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- Northern Lights, Volume 2. - 4/15 -
The moon was directly overhead when they drew upon the race of rocks and fighting water and foam. On either side only the shadowed shore, forsaken by the races which had hunted and roamed and ravaged here--not a light, nor any sign of life, or the friendliness of human presence to make their isolation less complete, their danger, as it were, shared by fellow-mortals. Bright as the moon was, it was not bright enough for perfect pilotage. Never in the history of white men had these rapids been ridden at nighttime. As they sped down the flume of the deep, irresistible current, and were launched into the trouble of rocks and water, Jenny realised how great their peril was, and how different the track of the waters looked at nighttime from daytime. Outlines seemed merged, rocks did not look the same, whirlpools had a different vortex, islands of stone had a new configuration. As they sped on, lurching, jumping, piercing a broken wall of wave and spray like a torpedo, shooting an almost sheer fall, she came to rely on a sense of intuition rather than memory, for night had transformed the waters.
Not a sound escaped either. The man kept his eyes fixed on the woman; the woman scanned the dreadful pathway with eyes deep-set and burning, resolute, vigilant, and yet defiant too, as though she had been trapped into this track of danger, and was fighting without great hope, but with the temerity and nonchalance of despair. Her arms were bare to the shoulder almost, and her face was again and again drenched; but second succeeded second, minute followed minute in a struggle which might well turn a man's hair grey, and now, at last-how many hours was it since they had been cast into this den of roaring waters!--at last, suddenly, over a large fall, and here smooth waters again, smooth and untroubled, and strong and deep. Then, and only then, did a word escape either; but the man had passed through torture and unavailing regret, for he realised that he had had no right to bring this girl into such a fight. It was not her friend who was in danger at Bindon. Her life had been risked without due warrant. "I didn't know, or I wouldn't have asked it," he said in a low voice. "Lord, but you are a wonder--to take that hurdle for no one that belonged to you, and to do it as you've done it. This country will rise to you." He looked back on the raging rapids far behind, and he shuddered. "It was a close call, and no mistake. We must have been within a foot of down-you-go fifty times. But it's all right now, if we can last it out and git there." Again he glanced back, then turned to the girl. "It makes me pretty sick to look at it," he continued. "I bin through a lot, but that's as sharp practice as I want."
"Come here and let me bind up your arm," she answered. "They hit you-- the sneaks! Are you bleeding much?"
He came near her carefully, as she got the big canoe out of the current into quieter water. She whipped the scarf from about her neck, and with his knife ripped up the seam of his sleeve. Her face was alive with the joy of conflict and elated with triumph. Her eyes were shining. She bathed the wound--the bullet had passed clean through the fleshy part of the arm--and then carefully tied the scarf round it over her handkerchief.
"I guess it's as good as a man could do it," she said at last.
"As good as any doctor," he rejoined.
"I wasn't talking of your arm," she said.
"'Course not. Excuse me. You was talkin' of them rapids, and I've got to say there ain't a man that could have done it and come through like you. I guess the man that marries you'll get more than his share of luck."
"I want none of that," she said sharply, and picked up her paddle again, her eyes flashing anger.
He took a pistol from his pocket and offered it to her. "I didn't mean any harm by what I said. Take this if you think I won't know how to behave myself," he urged.
She flung up her head a little. "I knew what I was doing before I started," she said. "Put it away. How far is it, and can we do it in time?"
"If you can hold out, we can do it; but it means going all night and all morning; and it ain't dawn yet, by a long shot."
Dawn came at last, and the mist of early morning, and the imperious and dispelling sun; and with mouthfuls of food as they drifted on, the two fixed their eyes on the horizon beyond which lay Bindon. And now it seemed to the girl as though this race to save a life or many lives was the one thing in existence. To-morrow was to-day, and the white petticoat was lying in the little house in the mountains, and her wedding was an interminable distance off, so had this adventure drawn her into its risks and toils and haggard exhaustion.
Eight, nine, ten, eleven o'clock came, and then they saw signs of settlement. Houses appeared here and there upon the banks, and now and then a horseman watched them from the shore, but they could not pause. Bindon--Bindon--Bindon--the Snowdrop Mine at Bindon, and a death-dealing machine timed to do its deadly work, were before the eyes of the two voyageurs.
Half-past eleven, and the town of Bindon was just beyond them. A quarter to twelve, and they had run their canoe into the bank beyond which were the smokestacks and chimneys of the mine. Bindon was peacefully pursuing its way, though here and there were little groups of strikers who had not resumed work.
Dingley and the girl scrambled up the bank. Trembling with fatigue, they hastened on. The man drew ahead of her, for she had paddled for fifteen hours, practically without ceasing, and the ground seemed to rise up at her. But she would not let him stop.
He hurried on, reached the mine, and entered, shouting the name of his friend. It was seven minutes to twelve.
A moment later, a half-dozen men came rushing from that portion of the mine where Dingley had been told the machine was placed, and at their head was Lawson, the man he had come to save.
The girl hastened on to meet them, but she grew faint and leaned against a tree, scarce conscious. She was roused by voices.
"No, it wasn't me, it wasn't me that done it; it was a girl. Here she is--Jenny Long! You got to thank her, Jake."
Jake! Jake! The girl awakened to full understanding now. Jake--what Jake? She looked, then stumbled forward with a cry.
"Jake--it was my Jake!" she faltered. The mine-boss caught her in his arms. "You, Jenny! It's you that's saved me!"
Suddenly there was a rumble as of thunder, and a cloud of dust and stone rose from the Snowdrop Mine. The mine-boss tightened his arm round the girl's waist. "That's what I missed, through him and you, Jenny," he said.
"What was you doing here, and not at Selby, Jake?" she asked.
"They sent for me-to stop the trouble here."
"But what about our wedding to-day?" she asked with a frown.
"A man went from here with a letter to you three days ago," he said, "asking you to come down here and be married. I suppose he got drunk, or had an accident, and didn't reach you. It had to be. I was needed here--couldn't tell what would happen."
"It has happened out all right," said Dingley, "and this'll be the end of it. You got them miners solid now. The strikers'll eat humble pie after to-day."
"We'll be married to-day, just the same," the mine-boss said, as he gave some brandy to the girl.
But the girl shook her head. She was thinking of a white petticoat in a little house in the mountains. "I'm not going to be married to-day," she said decisively.
"Well, to-morrow," said the mine-boss.
But the girl shook her head again. "To-day is tomorrow," she answered. "You can wait, Jake. I'm going back home to be married."
"But I'm white; I'm not an Indian. My father was a white man. I've been brought up as a white girl. I've had a white girl's schooling."
Her eyes flashed as she sprang to her feet and walked up and down the room for a moment, then stood still, facing her mother,--a dark-faced, pock-marked woman, with heavy, somnolent eyes, and waited for her to speak. The reply came slowly and sullenly--
"I am a Blackfoot woman. I lived on the Muskwat River among the braves for thirty years. I have killed buffalo. I have seen battles. Men, too, I have killed when they came to steal our horses and crept in on our lodges in the night-the Crees! I am a Blackfoot. You are the daughter of a Blackfoot woman. No medicine can cure that. Sit down. You have no sense. You are not white. They will not have you. Sit down."
The girl's handsome face flushed; she threw up her hands in an agony of protest. A dreadful anger was in her panting breast, but she could not speak. She seemed to choke with excess of feeling. For an instant she stood still, trembling with agitation, then she sat down suddenly on a great couch covered with soft deerskins and buffalo robes. There was deep in her the habit of obedience to this sombre but striking woman. She had been ruled firmly, almost oppressively, and she had not yet revolted. Seated on the couch, she gazed out of the window at the flying snow, her brain too much on fire for thought, passion beating like a pulse in all her lithe and graceful young body, which had known the storms of life and time for only twenty years.
The wind shrieked and the snow swept past in clouds of blinding drift, completely hiding from sight the town below them, whose civilisation had built itself many habitations and was making roads and streets on the green-brown plain, where herds of buffalo had stamped and streamed and thundered not long ago. The town was a mile and a half away, and these two were alone in a great circle of storm, one of them battling against a tempest which might yet overtake her, against which she had set her face
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