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- Northern Lights, Volume 1. - 6/13 -
margin of force, with no reserve for any extra strain, with just enough for each day's use and no more. Four hours before he had come again with his team of four mules and an Indian youth, having covered forty miles since his last stage. She was at the door and saw him coming while he was yet along distance off. Some instinct had told her to watch that afternoon, for she knew of his intended return and of his dangerous enterprise. The Indians had trailed south and east, the traders had disappeared with them, her brother Bantry had gone up and over to Dingan's Drive, and, save for a few loiterers and last hangers-on, she was alone with what must soon be a deserted post; its walls, its great enclosed yard, and its gun-platforms (for it had been fortified) left for law and order to enter upon, in the persons of the red-coated watchmen of the law.
Out of the South, from over the border, bringing the last great smuggled load of whiskey which was to be handed over at Dingan's Drive, and then floated on Red Man's River to settlements up North, came the "college pup," Kelly Lambton, worn out, dazed with fatigue, but smiling too, for a woman's face was ever a tonic to his blood since he was big enough to move in life for himself. It needed courage--or recklessness--to run the border now; for, as Abe Hawley had said, the American marshals were on the pounce, the red-coated mounted police were coming west from Ottawa, and word had winged its way along the prairie that these redcoats were only a few score miles away, and might be at Fort Fair Desire at any moment. The trail to Dingan's Drive lay past it. Through Barfleur Coulee, athwart a great open stretch of country, along a wooded belt, and then, suddenly, over a ridge, Dingan's Drive and Red Man's River would be reached.
The Government had a mind to make an example, if necessary, by killing some smugglers in conflict, and the United States marshals had been goaded by vanity and anger at one or two escapes "to have something for their money," as they said. That, in their language, meant, "to let the red run," and Kelly Lambton had none too much blood to lose.
He looked very pale and beaten as he held Nance Machell's hands now, and called her a prairie-flower, as he had done when he left her two months before. On his arrival but now he had said little, for he saw that she was glad to see him, and he was dead for sleep, after thirty-six hours of ceaseless travel and watching and danger. Now, with the most perilous part of his journey still before him, and worn physically as he was, his blood was running faster as he looked into the girl's face, and something in her abundant force and bounding life drew him to her. Such vitality in a man like Abe Hawley would have angered him almost, as it did a little time ago, when Abe was there; but possessed by the girl, it roused in him a hunger to draw from the well of her perfect health, from the unused vigour of her being, something for himself. The touch of her hands warmed him, in the fulness of her life, in the strong eloquence of face and form, he forgot she was not beautiful. The lightness passed from his words, and his face became eager.
"Flower, yes, the flower of the life of the West--that's what I mean," he said. "You are like an army marching. When I look at you, my blood runs faster. I want to march too. When I hold your hand I feel that life's worth living--I want to do things."
She drew her hand away rather awkwardly. She had not now that command of herself which had ever been easy with the men of the West, except, perhaps, with Abe Hawley when--
But with an attempt, only half-meant, to turn the topic, she said: "You must be starting if you want to get through to-night. If the redcoats catch you this side of Barfleur Coulee, or in the Coulee itself, you'll stand no chance. I heard they was only thirty miles north this afternoon. Maybe they'll come straight on here to-night, instead of camping. If they have news of your coming, they might. You can't tell."
"You're right." He caught her hand again. "I've got to be going now. But Nance--Nance--Nancy, I want to stay here, here with you; or to take you with me."
She drew back. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Take me with you--me-- where?"
"East--away down East."
Her brain throbbed, her pulses beat so hard. She scarcely knew what to say, did not know what she said. "Why do you do this kind of thing? Why do you smuggle?" she asked. "You wasn't brought up to this."
"To get this load of stuff through is life and death to me," he answered. "I've made six thousand dollars out here. That's enough to start me again in the East, where I lost everything. But I've got to have six hundred dollars clear for the travel--railways and things; and I'm having this last run to get it. Then I've finished with the West, I guess. My health's better; the lung is closed up, I've only got a little cough now and again; and I'm off East. I don't want to go alone." He suddenly caught her in his arms. "I want you--you, to go with me, Nancy--Nance!"
Her brain swam. To leave the West behind, to go East to a new life full of pleasant things, as this man's wife! Her great heart rose, and suddenly the mother in her as well as the woman in her was captured by his wooing. She had never known what it was to be wooed like this.
She was about to answer, when there came a sharp knock at the door leading from the backyard, and Lambton's Indian lad entered. "The soldier--he come--many. I go over the ridge; I see. They come quick here," he said.
Nance gave a startled cry, and Lambton turned to the other room for his pistols, overcoat, and cap, when there was the sound of horses' hoofs, the door suddenly opened, and an officer stepped inside.
"You're wanted for smuggling, Lambton," he said brusquely. "Don't stir!" In his hand was a revolver.
"Oh, bosh! Prove it," answered the young man, pale and startled, but cool in speech and action. "We'll prove it all right. The stuff is hereabouts." The girl said something to the officer in the Chinook language. She saw he did not understand. Then she spoke quickly to Lambton in the same tongue.
"Keep him here a bit," she said. "His men haven't come yet. Your outfit is well hid. I'll see if I can get away with it before they find it. They'll follow, and bring you with them, that's sure. So if I have luck and get through, we'll meet at Dingan's Drive."
Lambton's face brightened. He quickly gave her a few directions in Chinook, and told her what to do at Dingan's if she got there first. Then she was gone. The officer did not understand what Nance had said, but he realised that, whatever she intended to do, she had an advantage over him. With an unnecessary courage he had ridden on alone to make his capture, and, as it proved, without prudence. He had got his man, but he had not got the smuggled whiskey and alcohol he had come to seize. There was no time to be lost. The girl had gone before he realised it. What had she said to the prisoner? He was foolish enough to ask Lambton, and Lambton replied coolly: "She said she'd get you some supper, but she guessed it would have to be cold--What's your name? Are you a colonel, or a captain, or only a principal private?"
"I am Captain MacFee, Lambton. And you'll now bring me where your outfit is. March!"
The pistol was still in his hand, and he had a determined look in his eye. Lambton saw it. He was aware of how much power lay in the threatening face before him, and how eager that power was to make itself felt, and provide "Examples"; but he took his chances.
"I'll march all right," he answered, "but I'll march to where you tell me. You can't have it both ways. You can take me, because you've found me, and you can take my outfit too when you've found it; but I'm not doing your work, not if I know it."
There was a blaze of anger in the eyes of the officer, and it looked for an instant as though something of the lawlessness of the border was going to mark the first step of the Law in the Wilderness, but he bethought himself in time, and said quietly, yet in a voice which Lambton knew he must heed:
"Put on your things-quick."
When this was accomplished, and MacFee had secured the smuggler's pistols, he said again, "March, Lambton."
Lambton marched through the moonlit night towards the troop of men who had come to set up the flag of order in the plains and hills, and as he went his keen ear heard his own mules galloping away down towards the Barfleur Coulee. His heart thumped in his breast. This girl, this prairie-flower, was doing this for him, was risking her life, was breaking the law for him. If she got through, and handed over the whiskey to those who were waiting for it, and it got bundled into the boats going North before the redcoats reached Dingan's Drive, it would be as fine a performance as the West had ever seen; and he would be six hundred dollars to the good. He listened to the mules galloping, till the sounds had died into the distance, but he saw now that his captor had heard too, and that the pursuit would be desperate.
A half-hour later it began, with MacFee at the head, and a dozen troopers pounding behind, weary, hungry, bad-tempered, ready to exact payment for their hardships and discouragement.
They had not gone a dozen miles when a shouting horseman rode furiously on them from behind. They turned with carbines cocked, but it was Abe Hawley who cursed them, flung his fingers in their faces, and rode on harder and harder. Abe had got the news from one of Nancy's half-breeds, and, with the devil raging in his heart, had entered on the chase. His spirit was up against them all; against the Law represented by the troopers camped at Fort Fair Desire, against the troopers and their captain speeding after Nancy Machell--his Nonce, who was risking her life and freedom for the hated, pale-faced smuggler riding between the troopers; and his spirit was up against Nance herself.
Nance had said to him, "Come back in an hour," and he had come back to find her gone. She had broken her word. She had deceived him. She had thrown the four years of his waiting to the winds, and a savage lust was in his heart, which would not be appeased till he had done some evil thing to someone.
The girl and the Indian lad were pounding through the night with ears strained to listen for hoof-beats coming after, with eyes searching forward into the trail for swollen creeks and direful obstructions. Through Barfleur Coulee it was a terrible march, for there was no road, and again and again they were nearly overturned, while wolves hovered in their path, ready to reap a midnight harvest. But once in the open again, with the full moonlight on their trail, the girl's spirits rose. If she could do this thing for the man who had looked into her eyes as no one had ever done, what a finish to her days in the West! For they were finished, finished for ever, and she was going--she was going East; not West with Bantry, nor South with Nick Pringle, nor North with Abe Hawley, ah, Abe Hawley, he had been a good friend, he had a great heart, he was
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