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- Northern Lights, Volume 2. - 2/15 -
ringleaders--they laid a plan that'd make the devil sick. They've put a machine in the mine, an' timed it, an' it'll go off when my friend comes out of the mine at noon to-morrow."
Her face was pale now, and her eyes had a look of pain and horror. Her man--him that she was to marry--was the head of a mine also at Selby, forty miles beyond Bindon, and the horrible plot came home to her with piercing significance.
"Without a second's warning," he urged, "to go like that, the man that was so good to my little gal, an' me with a chance to save him, an' others too, p'r'aps. You won't let it be. Say, I'm pinnin' my faith to you. I'm--"
Suddenly he swayed. She caught him, held him, and lowered him gently in a chair. Presently he opened his eyes. "It's want o' food, I suppose," he said. "If you've got a bit of bread and meat--I must keep up."
She went to a cupboard, but suddenly turned towards him again. Her ears had caught a sound outside in the underbush. He had heard also, and he half staggered to his feet.
"Quick-in here!" she said, and, opening a door, pushed him inside. "Lie down on my bed, and I'll bring you vittles as quick as I can," she added. Then she shut the door, turned to the ironing-board, and took up the iron, as the figure of a man darkened the doorway.
"Hello, Jinny, fixin' up for to-morrow?" the man said, stepping inside, with a rifle under his arm and some pigeons in his hand.
She nodded and gave him an impatient, scrutinising glance. His face had a fatuous kind of smile.
"Been celebrating the pigeons?" she asked drily, jerking her head towards the two birds, which she had seen drop from her Eden skies a short time before.
"I only had one swig of whiskey, honest Injun!" he answered. "I s'pose I might have waited till to-morrow, but I was dead-beat. I got a bear over by the Tenmile Reach, and I was tired. I ain't so young as I used to be, and, anyhow, what's the good! What's ahead of me? You're going to git married to-morrow after all these years we bin together, and you're going down to Selby from the mountains, where I won't see you, not once in a blue moon. Only that old trollop, Mother Massy, to look after me."
"Come down to Selby and live there. You'll be welcome by Jake and me."
He stood his gun in the corner and, swinging the pigeons in his hand, said: "Me live out of the mountains? Don't you know better than that? I couldn't breathe; and I wouldn't want to breathe. I've got my shack here, I got my fur business, and they're still fond of whiskey up North!" He chuckled to himself, as he thought of the illicit still farther up the mountain behind them. "I make enough to live on, and I've put a few dollars by, though I won't have so many after to-morrow, after I've given you a little pile, Jinny."
"P'r'aps there won't be any to-morrow, as you expect," she said slowly.
The old man started. "What, you and Jake ain't quarrelled again? You ain't broke it off at the last moment, same as before? You ain't had a letter from Jake?" He looked at the white petticoat on the chairback, and shook his head in bewilderment.
"I've had no letter," she answered. "I've had no letter from Selby for a month. It was all settled then, and there was no good writing, when he was coming to-morrow with the minister and the licence. Who do you think'd be postman from Selby here? It must have cost him ten dollars to send the last letter."
"Then what's the matter? I don't understand," the old man urged querulously. He did not want her to marry and leave him, but he wanted no more troubles; he did not relish being asked awkward questions by every mountaineer he met, as to why Jenny Long didn't marry Jake Lawson.
"There's only one way that I can be married tomorrow," she said at last, "and that's by you taking a man down the Dog Nose Rapids to Bindon to- night."
He dropped the pigeons on the floor, dumbfounded. "What in--"
He stopped short, in sheer incapacity, to go further. Jenny had not always been easy to understand, but she was wholly incomprehensible now.
She picked up the pigeons and was about to speak, but she glanced at the bedroom door, where her exhausted visitor had stretched himself on her bed, and beckoned her uncle to another room.
"There's a plate of vittles ready for you in there," she said. "I'll tell you as you eat."
He followed her into the little living-room adorned by the trophies of his earlier achievements with gun and rifle, and sat down at the table, where some food lay covered by a clean white cloth.
"No one'll ever look after me as you've done, Jinny," he said, as he lifted the cloth and saw the palatable dish ready for him. Then he remembered again about to-morrow and the Dog Nose Rapids.
"What's it all about, Jinny? What's that about my canoeing a man down to Bindon?"
"Eat, uncle," she said more softly than she had yet spoken, for his words about her care of him had brought a moisture to her eyes. "I'll be back in a minute and tell you all about it."
"Well, it's about took away my appetite," he said. "I feel a kind of sinking." He took from his pocket a bottle, poured some of its contents into a tin cup, and drank it off.
"No, I suppose you couldn't take a man down to Bindon," she said, as she saw his hand trembling on the cup. Then she turned and entered the other room again. Going to the cupboard, she hastily heaped a plate with food, and, taking a dipper of water from a pail near by, she entered her bedroom hastily and placed what she had brought on a small table, as her visitor rose slowly from the bed.
He was about to speak, but she made a protesting gesture.
"I can't tell you anything yet," she said. "Who was it come?" he asked.
"My uncle--I'm going to tell him."
"The men after me may git here any minute," he urged anxiously.
"They'd not be coming into my room," she answered, flushing slightly.
"Can't you hide me down by the river till we start?" he asked, his eyes eagerly searching her face. He was assuming that she would take him down the river: but she gave no sign.
"I've got to see if he'll take you first," she answered.
"He--your uncle, Tom Sanger? He drinks, I've heard. He'd never git to Bindon."
She did not reply directly to his words. "I'll come back and tell you. There's a place you could hide by the river where no one could ever find you," she said, and left the room.
As she stepped out, she saw the old man standing in the doorway of the other room. His face was petrified with amazement.
"Who you got in that room, Jinny? What man you got in that room? I heard a man's voice. Is it because o' him that you bin talkin' about no weddin' to-morrow? Is it one o' the others come back, puttin' you off Jake again?"
Her eyes flashed fire at his first words, and her breast heaved with anger, but suddenly she became composed again and motioned him to a chair.
"You eat, and I'll tell you all about it, Uncle Tom," she said, and, seating herself at the table also, she told him the story of the man who must go to Bindon.
When she had finished, the old man blinked at her for a minute without speaking, then he said slowly: "I heard something 'bout trouble down at Bindon yisterday from a Hudson's Bay man goin' North, but I didn't take it in. You've got a lot o' sense, Jinny, an' if you think he's tellin' the truth, why, it goes; but it's as big a mixup as a lariat in a steer's horns. You've got to hide him sure, whoever he is, for I wouldn't hand an Eskimo over, if I'd taken him in my home once; we're mountain people. A man ought to be hung for horse-stealin', but this was different. He was doing it to save a man's life, an' that man at Bindon was good to his little gal, an' she's dead."
He moved his head from side to side with the air of a sentimental philosopher. He had all the vanity of a man who had been a success in a small, shrewd, culpable way--had he not evaded the law for thirty years with his whiskey-still?
"I know how he felt," he continued. "When Betsy died--we was only four years married--I could have crawled into a knot-hole an' died there. You got to save him, Jinny, but"--he came suddenly to his feet--"he ain't safe here. They might come any minute, if they've got back on his trail. I'll take him up the gorge. You know where."
"You sit still, Uncle Tom," she rejoined. "Leave him where he is a minute. There's things must be settled first. They ain't going to look for him in my bedroom, be they?"
The old man chuckled. "I'd like to see 'em at it. You got a temper, Jinny; and you got a pistol too, eh?" He chuckled again. "As good a shot as any in the mountains. I can see you darin' 'em to come on. But what if Jake come, and he found a man in your bedroom"--he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes--"why, Jinny--!"
He stopped short, for there was anger in her face. "I don't want to hear any more of that. I do what I want to do," she snapped out.
"Well, well, you always done what you wanted; but we got to git him up the hills, till it's sure they're out o' the mountains and gone back. It'll be days, mebbe."
"Uncle Tom, you've took too much to drink," she answered. "You don't remember he's got to be at Bindon by to-morrow noon. He's got to save his friend by then."
"Pshaw! Who's going to take him down the river to-night? You're goin'
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