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- Northern Lights, Volume 2. - 3/15 -
to be married to-morrow. If you like, you can give him the canoe. It'll never come back, nor him neither!"
"You've been down with me," she responded suggestively. "And you went down once by yourself."
He shook his head. "I ain't been so well this summer. My sight ain't what it was. I can't stand the racket as I once could. 'Pears to me I'm gettin' old. No, I couldn't take them rapids, Jinny, not for one frozen minute."
She looked at him with trouble in her eyes, and her face lost some of its colour. She was fighting back the inevitable, even as its shadow fell upon her. "You wouldn't want a man to die, if you could save him, Uncle Tom--blown up, sent to Kingdom Come without any warning at all; and perhaps he's got them that love him--and the world so beautiful."
"Well, it ain't nice dyin' in the summer, when it's all sun, and there's plenty everywhere; but there's no one to go down the river with him. What's his name?"
Her struggle was over. She had urged him, but in very truth she was urging herself all the time, bringing herself to the axe of sacrifice.
"His name's Dingley. I'm going down the river with him--down to Bindon."
The old man's mouth opened in blank amazement. His eyes blinked helplessly.
"What you talkin' about, Jinny! Jake's comin' up with the minister, an' you're goin' to be married at noon to-morrow."
"I'm takin' him"--she jerked her head towards the room where Dingley was --"down Dog Nose Rapids to-night. He's risked his life for his friend, thinkin' of her that's dead an' gone, and a man's life is a man's life. If it was Jake's life in danger, what'd I think of a woman that could save him, and didn't?"
"Onct you broke off with Jake Lawson--the day before you was to be married; an' it's took years to make up an' agree again to be spliced. If Jake comes here to-morrow, and you ain't here, what do you think he'll do? The neighbours are comin' for fifty miles round, two is comin' up a hundred miles, an' you can't--Jinny, you can't do it. I bin sick of answerin' questions all these years 'bout you and Jake, an' I ain't goin' through it again. I've told more lies than there's straws in a tick."
She flamed out. "Then take him down the river yourself--a man to do a man's work. Are you afeard to take the risk?"
He held out his hands slowly and looked at them. They shook a little. "Yes, Jinny," he said sadly, "I'm afeard. I ain't what I was. I made a mistake, Jinny. I've took too much whiskey. I'm older than I ought to be. I oughtn't never to have had a whiskey-still, an' I wouldn't have drunk so much. I got money--money for you, Jinny, for you an' Jake, but I've lost what I'll never git back. I'm afeard to go down the river with him. I'd go smash in the Dog Nose Rapids. I got no nerve. I can't hunt the grizzly any more, nor the puma, Jinny. I got to keep to common shootin', now and henceforth, amen! No, I'd go smash in Dog Nose Rapids."
She caught his hands impulsively. "Don't you fret, Uncle Tom. You've bin a good uncle to me, and you've bin a good friend, and you ain't the first that's found whiskey too much for him. You ain't got an enemy in the mountains. Why, I've got two or three--"
"Shucks! Women--only women whose beaux left 'em to follow after you. That's nothing, an' they'll be your friends fast enough after you're married tomorrow."
"I ain't going to be married to-morrow. I'm going down to Bindon to-night. If Jake's mad, then it's all over, and there'll be more trouble among the women up here."
By this time they had entered the other room. The old man saw the white petticoat on the chair. "No woman in the mountains ever had a petticoat like that, Jinny. It'd make a dress, it's that pretty an' neat. Golly, I'd like to see it on you, with the blue skirt over, and just hitched up a little."
"Oh, shut up--shut up!" she said in sudden anger, and caught up the petticoat as though she would put it away; but presently she laid it down again and smoothed it with quick, nervous fingers. "Can't you talk sense and leave my clothes alone? If Jake comes, and I'm not here, and he wants to make a fuss, and spoil everything, and won't wait, you give him this petticoat. You put it in his arms. I bet you'll have the laugh on him. He's got a temper."
"So've you, Jinny, dear, so've you," said the old man, laughing. "You're goin' to have your own way, same as ever--same as ever."
A moon of exquisite whiteness silvering the world, making shadows on the water as though it were sunlight and the daytime, giving a spectral look to the endless array of poplar trees on the banks, glittering on the foam of the rapids. The spangling stars made the arch of the sky like some gorgeous chancel in a cathedral as vast as life and time. Like the day which was ended, in which the mountain-girl had found a taste of Eden, it seemed too sacred for mortal strife. Now and again there came the note of a night-bird, the croak of a frog from the shore; but the serene stillness and beauty of the primeval North was over all.
For two hours after sunset it had all been silent and brooding, and then two figures appeared on the bank of the great river. A canoe was softly and hastily pushed out from its hidden shelter under the overhanging bank, and was noiselessly paddled out to midstream, dropping down the current meanwhile.
It was Jenny Long and the man who must get to Bindon. They had waited till nine o'clock, when the moon was high and full, to venture forth. Then Dingley had dropped from her bedroom window, had joined her under the trees, and they had sped away, while the man's hunters, who had come suddenly, and before Jenny could get him away into the woods, were carousing inside. These had tracked their man back to Tom Sanger's house, and at first they were incredulous that Jenny and her uncle had not seen him. They had prepared to search the house, and one had laid his finger on the latch of her bedroom door; but she had flared out with such anger that, mindful of the supper she had already begun to prepare for them, they had desisted, and the whiskey-jug which the old man brought out distracted their attention.
One of their number, known as the Man from Clancey's, had, however, been outside when Dingley had dropped from the window, and had seen him from a distance. He had not given the alarm, but had followed, to make the capture by himself. But Jenny had heard the stir of life behind them, and had made a sharp detour, so that they had reached the shore and were out in mid-stream before their tracker got to the river. Then he called to them to return, but Jenny only bent a little lower and paddled on, guiding the canoe towards the safe channel through the first small rapids leading to the great Dog Nose Rapids.
A rifle-shot rang out, and a bullet "pinged" over the water and splintered the side of the canoe where Dingley sat. He looked calmly back, and saw the rifle raised again, but did not stir, in spite of Jenny's warning to lie down.
"He'll not fire on you so long as he can draw a bead on me," he said quietly.
Again a shot rang out, and the bullet sang past his head.
"If he hits me, you go straight on to Bindon," he continued. "Never mind about me. Go to the Snowdrop Mine. Get there by twelve o'clock, and warn them. Don't stop a second for me--"
Suddenly three shots rang out in succession--Tom Sanger's house had emptied itself on the bank of the river--and Dingley gave a sharp exclamation.
"They've hit me, but it's the same arm as before," he growled. "They got no right to fire at me. It's not the law. Don't stop," he added quickly, as he saw her half turn round.
Now there were loud voices on the shore. Old Tom Sanger was threatening to shoot the first man that fired again, and he would have kept his word.
"Who you firin' at?" he shouted. "That's my niece, Jinny Long, an' you let that boat alone. This ain't the land o' lynch law. Dingley ain't escaped from gaol. You got no right to fire at him."
"No one ever went down Dog Nose Rapids at night," said the Man from Clancey's, whose shot had got Dingley's arm. "There ain't a chance of them doing it. No one's ever done it."
The two were in the roaring rapids now, and the canoe was jumping through the foam like a racehorse. The keen eyes on the bank watched the canoe till it was lost in the half-gloom below the first rapids, and then they went slowly back to Tom Sanger's house.
"So there'll be no wedding to-morrow," said the Man from Clancey's.
"Funerals, more likely," drawled another.
"Jinny Long's in that canoe, an' she ginerally does what she wants to," said Tom Sanger sagely.
"Well, we done our best, and now I hope they'll get to Bindon," said another.
Sanger passed the jug to him freely. Then they sat down and talked of the people who had been drowned in Dog Nose Rapids and of the last wedding in the mountains.
It was as the Man from Clancey's had said, no one had ever gone down Dog Nose Rapids in the nighttime, and probably no one but Jenny Long would have ventured it. Dingley had had no idea what a perilous task had been set his rescuer. It was only when the angry roar of the great rapids floated up-stream to them, increasing in volume till they could see the terror of tumbling waters just below, and the canoe shot forward like a snake through the swift, smooth current which would sweep them into the vast caldron, that he realised the terrible hazard of the enterprise.
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