Harold Bindloss.

Delilah of the Snows



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Then he stood up, straight and burly, though his face was a trifle flushed.

"I'm sorry, Ingleby, but I'm afraid you have thrown away your claim."

Ingleby sat very still for part of a minute with one hand closed tightly. Then he also rose.

"I can't blame you, sir," he said hoarsely. "I don't think there is anything to be gained by protesting."

"Well," said Tomlinson, "you're 'way more patient than I would be. Why did they let you go on working until you had found the gold?"

Ingleby turned and looked at the police officer with a very unpleasant glint in his eyes. "That," he said, "is a little kindness for which, I fancy, I am indebted to Captain Esmond."

He would have gone out, but Tomlinson laid a hand upon his arm and turned to the Recorder.

"Now," he said, "I'm going to do some talking. That claim's Ingleby's, Major, until you've declared it open, and wiped out his record."

"Well," said Coulthurst drily, "I am sorry to find myself compelled to do it. The claim lately held by Walter Ingleby and Thomas Leger, having reverted to the Crown, is open for relocation. A notice will be issued to that effect. I may, however, point out – to you – that no free miner can hold more than one claim in the same vicinity."

"That's all right," said Tomlinson. "The one I've got is quite enough for me. You have a certificate, Ingleby. Take out a new one, Leger."

Leger drew the little bag from his pocket, but Tomlinson waved it aside, and threw another down before Coulthurst, glancing at Esmond as he did so.

"That gold came out of the reverted mine, and they might claim it wasn't yours. We'll make sure," he said. "There's a man worth keeping your eye on who has a hand in this deal. More than the necessary amount there, sir? Let him have his certificate. I'll look in for the rest any time that suits you."

Coulthurst's eyes twinkled a little as comprehension dawned on him, and he passed Leger the paper.

"I fancy any advice that prospector Tomlinson desires to give you would be worth considering," he said.

Tomlinson wasted no further time, but drove Ingleby and Leger before him out of the room.

"It's rustle now!" he said. "There's nothing to stop either of you pegging a new claim down on the lead alongside the old one. It's even chances you strike it quite as rich there. Get your stakes in!"

"Where are you going?" asked Leger.

Tomlinson laughed. "To put the boys on the lead. Still, it's quite likely that a friend of mine will relocate your old claim a little ahead of them. He'll be there 'most as soon as the major puts up his notice that it's open. He may think it worth while to let me in somehow for telling him."

He set off at a run, and as he disappeared Ingleby and Leger, leaving the winding trail, went straight through the undergrowth towards the ca?on. Vigorous movement with a definite purpose was a relief to them, and they were gasping and dripping with perspiration when at last they stopped beside the sequestrated claim.

Nobody else had reached it, and the bush was very still, but it was in feverish haste they hewed and drove in certain square-faced stakes. They were still on the lead, and once more a little hope sprang up in them.

In the meanwhile Coulthurst sat at his table looking hard at Esmond.

"I hope," he said grimly, "that you are now satisfied."

Esmond met his gaze without embarrassment. "I'm not sure I quite catch your meaning, sir."

"In that case," said Coulthurst, "it is a trifle difficult to understand how you came to hold a commission in a service in which one understands intelligence is necessary. I have carried out the law, but I don't mind admitting that I do not appreciate being made use of in this fashion. It is very evident you do not like Ingleby."

Esmond, who made no disclaimer, appeared to reflect for a moment or two.

"Well," he said, "you have, perhaps, some ground for feeling aggrieved, sir; but I can't help thinking that I have done nothing that was unnecessary."

"I am not blaming you for – doing your duty."

"I scarcely think you would be warranted in considering me very much at fault for going a little beyond it. I admit that it would please me to see Ingleby driven out of the valley. The fellow's presumption is almost insufferable."

Coulthurst glanced at him sharply, and his face grew a trifle red. "Ingleby is very young in comparison with myself, but you were once good enough to allude to him as a friend of mine, and you certainly met him at my house as my guest. If there was any particular meaning in your speech, it would be better to come straight to the point. I don't like hints."

"I can only offer you my excuses for momentary bad memory, sir. Absurd as it may seem to you, I'm far from sure that Ingleby is likely to be content with the status mentioned. A very little reflection should make the warning clear. In the meanwhile I have a couple of troopers waiting for me."

He went out, and Coulthurst sat still at his table gazing vacantly in front of him with his lips unusually firmly set. Then he rose with a little shake of his shoulders and a gesture of relief.

"The thing is quite out of the question. Grace has too much sense," he said.

XVII
TROOPER PROBYN'S MISADVENTURE

Nobody blamed Coulthurst for dispossessing Ingleby of his claim. In fact, the bluff and usually good-humoured major was more or less a favourite with the miners, who admitted that while it was rough on Ingleby no other course was open to him. For all that, the affair made an unfortunate impression when news leaked out of the part Esmond had played in it, for the latter's arrogance had gone a long way to gain him the hearty dislike of every man in the valley.

The Canadian is, as a rule, a sturdy imperialist with democratic tendencies, a type of citizen which would elsewhere probably be thought an anachronism. There were, however, as Sewell had pointed out, a good many men in the North just then who had no country, and a vague unrest and discontent, that once or twice came near producing unpleasant results, spread sporadically across the wilderness that season. Nobody was pleased with the mining regulations, and there were quiet Canadian bushmen who thought the drafting of detachments of the Northwest Police into that country not only unnecessary, but a reflection upon them. There were also other men, who had carried the memory of their wrongs with them from lands ruled by the mailed fist, to whom this symbol of imperial authority was as a red rag to a bull, and here and there a heavy responsibility was laid on the agents of the Crown.

Major Coulthurst, however, felt very little. He was not a keen-sighted man, and there were no signs of discontent in the Green River country so far, at least, as he could discern. It was true that Sewell, who played chess with him somewhat frequently, now and then made disturbing recommendations which the major occasionally went so far as to consider; but the country was apparently quiet, and might have remained so, in spite of Esmond's insolent tactlessness, had it not been for a little mistake made by Trooper Probyn.

He was a reckless stripling with a certain grace of manner which he could scarcely have acquired in the ranks of the Northwest Police, though men whose family name is well known in the older country occasionally join that service for reasons which they do not as a rule explain. He was comely, and he not infrequently loitered at the bakery, even when he was supposed to be elsewhere at his duty. It happened that he stood there one Saturday afternoon, watching Hetty Leger with undisguised appreciation, when there was nobody else about. He had perhaps chosen that particular time because Leger, who had shown that he did not approve of him, was at the mine; but there were smears of flour upon his uniform which suggested what his occupation had been.

Hetty, who rather liked the lad, looked distinctly pretty just then, as, with sleeves rolled to the elbow, she moulded a loaf for the oven. The bush was very still, and it was pleasantly cool in the shadow of the pines, which rolled in sombre ranks down the face of the hill. It was, perhaps, unfortunate that Hetty smiled as she held out the bread.

"You can put this loaf in and seal up the oven if you're very good," she said.

Probyn seized the loaf somewhat clumsily, so that in steadying it Hetty's fingers left an impression on the plastic dough.

"Now," said Probyn gravely, "that ought to make it worth another ten dollars to anybody."

"Would you think it worth all that?"

"A hundred," said Probyn, "would not be too much. I'd buy the thing now only, unfortunately, I haven't a coin of any kind by me. There are, you see, a good many disadvantages attached to being a police trooper."

"Are there?" said Hetty. "Then why did you become one, and what would you have liked to be?"

"That," answered the lad, with a trace of dryness, "is neither here nor there." Then his eyes twinkled again. "A baker! Couldn't you give me that loaf on credit – to keep forever?"

"I certainly couldn't. Besides, you would eat it the first time you were hungry. Hold it still while I make it smooth again!"

She did it with dainty little pats, and the lad watched her, openly appreciative, with his head on one side, for her pose and the movements of arm and shoulder effectively displayed a prettily moulded figure.

"There's a little bit you have left out. Hadn't you better go round it again?" he said.

It was, perhaps, not altogether wise of Hetty to laugh provokingly as she glanced at him; but she was young, and masculine approbation was no more distasteful to her than it is to most young women. She also believed – as she had, indeed, once pointed out to Tom Leger – that, though Trooper Probyn had very little sense, there was not a grain of harm in him.

"Why? It's quite smooth enough," she said.

"You do it so prettily. Of course, that's only what one would expect from a girl with a hand like that. The wrist runs into it so nicely, too. When some people try to work their wrists get red, you know."

"Put the bread into the oven – now," said Hetty severely.

The lad, who noticed a certain warning tone he had heard before, did as he was bidden, and luted up the door of the big clay-built oven. When he returned there was no longer any of Hetty's arm visible beneath her sleeve.

"It's getting late, and I have the boys' supper to look after," she said significantly.

Probyn knew by the lengthening of the shadows that this was true, and he had still a long round to make; but he was a trifle more inconsequent than usual that afternoon, and in place of taking his departure leaned against a cedar.

"Well," he said, "I mean to stay a little. It's very pleasant here."

The statement was perfectly warranted, for the sound of the river came up soothingly across the pines, and through openings between them one could see the tremendous ramparts of never-melting snow that cut cold and white against the blue. Hetty, too, standing with fluffy hair a trifle disordered, and with the sunlight streaming between the great branches upon her, was very alluring; but still, it was unfortunate that Trooper Probyn did not go. He was not aware that Tomlinson, who had had difficulties with the flume he was building, was just then coming up the hillside in a somewhat uncertain temper.

"You have been here quite an hour," said Hetty.

"A year," said Probyn, "wouldn't be half enough for me. Now, I've a piece of news I hadn't the heart to tell you – and you'll try to be brave. Esmond is sending two or three of us South very shortly, and I'm very much afraid I will be one of them."

"Is that all?" and Hetty laughed.

The lad looked at her reproachfully. "You seem to bear up astonishingly well. It will be different with me. You may even have married one of those miner fellows by the time I come back again."

There was no apparent reason why the suggestion should drive the smile out of Hetty's eyes; but it certainly did; though Probyn did not notice her sudden change of mood.

"Yes," he said, "I'm afraid I'll have to go, and that's why I want you to give me something to remember you by when I'm far away. It needn't be very much. That pretty little ribbon at your neck would do."

The request was not out of keeping with the trooper's usual conversation, which consisted largely of badinage, and Hetty could not be expected to realize that he now and then meant what he said. It, however, happened that Ingleby, who said it suited her complexion, had once laughingly bought her that ribbon in a Vancouver dry-goods store.

"You certainly can't have it," she said, a trifle sharply.

Probyn, who perversely fancied her decisiveness was assumed and intended to be provocative, lost his head.

"Then you don't mean to give me a trifle of that kind after chopping wood for you two days every week and kneading an ovenful of bread?" he said.

"No," said Hetty, who was by no means anxious to detain him now. "It wasn't anything like that often, and I told you I was busy. Why don't you go?"

"Then I'm afraid I'll have to take it," said Probyn, with a reckless laugh.

In another moment his hand was on Hetty's shoulder, and it was unfortunate he did not see the indignation in her face as she strove to thrust him away. There was no doubt about the genuineness of it now, for her cheeks were flushed with anger; but the trooper's persistence was not lessened by the fact that a pin entered one of his fingers as he clutched at the little bow. The momentary pain, indeed, drove what little sense he had out of his head, and he became the more determined upon obtaining possession of the coveted ribbon.

Just then a big, long-limbed man with a grim, bronzed face came out of the shadow of the pines and stopped for a moment with a smothered expletive. It was not altogether unnatural that he should misunderstand the situation, and he sprang forward suddenly when he recovered from his astonishment. Probyn had by this time succeeded in tearing away the bow, and there was a rustle of draperies as Hetty, who shook off his relaxing grasp, inconsequently fled; but in another moment a hard hand fell upon his shoulder and swung him round. In fact, so rude was the wrench that he reeled backwards for a pace or two, and on recovering his balance found himself face to face with a big and very angry man who regarded him out of half-closed eyes in a distinctly unpleasant fashion.

"It's you, Tomlinson! What the devil did you mean by that?" he said.

"Well," said the miner drily, "I guess it ought to be quite plain to you."

Probyn, who looked around, saw that Hetty had vanished into the shanty.

"Now, look here, there really isn't the slightest reason why you should make an ass of yourself," he said. "I am, of course, not telling you this because I am afraid of anything you can do."

Tomlinson's face grew a little darker in hue as he glanced at the strip of crumpled ribbon still in the lad's hand.

"I want that thing. Pass it across," he said.

Probyn smiled, for his recklessness was, perhaps, partly accounted for by the fact that there was what is usually termed good blood in him.

"I'll have considerable pleasure in seeing you hanged first," he said.

"Well," said Tomlinson, "we'll fix all that. Now, light out of this. You don't want the circus right in front of the shanty."

The lad made a little gesture of comprehension as he swung round, and Tomlinson gravely walked after him until they could no longer be seen from the shanty. Then Probyn turned to him again.

"We're far enough, I think," he said.

He stood, strung up, but apparently impassive, with his left arm across him and his right hand clenched at his side, and only a suggestion of watchfulness in his steady eyes. Tomlinson smiled grimly.

"If I were to hit you hard I'd kill you, sure. I'm raised to-day," he said. "I guess a souse in the creek will have to do instead."

Probyn saw that the issue must be faced, and he was by no means deficient in courage, or he would not have ridden long with the Northwest Police. Stepping forward, with a thrust from his right foot, he feinted with his left hand at the miner's face, and then, swinging downwards with lowered head, got in a right-hand body blow that would probably have staggered another man. Tomlinson, however, took it with no more than a gasp, and flinging out his right hand closed with him, which was singularly unfortunate for Trooper Probyn. He had been accounted tolerably proficient with the gloves in another land, but it is not for pastime that men fight in the wilderness, and there the disablement of one's opponent by any means available is the object of the game.

Probyn had the pride which breeds courage and endurance, as well as vigour; but he had not swung the axe and shovel for twenty years, as Tomlinson had done, in the strenuous, unceasing grapple with unsubdued Nature which hardens every muscle and sinew in the men of the Northwest. They have the pride of manhood in place of the pride of birth, and a grim optimism which chiefly finds expression in attempting that which is apparently beyond accomplishment, and in holding on, in spite of frost and snow and icy gale, until achievement comes. Thus it came about that in a very few seconds Trooper Probyn recognized that he was no match for the miner, though he had no intention of admitting it or of being put into the creek if he could by any means avoid it.

For several strenuous minutes they reeled, locked together, about the trail, and fell against the trees, while neither of them concerned himself greatly about the strict rules of the game. They smote when it was possible and clinched when they could; but all the time they were drawing steadily nearer the creek.

In the meanwhile Leger and Ingleby, as well as one or two miners who purposed purchasing bread from Hetty, came out from among the pines, and a corporal of police rode up on the opposite side of the creek. The miners, who did not notice him, naturally stopped.

"It's that young ass Probyn," said Ingleby. "No doubt he deserves all he is apparently getting."

"He is in uniform, anyway," said Leger. "We'll have to stop them. Let the lad go, Tomlinson!"

Tomlinson did not hear him, for just then he swung the trooper off his feet, and staggering forward a pace or two fell with him into the creek. They splashed into the water, and apparently rolled over and over in the midst of it, while confused shouts rose from the miners.

"Pull him off. No, stand clear. Let them have a show!"

Then the corporal of police, trotting forward, pulled his horse up at the edge of the creek.

"Let up on that man, prospector," he said sharply.

Tomlinson seemed to hear him, for he relaxed his hold and slowly stood up, while Trooper Probyn rose in the middle of the creek with the water draining from him and blood on his cheek. The miners gathered round, but the corporal sat stiffly in his saddle with expressionless face.

"Stand off, you," he said, with a glance at them, and then turned to Probyn. "Now, what in the name of thunder is the meaning of this circus?"

"It's a little difference of opinion," said the trooper. "Prospector Tomlinson felt I'd said something insulting to him."

The corporal appeared to reflect. "Considering where you were sent to, I can't quite figure what you were doing here, anyway; but that's not the point," he said. "I'll trouble you to come along to the outpost, Tomlinson."

One of the miners stepped forward. "He's staying where he is," he said. "I guess the trooper made the trouble and only got what he wanted. Hadn't both of you better light out of this?"

There was a little grim murmur of approbation, but the corporal, who dropped his bridle, looked at the men with steady eyes.

"I'm not asking your opinions, boys," he said.

Then Probyn turned to him. "As a matter of fact, they're right in one respect," he said. "The little row had nothing to do with any question of duty. It was a private affair of mine. If it appears necessary, you can report it to Captain Esmond."

Once more the corporal, who was a shrewd man, appeared to reflect. "Well," he said, "I saw your grey tethered when I came along the trail. You'd better get him. If you're wanted we'll come along for you, Tomlinson."

Tomlinson turned, and looked at Probyn. "I guess," he said, slowly and distinctly, "if ever you start the same circus again I'll kill you."

The corporal, who did not appear to hear him, though everybody else did, wheeled his horse, and Probyn walked by his stirrup when he rode away. Then Ingleby turned to Tomlinson.

"There's a good deal I want to know," he said.

"Well," said the big miner drily, "there's very little you need worry about. You see, that young trooper isn't fond of me, and there was a kind of unpleasantness when we ran up against each other."

"You were coming down the trail from the bakery when I saw you," said Leger.

"Yes," said Tomlinson, "we were."

"Then," said Leger, "since he ran up against you, Probyn must have been going there."

Tomlinson appeared to be considering the point. "Well," he said, "it looks quite like that."



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