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- Northern Lights, Volume 1. - 10/13 -
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, of 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 forwards, 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 towards 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 forwards, 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 sun-down, the storm had ceased, and, as on the night before, the sky was stained with colour and drowned in splendour.
"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.
"I bin waitin' for him, an' I'll git him of it takes all winter. I'll git him--plumb."
The speaker smoothed the barrel of his rifle with mittened hand, which had, however, a trigger-finger free. With black eyebrows twitching over sunken grey eyes, he looked doggedly down the frosty valley from the ledge of high rock where he sat. The face was rough and weather-beaten, with the deep tan got in the open life of a land of much sun and little cloud, and he had a beard which, untrimmed and growing wild, made him look ten years older than he was.
"I bin waitin' a durn while," the mountain-man added, and got to his feet slowly, drawing himself out to six and a half feet of burly manhood. The shoulders were, however, a little stooped, and the head was thrust forwards with an eager, watchful look--a habit become a physical characteristic.
Presently he caught sight of a hawk sailing southward along the peaks of the white icebound mountains above, on which the sun shone with such sharp insistence, making sky and mountain of a piece in deep purity and serene stillness.
"That hawk's seen him, mebbe," he said, after a moment. "I bet it went up higher when it got him in its eye. Ef it'd only speak and tell me where he is--ef he's a day, or two days, or ten days north."
Suddenly his eyes blazed and his mouth opened in superstitious amazement, for the hawk stopped almost directly overhead at a great height, and swept round in a circle many times, waveringly, uncertainly. At last it resumed its flight southward, sliding down the mountains like a winged star.
The mountaineer watched it with a dazed expression for a moment longer, then both hands clutched the rifle and half swung it to position involuntarily.
"It's seen him, and it stopped to say so. It's seen him, I tell you, an' I'll git him. Ef it's an hour, or a day, or a week, it's all the same. I'm here watchin', waitin' dead on to him, the poison skunk!"
The person to whom he had been speaking now rose from the pile of cedar boughs where he had been sitting, stretched his arms up, then shook himself into place, as does a dog after sleep. He stood for a minute looking at the mountaineer with a reflective, yet a furtively sardonic, look. He was not above five feet nine inches in height, and he was slim and neat; and though his buckskin coat and breeches were worn and even
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