Delilah of the Snows
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The fact was very evident, and Ingleby nodded. "How long do you think it will be before he can walk again?" he said.
"A month, anyway, and quite likely six weeks; that is, before you could let him start out on the trail. I don't quite know what we're going to do with him in the meanwhile."
Tomlinson, who appeared to understand him, looked up with his face awry.
"You're not going to do anything," he said half-coherently. "I'll give myself up. I can't stay here and make trouble for the boys."
"You go to sleep!" said the other man severely, and made a little sign to Ingleby, who sat silent for a minute or two after Tomlinson sank back again on the twigs.
"That's just the point," he said. "The boys don't mean to let the police have him?"
"No," and Ingleby's manner suggested that the subject was not worth discussion. "They wouldn't think of it for a minute. I'd have nothing more to do with them if they did."
The American nodded. "Well," he said, "I can pull the man round, but I'm not going to answer for what will happen if the troopers get hold of him. He's tough, but he wants looking after, and there's no one at the outpost knows more than enough to pull a stone out of a cayuse's hoof."
"You can take out a bullet, anyway," said Ingleby suggestively.
"Oh yes. I'd have had quite a nice practice by this time if it had been convenient for me to stay in Connecticut. As it happened, it wasn't."
Ingleby looked at him steadily. "Tomlinson," he said, "is a friend of mine, and that, of course, implies an obligation. You, so far as I know, have had very little to do with him, and it seems only reasonable to warn you that you may get yourself into serious trouble by looking after him. The law is generally carried out in our country."
The American laughed. "I can take my chances. I'm not going back on a sick man, anyway."
They said nothing more for awhile until a man who had apparently been running came in.
"Where's Sewell?" he gasped.
"I don't know," said Ingleby. "He wasn't at home this morning. Most likely he's looking for a deer."
"Then I guess you'll have to do. Esmond has trailed Tomlinson to the bakery. He has got Hetty and Tom Leger at the outpost now."
Ingleby rose suddenly to his feet. "You're quite sure?"
"Well," said the other, "I guess I ought to be. I met them. Trooper Grieve didn't stop their talking, and they told me. Esmond tried to bluff where Tomlinson was out of them, and they're to stand in with him as accessories."
It was evident to Ingleby that since Sewell was away a heavy responsibility devolved upon him as a friend of Tomlinson and Leger. He was expected to do something, and, as usual, he did the obvious thing without counting what it would cost him.
"Where is Esmond?" he asked.
"Hitting the trail to the settlements all he's worth," said the other man.
"Then go round and let the boys know what you have told me.They can meet outside Ransome's shanty. The dinner-hour will do. I'll be there to meet them."
The man went out, and at the time appointed Ingleby stood outside a little hut of bark and logs with a crowd of bronze-faced men about him. They were somewhat silent, but their manner was quietly resolute. It suggested that their minds were made up and that they were only waiting for a leader in whom they had confidence. Ingleby had gained their liking, but he was young, and they were not quite sure whether he would be the man or whether they must choose another. In the meanwhile they were willing to give him a hearing. It was evident that he was equal to the occasion when he stepped forward and looked at them with steady eyes.
"Boys," he said, "do any of you believe Tomlinson killed Trooper Probyn?"
There was a general murmur of dissent, and Ingleby made a little sign of concurrence. "Are you willing to let the troopers have him? You must remember that the thing looks bad against him, and he will not be tried by you."
The murmurs were articulate now, and it was very clear that not a man there had the least intention of giving up Tomlinson.
"Then it should be quite plain that you will have to keep the troopers from him. It is only a question of a day or two at the longest before they trail him. They may do it to-night. Esmond will very soon find out that he isn't pushing on in front of him for the settlements."
A big man stood forward, and glanced at the rest. "There's not a trooper in this valley going to lay hands on Tomlinson."
Again the murmurs rose portentously, and Ingleby smiled.
"Well," he said, "since the trouble can't be shuffled off, we may as well face it now. We have got to make a stand and maintain it until Esmond finds he has to humour us. He has Leger and his sister in the outpost. Do you know any reason why we shouldn't take them out?"
"I guess not," said the man who had spoken already. "Still, if there's any shooting, two or three of us are going to smell trouble as well as Tomlinson."
"There will not be any," said Ingleby. "Esmond has only two men at the outpost. Nobody wants to hurt them. The thing can be done without it. In fact, that's essential. I want three or four determined men."
They were forthcoming, but one of the rest asked a question.
"Have you figured what's going to happen when Esmond comes back?" he said.
"I have," said Ingleby. "He will have a handful of tolerably active men under his orders then, but only a handful, after all. Now, the outpost's outside the ca?on, and there's a spot where a log barricade would effectively block the trail. The troopers will have to be kept outside it until we can arrive at a compromise. Esmond will probably make it. It would be two months, anyway, before he could get more troopers in, and if there's another heavy snowfall it mightn't be done till spring."
None of those who listened could find fault with the scheme. It was evidently workable, and they had already decided that Tomlinson was not to be given up at any cost. That, as Ingleby had pointed out, would necessarily involve them in difficulties with the police. There was thus very little further discussion, and the men went back, a trifle thoughtfully, to their work until the evening.
It seemed to most of them a long while coming, and to none of them slower than it did to Hetty Leger, who sat with her brother in a very little, log-walled room at the outpost as dusk was closing down. Tom Leger, glancing at her as she sat huddled in a chair by the window, fancied that she was crying.
"Why did we come here, Tom?" she said. "Everything has gone wrong since we left Vancouver."
"The outlook certainly isn't very cheerful just now," said Leger, with a rueful smile. "Still, after all, you made a good many dollars at the bakery, and my claim is doing well. Ingleby will see that while I'm kept here the work is carried on. One can put up with a good deal of inconvenience when he's washing out gold-dust."
"Dollars!" said Hetty. "And gold-dust! Is there nothing else worth having?"
"Well," said Leger drily, "when you have no prospect of getting it, it's as well to content oneself with dollars. If I remember rightly you used to think a good deal of a shilling in England."
Hetty glanced at him sharply with hazy eyes. "What do you mean by – no prospect of getting it?"
"I don't quite know. You suggested the notion. Anyway, I scarcely think Esmond can make out very much of a case against us. He doesn't really know that Tomlinson was at the bakery."
"It isn't that that's worrying me. It's – everything," said Hetty.
"I don't think you need cry over Tomlinson. The boys will take care of him."
"I wasn't crying about Tomlinson. In fact, I'm not sure I was crying at all. Still, you see, it was all my fault."
Leger smiled whimsically. "Well," he said, "I scarcely think that should afford you any great satisfaction, though it almost seems to do so. No doubt it's part of a girl's nature to make trouble of the kind."
Hetty closed one hand. "I'm going to be angry in a minute. That's not the way to talk to any one who's feeling – what I am just now."
Leger rose and patted her shoulder. "I'd sooner see you raging than looking as you do. Shake the mood off, Hetty. It isn't in the least like you."
Hetty said nothing but turned from him and looked out of the little window. A young trooper was leaning over the rude balustrade of the veranda, and beyond him the sombre pines rolled down the darkening valley. Night had not quite fallen yet, though a half-moon that showed red and frosty was growing brighter above the white shoulder of a hill. Another trooper was apparently busy in the adjoining room, for they could hear his footsteps as he moved, but that was the only sound. Then a face rose suddenly into sight above the floor of the veranda where the trooper could not see it. It was a horrible, grey face, and Hetty shrank back, while her chair grated harshly on the floor. In another moment Tom Leger's hand closed tightly on her arm.
"Keep still!" he said. "It's a masked man. I fancy the boys have come for us."
Hetty looked again, and saw that a strip of deer-hide with holes cut in it was tied across the face. Then she became sensible that there was something suggestively familiar in the attitude of the man who, moving noiselessly, raised himself erect and stood watching the trooper, whose back was towards him.
"Oh," she gasped, "it's Walter!"
"Be quiet!" said Leger, and the grasp upon her arm grew tighter.
Another face appeared between the rails, but the first man had already swung one leg over them, and in another moment he sprang forward along the veranda. The trooper heard him and swung round, but even as he did so the newcomer flung his arms about him and they reeled together down the little stairway. Then the second trooper flung open the door, but as he ran out of it two or three men who had apparently crept into the veranda grappled with him, and Hetty could hear them tumbling up and down the adjoining room. Then there was a brief silence until somebody burst open the door of the room in which she was shut. A masked man who strode in grasped her shoulder, and she struggled vainly as he drew her towards the door.
"I won't go. It will only get you into worse trouble," she said.
The man laughed. "If I had to face it all my life, do you think I would leave you here?"
Hetty recognized the tension in his voice, and something that seemed to answer it thrilled in her; but she still protested, and the man, who flung an arm about her waist, swung her off her feet. He did not let her go until he set her down, flushed and gasping, among the pines outside.
Then she laughed. "I'm not sure you could have done that in England, Walter."
"No," said Ingleby. "Anyway, you wouldn't have let me, but we can't stop to talk now. Esmond may come back at any time, and there is a good deal to do." He turned from her suddenly. "You have got those fellows' carbines?"
"Oh yes," said another man. "We'd better bring along their cartridges and heave them in the river too. We haven't hurt either of them much, considering."
Ingleby signed to the rest, though he still held Hetty's arm. "Now," he said, "the sooner we light out of this the better it will be for everybody."