemonades," he said, and with a laugh which was half a
sob Cherry Malotte leaned forward and kissed him.

"You're too good a man to drink. Now, tell me all about it."

"Oh, it's too long! I've just learned that the girl is in, hand
and glove, with the Judge and McNamara--that's all. She's an
advance agent--their lookout. She brought in their instructions to
Struve and persuaded Dex and me to let them jump our claim. She
got us to trust in the law and in her uncle. Yes, she hypnotized
my property out of me and gave it to her lover, this ward
politician. Oh, she's smooth, with all her innocence! Why, when
she smiles she makes you glad and good and warm, and her eyes are
as honest and clear as a mountain pool, but she's wrong--she's
wrong--and--great God! how I love her!" He dropped his face into
his hands.

When she had pled with him for himself a moment before Cherry
Malotte was genuine and girlish but now as he spoke thus of the
other woman a change came over her which he was too disturbed to
note. She took on the subtleness that masked her as a rule, and
her eyes were not pleasant.

"I could have told you all that and more."

"More! What more?" he questioned.

"Do you remember when I warned you and Dextry that they were
coming to search your cabin for the gold? Well, that girl put them
on to you. I found it out afterwards. She keeps the keys to
McNamara's safety vault where your dust lies, and she's the one
who handles the Judge. It isn't McNamara at all." The woman lied
easily, fluently, and the man believed her.

"Do you remember when they broke into your safe and took that
money?"

"Yes."

"Well, what made them think you had ten thousand in there?"

"I don't know."

"I do. Dextry told her."

Glenister arose. "That's all I want to hear now. I'm going crazy.
My mind aches, for I've never had a fight like this before and it
hurts. You see, I've been an animal all these years. When I wanted
to drink, I drank, and what I wanted, I got, because I've been
strong enough to take it. This is new to me. I'm going down-stairs
now and try to think of something else--then I'm going home."

When he had gone she pulled back the curtains, and, leaning her
chin in her hands, with elbows on the ledge, gazed down upon the
crowd. The show was over and the dance had begun, but she did not
see it, for she was thinking rapidly with the eagerness of one who
sees the end of a long and weary search. She did not notice the
Bronco Kid beckoning to her nor the man with him, so the gambler
brought his friend along and invaded her box. He introduced the
man as Mr. Champian.

"Do you feel like dancing?" the new-comer inquired.

"No; I'd rather look on. I feel sociable. You're a society man,
Mr. Champian. Don't you know anything of interest? Scandal or the
like?"

"Can't say that I do. My wife attends to all that for the family.
But I know there's lots of it. It's funny to me, the airs some of
these people assume up here, just as though we weren't all equal,
north of Fifty-three. I never heard the like."

"Anything new and exciting?" inquired Bronco, mildly interested.

"The last I heard was about the Judge's niece, Miss Chester."

Cherry Malotte turned abruptly, while the Kid slowly lowered the
front legs of his chair to the floor.

"What was it?" she inquired.

"Why, it seems she compromised herself pretty badly with this
fellow Glenister coming up on the steamer last spring. Mighty
brazen, according to my wife. Mrs. Champian was on the same ship
and says she was horribly shocked."

Ah! Glenister had told her only half the tale, thought the girl.
The truth was baring itself. At that moment Champian thought she
looked the typical creature of the dance-halls, the crafty,
jealous, malevolent adventuress.

"And the hussy masquerades as a lady," she sneered.

"She IS a lady," said the Kid. He sat bolt upright and rigid, and
the knuckles of his clinched hands were very white. In the shadow
they did not note that his dark face was ghastly, nor did he say
more except to bid Champian good-bye when he left, later on. After
the door had closed, however, the Kid arose and stretched his
muscles, not languidly, but as though to take out the cramp of
long tension. He wet his lips, and his mouth was so dry that the
sound caused the girl to look up.

"What are you grinning at?" Then, as the light struck his face,
she started. "My! How you look! What ails you? Are you sick?" No
one, from Dawson down, had seen the Bronco Kid as he looked to-
night.

"No. I'm not sick," he answered, in a cracked voice.

Then the girl laughed harshly.

"Do YOU love that girl, too? Why, she's got every man in town
crazy."

She wrung her hands, which is a bad sign in a capable person, and
as Glenister crossed the floor below in her sight she said, "Ah-h-
-I could kill him for that!"

"So could I," said the Kid, and left her without adieu.




CHAPTER XIII

IN WHICH A MAN IS POSSESSED OF A DEVIL


For a long time Cherry Malotte sat quietly thinking, removed by
her mental stress to such an infinite distance from the music and
turmoil beneath that she was conscious of it only as a formless
clamor. She had tipped a chair back against the door, wedging it
beneath the knob so that she might be saved from interruption,
then flung herself into another seat and stared unseeingly. As she
sat thus, and thought, and schemed, harsh and hateful lines seemed
to eat into her face. Now and then she moaned impatiently, as
though fearing lest the strategy she was plotting might prove
futile; then she would rise and pace her narrow quarters. She was
unconscious of time, and had spent perhaps two hours thus, when
amid the buzz of talk in the next compartment she heard a name
which caused her to start, listen, then drop her preoccupation
like a mantle. A man was speaking of Glenister. Excitement
thrilled his voice.

"I never saw anything like it since McMaster's Night in Virginia
City, thirteen years ago. He's RIGHT."

"Well, perhaps so," the other replied, doubtfully, "but I don't
care to back you. I never 'staked' a man in my life."

"Then LEND me the money. I'll pay it back in an hour, but for
Heaven's sake be quick. I tell you he's as right as a golden
guinea. It's the lucky night of his life. Why, he turned over the
Black Jack game in four bets. In fifteen minutes more we can't get
close enough to a table to send in our money with a messenger-boy-
-every sport in camp will be here."

"I'll stake you to fifty," the second man replied, in a tone that
showed a trace of his companion's excitement.

So Glenister was gambling, the girl learned, and with such luck as
to break the Black Jack game and excite the greed of every gambler
in camp. News of his winnings had gone out into the street, and
the sporting men were coming to share his fortune, to fatten like
vultures on the adversity of their fellows. Those who had no money
to stake were borrowing, like the man next door.

She left her retreat, and, descending the stairs, was greeted by a
strange sight. The dance-hall was empty of all but the musicians,
who blew and fiddled lustily in vain endeavor to draw from the
rapidly swelling crowd that thronged the gambling-room and
stretched to the door. The press was thickest about a table midway
down the hall. Cherry could see nothing of what went on there, for
men and women stood ten deep about it and others perched on chairs
and tables along the walls. A roar arose suddenly, followed by
utter silence; then came the clink and rattle of silver. A moment,
and the crowd resumed its laughter and talk.

"All down, boys," sounded the level voice of the dealer. "The
field or the favorite. He's made eighteen straight passes. Get
your money on the line." There ensued another breathless instant
wherein she heard the thud of dice, then followed the shout of
triumph that told what the spots revealed. The dealer payed off.
Glenister reared himself head and shoulders above the others and
pushed out through the ring to the roulette-wheel. The rest
followed. Behind the circular table they had quitted, the dealer
was putting away his dice, and there was not a coin in his rack.
Mexico Mullins approached Cherry, and she questioned him.

"He just broke the crap game," Mullins told her; "nineteen passes
without losing the bones."

"How much did he win?"

"Oh, he didn't win much himself, but it's the people betting with
him that does the damage! They're gamblers, most of them, and they
play the limit. He took out the Black Jack bank-roll first,
$4,000, then cleaned the 'Tub.' By that time the tin horns began
to come in. It's the greatest run I ever see."

"Did you get in?"

"Now, don't you know that I never play anything but 'bank'? If he
lasts long enough to reach the faro lay-out, I'll get mine."

The excitement of the crowd began to infect the girl, even though
she looked on from the outside. The exultant voices, the sudden
hush, the tensity of nerve it all betokened, set her a-thrill. A
stranger left the throng and rushed to the spot where Cherry and
Mexico stood talking. He was small and sandy, with shifting glance
and chinless jaw. His eyes glittered, his teeth shone rat-like
through his dry lips, and his voice was shrill. He darted towards
them like some furtive, frightened little animal, unnaturally
excited.

"I guess that isn't so bad for three bets!" He shook a sheaf of
bank-notes at them.

"Why don't you stick?" inquired Mullins.

"I am too wise. Ha! I know when to quit. He can't win steady--he
don't play any system."

"Then he has a good chance," said the girl.

"There he goes now," the little man cried as the uproar arose. "I
told you he'd lose." At the voice of the multitude he wavered as
though affected by some powerful magnet.

"But he won again," said Mexico.

"No! Did he? Lord! I quit too soon!"

He scampered back into the other room, only to return, hesitating,
his money tightly clutched.

"Do you s'pose it's safe? I never saw a man bet so reckless. I
guess I'd better quit, eh?" He noted the sneer on the woman's
face, and without waiting a reply dashed off again. They saw him
clamorously fight his way in towards a post at the roulette-table.
"Let me through! I've got money and I want to play it!"

"Pah!" said Mullins, disgustedly. "He's one of them Vermont
desperadoes that never laid a bet till he was thirty. If Glenister
loses he'll hate him for life."

"There are plenty of his sort here," the girl remarked; "his soul
would fit in a flea-track." She spied the Bronco Kid sauntering
back towards her and joined him. He leaned against the wall,
watching the gossamer thread of smoke twist upward from his
cigarette, seemingly oblivious to the surroundings, and showing no
hint of the emotion he had displayed two hours before.

"This is a big killing, isn't it?" said the girl. The gambler
nodded, murmuring indifferently.

"Why aren't you dealing bank? Isn't this your shift?"

"I quit last night."

"Just in time to miss this affair. Lucky for you."

"Yes; I own the place now. Bought it yesterday."

"Good Heavens! Then it's YOUR money he's winning."

"Sure, at the rate of a thousand a minute."

She glanced at the long trail of devastated tables behind
Glenister and his followers. At that instant the sound told that
the miner had won again, and it dawned upon Cherry that the
gambler beside her stood too quietly, that his hand and voice were
too steady, his glance too cold to be natural. The next moment
approved her instinct.

The musicians, grown tired of their endeavors to lure back the
dancers, determined to join the excitement, and ceased playing.
The leader laid down his violin, the pianist trailed up the key-
board with a departing twitter and quit his stool. They all
crossed the hall, headed for the crowd, some of them making ready
to bet. As they approached the Bronco Kid, his lips thinned and
slid apart slightly, while out of his heavy-lidded eyes there
flared unreasoning rage. Stepping forward, he seized the foremost
man and spun him about violently.

"Where are you going?"

"Why, nobody wants to dance, so we thought we'd go out front for a
bit."

"Get back, damn you!" It was his first chance to vent the passion
within him. A glance at his maddened features was sufficient for
the musicians, and they did not delay. By the time they had
resumed their duties, however, the curtains of composure had
closed upon the Kid, masking his emotion again; but from her brief
glimpse Cherry Malotte knew that this man was not of ice, as some
supposed. He turned to her and said, "Do you mean what you said
up-stairs?"

"I don't understand."

"You said you could kill Glenister."

"I could."

"Don't you love--"

"I HATE him," she interrupted, hoarsely. He gave her a mirthless
smile, and spying the crap-dealer leaving his bankrupt table,
called him over and said:

"Toby, I want you to 'drive the hearse' when Glenister begins to
play faro. I'll deal. Understand?"

"Sure! Going to give him a little 'work,' eh?"

"I never dealt a crooked card in this camp," exclaimed the Kid,
"but I'll 'lay' that man to-night or I'll kill him! I'll use a
'sand-tell,' see! And I want to explain my signals to you. If you
miss the signs you'll queer us both and put the house on the
blink."

He rapidly rehearsed his signals in a jargon which to a layman
would have been unintelligible, illustrating them by certain
almost imperceptible shiftings of the fingers or changes in the
position of his hand, so slight as to thwart discovery. Through it
all the girl stood by and followed his every word and motion with
eager attention. She needed no explanation of the terms they used.
She knew them all, knew that the "hearse-driver" was the man who
kept the cases, knew all the code of the "inside life." To her it
was all as an open page, and she memorized more quickly than did
Toby the signs by which the Bronco Kid proposed to signal what
card he had smuggled from the box or held back.

In faro it is customary for the case-keeper to sit on the opposite
side of the table from the dealer, with a device before him
resembling an abacus, or Chinese adding-machine. When a card is
removed from the faro-box by the dealer, the "hearse-driver" moves
a button opposite a corresponding card on his little machine, in
order that the players, at a glance, may tell what spots have been
played or are still in the box. His duties, though simple, are
important, for should he make an error, and should the position of
his counters not tally with the cards in the box on the "last
turn," all bets on the table are declared void. When honestly
dealt, faro is the fairest of all gambling games, but it is
intricate, and may hide much knavery. When the game is crooked, it
is fatal, for out of the ingenuity of generations of card sharks
there have been evolved a multitude of devices with which to
fleece the unsuspecting. These are so carefully masked that none
but the initiated may know them, while the freemasonry of the
craft is strong and discovery unusual.

Instead of using a familiar arrangement like the "needle-tell,"
wherein an invisible needle pricks the dealer's thumb, thus
signalling the presence of certain cards, the Bronco Kid had
determined to use the "sand-tell." In other words, he would employ
a "straight box," but a deck of cards, certain ones of which had
been roughened or sand-papered slightly, so that, by pressing more
heavily on the top or exposed card, the one beneath would stick to
its neighbor above, and thus enable him to deal two with one
motion if the occasion demanded. This roughness would likewise
enable him to detect the hidden presence of a marked card by the
faintest scratching sound when he dealt. In this manipulation it
would be necessary, also, to shave the edges of some of the
pasteboards a trifle, so that, when the deck was forced firmly
against one side of the box, there would be exposed a fraction of
the small figure in the left-hand corner of the concealed cards.
Long practice in the art of jugglery lends such proficiency as to
baffle discovery and rob the game of its uncertainty as surely as
the player is robbed of his money. It is, of course, vital that
the confederate case-keeper be able to interpret the dealer's
signs perfectly in order to move the sliding ebony disks to
correspond, else trouble will accrue at the completion of the hand
when the cases come out wrong.

Having completed his instructions, the proprietor went forward,
and Cherry wormed her way towards the roulette-wheel. She wished
to watch Glenister, but could not get near him because of the
crowd. The men would not make room for her. Every eye was glued
upon the table as though salvation lurked in its rows of red and
black. They were packed behind it until the croupier had barely
room to spin the ball, and although he forced them back, they
pressed forward again inch by inch, drawn by the song of the
ivory, drunk with its worship, maddened by the breath of Chance.

Cherry gathered that Glenister was still winning, for a glimpse of
the wheel-rack between the shoulders of those ahead showed that
the checks were nearly out of it.

Plainly it was but a question of minutes, so she backed out and
took her station beside the faro-table where the Bronco Kid was
dealing. His face wore its colorless mask of indifference; his
long white hands moved slowly with the certainty that betokened
absolute mastery of his art. He was waiting. The ex-crap dealer
was keeping cases.

The group left the roulette-table in a few moments and surrounded
her, Glenister among the others. He was not the man she knew. In
place of the dreary hopelessness with which he had left her, his
face was flushed and reckless, his collar was open, showing the
base of his great, corded neck, while the lust of the game had
coarsened him till he was again the violent, untamed, primitive
man of the frontier. His self-restraint and dignity were gone. He
had tried the new ways, and they were not for him. He slipped
back, and the past swallowed him.

After leaving Cherry he had sought some mental relief by idly
risking the silver in his pocket. He had let the coins lie and
double, then double again and again. He had been indifferent
whether he won or lost, so assumed a reckless disregard for the
laws of probability, thinking that he would shortly lose the money
he had won and then go home. He did not want it. When his luck
remained the same, he raised the stakes, but it did not change--he
could not lose. Before he realized it, other men were betting with
him, animated purely by greed and craze of the sport. First one,
then another joined till game after game was closed, and each
moment the crowd had grown in size and enthusiasm so that its
fever crept into him, imperceptibly at first, but ever increasing,
till the mania mastered him.

He paid no attention to Cherry as he took his seat. He had eyes
for nothing but the "lay-out." She clenched her hands and prayed
for his ruin.

"What's your limit, Kid?" he inquired.

"One hundred, and two," the Kid answered, which in the vernacular
means that any sum up to $200 be laid on one card save only on the
last turn, when the amount is lessened by half.

Without more ado they commenced. The Kid handled his cards
smoothly, surely, paying and taking bets with machine-like calm.
The on-lookers ceased talking and prepared to watch, for now came
the crucial test of the evening. Faro is to other games as war is
to jackstraws.

For a time Glenister won steadily till there came a moment when
many stacks of chips lay on the deuce. Cherry saw the Kid "flash"
to the case-keeper, and the next moment he had "pulled two." The
deuce lost. It was his first substantial gain, and the players
paid no attention. At the end of half an hour the winnings were
slightly in favor of the "house." Then Glenister said, "This is
too slow. I want action."

"All right," smiled the proprietor. "We'll double the limit."

Thus it became possible to wager $400 on a card, and the Kid began
really to play. Glenister now lost steadily, not in large amounts,
but with tantalizing regularity. Cherry had never seen cards
played like this. The gambler was a revelation to her--his work
was wonderful. Ill luck seemed to fan the crowd's eagerness,
while, to add to its impatience, the cases came wrong twice in
succession, so that those who would have bet heavily upon the last
turn had their money given back. Cherry saw the confusion of the
"hearse-driver" even quicker than did Bronco. Toby was growing
rattled. The dealer's work was too fast for him, and yet he could
offer no signal of distress for fear of annihilation at the hands
of those crowded close to his shoulder. In the same way the owner
of the game could make no objection to his helper's incompetence
for fear that some by-stander would volunteer to fill the man's
part--there were many present capable of the trick. He could only
glare balefully across the table at his unfortunate confederate.

They had not gone far on the next game before Cherry's quick eye
detected a sign which the man misinterpreted. She addressed him,
quietly, "You'd better brush up your plumes."

In spite of his anger the Bronco Kid smiled. Humor in him was
strangely withered and distorted, yet here was a thrust he would
always remember and recount with glee in years to come. He feared
there were other faro-dealers present who might understand the
hint, but there was none save Mexico Mullins, whose face was a
study--mirth seemed to be strangling him. A moment later the girl
spoke to the case-keeper again.

"Let me take your place; your reins are unbuckled."

Toby glanced inquiringly at the Kid, who caught Cherry's
reassuring look and nodded, so he arose and the girl slid into the
vacant chair. This woman would make no errors--the dealer knew
that; her keen wits were sharpened by hate--it showed in her face.
If Glenister escaped destruction to-night it would be because
human means could not accomplish his downfall.

In the mind of the new case-keeper there was but one thought--Roy
must be broken. Humiliation, disgrace, ruin, ridicule were to be
his. If he should be downed, discredited, and discouraged, then,
perhaps, he would turn to her as he had in the by-gone days. He
was slipping away from her--this was her last chance. She began
her duties easily, and her alertness stimulated Bronco till his
senses, too, grew sharper, his observation more acute and
lightning-like. Glenister swore beneath his breath that the cards
were bewitched. He was like a drunken man, now as truly
intoxicated as though the fumes of wine had befogged his brain. He
swayed in his seat, the veins of his neck thickened and throbbed,
his features were congested. After a while he spoke.

"I want a bigger limit. Is this some boy's game? Throw her open."

The gambler shot a triumphant glance at the girl and acquiesced.
"All right, the limit is the blue sky. Pile your checks to the
roof-pole." He began to shuffle.

Within the crowded circle the air was hot and fetid with the
breath of men. The sweat trickled down Glenister's brown skin,
dripping from his jaw unnoticed. He arose and ripped off his coat,
while those standing behind shifted and scuffed their feet
impatiently. Besides Roy, there were but three men playing. They
were the ones who had won heaviest at first. Now that luck was
against them they were loath to quit.

Cherry was annoyed by stertorous breathing at her shoulder, and
glanced back to find the little man who had been so excited
earlier in the evening. His mouth was agape, his eyes wide, the
muscles about his lips twitching. He had lost back, long since,
the hundreds he had won and more besides. She searched the figures
walling her about and saw no women. They had been crowded out long
since. It seemed as though the table formed the bottom of a
sloping pit of human faces--eager, tense, staring. It was well she
was here, she thought, else this task might fail. She would help
to blast Glenister, desolate him, humiliate him. Ah, but wouldn't
she!

Roy bet $100 on the "popular" card. On the third turn he lost. He
bet $200 next and lost. He set out a stack of $400 and lost for
the third time. Fortune had turned her face. He ground his teeth
and doubled until the stakes grew enormous, while the dealer dealt
monotonously. The spots flashed and disappeared, taking with them
wager after wager. Glenister became conscious of a raging, red
fury which he had hard shift to master. It was not his money--what
if he did lose? He would stay until he won. He would win. This
luck would not, could not, last--and yet with diabolic persistence
he continued to choose the losing cards. The other men fared
better till be yielded to their judgment, when the dealer took
their money also.

Strange to say, the fickle goddess had really shifted her banner
at last, and the Bronco Kid was dealing straight faro now. He was
too good a player to force a winning hand, and Glenister's ill-
fortune became as phenomenal as his winning had been. The girl who
figured in this drama was keyed to the highest tension, her eyes
now on her counters, now searching the profile of her victim.
Glenister continued to lose and lose and lose, while the girl
gloated over his swift-coming ruin. When at long intervals he won
a bet she shrank and shivered for fear he might escape. If only he
would risk it all--everything he had. He would have to come to her
then!

The end was closer than she realized. The throng hung breathless
upon each move of the players, while there was no sound but the
noise of shifting chips and the distant jangle of the orchestra.
The lookout sat far forward upon his perch, his hands upon his
knees, his eyes frozen to the board, a dead cigar clenched between
his teeth. Crowded upon his platform were miners tense and
motionless as statues. When a man spoke or coughed, a score of
eyes stared at him accusingly, then dropped to the table again.

Glenister took from his clothes a bundle of bank-notes, so thick
that it required his two hands to compass it. On-lookers saw that
the bills were mainly yellow. No one spoke while he counted them
rapidly, glanced at the dealer, who nodded, then slid them forward
till they rested on the king. He placed a "copper" on the pile. A
great sigh of indrawn breaths swept through the crowd. The North
had never known a bet like this--it meant a fortune. Here was a
tale for one's grandchildren--that a man should win opulence in an
evening, then lose it in one deal. This final bet represented more
than many of them had ever seen a one time before. Its fate lay on
a single card.

Cherry Malotte's fingers were like ice and shook till the buttons
of her case-keeper rattled, her heart raced till she could not
breathe, while something rose up and choked her. If Glenister won
this bet he would quit; she felt it. If he lost, ah! what could
the Kid there feel, the man who was playing for a paltry
vengeance, compared to her whose hope of happiness, of love, of
life hinged on this wager?

Evidently the Bronco Kid knew what card lay next below, for he
offered her no sign, and as Glenister leaned back he slowly and
firmly pushed the top card out of the box. Although this was the
biggest turn of his life, he betrayed no tremor. His gesture
displayed the nine of diamonds, and the crowd breathed heavily.
The king had not won. Would it lose? Every gaze was welded to the
tiny nickelled box. If the face-card lay next beneath the nine-
spot, the heaviest wager in Alaska would have been lost; if it
still remained hidden on the next turn, the money would be safe
for a moment.

Slowly the white hand of the dealer moved back; his middle finger
touched the nine of diamonds; it slid smoothly out of the box, and
there in its place frowned the king of clubs. At last the silence
was broken.

Men spoke, some laughed, but in their laughter was no mirth. It
was more like the sound of choking. They stamped their feet to
relieve the grip of strained muscles. The dealer reached forth and
slid the stack of bills into the drawer at his waist without
counting. The case-keeper passed a shaking hand over her face, and
when it came away she saw blood on her fingers where she had sunk
her teeth into her lower lip. Glenister did not rise. He sat,
heavy-browed and sullen, his jaw thrust forward, his hair low upon
his forehead, his eyes bloodshot and dead.

"I'll sit the hand out if you'll let me bet the 'finger,'" said
he.

"Certainly," replied the dealer.

When a man requests this privilege it means that he will call the
amount of his wager without producing the visible stakes, and the
dealer may accept or refuse according to his judgment of the
bettor's responsibility. It is safe, for no man shirks a gambling
debt in the North, and thousands may go with a nod of the head
though never a cent be on the board.

There were still a few cards in the box, and the dealer turned
them, paying the three men who played. Glenister took no part, but
sat bulked over his end of the table glowering from beneath his
shock of hair.

Cherry was deathly tired. The strain of the last hour had been so
intense that she could barely sit in her seat, yet she was
determined to finish the hand. As Bronco paused before the last
turn, many of the by-standers made bets. They were the "case-
players" who risked money only on the final pair, thus avoiding
the chance of two cards of like denomination coming together, in
which event ("splits" it is called) the dealer takes half the
money. The stakes were laid at last and the deal about to start
when Glenister spoke. "Wait! What's this place worth, Bronco?"

"What do you mean?"

"You own this outfit?" He waved his hand about the room. "Well,
what does it stand you?"

The gambler hesitated an instant while the crowd pricked up its
ears, and the girl turned wondering, troubled eyes upon the miner.
What would he do now?

"Counting bank rolls, fixtures, and all, about a hundred and
twenty thousand dollars. Why?"

"I'll pick the ace to lose, my one-half interest in the Midas
against your whole damned lay-out!"

There was an absolute hush while the realization of this offer
smote the on-lookers. It took time to realize it. This man was
insane. There were three cards to choose from--one would win, one
would lose, and one would have no action.

Of all those present only Cherry Malotte divined even vaguely the
real reason which prompted the man to do this. It was not
"gameness," nor altogether a brutish stubbornness which would not
let him quit, It was something deeper. He was desolate and his
heart was gone. Helen was lost to him--worse yet, was unworthy,
and she was all he cared for. What did he want of the Midas with
its lawsuits, its intrigues, and its trickery? He was sick of it
all--of the whole game--and wanted to get away. If he won, very
well. If he lost, the land of the Aurora would know him no more.

When he put his proposition, the Bronco Kid dropped his eyes as
though debating. The girl saw that he studied the cards in his box
intently and that his fingers caressed the top one ever so softly
during the instant the eyes of the rest were on Glenister. The
dealer looked up at last, and Cherry saw the gleam of triumph in
his eye; he could not mask it from her, though his answering words
were hesitating. She knew by the look that Glenister was a pauper.

"Come on," insisted Roy, hoarsely. "Turn the cards."

"You're on!"

The girl felt that she was fainting. She wanted to scream. The
triumph of this moment stifled her--or was it triumph, after all?
She heard the breath of the little man behind her rattle as though
he were being throttled, and saw the lookout pass a shaking hand
to his chin, then wet his parched lips. She saw the man she had
helped to ruin bend forward, his lean face strained and hard, an
odd look of pain and weariness in his eyes. She never forgot that
look. The crowd was frozen in various attitudes of eagerness,
although it had not yet recovered from the suspense of the last
great wager. It knew the Midas and what it meant. Here lay half of
it, hidden beneath a tawdry square of pasteboard. With maddening
deliberation the Kid dealt the top card. Beneath it was the trey
of spades. Glenister said no word nor made a move. Some one
coughed, and it sounded like a gunshot. Slowly the dealer's
fingers retraced their way. He hesitated purposely and leered at
the girl, then the three-spot disappeared and beneath it lay the
ace as the king had lain on that other wager. It spelled utter
ruin to Glenister. He raised his eyes blindly, and then the
deathlike silence of the room was shattered by a sudden crash.
Cherry Malotte had closed her check-rack violently, at the same
instant crying shrill and clear: "That bet is off! The cases are
wrong!"

Glenister half rose, overturning his chair; the Kid lunged forward
across the table, and his wonderful hands, tense and talon-like,
thrust themselves forward as though reaching for the riches she
had snatched away. They worked and writhed and trembled as though
in dumb fury, the nails sinking into the oil-cloth table-cover.
His face grew livid and cruel, while his eyes blazed at her till
she shrank from him affrightedly, bracing herself away from the
table with rigid arms.

Reason came slowly back to Glenister, and understanding with it.
He seemed to awake from a nightmare. He could read all too plainly
the gambler's look of baffled hate as the man sprawled on the
table, his arms spread wide, his eyes glaring at the cowering
woman, who shrank before him like a rabbit before a snake. She
tried to speak, but choked. Then the dealer came to himself, and
cried harshly through his teeth one word:

"Christ!"

He raised his fist and struck the table so violently that chips
and coppers leaped and rolled, and Cherry closed her eyes to lose
sight of his awful grimace. Glenister looked down on him and said:

"I think I understand; but the money was yours, anyhow, so I don't
mind." His meaning was plain. The Kid suddenly jerked open the
drawer before him, but Glenister clenched his right hand and
leaned forward. The miner could have killed him with a blow, for
the gambler was seated and at his mercy. The Kid checked himself,
while his face began to twitch as though the nerves underlying it
had broken bondage and were dancing in a wild, ungovernable orgy.

"You have taught me a lesson," was all that Glenister said, and
with that he pushed through the crowd and out into the cool night
air. Overhead the arctic stars winked at him, and the sea smells
struck him, clean and fresh. As he went homeward he heard the
distant, full-throated plaint of a wolf-dog. It held the mystery
and sadness of the North. He paused, arid, baring his thick,
matted head, stood for a long time gathering himself together.
Standing so, he made certain covenants with himself, and vowed
solemnly never to touch another card.

At the same moment Cherry Malotte came hurrying to her cottage
door, fleeing as though from pursuit or from some hateful, haunted
spot. She paused before entering and flung her arms outward into
the dark in a wide gesture of despair.

"Why did I do it? Oh! WHY did I do it? I can't understand myself."




CHAPTER XIV

A MIDNIGHT MESSENGER


"My dear Helen, don't you realize that my official position
carries with it a certain social obligation which it is our duty
to discharge?"

"I suppose so, Uncle Arthur; but I would much rather stay at
home."

"Tut, tut! Go and have a good time."

"Dancing doesn't appeal to me any more. I left that sort of thing
back home. Now, if you would only come along--"

"No--I'm too busy. I must work to-night, and I'm not in a mood for
such things, anyhow."

"You're not well," his niece said. "I have noticed it for weeks.
Is it hard work or are you truly ill? You're nervous; you don't
eat; you're growing positively gaunt. Why--you're getting wrinkles
like an old man." She rose from her seat at the breakfast-table
and went to him, smoothing his silvered head with affection.

He took her cool hand and pressed it to his cheek, while the worry
that haunted him habitually of late gave way to a smile.

"It's work, little girl--hard and thankless work, that's all. This
country is intended for young men, and I'm too far along." His
eyes grew grave again, and he squeezed her fingers nervously as
though at the thought. "It's a terrible country--this--I--I--wish
we had never seen it."

"Don't say that," Helen cried, spiritedly. "Why, it's glorious.
Think of the honor. You're a United States judge and the first one
to come here. You're making history--you're building a State--
people will read about you." She stooped and kissed him; but he
seemed to flinch beneath her caress.

"Of course I'll go if you think I'd better," she said, "though I'm
not fond of Alaskan society. Some of the women are nice, but the
others--" She shrugged her dainty shoulders. "They talk scandal
all the time. One would think that a great, clean, fresh, vigorous
country like this would broaden the women as it broadens the men--
but it doesn't."

"I'll tell McNamara to call for you at nine o'clock," said the
Judge as he arose. So, later in the day she prepared her long
unused finery to such good purpose that when her escort called for
her that evening he believed her the loveliest of women.

Upon their arrival at the hotel he regarded her with a fresh
access of pride, for the function proved to bear little
resemblance to a mining-camp party. The women wore handsome gowns,
and every man was in evening dress. The wide hall ran the length
of the hotel and was flanked with boxes, while its floor was like
polished glass and its walls effectively decorated.

"Oh, how lovely!" exclaimed Helen as she first caught sight of it.
"It's just like home."

"I've seen quick-rising cities before," he said, "but nothing like
this. Still, if these Northerners can build a railroad in a month
and a city in a summer, why shouldn't they have symphony
orchestras and Louis Quinze ballrooms?"

"I know you're a splendid dancer," she said.

"You shall be my judge and jury. I'll sign this card as often as I
dare without the certainty of violence at the hands of these young
men, and the rest of the time I'll smoke in the lobby. I don't
care to dance with any one but you."

After the first waltz he left her surrounded by partners and made
his way out of the ballroom. This was his first relaxation since
landing in the North. It was well not to become a dull boy, he
mused, and as he chewed his cigar he pictured with an odd thrill,
quite unusual with him, that slender, gray-eyed girl, with her
coiled mass of hair, her ivory shoulders, and merry smile. He saw
her float past to the measure of a two-step, and caught himself
resenting the thought of another man's enjoyment of the girl's
charms even for an instant.

"Hold on, Alec," he muttered. "You're too old a bird to lose your
head." However, he was waiting for her before the time for their
next dance. She seemed to have lost a part of her gayety.

"What's the matter? Aren't you enjoying yourself?"

"Oh, yes!" she returned, brightly. "I'm having a delightful time."

When he came for his third dance, she was more distraite than
ever. As he led her to a seat they passed a group of women, among
whom were Mrs. Champian and others whom he knew to be wives of men
prominent in the town. He had seen some of them at tea in Judge
Stillman's house, and therefore was astonished when they returned
his greeting but ignored Helen. She shrank slightly, and he
realized that there was something wrong; he could not guess what.
Affairs of men he could cope with, but the subtleties of women
were out of his realm.

"What ails those people? Have they offended you?"

"I don't know what it is. I have spoken to them, but they cut me."

"Cut YOU?" he exclaimed.

"Yes." Her voice trembled, but she held her head high. "It seems
as though all the women in Nome were here and in league to ignore
me. It dazes me--I do not understand."

"Has anybody said anything to you?" he inquired, fiercely. "Any
man, I mean?"

"No, no! The men are kind. It's the women."

"Come--we'll go home."

"Indeed, we will not," she said, proudly. "I shall stay and face
it out. I have done nothing to run away from, and I intend to find
out what is the matter."

When he had surrendered her, at the beginning of the next dance,
McNamara sought for some acquaintance whom he might question. Most
of the men in Nome either hated or feared him, but he espied one
that he thought suited his purpose, and led him into a corner.

"I want you to answer a question. No beating about the bush.
Understand? I'm blunt, and I want you to be."

"All right."

"Your wife has been entertained at Miss Chester's house. I've seen
her there. To-night she refuses to speak to the girl. She cut her
dead, and I want to know what it's about."

"How should I know?"

"If you don't know, I'll ask you to find out."

The other shook his head amusedly, at which McNamara flared up.

"I say you will, and you'll make your wife apologize before she
leaves this hall, too, or you'll answer to me, man to man. I won't
stand to have a girl like Miss Chester cold-decked by a bunch of
mining-camp swells, and that goes as it lies." In his excitement,
McNamara reverted to his Western idiom.

The other did not reply at once, for it is embarrassing to deal
with a person who disregards the conventions utterly, and at the
same time has the inclination and force to compel obedience. The
boss's reputation had gone abroad.

"Well--er--I know about it in a general way, but of course I don't
go much on such things. You'd better let it drop."

"Go on."

"There has been a lot of talk among the ladies about--well, er--
the fact is, it's that young Glenister. Mrs. Champian had the next
state-room to them--er--him--I should say--on the way up from the
States, and she saw things. Now, as far as I'm concerned, a girl
can do what she pleases, but Mrs. Champian has her own ideas of
propriety. From what my wife could learn, there's some truth in
the story, too, so you can't blame her."

With a word McNamara could have explained the gossip and made this
man put his wife right, forcing through her an elucidation of the
silly affair in such a way as to spare Helen's feelings and cover
the busy-tongued magpies with confusion. Yet he hesitated. It is a
wise skipper who trims his sails to every breeze. He thanked his
informant and left him. Entering the lobby, he saw the girl
hurrying towards him.

"Take me away, quick! I want to go home."

"You've changed your mind?"'

"Yes, let us go," she panted, and when they were outside she
walked so rapidly that he had difficulty in keeping pace with her.
She was silent, and he knew better than to question, but when they
arrived at her house he entered, took off his overcoat, and turned
up the light in the tiny parlor. She flung her wraps over a chair,
storming back and forth like a little fury. Her eyes were starry
with tears of anger, her face was flushed, her hands worked
nervously. He leaned against the mantel, watching her through his
cigar smoke.

"You needn't tell me," he said, at length. "I know all about it."

"I am glad you do. I never could repeat what they said. Oh, it was
brutal!" Her voice caught and she bit her lip. "What made me ask
them? Why didn't I keep still? After you left, I went to those
women and faced them. Oh, but they were brutal? Yet, why should I
care?" She stamped her slippered foot.

"I shall have to kill that man some day," he said, flecking his
cigar ashes into the grate.

"What man?" She stood still and looked at him.

"Glenister, of course. If I had thought the story would ever reach
you, I'd have shut him up long ago."

"It didn't come from him," she cried, hot with indignation. "He's
a gentleman. It's that cat, Mrs. Champian."

He shrugged his shoulders the slightest bit, but it was eloquent,
and she noted it. "Oh, I don't mean that he did it intentionally--
he's too decent a chap for that--but anybody's tongue will wag to
a beautiful girl! My lady Malotte is a jealous trick."

"Malotte! Who is she?" Helen questioned, curiously.

He seemed surprised. "I thought every one knew who she is. It's
just as well that you don't."

"I am sure Mr. Glenister would not talk of me." There was a pause.
"Who is Miss Malotte?"

He studied for a moment, while she watched him. What a splendid
figure he made in his evening clothes! The cosey room with its
shaded lights enhanced his size and strength and rugged outlines.
In his eyes was that admiration which women live for. He lifted
his bold, handsome face and met her gaze.

"I had rather leave that for you to find out, for I'm not much at
scandal. I have something more important to tell you. It's the
most important thing I have ever said to you, Helen." It was the
first time he had used that name, and she began to tremble, while
her eyes sought the door in a panic. She had expected this moment,
and yet was not ready.

"Not to-night--don't say it now," she managed to articulate.

"Yes, this is a good time. If you can't answer, I'll come back to-
morrow. I want you to be my wife. I want to give you everything
the world offers, and I want to make you happy, girl. There'll be
no gossip hereafter--I'll shield you from everything unpleasant,
and if there is anything you want in life, I'll lay it at your
feet. I can do it." He lifted his massive arms, and in the set of
his strong, square face was the promise that she should have
whatever she craved if mortal man could give it to her--love,
protection, position, adoration.

She stammered uncertainly till the humiliation and chagrin she had
suffered this night swept over her again. This town--this crude,
half-born mining-camp--had turned against her, misjudged her
cruelly. The women were envious, clacking scandal-mongers, all of
them, who would ostracize her and make her life in the Northland a
misery, make her an outcast with nothing to sustain her but her
own solitary pride. She could picture her future clearly,
pitilessly, and see herself standing alone, vilified, harassed in
a thousand cutting ways, yet unable to run away, or to explain.
She would have to stay and face it, for her life was bound up here
during the next few years or so, or as long as her uncle remained
a judge. This man would free her. He loved her; he offered her
everything. He was bigger than all the rest combined. They were
his playthings, and they knew it. She was not sure that she loved
him, but his magnetism was overpowering, and her admiration
intense. No other man she had ever known compared with him, except
Glenister--Bah! The beast! He had insulted her at first; he
wronged her now.

"Will you be my wife, Helen?" the man repeated, softly.

She dropped her head, and he strode forward to take her in his
arms, then stopped, listening. Some one ran up on the porch and
hammered loudly at the door. McNamara scowled, walked into the
hall, and flung the portal open, disclosing Struve.

"Hello, McNamara! Been looking all over for you. There's the deuce
to pay!" Helen sighed with relief and gathered up her cloak, while
the hum of their voices reached her indistinctly. She was given
plenty of time to regain her composure before they appeared. When
they did, the politician spoke, sourly:

"I've been called to the mines, and I must go at once."

"You bet! It may be too late now. The news came an hour ago, but I
couldn't find you," said Struve. "Your horse is saddled at the
office. Better not wait to change your clothes."

"You say Voorhees has gone with twenty deputies, eh? That's good.
You stay here and find out all you can."

"I telephoned out to the Creek for the boys to arm themselves and
throw out pickets. If you hurry you can get there in time. It's
only midnight now."

"What is the trouble?" Miss Chester inquired, anxiously.

"There's a plot on to attack the mines to-night," answered the
lawyer. "The other side are trying to seize them, and there's apt
to be a fight."

"You mustn't go out there," she cried, aghast. "There will be
bloodshed."

"That's just why I MUST go," said McNamara. "I'll come back in the
morning, though, and I'd like to see you alone. Good-night!" There
was a strange, new light in his eyes as he left her. For one
unversed in woman's ways he played the game surprisingly well, and
as he hurried towards his office he smiled grimly into the
darkness.

"She'll answer me to-morrow. Thank you, Mr. Glenister," he said to
himself.

Helen questioned Struve at length, but gained nothing more than
that secret-service men had been at work for weeks and had to-day
unearthed the fact that Vigilantes had been formed. They had heard
enough to make them think the mines would be jumped again to-
night, and so had given the alarm.

"Have you hired spies?" she asked, incredulously.

"Sure. We had to. The other people shadowed us, and it's come to a
point where it's life or death to one side or the other. I told
McNamara we'd have bloodshed before we were through, when he first
outlined the scheme--I mean when the trouble began."

She wrung her hands. "That's what uncle feared before we left
Seattle. That's why I took the risks I did in bringing you those
papers. I thought you got them in time to avoid all this."

Struve laughed a bit, eying her curiously.

"Does Uncle Arthur know about this?" she continued.

"No, we don't let him know anything more than necessary; he's not
a strong man."

"Yes, yes. He's not well." Again the lawyer smiled. "Who is behind
this Vigilante movement?"

"We think it is Glenister and his New Mexican bandit partner. At
least they got the crowd together." She was silent for a time.

"I suppose they really think they own those mines."

"Undoubtedly."

"But they don't, do they?" Somehow this question had recurred to
her insistently of late, for things were constantly happening
which showed there was more back of this great, fierce struggle
than she knew. It was impossible that injustice had been done the
mine-owners, and yet scattered talk reached her which was
puzzling. When she strove to follow it up, her acquaintances
adroitly changed the subject. She was baffled on every side. The
three local newspapers upheld the court. She read them carefully,
and was more at sea than ever. There was a disturbing undercurrent
of alarm and unrest that caused her to feel insecure, as though
standing on hollow ground.

"Yes, this whole disturbance is caused by those two. Only for them
we'd be all right."

"Who is Miss Malotte?"

He answered, promptly: "The handsomest woman in the North, and the
most dangerous."

"In what way? Who is she?"

"It's hard to say who or what she is--she's different from other
women. She came to Dawson in the early days--just came--we didn't
know how, whence, or why, and we never found out. We woke up one
morning and there she was. By night we were all jealous, and in a
week we were most of us drivelling idiots. It might have been the
mystery or, perhaps, the competition. That was the day when a
dance-hall girl could make a homestake in a winter or marry a
millionaire in a month, but she never bothered. She toiled not,
neither did she spin on the waxed floors, yet Solomon in all his
glory would have looked like a tramp beside her."

"You say she is dangerous?"

"Well, there was the young nobleman, in the winter of '98, Dane, I
think--fine family and all that--big, yellow-haired boy. He wanted
to marry her, but a faro-dealer shot him. Then there was Rock, of
the mounted police, the finest officer in the service. He was
cashiered. She knew he was going to pot for her, but she didn't
seem to care--and there were others. Yet, with it all, she is the
most generous person and the most tender-hearted. Why, she has fed
every 'stew bum' on the Yukon, and there isn't a busted prospector
in the country who wouldn't swear by her, for she has grubstaked
dozens of them. I was horribly in love with her myself. Yes, she's
dangerous, all right--to everybody but Glenister."

"What do you mean?"

"She had been across the Yukon to nurse a man with scurvy, and
coming back she was caught in the spring break-up. I wasn't there,
but it seems this Glenister got her ashore somehow when nobody
else would tackle the job. They were carried five miles down-
stream in the ice-pack before he succeeded."

"What happened then?"

"She fell in love with him, of course."

"And he worshipped her as madly as all the rest of you, I
suppose," she said, scornfully.

"That's the peculiar part. She hypnotized him at first, but he ran
away, and I didn't hear of him again till I came to Nome. She
followed him, finally, and last week evened up her score. She paid
him back for saving her."

"I haven't heard about it."

He detailed the story of the gambling episode at the Northern
saloon, and concluded: "I'd like to have seen that 'turn,' for
they say the excitement was terrific. She was keeping cases, and
at the finish slammed her case-keeper shut and declared the bet
off because she had made a mistake. Of course they couldn't
dispute her, and she stuck to it. One of the by-standers told me
she lied, though."

"So, in addition to his other vices, Mr. Glenister is a reckless
gambler, is he?" said Helen, with heat. "I am proud to be indebted
to such a character. Truly this country breeds wonderful species."

"There's where you're wrong," Struve chuckled. "He's never been
known to bet before."

"Oh, I'm tired of these contradictions!" she cried, angrily.
"Saloons, gambling-halls, scandals, adventuresses! Ugh! I hate it!
I HATE it! Why did I ever come here?"

"Those things are a part of every new country. They were about all
we had till this year. But it is women like you that we fellows
need, Miss Helen. You can help us a lot." She did not like the way
he was looking at her, and remembered that her uncle was up-stairs
and asleep.

"I must ask you to excuse me now, for it's late and I am very
tired."

The clock showed half-past twelve, so, after letting him out, she
extinguished the light and dragged herself wearily up to her room.
She removed her outer garments and threw over her bare shoulders a
negligee of many flounces and bewildering, clinging looseness. As
she took down her heavy braids, the story of Cherry Malotte
returned to her tormentingly. So Glenister had saved HER life also
at risk of his own. What a very gallant cavalier he was, to be
sure! He should bear a coat of arms--a dragon, an armed knight,
and a fainting maiden. "I succor ladies in distress--handsome
ones," should be the motto on his shield. "The handsomest woman in
the North," Struve had said. She raised her eyes to the glass and
made a mouth at the petulant, tired reflection there. She pictured
Glenister leaping from floe to floe with the hungry river surging
and snapping at his feet, while the cheers of the crowd on shore
gave heart to the girl crouching out there. She could see him
snatch her up and fight his way back to safety over the plunging
ice-cakes with death dragging at his heels. What a strong embrace
he had! At this she blushed and realized with a shock that while
she was mooning that very man might be fighting hand to hand in
the darkness of a mountain-gorge with the man she was going to
marry.

A moment later some one mounted the front steps below and knocked
sharply. Truly this was a night of alarms. Would people never
cease coming? She was worn out, but at the thought of the tragedy
abroad and the sick old man sleeping near by, she lit a candle and
slipped down-stairs to avoid disturbing him. Doubtless it was some
message from McNamara, she thought, as she unchained the door.

As she opened it, she fell back amazed while it swung wide and the
candle flame flickered and sputtered in the night air. Roy
Glenister stood there, grim and determined, his soft, white
Stetson pulled low, his trousers tucked into tan half-boots, in
his hand a Winchester rifle. Beneath his corduroy coat she saw a
loose cartridge-belt, yellow with shells, and the nickelled flash
of a revolver. Without invitation he strode across the threshold,
closing the door behind him.

"Miss Chester, you and the Judge must dress quickly and come with
me."

"I don't understand."

"The Vigilantes are on their way here to hang him. Come with me to
my house where I can protect you."

She laid a trembling hand on her bosom and the color died out of
her face, then at a slight noise above they both looked up to see
Judge Stillman leaning far over the banister. He had wrapped
himself in a dressing-gown and now gripped the rail convulsively,
while his features were blanched to the color of putty and his
eyes were wide with terror, though puffed and swollen from sleep.
His lips moved in a vain endeavor to speak.




CHAPTER XV

VIGILANTES


On the morning after the episode in the Northern, Glenister awoke
under a weight of discouragement and desolation. The past twenty-
four hours with their manifold experiences seemed distant and
unreal. At breakfast he was ashamed to tell Dextry of the gambling
debauch, for he had dealt treacherously with the old man in
risking half of the mine, even though they had agreed that either
might do as he chose with his interest, regardless of the other.
It all seemed like a nightmare, those tense moments when he lay
above the receiver's office and felt his belief in the one woman
slipping away, the frenzied thirst which Cherry Malotte had
checked, the senseless, unreasoning lust for play that possessed
him later. This lapse was the last stand of his old, untamed
instincts. The embers of revolt in him were dead. He felt that he
would never again lose mastery of himself, that his passions would
never best him hereafter.

Dextry spoke. "We had a meeting of the 'Stranglers' last night."
He always spoke of the Vigilantes in that way, because of his
early Western training.

"What was done?"

"They decided to act quick and do any odd jobs of lynchin', claim-
jumpin', or such as needs doin'. There's a lot of law sharps and
storekeepers in the bunch who figure McNamara's gang will wipe
them off the map next."

"It was bound to come to this."

"They talked of ejectin' the receiver's men and puttin' all us
fellers back on our mines."

"Good. How many can we count on to help us?"

"About sixty. We've kept the number down, and only taken men with
so much property that they'll have to keep their mouths shut."

"I wish we might engineer some kind of an encounter with the court
crowd and create such an uproar that it would reach Washington.
Everything else has failed, and our last chance seems to be for
the government to step in; that is, unless Bill Wheaton can do
something with the California courts."

"I don't count on him. McNamara don't care for California courts
no more 'n he would for a boy with a pea-shooter--he's got too
much pull at headquarters. If the 'Stranglers' don't do no good,
we'd better go in an' clean out the bunch like we was killin'
snakes. If that fails, I'm goin' out to the States an' be a
doctor."

"A doctor? What for?"

"I read somewhere that in the United States every year there is
forty million gallons of whiskey used for medical purposes."

Glenister laughed. "Speaking of whiskey, Dex--I notice that you've
been drinking pretty hard of late--that is, hard for you."

The old man shook his head. "You're mistaken. It ain't hard for
me."

"Well, hard or easy, you'd better cut it out."

It was some time later that one of the detectives employed by the
Swedes met Glenister on Front Street, and by an almost
imperceptible sign signified his desire to speak with him. When
they were alone he said:

"You're being shadowed."

"I've known that for a long time."

"The district-attorney has put on some new men. I've fixed the
woman who rooms next to him, and through her I've got a line on
some of them, but I haven't spotted them all. They're bad ones--
'up-river' men mostly--remnants of Soapy Smith's Skagway gang.
They won't stop at anything."

"Thank you--I'll keep my eyes open."

A few nights after, Glenister had reason to recall the words of
the sleuth and to realize that the game was growing close and
desperate. To reach his cabin, which sat on the outskirts of the
town, he ordinarily followed one of the plank walks which wound
through the confusion of tents, warehouses, and cottages lying
back of the two principal streets along the water front. This part
of the city was not laid out in rectangular blocks, for in the
early rush the first-comers had seized whatever pieces of ground
they found vacant and erected thereon some kind of buildings to
make good their titles. There resulted a formless jumble of huts,
cabins, and sheds, penetrated by no cross streets and quite
unlighted. At night, one leaving the illuminated portion of the
town found this darkness intensified.

Glenister knew his course so well that he could have walked it
blindfolded. Nearing a corner of the warehouse this evening he
remembered that the planking at this point was torn up, so, to
avoid the mud, he leaped lightly across. Simultaneously with his
jump he detected a movement in the shadows that banked the wall at
his elbow and saw the flaming spurt of a revolver-shot. The man
had crouched behind the building and was so close that it seemed
impossible to miss. Glenister fell heavily upon his side and the
thought flashed over him, "McNamara's thugs have shot me."

His assailant leaped out from his hiding-place and ran down the
walk, the sound of his quick, soft footfalls thudding faintly out
into the silence. The young man felt no pain, however, so
scrambled to his feet, felt himself over with care, and then swore
roundly. He was untouched; the other had missed him cleanly. The
report, coming while he was in the act of leaping, had startled
him so that he had lost his balance, slipped upon the wet boards,
and fallen. His assailant was lost in the darkness before he could
rise. Pursuit was out of the question, so he continued homeward,
considerably shaken, and related the incident to Dextry.

"You think it was some of McNamara's work, eh?" Dextry inquired
when he had finished.

"Of course. Didn't the detective warn me to-day?"

Dextry shook his head. "It don't seem like the game is that far
along yet. The time is coming when we'll go to the mat with them
people, but they've got the aige on us now, so what could they
gain by putting you away? I don't believe it's them, but whoever
it is, you'd better be careful or you'll be got."

"Suppose we come home together after this," Roy suggested, and
they arranged to do so, realizing that danger lurked in the dark
corners and that it was in some such lonely spot that the deed
would be tried again. They experienced no trouble for a time,
though on nearing their cabin one night the younger man fancied
that he saw a shadow glide away from its vicinity and out into the
blackness of the tundra, as though some one had stood at his very
door waiting for him, then became frightened at the two figures
approaching. Dextry had not observed it, however, and Glenister
was not positive himself, but it served to give him the uncanny
feeling that some determined, unscrupulous force was bent on his
destruction. He determined to go nowhere unarmed.

A few evenings later he went home early and was busied in writing
when Dextry came in about ten o'clock. The old miner hung up his
coat before speaking, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, then, amid
mouthfuls of smoke, began:

"I had my own toes over the edge to-night. I was mistook for you,
which compliment I don't aim to have repeated."

Glenister questioned him eagerly.

"We're about the same height an' these hats of ours are alike.
Just as I come by that lumber-pile down yonder, a man hopped out
an throwed a 'gat' under my nose. He was quicker than light, and
near blowed my skelp into the next block before he saw who I was;
then he dropped his weepon and said:

"'My mistake. Go on.' I accepted his apology."

"Could you see who he was?"

"Sure. Guess."

"I can't."

"It was the Bronco Kid."

"Lord!" ejaculated Glenister. "Do you think he's after me?"

"He ain't after nobody else, an', take my word for it, it's got
nothin' to do with McNamara nor that gamblin' row. He's too game
for that. There's some other reason."

This was the first mention Dextry had made of the night at the
Northern.

"I don't know why he should have it in for me--I never did him any
favors," Glenister remarked, cynically.

"Well, you watch out, anyhow. I'd sooner face McNamara an' all the
crooks he can hire than that gambler."

During the next few days Roy undertook to meet the proprietor of
the Northern face to face, but the Kid had vanished completely
from his haunts. He was not in his gambling-hall at night nor on
the street by day. The young man was still looking for him on the
evening of the dance at the hotel, when he chanced to meet one of
the Vigilantes, who inquired of him:

"Aren't you late for the meeting?"

"What meeting?"

After seeing that they were alone, the other stated:

"There's an assembly to-night at eleven o'clock. Something
important, I think. I supposed, of course, you knew about it."

"It's strange I wasn't notified," said Roy. "It's probably an
oversight. Ill go along with you."

Together they crossed the river to the less frequented part of
town and knocked at the door of a large, unlighted warehouse,
flanked by a high board fence. The building faced the street, but
was enclosed on the other three sides by this ten-foot wall,
inside of which were stored large quantities of coal and lumber.
After some delay they were admitted, and, passing down through the
dim-lit, high-banked lanes of merchandise, came to the rear room,
where they were admitted again. This compartment had been fitted
up for the warm storage of perishable goods during the cold
weather, and, being without windows, made an ideal place for
clandestine gatherings.

Glenister was astonished to find every man of the organization
present, including Dextry, whom he supposed to have gone home an
hour since. Evidently a discussion had been in progress, for a
chairman was presiding, and the boxes, kegs, and bales of goods
had been shoved back against the walls for seats. On these were
ranged the threescore men of the "Stranglers," their serious faces
lighted imperfectly by scattered lanterns. A certain constraint
seized them upon Glenister's entrance; the chairman was
embarrassed. It was but momentary, however. Glenister himself felt
that tragedy was in the air, for it showed in the men's attitudes
and spoke eloquently from their strained faces. He was about to
question the man next to him when the presiding officer continued:

"We will assemble here quietly with our arms at one o'clock. And
let me caution you again not to talk or do anything to scare the
birds away."

Glenister arose. "I came late, Mr. Chairman, so I missed hearing
your plan. I gather that you're out for business, however, and I
want to be in it. May I ask what is on foot?"

"Certainly. Things have reached such a pass that moderate means
are useless. We have decided to act, and act quickly. We have
exhausted every legal resource and now we're going to stamp out
this gang of robbers in our own way. We will get together in an
hour, divide into three groups of twenty men, each with a leader,
then go to the houses of McNamara, Stillman, and Voorhees, take
them prisoners, and--" He waved his hand in a large gesture.

Glenister made no answer for a moment, while the crowd watched him
intently.

"You have discussed this fully?" he asked.

"We have. It has been voted on, and we're unanimous."

"My friends, when I stepped into this room just now I felt that I
wasn't wanted. Why, I don't know, because I have had more to do
with organizing this movement than any of you, and because I have
suffered just as much as the rest. I want to know if I was omitted
from this meeting intentionally."

"This is an embarrassing position to put me in," said the
chairman, gravely. "But I shall answer as spokesman for these men
if they wish."

"Yes. Go ahead," said those around the room.

"We don't question your loyalty, Mr. Glenister, but we didn't ask
you to this meeting because we know your attitude--perhaps I'd
better say sentiment--regarding Judge Stillman's niece--er--
family. It has come to us from various sources that you have been
affected to the prejudice of your own and your partner's interest.
Now, there isn't going to be any sentiment in the affairs of the
Vigilantes. We are going to do justice, and we thought the
simplest way was to ignore you in this matter and spare all
discussion and hard feeling in every quarter."

"It's a lie!" shouted the young man, hoarsely. "A damned lie! You
wouldn't let me in for fear I'd kick, eh? Well, you were right. I
will kick. You've hinted about my feelings for Miss Chester. Let
me tell you that she is engaged to marry McNamara, and that she's
nothing to me. Now, then, let me tell you, further, that you won't
break into her house and hang her uncle, even if he is a
reprobate. No, sir! This isn't the time for violence of that sort-
-we'll win without it. If we can't, let's fight like men, and not
hunt in a pack like wolves. If you want to do something, put us
back on our mines and help us hold them, but, for God's sake,
don't descend to assassination and the tactics of the Mafia!"

"We knew you would make that kind of a talk," said the speaker,
while the rest murmured grudgingly. One of them spoke up.

"We've talked this over in cold blood, Glenister, and it's a
question of their lives or our liberty. The law don't enter into
it."

"That's right," echoed another at his elbow. "We can't seize the
claims, because McNamara's got soldiers to back him up. They'd
shoot us down. You ought to be the last one to object."

He saw that dispute was futile. Determination was stamped on their
faces too plainly for mistake, and his argument had no more effect
on them than had the pale rays of the lantern beside him, yet he
continued:

"I don't deny that McNamara deserves lynching, but Stillman
doesn't. He's a weak old man"--some one laughed derisively--"and
there's a woman in the house. He's all she has in the world to
depend upon, and you would have to kill her to get at him. If you
MUST follow this course, take the others, but leave him alone."

They only shook their heads, while several pushed by him even as
he spoke. "We're going to distribute our favors equal," said a man
as he left. They were actuated by what they called justice, and he
could not sway them. The life and welfare of the North were in
their hands, as they thought, and there was not one to hesitate.
Glenister implored the chairman, but the man answered him:

"It's too late for further discussion, and let me remind you of
your promise. You're bound by every obligation that exists for an
honorable man--"

"Oh, don't think that I'll give the snap away!" said the other;
"but I warn you again not to enter Stillman's house."

He followed out into the night to find that Dextry had
disappeared, evidently wishing to avoid argument. Roy had seen
signs of unrest beneath the prospector's restraint during the past
few days, and indications of a fierce hunger to vent his spleen on
the men who had robbed him of his most sacred rights. He was of an
intolerant, vindictive nature that would go to any length for
vengeance. Retribution was part of his creed.

On his way home, the young man looked at his watch, to find that
he had but an hour to determine his course. Instinct prompted him
to join his friends and to even the score with the men who had
injured him so bitterly, for, measured by standards of the
frontier, they were pirates with their lives forfeit. Yet, he
could not countenance this step. If only the Vigilantes would be
content with making an example--but he knew they would not. The
blood hunger of a mob is easy to whet and hard to hold. McNamara
would resist, as would Voorhees and the district-attorney, then
there would be bloodshed, riot, chaos. The soldiers would be
called out and martial law declared, the streets would become
skirmish-grounds. The Vigilantes would rout them without question,
for every citizen of the North would rally to their aid, and such
men could not be stopped. The Judge would go down with the rest of
the ring, and what would happen to--her?

He took down his Winchester, oiled and cleaned it, then buckled on
a belt of cartridges. Still he wrestled with himself. He felt that
he was being ground between his loyalty to the Vigilantes and his
own conscience. The girl was one of the gang, he reasoned--she had
schemed with them to betray him through his love, and she was
pledged to the one man in the world whom he hated with fanatical
fury. Why should he think of her in this hour? Six months back he
would have looked with jealous eyes upon the right to lead the
Vigilantes, but this change that had mastered him--what was it?
Not cowardice, nor caution. No. Yet, being intangible, it was none
the less marked, as his friends had shown him an hour since.

He slipped out into the night. The mob might do as it pleased
elsewhere, but no man should enter her house. He found a light
shining from her parlor window, and, noting the shade up a few
inches, stole close. Peering through, he discovered Struve and
Helen talking. He slunk back into the shadows and remained hidden
for a considerable time after the lawyer left, for the dancers
were returning from the hotel and passed close by. When the last
group had chattered away down the street, he returned to the front
of the house and, mounting the steps, knocked sharply. As Helen
appeared at the door, he stepped inside and closed it after him.

The girl's hair lay upon her neck and shoulders in tumbled brown
masses, while her breast heaved tumultuously at the sudden, grim
sight of him. She stepped back against the wall, her wondrous,
deep, gray eyes wide and troubled, the blush of modesty struggling
with the pallor of dismay.

The picture pained him like a knife-thrust. This girl was for his
bitterest enemy--no hope of her was for him. He forgot for a
moment that she was false and plotting, then, recalling it, spoke
as roughly as he might and stated his errand. Then the old man had
appeared on the stairs above, speechless with fright at what he
overheard. It was evident that his nerves, so sorely strained by
the events of the past week, were now snapped utterly. A human
soul naked and panic-stricken is no pleasant sight, so Glenister
dropped his eyes and addressed the girl again:

"Don't take anything with you. Just dress and come with me."

The creature on the stairs above stammered and stuttered,
inquiringly:

"What outrage is this, Mr. Glenister?"

"The people of Nome are up in arms, and I've come to save you.
Don't stop to argue." He spoke impatiently.

"Is this some r-ruse to get me into your power?"

"Uncle Arthur!" exclaimed the girl, sharply. Her eyes met
Glenister's and begged him to take no offence.

"I don't understand this atrocity. They must be mad!" wailed the
Judge. "You run over to the jail, Mr. Glenister, and tell Voorhees
to hurry guards here to protect me. Helen, 'phone to the military
post and give the alarm. Tell them the soldiers must come at
once."

"Hold on!" said Glenister. "There's no use of doing that--the
wires are cut; and I won't notify Voorhees--he can take care of
himself. I came to help you, and if you want to escape you'll stop
talking and hurry up."

"I don't know what to do," said Stillman, torn by terror and
indecision. "You wouldn't hurt an old man, would you? Wait! I'll
be down in a minute."

He scrambled up the stairs, tripping on his robe, seemingly
forgetting his niece till she called up to him, sharply:

"Stop, Uncle Arthur! You mustn't RUN AWAY." She stood erect and
determined, "You wouldn't do THAT, would you? This is our house.
You represent the law and the dignity of the government. You
mustn't fear a mob of ruffians. We will stay here and meet them,
of course."

"Good Lord!" said Glenister. "That's madness. These men aren't
ruffians; they are the best citizens of Nome. You don't realize
that this is Alaska and that they have sworn to wipe out
McNamara's gang. Come along."

"Thank you for your good intentions," she said, "but we have done
nothing to run away from. We will get ready to meet these cowards.
You had better go or they will find you here."

She moved up the stairs, and, taking the Judge by the arm, led him
with her. Of a sudden she had assumed control of the situation
unfalteringly, and both men felt the impossibility of thwarting
her. Pausing at the top, she turned and looked down.

"We are grateful for your efforts just the same. Good-night."

"Oh, I'm not going," said the young man. "If you stick I'll do the
same." He made the rounds of the first-floor rooms, locking doors
and windows. As a place of defence it was hopeless, and he saw
that he would have to make his stand up-stairs. When sufficient
time had elapsed he called up to Helen:

"May I come?"

"Yes," she replied. So he ascended, to find Stillman in the hall,
half clothed and cowering, while by the light from the front
chamber he saw her finishing her toilet.

"Won't you come with me--it's our last chance?" She only shook her
head. "Well, then, put out the light. I'll stand at that front
window, and when my eyes get used to the darkness I'll be able to
see them before they reach the gate."

She did as directed, taking her place beside him at the opening,
while the Judge crept in and sat upon the bed, his heavy breathing
the only sound in the room. The two young people stood so close
beside each other that the sweet scent of her person awoke in him
an almost irresistible longing. He forgot her treachery again,
forgot that she was another's, forgot all save that he loved her
truly and purely, with a love which was like an agony to him. Her
shoulder brushed his arm; he heard the soft rustling of her
garment at her breast as she breathed. Some one passed in the
street, and she laid a hand upon him fearfully. It was very cold,
very tiny, and very soft, but he made no move to take it. The
moments dragged along, still, tense, interminable. Occasionally
she leaned towards him, and he stooped to catch her whispered
words. At such times her breath beat warm against his cheek, and
he closed his teeth stubbornly. Out in the night a wolfdog
saddened the air, then came the sound of others wrangling and
snarling in a near-by corral. This is a chickless land and no
cock-crow breaks the midnight peace. The suspense enhanced the
Judge's perturbation till his chattering teeth sounded like
castanets. Now and then he groaned.

The watchers had lost track of time when their strained eyes
detected dark blots materializing out of the shadows.

"There they come," whispered Glenister, forcing her back from the
aperture; but she would not be denied, and returned to his side.

As the foremost figures reached the gate, Roy leaned forth and
spoke, not loudly, but in tones that sliced through the silence,
sharp, clean, and without warning.

"Halt! Don't come inside the fence." There was an instant's
confusion; then, before the men beneath had time to answer or take
action, he continued: "This is Roy Glenister talking. I told you
not to molest these people and I warn you again. We're ready for
you."

The leader spoke. "You're a traitor, Glenister."

He winced. "Perhaps I am. You betrayed me first, though; and,
traitor or not, you can't come into this house."

There was a murmur at this, and some one said:

"Miss Chester is safe. All we want is the Judge. We won't hang
him, not if he'll wear this suit we brought along. He needn't be
afraid. Tar is good for the skin."

"Oh, my God!" groaned the limb of the law.

Suddenly a man came running down the planked pavement and into the
group.

"McNamara's gone, and so's the marshal and the rest," he panted.
There was a moment's silence, and then the leader growled to his
men, "Scatter out and rush the house, boys." He raised his voice
to the man in the window. "This is your work--you damned
turncoat." His followers melted away to right and left, vaulted
the fence, and dodged into the shelter of the walls. The click,
click of Glenister's Winchester sounded through the room while the
sweat stood out on him. He wondered if he could do this deed, if
he could really fire on these people. He wondered if his muscles
would not wither and paralyze before they obeyed his command.

Helen crowded past him and, leaning half out of the opening,
called loudly, her voice ringing clear and true:

"Wait! Wait a moment. I have something to say. Mr. Glenister
didn't warn them. They thought you were going to attack the mines
and so they rode out there before midnight. I am telling you the
truth, really. They left hours ago." It was the first sign she had
made, and they recognized her to a man.

There were uncertain mutterings below till a new man raised his
voice. Both Roy and Helen recognised Dextry.

"Boys, we've overplayed. We don't want THESE people--McNamara's
our meat. Old bald-face up yonder has to do what he's told, and
I'm ag'in' this twenty-to-one midnight work. I'm goin' home."
There were some whisperings, then the original spokesman called
for Judge Stillman. The old man tottered to the window, a palsied,
terror-stricken object. The girl was glad he could not be seen
from below.

"We won't hurt you this time, Judge, but you've gone far enough.
We'll give you another chance, then, if you don't make good, we'll
stretch you to a lamp-post. Take this as a warning."

"I--s-shall do my d-d-duty," said the Judge.

The men disappeared into the darkness, and when they had gone
Glenister closed the window, pulled down the shades, and lighted a
lamp. He knew by how narrow a margin a tragedy had been averted.
If he had fired on these men his shot would have kindled a feud
which would have consumed every vestige of the court crowd and
himself among them. He would have fallen under a false banner, and
his life would not have reached to the next sunset. Perhaps it was
forfeit now--he could not tell. The Vigilantes would probably look
upon his part as traitorous; and, at the very least, he had cut
himself off from their support, the only support the Northland
offered him. Henceforth he was a renegade, a pariah, hated alike
by both factions. He purposely avoided sight of Stillman and
turned his back when the Judge extended his hand with expressions
of gratitude. His work was done and he wished to leave this house.
Helen followed him down to the door and, as he opened it, laid her
hand upon his sleeve.

"Words are feeble things, and I can never make amends for all
you've done for us."

"For US!" cried Roy, with a break in his voice. "Do you think I
sacrificed my honor, betrayed my friends, killed my last hope,
ostracized myself, for 'US'? This is the last time I'll trouble
you. Perhaps the last time I'll see you. No matter what else
you've done, however, you've taught me a lesson, and I thank you
for it. I have found myself at last. I'm not an Eskimo any longer-
-I'm a man!"

"You've always been that," she said. "I don't understand as much
about this affair as I want to, and it seems to me that no one
will explain it. I'm very stupid, I guess; but won't you come back
to-morrow and tell it to me?"

"No," he said, roughly. "You're not of my people. McNamara and his
are no friends of mine, and I'm no friend of theirs." He was half
down the steps before she said, softly:

"Good-night, and God bless you--friend."

She returned to the Judge, who was in a pitiable state, and for a
long time she labored to soothe him as though he were a child. She
undertook to question him about the things which lay uppermost in
her mind and which this night had half revealed, but he became
fretful and irritated at the mention of mines and mining. She sat
beside his bed till he dozed off, puzzling to discover what lay
behind the hints she had heard, till her brain and body matched in
absolute weariness. The reflex of the day's excitement sapped her
strength till she could barely creep to her own couch, where she
rolled and sighed--too tired to sleep at once. She awoke finally,
with one last nervous flicker, before complete oblivion took her.
A sentence was on her mind--it almost seemed as though she had
spoken it aloud:

"The handsomest woman in the North...but Glenister ran away."




CHAPTER XVI

IN WHICH THE TRUTH BEGINS TO BARE ITSELF


It was nearly noon of the next day when Helen awoke to find that
McNamara had ridden in from the Creek and stopped for breakfast
with the Judge. He had asked for her, but on hearing the tale of
the night's adventure would not allow her to be disturbed. Later,
he and the Judge had gone away together.

Although her judgment approved the step she had contemplated the
night before, still the girl now felt a strange reluctance to meet
McNamara. It is true that she knew no ill of him, except that
implied in the accusations of certain embittered men; and she was
aware that every strong and aggressive character makes enemies in
direct proportionate the qualities which lend him greatness.
Nevertheless, she was aware of an inner conflict that she had not
foreseen. This man who so confidently believed that she would
marry him did not dominate her consciousness.

She had ridden much of late, taking long, solitary gallops beside
the shimmering sea that she loved so well, or up the winding
valleys into the foot-hills where echoed the roar of swift waters
or glinted the flash of shovel blades. This morning her horse was
lame, so she determined to walk. In her early rambles she had
looked timidly askance at the rough men she met till she
discovered their genuine respect and courtesy. The most unkempt
among them were often college-bred, although, for that matter, the
roughest of the miners showed abundant consideration for a woman.
So she was glad to allow the men to talk to her with the fine
freedom inspired by the new country and its wide spaces. The
wilderness breeds a chivalry all its own.

Thus there seemed to be no danger abroad, though they had told the
girl of mad dogs which roamed the city, explaining that the hot
weather affects powerfully the thick-coated, shaggy "malamoots."
This is the land of the dog, and whereas in winter his lot is to
labor and shiver and starve, in summer he loafs, fights, grows
fat, and runs mad with the heat.

Helen walked far and, returning, chose an unfamiliar course
through the outskirts of the town to avoid meeting any of the
women she knew, because of that vivid memory of the night before.
As she walked swiftly along she thought that she heard faint cries
far behind her. Looking up, she noted that it was a lonely, barren
quarter and that the only figure in sight was a woman some
distance away. A few paces farther on the shouts recurred--more
plainly this time, and a gunshot sounded. Glancing back, she saw
several men running, one bearing a smoking revolver, and heard,
nearer still, the snarling hubbub of fighting dogs. In a flash the
girl's curiosity became horror, for, as she watched, one of the
dogs made a sudden dash through the now subdued group of animals
and ran swiftly along the planking on which she stood. It was a
handsome specimen of the Eskimo malamoot--tall, gray, and coated
like a wolf, with the speed, strength, and cunning of its cousin.
Its head hung low and swung from side to side as it trotted, the
motion flecking foam and slaver. The creature had scattered the
pack, and now, swift, menacing, relentless, was coming towards
Helen. There was no shelter near, no fence, no house, save the
distant one towards which the other woman was making her way. The
men, too far away to protect her, shouted hoarse warnings.

Helen did not scream nor hesitate--she turned and ran, terror-
stricken, towards the distant cottage. She was blind with fright
and felt an utter certainty that the dog would attack her before
she could reach safety. Yes--there was the quick patter of his
pads close up behind her; her knees weakened; the sheltering door
was yet some yards away. But a horse, tethered near the walk,
reared and snorted as the flying pair drew near. The mad creature
swerved, leaped at the horse's legs, and snapped in fury. Badly
frightened at this attack, the horse lunged at his halter, broke
it, and galloped away; but the delay had served for Helen, weak
and faint, to reach the door. She wrenched at the knob. It was
locked. As she turned hopelessly away, she saw that the other
woman was directly behind her, and was, in her turn, awaiting the
mad animal's onslaught, but calmly, a tiny revolver in her hand.

"Shoot!" screamed Helen. "Why don't you shoot?" The little gun
spoke, and the dog spun around, snarling and yelping. The woman
fired several times more before it lay still, and then remarked,
calmly, as she "broke" the weapon and ejected the shells:

"The calibre is too small to be good for much."

Helen sank down upon the steps.

"How well you shoot!" she gasped. Her eyes were on the gray bundle
whose death agonies had thrust it almost to her feet. The men had
run up and were talking excitedly, but after a word with them the
woman turned to Helen.

"You must come in for a moment and recover yourself," she said,
and led her inside.

It was a cosey room in which the girl found herself--more than
that--luxurious. There was a piano with scattered music, and many
of the pretty, feminine things that Helen had not seen since
leaving home. The hostess had stepped behind some curtains for an
instant and was talking to her from the next room.

"That is the third mad dog I have seen this month. Hydrophobia is
becoming a habit in this neighborhood." She returned, bearing a
tiny silver tray with decanter and glasses.

"You're all unstrung, but this brandy will help you--if you don't
object to a swallow of it. Then come right in here and lie down
for a moment and you'll be all right." She spoke with such genuine
kindness and sympathy that Helen flashed a grateful glance at her.
She was tall, slender, and with a peculiar undulating suggestion
in her movements, as though she had been bred to the clinging
folds of silken garments. Helen watched the charm of her smile,
the friendly solicitude of her expression, and felt her heart warm
towards this one kind woman in Nome.

"You're very good," she answered; "but I'm all right now. I was
badly frightened. It was wonderful, your saving me." She followed
the other's graceful motion as she placed her burden on the table,
and in doing so gazed squarely at a photograph of Roy Glenister.

"Oh--!" Helen exclaimed, then paused as it flashed over her who
this girl was. She looked at her quickly. Yes, probably men would
consider the woman beautiful, with that smile. The revelation came
with a shock, and she arose, trying to mask her confusion.

"Thank you so much for your kindness. I'm quite myself now and I
must go."

Her change of face could not escape the quick perceptions of one
schooled by experience in the slights of her sex. Times without
number Cherry Malotte had marked that subtle, scornful change in
other women, and reviled herself for heeding it. But in some way
this girl's manner hurt her worst of all. She betrayed no sign,
however, save a widening of the eyes and a certain fixity of smile
as she answered:

"I wish you would stay until you are rested, Miss--" She paused
with out-stretched hand.

"Chester. My name is Helen Chester. I'm Judge Stillman's niece,"
hurried the other, in embarrassment.

Cherry Malotte withdrew her proffered hand and her face grew hard
and hateful.

"Oh! So you are Miss Chester--and I--saved you!" She laughed
harshly.

Helen strove for calmness. "I'm sorry you feel that way," she
said, coolly. "I appreciate your service to me." She moved towards
the door.

"Wait a moment. I want to talk to you." Then, as Helen paid no
heed, the woman burst out, bitterly: "Oh, don't be afraid! I know
you are committing an unpardonable sin by talking to me, but no
one will see you, and in your code the crime lies in being
discovered. Therefore, you're quite safe. That's what makes me an
outcast--I was found out. I want you to know, however, that, bad
as I am, I'm better than you, for I'm loyal to those that like me,
and I don't betray my friends."

"I don't pretend to understand you," said Helen, coldly.

"Oh yes, you do! Don't assume such innocence. Of course it's your
role, but you can't play it with me." She stepped in front of her
visitor, placing her back against the door, while her face was
bitter and mocking. "The little service I did you just now
entitles me to a privilege, I suppose, and I'm going to take
advantage of it to tell you how badly your mask fits. Dreadfully
rude of me, isn't it? You're in with a fine lot of crooks, and I
admire the way you've done your share of the dirty work, but when
you assume these scandalized, supervirtuous airs it offends me."

"Let me out!"

"I've done bad things," Cherry continued, unheedingly, "but I was
forced into them, usually, and I never, deliberately, tried to
wreck a man's life just for his money."

"What do you mean by saying that I have betrayed my friends and
wrecked anybody's life?" Helen demanded, hotly.

"Bah! I had you sized up at the start, but Roy couldn't see it.
Then Struve told me what I hadn't guessed. A bottle of wine, a
woman, and that fool will tell all he knows. It's a great game
McNamara's playing and he did well to get you in on it, for you're
clever, your nerve is good, and your make-up is great for the
part. I ought to know, for I've turned a few tricks myself. You'll
pardon this little burst of feeling--professional pique. I'm
jealous of your ability, that's all. However, now that you realize
we're in the same class, don't look down on me hereafter." She
opened the door and bowed her guest out with elaborate mockery.

Helen was too bewildered and humiliated to make much out of this
vicious and incoherent attack except the fact that Cherry Malotte
accused her of a part in this conspiracy which every one seemed to
believe existed. Here again was that hint of corruption which she
encountered on all sides. This might be merely a woman's jealousy-
-and yet she said Struve had told her all about it--that a bottle
of wine and a pretty face would make the lawyer disclose
everything. She could believe it from what she knew and had heard
of him. The feeling that she was groping in the dark, that she was
wrapped in a mysterious woof of secrecy, came over her again as it
had so often of late. If Struve talked to that other woman, why
wouldn't he talk to her? She paused, changing her direction
towards Front Street, revolving rapidly in her mind as she went
her course of action. Cherry Malotte believed her to be an
actress. Very well--she would prove her judgment right.

She found Struve busy in his private office, but he leaped to his
feet on her entrance and came forward, offering her a chair.

"Good-morning, Miss Helen. You have a fine color, considering the
night you passed. The Judge told me all about the affair; and let
me state that you're the pluckiest girl I know."

She smiled grimly at the thought of what made her cheeks glow, and
languidly loosened the buttons of her jacket.

"I suppose you're very busy, you lawyer man?" she inquired.

"Yes--but not too busy to attend to anything you want."

"Oh, I didn't come on business," she said, lightly. "I was out
walking and merely sauntered in."

"Well, I appreciate that all the more," he said, in an altered
tone, twisting his chair about. "I'm more than delighted." She
judged she was getting on well from the way his professionalism
had dropped off.

"Yes, I get tired of talking to uncle and Mr. McNamara. They treat
me as though I were a little girl."

"When do you take the fatal step?"

"What step do you mean?"

"Your marriage. When does it occur? You needn't hesitate," he
added. "McNamara told we about it a month ago."

He felt his throat gingerly at the thought, but his eyes
brightened when she answered, lightly:

"I think you are mistaken. He must have been joking."

For some time she led him on adroitly, talking of many things, in
a way to make him wonder at her new and flippant humor. He had
never dreamed she could be like this, so tantalizingly close to
familiarity, and yet so maddeningly aloof and distant. He grew
bolder in his speech.

"How are things going with us?" she questioned, as his warmth grew
pronounced. "Uncle won't talk and Mr. McNamara is as close-mouthed
as can be, lately."

He looked at her quickly. "In what respect?"

She summoned up her courage and walked past the ragged edge of
uncertainty.

"Now, don't you try to keep me in short dresses, too. It's getting
wearisome. I've done my part and I want to know what the rest of
you are doing." She was prepared for any answer.

"What do you want to know?" he asked, cautiously.

"Everything. Don't you think I can hear what people are saying?"

"Oh, that's it! Well, don't you pay any attention to what people
say."

She recognized her mistake and continued, hurriedly:

"Why shouldn't I? Aren't we all in this together? I object to
being used and then discarded. I think I'm entitled to know how
the scheme is working. Don't you think I can keep my mouth shut?"

"Of course," he laughed, trying to change the subject of their
talk; but she arose and leaned against the desk near him, vowing
that she would not leave the office without piercing some part of
this mystery. His manner strengthened her suspicion that there WAS
something behind it all. This dissipated, brilliant creature knew
the situation thoroughly; and yet, though swayed by her efforts,
he remained chained by caution. She leaned forward and smiled at
him.

"You're just like the others, aren't you? You won't give me any
satisfaction at all."

"Give, give, give," said Struve, cynically. "That's always the
woman's cry. Give me this--give me that. Selfish sex! Why don't
you offer something in return? Men are traders, women usurers. You
are curious, hence miserable. I can help you, therefore I should,
do it for a smile. You ask me to break my promises and risk my
honor on your caprice. Well, that's woman-like, and I'll do it.
I'll put myself in your power, but I won't do it gratis. No, we'll
trade."

"It isn't curiosity," she denied, indignantly. "It is my due."

"No; you've heard the common talk and grown suspicious, that's
all. You think I know something that will throw a new light or a
new shadow on everything you have in the world, and you're worked
up to such a condition that you can't take your own people's word;
and, on the other hand, you can't go to strangers, so you come to
me. Suppose I told you I had the papers you brought to me last
spring in that safe and that they told the whole story--whether
your uncle is unimpeachable or whether he deserved hanging by that
mob. What would you do, eh? What would you give to see them? Well,
they're there and ready to speak for themselves. If you're a woman
you won't rest till you've seen them. Will you trade?"

"Yes, yes! Give them to me," she cried, eagerly, at which a wave
of crimson rushed up to his eyes and he rose abruptly from his
chair. He made towards her, but she retreated to the wall, pale
and wide-eyed.

"Can't you see," she flung at him, "that I MUST know?"

He paused. "Of course I can, but I want a kiss to bind the
bargain--to apply on account." He reached for her hand with his
own hot one, but she pushed him away and slipped past him towards
the door.

"Suit yourself," said he, "but if I'm not mistaken, you'll never
rest till you've seen those papers. I've studied you, and I'll
place a bet that you can't marry McNamara nor look your uncle in
the eye till you know the truth. You might do either if you KNEW
them to be crooks, but you couldn't if you only suspected it--
that's the woman. When you get ready, come back; I'll show you
proof, because I don't claim to be anything but what I am--Wilton
Struve, bargainer of some mean ability. When they come to inscribe
my headstone I hope they can carve thereon with truth, 'He got
value received.'"

"You're a panther," she said, loathingly.

"Graceful and elegant brute, that," he laughed. "Affectionate and
full of play, but with sharp teeth and sharper claws. To follow
out the idea, which pleases me, I believe the creature owes no
loyalty to its fellows and hunts alone. Now, when you've followed
this conspiracy out and placed the blame where it belongs, won't
you come and tell me about it? That door leads into an outer hall
which opens into the street. No one will see you come or go."

As she hurried away she wondered dazedly why she had stayed to
listen so long. What a monster he was! His meaning was plain, had
always been so from the first day he laid eyes upon her, and he
was utterly conscienceless. She had known all this; and yet, in
her proud, youthful confidence, and in her need, every hour more
desperate and urgent, to know the truth, she had dared risk
herself with him. Withal, the man was shrewd and observant and had
divined her mental condition with remarkable sagacity. She had
failed with him; but the girl now knew that she could never rest
till she found an answer to her questions. She MUST kill this
suspicion that ate into her so. She thought tenderly of her
uncle's goodness to her, clung with despairing faith to the last
of her kin. The blood ties of the Chesters were close and she felt
in dire need of that lost brother who was somewhere in this
mysterious land--need of some one in whom ran the strain that
bound her to the weak old man up yonder. There was McNamara; but
how could he help her, how much did she know of him, this man who
was now within the darkest shadow of her new suspicions?

Feeling almost intolerably friendless and alone, weakened both by
her recent fright and by her encounter with Struve, Helen
considered as calmly as her emotions would allow and decided that
this was no day in which pride should figure. There were facts
which it was imperative she should know, and immediately;
therefore, a few minutes later, she knocked at the door of Cherry
Malotte. When the girl appeared, Helen was astonished to see that
she had been crying. Tears burn hottest and leave plainest trace
in eyes where they come most seldom. The younger girl could not
guess the tumult of emotion the other had undergone during her
absence, the utter depths of self-abasement she had fathomed, for
the sight of Helen and her fresh young beauty had roused in the
adventuress a very tempest of bitterness and jealousy. Whether
Helen Chester were guilty or innocent, how could Glenister
hesitate between them? Cherry had asked herself. Now she stared at
her visitor inhospitably and without sign.

"Will you let me come in?" Helen asked her. "I have something to
say to you."

When they were inside, Cherry Malotte stood and gazed at her
visitor with inscrutable eyes and stony face.

"It isn't easy for me to come back," Helen began, "but I felt that
I had to. If you can help me, I hope you will. You said that you
knew a great wrong was being done. I have suspected it, but I
didn't know, and I've been afraid to doubt my own people. You said
I had a part in it--that I'd betrayed my friends. Wait a moment,"
she hurried on, at the other's cynical smile. "Won't you tell me
what you know and what you think my part has been? I've heard and
seen things that make me think--oh, they make me afraid to think,
and yet I can't find the TRUTH! You see, in a struggle like this,
people will make all sorts of allegations, but do they KNOW, have
they any proof, that my uncle has done wrong?"

"Is that all?"

"No. You said Struve told you the whole scheme. I went to him and
tried to cajole the story out of him, but--" She shivered at the
memory.

"What success did you have?" inquired the listener, oddly curious
for all her cold dislike.

"Don't ask me. I hate to think of it."

Cherry laughed cruelly. "So, failing there, you came back to me,
back for another favor from the waif. Well, Miss Helen Chester, I
don't believe a word you've said and I'll tell you nothing. Go
back to the uncle and the rawboned lover who sent you, and inform
them that I'll speak when the time comes. They think I know too
much, do they?--so they've sent you to spy? Well, I'll make a
compact. You play your game and I'll play mine. Leave Glenister
alone and I'll not tell on McNamara. Is it a bargain?"

"No, no, no! Can't you SEE? That's not it. All I want is the truth
of this thing."

"Then go back to Struve and get it. He'll tell you; I won't. Drive
your bargain with him--you're able. You've fooled better men--now,
see what you can do with him."

Helen left, realizing the futility of further effort, though she
felt that this woman did not really doubt her, but was scourged by
jealousy till she deliberately chose this attitude.

Reaching her own house, she wrote two brief notes and called in
her Jap boy from the kitchen.

"Fred, I want you to hunt up Mr. Glenister and give him this note.
If you can't find him, then look for his partner and give the
other to him." Fred vanished, to return in an hour with the letter
for Dextry still in his hand.

"I don' catch dis feller," he explained. "Young mans say he gone,
come back mebbe one, two, 'leven days."

"Did you deliver the one to Mr. Glenister?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Was there an answer?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Well, give it to me."

The note read:

"DEAR MISS CHESTER,--A discussion of a matter so familiar to us
both as the Anvil Creek controversy would be useless. If your
inclination is due to the incidents of last night, pray don't
trouble yourself. We don't want your pity. I am,

 "Your servant,

  "ROY GLENISTER."

As she read the note, Judge Stillman entered, and it seemed to the
girl that he had aged a year for every hour in the last twelve, or
else the yellow afternoon light limned the sagging hollows and
haggard lines of his face most pitilessly. He showed in voice and
manner the nervous burden under which he labored.

"Alec has told me about your engagement, and it lifts a terrible
load from me. I'm mighty glad you're going to marry him. He's a
wonderful man, and he's the only one who can save us."

"What do you mean by that? What are we in danger of?" she
inquired, avoiding discussion of McNamara's announcement.

"Why, that mob, of course. They'll come back. They said so. But
Alec can handle the commanding officer at the post, and, thanks to
him, we'll have soldiers guarding the house hereafter."

"Why--they won't hurt us--"

"Tut, tut! I know what I'm talking about. We're in worse danger
now than ever, and if we don't break up those Vigilantes there'll
be bloodshed--that's what. They're a menace, and they're trying to
force me off the bench so they can take the law into their own
hands again. That's what I want to see you about. They're planning
to kill Alec and me--so he says--and we've got to act quick to
prevent murder. Now, this young Glenister is one of them, and he
knows who the rest are. Do you think you could get him to talk?"

"I don't think I quite understand you," said the girl, through
whitening lips.

"Oh yes, you do. I want the names of the ring-leaders, so that I
can jail them. You can worm it out of that fellow if you try."

Helen looked at the old man in a horror that at first was dumb.
"You ask this of me?" she demanded, hoarsely, at last.

"Nonsense," he said, irritably. "This isn't any time for silly
scruples. It's life or death for me, maybe, and for Alec, too." He
said the last craftily, but she stormed at him:

"It's infamous! You're asking me to betray the very man who saved
us not twelve hours ago. He risked his life for us."

"It isn't treachery at all, it's protection. If we don't get them,
they'll get us. I wouldn't punish that young fellow, but I want
the others. Come, now, you've got to do it."

But she said "No" firmly, and quietly went to her own room, where,
behind the locked door, she sat for a long time staring with
unseeing eyes, her hands tight clenched in her lap. At last she
whispered:

"I'm afraid it's true. I'm afraid it's true."

She remained hidden during the dinner-hour, and pleaded a headache
when McNamara called in the early evening. Although she had not
seen him since he left her the night before, bearing her tacit
promise to wed him, yet how could she meet him now with the
conviction growing on her hourly that he was a master-rogue? She
wrestled with the thought that he and her uncle, her own uncle who
stood in the place of a father, were conspirators. And yet, at
memory of the Judge's cold-blooded request that she should turn
traitress, her whole being was revolted. If he could ask a thing
like that, what other heartless, selfish act might he not be
capable of? All the long, solitary evening she kept her room, but
at last, feeling faint, slipped down-stairs in search of Fred, for
she had eaten nothing since her late breakfast.

Voices reached her from the parlor, and as she came to the last
step she froze there in an attitude of listening. The first
sentence she heard through the close-drawn curtains banished all
qualms at eavesdropping. She stood for many breathless minutes
drinking in the plot that came to her plainly from within, then
turned, gathered up her skirts, and tiptoed back to her room. Here
she made haste madly, tearing off her house clothes and donning
others.

She pressed her face to the window and noted that the night was
like a close-hung velvet pall, without a star in sight.
Nevertheless, she wound a heavy veil about her hat and face before
she extinguished the light and stepped into the hall. Hearing
McNamara's "Good-night" at the front-door, she retreated again
while her uncle slowly mounted the stairs and paused before her
chamber. He called her name softly, but when she did not answer
continued on to his own room. When he was safely within she
descended quietly, went out, and locked the front-door behind her,
placing the key in her bosom. She hurried now, feeling her way
through the thick gloom in a panic, while in her mind was but one
frightened thought: "I'll be too late. I'll be too late."




CHAPTER XVII

THE DRIP OF WATER IN THE DARK


Even after Helen had been out for some time she could barely see
sufficiently to avoid collisions. The air, weighted by a low-hung
roof of clouds, was surcharged with the electric suspense of an
impending storm, and seemed to sigh and tremble at the hint of
power in leash. It was that pause before the conflict wherein the
night laid finger upon its lips.

As the girl neared Glenister's cabin she was disappointed at
seeing no light there. She stumbled towards the door, only to
utter a half-strangled cry as two men stepped out of the gloom and
seized her roughly. Something cold and hard was thrust violently
against her cheek, forcing her head back and bruising her. She
struggled and cried out.

"Hold on--it's a woman!" ejaculated the man who had pinioned her
arms, loosing his hold till only a hand remained on her shoulder.
The other lowered the weapon he had jammed to her face and peered
closely.

"Why, Miss Chester," he said. "What are you doing here? You came
near getting hurt."

"I am bound for the Wilsons', but I must have lost my way in the
darkness. I think you have cut my face." She controlled her fright
firmly.

"That's too bad," one said. "We mistook you for--" And the other
broke in, sharply, "You'd better run along. We're waiting for some
one."

Helen hastened back by the route she had come, knowing that there
was still time, and that as yet her uncle's emissaries had not
laid hands upon Glenister. She had overheard the Judge and
McNamara plotting to drag the town with a force of deputies,
seizing not only her two friends, but every man suspected of being
a Vigilante. The victims were to be jailed without bond, without
reason, without justice, while the mechanism of the court was to
be juggled in order to hold them until fall, if necessary. They
had said that the officers were already busy, so haste was a
crying thing. She sped down the dark streets towards the house of
Cherry Malotte, but found no light nor answer to her knock. She
was distracted now, and knew not where to seek next among the
thousand spots which might hide the man she wanted. What chance
had she against the posse sweeping the town from end to end? There
was only one; he might be at the Northern Theatre. Even so, she
could not reach him, for she dared not go there herself. She
thought of Fred, her Jap boy, but there was no time. Wasted
moments meant failure.

Roy had once told her that he never gave up what he undertook.
Very well, she would show that even a girl may possess
determination. This was no time for modesty or shrinking
indecision, so she pulled the veil more closely about her face and
took her good name into her hands. She made rapidly towards the
lighted streets which cast a skyward glare, and from which,
through the breathless calm, arose the sound of carousal. Swiftly
she threaded the narrow alleys in search of the theatre's rear
entrance, for she dared not approach from the front. In this way
she came into a part of the camp which had lain hidden from her
until now, and of the existence of which she had never dreamed.

The vices of a city, however horrible, are at least draped
scantily by the mantle of convention, but in a great mining-camp
they stand naked and without concealment. Here there were rows
upon rows of crib-like houses clustered over tortuous, ill-lighted
lanes, like blow-flies swarming to an unclean feast. From within
came the noise of ribaldry and debauch. Shrill laughter mingled
with coarse, maudlin songs, till the clinging night reeked with
abominable revelry. The girl saw painted creatures of every
nationality leaning from windows or beckoning from doorways, while
drunken men collided with her, barred her course, challenged her,
and again and again she was forced to slip from their embraces. At
last the high bulk of the theatre building loomed a short distance
ahead. Panting and frightened, she tried the door with weak hands,
to find it locked. From behind it rose the blare of brass and the
sound of singing. She accosted a man who approached her through
the narrow alley, but he had cruised from the charted course in
search of adventure and was not minded to go in quest of doormen;
rather, he chose to sing a chantey, to the bibulous measures of
which he invited her to dance with him, so she slipped away till
he had teetered past. He was some longshoreman in that particular
epoch of his inebriety where life had no burden save the
dissipation of wages.

Returning, she pounded on the door, possessed of the sense that
the man she sought was here, till at last it was flung open,
framing the silhouette of a shirt-sleeved, thick-set youth, who
shouted:

"What 'n 'ell do you want to butt in for while the show's on? Go
round front." She caught a glimpse of disordered scenery, and
before he could slam the door in her face thrust a silver dollar
into his hand, at the same time wedging herself into the opening.
He pocketed the coin and the door clicked to behind her.

"Well, speak up. The act's closin'." Evidently he was the
directing genius of the performance, for at that moment the chorus
broke into full cry, and he said, hurriedly:

"Wait a minute. There goes the finally," and dashed away to tend
his drops and switches. When the curtain was down and the
principals had sought their dressing-rooms he returned.

"Do you know Mr. Glenister?" she asked.

"Sure. I seen him to-night. Come here." He led her towards the
footlights, and, pulling back the edge of the curtain, allowed her
to peep past him out into the dance-hall. She had never pictured a
place like this, and in spite of her agitation was astonished at
its gaudy elegance. The gallery was formed of a continuous row of
compartments with curtained fronts, in which men and women were
talking, drinking, singing. The seats on the lower floor were
disappearing, and the canvas cover was rolling back, showing the
polished hardwood underneath, while out through the wide folding-
doors that led to the main gambling-room she heard a brass-lunged
man calling the commencement of the dance. Couples glided into
motion while she watched.

"I don't see him," said her guide. "You better walk out front and
help yourself." He indicated the stairs which led up to the
galleried boxes and the steps leading down on to the main floor,
but she handed him another coin, begging him to find Glenister and
bring him to her. "Hurry; hurry!" she implored.

The stage-manager gazed at her curiously, remarking, "My! You
spend your money like it had been left to you. You're a regular
pie-check for me. Come around any time."

She withdrew to a dark corner and waited interminably till her
messenger appeared at the head of the gallery stairs and beckoned
to her. As she drew near he said, "I told him there was a
thousand-dollar filly flaggin' him from the stage door, but he's
got a grouch an' won't stir. He's in number seven." She hesitated,
at which he said, "Go on--you're in right;" then continued,
reassuringly: "Say, pal, if he's your white-haired lad, you
needn't start no roughhouse, 'cause he don't flirt wit' these
dames none whatever. Naw! Take it from me."

She entered the door her counsellor indicated to find Roy lounging
back watching the dancers. He turned inquiringly--then, as she
raised her veil, leaped to his feet and jerked the curtains to.

"Helen! What are you doing here?"

"You must go away quickly," she gasped. "They're trying to arrest
you."

"They! Who? Arrest me for what?"

"Voorhees and his men--for riot, or something about last night."

"Nonsense," he said. "I had no part in it. You know that."

"Yes, yes--but you're a Vigilante, and they're after you and all
your friends. Your house is guarded and the town is alive with
deputies. They've planned to jail you on some pretext or other and
hold you indefinitely. Please go before it's too late."

"How do you know this?" he asked, gravely.

"I overheard them plotting."

"Who?"

"Uncle Arthur and Mr. McNamara." She faced him squarely as she
said it, and therefore saw the light flame up in his eyes as he
cried:

"And you came here to save me--came HERE at the risk of your good
name?"

"Of course. I would have done the same for Dextry." The gladness
died away, leaving him listless.

"Well, let them come. I'm done, I guess. I heard from Wheaton to-
night. He's down and out, too--some trouble with the 'Frisco
courts about jurisdiction over these cases. I don't know that it's
worth while to fight any longer."

"Listen," she said. "You must go. I am sure there is a terrible
wrong being done, and you and I must stop it. I have seen the
truth at last, and you're in the right. Please hide for a time at
least."

"Very well. If you have taken sides with us there's some hope
left. Thank you for the risk you ran in warning me."

She had moved to the front of the compartment and was peering
forth between the draperies when she stifled a cry.

"Too late! Too late! There they are. Don't part the curtains.
They'll see you."

Pushing through the gambling-hall were Voorhees and four others,
seemingly in quest of some one.

"Run down the back stairs," she breathed, and pushed him through
the door. He caught and held her hand with a last word of
gratitude. Then he was gone. She drew down her veil and was about
to follow when the door opened and he reappeared.

"No use," he remarked, quietly. "There are three more waiting at
the foot." He looked out to find that the officers had searched
the crowd and were turning towards the front stairs, thus cutting
off his retreat. There were but two ways down from the gallery and
no outside windows from which to leap. As they had made no armed
display, the presence of the officers had not interrupted the
dance.

Glenister drew his revolver, while into his eyes came the dancing
glitter that Helen had seen before, cold as the glint of winter
sunlight.

"No, not that--for God's sake!" she shuddered, clasping his arm.

"I must for your sake, or they'll find you here, and that's worse
than ruin. I'll fight it out in the corridors so that you can
escape in the confusion. Wait till the firing stops and the crowd
gathers." His hand was on the knob when she tore it loose,
whispering hoarsely:

"They'll kill you. Wait! There's a better way. Jump." She dragged
him to the front of the box and pulled aside the curtains. "It
isn't high and they won't see you till it's too late. Then you can
run through the crowd." He grasped her idea, and, slipping his
weapon back into its holster, laid hold of the ledge before him
and lowered himself down over the dancers. He swung out
unhesitatingly, and almost before he had been observed had dropped
into their midst. The gallery was but twice the height of a man's
head from the floor, so he landed on his feet and had drawn his
Colts even while the men at the stairs were shouting at him to
halt.

At sight of the naked weapons there was confusion, wherein the
commands of the deputies mingled with the shrieks of the women,
the crash of overturned chairs, and the sound of tramping feet, as
the crowd divided before Glenister and swept back against the wall
in the same ominous way that a crowd in the street had once
divided on the morning of Helen's arrival. The trombone player,
who had sunk low in his chair with closed eyes, looked out
suddenly at the disturbance, and his alarm was blown through the
horn in a startled squawk. A large woman whimpered, "Don't shoot,"
and thrust her palms to her ears, closing her eyes tightly.

Glenister covered the deputies, from whose vicinity the by-
standers surged as though from the presence of lepers.

"Hands up!" he cried, sharply, and they froze into motionless
attitudes, one poised on the lowest step of the stairs, the other
a pace forward. Voorhees appeared at the head of the flight and
rushed down a few steps only to come abruptly into range and to
assume a like rigidity, for the young man's aim shifted to him.

"I have a warrant for you," the officer cried, his voice loud in
the hush.

"Keep it," said Glenister, showing his teeth in a smile in which
there was no mirth. He backed diagonally across the hall, his
boot-heels clicking in the silence, his eyes shifting rapidly up
and down the stairs where the danger lay.

From her station Helen could see the whole tableau, all but the
men on the stairs, where her vision was cut off. She saw the dance
girls crouched behind their partners or leaning far out from the
wall with parted lips, the men eager yet fearful, the bartender
with a half-polished glass poised high. Then a quick movement
across the hall suddenly diverted her absorbed attention. She saw
a man rip aside the drapery of the box opposite and lean so far
out that he seemed in peril of falling. He undertook to sight a
weapon at Glenister, who was just passing from his view. At her
first glance Helen gasped--her heart gave one fierce lunge, and
she cried out.

The distance across the pit was so short that she saw his every
line and lineament clearly; it was the brother she had sought
these years and years. Before she knew or could check it the blood
call leaped forth.

"Drury!" she cried, aloud, at which he whipped his head about,
while amazement and some other emotion she could not gauge spread
slowly over his features. For a long moment he stared at her
without movement or sign while the drama beneath went on, then he
drew back into his retreat with the dazed look of one doubting his
senses, yet fearful of putting them to the test. For her part, she
saw nothing except her brother vanishing slowly into the shadows
as though stricken at her glance, the curtains closing before his
livid face--and then pandemonium broke loose at her feet.

Glenister, holding his enemies at bay, had retreated to the double
doors leading to the theatre. His coup had been executed so
quickly and with such lack of turmoil that the throng outside knew
nothing of it till they saw a man walk backward through the door.
As he did so he reached forth and slammed the wide wings shut
before his face, then turned and dashed into the press. Inside the
dance-hall loud sounds arose as the officers clattered down the
stairs and made after their quarry. They tore the barrier apart in
time to see, far down the saloon, an eddying swirl as though some
great fish were lashing through the lily-pads of a pond, and then
the swinging doors closed behind Glenister.

Helen made her way from the theatre as she had come, unobserved
and unobserving, but she walked in a dream. Emotions had chased
each other too closely to-night to be distinguishable, so she went
mechanically through the narrow alley to Front Street and thence
to her home.

Glenister, meanwhile, had been swallowed up by the darkness, the
night enfolding him without sign or trace. As he ran he considered
what course to follow--whether to carry the call to his comrades
in town or to make for the Creek and Dextry. The Vigilantes might
still distrust him, and yet he owed them warning. McNamara's men
were moving so swiftly that action must be speedy to forestall
them. Another hour and the net would be closed, while it seemed
that whichever course he chose they would snare one or the other--
either the friends who remained in town, or Dex and Slapjack out
in the hills. With daylight those two would return and walk
unheeding into the trap, while if he bore the word to them first,
then the Vigilantes would be jailed before dawn. As he drew near
Cherry Malotte's house he saw a light through the drawn curtains.
A heavy raindrop plashed upon his face, another followed, and then
he heard the patter of falling water increasing swiftly. Before he
could gain the door the storm had broken. It swept up the street
with tropical violence, while a breath sighed out of the night,
lifting the litter from underfoot and pelting him with flying
particles. Over the roofs the wind rushed with the rising moan of
a hurricane while the night grew suddenly noisy ahead of the
tempest.

He entered the door without knocking, to find the girl removing
her coat. Her face gladdened at sight of him, but he checked her
with quick and cautious words, his speech almost drowned by the
roar outside.

"Are you alone?" She nodded, and he slipped the bolt behind him,
saying:

"The marshals are after me. We just had a 'run in' at the
Northern, and I'm on the go. No--nothing serious yet, but they
want the Vigilantes, and I must get them word. Will you help me?"
He rapidly recounted the row of the last ten minutes while she
nodded her quick understanding.

"You're safe here for a little while," she told him, "for the
storm will check them. If they should come, there's a back door
leading out from the kitchen and a side entrance yonder. In my
room you'll find a French window. They can't corner you very
well."

"Slapjack and Dex are out at the shaft house--you know--that
quartz claim on the mountain above the Midas." He hesitated. "Will
you lend me your saddle-horse? It's a black night and I may kill
him."

"What about these men in town?"

"I'll warn them first, then hit for the hills."

She shook her head. "You can't do it. You can't get out there
before daylight if you wait to rouse these people, and McNamara
has probably telephoned the mines to send a party up to the quartz
claim after Dex. He knows where the old man is as well as you do,
and they'll raid him before dawn."

"I'm afraid so, but it's all I can offer. Will you give me the
horse?"

"No! He's only a pony, and you'd founder him in the tundra. The
mud is knee-deep. I'll go myself."

"Good Heavens, girl, in such a night! Why, it's worth your life!
Listen to it! The creeks will be up and you'll have to swim. No, I
can't let you."

"He's a good little horse, and he'll take me through." Then,
coming close, she continued: "Oh, boy! Can't you see that I want
to help? Can't you see that I--I'd DIE for you if it would do any
good?" He gazed gravely into her wide blue eyes and said,
awkwardly: "Yes, I know. I'm sorry things are--as they are--but
you wouldn't have me lie to you, little woman?"

"No. You're the only true man I ever knew. I guess that's why I
love you. And I do love you, oh, so much! I want to be good and
worthy to love you, too."

She laid her face against his arm and caressed him with clinging
tenderness, while the wind yelled loudly about the eaves and the
windows drummed beneath the rain. His heavy brows knit themselves
together as she whispered:

"I love you! I love you! I love you!" with such an agony of
longing in her voice that her soft accents were sharply
distinguishable above the turmoil. The growing wildness seemed a
part of the woman's passion, which whipped and harried her like a
willow in a blast.

"Things are fearfully jumbled," he said, finally. "And this is a
bad time to talk about them. I wish they might be different. No
other girl would do what you have offered to-night."

"Then why do you think of that woman?" she broke in, fiercely.
"She's bad and false. She betrayed you once; she's in the play
now; you've told me so yourself. Why don't you be a man and forget
her?"

"I can't," he said, simply. "You're wrong, though, when you think
she's bad. I found to-night that she's good and brave and honest.
The part she played was played innocently, I'm sure of that, in
spite of the fact that she'll marry McNamara. It was she who
overheard them plotting and risked her reputation to warn me."

Cherry's face whitened, while the shadowy eagerness that had
rested there died utterly. "She came into that dive alone? She did
that?" He nodded, at which she stood thinking for some time, then
continued: "You're honest with me, Roy, and I'll be the same with
you. I'm tired of deceit, tired of everything. I tried to make you
think she was bad, but in my own heart I knew differently all the
time. She came here to-day and humbled herself to get the truth,
humbled herself to me, and I sent her away. She suspected, but she
didn't know, and when she asked for information I insulted her.
That's the kind of a creature I am. I sent her back to Struve, who
offered to tell her the whole story."

"What does that renegade want?"

"Can't you guess?"

"Why, I'd rather--" The young man ground his teeth, but Cherry
hastened.

"You needn't worry; she won't see him again. She loathes the
ground he walks on."

"And yet he's no worse than that other scoundrel. Come, girl, we
have work to do; we must act, and act quickly." He gave her his
message to Dextry, then she went to her room and slipped into a
riding-habit. When she came out he asked: "Where is your raincoat?
You'll be drenched in no time."

"I can't ride with it. I'll be thrown, anyway, and I don't want to
be all bound up. Water won't hurt me."

She thrust her tiny revolver into her dress, but he took it and
upon examination shook his head.

"If you need a gun you'll need a good one." He removed the belt
from his own waist and buckled his Colts about her.

"But you!" she objected.

"I'll get another in ten minutes." Then, as they were leaving, he
said: "One other request, Cherry. I'll be in hiding for a time,
and I must get word to Miss Chester to keep watch of her uncle,
for the big fight is on at last and the boys will hang him sure if
they catch him. I owe her this last warning. Will you send it to
her?"

"I'll do it for your sake, not for her--no, no; I don't mean that.
I'll do the right thing all round. Leave it here and I'll see that
she gets it to-morrow. And--Roy--be careful of yourself." Her eyes
were starry and in their depths lurked neither selfishness nor
jealousy now, only that mysterious glory of a woman who makes
sacrifice.

Together they scurried back to the stable, and yet, in that short
distance, she would have been swept from her feet had he not
seized her. They blew in through the barn door, streaming and
soaked by the blinding sheets that drove scythe-like ahead of the
wind. He struck a light, and the pony whinnied at recognition of
his mistress. She stroked the little fellow's muzzle while
Glenister cinched on her saddle. Then, when she was at last
mounted, she leaned forward:

"Will you kiss me once, Roy, for the last time?"

He took her rain-wet face between his hands and kissed her upon
the lips as he would have saluted a little maid. As he did so,
unseen by both of them, a face was pressed for an instant against
the pane of glass in the stable wall.

"You're a brave girl and may God bless you," he said,
extinguishing the light. He flung the door wide and she rode out
into the storm. Locking the portal, he plunged back towards the
house to write his hurried note, for there was much to do and
scant time for its accomplishment, despite the helping hand of the
hurricane. He heard the voice of Bering as it thundered on the
Golden Sands, and knew that the first great storm of the fall had
come. Henceforth he saw that the violence of men would rival the
rising elements, for the deeds of this night would stir their
passions as AEolus was rousing the hate of the sea.

He neglected to bolt the house door as he entered, but flung off
his dripping coat and, seizing pad and pencil, scrawled his
message. The wind screamed about the cabin, the lamp flared
smokily, and Glenister felt a draught suck past him as though from
an open door at his back as he wrote:

"I can't do anything more. The end has come and it has brought the
hatred and bloodshed that I have been trying to prevent. I played
the game according to your rules, but they forced me back to first
principles in spite of myself, and now I don't know what the
finish will be. To-morrow will tell. Take care of your uncle, and
if you should wish to communicate with me, go to Cherry Malotte.
She is a friend to both of us.

 "Always your servant, ROY GLENISTER."

As he sealed this he paused, while he felt the hair on his neck
rise and bristle and a chill race up his spine. His heart
fluttered, then pounded onward till the blood thumped audibly at
his ear-drums and he found himself swaying in rhythm to its beat.
The muscles of his back cringed and rippled at the proximity of
some hovering peril, and yet an irresistible feeling forbade him
to turn. A sound came from close behind his chair--the drip, drip,
drip of water. It was not from the eaves, nor yet from a faulty
shingle. His back was to the kitchen door, through which he had
come, and, although there were no mirrors before him, he felt a
menacing presence as surely as though it had touched him. His ears
were tuned to the finest pin-pricks of sound, so that he heard the
faint, sighing "squish" of a sodden shoe upon which a weight had
shifted. Still something chained him to his seat. It was as though
his soul laid a restraining hand upon his body, waiting for the
instant.

He let his hand seek his hip carelessly, but remembered where his
gun was. Mechanically, he addressed the note in shaking
characters, while behind him sounded the constant drip, drip, drip
that he knew came from saturated garments. For a long moment he
sat, till he heard the stealthy click of a gun-lock muffled by
finger pressure. Then he set his face and slowly turned to find
the Bronco Kid standing behind him as though risen from the sea,
his light clothes wet and clinging, his feet centred in a
spreading puddle. The dim light showed the convulsive fury of his
features above the levelled weapon, whose hammer was curled back
like the head of a striking adder, his eyes gleaming with frenzy.
Glenister's mouth was powder dry, but his mind was leaping
riotously like dust before a gale, for he divined himself to be in
the deadliest peril of his life. When he spoke the calmness of his
voice surprised himself.

"What's the matter, Bronco?" The Kid made no reply, and Roy
repeated, "What do you want?"

"That's a hell of a question," the gambler said, hoarsely. "I want
you, of course, and I've got you."

"Hold up! I am unarmed. This is your third try, and I want to know
what's back of it."

"DAMN the talk!" cried the faro-dealer, moving closer till the
light shone on his features, which commenced to twitch. He raised
the revolver he had half lowered. "There's reason enough, and you
know it."

Glenister looked him fairly between the eyes, gripping himself
with firm hands to stop the tremor he felt in his bones. "You
can't kill me," he said. "I am too good a man to murder. You might
shoot a crook, but you can't kill a brave man when he's unarmed.
You're no assassin." He remained rigid in his chair, however,
moving nothing but his lips, meeting the other's look
unflinchingly. The Kid hesitated an instant, while his eyes, which
had been fixed with the glare of hatred, wavered a moment,
betraying the faintest sign of indecision. Glenister cried out,
exultantly:

"Ha! I knew it. Your neck cords quiver."

The gambler grimaced. "I can't do it. If I could, I'd have shot
you before you turned. But you'll have to fight, you dog. Get up
and draw."

Roy refused. "I gave Cherry my gun."

"Yes, and more too," the man gritted. "I saw it all."

Even yet Glenister had made no slightest move, realizing that a
feather's weight might snap the gambler's nervous tension and
bring the involuntary twitch that would put him out swifter than a
whip is cracked,

"I have tried it before, but murder isn't my game." The Kid's eye
caught the glint of Cherry's revolver where she had discarded it.
"There's a gun--get it."

"It's no good. You'd carry the six bullets and never feel them. I
don't know what this is all about, but I'll fight you whenever I'm
heeled right."

"Oh, you black-hearted hound," snarled the Kid. "I want to shoot,
but I'm afraid. I used to be a gentleman and I haven't lost it
all, I guess. But I won't wait the next time. I'll down you on
sight, so you'd better get ironed in a hurry." He backed out of
the room into the semi-darkness of the kitchen, watching with
lynx-like closeness the man who sat so quietly under the shaded
light. He felt behind him for the outer door-knob and turned it to
let in a white sheet of rain, then vanished like a storm wraith,
leaving a parched-lipped man and a zigzag trail of water, which
gleamed in the lamplight like a pool of blood.




CHAPTER XVIII

WHEREIN A TRAP IS BAITED


Glenister did not wait long after his visitor's departure, but
extinguished the light, locked the door, and began the further
adventures of this night. The storm welcomed him with suffocating
violence, sucking the very breath from his lips, while the rain
beat through till his flesh was cold and aching. He thought with a
pang of the girl facing this tempest, going out to meet the
thousand perils of the night. And it remained for him to bear his
part as she bore hers, smilingly.

The last hour had added another and mysterious danger to his full
measure. Could the Kid be jealous of Cherry? Surely not. Then what
else?

The tornado had driven his trailers to cover, evidently, for the
streets were given over to its violence, and Roy encountered no
hostile sign as he was buffeted from house to house. He adventured
cautiously and yet with haste, finding certain homes where the
marshals had been before him peopled now only by frightened wives
and children. A scattered few of the Vigilantes had been taken
thus, while the warring elements had prevented their families from
spreading the alarm or venturing out for succor. Those whom he was
able to warn dressed hurriedly, took their rifles, and went out
into the drifting night, leaving empty cabins and weeping women.
The great fight was on.

Towards daylight the remnants of the Vigilantes straggled into the
big blank warehouse on the sand-spit, and there beneath the
smoking glare of lanterns cursed the name of McNamara. As dawn
grayed the ragged eastern sky-line, Dextry and Slapjack blew in
through the spindrift, bringing word from Cherry and lifting a
load from Glenister's mind.

"There's a game girl," said the old miner, as he wrung out his
clothes. "She was half gone when she got to us, and now she's
waiting for the storm to break so that she can come back."

"It's clearing up to the east," Slapjack chattered. "D'you know,
I'm gettin' so rheumatic that ice-water don't feel comfortable to
me no more."

"Uriatic acid in the blood," said Dextry. "What's our next move?"
he asked of his partner. "When do we hang this politician? Seems
like we've got enough able-bodied piano-movers here to tie a can
onto the whole outfit, push the town site of Nome off the map, and
start afresh."

"I think we had better lie low and watch developments," the other
cautioned. "There's no telling what may turn up during the day."

"That's right. Stranglers is like spirits--they work best in the
dark."

 As the day grew, the storm died, leaving ramparts of clouds
hanging sullenly above the ocean's rim, while those skilled in
weather prophecy foretold the coming of the equinoctial. In
McNamara's office there was great stir and the coming of many men.
The boss sat in his chair smoking countless cigars, his big face
set in grim lines, his hard eyes peering through the pall of blue
at those he questioned. He worked the wires of his machine until
his dolls doubled and danced and twisted at his touch. After a
gusty interview he had dismissed Voorhees with a merciless tongue-
lashing, raging bitterly at the man's failure.

"You're not fit to herd sheep. Thirty men out all night and what
do you get? A dozen mullet-headed miners. You bag the mud-hens and
the big game runs to cover. I wanted Glenister, but you let him
slip through your fingers--now it's war. What a mess you've made!
If I had even ONE helper with a brain the size of a flaxseed, this
game would be a gift, but you've bungled every move from the
start. Bah! Put a spy in the bull-pen with those prisoners and
make them talk. Offer them anything for information. Now get out!"

He called for a certain deputy and questioned him regarding the
night's quest, remarking, finally:

"There's treachery somewhere. Those men were warned."

"Nobody came near Glenister's house except Miss Chester," the man
replied.

"What?"

"The Judge's niece. We caught her by mistake in the dark."

Later, one of the men who had been with Voorhees at the Northern
asked to see the receiver and told him:

"The chief won't believe that I saw Miss Chester in the dance-hall
last night, but she was there with Glenister. She must have put
him wise to our game or he wouldn't have known we were after him."

His hearer made no comment, but, when alone, rose and paced the
floor with heavy tread while his face grew savage and brutal.

"So that's the game, eh? It's man to man from now on. Very well,
Glenister, I'll have your life for that, and then--you'll pay,
Miss Helen." He considered carefully. A plot for a plot. If he
could not swap intrigue with these miners and beat them badly, he
deserved to lose. Now that the girl gave herself to their cause he
would use her again and see how well she answered. Public opinion
would not stand too great a strain, and, although he had acted
within his rights last night, he dared not go much further.
Diplomacy, therefore, must serve. He must force his enemies beyond
the law and into his trap. She had passed the word once; she would
do so again.

He hurried to Stillman's house and stormed into the presence of
the Judge. He told the story so artfully that the Judge's
astonished unbelief yielded to rage and cowardice, and he sent for
his niece. She came down, white and silent, having heard the loud
voices. The old man berated her with shrewish fury, while McNamara
stood silent. The girl listened with entire self-control until her
uncle made a reference to Glenister that she found intolerable.

"Hush! I will not listen!" she cried, passionately. "I warned him
because you would have sacrificed him after he had saved our
lives. That is all. He is an honest man, and I am grateful to him.
That is the only foundation for your insult."

McNamara, with apparent candor, broke in:

"You thought you were doing right, of course, but your action will
have terrible consequences. Now we'll have riot, bloodshed, and
Heaven knows what. It was to save all this that I wanted to break
up their organization. A week's imprisonment would have done it,
but now they're armed and belligerent and we'll have a battle to-
night."

"No, no!" she cried. "There mustn't be any violence."

"There is no use trying to check them. They are rushing to their
own destruction. I have learned that they plan to attack the Midas
to-night, and I'll have fifty soldiers waiting for them there. It
is a shame, for they are decent fellows, blinded by ignorance and
misled by that young miner. This will be the blackest night the
North has ever seen."

With this McNamara left the house and went in search of Voorhees,
remarking to himself: "Now, Miss Helen--send your warning--the
sooner the better. If I know those Vigilantes, it will set them
crazy, and yet not crazy enough to attack the Midas. They will
strike for me, and when they hit my poor, unguarded office,
they'll think hell has moved North."

"Mr. Marshal," said he to his tool, "I want you to gather forty
men quietly and to arm them with Winchesters. They must be fellows
who won't faint at blood--you know the kind. Assemble them at my
office after dark, one at a time, by the back way. It must be done
with absolute secrecy. Now, see if you can do this one thing and
not get balled up. If you fail, I'll make you answer to me."

"Why don't you get the troops?" ventured Voorhees.

"If there's one thing I want to avoid, it's soldiers, either here
or at the mines. When they step in, we step out, and I'm not ready
for that just yet." The receiver smiled sinisterly.

Helen meanwhile had fled to her room, and there received
Glenister's note through Cherry Malotte's messenger. It rekindled
her worst fears and bore out McNamara's prophecy. The more she
read of it the more certain she grew that the crisis was only a
question of hours, and that with darkness, Tragedy would walk the
streets of Nome. The thought of the wrong already done was lost in
the lonely girl's terror of the crime about to happen, for it
seemed to her she had been the instrument to set these forces in
motion, that she had loosed this swift-speeding avalanche of
greed, hatred, and brutality. And when the crash should come--the
girl shuddered. It must not be. She would shriek a warning from
the house-tops even at cost of her uncle, of McNamara, and of
herself. And yet she had no proof that a crime existed. Although
it all lay clear in her own mind, the certainty of it arose only
from her intuition. If only she were able to take a hand--if only
she were not a woman. Then Cherry Malotte's words anent Struve
recurred to her, "A bottle of wine and a woman's face." They
brought back the lawyer's assurance that those documents she had
safeguarded all through the long spring-time journey really
contained the proof. If they did, then they held the power to
check this impending conflict. Her uncle and the boss would not
dare continue if threatened with exposure and prosecution. The
more she thought of it, the more urgent seemed the necessity to
prevent the battle of to-night. There was a chance here, at least,
and the only one.

Adding to her mental torment was the constant vision of that face
in the curtains at the Northern. It was her brother, yet what
mystery shrouded this affair, also? What kept him from her? What
caused him to slink away like a thief discovered? She grew dizzy
and hysterical.

 Struve turned in his chair as the door to his private office
opened, then leaped to his feet at sight of the gray-eyed girl
standing there.

"I came for the papers," she said.

"I knew you would." The blood went out of his cheeks, then surged
back up to his eyes. "It's a bargain, then?"

She nodded. "Give them to me first."

He laughed unpleasantly. "What do you take me for? I'll keep my
part of the bargain if you'll keep yours. But this is no place,
nor time. There's riot in the air, and I'm busy preparing for to-
night. Come back to-morrow when it's all over."

But it was the terror of to-night's doings that led her into his
power.

"I'll never come back," she said. "It is my whim to know to-day--
yes, at once."

He meditated for a time. "Then to-day it shall be. I'll shirk the
fight, I'll sacrifice what shreds of duty have clung to me,
because the fever for you is in my bones, and it seems to me I'd
do murder for it. That's the kind of a man I am, and I have no
pride in myself because of it. But I've always been that way We'll
ride to the Sign of the Sled. It's a romantic little road-house
ten miles from here, perched high above the Snake River trail.
We'll take dinner there together."

"But the papers?"

"I'll have them with me. We'll start in an hour."

"In an hour," she echoed, lifelessly, and left him.

He chuckled grimly and seized the telephone. "Central--call the
Sled road-house--seven rings on the Snake River branch. Hello!
That you, Shortz? This is Struve. Anybody at the house? Good. Turn
them away if they come and say that you're closed. None of your
business. I'll be out about dark, so have dinner for two. Spread
yourself and keep the place clear. Good-bye."

Strengthened by Glenister's note, Helen went straight to the other
woman and this time was not kept waiting nor greeted with sneers,
but found Cherry cloaked in a shy dignity, which she clasped
tightly about herself. Under her visitor's incoherence she lost
her diffidence, however, and, when Helen had finished, remarked,
with decision: "Don't go with him. He's a bad man."

"But I MUST. The blood of those men will be on me if I don't stop
this tragedy. If those papers tell the tale I think they do, I can
call off my uncle and make McNamara give back the mines. You said
Struve told you the whole scheme. Did you see the PROOF?"

"No, I have only his word, but he spoke of those documents
repeatedly, saying they contained his instructions to tie up the
mines in order to give a foothold for the lawsuits. He bragged
that the rest of the gang were in his power and that he could land
them in the penitentiary for conspiracy. That's all."

"It's the only chance," said Helen. "They are sending soldiers to
the Midas to lie in ambush, and you must warn the Vigilantes."
Cherry paled at this and ejaculated:

"Good Lord! Roy said he'd lead an attack to-night." The two stared
at each other.

"If I succeed with Struve I can stop it all--all of this injustice
and crime--everything."

"Do you realize what you're risking?" Cherry demanded. "That man
is an animal. You'll have to kill him to save yourself, and he'll
never give up those proofs."

"Yes, he will," said Helen, fiercely, "and I defy him to harm me.
The Sign of the Sled is a public roadhouse with a landlord, a
telephone, and other guests. Will you warn Mr. Glenister about the
troops?"

"I will, and bless you for a brave girl. Wait a moment." Cherry
took from the dresser her tiny revolver. "Don't hesitate to use
this. I want you to know also that I'm sorry for what I said
yesterday."

As she hurried away, Helen realized with a shock the change that
the past few months had wrought in her. In truth, it was as
Glenister had said, his Northland worked strangely with its
denizens. What of that shrinking girl who had stepped out of the
sheltered life, strong only in her untried honesty, to become a
hunted, harried thing, juggling with honor and reputation, in her
heart a half-formed fear that she might kill a man this night to
gain her end? The elements were moulding her with irresistible
hands. Roy's contact with the primitive had not roughened him more
quickly than had hers.

She met her appointment with Struve, and they rode away together,
he talkative and elated, she silent and icy.

Late in the afternoon the cloud banks to the eastward assumed
alarming proportions. They brought with them an early nightfall,
and when they broke let forth a tempest which rivalled that of the
previous night. During the first of it armed men came sifting into
McNamara's office from the rear and were hidden throughout the
building. Whenever he descried a peculiarly desperate ruffian the
boss called him aside for private instruction and gave minute
description of a wide-shouldered, erect, youth in white hat and
half-boots. Gradually he set his trap with the men Voorhees had
raked from the slums, and when it was done smiled to himself. As
he thought it over he ceased to regret the miscarriage of last
night's plan, for it had served to goad his enemies to the point
he desired, to the point where they would rush to their own
undoing. He thought with satisfaction of the role he would play in
the United States press when the sensational news of this night's
adventure came out. A court official who dared to do his duty
despite a lawless mob. A receiver who turned a midnight attack
into a rout and shambles. That is what they would say. What if he
did exceed his authority thereafter? What if there were a scandal?
Who would question? As to soldiers--no, decidedly no. He wished no
help of soldiers at this time.

The sight of a ship in the offing towards dark caused him some
uneasiness, for, notwithstanding the assurance that the course of
justice in the San Francisco courts had been clogged, he knew Bill
Wheaton to be a resourceful lawyer and a determined man.
Therefore, it relieved him to note the rising gale, which
precluded the possibility of interference from that source. Let
them come to-morrow if they would. By that time some of the mines
would be ownerless and his position strengthened a hundredfold.

He telephoned the mines to throw out guards, although he reasoned
that none but madmen would think of striking there in the face of
the warning which he knew must have been transmitted through
Helen. Putting on his rain-coat he sought Stillman.

"Bring your niece over to my place to-night. There's trouble in
the air and I'm prepared for it."

"She hasn't returned from her ride yet. I'm afraid she's caught in
the storm." The Judge gazed anxiously into the darkness.

 During all the long day the Vigilantes lay in hiding, impatient
at their idleness and wondering at the lack of effort made towards
their discovery, not dreaming that McNamara had more cleverly
hidden plans behind. When Cherry's note of warning came they
gathered in the back room and gave voice to their opinions.

"There's only one way to clear the atmosphere," said the chairman.

"You bet," chorussed the others. "They've garrisoned the mines, so
let's go through the town and make a clean job of it. Let's hang
the whole outfit to one post."

This met with general approval, Glenister alone demurring. Said
he: "I have reasoned it out differently, and I want you to hear me
through before deciding. Last night I got word from Wheaton that
the California courts are against us. He attributes it to
influence, but, whatever the reason, we are cut off from all legal
help either in this court or on appeal. Now, suppose we lynch
these officials to-night--what do we gain? Martial law in two
hours, our mines tied up for another year, and who knows what
else? Maybe a corrupter court next season. Suppose, on the other
hand, we fail--and somehow I feel that we will, for that boss is
no fool. What then? Those of us who don't find the morgue will end
in jail. You say we can't meet the soldiers. I say we can and
must. We must carry this row to them. We must jump it past the
courts of Alaska, past the courts of California, and up to the
White House, where there's one honest man, at least. We must do
something to wake up the men in Washington. We must get out of
politics, for McNamara can beat us there. Although he's a strong
man he can't corrupt the President. We have one shot left, and it
must reach the Potomac. When Uncle Sam takes a hand we'll get a
square deal, so I say let us strike at the Midas to-night and take
her if we can. Some of us will go down, but what of it?"

Following this harangue, he outlined a plan which in its unique
daring took away their breaths, and as he filled in detail after
detail they brightened with excitement and that love of the long
chance which makes gamblers of those who thread the silent valleys
or tread the edge of things. His boldness stirred them and
enthusiasm did the rest.

"All I want for myself," he said, "is the chance to run the big
risk. It's mine by right."

Dextry spoke, breathlessly, to Slapjack in the pause which ensued:

"Ain't he a heller?"

"We'll go you," the miners chimed to a man. And the chairman
added: "Let's have Glenister lead this forlorn hope. I am willing
to stand or fall on his judgment." They acquiesced without a
dissenting voice and with the firm hands of a natural leader the
young man took control.

"Let's hurry up," said one. "It's a long 'mush' and the mud is
knee-deep."

"No walking for us," said Roy. "We'll go by train."

"By train? How can we get a train?"

"Steal it," he answered, at which Dextry grinned delightedly at
his loose-jointed companion, and Slapjack showed his toothless
gums in answer, saying:

"He sure is."

A few more words and Glenister, accompanied by these two, slipped
out into the whirling storm, and a half-hour later the rest
followed. One by one the Vigilantes left, the blackness blotting
them up an arm's-length from the door, till at last the big, bleak
warehouse echoed hollowly to the voice of the wind and water.

Over in the eastern end of town, behind dark windows upon which
the sheeted rain beat furiously, other armed men lay patiently
waiting--waiting some word from the bulky shadow which stood with
folded arms close against a square of gray, while over their heads
a wretched old man paced back and forth, wringing his hands,
pausing at every turn to peer out into the night and to mumble the
name of his sister's child.




CHAPTER XIX

DYNAMITE


Early in the evening Cherry Malotte opened her door to find the
Bronco Kid on her step. He entered and threw off his rubber coat.
Knowing him well, she waited for his disclosure of his errand. His
sallow skin was without trace of color, his eyes were strangely
tired, deep lines had gathered about his lips, while his hands
kept up constant little nervous explorations as though for days
and nights he had not slept and now hovered on the verge of some
hysteria. He gave her the impression of a smouldering mine with
the fire eating close up to the powder. She judged that his body
had been racked by every passion till now it hung jaded and weary,
yielding only to the spur of his restless, revengeful spirit.

After a few objectless remarks, he began, abruptly:

"Do you love Roy Glenister?" His voice, like his manner, was
jealously eager, and he watched her carefully as she replied,
without quibble or deceit:

"Yes, Kid; and I always shall. He is the only true man I have ever
known, and I'm not ashamed of my feelings."

For a long time he studied her, and then broke into rapid speech,
allowing her no time for interruption.

"I've held back and held back because I'm no talker. I can't be,
in my business; but this is my last chance, and I want to put
myself right with you. I've loved you ever since the Dawson days,
not in the way you'd expect from a man of my sort, perhaps, but
with the kind of love that a woman wants. I never showed my hand,
for what was the use? That man outheld me. I'd have quit faro
years back only I wouldn't leave this country as long as you were
a part of it, and up here I'm only a gambler, fit for nothing
else. I'd made up my mind to let you have him till something
happened a couple of months ago, but now it can't go through. I'll
have to down him. It isn't concerning you--I'm not a welcher. No,
it's a thing I can't talk about, a thing that's made me into a
wolf, made me skulk and walk the alleys like a dago. It's put
murder into my heart. I've tried to assassinate him. I tried it
here last night--but--I was a gentleman once--till the cards came.
He knows the answer now, though, and he's ready for me--so one of
us will go out like a candle when we meet. I felt that I had to
tell you before I cut him down or before he got me."

"You're talking like a madman, Kid," she replied, "and you mustn't
turn against him now. He has troubles enough. I never knew you
cared for me. What a tangle it is, to be sure. You love me, I love
him, he loves that girl, and she loves a crook. Isn't that tragedy
enough without your adding to it? You come at a bad time, too, for
I'm half insane. There's something dreadful in the air to-night--"

"I'll have to kill him," the man muttered, doggedly, and, plead or
reason as she would, she could get nothing from him except those
words, till at last she turned upon him fiercely.

"You say you love me. Very well--let's see if you do. I know the
kind of a man you are and I know what this feud will mean to him,
coming just at this time. Put it aside and I'll marry you."

The gambler rose slowly to his feet. "You do love him, don't you?"
She bowed her face, and he winced, but continued: "I wouldn't make
you my wife that way. I didn't mean it that way."

At this she laughed bitterly, "Oh, I see. Of course not. How
foolish of me to expect it of a man like you. I understand what
you mean now, and the bargain will stand just the same, if that is
what you came for. I wanted to leave this life and be good, to go
away and start over and play the game square, but I see it's no
use. I'll pay. I know how relentless you are, and the price is low
enough. You can have me--and that--marriage talk--I'll not speak
of again. I'll stay what I am for his sake."

"Stop!" cried the Kid. "You're wrong. I'm not that kind of a
sport." His voice broke suddenly, its vehemence shaking his slim
body. "Oh, Cherry, I love you the way a man ought to love a woman.
It's one of the two good things left in me, and I want to take you
away from here where we can both hide from the past, where we can
start new, as you say."

"You would marry me?" she asked.

"In an hour, and give my heart's blood for the privilege; but I
can't stop this thing, not even if your own dear life hung upon
it. I MUST kill that man."

She approached him and laid her arms about his neck, every line of
her body pleading, but he refused steadfastly, while the sweat
stood out upon his brow.

She begged: "They're all against him, Kid. He's fighting a
hopeless fight. He laid all he had at that girl's feet, and I'll
do the same for you."

The man growled savagely. "He got his reward. He took all she had-
-"

"Don't be a fool. I guess I know. You're a faro-dealer, but you
haven't any right to talk like that about a good woman, even to a
bad one like me."

Into his dark eyes slowly crept a hungry look, and she felt him
begin to tremble the least bit. He undertook to speak, paused, wet
his lips, then carefully chose these words:

"Do you mean--that he did not--that she is--a good girl?"

"Absolutely."

He sat down weakly and passed a shaking hand over his face, which
had begun to twitch and jerk again as it had on that night when
his vengeance was thwarted.

"I may as well tell you that I know she's more than that. She's
honest and high-principled. I don't know why I'm saying this, but
it was on my mind and I was half distracted when you came. She's
in danger to-night, though--at this minute. I don't dare to think
of what may have happened, for she's risked everything to make
reparation to Roy and his friends."

"What?"

"She's gone to the Sign of the Sled alone with Struve."

"Struve!" shouted the gambler, leaping to his feet. "Alone with
Struve on a night like this?" He shook her fiercely, crying: "What
for? Tell me quick!"

She recounted the reasons for Helen's adventure, while the man's
face became terrible.

"Oh, Kid, I am to blame for letting her go. Why did I do it? I'm
afraid--afraid."

"The Sign of the Sled belongs to Struve, and the fellow who runs
it is a rogue." The Bronco looked at the clock, his eyes bloodshot
and dull like those of a goaded, fly-maddened bull. "It's eight
o'clock now--ten miles--two hours. Too late!"

"What ails you?" she questioned, baffled by his strange demeanor.
"You called ME the one woman just now, and yet--"

He swung towards her heavily. "She's my sister."

"Your--sister? Oh, I--I'm glad. I'm glad--but don't stand there
like a wooden man, for you've work to do. Wake up. Can't you hear?
She's in peril!" Her words whipped him out of his stupor so that
he drew himself somewhat under control. "Get into your coat.
Hurry! Hurry! My pony will take you there." She snatched his
garment from the chair and held it for him while the life ran back
into his veins. Together they dashed out into the storm as she and
Roy had done, and as he flung the saddle on the buckskin, she
said:

"I understand it all now. You heard the talk about her and
Glenister; but it's wrong. I lied and schemed and intrigued
against her, but it's over now. I guess there's a little streak of
good in me somewhere, after all."

He spoke to her from the saddle. "It's more than a streak, Cherry,
and you're my kind of people." She smiled wanly back at him under
the lantern-light.

"That's left-handed, Kid. I don't want to be your kind. I want to
be his kind--or your sister's kind."

Upon leaving the rendezvous, Glenister and his two friends slunk
through the night, avoiding the life and lights of the town, while
the wind surged out of the voids to seaward, driving its wet
burden through their flapping slickers, pelting their faces as
though enraged at its failure to wash away the purposes written
there. Their course brought them to a cabin at the western
outskirts of the city, where they paused long enough to adjust
something beneath the brims of their hats.

Past them ran the iron rails of the narrow-gauged road which led
out across the quaking tundra to the mountains and the mines. Upon
this slender trail of steel there rolled one small, ungainly
teapot of an engine which daily creaked and clanked back and forth
at a snail's pace, screaming and wailing its complaint of the two
high-loaded flat-cars behind. The ties beneath it were spiked to
planks laid lengthwise over the semi-liquid road-bed, in places
sagging beneath the surface till the humpbacked, short-waisted
locomotive yawed and reeled and squealed like a drunken fish-wife.
At night it panted wearily into the board station and there sighed
and coughed and hissed away its fatigue as the coals died and the
breath relaxed in its lungs.

Early to bed and early to rise was perforce the motto of its grimy
crew, who lived near by. To-night they were just retiring when
stayed by a summons at their door. The engineer opened it to admit
what appeared to his astonished eyes to be a Krupp cannon
propelled by a man in yellow-oiled clothes and white cotton mask.
This weapon assumed the proportions of a great, one-eyed monster,
which stared with baleful fixity at his vitals, giving him a cold
and empty feeling. Away back beyond this Cyclops of the Sightless
Orb were two other strangers likewise equipped.

The fireman arose from his chair, dropping an empty shoe with a
thump, but, being of the West, without cavil or waste of wind, he
stretched his hands above his head, balancing on one foot to keep
his unshod member from the damp floor. He had unbuckled his belt,
and now, loosened by the movement, his overalls seemed bent on
sinking floorward in an ecstasy of abashment at the intrusion,
whereupon with convulsive grip he hugged them to their duty, one
hand and foot still elevated as though in the grand hailing-sign
of some secret order. The other man was new to the ways of the
North, so backed to the limit of his quarters, laid both hands
protectingly upon his middle, and doubled up, remarking, fervidly:

"Don't point that damn thing at my stomach."

"Ha, ha!" laughed the fireman, with unnatural loudness. "Have your
joke boys."

"This ain't no joke," said the foremost figure, its breath
bellying out the mask at its mouth.

"Sure it is," insisted the shoeless one. "Must be--we ain't got
anything worth stealing."

"Get into your clothes and come along. We won't hurt you." The two
obeyed and were taken to the sleeping engine and there instructed
to produce a full head of steam in thirty minutes or suffer a
premature taking off and a prompt elision from the realms of
applied mechanics. As stimulus to their efforts two of the men
stood over them till the engine began to sob and sigh reluctantly.
Through the gloom that curtained the cab they saw other dim forms
materializing and climbing silently on to the cars behind; then,
as the steam-gauge touched the mark, the word was given and the
train rumbled out from its shelter, its shrill plaint at curb and
crossing whipped away and drowned in the storm.

Slapjack remained in the cab, gun in lap, while Dextry climbed
back to Glenister. He found the young man in good spirits, despite
the discomfort of his exposed position, and striving to light his
pipe behind the shelter of his coat.

"Is the dynamite aboard?" the old man questioned.

"Sure. Enough to ballast a battle-ship."

As the train crept out of the camp and across the river bridge,
its only light or glimmer the sparks that were snatched and
harried by the blast, the partners seated themselves on the powder
cases and conversed guardedly, while about them sounded the low
murmur of the men who risked their all upon this cry to duty, who
staked their lives and futures upon this hazard of the hills,
because they thought it right.

"We've made a good fight, whether we win or lose to-night," said
Dextry.

Roy replied, "MY fight is made and won."

"What does that mean?"

"My hardest battle had nothing to do with the Midas or the mines
of Anvil. I fought and conquered myself."

"Awful wet night for philosophy," the first remarked. "It's apt to
sour on you like milk in a thunder-storm. S'pose you put overalls
an' gum boots on some of them Boston ideas an' lead 'em out where
I can look 'em over an' find out what they're up to."

"I mean that I was a savage till I met Helen Chester and she made
a man of me. It took sixty days, but I think she did a good job. I
love the wild things just as much as ever, but I've learned that
there are duties a fellow owes to himself, and to other people, if
he'll only stop and think them out. I've found out, too, that the
right thing is usually the hardest to do. Oh, I've improved a
lot."

"Gee! but you're popular with yourself. I don't see as it helps
your looks any. You're as homely as ever--an' what good does it do
you after all? She'll marry that big guy."

"I know. That's what rankles, for he's no more worthy of her than
I am. She'll do what's right, however, you may depend upon that,
and perhaps she'll change him the way she did me. Why, she worked
a miracle in my attitude towards life--my manner--"

"Oh, your manners are good enough as they lay," interrupted the
other. "You never did eat with your knife."

"I don't believe in hara-kiri," Glenister laughed.

"No, when it comes to intimacies with decorum, you're right on the
job along with any of them Easterners. I watched you close at them
'Frisco hotels last winter, and, say--you know as much as a horse.
Why, you was wise to them tablewares and pickle-forks equal to a
head-waiter, and it give me confidence just to be with you. I
remember putting milk and sugar in my consomme the first time. It
was pale and in a cup and looked like tea--but not you. No, sir!
You savvied plenty and squeezed a lemon into yours--to clean your
fingers, I reckon."

Roy slapped his partner's wet back, for he was buoyant and elated.
The sense of nearing danger pulsed through him like wine. "That
wasn't just what I meant, but it goes. Say, if we win back our
mine, we'll hit for New York next--eh?"

"No, I don't aim to mingle with no higher civilization than I got
in 'Frisco. I use that word 'higher' like it was applied to meat.
Not that I wouldn't seem apropos, I'm stylish enough for Fifth
Avenue or anywheres, but I like the West. Speakin' of modes an'
styles, when I get all lit up in that gray woosted suit of mine, I
guess I make the jaded sight-seers set up an' take notice--eh?
Somethin' doin' every minute in the cranin' of necks--what?
Nothin' gaudy, but the acme of neatness an' form, as the feller
said who sold it to me."

Their common peril brought the friends together again, into that
close bond which had been theirs without interruption until this
recent change in the younger had led him to choose paths at
variance with the old man's ideas; and now they spoke, heart to
heart, in the half-serious, half-jesting ways of old, while
beneath each whimsical irony was that mutual love and
understanding which had consecrated their partnership.

Arriving at the end of the road, the Vigilantes debouched and went
into the darkness of the canon behind their leader, to whom the
trails were familiar. He bade them pause finally, and gave his
last instructions.

"They are on the alert, so you want to be careful. Divide into two
parties and close in from both sides, creeping as near to the
pickets as possible without discovery. Remember to wait for the
last blast. When it comes, cut loose and charge like Sioux. Don't
shoot to kill at first, for they're only soldiers and under
orders, but if they stand--well, every man must do his work."

Dextry appealed to the dim figures forming the circle.

"I leave it to you, gents, if it ain't better for me to go inside
than for the boy. I've had more experience with giant powder, an'
I'm so blamed used up an' near gone it wouldn't hurt if they did
get me, while he's right in his prime--"

Glenister stopped him. "I won't yield the privilege. Come now--to
your places, men."

They melted away to each side while the old prospector paused to
wring his partner's hand.

"I'd ruther it was me, lad, but if they get you--God help 'em!" He
stumbled after the departing shadows, leaving Roy alone. With his
naked fingers, Glenister ripped open the powder cases and secreted
the contents upon his person. Each cartridge held dynamite enough
to devastate a village, and he loaded them inside his pockets,
inside his shirt, and everywhere that he had room, till he was
burdened and cased in an armor one-hundredth part of which could
have blown him from the face of the earth so utterly as to leave
no trace except, perhaps, a pit ripped out of the mountain-side.
He looked to his fuses and saw that they were wrapped in oiled
paper, then placed them in his hat. Having finished, he set out,
walking with difficulty under the weight he carried.

That his choice of location had been well made was evidenced by
the fact that the ground beneath his feet sloped away to a basin
out of which bubbled a spring. It furnished the drinking supply of
the Midas, and he knew every inch of the crevice it had worn down
the mountain, so felt his way cautiously along. At the bottom of
the hill where it ran out upon the level it had worn a
considerable ditch through the soil, and into this he crawled on
hands and knees. His bulging clothes handicapped him so that his
gait was slow and awkward, while the rain had swelled the
streamlet till it trickled over his calves and up to his wrists,
chilling him so that his muscles cramped and his very bones cried
out with it. The sharp schist cut into his palms till they were
shredded and bleeding, while his knees found every jagged bit of
bed-rock over which he dragged himself. He could not see an arm's-
length ahead without rising, and, having removed his slicker for
greater freedom of movement, the rain beat upon his back till he
was soaked and sodden and felt streamlets cleaving downward
between his ribs. Now and again he squatted upon his haunches,
straining his eyes to either side. The banks were barely high
enough to shield him. At last he came to a bridge of planks
spanning the ditch and was about to rear himself for another look
when he suddenly flattened into the stream bed, half damming the
waters with his body. It was for this he had so carefully wrapped
his fuses. A man passed over him so close above that he might have
touched him. The sentry paused a few paces beyond and accosted
another, then retraced his steps over the bridge. Evidently this
was the picket-line, so Roy wormed his way forward till he saw the
blacker blackness of the mine buildings, then drew himself
dripping out from the bank. He had run the gauntlet safely.

Since evicting the owners, the receiver had erected substantial
houses in place of the tents he had found on the mine. They were
of frame and corrugated-iron, sheathed within and suited to
withstand a moderate exposure. The partners had witnessed the
operation from a distance, but knew nothing about the buildings
from close examination.

A thrill of affection for this place wanned the young man. He
loved this old mine. It had realized the dream of his boyhood, and
had answered the hope he had clung to during his long fight
against the Northland. It had come to him when he was
disheartened, bringing cheer and happiness, and had yielded itself
like a bride. Now it seemed a crime to ravage it.

He crept towards the nearest wall and listened. Within was the
sound of voices, though the windows were dark, showing that the
inhabitants were on the alert. Beneath the foundations he made
mysterious preparations, then sought out the office building and
cook-house, doing likewise. He found that back of the seeming
repose of the Midas there was a strained expectancy.

Although suspense had lengthened the time out of all calculation,
he judged he had been gone from his companions at least an hour
and that they must be in place by now. If they were not--if
anything failed at this eleventh hour--well, those were the
fortunes of war. In every enterprise, however carefully planned,
there comes a time when chance must take its turn.

He made his way inside the blacksmith-shop and fumbled for a
match. Just as he was about to strike it he heard the swish of
oiled clothes passing, and waited for some time. Then, igniting
his punk and hiding it under his coat, he opened the door to
listen. The wind had died down now and the rain sang musically
upon the metal roofs.

He ran swiftly from house to house, and, when he had done, at the
apices of the triangle he had traced three glowing coals were
sputtering.

The final bolt was launched at last. He stepped down into the
ditch and drew his .45, while to his tautened senses it seemed
that the very hills leaned forth in breathless pause, that the
rain had ceased, and the whole night hushed its thousand voices.
He found his lower jaw set so stiffly that the muscles ached.
Levelling his weapon at the eaves of the bunk-house, he pulled
trigger rapidly--the bang, bang, bang, six times repeated,
sounding dull and dead beneath the blanket of mist that overhung.
A shout sounded behind him, and then the shriek of a Winchester
ball close over his head. He turned in time to see another shot
stream out of the darkness, where a sentry was firing at the flash
of his gun, then bent himself double and plunged down the ditch.

With the first impact overhead the men poured forth from their
quarters armed and bristling, to be greeted by a volley of
gunshots, the thud of bullets, and the dwindling whine of spent
lead. They leaped from shelter to find themselves girt with a
fitful hoop of fire, for the "Stranglers" had spread in the arc of
a circle and now emptied their rifles towards the centre. The
defenders, however, maintained surprising order considering the
suddenness of their attack, and ran to join the sentries, whose
positions could be determined by the nearer flashes. The voice of
a man in authority shouted loud commands. No demonstration came
from the outer voids, nothing but the wicked streaks that stabbed
the darkness. Then suddenly, behind McNamara's men, the night
glared luridly as though a great furnace-door had opened and then
clanged shut, while with it came a hoarse thudding roar that
silenced the rifle play. They saw the cook-house disrupt itself
and disintegrate into a thousand flying timbers and twisted sheets
of tin which soared upward and outward over their heads and into
the night. As the rocking hills ceased echoing, the sound of the
Vigilantes' rifles recurred like the cracking of dry sticks, then
everywhere about the defenders the earth was lashed by falling
debris while the iron roofs rang at the fusillade.

The blast had come at their very elbows, and they were too dazed
and shaken by it to grasp its significance. Then, before they
could realize what it boded, the depths lit up again till the
raindrops were outlined distinct and glistening like a gossamer
veil of silver, while the office building to their left was ripped
and rended and the adjoining walls leaped out into sudden relief,
their shattered windows looking like ghostly, sightless eyes. The
curtain of darkness closed heavier than velvet, and the men
cowered in their tracks, shielding themselves behind the nearest
objects or behind one another's bodies, waiting for the sky to
vomit over them its rain of missiles. Their backs were to the
Vigilantes now, their faces to the centre. Many had dropped their
rifles. The thunder of hoofs and the scream of terrified horses
came from the stables. The cry of a maddened beast is weird and
calculated to curdle the blood at best, but with it arose a human
voice, shrieking from pain and fear of death. A wrenched and
doubled mass of zinc had hurtled out of the heavens and struck
some one down. The choking hoarseness of the man's appeal told the
story, and those about him broke into flight to escape what might
follow, to escape this danger they could not see but which swooped
out of the blackness above and against which there was no defence.
They fled only to witness another and greater light behind them by
which they saw themselves running, falling, grovelling. This time
they were hurled from their balance by a concussion which dwarfed
the two preceding ones. Some few stood still, staring at the
rolling smoke-bank as it was revealed by the explosion, their eyes
gleaming white, while others buried their faces in their hollowed
arms as if to shut out the hellish glare, or to shield themselves
from a blow.

Out in the heart of the chaos rang a voice loud and clear:

"Beware the next blast!"

At the same instant the girdle of sharp-shooters rose up smiting
the air with their cries and charged in like madmen through the
rain of detritus. They fired as they came, but it was unnecessary,
for there was no longer a fight. It was a rout. The defenders,
feeling they had escaped destruction only by a happy chance in
leaving the bunk-house the instant they did, were not minded to
tarry here where the heavens fell upon their heads. To augment
their consternation, the horses had broken from their stalls and
were plunging through the confusion. Fear swept over the men--
blind, unreasoning, contagious--and they rushed out into the
night, colliding with their enemies, overrunning them in the panic
to quit this spot. Some dashed off the bluff and fell among the
pits and sluices. Others ran up the mountain-side, and cowered in
the brush like quail.

As the "Stranglers" assembled their prisoners near the ruins, they
heard wounded men moaning in the darkness, so lit torches and
searched out the stricken ones. Glenister came running through the
smoke pall, revolver in hand, crying: "Has any one seen McNamara?"
No one had, and when they were later assembled to take stock of
their injuries he was greeted by Dextry's gleeful announcement:

"That's the deuce of a fight. We 'ain't got so much as a cold sore
among us."

"We have captured fourteen," another announced, "and there may be
more out yonder in the brush."

Glenister noted with growing surprise that not one of the
prisoners lined up beneath the glaring torches wore the army blue.
They were miners all, or thugs and ruffians gathered from the
camp. Where, he wondered, were the soldiers.

"Didn't you have troops from the barracks to help you?" he asked.

"Not a troop. We haven't seen a soldier since we went to work."

At this the young leader became alarmed. Had this whole attack
miscarried? Had this been no clash with the United States forces,
after all? If so, the news would never reach Washington, and
instead of accomplishing his end, he and his friends had thrust
themselves into the realms of outlawry, where the soldiers could
be employed against them with impunity, where prices would rest
upon their heads. Innocent blood had been shed, court property
destroyed. McNamara had them where he wanted them at last. They
were at bay.

The unwounded prisoners were taken to the boundaries of the Midas
and released with such warnings as the imagination of Dextry could
conjure up; then Glenister assembled his men, speaking to them
plainly.

"Boys, this is no victory. In fact, we're worse off than we were
before, and our biggest fight is coming. There's a chance to get
away now before daylight and before we're recognized, but if we're
seen here at sun-up we'll have to stay and fight. Soldiers will be
sent against us, but if we hold out, and the struggle is fierce
enough, it may reach to Washington. This will be a different kind
of fighting now, though. It will be warfare pure and simple. How
many of you will stick?"

"All of us," said they, in unison, and, accordingly, preparations
for a siege were begun. Barricades were built, ruins removed,
buildings transformed into blockhouses, and all through the
turbulent night the tired men labored till ready to drop, led
always by the young giant, who seemed without fatigue.

It was perhaps four hours after midnight when a man sought him
out.

"Somebody's callin' you on the Assay Office telephone--says it's
life or death."

Glenister hurried to the building, which had escaped the shock of
the explosions, and, taking down the receiver, was answered by
Cherry Malotte.

"Thank God, you're safe," she began. "The men have just come in
and the whole town is awake over the riot. They say you've killed
ten people in the fight--is it true?"

He explained to her briefly that all was well, but she broke in:

"Wait, wait! McNamara has called for troops and you'll all be
shot. Oh, what a terrible night it has been! I haven't been to
bed. I'm going mad. Now, listen, carefully--yesterday Helen went
with Struve to the Sign of the Sled and she hasn't come back."

The man at the end of the wire cried out at this, then choked back
his words to hear what followed. His free hand began making
strange, futile motions as though he traced patterns in the air.

"I can't raise the road-house on the wire and--something dreadful
has happened, I know."

"What made her go?" he shouted.

"To save you," came Cherry's faint reply. "If you love her, ride
fast to the Sign of the Sled or you'll be too late. The Bronco Kid
has gone there--"

At that name Roy crashed the instrument to its hook and burst out
of the shanty, calling loudly to his men.

"What's up?"

"Where are you going?"

"To the Sign of the Sled," he panted.

"We've stood by you, Glenister, and you can't quit us like this,"
said one, angrily. "The trail to town is good, and we'll take it
if you do." Roy saw they feared he was deserting, feared that he
had heard some alarming rumor of which they did not know.

"We'll let the mine go, boys, for I can't ask you to do what I
refuse to do myself, and yet it's not fear that's sending me.
There's a woman in danger and I MUST go. She courted ruin to save
us all, risked her honor to try and right a wrong--and--I'm afraid
of what has happened while we were fighting here. I don't ask you
to stay till I come back--it wouldn't be square, and you'd better
go while you have a chance. As for me--I gave up the old claim
once--I can do it again." He swung himself to the horse's back,
settled into the saddle, and rode out through the lane of belted
men.




CHAPTER XX

IN WHICH THREE GO TO THE SIGN OF THE SLED AND BUT TWO RETURN


As Helen and her companion ascended the mountain, scarred and
swept by the tempest of the previous night, they heard, far below,
the swollen torrent brawling in its bowlder-ridden bed, while
behind them the angry ocean spread southward to a blood-red
horizon. Ahead, the bleak mountains brooded over forbidding
valleys; to the west a suffused sun glared sullenly, painting the
high-piled clouds with the gorgeous hues of a stormy sunset. To
Helen the wild scene seemed dyed with the colors of flame and
blood and steel.

"That rain raised the deuce with the trails," said Struve, as they
picked their way past an unsightly "slip" whence a part of the
overhanging mountain, loosened by the deluge, had slid into the
gulch. "Another storm like that would wash out these roads
completely."

Even in the daylight it was no easy task to avoid these danger
spots, for the horses floundered on the muddy soil. Vaguely the
girl wondered how she would find her way back in the darkness, as
she had planned. She said little as they approached the road-
house, for the thoughts within her brain had begun to clamor too
wildly; but Struve, more arrogant than ever before, more
terrifyingly sure of himself, was loudly garrulous. As they drew
nearer and nearer, the dread that possessed the girl became of
paralyzing intensity. If she should fail--but she vowed she would
not, could not, fail.

They rounded a bend and saw the Sign of the Sled cradled below
them where the trail dipped to a stream which tumbled from the
comb above into the river twisting like a silver thread through
the distant valley. A peeled flag-pole topped by a spruce bough
stood in front of the tavern, while over the door hung a sled
suspended from a beam. The house itself was a quaint structure,
rambling and amorphous, from whose sod roof sprang blooming
flowers, and whose high-banked walls were pierced here and there
with sleepy windows. It had been built by a homesick foreigner of
unknown nationality whom the army of "mushers" who paid for his
clean and orderly hospitality had dubbed duly and as a matter of
course a "Swede." When travel had changed to the river trail,
leaving the house lonesome and high as though left by a receding
wave, Struve had taken it over on a debt, and now ran it for the
convenience of a slender traffic, mainly stampeders, who chose the
higher route towards the interior. His hireling spent the idle
hours in prospecting a hungry quartz lead and in doing assessment
work on near-by claims.

Shortz took the horses and answered his employer's questions
curtly, flashing a curious look at Helen. Under other conditions
the girl would have been delighted with the place, for this was
the quaintest spot she had found in the north country. The main
room held bar and gold-scales, a rude table, and a huge iron
heater, while its walls and ceiling were sheeted with white cloth
so cunningly stitched and tacked that it seemed a cavern hollowed
from chalk. It was filled with trophies of the hills, stuffed
birds and animals, skins and antlers, from which depended, in
careless confusion, dog harness, snow-shoes, guns, and articles of
clothing. A door to the left led into the bunk-room where
travellers had been wont to sleep in tiers three deep. To the rear
was a kitchen and cache, to the right a compartment which Struve
called the art gallery. Here, free reign had been allowed the
original owner's artistic fancies, and he had covered the place
with pictures clipped from gazettes of questionable repute till it
was a bewildering arrangement of pink ladies in tights, pugilists
in scanty trunks, prize bulldogs, and other less moral characters
of the sporting world.

"This is probably the worst company you were ever in," Struve
observed to Helen, with a forced attempt at lightness.

"Are there no guests here?" she asked him, her anxiety very near
the surface.

"Travel is light at this time of the year. They'll come in later,
perhaps."

A fire was burning in this pink room where the landlord had begun
spreading the table for two, and its warmth was grateful to the
girl. Her companion, thoroughly at his ease, stretched himself on
a fur-covered couch and smoked.

"Let me see the papers, now, Mr. Struve," she began, but he put
her off.

"No, not now. Business must wait on our dinner. Don't spoil our
little party, for there's time enough and to spare."

She arose and went to the window, unable to sit still. Looking
down the narrow gulch she saw that the mountains beyond were
indistinct for it was growing dark rapidly. Dense clouds had
rolled up from the east. A rain-drop struck the glass before her
eyes, then another and another, and the hills grew misty behind
the coming shower. A traveller with a pack on his back hurried
around the corner of the building and past her to the door. At his
knock, Struve, who had been watching Helen through half-shut eyes,
arose and went into the other room.

"Thank Heaven, some one has come," she thought. The voices were
deadened to a hum by the sod walls, till that of the stranger
raised itself in such indignant protest that she distinguished his
words.

"Oh, I've got money to pay my way. I'm no dead-head."

Shortz mumbled something back.

"I don't care if you are closed. I'm tired and there's a storm
coming."

This time she heard the landlord's refusal and the miner's angry
profanity. A moment later she saw the traveller plodding up the
trail towards town.

"What does that mean?" she inquired, as the lawyer re-entered.

"Oh, that fellow is a tough, and Shortz wouldn't let him in. He's
careful whom he entertains--there are so many bad men roaming the
hills."

The German came in shortly to light the lamp, and, although she
asked no further questions, Helen's uneasiness increased. She half
listened to the stories with which Struve tried to entertain her
and ate little of the excellent meal that was shortly served to
them. Struve, meanwhile, ate and drank almost greedily, and the
shadowy, sinister evening crept along. A strange cowardice had
suddenly overtaken the girl; and if, at this late hour, she could
have withdrawn, she would have done so gladly and gone forth to
meet the violence of the tempest. But she had gone too far for
retreat; and realizing that, for the present, apparent compliance
was her wisest resource, she sat quiet, answering the man with
cool words while his eyes grew brighter, his skin more flushed,
his speech more rapid. He talked incessantly and with feverish
gayety, smoking numberless cigarettes and apparently unconscious
of the flight of time. At last he broke off suddenly and consulted
his watch, while Helen remembered that she had not heard Shortz in
the kitchen for a long time. Suddenly Struve smiled on her
peculiarly, with confident cunning. As he leered at her over the
disorder between them he took from his pocket a flat bundle which
he tossed to her.

"Now for the bargain, eh?"

"Ask the man to remove these dishes," she said, as she undid the
parcel with clumsy fingers.

"I sent him away two hours ago," said Struve, arising as if to
come to her. She shrank back, but he only leaned across, gathered
up the four corners of the tablecloth, and, twisting them
together, carried the whole thing out, the dishes crashing and
jangling as he threw his burden recklessly into the kitchen. Then
he returned and stood with his back to the stove, staring at her
while she perused the contents of the papers, which were more
voluminous than she had supposed.

For a long time the girl pored over the documents. The purport of
the papers was only too obvious; and, as she read, the proof of
her uncle's guilt stood out clear and damning. There was no
possibility of mistake; the whole wretched plot stood out plain,
its darkest infamies revealed.

In spite of the cruelty of her disillusionment, Helen was
nevertheless exalted with the fierce ecstasy of power, with the
knowledge that justice would at last be rendered. It would be her
triumph and her expiation that she, who had been the unwitting
tool of this miserable clique, would be the one through whom
restitution was made. She arose with her eyes gleaming and her
lips set.

"It is here."

"Of course it is. Enough to convict us all. It means the
penitentiary for your precious uncle and your lover." He stretched
his chin upward at the mention as though to free his throat from
an invisible clutch. "Yes, your lover particularly, for he's the
real one. That's why I brought you here. He'll marry you, but I'll
be the best man." The timbre of his voice was unpleasant.

"Come, let us go," she said.

"Go," he chuckled, mirthlessly. "That's a fine example of
unconscious humor."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, first, no human being could find his way down to the coast
in this tempest; second--but, by-the-way, let me explain something
in those papers while I think of it." He spoke casually and
stepped forward, reaching for the package, which she was about to
give up, when something prompted her to snatch it behind her back;
and it was well she did, for his hand was but a few inches away.
He was no match for her quickness, however, and she glided around
the table, thrusting the papers into the front of her dress. The
sudden contact with Cherry's revolver gave her a certain comfort.
She spoke now with determination.

"I intend to leave here at once. Will you bring my horse? Very
well, I shall do it myself."

She turned, but his indolence vanished like a flash, and springing
in front of the door he barred her way.

"Hold on, my lady. You ought to understand without my saying any
more. Why did I bring you here? Why did I plan this little party?
Why did I send that man away? Just to give you the proof of my
complicity in a crime, I suppose. Well, hardly. You won't leave
here to-night. And when you do, you won't carry those papers--my
own safety depends on that and I am selfish, so don't get me
started. Listen!" They caught the wail of the night crying as
though hungry for sacrifice. "No, you'll stay here and--"

He broke off abruptly, for Helen had stepped to the telephone and
taken down the receiver. He leaped, snatched it from her, and
then, tearing the instrument loose from the wall, raised it above
his head, dashed it upon the floor, and sprang towards her, but
she wrenched herself free and fled across the room. The man's
white hair was wildly tumbled, his face was purple, and his neck
and throat showed swollen, throbbing veins. He stood still,
however, and his lips cracked into his ever-present, cautious
smile.

"Now, don't let's fight about this. It's no use, for I've played
to win. You have your proof--now I'll have my price--or else I'll
take it. Think over which it will be, while I lock up."

Far down the mountain-side a man was urging a broken pony
recklessly along the trail. The beast was blown and spent, its
knees weak and bending, yet the rider forced it as though behind
him yelled a thousand devils, spurring headlong through gully and
ford, up steep slopes and down invisible ravines. Sometimes the
animal stumbled and fell with its master, sometimes they arose
together, but the man was heedless of all except his haste,
insensible to the rain which smote him blindingly, and to the wind
which seized him savagely upon the ridges, or gasped at him in the
gullies with exhausted malice. At last he gained the plateau and
saw the road-house light beneath, so drove his heels into the
flanks of the wind-broken creature, which lunged forward gamely.
He felt the pony rear and drop away beneath him, pawing and
scrambling, and instinctively kicked his feet free from the
stirrups, striving to throw himself out of the saddle and clear of
the thrashing hoofs. It seemed that he turned over in the air
before something smote him and he lay still, his gaunt, dark face
upturned to the rain, while about him the storm screamed
exultantly.

The moment Struve disappeared into the outer room Helen darted to
the window. It was merely a single sash, nailed fast and
immovable, but seizing one of the little stools beside the stove
she thrust it through the glass, letting in a smother of wind and
water. Before she could escape, Struve bounded into the room, his
face livid with anger, his voice hoarse and furious.

But as he began to denounce her he paused in amazement, for the
girl had drawn Cherry's weapon and levelled it at him. She was
very pale and her breast heaved as from a swift run, while her
wondrous gray eyes were lit with a light no man had ever seen
there before, glowing like two jewels whose hearts contained the
pent-up passion of centuries. She had altered as though under the
deft hand of a master-sculptor, her nostrils growing thin and
arched, her lips tight pressed and pitiless, her head poised
proudly. The rain drove in through the shattered window, over and
past her, while the cheap red curtain lashed and whipped her as
though in gleeful applause. Her bitter abhorrence of the man made
her voice sound strangely unnatural as she commanded:

"Don't dare to stop me." She moved towards the door, motioning him
to retreat before her, and he obeyed, recognizing the danger of
her coolness. She did not note the calculating treachery of his
glance, however, nor fathom the purposes he had in mind.

 Out on the rain-swept mountain the prostrate rider had regained
his senses and now was crawling painfully towards the road-house.
Seen through the dark he would have resembled some misshapen,
creeping monster, for he dragged himself, reptile-like, close to
the ground. But as he came closer the man heard a cry which the
wind seemed guarding from his ear, and, hearing it, he rose and
rushed blindly forward, staggering like a wounded beast.

Helen watched her captive closely as he backed through the door
before her, for she dared not lose sight of him until free. The
middle room was lighted by a glass lamp on the bar and its rays
showed that the front-door was secured by a large iron bolt. She
thanked Heaven there was no lock and key.

Struve had retreated until his back was to the counter, offering
no word, making no move, but the darting brightness of his eyes
showed that he was alert and planning. But when the door behind
Helen, urged by the wind through the broken casement, banged to,
the man made his first lightning-like sign. He dashed the lamp to
the floor, where it burst like an eggshell, and darkness leaped
into the room as an animal pounces. Had she been calmer or had
time for an instant's thought Helen would have hastened back to
the light, but she was midway to her liberty and actuated by the
sole desire to break out into the open air, so plunged forward.
Without warning, she was hurled from her feet by a body which came
out of the darkness upon her. She fired the little gun, but
Struve's arms closed about her, the weapon was wrenched from her
hand, and she found herself fighting against him, breast to
breast, with the fury of desperation. His wine-burdened breath
beat into her face and she felt herself bound to him as though by
hoops, while the touch of his cheek against hers turned her into a
terrified, insensate animal, which fought with every ounce of its
strength and every nerve of its body. She screamed once, but it
was not like the cry of a woman. Then the struggle went on in
silence and utter blackness, Strove holding her like a gorilla
till she grew faint and her head began to whirl, while darting
lights drove past her eyes and there was the roar of a cataract in
her ears. She was a strong girl, and her ripe young body, untried
until this moment, answered in every fibre, so that she wrestled
with almost a man's strength and he had hard shift to hold her.
But so violent an encounter could not last. Helen felt herself
drifting free from the earth and losing grip of all things
tangible, when at last they tripped and fell against the inner
door. This gave way, and at the same moment the man's strength
departed as though it were a thing of darkness and dared not face
the light that streamed over them. She tore herself from his
clutch and staggered into the supper-room, her loosened hair
falling in a gleaming torrent about her shoulders, while he arose
from his knees and came towards her again, gasping:

"I'll show you who's master here--"

Then he ceased abruptly, cringingly, and threw up an arm before
his face as if to ward off a blow. Framed in the window was the
pallid visage of a man. The air rocked, the lamp flared, and
Struve whirled completely around, falling back against the wall.
His eyes filled with horror and shifted down where his hand had
clutched at his breast, plucking at one spot as if tearing a barb
from his bosom. He jerked his head towards the door at his elbow
in quest of a retreat a shudder ran over him, his knees buckled
and he plunged forward upon his face, his arm still doubled under
him.

It had happened like a flash of light, and although Helen felt,
rather than heard, the shot and saw her assailant fall, she did
not realize the meaning of it till a drift of powder smoke
assailed her nostrils. Even so, she experienced no shock nor
horror of the sight. On the contrary, a savage joy at the
spectacle seized her and she stood still, leaning slightly
forward, staring at it almost gloatingly, stood so till she heard
her name called, "Helen, little sister!" and, turning, saw her
brother in the window.

That which he witnessed in her face he had seen before in the
faces of men locked close with a hateful death and from whom all
but the most elemental passions had departed--but he had never
seen a woman bear the marks till now. No artifice nor falsity was
there, nothing but the crudest, intensest feeling, which many
people live and die without knowing. There are few who come to
know the great primitive, passionate longings. But in this black
night, fighting in defence of her most sacred self, this girl's
nature had been stripped to its purely savage elements. As
Glenister had predicted, Helen at last had felt and yielded to
irresistibly powerful impulse.

Glancing backward at the creature sprawled by the door, Helen went
to her brother, put her arms about his neck, and kissed him.

"He's dead?" the Kid asked her.

She nodded and tried to speak, but began to shiver and sob
instead.

"Unlock the door," he begged her. "I'm hurt, and I must get in."

When the Kid had hobbled into the room, she pressed him to her and
stroked his matted head, regardless of his muddy, soaking
garments.

"I must look at him. He may not be badly hurt," said the Kid.

"Don't touch him!" She followed, nevertheless, and stood near by
while her brother examined his victim. Struve was breathing, and,
discovering this, the others lifted him with difficulty to the
couch.

"Something cracked in here--ribs, I guess," the Kid remarked,
gasping and feeling his own side. He was weak and pale, and the
girl led him into the bunk-room, where he could lie down. Only his
wonderful determination had sustained him thus far, and now the
knowledge of his helplessness served to prevent Helen's collapse.

The Kid would not hear of her going for help till the storm abated
or daylight came, insisting that the trails were too treacherous
and that no time could be saved by doing so. Thus they waited for
the dawn. At last they heard the wounded man faintly calling. He
spoke to Helen hoarsely. There was no malice, only fear, in his
tones:

"I said this was my madness--and I got what I deserved, but I'm
going to die. O God--I'm going to die and I'm afraid." He moaned
till the Bronco Kid hobbled in, glaring with unquenched hatred.

"Yes, you're going to die and I did it. Be game, can't you? I
sha'n't let her go for help until daylight."

Helen forced her brother back to his couch, and returned to help
the wounded man, who grew incoherent and began to babble.

A little later, when the Kid seemed stronger and his head clearer,
Helen ventured to tell him of their uncle's villany and of the
proof she held, with her hope of restoring justice. She told him
of the attack planned that very night and of the danger which
threatened the miners. He questioned her closely and, realizing
the bearing of her story, crept to the door, casting the wind like
a hound.

"We'll have to risk it," said he. "The wind is almost gone and
it's not long till daylight."

She pleaded to go alone, but he was firm. "I'll never leave you
again, and, moreover, I know the lower trail quite well. We'll go
down the gulch to the valley and reach town that way. It's farther
but it's not so dangerous."

"You can't ride," she insisted.

"I can if you'll tie me into the saddle. Come, get the horses."

It was still pitchy dark and the rain was pouring, but the wind
only sighed weakly as though tired by its violence when she helped
the Bronco into his saddle. The effort wrenched a groan from him,
but he insisted upon her tying his feet beneath the horse's belly,
saying that the trail was rough and he could take no chance of
falling again; so, having performed the last services she might
for Struve, she mounted her own animal and allowed it to pick its
way down the steep descent behind her brother, who swayed and
lurched drunkenly in his seat, gripping the horn before him with
both hands.

 They had been gone perhaps a half-hour when another horse plunged
furiously out of the darkness and halted before the road-house
door. Its rider, mud-stained and dishevelled, flung himself in mad
haste to the ground and bolted in through the door. He saw the
signs of confusion in the outer room, chairs upset and broken, the
table wedged against the stove, and before the counter a shattered
lamp in a pool of oil. He called loudly, but, receiving no answer,
snatched a light which, he found burning and ran to the door at
his left. Nothing greeted him but the empty tiers of bunks.
Turning, he crossed to the other side and burst through. Another
lamp was lighted beside the couch where Struve lay, breathing
heavily, his lids half closed over his staring eyes. Roy noted the
pool of blood at his feet and the broken window; then, setting
down his lamp, he leaned over the man and spoke to him.

When he received no answer he spoke again loudly. Then, in a
frenzy, Glenister shook the wounded man cruelly, so that he cried
out in terror:

"I'm dying--oh, I'm dying." Roy raised the sick man up and thrust
his own face before his eyes.

"This is Glenister. I've come for Helen--where is she?" A spark of
recognition flickered into the dull stare.

"You're too late--I'm dying--and I'm afraid."

His questioner shook Struve again. "Where is she?" he repeated,
time after time, till by very force of his own insistence he
compelled realization in the sufferer.

"The Kid took her away. The Kid shot me," and then his voice rose
till it flooded the room with terror. "The Kid shot me and I'm
dying." He coughed blood to his lips, at which Roy laid him back
and stood up. So there was no mistake, after all, and he had
arrived too late. This was the Kid's revenge. This was how he
struck. Lacking courage to face a man's level eyes, he possessed
the foulness to prey upon a woman. Roy felt a weakening physical
sickness sweep over him till his eye fell upon a sodden garment
which Helen had removed from her brother's shoulders and replaced
with a dry one. He snatched it from the floor and in a sudden fury
felt it come apart in his hands like wet tissue-paper.

He found himself out in the rain, scanning the trampled soil by
light of his lamp, and discerned tracks which the drizzle had not
yet erased. He reasoned mechanically that the two riders could
have no great start of him, so strode out beyond the house to see
if they had gone farther into the hills. There were no tracks
here, therefore they must have doubled back towards town. It did
not occur to him that they might have left the beaten path and
followed down the little creek to the river; but, replacing the
light where he had found it, he remounted and lashed his horse
into a stiff canter up towards the divide that lay between him and
the city. The story was growing plainer to him, though as yet he
could not piece it all together. Its possibilities stabbed him
with such horror that he cried out aloud and beat his steed into
faster time with both hands and feet. To think of those two
ruffians fighting over this girl as though she were the spoils of
pillage! He must overtake the Kid--he WOULD! The possibility that
he might not threw him into such ungovernable mental chaos that he
was forced to calm himself. Men went mad that way. He could not
think of it. That gasping creature in the road-house spoke all too
well of the Bronco's determination. And yet, who of those who had
known the Kid in the past would dream that his vileness was so
utter as this?

Away to the right, hidden among the shadowed hills, his friends
rested themselves for the coming battle, waiting impatiently his
return, and timing it to the rising sun. Down in the valley to his
left were the two he followed, while he, obsessed and unreasoning,
now cursing like a madman, now grim and silent, spurred southward
towards town and into the ranks of his enemies.




CHAPTER XXI

THE HAMMER-LOCK


Day was breaking as Glenister came down the mountain. With the
first light he halted to scan the trail, and having no means of
knowing that the fresh tracks he found were not those of the two
riders he followed, he urged his lathered horse ahead till he
became suddenly conscious that he was very tired and had not slept
for two days and nights. The recollection did not reassure the
young man, for his body was a weapon which must not fail in the
slightest measure now that there was work to do. Even the
unwelcome speculation upon his physical handicap offered relief,
however, from the agony which fed upon him whenever he thought of
Helen in the gambler's hands. Meanwhile, the horse, groaning at
his master's violence, plunged onward towards the roofs of Nome,
now growing gray in the first dawn.

It seemed years since Roy had seen the sunlight, for this night,
burdened with suspense, had been endlessly long. His body was
faint beneath the strain, and yet he rode on and on, tired,
dogged, stony, his eyes set towards the sea, his mind a storm of
formless, whirling thoughts, beneath which was an undeviating,
implacable determination.

He knew now that he had sacrificed all hope of the Midas, and
likewise the hope of Helen was gone; in fact, he began to realize
dimly that from the beginning he had never had the possibility of
winning her, that she had never been destined for him, and that
his love for her had been sent as a light by which he was to find
himself. He had failed everywhere, he had become an outlaw, he had
fought and gone down, certain only of his rectitude and the
mastery of his unruly spirit. Now the hour had come when he would
perform his last mission, deriving therefrom that satisfaction
which the gods could not deny. He would have his vengeance.

The scheme took form without conscious effort on his part and
embraced two things--the death of the gambler and a meeting with
McNamara. Of the former, he had no more doubt than that the sun
rising there would sink in the west. So well confirmed was this
belief that the details did not engage his thought; but on the
result of the other encounter he speculated with some interest.
From the first McNamara had been a riddle to him, and mystery
breeds curiosity. His blind, instinctive hatred of the man had
assumed the proportions of a mania; but as to what the outcome
would be when they met face to face, fate alone could tell.
Anyway, McNamara should never have Helen--Roy believed his mission
covered that point as well as her deliverance from the Bronco Kid.
When he had finished--he would pay the price. If he had the luck
to escape, he would go back to his hills and his solitude; if he
did not, his future would be in the hands of his enemies.

He entered the silent streets unobserved, for the mists were heavy
and low. Smoke columns arose vertically in the still air. The rain
had ceased, having beaten down the waves which rumbled against the
beach, filling the streets with their subdued thunder. A ship,
anchored in the offing, had run in from the lee of Sledge Island
with the first lull, while midway to the shore a tender was rising
and falling, its oars flashing like the silvered feelers of a sea
insect crawling upon the surface of the ocean.

He rode down Front Street heedless of danger, heedless of the
comment his appearance might create, and, unseen, entered his
enemy's stronghold. He passed a gambling-hall, through the windows
of which came a sickly yellow gleam. A man came out unsteadily and
stared at the horseman, then passed on.

Glenister's plan was to go straight to the Northern and from there
to track down its owner relentlessly, but in order to reach the
place his course led him past the office of Dunham & Struve. This
brought back to his mind the man dying out there ten miles at his
back. The scantiest humanity demanded that assistance be sent at
once. Yet he dared not give word openly, thus betraying his
presence, for it was necessary that he maintain his liberty during
the next hour at all hazards. He suddenly thought of an expedient
and reined in his horse, which stopped with wide-spread legs and
dejected head while he dismounted and climbed the stairs to leave
a note upon the door. Some one would see the message shortly and
recognize its urgency.

In dressing for the battle at the Midas on the previous night he
had replaced his leather boots with "mukluks," which are
waterproof, light, and pliable footgear made from the skin of seal
and walrus. He was thus able to move as noiselessly as though in
moccasins. Finding neither pencil nor paper in his pocket, he
tried the outer door of the office, to find it unlocked. He
stepped inside and listened, then moved towards a table on which
were writing materials, but in doing so heard a rustle in Struve's
private office. Evidently his soft soles had not disturbed the man
inside. Roy was about to tiptoe out as he had come when the hidden
man cleared his throat. It is in these involuntary sounds that the
voice retains its natural quality more distinctly even than in
speaking, A strange eagerness grew in Glenister's face and he
approached the partition stealthily. It was of wood and glass, the
panes clouded and opaque to a height of some six feet; but
stepping upon a chair he peered into the room beyond. A man knelt
in a litter of papers before the open safe, its drawers and
compartments removed and their contents scattered. The watcher
lowered himself, drew his gun, and laid soft hand upon the door-
knob, turning the latch with firm fingers. His vengeance had come
to meet him.

 After lying in wait during the long night, certain that the
Vigilantes would spring his trap, McNamara was astounded at news
of the battle at the Midas and of Glenister's success. He stormed
and cursed his men as cowards. The Judge became greatly exercised
over this new development, which, coupled with his night of long
anxiety, reduced him to a pitiful hysteria.

"They'll blow us up next. Great Heavens! Dynamite! Oh, that is
barbarous. For Heaven's sake, get the soldiers out, Alec."

"Ay, we can use them now." Thereupon McNamara roused the
commanding officer at the post and requested him to accoutre a
troop and have them ready to march at daylight, then bestirred the
Judge to start the wheels of his court and invoke this military
aid in regular fashion.

"Make it all a matter of record," he said. "We want to keep our
skirts clear from now on."

"But the towns-people are against us," quavered Stillman. "They'll
tear us to pieces."

"Let 'em try. Once I get my hand on the ringleader, the rest may
riot and be damned."

Although he had made less display than had the Judge, the receiver
was no less deeply worried about Helen, of whom no news came. His
jealousy, fanned to red heat by the discovery of her earlier
defection, was enhanced fourfold by the thought of this last
adventure. Something told him there was treachery afoot, and when
she did not return at dawn he began to fear that she had cast in
her lot with the rioters. This aroused a perfect delirium of doubt
and anger till he reasoned further that Struve, having gone with
her, must also be a traitor. He recognized the menace in this
fact, knowing the man's venality, so began to reckon carefully its
significance. What could Struve do? What proof had he? McNamara
started, and, seizing his hat, hurried straight to the lawyer's
office and let himself in with the key he carried. It was light
enough for him to decipher the characters on the safe lock as he
turned the combination, so he set to work scanning the endless
bundles within, hoping that after all the man had taken with him
no incriminating evidence. Once the searcher paused at some
fancied sound, but when nothing came of it drew his revolver and
laid it before him just inside the safe door and close beneath his
hand, continuing to run through the documents while his uneasiness
increased. He had been engaged so for some time when he heard the
faintest creak at his back, too slight to alarm and just
sufficient to break his tension and cause him to jerk his head
about. Framed in the open door stood Roy Glenister watching him.

McNamara's astonishment was so genuine that he leaped to his feet,
faced about, and prompted by a secretive instinct swung to the
safe door as though to guard its contents. He had acted upon the
impulse before realizing that his weapon was inside and that now,
although the door was not locked, it would require that one
dangerous, yes, fatal, second to open it.

The two men stared at each other for a time, silent and malignant,
their glances meeting like blades; in the older man's face a look
of defiance, in the younger's a dogged and grim-purposed enmity.
McNamara's first perturbation left him calm, alert, dangerous;
whereas the continued contemplation of his enemy worked in
Glenister to destroy his composure, and his purpose blazed forth
unhidden.

He stood there unkempt and soiled, the clean sweep of jaw and
throat overgrown with a three days' black stubble, his hair wet
and matted, his whole left side foul with clay where he had fallen
in the darkness. A muddy red streak spread downward from a cut
above his temple, beneath his eyes were sagging folds, while the
flicker at his mouth corners betrayed the high nervous pitch to
which he was keyed.

"I have come for the last act, McNamara; now we'll have it out,
man to man."

The politician shrugged his shoulders. "You have the drop on me. I
am unarmed." At which the miner's face lighted fiercely and he
chuckled.

"Ah, that's almost too good to be true. I have dreamed about such
a thing and I have been hungry to feel your throat since the first
time I saw you. It's grown on me till shooting wouldn't satisfy
me. Ever had the feeling? Well, I'm going to choke the life out of
you with my bare hands."

McNamara squared himself.

"I wouldn't advise you to try it. I have lived longer than you and
I was never beaten, but I know the feeling you speak about. I have
it now."

His eyes roved rapidly up and down the other's form, noting the
lean thighs and close-drawn belt which lent the appearance of
spareness, belied only by the neck and shoulders. He had beaten
better men, and he reasoned that if it came to a physical test in
these cramped quarters his own great weight would more than offset
any superior agility the miner might possess. The longer he looked
the more he yielded to his hatred of the man before him, and the
more cruelly he longed to satisfy it.

"Take off your coat," said Glenister. "Now turn around. All right!
I just wanted to see if you were lying about your gun."

"I'll kill you," cried McNamara.

Glenister laid his six-shooter upon the safe and slipped off his
own wet garment. The difference was more marked now and the
advantage more strongly with the receiver. Though they had avoided
allusion to it, each knew that this fight had nothing to do with
the Midas and each realized whence sprang their fierce enmity. And
it was meet that they should come together thus. It had been the
one certain and logical event which they had felt inevitably
approaching from long back. And it was fitting, moreover, that
they should fight alone and unwitnessed, armed only with the
weapons of the wilderness, for they were both of the far, free
lands, were both of the fighter's type, and had both warred for
the first, great prize.

They met ferociously. McNamara aimed a fearful blow, but Glenister
met him squarely, beating him off cleverly, stepping in and out,
his arms swinging loosely from his shoulders like whalebone withes
tipped with lead. He moved lightly, his footing made doubly secure
by reason of his soft-soled mukluks. Recognizing his opponent's
greater weight, he undertook merely to stop the headlong rushes
and remain out of reach as long as possible. He struck the
politician fairly in the mouth so that the man's head snapped back
and his fists went wild, then, before the arms could grasp him,
the miner had broken ground and whipped another blow across; but
McNamara was a boxer himself, so covered and blocked it. The
politician spat through his mashed lips and rushed again, sweeping
his opponent from his feet. Again Glenister's fist shot forward
like a lump of granite, but the other came on head down and the
blow finished too high, landing on the big man's brow. A sudden
darting agony paralyzed Roy's hand, and he realized that he had
broken the metacarpal bones and that henceforth it would be
useless. Before he could recover, McNamara had passed under his
extended arm and seized him by the middle, then, thrusting his
left leg back of Roy's, he whirled him from his balance, flinging
him clear and with resistless force. It seemed that a fatal fall
must follow, but the youth squirmed catlike in the air, landing
with set muscles which rebounded like rubber. Even so, the
receiver was upon him before he could rise, reaching for the young
man's throat with his heavy hands. Roy recognized the fatal
"strangle hold," and, seizing his enemy's wrists, endeavored to
tear them apart, but his left hand was useless, so with a mighty
wrench he freed himself, and, locked in each other's arms, the men
strained and swayed about the office till their neck veins were
bursting, their muscles paralyzed.

Men may fight duels calmly, may shoot or parry or thrust with cold
deliberation; but when there comes the jar of body to body, the
sweaty contact of skin to skin, the play of iron muscles, the
painful gasp of exhaustion--then the mind goes skittering back
into its dark recesses while every venomous passion leaps forth
from its hiding-place and joins in the horrid war.

They tripped across the floor, crashing into the partition, which
split, showering them with glass. They fell and rolled in it;
then, by consent, wrenched themselves apart and rose, eye to eye,
their jaws hanging, their lungs wheezing, their faces trickling
blood and sweat. Roy's left hand pained him excruciatingly, while
McNamara's macerated lips had turned outward in a hideous pout.
They crouched so for an instant, cruel, bestial--then clinched
again. The office-fittings were wrecked utterly and the room
became a litter of ruins. The men's garments fell away till their
breasts were bare and their arms swelled white and knotted through
the rags. They knew no pain, their bodies were insensate
mechanisms.

Gradually the older man's face was beaten into a shapeless mass by
the other's cunning blows, while Glenister's every bone was
wrenched and twisted under his enemy's terrible onslaughts. The
miner's chief effort, it is true, was to keep his feet and to
break the man's embraces. Never had he encountered one whom he
could not beat by sheer strength till he met this great, snarling
creature who worried him hither and yon as though he were a child.
Time and again Roy beat upon the man's face with the blows of a
sledge. No rules governed this solitary combat; the men were deaf
to all but the roaring in their ears, blinded to all but hate,
insensible to everything but the blood mania. Their trampling feet
caused the building to rumble and shake as though some monster
were running amuck.

Meanwhile a bareheaded man rushed out of the store beneath,
bumping into a pedestrian who had paused on the sidewalk, and
together they scurried up the stairs. The dory which Roy had seen
at sea had shot the breakers, and now its three passengers were
tracking through the wet sand towards Front Street, Bill Wheaton
in the lead. He was followed by two rawboned men who travelled
without baggage. The city was awakening with the sun which reared
a copper rim out of the sea--Judge Stillman and Voorhees came down
from the hotel and paused to gaze through the mists at a caravan
of mule teams which trotted into the other end of the street with
jingle and clank. The wagons were blue with soldiers, the early
golden rays slanting from their Krags, and they were bound for the
Midas.

Out of the fogs which clung so thickly to the tundra there came
two other horses, distorted and unreal, on one a girl, on the
other a figure of pain and tragedy, a grotesque creature that
swayed stiffly to the motion of its steed, its face writhed into
lines of suffering, its hands clutching cantle and horn.

It was as though Fate, with invisible touch, were setting her
stage for the last act of this play, assembling the principals
close to the Golden Sands where first they had made entrance.

The man and the girl came face to face with the Judge and marshal,
who cried out upon seeing them, but as they reined in, out from
the stairs beside them a man shot amid clatter and uproar.

"Give me a hand--quick!" he shouted to them.

"What's up?" inquired the marshal.

"It's murder! McNamara and Glenister!" He dashed back up the steps
behind Voorhees, the Judge following, while muffled cries came
from above.

The gambler turned towards the three men who were hurrying from
the beach, and, recognizing Wheaton, called to him: "Untie my
feet! Cut the ropes! Quick!"

"What's the trouble?" the lawyer asked, but on hearing Glenister's
name bounded after the Judge, leaving one of his companions to
free the rider. They could hear the fight now, and all crowded
towards the door, Helen with her brother, in spite of his warning
to stay behind.

She never remembered how she climbed those stairs, for she was
borne along by that hypnotic power which drags one to behold a
catastrophe in spite of his will. Reaching the room, she stood
appalled; for the group she had joined watched two raging things
that rushed at each other with inhuman cries, ragged, bleeding,
fighting on a carpet of debris. Every loose and breakable thing
had been ground to splinters as though by iron slugs in a whirling
cylinder.

To this day, from Dawson to the Straits, from Unga to the Arctics,
men tell of the combat wherever they foregather at flaring camp-
fires or in dingy bunkhouses; and although some scout the tale,
there are others who saw it and can swear to its truth. These say
that the encounter was like the battle of bull moose in the
rutting season, though more terrible, averring that two men like
these had never been known in the land since the days of Vitus
Bering and his crew; for their rancor had swollen till at feel of
each other's flesh they ran mad and felt superhuman strength. It
is true, at any rate, that neither was conscious of the filling
room, nor the cries of the crowd, even when the marshal forced
himself through the wedged door and fell upon the nearest, which
was Glenister. He came at an instant when the two had paused at
arm's-length, glaring with rage-drunken eyes, gasping the labored
breath back into their lungs.

With a fling of his long arms the young man hurled the intruder
aside so violently that his head struck the iron safe and he
collapsed insensible. Then, without apparent notice of the
interruption, the fight went on. It was seen during this respite
that McNamara's mouth was running water as though he were deathly
sick, while every retch brought forth a groan. Helen heard herself
crying: "Stop them! Stop them!" But no one seemed capable of
interference. She heard her brother muttering and his breath
coming heavily like that of the fighters, his body swaying in.
time to theirs. The Judge was ashy, imbecile, helpless.

McNamara's distress was patent to his antagonist, who advanced
upon him with the hunger of promised victory; but the young man's
muscles obeyed his commands sluggishly, his ribs seemed broken,
his back was weak, and on the inner side of his legs the flesh was
quivering. As they came together the boss reached up his right
hand and caught the miner by the face, burying thumb and fingers
crab like into his cheeks, forcing his slack jaws apart, thrusting
his head backward, while he centred every ounce of his strength in
the effort to maim. Roy felt the flesh giving way and flung
himself backward to break the hold, whereupon the other summoned
his wasting energy and plunged towards the safe, where lay the
revolver. Instinct warned Glenister of treachery, told him that
the man had sought this last resource to save himself, and as he
saw him turn his back and reach for the weapon, the youth leaped
like a panther, seizing him about the waist, grasping McNamara's
wrist with his right hand. For the first time during the combat
they were not face to face, and on the instant Roy realized the
advantage given him through the other's perfidy, realized the
wrestler's hold that was his, and knew that the moment of victory
was come.

The telling takes much time, but so quickly had these things
happened that the footsteps of the soldiers had not yet reached
the door when the men were locked beside the safe.

Of what happened next many garbled accounts have gone forth, for
of all those present, none but the Bronco Kid knew its
significance and ever recounted the truth concerning it. Some
claim that the younger man was seized with a fear of death which
multiplied his enormous strength, others that the power died in
his adversary as reward for his treason; but it was not so.

No sooner had Roy encompassed McNamara's waist from the rear than
he slid his damaged hand up past the other's chest and around the
back of his neck, thus bringing his own left arm close under his
enemy's left armpit, wedging the receiver's head forward, while
with his other hand he grasped the politician's right wrist close
to the revolver, thus holding him in a grasp which could not be
broken. Now came the test. The two bodies set themselves rocklike
and rigid. There was no lunging about. Calling up the final atom
of his strength, Glenister bore backward with his right arm and it
became a contest for the weapon which, clutched in the two hands,
swayed back and forth or darted up and down, the fury of
resistance causing it to trace formless patterns in the air with
its muzzle. McNamara shook himself, but he was close against the
safe and could not escape, his head bowed forward by the lock of
the miner's left arm, and so he strained till the breath clogged
in his throat. Despite the grievous toil his right hand moved back
slightly. His feet shifted a bit, while the blood seemed bursting
from his eyes, but he found that the long fingers encircling his
wrist were like gyves weighted with the strength of the hills and
the irresistible vigor of youth which knew no defeat. Slowly, inch
by inch, the great man's arm was dragged back, down past his side,
while the strangling labor of his breath showed at what awful
cost. The muzzle of the gun described a semicircle and the knotted
hands began to travel towards the left, more rapidly now, across
his broad back. Still he struggled and wrenched, but uselessly. He
strove to fire the weapon, but his fingers were woven about it so
that the hammer would not work. Then the miner began forcing
upward.

The white skin beneath the men's strips of clothing was stretched
over great knots and ridges which sunk and swelled and quivered.
Helen, watching in silent terror, felt her brother sinking his
fingers into her shoulder and heard him panting, his face ablaze
with excitement, while she became conscious that he had. repeated
time and again:

"It's the hammer-lock--the hammer-lock."

By now McNamara's arm was bent and cramped upon his back, and then
they saw Glenister's shoulder dip, his elbow come closer to his
side, and his body heave in one final terrific effort as though
pushing a heavy weight. In the silence something snapped like a
stick. There came a deafening report and the scream of a strong
man overcome with agony. McNamara went to his knees and sagged
forward on to his face as though every bone in his huge bulk had
turned to water, while his master reeled back against the opposite
wall, his heels dragging in the litter, bringing up with outflung
arms as though fearful of falling, swaying, blind, exhausted, his
face blackened by the explosion of the revolver, yet grim with the
light of victory.

Judge Stillman shouted, hysterically:

"Arrest that man, quick! Don't let him go!"

It was the miner's first realization that others were there.
Raising his head he stared at the faces close against the
partition, then groaned the words:

"I beat the traitor and--and--I broke him with--my hands!"




CHAPTER XXII

THE PROMISE OF DREAMS


Soldiers seized the young man, who made no offer at resistance,
and the room became a noisy riot. Crowds surged up from below,
clamoring, questioning, till some one at the head of the stairs
shouted down:

"They've got Roy Glenister. He's killed McNamara," at which a
murmur arose that threatened to become a cheer.

Then one of the receiver's faction called: "Let's hang him. He
killed ten of our men last night." Helen winced, but Stillman,
roused to a sort of malevolent courage, quieted the angry voices.

"Officer, hold these people back. I'll attend to this man. The
law's in my hands and I'll make him answer."

McNamara reared himself groaning from the floor, his right arm
swinging from the shoulder strangely loose and distorted, with
palm twisted outward, while his battered face was hideous with
pain and defeat. He growled broken maledictions at his enemy.

Roy, meanwhile, said nothing, for as the savage lust died in him
he realized that the whirling faces before him were the faces of
his enemies, that the Bronco Kid was still at large, and that his
vengeance was but half completed. His knees were bending, his
limbs were like leaden bars, his chest a furnace of coals. As he
reeled down the lane of human forms, supported by his guards, he
came abreast of the girl and her companion and paused, clearing
his vision slowly.

"Ah, there you are!" he said, thickly, to the gambler, and began
to wrestle with his captors, baring his teeth in a grimace of
painful effort; but they held him as easily as though he were a
child and drew him forward, his body sagging limply, his face
turned back over his shoulder.

They had him near the door when Wheaton barred their way, crying:
"Hold up a minute--it's all right, Roy--"

"Ay, Bill--it's all right. We did our--best, but we were done by a
damned blackguard. Now he'll send me up--but I don't care. I broke
him--with my naked hands. Didn't I, McNamara?" He mocked
unsteadily at the boss, who cursed aloud in return, glowering like
an evil mask, while Stillman ran up dishevelled and shrilly
irascible.

"Take him away, I tell you! Take him to jail."

But Wheaton held his place while the room centred its eyes upon
him, scenting some unexpected denouement. He saw it, and in
concession to a natural vanity and dramatic instinct, he threw
back his head and stuffed his hands into his coat-pockets while
the crowd waited. He grinned insolently at the Judge and the
receiver.

"This will be a day of defeats and disappointments to you, my
friends. That boy won't go to jail because you will wear the
shackles yourselves. Oh, you played a shrewd game, you two, with
your senators, your politics, and your pulls; but it's our turn
now, and we'll make you dance for the mines you gutted and the
robberies you've done and the men you've ruined. Thank Heaven
there's ONE honest court and I happened to find it." He turned to
the strangers who had accompanied him from the ship, crying,
"Serve those warrants," and they stepped forward.

The uproar of the past few minutes had brought men running from
every direction till, finding no room on the stairs, they had
massed in the street below while the word flew from lip to lip
concerning this closing scene of their drama, the battle at the
Midas, the great fight up-stairs, and the arrest by the 'Frisco
deputies. Like Sindbad's genie, a wondrous tale took shape from
the rumors. Men shouldered one another eagerly for a glimpse of
the actors, and when the press streamed out, greeted it with
volleys of questions. They saw the unconscious marshal borne
forth, followed by the old Judge, now a palsied wretch, slinking
beside his captor, a very shell of a man at whom they jeered. When
McNamara lurched into view, an image of defeat and chagrin, their
voices rose menacingly. The pack was turning and he knew it, but,
though racked and crippled, he bent upon them a visage so full of
defiance and contemptuous malignity that they hushed themselves,
and their final picture of him was that of a big man downed, but
unbeaten to the last. They began to cry for Glenister, so that
when he loomed in the doorway, a ragged, heroic figure, his heavy
shock low over his eyes, his unshaven face aggressive even in its
weariness, his corded arms and chest bare beneath the fluttering
streamers, the street broke into wild cheering. Here was a man of
their own, a son of the Northland who labored and loved and fought
in a way they understood, and he had come into his due.

But Roy, dumb and listless, staggered up the street, refusing the
help of every man except Wheaton. He heard his companion talking,
but grasped only that the attorney gloated and gloried.

"We have whipped them, boy. We have whipped them at their own
game. Arrested in their very door-yards--cited for contempt of
court--that's what they are. They disobeyed those other writs, and
so I got them."

"I broke his arm," muttered the miner.

"Yes, I saw you do it! Ugh! it was an awful thing. I couldn't
prove conspiracy, but they'll go to jail for a little while just
the same, and we have broken the ring."

"It snapped at the shoulder," the other continued, dully, "just
like a shovel handle. I felt it--but he tried to kill me and I had
to do it."

The attorney took Roy to his cabin and dressed his wounds, talking
incessantly the while, but the boy was like a sleep-walker,
displaying no elation, no excitement, no joy of victory. At last
Wheaton broke out:

"Cheer up! Why, man, you act like a loser. Don't you realize that
we've won? Don't you understand that the Midas is yours? And the
whole world with it?"

"Won?" echoed the miner. "What do you know about it, Bill? The
Midas--the world--what good are they? You're wrong. I've lost--
yes--I've lost everything she taught me, and by some damned trick
of Fate she was there to see me do it. Now, go away; I want to
sleep."

He sank upon the bed with its tangle of blankets and was
unconscious before the lawyer had covered him over.

There he lay like a dead man till late in the afternoon, when
Dextry and Slapjack came in from the hills, answering Wheaton's
call, and fell upon him hungrily. They shook Roy into
consciousness with joyous riot, pommelling him with affectionate
roughness till he rose and joined with them stiffly. He bathed and
rubbed the soreness from his muscles, emerging physically fit.
They made him recount his adventures to the tiniest detail,
following his description of the fight with absorbed interest till
Dextry broke into mournful complaint:

"I'd have give my half of the Midas to see you bust him. Lord, I'd
have screeched with soopreme delight at that."

"Why didn't you gouge his eyes out when you had him crippled?"
questioned Slapjack, vindictively. "I'd 'a' done it."

Dextry continued: "They tell me that when he was arrested he swore
in eighteen different languages, each one more refreshin'ly
repulsive an' vig'rous than the precedin'. Oh, I have sure missed
a-plenty to-day, partic'lar because my own diction is gettin' run
down an' skim-milky of late, showin' sad lack of new idees. Which
I might have assim'lated somethin' robustly original an'
expressive if I'd been here. No, sir; a nose-bag full of nuggets
wouldn't have kept me away."

"How did it sound when she busted?" insisted the morbid Simms, but
Glenister refused to discuss his combat,

"Come on, Slap," said the old prospector, "let's go down-town. I'm
so het up I can't set still, an' besides, mebbe we can get the
story the way it really happened, from somebody who ain't bound
an' gagged an' chloroformed by such unbecomin' modesties. Roy,
don't never go into vawdyville with them personal episodes,
because they read about as thrillin' as a cook-book. Why, say,
I've had the story of that fight from four different fellers
already, none of which was within four blocks of the scrimmage,
an.' they're all diff'rent an' all better 'n your account."

Now that Glenister's mind had recovered some of its poise he
realized what he had done.

"I was a beast, an animal," he groaned, "and that after all my
striving. I wanted to leave that part behind, I wanted to be
worthy of her love and trust even though I never won it, but at
the first test I am found lacking. I have lost her confidence,
yes--and what is worse, infinitely worse, I have lost my own.
She's always seen me at my worst," he went on, "but I'm not that
kind at bottom, not that kind. I want to do what's right, and if I
have another chance I will, I know I will. I've been tried too
hard, that's all."

Some one knocked, and he opened the door to admit the Bronco Kid
and Helen.

"Wait a minute, old man," said the Kid. "I'm here as a friend."
The gambler handled himself with difficulty, offering in
explanation:

"I'm all sewed up in bandages of one kind or another."

"He ought to be in bed now, but he wouldn't let me come alone, and
I could not wait," the girl supplemented, while her eyes avoided
Glenister's in strange hesitation.

"He wouldn't let you. I don't understand."

"I'm her brother," announced the Bronco Kid. "I've known it for a
long time, but I--I--well, you understand I couldn't let her know.
All I can say is, I've gambled square till the night I played you,
and I was as mad as a dervish then, blaming you for the talk I'd
heard. Last night I learned by chance about Struve and Helen and
got to the road-house in time to save her. I'm sorry I didn't kill
him." His long white fingers writhed about the arm of his chair at
the memory.

"Isn't he dead?" Glenister inquired.

"No. The doctors have brought him in and he'll get well. He's like
half the men in Alaska--here because the sheriffs back home
couldn't shoot straight. There's something else. I'm not a good
talker, but give me time and I'll manage it so you'll understand.
I tried to keep Helen from coming on this errand, but she said it
was the square thing and she knows better than I. It's about those
papers she brought in last spring. She was afraid you might
consider her a party to the deal, but you don't, do you?" He
glared belligerently, and Roy replied, with fervor:

"Certainly not. Go on."

"Well, she learned the other day that those documents told the
whole story and contained enough proof to break up this conspiracy
and convict the Judge and McNamara and all the rest, but Struve
kept the bundle in his safe and wouldn't give it up without a
price. That's why she went away with him--She thought it was
right, and--that's all. But it seems Wheaton had succeeded in
another way. Now, I'm coming to the point. The Judge and McNamara
are arrested for contempt of court and they're as good as
convicted; you have recovered your mine, and these men are
disgraced. They will go to jail--"

"Yes, for six months, perhaps," broke in the other, hotly, "but
what does that amount to? There never was a bolder crime
consummated nor one more cruelly unjust. They robbed a realm and
pillaged its people, they defiled a court and made Justice a
wanton, they jailed good men and sent others to ruin; and for this
they are to suffer--how? By a paltry fine or a short imprisonment,
perhaps, by an ephemeral disgrace and the loss of their stolen
goods. Contempt of court is the accusation, but you might as well
convict a murderer for breach of the peace. We've thrown them off,
it's true, and they won't trouble us again, but they'll never have
to answer for their real infamy. That will go unpunished while
their lawyers quibble over technicalities and rules of court. I
guess it's true that there isn't any law of God or man north of
Fifty-three; but if there is justice south of that mark, those
people will answer for conspiracy and go to the penitentiary."

"You make it hard for me to say what I want to. I am almost sorry
we came, for I am not cunning with words, and I don't know that
you'll understand," said the Bronco Kid, gravely, "We looked at it
this way: you have had your victory, you have beaten your enemies
against odds, you have recovered your mine, and they are
disgraced. To men like them that last will outlive and outweigh
all the rest; but the Judge is our uncle and our blood runs in his
veins. He took Helen when she was a baby and was a father to her
in his selfish way, loving her as best he knew how. And she loves
him."

"I don't quite understand you," said Roy.

And then Helen spoke for the first time eagerly, taking a packet
from her bosom as she began:

"This will tell the whole wretched story, Mr. Glenister, and show
the plot in all its vileness. It's hard for me to betray my uncle,
but this proof is yours by right to use as you see fit, and I
can't keep it."

"Do you mean that this evidence will show all that? And you're
going to give it to me because you think it is your duty?"

"It belongs to you. I have no choice. But what I came for was to
plead and to ask a little mercy for my uncle, who is an old, old
man, and very weak. This will kill him."

He saw that her eyes were swimming while the little chin quivered
ever so slightly and her pale cheeks were flushed. There rose in
him the old wild desire to take her in his arms, a yearning to
pillow her head on his shoulder and kiss away the tears, to smooth
with tender caress the wavy hair, and bury his face deep in it
till he grew drunk with the madness of her. But he knew at last
for whom she really pleaded.

So he was to forswear this vengeance, which was no vengeance after
all, but in verity a just punishment. They asked him--a man--a
man's man--a Northman--to do this, and for what? For no reward,
but on the contrary to insure himself lasting bitterness. He
strove to look at the proposition calmly, clearly, but it was
difficult. If only by freeing this other villain as well as her
uncle he would do a good to her, then he would not hesitate. Love
was not the only thing. He marvelled at his own attitude; this
could not be his old self debating thus. He had asked for another
chance to show that he was not the old Roy Glenister; well, it had
come, and he was ready.

Roy dared not look at Helen any more, for this was the hardest
moment he had ever lived.

"You ask this for your uncle, but what of--of the other fellow?
You must know that if one goes free so will they both; they can't
be separated."

"It's almost too much to ask," the Kid took up, uncertainly. "But
don't you think the work is done? I can't help but admire
McNamara, and neither can you--he's been too good an enemy to you
for that--and--and--he loves Helen."

"I know--I know," said Glenister, hastily, at the same time
stopping an unintelligible protest from the girl. "You've said
enough." He straightened his slightly stooping shoulders and
looked at the unopened package wearily, then slipped the rubber
band from it, and, separating the contents, tore them up--one by
one--tore them into fine bits without hurry or ostentation, and
tossed the fragments away, while the woman began to sob softly,
the sound of her relief alone disturbing the silence. And so he
gave her his enemy, making his offer gamely, according to his
code.

"You're right--the work is done. And now, I'm very tired."

They left him standing there, the glory of the dying day
illumining his lean, brown features, the vision of a great
loneliness in his weary eyes.

He did not rouse himself till the sky before him was only a
curtain of steel, pencilled with streaks of soot that lay close
down above the darker sea. Then he sighed and said, aloud:

"So this is the end, and I gave him to her with these hands"--he
held them out before him curiously, becoming conscious for the
first time that the left one was swollen and discolored and
fearfully painful. He noted it with impersonal interest, realizing
its need of medical attention--so left the cabin and walked down
into the city. He encountered Dextry and Simms on the way, and
they went with him, both flowing with the gossip of the camp.

"Lord, but you're the talk of the town," they began. "The curio
hunters have commenced to pull Struve's office apart for
souvenirs, and the Swedes want to run you for Congress as soon as
ever we get admitted as a State. They say that at collar-an'-elbow
holts you could lick any of them Eastern senators and thereby
rastle out a lot of good legislation for us cripples up here."

"Speakin' of laws goes to show me that this here country is
gettin' too blamed civilized for a white man," said Simms,
pessimistically, "and now that this fight is ended up it don't
look like there would be anything doin' fit to claim the interest
of a growed-up person for a long while. I'm goin' west."

"West! Why, you can throw a stone into Bering Strait from here,"
said Roy, smiling.

"Oh, well, the world's round. There's a schooner outfittin' for
Sibeery--two years' cruise. Me an' Dex is figgerin' on gettin' out
towards the frontier fer a spell."

"Sure!" said Dextry. "I'm beginnin' to feel all cramped up
hereabouts owin' to these fillymonarch orchestras an' French
restarawnts and such discrepancies of scenery. They're puttin' a
pavement on Front Street and there's a shoe-shinin' parlor opened
up. Why, I'd like to get where I could stretch an' holler without
disturbin' the pensiveness of some dude in a dress suit. Better
come along, Roy; we can sell out the Midas."

"I'll think it over," said the young man.

The night was bright with a full moon when they left the doctor's
office. Roy, in no mood for the exuberance of his companions,
parted from them, but had not gone far before he met Cherry
Malotte. His head was low and he did not see her till she spoke.

"Well, boy, so it's over at last!"

Her words chimed so perfectly with his thoughts that he replied:
"Yes, it's all over, little girl."

"You don't need my congratulations--you know me too well for that.
How does it feel to be a winner?"

"I don't know. I've lost."

"Lost what?"

"Everything--except the gold-mine."

"Everything except--I see. You mean that she--that you have asked
her and she won't?" He never knew the cost at which she held her
voice so steady.

"More than that. It's so new that it hurts yet, and it will
continue to hurt for a long time, I suppose--but to-morrow I am
going back to my hills and my valleys, back to the Midas and my
work, and try to begin all over. For a time I've wandered in
strange paths, seeking new gods, as it were, but the dazzle has
died out of my eyes and I can see true again. She isn't for me,
although I shall always love her. I'm sorry I can't forget easily,
as some do. It's hard to look ahead and take an interest in
things. But what about you? Where shall you go?"

"I don't know. It doesn't really matter--now." The dusk hid her
white, set face and she spoke monotonously. "I am going to see the
Bronco Kid. He sent for me. He's ill."

"He's not a bad sort," said Roy. "And I suppose he'll make a new
start, too."

"Perhaps," said she, gazing far out over the gloomy ocean. "It all
depends." After a moment, she added, "What a pity that we can't
all sponge off the slate and begin afresh and--forget."

"It's part of the game," said he. "I don't know why it's so, but
it is. I'll see you sometimes, won't I?"

"No, boy--I think not."

"I believe I understand," he murmured; "and perhaps it's better
so." He took her two soft hands in his one good right and kissed
them. "God bless you and keep you, dear, brave little Cherry."

She stood straight and still as he melted into the shadows, and
only the moonlight heard her pitiful sob and her hopeless whisper:

"Good-bye, my boy, my boy."

He wandered down beside the sea, for his battle was not yet won,
and until he was surer of himself he could not endure the ribaldry
and rejoicing of his fellows. A welcome lay waiting for him in
every public place, but no one there could know the mockery of it,
no one could gauge the desolation that was his.

The sand, wet, packed, and hard as a pavement, gave no sound to
his careless steps; and thus it was that he came silently upon the
one woman as she stood beside the silver surf. Had he seen her
first he would have slunk past in the landward shadows; but,
recognizing his tall form, she called and he came, while it seemed
that his lungs grew suddenly constricted, as though bound about
with steel hoops. The very pleasure of her sight pained him. He
advanced eagerly, and yet with hesitation, standing stiffly aloof
while his heart fluttered and his tongue grew dumb. At last she
saw his bandages and her manner changed abruptly. Coming closer
she touched them with caressing fingers.

"It's nothing--nothing at all," he said, while his voice jumped
out of all control. "When are you--going away?"

"I do not know--not for some time."

He had supposed she would go to-morrow with her uncle and--the
other, to be with them through their travail.

With warm impetuosity she began: "It was a noble thing you did to-
day. Oh, I am glad and proud."

"I prefer you to think of me in that way, rather than as the wild
beast you saw this morning, for I was mad, perfectly mad with
hatred and revenge, and every wild impulse that comes to a
defeated man. You see, I had played and lost, played and lost,
again and again, till there was nothing left. What mischance
brought you there? It was a terribly brutal thing, but you can't
understand."

"But I can understand. I do. I know all about it now. I know the
wild rage of desperation; I know the exultation of victory; I know
what hate and fear are now. You told me once that the wilderness
had made you a savage, and I laughed at it just as I did when you
said that my contact with big things would teach me the truth,
that we're all alike, and that those motives are in us all. I see
now that you were right and I was very simple. I learned a great
deal last night."

"I have learned much also," said he. "I wish you might teach me
more."

"I--I--don't think I could teach you any more," she hesitated.

He moved as though to speak, but held back and tore his eyes away
from her.

"Well," she inquired, gazing at him covertly.

"Once, a long time ago, I read a Lover's Petition, and ever since
knowing you I have made the constant prayer that I might be given
the purity to be worthy the good in you, and that you might be
granted the patience to reach the good in me--but it's no use. But
at least I'm glad we have met on common ground, as it were, and
that you understand, in a measure. The prayer could not be
answered; but through it I have found myself and--I have known
you. That last is worth more than a king's ransom to me. It is a
holy thing which I shall reverence always, and when you go you
will leave me lonely except for its remembrance."

"But I am not going," she said. "That is--unless--"

Something in her voice swept his gaze back from the shimmering
causeway that rippled seaward to the rising moon. It brought the
breath into his throat, and he shook as though seized by a great
fear.

"Unless--what?"

"Unless you want me to."

"Oh, God! don't play with me!" He flung out his hand as though to
stop her while his voice died out to a supplicating hoarseness. "I
can't stand that."

"Don't you see? Won't you see?" she asked. "I was waiting here for
the courage to go to you since you have made it so very hard for
me--my pagan." With which she came close to him, looking upward
into his face, smiling a little, shrinking a little, yielding yet
withholding, while the moonlight made of her eyes two bottomless,
boundless pools, dark with love, and brimming with the promise of
his dreams.

THE END




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