Story type: Literature
“They won’t come to-night–sure.”
The girl looked again toward the west, where, here and there, bare poles, or branches of trees, or slips of underbrush, marked a road made across the plains through the snow. The sun was going down golden red, folding up the sky a wide, soft curtain of pink and mauve and deep purple merging into the fathomless blue, where already the stars were beginning to quiver. The house stood on the edge of a little forest, which had boldly asserted itself in the wide flatness. At this point in the west the prairie merged into an undulating territory, where hill and wood rolled away from the banks of the Saskatchewan, making another England in beauty. The forest was a sort of advance-post of that land of beauty.
Yet there was beauty, too, on this prairie, though there was nothing to the east but snow and the forest so far as eye could see. Nobility and peace and power brooded over the white world.
As the girl looked, it seemed as though the bosom of the land rose and fell. She had felt this vibrating life beat beneath the frozen surface. Now, as she gazed, she smiled sadly to herself, with drooping eyelids looking out from beneath strong brows.
“I know you–I know you,” she said, aloud. “You’ve got to take your toll. And when you’re lying asleep like that, or pretending to, you reach up–and kill. And yet you can be kind–ah, but you can be kind and beautiful! But you must have your toll one way or t’other.” She sighed and paused; then, after a moment, looking along the trail–“I don’t expect they’ll come to-night, and mebbe not to-morrow, if–if they stay for that.”
Her eyes closed, she shivered a little. Her lips drew tight, and her face seemed suddenly to get thinner. “But dad wouldn’t–no, he couldn’t, not considerin’–” Again she shut her eyes in pain.
Her face was now turned from the western road by which she had expected her travellers, and toward the east, where already the snow was taking on a faint bluish tint, a reflection of the sky deepening toward night in that half-circle of the horizon. Distant and a little bleak and cheerless the half-circle was looking now.
“No one–not for two weeks,” she said, in comment on the eastern trail, which was so little frequented in winter, and this year had been less travelled than ever. “It would be nice to have a neighbor,” she added, as she faced the west and the sinking sun again. “I get so lonely–just minutes I get lonely. But it’s them minutes that seem to count more than all the rest when they come. I expect that’s it–we don’t live in months and years, but just in minutes. It doesn’t take long for an earthquake to do its work–it’s seconds then…. P’r’aps dad won’t even come to-morrow,” she added, as she laid her hand on the latch. “It never seemed so long before, not even when he’s been away a week.” She laughed bitterly. “Even bad company’s better than no company at all. Sure. And Mickey has been here always when dad’s been away past times. Mickey was a fool, but he was company; and mebbe he’d have been better company if he’d been more of a scamp and less a fool. I dunno, but I really think he would. Bad company doesn’t put you off so.”
There was a scratching at the inside of the door. “My, if I didn’t forget Shako,” she said, “and he dying for a run!”
She opened the door quickly, and out jumped a Russian dog of almost full breed, with big, soft eyes like those of his mistress, and with the air of the north in every motion–like his mistress also.
“Come, Shako, a run–a run!”
An instant after she was flying off on a path toward the woods, her short skirts flying and showing limbs as graceful and shapely as those of any woman of that world of social grace which she had never seen; for she was a prairie girl through and through, born on the plains and fed on its scanty fare–scanty as to variety, at least. Backward and forward they ran, the girl shouting like a child of ten–she was twenty-three–her eyes flashing, her fine white teeth showing, her hands thrown up in sheer excess of animal life, her hair blowing about her face–brown, strong hair, wavy and plentiful.
Fine creature as she was, her finest features were her eyes and her hands. The eyes might have been found in the most savage places; the hands, however, only could have come through breeding. She had got them honestly; for her mother was descended from an old family of the French province. That was why she had the name of Loisette–and had a touch of distinction. It was the strain of the patrician in the full blood of the peasant; but it gave her something which made her what she was–what she had been since a child, noticeable and besought, sometimes beloved. It was too strong a nature to compel love often, but it never failed to compel admiration. Not greatly a creature of words, she had become moody of late; and even now, alive with light and feeling and animal life, she suddenly stopped her romp and run, and called the dog to her.
“Heel, Shako!” she said, and made for the door of the little house, which looked so snug and homelike. She paused before she came to the door, to watch the smoke curling up from the chimney straight as a column, for there was not a breath of air stirring. The sun was almost gone, and the strong bluish light was settling on everything, giving even the green spruce-trees a curious burnished tone.
Swish! Thud! She faced the woods quickly. It was only a sound that she had heard how many hundreds of times! It was the snow slipping from some broad branch of the fir-trees to the ground. Yet she started now. Something was on her mind, agitating her senses, affecting her self-control.
“I’ll be jumping out of my boots when the fire snaps, or the frost cracks the ice, next,” she said, aloud, contemptuously. “I dunno what’s the matter with me. I feel as if some one was hiding somewhere ready to pop out on me. I haven’t never felt like that before.”
She had formed the habit of talking to herself, for it had seemed at first, as she was left alone when her father went trapping or upon journeys for the Government, that by-and-by she would start at the sound of her own voice if she didn’t think aloud. So she was given to soliloquy, defying the old belief that people who talked to themselves were going mad. She laughed at that. She said that birds sang to themselves and didn’t go mad, and crickets chirruped, and frogs croaked, and owls hooted, and she would talk and not go crazy either. So she talked to herself and to Shako when she was alone.
How quiet it was inside when her light supper was eaten–bread and beans and pea-soup; she had got this from her French mother. Now she sat, her elbows on her knees, her chin on her hands, looking into the fire. Shako was at her feet upon the great musk-ox rug, which her father had got on one of his hunting trips in the Athabasca country years ago. It belonged as she belonged. It breathed of the life of the north-land, for the timbers of the hut were hewn cedar; the rough chimney, the seats, and the shelves on which a few books made a fair show beside the bright tins and the scanty crockery, were of pine; and the horned heads of deer and wapiti made pegs for coats and caps, and rests for guns and rifles. It was a place of comfort; it had an air of well-to-do thrift, even as the girl’s dress, though plain, was made of good, sound stuff, gray, with a touch of dark red to match the auburn of her hair.
A book lay open in her lap, but she had scarcely tried to read it. She had put it down after a few moments fixed upon it. It had sent her thoughts off into a world where her life had played a part too big for books, too deep for the plummet of any save those who had lived through the storm of life’s trials; and life when it is bitter to the young is bitter with an agony the old never know. At last she spoke to herself.
“She knows now! Now she knows what it is, how it feels–your heart like red-hot coals, and something in your head that’s like a turnscrew, and you want to die and can’t, for you’ve got to live and suffer!”
Again she was quiet, and only the dog’s heavy breathing, the snap of the fire, or the crack of a timber in the deadly frost broke the silence. Inside it was warm and bright and homelike; outside it was twenty degrees below zero, and like some vast tomb where life itself was congealed, and only the white stars, low, twinkling, and quizzical, lived–a life of sharp corrosion, not of fire.
Suddenly she raised her head and listened. The dog did the same. None but those whose lives are lived in lonely places can be so acute, so sensitive to sound. It was a feeling delicate and intense, the whole nature getting the vibration. You could have heard nothing, had you been there; none but one who was of the wide spaces could have done so. But the dog and the woman felt, and both strained toward the window. Again they heard, and started to their feet. It was far, far away, and still you could not have heard; but now they heard clearly–a cry in the night, a cry of pain and despair. The girl ran to the window and pulled aside the bearskin curtain which had completely shut out the light. Then she stirred the fire, threw a log upon it, snuffed the candles, hastily put on her moccasins, fur coat, wool cap, and gloves, and went to the door quickly, the dog at her heels. Opening it, she stepped out into the night.
“Qui va la? Who is it? Where?” she called, and strained toward the west. She thought it might be her father or Mickey the hired man, or both.
The answer came from the east, out of the homeless, neighborless, empty east–a cry, louder now. There were only stars, and the night was dark, though not deep dark. She sped along the prairie road as fast as she could, once or twice stopping to call aloud. In answer to her calls the voice sounded nearer and nearer. Now suddenly she left the trail and bore away northward. At last the voice was very near. Presently a figure appeared ahead, staggering toward her.
“Qui va la? Who is it?” she asked.
“Ba’tiste Caron,” was the reply in English, in a faint voice. She was beside him in an instant.
“What has happened? Why are you off the trail?” she said, and supported him.
“My Injun stoled my dogs and run off,” he replied. “I run after. Then, when I am to come to the trail”–he paused to find the English word, and could not–“encore to this trail I no can. So. Ah, bon Dieu, it has so awful!” He swayed and would have fallen, but she caught him, bore him up. She was so strong, and he was as slight as a girl, though tall.
“When was that?” she asked.
“Two nights ago,” he answered, and swayed.
“Wait,” she said, and pulled a flask from her pocket. “Drink this–quick!”
He raised it to his lips, but her hand was still on it, and she only let him take a little. Then she drew it away, though she had almost to use force, he was so eager for it. Now she took a biscuit from her pocket.
“Eat; then some more brandy, after,” she urged. “Come on; it’s not far. See, there’s the light,” she added, cheerily, raising her head toward the hut.
“I saw it just when I have fall down–it safe me. I sit down to die–like that! But it safe me, that light–so. Ah, bon Dieu, it was so far, and I want eat so!”
Already he had swallowed the biscuit.
“When did you eat last?” she asked, as she urged him on.
“Two nights–except for one leetla piece of bread–I fin’ it in my pocket. Grace! I have travel so far. Jesu, I think it ees ten thousan’ miles, I go. But I mus’ go on, I mus’ go–certainement.”
The light came nearer and nearer. His footsteps quickened, though he staggered now and then, and went like a horse that has run its race, but is driven upon its course again, going heavily with mouth open and head thrown forward and down.
“But I mus’ to get there, an’ you–you will to help me, eh?”
Again he swayed, but her strong arm held him up. As they ran on, in a kind of dog-trot, her hand firm upon his arm–he seemed not to notice it–she became conscious, though it was half dark, of what sort of man she had saved. He was about her own age, perhaps a year or two older, with little, if any, hair upon his face, save a slight mustache. His eyes, deep sunken as they were, she made out were black, and the face, though drawn and famished, had a handsome look. Presently she gave him another sip of brandy, and he quickened his steps, speaking to himself the while.
“I haf to do it–if I lif. It is to go, go, go, till I get.”
Now they came to the hut where the firelight flickered on the window-pane; the door was flung open, and, as he stumbled on the threshold, she helped him into the warm room. She almost pushed him over to the fire.
Divested of his outer coat, muffler, cap, and leggings, he sat on a bench before the fire, his eyes wandering from the girl to the flames, and his hands clasping and unclasping between his knees. His eyes dilating with hunger, he watched her preparations for his supper; and when at last–and she had been but a moment–it was placed before him, his head swam, and he turned faint with the stress of his longing. He would have swallowed a basin of pea-soup at a draught, but she stopped him, holding the basin till she thought he might venture again. Then came cold beans, and some meat which she toasted at the fire and laid upon his plate. They had not spoken since first entering the house, when tears had shone in his eyes, and he had said:
“You have safe–ah, you have safe me, and so I will do it yet by help bon Dieu–yes.”
The meal was done at last, and he sat with a great dish of tea beside him, and his pipe alight.
“What time, if please?” he asked. “I t’ink nine hour, but no sure.”
“It is near nine,” she said. She hastily tidied up the table after his meal, and then came and sat in her chair over against the wall of the rude fireplace.
“Nine–dat is good. The moon rise at ‘leven; den I go. I go on,” he said, “if you show me de queeck way.”
“You go on–how can you go on?” she asked, almost sharply.
“Will you not to show me?” he asked.
“Show you what?” she asked, abruptly.
“The queeck way to Askatoon,” he said, as though surprised that she should ask. “They say me if I get here you will tell me queeck way to Askatoon. Time, he go so fas’, an’ I have loose a day an’ a night, an’ I mus’ get Askatoon if I lif–I mus’ get dere in time. It is all safe to de stroke of de hour, mais, after, it is–bon Dieu!–it is hell then. Who shall forgif me–no!”
“The stroke of the hour–the stroke of the hour!” It beat into her brain. Were they both thinking of the same thing now?
“You will show me queeck way. I mus’ be Askatoon in two days, or it is all over,” he almost moaned. “Is no man here–I forget dat name, my head go round like a wheel; but I know dis place, an’ de good God, He help me fin’ my way to where I call out, bien sur. Dat man’s name I have forget.”
“My father’s name is John Alroyd,” she answered, absently, for there were hammering at her brain the words, “The stroke of the hour.”
“Ah, now I get–yes. An’ your name, it is Loisette Alroy–ah, I have it in my mind now–Loisette. I not forget dat name, I not forget you–no.”
“Why do you want to go the ‘quick’ way to Askatoon?” she asked.
He puffed a moment at his pipe before he answered her. Presently he said, holding out his pipe, “You not like smoke, mebbe?”
She shook her head in negation, making an impatient gesture.
“I forget ask you,” he said. “Dat journee make me forget. When Injun Jo, he leave me with the dogs, an’ I wake up all alone, an’ not know my way–not like Jo, I think I die, it is so bad, so terrible in my head. Not’ing but snow, not’ing. But dere is de sun; it shine. It say to me, ‘Wake up, Ba’tiste; it will be all right bime-bye.’ But all time I t’ink I go mad, for I mus’ get Askatoon before–dat.”
She started. Had she not used the same word in thinking of Askatoon. “That,” she had said.
“Why do you want to go the ‘quick’ way to Askatoon?” she asked again, her face pale, her foot beating the floor impatiently.
“To save him before dat!” he answered, as though she knew of what he was speaking and thinking.
“What is that?” she asked. She knew now, surely, but she must ask it nevertheless.
“Dat hanging–of Haman,” he answered. He nodded to himself. Then he took to gazing into the fire. His lips moved as though talking to himself, and the hand that held the pipe lay forgotten on his knee.
“What have you to do with Haman?” she asked, slowly, her eyes burning.
“I want safe him–I mus’ give him free.” He tapped his breast. “It is here to mak’ him free.” He still tapped his breast.
For a moment she stood frozen still, her face thin and drawn and white; then suddenly the blood rushed back into her face, and a red storm raged in her eyes.
She thought of the sister, younger than herself, whom Rube Haman had married and driven to her grave within a year–the sweet Lucy, with the name of her father’s mother. Lucy had been all English in face and tongue, a flower of the west, driven to darkness by this horse-dealing brute, who, before he was arrested and tried for murder, was about to marry Kate Wimper. Kate Wimper had stolen him from Lucy before Lucy’s first and only child was born, the child that could not survive the warm mother-life withdrawn, and so had gone down the valley whither the broken-hearted mother had fled. It was Kate Wimper, who, before that, had waylaid the one man for whom she herself had ever cared, and drawn him from her side by such attractions as she herself would keep for an honest wife, if such she ever chanced to be. An honest wife she would have been had Kate Wimper not crossed the straight path of her life. The man she had loved was gone to his end also, reckless and hopeless, after he had thrown away his chance of a lifetime with Loisette Alroyd. There had been left behind this girl, to whom tragedy had come too young, who drank humiliation with a heart as proud as ever straightly set its course through crooked ways.
It had hurt her, twisted her nature a little, given a fountain of bitterness to her soul, which welled up and flooded her life sometimes. It had given her face no sourness, but it put a shadow into her eyes.
She had been glad when Haman was condemned for murder, for she believed he had committed it, and ten times hanging could not compensate for that dear life gone from their sight–Lucy, the pride of her father’s heart. She was glad when Haman was condemned, because of the woman who had stolen him from Lucy, because of that other man, her lover, gone out of her own life. The new hardness in her rejoiced that now the woman, if she had any heart at all, must have it bowed down by this supreme humiliation and wrung by the ugly tragedy of the hempen rope.
And now this man before her, this man with a boy’s face, with the dark, luminous eyes, whom she had saved from the frozen plains, he had that in his breast which would free Haman, so he had said. A fury had its birth in her at that moment. Something seemed to seize her brain and master it, something so big that it held all her faculties in perfect control, and she felt herself in an atmosphere where all life moved round her mechanically, she herself the only sentient thing, so much greater than all she saw, or all that she realized by her subconscious self. Everything in the world seemed small. How calm it was even with the fury within!
“Tell me,” she said, quietly–“tell me how you are able to save Haman?”
“He not kill Wakely. It is my brudder Fadette dat kill and get away. Haman he is drunk, and everyt’ing seem to say Haman he did it, an’ every one know Haman is not friend to Wakely. So the juree say he must be hanging. But my brudder he go to die with hawful bad cold queeck, an’ he send for the priest an’ for me, an’ tell all. I go to Governor with the priest, an’ Governor gif me dat writing here.” He tapped his breast, then took out a wallet and showed the paper to her. “It is life of dat Haman, voici! And so I safe him for my brudder. Dat was a bad boy, Fadette. He was bad all time since he was a baby, an’ I t’ink him pretty lucky to die on his bed, an’ get absolve, and go to purgatore. If he not have luck like dat he go to hell, an’ stay there.”
He sighed, and put the wallet back in his breast carefully, his eyes half shut with weariness, his handsome face drawn and thin, his limbs lax with fatigue.
“If I get Askatoon before de time for dat, I be happy in my heart, for dat brudder off mine he get out of purgatore bime-bye, I t’ink.”
His eyes were almost shut, but he drew himself together with a great effort, and added desperately: “No sleep. If I sleep it is all smash. Man say me I can get Askatoon by dat time from here, if I go queeck way across lak’–it is all froze now, dat lak’–an’ down dat Foxtail Hills. Is it so, ma’m’selle?”
“By the ‘quick’ way if you can make it in time,” she said; “but it is no way for the stranger to go. There are always bad spots on the ice–it is not safe. You could not find your way.”
“I mus’ get dere in time,” he said, desperately.
“You can’t do it–alone,” she said. “Do you want to risk all and lose?”
He frowned in self-suppression. “Long way, I no can get dere in time?” he asked.
She thought a moment. “No; it can’t be done by the long way. But there is another way–a third trail, the trail the Gover’ment men made a year ago when they came to survey. It is a good trail. It is blazed in the woods and staked on the plains. You cannot miss. But–but there is so little time.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “You cannot leave here much before sunrise, and–“
“I will leef when de moon rise, at eleven,” he interjected.
“You have had no sleep for two nights, and no food. You can’t last it out,” she said, calmly.
The deliberate look on his face deepened to stubbornness.
“It is my vow to my brudder–he is in purgatore. An’ I mus’ do it,” he rejoined, with an emphasis there was no mistaking. “You can show me dat way?”
She went to a drawer and took out a piece of paper. Then, with a point of blackened stick, as he watched her and listened, she swiftly drew his route for him.
“Yes, I get it in my head,” he said. “I go dat way, but I wish–I wish it was dat queeck way. I have no fear, not’ing. I go w’en dat moon rise–I go, bien sur.”
“You must sleep, then, while I get some food for you.” She pointed to a couch in a corner. “I will wake you when the moon rises.”
For the first time he seemed to realize her, for a moment to leave the thing which consumed him, and put his mind upon her.
“You not happy–you not like me here?” he asked, simply; then added, quickly, “I am not bad man like me brudder–no.”
Her eyes rested on him for a moment as though realizing him, while some thought was working in her mind behind.
“No, you are not a bad man,” she said. “Men and women are equal on the plains. You have no fear–I have no fear.”
He glanced at the rifles on the walls, then back at her. “My mudder, she was good woman. I am glad she did not lif to know what Fadette do.” His eyes drank her in for a minute, then he said: “I go sleep now, t’ank you–till moontime.”
In a moment his deep breathing filled the room, the only sound save for the fire within and the frost outside.
Time went on. The night deepened.
* * * * *
Loisette sat beside the fire, but her body was half-turned from it toward the man on the sofa. She was not agitated outwardly, but within there was that fire which burns up life and hope and all the things that come between us and great issues. It had burned up everything in her except one thought, one powerful motive. She had been deeply wronged, and justice had been about to give “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But the man lying there had come to sweep away the scaffolding of justice–he had come for that.
Perhaps he might arrive at Askatoon before the stroke of the hour, but still he would be too late, for in her pocket now was the Governor’s reprieve. The man had slept soundly. His wallet was still in his breast; but the reprieve was with her.
If he left without discovering his loss, and got well on his way, and discovered it then, it would be too late. If he returned–she only saw one step before her, she would wait for that, and deal with it when it came. She was thinking of Lucy, of her own lover ruined and gone. She was calm in her madness.
At the first light of the moon she roused him. She had put food into his fur-coat pocket, and after he had drunk a bowl of hot pea-soup, while she told him his course again, she opened the door, and he passed out into the night. He started forward without a word, but came back again and caught her hand.
“Pardon,” he said; “I go forget everyt’ing except dat. But I t’ink what you do for me, it is better than all my life. Bien sur, I will come again, when I get my mind to myself. Ah, but you are beautibul,” he said, “an’ you not happy. Well, I come again–yes, a Dieu.”
He was gone into the night, with the moon silvering the sky, and the steely frost eating into the sentient life of this northern world. Inside the house, with the bearskin blind dropped at the window again, and the fire blazing high, Loisette sat with the Governor’s reprieve in her hand. Looking at it, she wondered why it had been given to Ba’tiste Caron and not to a police-officer. Ah yes, it was plain–Ba’tiste was a woodsman and plainsman, and could go far more safely than a constable, and faster. Ba’tiste had reason for going fast, and he would travel night and day–he was travelling night and day indeed. And now Ba’tiste might get there, but the reprieve would not. He would not be able to stop the hanging of Haman–the hanging of Rube Haman.
A change came over her. Her eyes blazed, her breast heaved now. She had been so quiet, so cold and still. But life seemed moving in her once again. The woman, Kate Wimper, who had helped to send two people to their graves, would now drink the dregs of shame, if she was capable of shame–would be robbed of her happiness, if so be she loved Rube Haman.
She stood up, as though to put the paper in the fire, but paused suddenly at one thought–Rube Haman was innocent of murder.
Even so, he was not innocent of Lucy’s misery and death, or the death of the little one who only opened its eyes to the light for an instant, and then went into the dark again. But truly she was justified! When Haman was gone things would go on just the same–and she had been so bitter, her heart had been pierced as with a knife these past three years. Again she held out her hand to the fire, but suddenly she gave a little cry and put her hand to her head. There was Ba’tiste!
What was Ba’tiste to her? Nothing–nothing at all. She had saved his life–even if she wronged Ba’tiste, her debt would be paid. No, she would not think of Ba’tiste. Yet she did not put the paper in the fire, but in the pocket of her dress. Then she went to her room, leaving the door open. The bed was opposite the fire, and, as she lay there–she did not take off her clothes, she knew not why–she could see the flames. She closed her eyes but could not sleep, and more than once when she opened them she thought she saw Ba’tiste sitting there as he had sat hours before. Why did Ba’tiste haunt her so? What was it he had said in his broken English as he went away?–that he would come back; that she was “beautibul.”
All at once as she lay still, her head throbbing, her feet and hands icy cold, she sat up listening.
“Ah–again!” she cried. She sprang from her bed, rushed to the door, and strained her eyes into the silver night. She called into the icy void, “Qui va la? Who goes?”
She leaned forward, her hand at her ear, but no sound came in reply. Once more she called, but nothing answered. The night was all light and frost and silence.
She had only heard, in her own brain, the iteration of Ba’tiste’s calling. Would he reach Askatoon in time? she wondered, as she shut the door. Why had she not gone with him and attempted the shorter way–the quick way, he had called it? All at once the truth came back upon her, stirring her now. It would do no good for Ba’tiste to arrive in time. He might plead to them all and tell the truth about the reprieve, but it would not avail–Rube Haman would hang. That did not matter–even though he was innocent; but Ba’tiste’s brother would be so long in purgatory. And even that would not matter; but she would hurt Ba’tiste–Ba’tiste–Ba’tiste! And Ba’tiste he would know that she–and he had called her “beautibul”–that she had–
With a cry she suddenly clothed herself for travel. She put some food and drink in a leather bag and slung them over her shoulder. Then she dropped on a knee and wrote a note to her father, tears falling from her eyes. She heaped wood on the fire and moved toward the door. All at once she turned to the crucifix on the wall which had belonged to her mother, and, though she had followed her father’s Protestant religion, she kissed the feet of the sacred figure.
“Oh, Christ, have mercy on me, and bring me safe to my journey’s end–in time,” she said, breathlessly; then she went softly to the door, leaving the dog behind.
It opened, closed, and the night swallowed her. Like a ghost she sped the quick way to Askatoon. She was six hours behind Ba’tiste, and, going hard all the time, it was doubtful if she could get there before the fatal hour.
On the trail Ba’tiste had taken there were two huts where he could rest, and he had carried his blanket slung on his shoulder. The way she went gave no shelter save the trees and caves which had been used to cache buffalo meat and hides in old days. But beyond this there was danger in travelling by night, for the springs beneath the ice of the three lakes she must cross made it weak and rotten even in the fiercest weather, and what would no doubt have been death to Ba’tiste would be peril at least to her. Why had she not gone with him?
“He had in his face what was in Lucy’s,” she said to herself, as she sped on. “She was fine like him, ready to break her heart for those she cared for. My, if she had seen him first instead of–“
She stopped short, for the ice gave way to her foot, and she only sprang back in time to save herself. But she trotted on, mile after mile, the dog-trot of the Indian, head bent forward, toeing in, breathing steadily but sharply.
The morning came, noon, then a fall of snow and a keen wind, and despair in her heart; but she had passed the danger-spots, and now, if the storm did not overwhelm her, she might get to Askatoon in time. In the midst of the storm she came to one of the caves of which she had known. Here was wood for a fire, and here she ate, and in weariness unspeakable fell asleep. When she waked it was near sundown, the storm had ceased, and, as on the night before, the sky was stained with color and drowned in splendor.
“I will do it–I will do it, Ba’tiste!” she called, and laughed aloud into the sunset. She had battled with herself all the way, and she had conquered. Right was right, and Rube Haman must not be hung for what he did not do. Her heart hardened whenever she thought of the woman, but softened again when she thought of Ba’tiste, who had to suffer for the deed of a brother in “purgatore.” Once again the night and its silence and loneliness followed her, the only living thing near the trail till long after midnight. After that, as she knew, there were houses here and there where she might have rested, but she pushed on unceasing.
At daybreak she fell in with a settler going to Askatoon with his dogs. Seeing how exhausted she was, he made her ride a few miles upon his sledge; then she sped on ahead again till she came to the borders of Askatoon.
People were already in the streets, and all were tending one way. She stopped and asked the time. It was within a quarter of an hour of the time when Haman was to pay another’s penalty. She spurred herself on, and came to the jail blind with fatigue. As she neared the jail she saw her father and Mickey. In amazement her father hailed her, but she would not stop. She was admitted to the prison on explaining that she had a reprieve. Entering a room filled with excited people, she heard a cry.
It came from Ba’tiste. He had arrived but ten minutes before, and, in the Sheriff’s presence, had discovered his loss. He had appealed in vain.
But now, as he saw the girl, he gave a shout of joy which pierced the hearts of all.
“Ah, you haf it! Say you haf it, or it is no use–he mus’ hang. Spik–spik! Ah, my brudder–it is to do him right! Ah, Loisette–bon Dieu, merci!”
For answer she placed the reprieve in the hands of the Sheriff. Then she swayed and fell fainting at the feet of Ba’tiste.
She had come at the stroke of the hour.
When she left for her home again the Sheriff kissed her.
And that was not the only time he kissed her. He did it again six months later, at the beginning of the harvest, when she and Ba’tiste Caron started off on the long trail of life together. None but Ba’tiste knew the truth about the loss of the reprieve, and to him she was “beautibul” just the same, and greatly to be desired.