Harold Bindloss.

Delilah of the Snows



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Slavin smiled. "I am not quite so sure as you seem to be. The fellow's last remark was a significant one, and he's not the kind of man to stand still anywhere very long. Anyway, he and you between you have forced my hand, and, while I have got to take your lead, the game is going to be a risky one."

Eshelby sat down with a little gesture which implied that he had already given the trifling affair rather more attention than it merited; and Slavin went out to take such proceedings as appeared advisable, though it was not until that night that the result of them became evident.

Sewell was then sitting with eight or nine men in the general room of Hobson's Oregon Hotel. It had walls of undressed logs, but the roof was still of canvas, for Hobson had been too busy watching over his interests in several profitable claims and dispensing deleterious liquor to split sufficient cedar. There was another room in the building in which he slept with any newcomer who was rash enough to put his hospitality to the test. Rather more than a hundred miners were at work in that valley, but only a few whose views and influence with the rest were known had been invited to attend the conference.

The room was foul with tobacco smoke and the reek of kerosene, for the big lamp smoked when the roof canvas flapped now and then. Sewell sat in a deer-hide chair with a pipe in his hand, and a man with a grim, bronzed face and a splendid corded arm showing through the torn sleeve of his shirt was speaking. He spoke quietly and like a man of education.

"We have," he said, "as our host has pointed out, done the straight thing and given constituted authority a show. The constituted authority, as usual, prefers to do nothing. We naturally consider our grievances warranted, but I need not go into them again. Some of us risked our lives to get here; the rest will probably do so by holding on through the winter, and, considering how we work, it is not exactly astonishing that we wish to take back a little gold with us – which we are scarcely likely to do under the present regulations. I, however, fancy the position is plain enough to everybody."

"The question, Hobson," said another man, "is how's it going to be altered?"

"By kicking," said Hobson drily. "You want to start in hard, and stay right there with it."

There was a murmur of approval, and a man stood up.

"That, I guess, is just the point – who's to begin, and when?" he said. "There's mighty little use in three or four of us wearing our shoes out before the rest. No, sir, Slavin would come round with his troopers and run those men out."

Sewell nodded. "Our friend has hit it; we have got to go slow," he said. "There are at least a hundred men in this valley, and a good many more with the same grievances farther west, without mentioning the Green River country, where the regulations are easier. Now, it will be your business to go round and make sure of the men here joining us.

A good many of them are ready, and we'll strike when you can get the rest. The kick will have to be unanimous."

"That's so," said another man. "Lie low until we're ready. Well, when the time comes you'll have your programme?"

Sewell leaned forward in his chair with a little glow in his eyes. "Then," he said, "we will, for one thing, show Recorder Eshelby out of the valley by way of a protest, and, if it appears necessary, as it probably will do, seize Slavin's armoury. We'll make our regulations and give the Crown people a hint that they had better sanction them."

There was a little hum of approbation, and a man stood up. "I guess that's the platform," he said. "Half the men in this country are Americans, and Alaska is not so far away. Once we show we mean it they're coming right in, and when we start in twisting the Beaver's tail we're going to get some backing at home. Do you know any reason why we shouldn't send somebody down south to whip up a campaign fund? There was plenty of money piled up when the Chicago Irishmen were going over to ask why the British nation threw out the Home Rule Bill."

Most of the others laughed, but while there was no expression of sympathy it was significant that there was as little astonishment. Visionaries talked of founding a new republic in the North just then, and some of annexation, but still the Beaver flag flapped over every Government outpost. There were many men with grievances in that country, but they knew the world and were far from sure that there was anything to be gained by changing their accustomed burden for what might prove to be a more grievous one. There were others who, while by no means contented with the mining regulations, were still characterized by the sturdy Imperialism which is to be met with throughout most of Canada.

Hobson turned to the speaker with a whimsical grin. "The Chicago Irishmen stayed right where they were," he said. "I don't know what they did with the money, but they bought no rifles – they weren't blame fools. The moral is that what an Irishman looks at twice is too big a thing for us. No, sir, you wouldn't raise ten dollars in a month down there. America has all the trouble she has any use for already. What we want to do is to put up a good big bluff – and no more than that – on the British Empire."

"How's the Empire going to take it?" asked another.

Sewell smiled. "Patiently, I think. That is, if we go just far enough and know when to stop. They move slowly in England – I was born there – and I'm not sure they're very much quicker in Ottawa. In fact, they rather like an energetic protest, and you very seldom get anything without it. Once we show we're in earnest they'll send over a special commissioner with instructions to make any concessions he thinks will please us."

"There are Slavin and his troopers to consider," said the man who had spoken first. "They're not going to sit still, and if any of them got hurt during the proceedings it's quite likely we might be visited by a column of Canadian militia."

Others commenced to speak – two or three together, in fact – but Sewell raised his hand.

"That eventuality will have to be carefully guarded against," he said. "Slavin seems to be a man of ability and sense, and he would never pit his handful of troopers against a hundred men. In the meanwhile, everything depends on secrecy, and no move must be made until you are sure of everybody. I will answer for the Green River men. I am going back there shortly."

Then they put their heads together to consider a scheme, and there was only a low hum of voices until Hobson stood up suddenly. A tramp of feet and a sharp order rose from outside.

"Slavin and the troopers!" he said. "We don't want him to know who's here. Get out through the roof, boys. Put the lamp out."

It was done, and while a sound of ripping and scrambling became audible in the black darkness Hobson touched Sewell's arm.

"You and I have got to see it out. I guess he's sure of us," he said.

In another moment or two somebody beat upon the door, and getting no answer drove it open. Then a sulphur match sputtered, and the trooper who stood in the entrance turned to a man behind him.

"There are only two men here, sir," he said.

"Light that lamp," said the other man. "I feel tolerably certain there were considerably more."

Hobson stood forward when the feeble light of the blue flame made him dimly visible.

"I guess it's broke," he said.

"Bring Rignauld's lantern!" said the man in the darkness.

It was at least a minute before another trooper appeared with a light, and Sewell surmised that his companions had made good use of the time. Slavin, who, as he quite expected, was standing in the doorway, seemed to realize it too, for he glanced at the torn canvas.

"I might have thought of that," he said. "You and Rignauld will start down the trail and stop any man you come across, though I guess they're back in their tents or in the bush by now."

The trooper went out, and Slavin turned to Hobson with a smile on his face. "We have got you, anyway, and you'll spend to-night, at least, in the outpost. To-morrow I'll look into the question of the liquor-sale permits, and it's quite likely this saloon will be closed. I'll have to take you along as well, Mr. Sewell."

Sewell made a good-humoured gesture of resignation. "I suppose I'll have to come. It's a proceeding I'm not altogether unaccustomed to. Still, I'm not sure there is any charge you can work up against me."

Slavin looked at him almost appreciatively. "Well," he said, "I fancy you're not going to make any trouble here. In fact, it's very probable that you will leave this settlement early to-morrow, though it would have been a good deal better had I choked you off from coming here. I would have done it had I known who you were. You will take any steps that seem necessary if these gentlemen try to get away, Trooper Nixon."

Sewell spent that night at the outpost, but not in the same room with Hobson, and when he had breakfasted tolerably well Slavin came in.

"Your horse is waiting, and you will start at once – for wherever you like so long as it's outside my boundaries, though I may as well mention that every officer in the district will be warned against you," he said. "If you feel yourself aggrieved you can, of course, complain to Victoria."

Sewell made no protest. When he knew it would be useless he seldom did, and Slavin, who handed him several days' provisions, waited until he swung himself into the saddle.

"It wouldn't be wise to push your luck too hard by coming back," he said.

Sewell smiled from the saddle, and rode away. He knew that the seed was sown and need only be left to spring and ripen, though he would have felt easier had he been sure that Slavin did not know it, too. Eshelby could be trusted to stimulate the growth of the crop, but he had already grasped the capabilities of the quiet police officer, who, it was evident, was a very different kind of man.

XI
INGLEBY VENTURES A REMONSTRANCE

It was late in the afternoon when Ingleby, who led two jaded pack-horses, limped into the Green River ca?on. His long boots, which were caked with the mire of leagues of travel, galled him cruelly; every joint was aching; and it was only by an effort he kept himself on his feet at all. It had rained most of the way from the distant settlement where he had been for the flour Hetty had asked for, and during the last week he had slept by snatches amidst the dripping fern while the pitiless deluge thrashed the fir trunks that indifferently sheltered him. The few strips of natural prairie in the valleys had turned to treacherous swamps, where he sank to the knee, and every few miles there was a furious torrent to be forded perilously.

Had he been called on to make that journey under such conditions when fresh from England he would probably never have reached the ca?on, but strenuous toil with pick and shovel and the simple life of the wilderness had hardened him, and endued him with the strength of will which holds the worn-out body in due subjection. Man's capacity for endurance is, as even the hard-handed bushman knows, moral as well as physical; but Ingleby was making his last effort when he reached the great rift between the hills.

The river roared close beneath him, swirling among its boulders, stained green with the clay of a great glacier, and overhead the sombre pines were blurred by mist and rain. No laden beast could scale the slope they clung to, and a treacherous bank of gravel on which a man could scarcely keep his footing dropped to the river just outside the slushy trail. Ingleby sank ankle-deep in mire at every step, but he held on doggedly with a hand on the leading horse's bridle and the rain on his face, for Leger's camp was not very far away, and he feared that if he rested now his worn-out limbs might fail him when he came to start again.

That was sufficient to account for the sudden hardening of his face when a thud of hoofs came out of the rain. The trail was especially soft and narrow just there, and it would evidently be a risky matter to attempt to lead two horses past each other. Thrusting the leading beast close in to the inner side he raised his voice as two figures materialized amidst the trunks in front of him. Down in that great hollow the light was dim, but the clatter of accoutrements told him it was a couple of police troopers who were approaching.

"Stop where you are until I get by. There's scarcely room for both of us," he said.

It was evident that the men heard him, for one said something to the other sharply, but they did not stop. They came on at a floundering trot instead, until Ingleby saw who the foremost was and pulled the pack-horse across the trail. Then there was a musical jingling as the men drew bridle, and Ingleby and the leader looked at each other. He wore an officer's uniform and there was just then a little sardonic gleam in his dark eyes. He was also very like the man Ingleby, who now knew he bore the same name, had faced at Willow Dene.

"Why didn't you pull up behind there, packer?" he asked.

"You couldn't have got past, Captain Esmond," said Ingleby. "I was well into the narrow stretch when I called to you."

"That," said the policeman, "is a trifle unfortunate – for you. It ought to be tolerably evident that I can't wheel my horse now."

It was apparently out of the question, but Ingleby's wet face grew a trifle grim, for the assurance with which the young officer claimed precedence was exasperating, and he knew that any miner in the valley seeing him hampered by two laden beasts would have made way for him. One of them, it was evident, must leave the trail, but Ingleby felt that the question which that one would be was by no means decided yet. He glanced at the swirling pool below, and though he fancied there was no great depth of water, it was clear to him that even if he could lead the worn-out beasts down the slippery slope of gravel he could never drag them up again.

"You should have foreseen that when I warned you to stop," he said.

A little flicker of colour showed in Esmond's face, but he sat easily, and, as it seemed to Ingleby, insolently, still in his saddle, looking at him with an excellent assumption of ironical incredulity, as though unwilling to believe that he had heard correctly. This was the more exasperating because Ingleby had his share of the sturdy English independence, and an almost unreasoning dislike of anything that savoured of arrogance. It was, however, consoling to remember that in the wilderness the patrician is held of no more account than the manhood inherent in him warrants, and must either waive his claim to superiority or support it by his own resources. There was also no sign that the trooper sympathized with his officer.

"Will you be good enough to get out of my way?" asked Esmond with portentous quietness.

There was no answer; and he touched his horse with the spur. The beast floundered forward splashing in the mire; but Ingleby stood still with a grim wet face in the middle of the trail, and a faint trace of astonishment crept into the young officer's eyes, for, as sometimes happens in the case of men with sufficient belief in themselves, he had hitherto found the world inclined to take him at his own valuation. Now he found the position as galling as it was unexpected, for it was evident that the nerve of the wet and miry man who stood awaiting him with exasperating quietness was quite equal to his.

Esmond's blood was up, and it is very probable that he would have risked the encounter had he been free from official responsibility. As it was, however, he remembered that an officer of police is not warranted in riding down an unoffending citizen, and in addition to this the heavily-laden pack-horse drawn right across the trail promised to prove an embarrassing obstacle even if Ingleby had not been standing beside it with a heavy fir staff in his hand. It occurred to Esmond that there was very little to be gained except damage to his personal dignity by riding into two bags of flour, while a second pack-horse similarly encumbered blocked the trail close behind.

Thus at the last moment he swung himself backwards with a wrench upon the bridle, and there was a scattering of mire and gravel as his horse reeled down the slope to the river. The beast was used to the mountains, and the man had ridden from infancy, so that when they plunged to the girth in the swirling pool he was still in the saddle, and Ingleby saw that his face was dark with a flush of anger. How he was to get out was his own business, and it was evident that he was in no danger, so Ingleby turned and gazed at the trooper, who sat still with a faint but suggestive twinkle in his eyes.

"I don't want to wait here. Both the beasts and I are badly played out," he said.

The trooper rubbed his chin with a wet hand, and glanced at his officer, who had, however, his back to him just then as he picked his way amidst the boulders.

"Well," he said, "I guess if I got down and edged out to the off side you might pass me. The trail's a little wider here."

"Thanks!" said Ingleby, and looked at the man as he carefully led his beasts by him. The trooper also looked at him, with a little comprehending grin.

"Somebody's going to make trouble if he can find a speck on anything to-morrow," he said.

He swung himself into the saddle with all the haste he could contrive, and with one eye still upon his officer. Ingleby plodded on, and, as dusk was closing in, limped into sight of a ruddy blaze among the pines. Leger, who had heard his approach, took the pack-horses' bridles, and Ingleby stood stupidly still, blinking at him.

"I've got it," he said, pointing to the flour. "Where is it to go? I'll give you a hand to heave it down."

Leger laughed and pointed to the shanty. "Go right in. I'll manage the bags myself," he said. "Tomlinson and the boys have been up and built us a new store-shed."

Ingleby turned towards the shanty, and as he neared the doorway a slim figure cut against the light, and a hand was stretched out to draw him in. Then he felt a little thrill run through him as he stood in the welcome warmth with Hetty looking up at him. There was an almost maternal gentleness and compassion in her eyes, for Ingleby's face was a trifle grey and the water ran from him. Then she turned swiftly and thrust an armful of clothing upon him.

"Put them on this minute; they're warm and dry. There's a light in the new shed," she said. "Then come back here. You're not to go outside again."

Ingleby was glad to obey her, and when he came back Hetty had drawn a rude chair of deerhide towards the fire.

"Sit down, and don't worry about trying to talk," she said.

Ingleby sank wearily into the chair, and lay there in a state of blissful content watching her with half-closed eyes. It was an inestimable luxury to be free from the chill of his saturated clothing and feel the warmth creep through him, but by degrees he became sensible that his contentment had more than a physical origin. The soft rustle of Hetty's dress was soothing as she laid out a simple meal; her quick, light footsteps suggested a gratifying anxiety to minister to his comfort; and he found the fashion in which she smiled at him, as she did once or twice, especially pleasant. Hetty had a spice of temper and a will of her own, but she was also endued with the kindliness which makes up for a good many deficiencies. Ingleby turned his head at last and looked at her languidly.

"You make this shanty feel like home – though it is a very long while since I had one," he said.

Hetty flushed, ever so slightly, and Ingleby naturally did not notice it.

"We have been making improvements since you left," she said. "It really doesn't need very much to make a place look comfortable."

Ingleby appeared reflective. "Well," he said, "I suppose it doesn't. I don't know how you manage it, Hetty, but everything seems just as one would like it when you arrange it. Still, that's not quite what I mean either. I'm really not sure I know what I do mean – you see, I'm sleepy."

Hetty stopped close beside him and looked down with a little smile, though there was just a shade more colour than usual in her face.

"You are worn out, and needn't worry about it until you have had supper," she said. "If I had known you would come back like this I would never have let you go."

"Still, you wanted the flour."

"I didn't mean you to wear yourself out to save those lazy miners from baking their own bread."

Ingleby shook his head. "I shall be all right to-morrow, and I'm going to talk," he said, "That wasn't why you sent me. One doesn't start a bakery out of philanthropy."

"Well," said Hetty, "you know I wanted the money."

"For Tom and me!" said Ingleby reproachfully. "I felt horribly mean about it all the way to the settlement."

"Is it very unpleasant then to let me do anything for you?"

"No," said Ingleby. "That is, of course, it's generally very nice. Still, in this case – "

Hetty looked at him curiously. "Oh, I know! Still, you seemed quite angry once because I didn't care to let you lend Tom the money to bring us out."



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