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- Northern Lights, Volume 4. - 5/13 -
Tim Denton, who had been staring at the face of the Healer, stood for an instant like one with all his senses arrested. Then he gasped, and exclaimed, "Well, I'm eternally--" and broke off with a low laugh, which was at first mirthful, and then became ominous and hard.
"Oh, magnificent--magnificent--jerickety!" he said into the sky above him.
His friends who were not "saved," closed in on him to find the meaning of his words, but he pulled himself together, looked blankly at them, and asked them questions. They told him so much more than he cared to hear, that his face flushed a deep red--the bronze of it most like the colour of Laura Sloly's hair; then he turned pale. Men saw that he was roused beyond any feeling in themselves.
"'Sh!" he said. "Let's see what he can do." With the many who were silently praying, as they had been, bidden to do, the invincible ones leant forwards, watching the little room where healing--or tragedy--was afoot. As in a picture, framed by the window, they saw the kneeling figures, the Healer standing with outstretched arms. They heard his voice, sonorous and appealing, then commanding--and yet Mary Jewell did not rise from her bed and walk. Again, and yet again, the voice rang out, and still the woman lay motionless. Then he laid his hands upon her, and again he commanded her to rise.
There was a faint movement, a desperate struggle to obey, but Nature and Time and Disease had their way. Yet again there was the call. An agony stirred the bed. Then another great Healer came between, and mercifully dealt the sufferer a blow--Death has a gentle hand sometimes. Mary Jewell was bedridden still--and for ever.
Like a wind from the mountains the chill knowledge of death wailed through the window, and over the heads of the crowd. All the figures were upright now in the little room. Then those outside saw Laura Sloly lean over and close the sightless eyes. This done, she came to the door and opened it, and motioned for the Healer to leave. He hesitated, hearing the harsh murmur from the outskirts of the crowd. Once again she motioned, and he came. With a face deadly pale she surveyed the people before her silently for a moment, her eyes all huge and staring.
Presently she turned to Ingles and spoke to him quickly in a low voice; then, descending the steps, passed out through the lane made for her by the crowd, he following with shaking limbs and bowed bead.
Warning words had passed among the few invincible ones who waited where the Healer must pass into the open, and there was absolute stillness as Laura advanced. Their work was to come--quiet and swift and sure; but not yet.
Only one face Laura saw, as she led the way to the moment's safety--Tim Denton's; and it was as stricken as her own. She passed, then turned, and looked at him again. He understood; she wanted him.
He waited till she sprang into her waggon, after the Healer had mounted his mule and ridden away with ever-quickening pace into the prairie. Then he turned to the set, fierce men beside him.
"Leave him alone," he said, "leave him to me. I know him. You hear? Ain't I no rights? I tell you I knew him--South. You leave him to me."
They nodded, and he sprang into his saddle and rode away. They watched the figure of the Healer growing smaller in the dusty distance.
"Tim'll go to her," one said, "and perhaps they'll let the snake get off. Hadn't we best make sure?"
"Perhaps you'd better let him vamoose," said Flood Rawley anxiously. "Jansen is a law-abiding place!" The reply was decisive. Jansen had its honour to keep. It was the home of the Pioneers--Laura Sloly was a Pioneer.
Tim Denton was a Pioneer, with all the comradeship which lay in the word, and he was that sort of lover who has seen one woman, and can never see another--not the product of the most modern civilisation. Before Laura had had Playmates he had given all he had to give; he had waited and hoped ever since; and when the ruthless gossips had said to him before Mary Jewell's house that she was in love with the Faith Healer, nothing changed in him. For the man, for Ingles, Tim belonged to a primitive breed, and love was not in his heart. As he rode out to Sloly's Ranch, he ground his teeth in rage. But Laura had called him to her, and: "Well, what you say goes, Laura," he muttered at the end of a long hour of human passion and its repression. "If he's to go scot-free, then he's got to go; but the boys yonder'll drop on me, if he gets away. Can't you see what a swab he is, Laura?"
The brown eyes of the girl looked at him gently. The struggle between them was over; she had had her way--to save the preacher, impostor though he was; and now she felt, as she had never felt before in the same fashion, that this man was a man of men.
"Tim, you do not understand," she urged. "You say he was a landsharp in the South, and that he had to leave-"
"He had to vamoose, or take tar and feathers."
"But he had to leave. And he came here preaching and healing; and he is a hypocrite and a fraud--I know that now, my eyes are opened. He didn't do what he said he could do, and it killed Mary Jewell--the shock; and there were other things he said he could do, and he didn't do them. Perhaps he is all bad, as you say--I don't think so. But he did some good things, and through him I've felt as I've never felt before about God and life, and about Walt and the baby--as though I'll see them again, sure. I've never felt that before. It was all as if they were lost in the hills, and no trail home, or out to where they are. Like as not God was working in him all the time, Tim; and he failed because he counted too much on the little he had, and made up for what he hadn't by what he pretended."
"He can pretend to himself, or God Almighty, or that lot down there"--he jerked a finger towards the town--"but to you, a girl, and a Pioneer--"
A flash of humour shot into her eyes at his last words, then they filled with tears, through which the smile shone. To pretend to "a Pioneer"-- the splendid vanity and egotism of the West!
"He didn't pretend to me, Tim. People don't usually have to pretend to like me."
"You know what I'm driving at."
"Yes, yes, I know. And whatever he is, you've said that you will save him. I'm straight, you know that. Somehow, what I felt from his preaching--well, everything got sort of mixed up with him, and he was-- was different. It was like the long dream of Walt and the baby, and he a part of it. I don't know what I felt, or what I might have felt for him. I'm a woman--I can't understand. But I know what I feel now. I never want to see him again on earth--or in Heaven. It needn't be necessary even in Heaven; but what happened between God and me through him stays, Tim; and so you must help him get away safe. It's in your hands--you say they left it to you."
"I don't trust that too much."
Suddenly he pointed out of the window towards the town. "See, I'm right; there they are, a dozen of 'em mounted. They're off, to run him down."
Her face paled; she glanced towards the Hill of Healing. "He's got an hour's start," she said; "he'll get into the mountains and be safe."
"If they don't catch him 'fore that."
"Or if you don't get to him first," she said, with nervous insistence.
He turned to her with a hard look; then, as he met her soft, fearless, beautiful eyes, his own grew gentle. "It takes a lot of doing. Yet I'll do it for you, Laura," he said. "But it's hard on the Pioneers." Once more her humour flashed, and it seemed to him that "getting religion" was not so depressing after all--wouldn't be, anyhow, when this nasty job was over. "The Pioneers will get over it, Tim," she rejoined. "They've swallowed a lot in their time. Heaven's gate will have to be pretty wide to let in a real Pioneer," she added. "He takes up so much room-- ah, Timothy Denton!" she added, with an outburst of whimsical merriment.
"It hasn't spoiled you--being converted, has it?" he, said, and gave a quick little laugh, which somehow did more for his ancient cause with her than all he had ever said or done. Then he stepped outside and swung into his saddle.
It had been a hard and anxious ride, but Tim had won, and was keeping his promise. The night had fallen before he got to the mountains, which he and the Pioneers had seen the Faith Healer enter. They had had four miles' start of Tim, and had ridden fiercely, and they entered the gulch into which the refugee had disappeared still two miles ahead.
The invincibles had seen Tim coming, but they had determined to make a sure thing of it, and would themselves do what was necessary with the impostor, and take no chances. So they pressed their horses, and he saw them swallowed by the trees, as darkness gathered. Changing his course, he entered the familiar hills, which he knew better than any pioneer of Jansen, and rode a diagonal course over the trail they would take. But night fell suddenly, and there was nothing to do but to wait till morning. There was comfort in this--the others must also wait, and the refugee could not go far. In any case, he must make for settlement or perish, since he had left behind his sheep and his cow.
It fell out better than Tim hoped. The Pioneers were as good hunters as was he, their instinct was as sure, their scouts and trackers were many, and he was but one. They found the Faith Healer by a little stream, eating bread and honey, and, like an ancient woodlander drinking from a horn--relics of his rank imposture. He made no resistance. They tried him formally, if perfunctorily; he admitted his imposture, and begged for his life. Then they stripped him naked, tied a bit of canvas round his waist, fastened him to a tree, and were about to complete his punishment when Tim Denton burst upon them.
Whether the rage Tim showed was all real or not; whether his accusations of bad faith came from so deeply wounded a spirit as he would have them believe, he was not likely to tell; but he claimed the prisoner as his own, and declined to say what he meant to do.
When, however, they saw the abject terror of the Faith Healer as he begged not to be left alone with Tim--for they had not meant death, and Ingles thought he read death in Tim's ferocious eyes--they laughed cynically, and left it to Tim to uphold the honour of Jansen and the Pioneers.
As they disappeared, the last thing they saw was Tim with his back to them, his hands on his hips, and a knife clasped in his fingers.
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