Story type: Literature
She went against all good judgment in marrying him; she cut herself off from her own people, from the life in which she had been an alluring and beautiful figure. Washington had never had two such seasons as those in which she moved; for the diplomatic circle who had had “the run of the world” knew her value, and were not content without her. She might have made a brilliant match with one ambassador thirty years older than herself–she was but twenty-two; and there were at least six attaches and secretaries of legation who entered upon a tournament for her heart and hand; but she was not for them. All her fine faculties of tact and fairness, of harmless strategy, and her gifts of wit and unexpected humor were needed to keep her cavaliers constant and hopeful to the last; but she never faltered, and she did not fail. The faces of old men brightened when they saw her, and one or two ancient figures who, for years, had been seldom seen at social functions now came when they knew she was to be present. There were, of course, a few women who said she would coquette with any male from nine to ninety; but no man ever said so; and there was none, from first to last, but smiled with pleasure at even the mention of her name, so had her vivacity, intelligence, and fine sympathy conquered them. She was a social artist by instinct. In their hearts they all recognized how fair and impartial she was; and she drew out of every man the best that was in him. The few women who did not like her said that she chattered; but the truth was she made other people talk by swift suggestion or delicate interrogation.
After the blow fell, Freddy Hartzman put the matter succinctly, and told the truth faithfully, when he said: “The first time I met her, I told her all I’d ever done that could be told, and all I wanted to do; including a resolve to carry her off to some desert place and set up a Kingdom of Two. I don’t know how she did it. I was like a tap, and poured myself out; and when it was all over I thought she was the best talker I’d ever heard. But yet she’d done nothing except look at me and listen, and put in a question here and there, that was like a baby asking to see your watch. Oh, she was a lily-flower, was Sally Seabrook, and I’ve never been sorry I told her all my little story! It did me good. Poor darling–it makes me sick sometimes when I think of it. Yet she’ll win out all right–a hundred to one she’ll win out. She was a star.”
Freddy Hartzman was in an embassy of repute; he knew the chancelleries and salons of many nations, and was looked upon as one of the ablest and shrewdest men in the diplomatic service. He had written one of the best books on international law in existence, he talked English like a native, he had published a volume of delightful verse, and had omitted to publish several others, including a tiny volume which Sally Seabrook’s charms had inspired him to write. His view of her was shared by most men who knew the world, and especially by the elderly men who had a real knowledge of human nature, among whom was a certain important member of the United States executive called John Appleton. When the end of all things at Washington came for Sally, these two men united to bear her up, that her feet should not stumble upon the stony path of the hard journey she had undertaken. Appleton was not a man of much speech; but his words had weight; for he was not only a minister; he came of an old family which had ruled the social destinies of a state, and had alternately controlled and disturbed its politics. On the day of the sensation, in the fiery cloud of which Sally disappeared, Appleton delivered himself of his mind in the matter at a reception given by the President.
“She will come back–and we will all take her back, be glad to have her back,” he said. “She has the grip of a lever which can lift the eternal hills with the right pressure. Leave her alone–leave her alone. This is a democratic country, and she’ll prove democracy a success before she’s done.”
The world knew that John Appleton had offered her marriage, and he had never hidden the fact. What they did not know was that she had told him what she meant to do before she did it. He had spoken to her plainly, bluntly, then with a voice that was blurred and a little broken, urging her against the course toward which she was set; but it had not availed; and, realizing that he had come upon a powerful will underneath the sunny and so human surface, he had ceased to protest, to bear down upon her mind with his own iron force. When he realized that all his reasoning was wasted, that all worldly argument was vain, he made one last attempt, a forlorn hope, as though to put upon record what he believed to be the truth.
“There is no position you cannot occupy,” he said. “You have the perfect gift in private life, and you have a public gift. You have a genius for ruling. Say, my dear, don’t wreck it all. I know you are not for me, but there are better men in the country than I am. Hartzman will be a great man one day–he wants you. Young Tilden wants you; he has millions, and he will never disgrace them or you, the power which they can command, and the power which you have. And there are others. Your people have told you they will turn you off; the world will say things–will rend you. There is nothing so popular for the moment as the fall of a favorite. But that’s nothing–it’s nothing at all compared with the danger to yourself. I didn’t sleep last night thinking of it. Yet I’m glad you wrote me; it gave me time to think, and I can tell you the truth as I see it. Haven’t you thought that he will drag you down, down, down, wear out your soul, break and sicken your life, destroy your beauty–you are beautiful, my dear, beyond what the world sees, even. Give it up–ah, give it up, and don’t break our hearts! There are too many people loving you for you to sacrifice them–and yourself, too…. You’ve had such a good time!”
“It’s been like a dream,” she interrupted, in a far-away voice–“like a dream, these two years.”
“And it’s been such a good dream,” he urged; “and you will only go to a bad one, from which you will never wake. The thing has fastened on him; he will never give it up. And penniless, too–his father has cast him off. My girl, it’s impossible. Listen to me. There’s no one on earth that would do more for you than I would–no one.”
“Dear, dear friend!” she cried, with a sudden impulse, and caught his hand in hers and kissed it before he could draw it back. “You are so true, and you think you are right. But, but”–her eyes took on a deep, steady, far-away look–“but I will save him; and we shall not be penniless in the end. Meanwhile I have seven hundred dollars a year of my own. No one can touch that. Nothing can change me now–and I have promised.”
When he saw her fixed determination, he made no further protest, but asked that he might help her, be with her the next day, when she was to take a step which the wise world would say must lead to sorrow and a miserable end.
The step she took was to marry Jim Templeton, the drunken, cast-off son of a millionaire senator from Kentucky, who controlled railways and owned a bank, and had so resented his son’s inebriate habits that for five years he had never permitted Jim’s name to be mentioned in his presence. Jim had had twenty thousand dollars left him by his mother, and a small income of three hundred dollars from an investment which had been made for him when a little boy. And this had carried him on; for, drunken as he was, he had sense enough to eke out the money, limiting himself to three thousand dollars a year. He had four thousand dollars left, and his tiny income of three hundred, when he went to Sally Seabrook, after having been sober for a month, and begged her to marry him.
Before dissipation had made him look ten years older than he was, there had been no handsomer man in all America. Even yet he had a remarkable face: long, delicate, with dark-brown eyes, as fair a forehead as man could wish, and black, waving hair, streaked with gray–gray, though he was but twenty-nine years of age.
When Sally was fifteen and he twenty-two, he had fallen in love with her and she with him; and nothing had broken the early romance. He had captured her young imagination, and had fastened his image on her heart. Her people, seeing the drift of things, had sent her to a school on the Hudson, and the two did not meet for some time. Then came a stolen interview, and a fastening of the rivets of attraction–for Jim had gifts of a wonderful kind. He knew his Horace and Anacreon and Heine and Lamartine and Dante in the originals, and a hundred others; he was a speaker of power and grace; and he had a clear, strong head for business. He was also a lawyer, and was junior attorney to his father’s great business. It was because he had the real business gift, not because he had a brilliant and scholarly mind, that his father had taken him into his concerns, and was the more unforgiving when he gave way to temptation. Otherwise, he would have pensioned Jim off, and dismissed him from his mind as a useless, insignificant person; for Horace, Anacreon, and philosophy and history were to him the recreations of the feeble-minded. He had set his heart on Jim, and what Jim could do and would do by-and-by in the vast financial concerns he controlled, when he was ready to slip out and down; but Jim had disappointed him beyond calculation.
In the early days of their association Jim had left his post and taken to drink at critical moments in their operations. At first, high words had been spoken, then there came the strife of two dissimilar natures, and both were headstrong, and each proud and unrelenting in his own way. Then, at last, had come the separation, irrevocable and painful; and Jim had flung out into the world, a drunkard, who, sober for a fortnight, or a month, or three months, would afterward go off on a spree, in which he quoted Sappho and Horace in taverns, and sang bacchanalian songs with a voice meant for the stage–a heritage from an ancestor who had sung upon the English stage a hundred years before. Even in his cups, even after his darling vice had submerged him, Jim Templeton was a man marked out from his fellows, distinguished and very handsome. Society, however, had ceased to recognize him for a long time, and he did not seek it. For two or three years he practised law now and then. He took cases, preferably criminal cases, for which very often he got no pay; but that, too, ceased at last. Now, in his quiet, sober intervals he read omnivorously, and worked out problems in physics for which he had a taste, until the old appetite surged over him again. Then his spirits rose, and he was the old brilliant talker, the joyous galliard until, in due time, he became silently and lethargically drunk.
In one of his sober intervals he had met Sally Seabrook in the street. It was the first time in four years, for he had avoided her, and though she had written to him once or twice, he had never answered her–shame was in his heart. Yet all the time the old song was in Sally’s ears. Jim Templeton had touched her in some distant and intimate corner of her nature where none other had reached; and in all her gay life, when men had told their tale of admiration in their own way, her mind had gone back to Jim, and what he had said under the magnolia-trees; and his voice had drowned all others. She was not blind to what he had become, but a deep belief possessed her that she, of all the world, could save him. She knew how futile it would look to the world, how wild a dream it looked even to her own heart, how perilous it was; but, play upon the surface of things as she had done so much and so often in her brief career, she was seized of convictions having origin, as it might seem, in something beyond herself.
So when she and Jim met in the street, the old, true thing rushed upon them both, and for a moment they stood still and looked at each other. As they might look who say farewell forever, so did each dwell upon the other’s face. That was the beginning of the new epoch. A few days more, and Jim came to her and said that she alone could save him; and she meant him to say it, had led him to the saying, for the same conviction was burned deep in her own soul. She knew the awful risk she was taking, that the step must mean social ostracism, and that her own people would be no kinder to her than society; but she gasped a prayer, smiled at Jim as though all were well, laid her plans, made him promise her one thing on his knees, and took the plunge.
Her people did as she expected. She was threatened with banishment from heart and home–with disinheritance; but she pursued her course; and the only person who stood with her and Jim at the altar was John Appleton, who would not be denied, and who had such a half-hour with Jim before the ceremony as neither of them forgot in the years that the locust ate thereafter. And, standing at the altar, Jim’s eyes were still wet, with new resolves in his heart and a being at his side meant for the best man in the world. As he knelt beside her, awaiting the benediction, a sudden sense of the enormity of this act came upon him, and for her sake he would have drawn back then, had it not been too late. He realized that it was a crime to put this young, beautiful life in peril; that his own life was a poor, contemptible thing, and that he had been possessed of the egotism of the selfish and the young.
But the thing was done, and a new life was begun. Before they were launched upon it, however, before society had fully grasped the sensation, or they had left upon their journey to northern Canada, where Sally intended they should work out their problem and make their home, far and free from all old associations, a curious thing happened. Jim’s father sent an urgent message to Sally to come to him. When she came, he told her she was mad, and asked her why she had thrown her life away.
“Why have you done it?” he said. “You–you knew all about him; you might have married the best man in the country. You could rule a kingdom; you have beauty and power, and make people do what you want; and you’ve got a sot.”
“He is your son,” she answered, quietly.
She looked so beautiful and so fine as she stood there, fearless and challenging before him, that he was moved. But he would not show it.
“He was my son–when he was a man,” he retorted grimly.
“He is the son of the woman you once loved,” she answered.
The old man turned his head away.
“What would she have said to what you did to Jim?”
He drew himself around sharply. Her dagger had gone home, but he would not let her know it.
“Leave her out of the question–she was a saint,” he said, roughly.
“She cannot be left out; nor can you. He got his temperament naturally; he inherited his weakness. From your grandfather, from her father. Do you think you are in no way responsible?”
He was silent for a moment, but then said, stubbornly: “Why–why have you done it? What’s between him and me can’t be helped; we are father and son; but you–you had no call, no responsibility.”
“I love Jim. I always loved him, ever since I can remember, as you did. I see my way ahead. I will not desert him. No one cares what happens to him, no one but me. Your love wouldn’t stand the test; mine will.”
“Your folks have disinherited you–you have almost nothing, and I will not change my mind. What do you see ahead of you?”
“Jim–only Jim–and God.”
Her eyes were shining, her hands were clasped together at her side in the tenseness of her feeling, her indomitable spirit spoke in her face.
Suddenly the old man brought his fist down on the table with a bang. “It’s a crime–oh, it’s a crime, to risk your life so! You ought to have been locked up. I’d have done it.”
“Listen to me,” she rejoined, quietly. “I know the risk. But do you think that I could have lived my life out, feeling that I might have saved Jim and didn’t try? You talk of beauty and power and ruling–you say what others have said to me. Which is the greater thing, to get what pleases one, or to work for something which is more to one than all else in the world? To save one life, one intellect, one great man–oh, he has the making of a great man in him!–to save a soul, would not life be well lost, would not love be well spent, in doing it?”
“Love’s labor lost,” said the old man, slowly, cynically, but not without emotion.
“I have ambition,” she continued. “No girl was ever more ambitious, but my ambition is to make the most and best of myself. Place?–Jim and I will hold it yet. Power?–it shall be as it must be; but Jim and I will work for it to fulfil ourselves. For me–ah, if I can save him–and I mean to do so!–do you think that I would not then have my heaven on earth? You want money–money–money, power, and to rule; and these are to you the best things in the world. I make my choice differently, though I would have these other things if I could; and I hope I shall. But Jim first–Jim first, your son, Jim–my husband, Jim!”
The old man got to his feet slowly. She had him at bay. “But you are great,” he said, “great! It is an awful stake–awful! Yet, if you win, you’ll have what money can’t buy. And listen to me. We’ll make the stake bigger. It will give it point, too, in another way. If you keep Jim sober for four years from the day of your marriage, on the last day of that four years I’ll put in your hands for you and him, or for your child–if you have one–five millions of dollars. I am a man of my word. While Jim drinks I won’t take him back; he’s disinherited. I’ll give him nothing now or hereafter. Save him for four years–if he can do that he will do all–and there’s five millions as sure as the sun’s in heaven. Amen and amen.”
He opened the door. There was a strange, soft light in her eyes as she came to go.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” she said, looking at him whimsically.
He was disconcerted. She did not wait, but reached up and kissed him on the cheek. “Good-bye,” she said, with a smile. “We’ll win the stake. Good-bye.”
An instant and she was gone. He shut the door, then turned and looked in a mirror on the wall. Abstractedly he touched the cheek she had kissed. Suddenly a change passed over his face. He dropped in a chair, and his fist struck the table as he said: “By God, she may do it, she may do it! But it’s life and death–it’s life and death.”
Society had its sensation, and then the veil dropped. For a long time none looked behind it except Jim’s father. He had too much at stake not to have his telescope upon them. A detective followed them to keep Jim’s record. But this they did not know.
From the day they left Washington Jim put his life and his fate in his wife’s hands. He meant to follow her judgment, and, self-willed and strong in intellect as he was, he said that she should have a fair chance of fulfilling her purpose. There had been many pour parlers as to what Jim should do. There was farming. She set that aside, because it meant capital, and it also meant monotony and loneliness; and capital was limited, and monotony and loneliness were bad for Jim, deadening an active brain which must not be deprived of stimulants–stimulants of a different sort, however, from those which had heretofore mastered it. There was the law. But Jim would have to become a citizen of Canada, change his flag, and where they meant to go–to the outskirts–there would be few opportunities for the law; and with not enough to do there would be danger. Railway construction? That seemed good in many ways, but Jim had not the professional knowledge necessary; his railway experience with his father had only been financial. Above all else he must have responsibility, discipline, and strict order in his life.
“Something that will be good for my natural vanity, and knock the nonsense out of me,” Jim agreed, as they drew farther and farther away from Washington and the past, and nearer and nearer to the Far North and their future. Never did two more honest souls put their hands in each other’s, and set forth upon the thorniest path to a goal which was their heart’s desire. Since they had become one, there had come into Sally’s face that illumination which belongs only to souls possessed of an idea greater than themselves, outside themselves–saints, patriots; faces which have been washed in the salt tears dropped for others’ sorrows and lighted by the fire of self-sacrifice. Sally Seabrook, the high-spirited, the radiant, the sweetly wilful, the provoking, to concentrate herself upon this narrow theme–to reconquer the lost paradise of one vexed mortal soul!
What did Jim’s life mean? It was only one in the millions coming and going, and every man must work out his own salvation. Why should she cramp her soul to this one issue, when the same soul could spend itself upon the greater motives and in the larger circle? A wide world of influence had opened up before her; position, power, adulation, could all have been hers, as John Appleton and Jim’s father had said. She might have moved in well-trodden ways, through gardens of pleasure, lived a life where all would be made easy, where she would be shielded at every turn, and her beauty would be flattered by luxury into a constant glow. She was not so primitive, so unintellectual, as not to have thought of this, else her decision would have had less importance; she would have been no more than an infatuated, emotional woman with a touch of second-class drama in her nature. She had thought of it all, and she had made her choice. The easier course was the course for meaner souls, and she had not one vein of thin blood nor a small idea in her whole nature. She had a heart and mind for great issues. She believed that Jim had a great brain, and would and could accomplish great things. She knew that he had in him the strain of hereditary instinct–his mother’s father had ended a brief life in a drunken duel on the Mississippi, and Jim’s boyhood had never had discipline or direction, or any strenuous order. He might never acquire order, and the power that order and habit and the daily iteration of necessary thoughts and acts bring; but the prospect did not appal her. She had taken the risk with her eyes wide open; had set her own life and happiness in the hazard. But Jim must be saved, must be what his talents, his genius, entitled him to be. And the long game must have the long thought.
So, as they drew into the great Saskatchewan Valley, her hand in his, and hope in his eyes, and such a look of confidence and pride in her as brought back his old, strong beauty of face and smoothed the careworn lines of self-indulgence, she gave him his course: as a private he must join the North-West Mounted Police, the red-coated riders of the plains, and work his way up through every stage of responsibility, beginning at the foot of the ladder of humbleness and self-control. She believed that he would agree with her proposal; but her hands clasped his a little more firmly and solicitously–there was a faint, womanly fear at her heart–as she asked him if he would do it. The life meant more than occasional separation; it meant that there would be periods when she would not be with him; and there was great danger in that; but she knew that the risks must be taken, and he must not be wholly reliant on her presence for his moral strength.
His face fell for a moment when she made the suggestion, but it cleared presently, and he said, with a dry laugh: “Well, I guess they must make me a sergeant pretty quick. I’m a colonel in the Kentucky Carbineers!”
She laughed, too; then a moment afterward, womanlike, wondered if she was right, and was a little frightened. But that was only because she was not self-opinionated, and was anxious, more anxious than any woman in all the North.
It happened as Jim said; he was made a sergeant at once–Sally managed that; for, when it came to the point, she saw the conditions in which the privates lived, and realized that Jim must be one of them, and clean out the stables, and groom his horse and the officers’ horses, and fetch and carry, her heart failed her, and she thought that she was making her remedy needlessly heroical. So, she went to see the commissioner, who was on a tour of scrutiny on their arrival at the post, and, as better men than he had done in more knowing circles, he fell under her spell. If she had asked for a lieutenancy, he would probably have corrupted some member of Parliament into securing it for Jim.
But Jim was made a sergeant, and the commissioner and the captain of the troop kept their eyes on him. So did other members of the troop who did not quite know their man, and attempted, figuratively, to pinch him here and there. They found that his actions were greater than his words, and both were in perfect harmony in the end, though his words often seemed pointless to their minds, until they understood that they had conveyed truths through a medium more like a heliograph than a telephone. By-and-by they began to understand his heliographing, and, when they did that, they began to swear by him, not at him.
In time it was found that the troop never had a better disciplinarian than Jim. He knew when to shut his eyes, and when to keep them open. To non-essentials he kept his eyes shut; to essentials he kept them very wide open. There were some men of good birth from England and elsewhere among them, and these mostly understood him first. But they all understood Sally from the beginning, and after a little they were glad enough to be permitted to come, on occasion, to the five-roomed little house near the barracks, and hear her talk, then answer her questions, and, as men had done at Washington, open out their hearts to her. They noticed, however, that while she made them barley-water, and all kinds of soft drinks from citric acid, sarsaparilla, and the like, and had one special drink of her own invention, which she called cream-nectar, no spirits were to be had. They also noticed that Jim never drank a drop of liquor, and by-and-by, one way or another, they got a glimmer of the real truth, before it became known who he really was or anything of his story. And the interest in the two, and in Jim’s reformation, spread through the country, while Jim gained reputation as the smartest man in the force.
They were on the outskirts of civilization–as Jim used to say, “One step ahead of the procession.” Jim’s duty was to guard the columns of settlement and progress, and to see that every man got his own rights and not more than his rights; that justice should be the plumb-line of march and settlement. His principle was embodied in certain words which he quoted once to Sally from the prophet Amos–“And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumb-line.”
On the day that Jim became a lieutenant his family increased by one. It was a girl, and they called her Nancy, after Jim’s mother. It was the anniversary of their marriage, and, so far, Jim had won, with what fightings and strugglings and wrestlings of the spirit only Sally and himself knew. And she knew as well as he, and always saw the storm coming before it broke–a restlessness, then a moodiness, then a hungry, eager, helpless look, and afterward an agony of longing, a feverish desire to break away and get the thrilling thing which would still the demon within him.
There had been moments when his doom seemed certain–he knew and she knew that if he once got drunk again he would fall never to rise. On one occasion, after a hard, long, hungry ride, he was half-mad with desire, but even as he seized the flask that was offered to him by his only enemy, the captain of B Troop, at the next station eastward, there came a sudden call to duty, two hundred Indians having gone upon the war-path. It saved him, it broke the spell. He had to mount and away, with the antidote and stimulant of responsibility driving him on.
Another occasion was equally perilous to his safety. They had been idle for days in a hot week in summer, waiting for orders to return from the rail-head where they had gone to quell a riot, and where drink and hilarity were common. Suddenly–more suddenly than it had ever come, the demon of his thirst had Jim by the throat. Sergeant Sewell, of the gray-stubble head, who loved him more than his sour heart had loved anybody in all his life, was holding himself ready for the physical assault he must make upon his superior officer if he raised a glass to his lips, when salvation came once again. An accident had occurred far down on the railway line, and the operator of the telegraph-office had that very day been stricken down with pleurisy and pneumonia. In despair the manager had sent to Jim, eagerly hoping that he might help them, for the Riders of the Plains were a sort of court of appeal for every trouble in the Far North.
Instantly Jim was in the saddle with his troop. Out of curiosity he had learned telegraphy when a boy, as he had learned many things, and, arrived at the scene of the accident, he sent messages and received them–by sound, not on paper as did the official operator, to the amazement and pride of the troop. Then, between caring for the injured in the accident, against the coming of the relief train, and nursing the sick operator through the dark moments of his dangerous illness, he passed a crisis of his own disease triumphantly; but not the last crisis.
So the first and so the second and third years passed in safety.
“Please, I want to go, too, Jim.”
Jim swung round and caught the child up in his arms.
“Say, how dare you call your father Jim–eh, tell me that?”
“It’s what mummy calls you–it’s pretty.”
“I don’t call her ‘mummy’ because you do, and you mustn’t call me Jim because she does–do you hear?”
The whimsical face lowered a little, then the rare and beautiful dark blue eyes raised slowly, shaded by the long lashes, and the voice said, demurely, “Yes–Jim.”
“Nancy–Nancy,” said a voice from the corner in reproof, mingled with suppressed laughter. “Nancy, you mustn’t be saucy. You must say ‘father’ to–“
“Yes, mummy. I’ll say father to–Jim.”
“You imp–you imp of delight,” said Jim, as he strained the dainty little lass to his breast, while she appeared interested in a wave of his black hair, which she curled around her finger.
Sally came forward with the little parcel of sandwiches she had been preparing, and put them in the saddlebags lying on a chair at the door, in readiness for the journey Jim was about to make. Her eyes were glistening, and her face had a heightened color. The three years which had passed since she married had touched her not at all to her disadvantage, rather to her profit. She looked not an hour older; motherhood had only added to her charm, lending it a delightful gravity. The prairie life had given a shining quality to her handsomeness, an air of depth and firmness, an exquisite health and clearness to the color in her cheeks. Her step was as light as Nancy’s, elastic and buoyant–a gliding motion which gave a sinuous grace to the movements of her body. There had also come into her eyes a vigilance such as deaf people possess, a sensitive observation imparting a deeper intelligence to the face.
Here was the only chance by which you could guess the story of her life. Her eyes were like the ears of an anxious mother who can never sleep till every child is abed; whose sense is quick to hear the faintest footstep without or within; and who, as years go on, and her children grow older and older, must still lie awake hearkening for the late footstep on the stair. In Sally’s eyes was the story of the past three years: of love and temptation and struggle, of watchfulness and yearning and anxiety, of determination and an inviolable hope. Her eyes had a deeper look than that in Jim’s. Now, as she gazed at him, the maternal spirit rose up from the great well of protectiveness in her and engulfed both husband and child. There was always something of the maternal in her eyes when she looked at Jim. He did not see it–he saw only the wonderful blue, and the humor which had helped him over such difficult places these past three years. In steadying and strengthening Jim’s will, in developing him from his Southern indolence into Northern industry and sense of responsibility, John Appleton’s warnings had rung in Sally’s ears, and Freddy Hartzman’s forceful and high-minded personality had passed before her eyes with an appeal powerful and stimulating; but always she came to the same upland of serene faith and white-hearted resolve; and Jim became dearer and dearer.
The baby had done much to brace her faith in the future and comfort her anxious present. The child had intelligence of a rare order. She would lie by the half-hour on the floor, turning over the leaves of a book without pictures, and, before she could speak, would read from the pages in a language all her own. She made a fairy world for herself, peopled by characters to whom she gave names, to whom she assigned curious attributes and qualities. They were as real to her as though flesh and blood, and she was never lonely, and never cried; and she had buried herself in her father’s heart. She had drawn to her the roughest men in the troop, and for old Sewell, the grim sergeant, she had a specially warm place.
“You can love me if you like,” she had said to him at the very start, with the egotism of childhood; but made haste to add, “because I love you, Gri-Gri.” She called him Gri-Gri from the first, but they knew only long afterward that “gri-gri” meant “gray-gray,” to signify that she called him after his grizzled hairs.
What she had been in the life-history of Sally and Jim they both knew. Jim regarded her with an almost superstitious feeling. Sally was his strength, his support, his inspiration, his bulwark of defence; Nancy was the charm he wore about his neck–his mascot, he called her. Once, when she was ill, he had suffered as he had never done before in his life. He could not sleep nor eat, and went about his duties like one in a dream. When his struggles against his enemy were fiercest, he kept saying over her name to himself, as though she could help him. Yet always it was Sally’s hand he held in the darkest hours, in his brutal moments; for in this fight between appetite and will there are moments when only the animal seems to exist, and the soul disappears in the glare and gloom of the primal emotions. Nancy he called his “lucky sixpence,” but he called Sally his “guinea-girl.”
From first to last his whimsicality never deserted him. In his worst hours, some innate optimism and humor held him steady in his fight. It was not depression that possessed him at the worst, but the violence of an appetite most like a raging pain which men may endure with a smile upon their lips. He carried in his face the story of a conflict, the aftermath of bitter experience; and through all there pulsed the glow of experience. He had grown handsomer, and the graceful decision of his figure, the deliberate certainty of every action, heightened the force of a singular personality. As in the eyes of Sally, in his eyes was a long, reflective look which told of things overcome, and yet of dangers present. His lips smiled often, but the eyes said: “I have lived, I have seen, I have suffered, and I must suffer more. I have loved, I have been loved under the shadow of the sword. Happiness I have had, and golden hours, but not peace–never peace. My soul has need of peace.”
In the greater, deeper experience of their lives, the more material side of existence had grown less and less to them. Their home was a model of simple comfort and some luxury, though Jim had insisted that Sally’s income should not be spent, except upon the child, and should be saved for the child, their home being kept on his pay and on the tiny income left by his mother. With the help of an Indian girl, and a half-breed for out-door work and fires and gardening, Sally had cared for the house herself. Ingenious and tasteful, with a gift for cooking and an educated hand, she had made her little home as pretty as their few possessions would permit. Refinement covered all, and three or four score books were like so many friends to comfort her when Jim was away; like kind and genial neighbors when he was at home. From Browning she had written down in her long, sliding handwriting, and hung up beneath Jim’s looking-glass, the heartening and inspiring words:
“One who never turned his back, but marched breast
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.”
They had lived above the sordid, and there was something in the nature of Jim’s life to help them to it. He belonged to a small handful of men who had control over an empire, with an individual responsibility and influence not contained in the scope of their commissions. It was a matter of moral force and character, and of uniform, symbolical only of the great power behind; of the long arm of the State; of the insistence of the law, which did not rely upon force alone, but on the certainty of its administration. In such conditions the smallest brain was bound to expand, to take on qualities of judgment and temperateness which would never be developed in ordinary circumstances. In the case of Jim Templeton, who needed no stimulant to his intellect, but rather a steadying quality, a sense of proportion, the daily routine, the command of men, the diverse nature of his duties, half civil, half military, the personal appeals made on all sides by the people of the country for advice, for help, for settlement of disputes, for information which his well-instructed mind could give–all these modified the romantic brilliance of his intellect, made it and himself more human.
It had not come to him all at once. His intellect at first stood in his way. His love of paradox, his deep observation, his insight–all made him inherently satirical, though not cruelly so; but satire had become pure whimsicality at last; and he came to see that, on the whole, the world was imperfect, but also, on the whole, was moving toward perfection rather than imperfection. He grew to realize that what seemed so often weakness in men was tendency and idiosyncrasy rather than evil. And in the end he thought better of himself as he came to think better of all others. For he had thought less of all the world because he had thought so little of himself. He had overestimated his own faults, had made them into crimes in his own eyes, and, observing things in others of similar import, had become almost a cynic in intellect, while in heart he had remained a boy.
In all that he had changed a great deal. His heart was still the heart of a boy, but his intellect had sobered, softened, ripened–even in this secluded and seemingly unimportant life; as Sally had said and hoped it would. Sally’s conviction had been right. But the triumph was not yet achieved. She knew it. On occasion the tones of his voice told her, the look that came into his eyes proclaimed it to her, his feverishness and restlessness made it certain. How many a night had she thrown her arm over his shoulder, and sought his hand and held it while in the dark silence, wide-eyed, dry-lipped, and with a throat like fire he had held himself back from falling. There was liquor in the house–the fight would not have been a fight without it. She had determined that he should see his enemy and meet him in the plains and face him down; and he was never many feet away from his possible disaster. Yet for long over three years all had gone well. There was another year. Would he last out the course?
At first the thought of the great stake for which she was playing in terms of currency, with the head of Jim’s father on every note, was much with her. The amazing nature of the offer of five millions of dollars stimulated her imagination, roused her; gold coins are counters in the game of success, signs and tokens. Money alone could not have lured her; but rather what it represented–power, width of action, freedom to help when the heart prompted, machinery for carrying out large plans, ability to surround with advantage those whom we love. So, at first, while yet the memories of Washington were much with her, the appeal of the millions was strong. The gallant nature of the contest and the great stake braced her; she felt the blood quicken in her pulse.
But, all through, the other thing really mastered her: the fixed idea that Jim must be saved. As it deepened, the other life that she had lived became like the sports in which we shared when children, full of vivacious memory, shining with impulse and the stir of life, but not to be repeated–days and deeds outgrown. So the light of one idea shone in her face. Yet she was intensely human too; and if her eyes had not been set on the greater glory, the other thought might have vulgarized her mind, made her end and goal sordid–the descent of a nature rather than its ascension.
When Nancy came, the lesser idea, the stake, took on a new importance, for now it seemed to her that it was her duty to secure for the child its rightful heritage. Then Jim, too, appeared in a new light, as one who could never fulfil himself unless working through the natural channels of his birth, inheritance, and upbringing. Jim, drunken and unreliable, with broken will and fighting to find himself–the waste places were for him, until he was the master of his will and emotions. Once, however, secure in ability to control himself, with cleansed brain and purpose defined, the widest field would be still be too narrow for his talents–and the five, yes, the fifty millions of his father must be his.
She had never repented having married Jim; but twice in those three years she had broken down and wept as though her heart would break. There were times when Jim’s nerves were shaken in his struggle against the unseen foe, and he had spoken to her querulously, almost sharply. Yet in her tears there was no reproach for him, rather for herself–the fear that she might lose her influence over him, that she could not keep him close to her heart, that he might drift away from her in the commonplaces and monotony of work and domestic life. Everything so depended on her being to him not only the one woman for whom he cared, but the woman without whom he could care for nothing else.
“O, my God, give me his love,” she had prayed. “Let me keep it yet a little while. For his sake, not for my own, let me have the power to hold his love. Make my mind always quiet, and let me blow neither hot nor cold. Help me to keep my temper sweet and cheerful, so that he will find the room empty where I am not, and his footsteps will quicken when he comes to the door. Not for my sake, dear God, but for his, or my heart will break–it will break unless Thou dost help me to hold him. O Lord, keep me from tears; make my face happy that I may be goodly to his eyes, and forgive the selfishness of a poor woman who has little, and would keep her little and cherish it, for Christ’s sake.”
Twice had she poured out her heart so, in the agony of her fear that she should lose favor in Jim’s sight–she did not know how alluring she was, in spite of the constant proofs offered her. She had had her will with all who came her way, from Governor to Indian brave. Once, in a journey they had made far north, soon after they came, she had stayed at a Hudson Bay Company’s post for some days, while there came news of restlessness among the Indians, because of lack of food, and Jim had gone farther north to steady the tribes, leaving her with the factor and his wife and a half-breed servant.
While she and the factor’s wife were alone in the yard of the post one day, an Indian chief, Arrowhead, in war-paint and feathers, entered suddenly, brandishing a long knife. He had been drinking, and there was danger in his black eyes. With a sudden inspiration she came forward quickly, nodded and smiled to him, and then pointed to a grindstone standing in the corner of the yard. As she did so, she saw Indians crowding into the gate armed with knives, guns, bows, and arrows. She beckoned to Arrowhead, and he followed her to the grindstone. She poured some water on the wheel and began to turn it, nodding at the now impassive Indian to begin. Presently he nodded also, and put his knife on the stone. She kept turning steadily, singing to herself the while, as with anxiety she saw the Indians drawing closer and closer in from the gate. Faster and faster she turned, and at last the Indian lifted his knife from the stone. She reached out her hand with simulated interest, felt the edge with her thumb, the Indian looking darkly at her the while. Presently, after feeling the edge himself, he bent over the stone again, and she went on turning the wheel, still singing softly. At last he stopped again and felt the edge. With a smile which showed her fine, white teeth, she said, “Is that for me?” making a significant sign across her throat at the same time.
The old Indian looked at her grimly, then slowly shook his head in negation.
“I go hunt Yellow Hawk to-night,” he said. “I go fight; I like marry you when I come back. How!” he said, and turned away toward the gate.
Some of his braves held back, the blackness of death in their looks. He saw. “My knife is sharp,” he said. “The woman is brave. She shall live–go and fight Yellow Hawk, or starve and die.”
Divining their misery, their hunger, and the savage thought that had come to them, Sally had whispered to the factor’s wife to bring food, and the woman now came running out with two baskets full, and returned for more. Sally ran forward among the Indians and put the food into their hands. With grunts of satisfaction they seized what she gave, and thrust it into their mouths, squatting on the ground. Arrowhead looked on stern and immobile, but when at last she and the factor’s wife sat down before the braves with confidence and an air of friendliness, he sat down also; yet, famished as he was, he would not touch the food. At last Sally, realizing his proud defiance of hunger, offered him a little lump of pemmican and a biscuit, and with a grunt he took it from her hands and ate it. Then, at his command, a fire was lit, the pipe of peace was brought out, and Sally and the factor’s wife touched their lips to it, and passed it on.
So was a new treaty of peace and loyalty made with Arrowhead and his tribe by a woman without fear, whose life had seemed not worth a minute’s purchase; and, as the sun went down, Arrowhead and his men went forth to make war upon Yellow Hawk beside the Nettigon River. In this wise had her influence spread in the land.
* * * * *
Standing now with the child in his arms and his wife looking at him with a shining moisture of the eyes, Jim laughed outright. There came upon him a sudden sense of power, of aggressive force–the will to do. Sally understood, and came and laughingly grasped his arm.
“Oh, Jim,” she said, playfully, “you are getting muscles like steel. You hadn’t these when you were colonel of the Kentucky Carbineers!”
“I guess I need them now,” he said, smiling, and with the child still in his arms drew her to a window looking northward. As far as the eye could see, nothing but snow, like a blanket spread over the land. Here and there in the wide expanse a tree silhouetted against the sky, a tracery of eccentric beauty, and off in the far distance a solitary horseman riding toward the post–riding hard.
“It was root, hog, or die with me, Sally,” he continued, “and I rooted…. I wonder–that fellow on the horse–I have a feeling about him. See, he’s been riding hard and long–you can tell by the way the horse drops his legs. He sags a bit himself…. But isn’t it beautiful, all that out there–the real quintessence of life.”
The air was full of delicate particles of frost on which the sun sparkled, and though there was neither bird nor insect, nor animal, nor stir of leaf, nor swaying branch or waving grass, life palpitated in the air, energy sang its song in the footstep that crunched the frosty ground, that broke the crusted snow; it was in the delicate wind that stirred the flag by the barracks away to the left; hope smiled in the wide prospect over which the thrilling, bracing air trembled. Sally had chosen right.
“You had a big thought when you brought me here, guinea-girl,” he added, presently. “We are going to win out here”–he set the child down–“you and I and this lucky sixpence.” He took up his short fur coat. “Yes, we’ll win, honey.” Then, with a brooding look in his face, he added:
“‘The end comes as came the beginning,
And shadows fail into the past;
And the goal, is it not worth the winning,
If it brings us but home at the last?
While far through the pain of waste places
We tread, ’tis a blossoming rod
That drives us to grace from disgraces,
From the fens to the gardens of God!’”
He paused reflectively. “It’s strange that this life up here makes you feel that you must live a bigger life still, that this is only the wide porch to the great labor-house–it makes you want to do things. Well, we’ve got to win the stake first,” he added, with a laugh.
“The stake is a big one, Jim–bigger than you think.”
“You and her and me–me that was in the gutter.”
“What is the gutter, dadsie?” asked Nancy.
“The gutter–the gutter is where the dish-water goes, midget,” he answered, with a dry laugh.
“Oh, I don’t think you’d like to be in the gutter,” Nancy said, solemnly.
“You have to get used to it first, miss,” answered Jim. Suddenly Sally laid both hands on Jim’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “You must win the stake, Jim. Think–now!”
She laid a hand on the head of the child. He did not know that he was playing for a certain five millions, perhaps fifty millions, of dollars. She had never told him of his father’s offer. He was fighting only for salvation, for those he loved, for freedom. As they stood there, the conviction had come upon her that they had come to the last battle-field, that this journey which Jim now must take would decide all, would give them perfect peace or lifelong pain. The shadow of battle was over them, but he had no foreboding, no premonition; he had never been so full of spirits and life.
To her adjuration Jim replied by burying his face in her golden hair, and he whispered: “Say, I’ve done near four years, my girl. I think I’m all right now–I think. This last six months, it’s been easy–pretty fairly easy.”
“Four months more, only four months more–God be good to us!” she said, with a little gasp.
If he held out for four months more, the first great stage in their life-journey would be passed, the stake won.
“I saw a woman get an awful fall once,” Jim said, suddenly. “Her bones were broken in twelve places, and there wasn’t a spot on her body without injury. They set and fixed up every broken bone except one. It was split down. They didn’t dare perform the operation; she couldn’t stand it. There was a limit to pain, and she had reached the boundary. Two years went by, and she got better every way, but inside her leg those broken pieces of bone were rubbing against each other. She tried to avoid the inevitable operation, but Nature said, ‘You must do it, or die in the end.’ She yielded. Then came the long preparations for the operation. Her heart shrank, her mind got tortured. She’d suffered too much. She pulled herself together, and said, ‘I must conquer this shrinking body of mine by my will. How shall I do it?’ Something within her said, ‘Think and do for others. Forget yourself.’ And so, as they got her ready for her torture, she visited hospitals, agonized cripple as she was, and smiled and talked to the sick and broken, telling them of her own miseries endured and dangers faced, of the boundary of human suffering almost passed; and so she got her courage for her own trial. And she came out all right in the end. Well, that’s the way I’ve felt sometimes. But I’m ready for my operation now whenever it comes, and it’s coming, I know. Let it come when it must.” He smiled.
There came a knock at the door, and presently Sewell entered. “The Commissioner wishes you to come over, sir,” he said.
“I was just coming, Sewell. Is all ready for the start?”
“Everything’s ready, sir, but there’s to be a change of orders. Something’s happened–a bad job up in the Cree country, I think.”
A few minutes later Jim was in the Commissioner’s office. The murder of a Hudson’s Bay Company’s man had been committed in the Cree country. The stranger whom Jim and Sally had seen riding across the plains had brought the news for thirty miles, word of the murder having been carried from point to point. The Commissioner was uncertain what to do, as the Crees were restless through want of food and the absence of game, and a force sent to capture Arrowhead, the chief who had committed the murder, might precipitate trouble. Jim solved the problem by offering to go alone and bring the chief into the post. It was two hundred miles to the Cree encampment, and the journey had its double dangers.
Another officer was sent on the expedition for which Jim had been preparing, and he made ready to go upon his lonely duty. His wife did not know till three days after he had gone what the nature of his mission was.
Jim made his journey in good weather with his faithful dogs alone, and came into the camp of the Crees armed with only a revolver. If he had gone with ten men, there would have been an instant melee, in which he would have lost his life. This is what the chief had expected, had prepared for; but Jim was more formidable alone, with power far behind him which could come with force and destroy the tribe, if resistance was offered, than with fifty men. His tongue had a gift of terse and picturesque speech, powerful with a people who had the gift of imagination. With five hundred men ready to turn him loose in the plains without dogs or food, he carried himself with a watchful coolness and complacent determination which got home to their minds with great force.
For hours the struggle for the murderer went on, a struggle of mind over inferior mind and matter.
Arrowhead was a chief whose will had never been crossed by his own people, and to master that will by a superior will, to hold back the destructive force which, to the ignorant minds of the braves, was only a natural force of defence, meant a task needing more than authority behind it. For the very fear of that authority put in motion was an incentive to present resistance–to stave off the day of trouble. The faces that surrounded Jim were thin with hunger, and the murder that had been committed by the chief had, as its origin, the foolish replies of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s man to their demand for supplies. Arrowhead had killed him with his own hand.
But Jim Templeton was of a different calibre. Although he had not been told it, he realized that, indirectly, hunger was the cause of the crime and might easily become the cause of another; for their tempers were sharper even than their appetites. Upon this he played; upon this he made an exhortation to the chief. He assumed that Arrowhead had become violent because of his people’s straits, that Arrowhead’s heart yearned for his people and would make sacrifice for them. Now, if Arrowhead came quietly, he would see that supplies of food were sent at once, and that arrangements were made to meet the misery of their situation. Therefore, if Arrowhead came freely, he would have so much in his favor before his judges; if he would not come quietly, then he must be brought by force; and if they raised a hand to prevent it, then destruction would fall upon all–all save the women and children. The law must be obeyed. They might try to resist the law through him, but, if violence was shown, he would first kill Arrowhead, and then destruction would descend like a wind out of the north, darkness would swallow them, and their bones would cover the plains.
As he ended his words a young brave sprang forward with hatchet raised. Jim’s revolver slipped down into his palm from his sleeve, and a bullet caught the brave in the lifted arm. The hatchet dropped to the ground.
Then Jim’s eyes blazed, and he turned a look of anger on the chief, his face pale and hard, as he said: “The stream rises above the banks; come with me, chief, or all will drown. I am master, and I speak. Ye are hungry because ye are idle. Ye call the world yours, yet ye will not stoop to gather from the earth the fruits of the earth. Ye sit idle in the summer, and women and children die round you when winter comes. Because the game is gone, ye say. Must the world stand still because a handful of Crees need a hunting-ground? Must the makers of cities and the wonders of the earth, who fill the land with plenty–must they stand far off, because the Crees and their chief would wander over a million acres, for each man a million, when by a hundred–ay, by ten–each white man would live in plenty and make the land rejoice? See! Here is the truth. When the Great Spirit draws the game away so that the hunting is poor, ye sit down and fill your hearts with murder, and in the blackness of your thoughts kill my brother. Idle and shiftless and evil ye are, while the earth cries out to give you of its plenty, a great harvest from a little seed, if ye will but dig and plant, and plough and sow and reap, and lend your backs to toil. Now hear and heed. The end is come. For this once ye shall be fed–by the blood of my heart, ye shall be fed! And another year ye shall labor, and get the fruits of your labor, and not stand waiting, as it were, till a fish shall pass the spear or a stag water at your door, that ye may slay and eat. The end is come, ye idle men. O chief, hearken! One of your braves would have slain me, even as you slew my brother–he one, and you a thousand. Speak to your people as I have spoken, and then come and answer for the deed done by your hand. And this I say that right shall be done between men and men. Speak.”
Jim had made his great effort, and not without avail. Arrowhead rose slowly, the cloud gone out of his face, and spoke to his people, bidding them wait in peace until food came, and appointing his son chief in his stead until his return.
“The white man speaks truth, and I will go,” he said. “I shall return,” he continued, “if it be written so upon the leaves of the Tree of Life; and if it be not so written, I shall fade like a mist, and the tepees will know me not again. The days of my youth are spent, and my step no longer springs from the ground. I shuffle among the grass and the fallen leaves, and my eyes scarce know the stag from the doe. The white man is master–if he wills it we shall die; if he wills it we shall live. And this was ever so. It is in the tale of our people. One tribe ruled, and the others were their slaves. If it is written on the leaves of the Tree of Life that the white man rule us forever, then it shall be so, I have spoken. Now, behold, I go.”
Jim had conquered, and together they sped away with the dogs through the sweet-smelling spruce woods where every branch carried a cloth of white, and the only sound heard was the swish of a blanket of snow as it fell to the ground from the wide webs of green, or a twig snapped under the load it bore. Peace brooded in the silent and comforting forest, and Jim and Arrowhead, the Indian ever ahead, swung along, mile after mile, on their snow-shoes, emerging at last upon the wide, white prairie.
* * * * *
A hundred miles of sun and fair weather, sleeping at night in the open in a trench dug in the snow, no fear in the thoughts of Jim, nor evil in the heart of the heathen man. There had been moments of watchfulness, of uncertainty, on Jim’s part, the first few hours of the first night after they left the Cree reservation; but the conviction speedily came to Jim that all was well; for the chief slept soundly from the moment he lay down in his blankets between the dogs. Then Jim went to sleep as in his own bed, and, waking, found Arrowhead lighting a fire from a little load of sticks from the sledges. And between murderer and captor there sprang up the companionship of the open road which brings all men to a certain land of faith and understanding, unless they are perverted and vile. There was no vileness in Arrowhead. There were no handcuffs on his hands, no sign of captivity; they two ate out of the same dish, drank from the same basin, broke from the same bread. The crime of Arrowhead, the gallows waiting for him, seemed very far away. They were only two silent travellers, sharing the same hardship, helping to give material comfort to each other–in the inevitable democracy of those far places, where small things are not great nor great things small; where into men’s hearts comes the knowledge of the things that matter; where, from the wide, starry sky, from the august loneliness, and the soul of the life which has brooded there for untold generations, God teaches the values of this world and the next.
One hundred miles of sun and fair weather, and then fifty miles of bitter, aching cold, with nights of peril from the increasing chill, so that Jim dared not sleep lest he should never wake again, but die benumbed and exhausted! Yet Arrowhead slept through all. Day after day so, and then ten miles of storm such as come only to the vast barrens of the northlands; and woe to the traveller upon whom the icy wind and the blinding snow descended! Woe came upon Jim Templeton and Arrowhead, the heathen.
In the awful struggle between man and nature that followed, the captive became the leader. The craft of the plains, the inherent instinct, the feeling which was more than eyesight became the only hope. One whole day to cover ten miles–an endless path of agony, in which Jim went down again and again, but came up blinded by snow and drift, and cut as with lashes by the angry wind. At the end of the ten miles was a Hudson Bay Company’s post and safety; and through ten hours had the two struggled toward it, going off at tangents, circling on their own tracks; but the Indian, by an instinct as sure as the needle to the pole, getting the direction to the post again, in the moments of direst peril and uncertainty. To Jim the world became a sea of maddening forces which buffeted him; a whirlpool of fire in which his brain was tortured, his mind was shrivelled up; a vast army rending itself, each man against the other. It was a purgatory of music, broken by discords; and then at last–how sweet it all was, after the eternity of misery!–“Church bells and voices low,” and Sally singing to him, Nancy’s voice calling! Then, nothing but sleep–sleep, a sinking down millions of miles in an ether of drowsiness which thrilled him; and after–no more.
None who has suffered up to the limit of what the human body and soul may bear can remember the history of those distracted moments when the struggle became one between the forces in nature and the forces in man, between agonized body and smothered mind, yet with the divine intelligence of the created being directing, even though subconsciously, the fight.
How Arrowhead found the post in the mad storm he could never have told. Yet he found it, with Jim unconscious on the sledge and with limbs frozen, all the dogs gone but two, the leathers over the Indian’s shoulders as he fell against the gate of the post with a shrill cry that roused the factor and his people within, together with Sergeant Sewell, who had been sent out from headquarters to await Jim’s arrival there. It was Sewell’s hand which first felt Jim’s heart and pulse, and found that there was still life left, even before it could be done by the doctor from headquarters, who had come to visit a sick man at the post.
For hours they worked with snow upon the frozen limbs to bring back life and consciousness. Consciousness came at last with half delirium, half understanding; as, emerging from the passing sleep of anaesthetics, the eye sees things and dimly registers them before the brain has set them in any relation to life or comprehension.
But Jim was roused at last, and the doctor presently held to his lips a glass of brandy. Then from infinite distance Jim’s understanding returned; the mind emerged, but not wholly, from the chaos in which it was travelling. His eyes stood out in eagerness.
“Brandy! brandy!” he said, hungrily.
With an oath Sewell snatched the glass from the doctor’s hand, put it on the table, then stooped to Jim’s ear and said, hoarsely: “Remember–Nancy. For God’s sake, sir, don’t drink!”
Jim’s head fell back, the fierce light went out of his eyes, the face became grayer and sharper. “Sally–Nancy–Nancy,” he whispered, and his fingers clutched vaguely at the quilt.
“He must have brandy or he will die. The system is pumped out. He must be revived,” said the doctor. He reached again for the glass of spirits.
Jim understood now. He was on the borderland between life and death, his feet were at the brink. “No–not–brandy, no!” he moaned. “Sally–Sally, kiss me,” he said, faintly, from the middle world in which he was.
“Quick, the broth!” said Sewell to the factor, who had been preparing it. “Quick, while there’s a chance.” He stooped and called into Jim’s ear: “For the love of God, wake up, sir. They’re coming–they’re both coming–Nancy’s coming. They’ll soon be here.” What matter that he lied?–a life was at stake.
Jim’s eyes opened again. The doctor was standing with the brandy in his hand. Half madly Jim reached out. “I must live until they come,” he cried; “the brandy–ah, give it! Give it–ah, no, no, I must not,” he added, gasping, his lips trembling, his hands shaking.
Sewell held the broth to his lips. He drank a little, yet his face became grayer and grayer; a bluish tinge spread about his mouth.
“Have you nothing else, sir?” asked Sewell, in despair.
The doctor put down the brandy, went quickly to his medicine-case, dropped into a glass some liquid from a phial, came over again, and poured a little between the lips; then a little more, as Jim’s eyes opened again; and at last every drop in the glass trickled down the sinewy throat.
Presently as they watched him the doctor said: “It will not do. He must have brandy. It has life–food–in it.”
Jim understood the words. He knew that if he drank the brandy the chances against his future were terrible. He had made his vow, and he must keep it. Yet the thirst was on him; his enemy had him by the throat again, was dragging him down. Though his body was so cold, his throat was on fire. But in the extremity of his strength his mind fought on–fought on, growing weaker every moment. He was having his last fight. They watched him with an aching anxiety, and there was anger in the doctor’s face. He had no patience with these forces arrayed against him.
At last the doctor whispered to Sewell, “It’s no use; he must have the brandy, or he can’t live an hour.”
Sewell weakened; the tears fell down his rough, hard cheeks. “It’ll ruin him–it’s ruin or death.”
“Trust a little more in God and in the man’s strength. Let us give him the chance. Force it down his throat–he’s not responsible,” said the physician, to whom saving life was more than all else.
Suddenly there appeared at the bedside Arrowhead, gaunt and weak, his face swollen, the skin of it broken by the whips of storm.
“He is my brother,” he said, and, stooping, laid both hands, which he had held before the fire for a long time, on Jim’s heart. “Take his feet, his hands, his legs, and his head in your hands,” he said to them all. “Life is in us; we will give him life.”
He knelt down and kept both hands on Jim’s heart, while the others, even the doctor, awed by his act, did as they were bidden. “Shut your eyes. Let your life go into him. Think of him, and him alone. Now!” said Arrowhead, in a strange voice.
He murmured, and continued murmuring, his body drawing closer and closer to Jim’s body, while in the deep silence, broken only by the chanting of his low, monotonous voice, the others pressed Jim’s hands and head and feet and legs–six men under the command of a heathen murderer.
The minutes passed. The color came back to Jim’s face, the skin of his hands filled up, they ceased twitching, his pulse got stronger, his eyes opened with a new light in them.
“I’m living, anyhow,” he said, at last, with a faint smile. “I’m hungry–broth, please.”
The fight was won, and Arrowhead, the pagan murderer, drew over to the fire and crouched down beside it, his back to the bed, impassive and still. They brought him a bowl of broth and bread, which he drank slowly, and placed the empty bowl between his knees. He sat there through the night, though they tried to make him lie down.
As the light came in at the windows, Sewell touched him on the shoulder and said, “He is sleeping now.”
“I hear my brother breathe,” answered Arrowhead. “He will live.”
All night he had listened, and had heard Jim’s breath as only a man who has lived in waste places can hear. “He will live. What I take with one hand I give with the other.”
He had taken the life of the factor; he had given Jim his life. And when he was tried three months later for murder, some one else said this for him, and the hearts of all, judge and jury, were so moved they knew not what to do.
But Arrowhead was never sentenced, for, at the end of the first day’s trial, he lay down to sleep and never waked again. He was found the next morning still and cold, and there was clasped in his hands a little doll which Nancy had given him on one of her many visits to the prison during her father’s long illness. They found a piece of paper in his belt with these words in the Cree language: “With my hands on his heart at the post I gave him the life that was in me, saving but a little until now. Arrowhead, the chief, goes to find life again by the well at the root of the tree. How!”
On the evening of the day that Arrowhead made his journey to “the well at the root of the tree” a stranger knocked at the door of Captain Templeton’s cottage; then, without awaiting admittance, entered.
Jim was sitting with Nancy on his knee, her head against his shoulder, Sally at his side, her face alight with some inner joy. Before the knock came to the door Jim had just said, “Why do your eyes shine so, Sally? What’s in your mind?” She had been about to answer, to say to him what had been swelling her heart with pride, though she had not meant to tell him what he had forgotten–not till midnight. But the figure that entered the room, a big man with deep-set eyes, a man of power who had carried everything before him in the battle of life, answered for her.
“You have won the stake, Jim,” he said, in a hoarse voice. “You and she have won the stake, and I’ve brought it–brought it.”
Before they could speak he placed in Sally’s hands bonds for five million dollars.
“Jim–Jim, my son!” he burst out. Then, suddenly, he sank into a chair and, putting his head in his hands, sobbed aloud.
“My God, but I’m proud of you–speak to me, Jim. You’ve broken me up.” He was ashamed of his tears, but he could not wipe them away.
“Father, dear old man!” said Jim, and put his hands on the broad shoulders.
Sally knelt down beside him, took both the great hands from the tear-stained face, and laid them against her cheek. But presently she put Nancy on his knees.
“I don’t like you to cry,” the child said, softly; “but to-day I cried too, ’cause my Indian man is dead.”
The old man could not speak, but he put his cheek down to hers. After a minute, “Oh, but she’s worth ten times that!” he said, as Sally came close to him with the bundle he had thrust into her hands.
“What is it?” said Jim.
“It’s five million dollars–for Nancy,” she said.
“The stake, Jim,” said Sally. “If you did not drink for four years–never touched a drop–we were to have five million dollars.”
“You never told him, then–you never told him that?” asked the old man.
“I wanted him to win without it,” she said. “If he won, he would be the stronger; if he lost, it would not be so hard for him to bear.”
The old man drew her down and kissed her cheek. He chuckled, though the tears were still in his eyes.
“You are a wonder–the tenth wonder of the world!” he blurted.
Jim stood staring at the bundle in Nancy’s hands. “Five millions–five million dollars!” he kept saying to himself.
“I said Nancy’s worth ten times that, Jim.” The old man caught his hand and pressed it. “But it was a damned near thing, I tell you,” he added. “They tried to break me and my railways and my bank. I had to fight the combination, and there was one day when I hadn’t that five million dollars there, nor five. Jim, they tried to break the old man! And if they’d broken me, they’d have made me out a scoundrel to her–to this wife of yours who risked everything for both of us–for both of us, Jim; for she’d given up the world to save you, and she was playing like a soul in hell for heaven. If they’d broken me, I’d never have lifted my head again. When things were at their worst I played to save that five millions–her stake and mine; I played for that. I fought for it as a man fights his way out of a burning house. And I won–I won. And it was by fighting for that five millions I saved fifty–fifty millions, son. They didn’t break the old man, Jim. They didn’t break him–not much.”
“There are giants in the world still,” said Jim, his own eyes full. He knew now his father and himself, and he knew the meaning of all the bitter and misspent life of the old days. He and his father were on a level of understanding at last.
“Are you a giant?” asked Nancy, peering up into her grandfather’s eyes.
The old man laughed, then sighed. “Perhaps I was once, more or less, my dear,” saying to her what he meant for the other two–“perhaps I was; but I’ve finished. I’m through. I’ve had my last fight.”
He looked at his son. “I pass the game on to you, Jim. You can do it. I knew you could do it as the reports came in this year. I’ve had a detective up here for four years. I had to do it. It was the devil in me. You’ve got to carry on the game, Jim; I’m done. I’ll stay home and potter about. I want to go back to Kentucky, and build up the old place, and take care of it a bit–your mother always loved it. I’d like to have it as it was when she was there long ago. But I’ll be ready to help you when I’m wanted, understand.”
“You want me to run things–your colossal schemes? You think–?”
“I don’t think. I’m old enough to know.”