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- Northern Lights, Volume 5. - 6/11 -
the Plains and the jail near by, and his shuddering ceased. There was where he belonged, within four stone walls; yet here he was free to go where he willed, to live as he willed, with no eye upon him. With no eye upon him? There was no eye, but there was the Whisperer whom he could never drive away. Morning and night he heard the words, "You--you--you! Fire, and blood, and shame!" He had snatched sleep when he could find it, after long, long hours of tramping over the plains, ostensibly to shoot wild fowl, but in truth to bring on a great bodily fatigue--and sleep. His sleep only came then in the first watches of the night. As the night wore on the Whisperer began again, as the cloud of weariness lifted a little from him, and the senses were released from the heavy sedative of unnatural exertion.
The dusk deepened. The moon slowly rose. He cooked his scanty meal, and took a deep draught from a horn of whiskey from beneath a board in the flooring. He had not the courage to face Dupont without it, nor yet to forget what he must forget, if he was to do the work Dupont came to arrange--he must forget the girl who had saved his life and the influence of those strange moments in which she had spoken down to him, in the abyss where he had been lying.
He sat in the doorway, a fire gleaming behind him; he drank in the good air as though his lungs were thirsty for it, and saw the silver glitter of the moon upon the water. Not a breath of wind stirred, and the shining path the moon made upon the reedy lake fascinated his eye. Everything was so still except that whisper louder in his ear than it had ever been before.
Suddenly, upon the silver path upon the lake there shot a silent canoe, with a figure as silently paddling towards him. He gazed for a moment dismayed, and then got to his feet with a jerk.
"Dupont," he said mechanically.
The canoe swished among the reeds and rushes, scraped on the shore, and a tall, burly figure sprang from it, and stood still, looking at the house.
"Qui reste la--Lygon?" he asked.
"Dupont," was the nervous, hesitating reply. Dupont came forwards quickly. "Ah, ben, here we are again--so," he grunted cheerily.
Entering the house they sat before the fire, holding their hands to the warmth from force of habit, though the night was not cold.
"Ben, you will do it to-night--then?" Dupont said. "Sacre, it is time!"
"Do what?" rejoined the other heavily.
An angry light leapt into Dupont's eyes. "You not unnerstan' my letters- bah! You know it all right, so queeck."
The other remained silent, staring into the fire with wide, searching eyes.
Dupont put a hand on him. "You ketch my idee queeck. We mus' have more money from that Henderley--certainlee. It is ten years, and he t'ink it is all right. He t'ink we come no more becos' he give five t'ousan' dollars to us each. That was to do the t'ing, to fire the country. Now we want another ten t'ousan' to us each, to forget we do it for him --hein?"
Still there was no reply. Dupont went on, watching the other furtively, for he did not like this silence. But he would not resent it till he was sure there was good cause.
"It comes to suit us. He is over there at the Old Man Lak', where you can get at him easy, not like in the city where he lif'. Over in the States, he laugh mebbe, becos' he is at home, an' can buy off the law. But here--it is Canadaw, an' they not care eef he have hunder' meellion dollar. He know that--sure. Eef you say you not care a dam to go to jail, so you can put him there, too, becos' you have not'ing, an' so dam seeck of everyt'ing, he will t'ink ten t'ousan' dollar same as one cent to Nic Dupont--ben sur!"
Lygon nodded his head, still holding his hands to the blaze. With ten thousand dollars he could get away into--into another world somewhere, some world where he could forget; as he forgot for a moment this afternoon when the girl said to him, "It is never too late to mend."
Now as he thought of her, he pulled his coat together, and arranged the rough scarf at his neck involuntarily. Ten thousand dollars--but ten thousand dollars by blackmail, hush-money, the reward of fire, and blood, and shame! Was it to go on? Was he to commit a new crime?
He stirred, as though to shake off the net that he felt twisting round him, in the hands of the robust and powerful Dupont, on whom crime sat so lightly, who had flourished while he, Lygon, had gone lower and lower. Ten years ago he had been the better man, had taken the lead, was the master, Dupont the obedient confederate, the tool. Now, Dupont, once the rough river-driver, grown prosperous in a large way for him--who might yet be mayor of his town in Quebec--he held the rod of rule. Lygon was conscious that the fifty dollars sent him every New Year for five years by Dupont had been sent with a purpose, and that he was now Dupont's tool. Debilitated, demoralised, how could he, even if he wished, struggle against this powerful confederate, as powerful in will as in body? Yet if he had his own way he would not go to Henderley. He had lived with "a familiar spirit" so long, he feared the issue of this next excursion into the fens of crime.
Dupont was on his feet now. "He will be here only three days more--I haf find it so. To-night it mus' be done. As we go I will tell you what to say. I will wait at the Forks, an' we will come back togedder. His cheque will do. Eef he gif at all, the cheque is all right. He will not stop it. Eef he haf the money, it is better--sacre--yes. Eef he not gif--well, I will tell you, there is the other railway man he try to hurt, how would he like--But I will tell you on the river. Main'enant-- queeck, we go."
Without a word Lygon took down another coat and put it on. Doing so he concealed a weapon quickly as Dupont stooped to pick a coal for his pipe from the blaze. Lygon had no fixed purpose in taking a weapon with him; it was only a vague instinct of caution that moved him.
In the canoe on the river, in an almost speechless apathy, he heard Dupont's voice giving him instructions.
Henderley, the financier, had just finished his game of whist and dismissed his friends--it was equivalent to dismissal, rough yet genial as he seemed to be, so did immense wealth and its accompanying power affect his relations with those about him. In everything he was "considered." He was in good humour, for he had won all the evening, and with a smile he rubbed his hands among the notes--three thousand dollars it was. It was like a man with a pocket full of money, chuckling over a coin he has found in the street. Presently he heard a rustle of the inner tent-curtain and swung round. He faced the man from the reedy lake.
Instinctively he glanced round for a weapon, mechanically his hands firmly grasped the chair in front of him.
He had been in danger of his life many times, and he had no fear. He had been threatened with assassination more than once, and he had got used to the idea of danger; life to him was only a game.
He kept his nerve; he did not call out; he looked his visitor in the eyes.
"What are you doing here? Who are you?" he said.
"Don't you know me?" answered Lygon, gazing intently at him.
Face to face with the man who had tempted him to crime, Lygon had a new sense of boldness, a sudden feeling of reprisal, a rushing desire to put the screw upon him. At sight of this millionaire with the pile of notes before him there vanished the sickening hesitation of the afternoon, of the journey with Dupont. The look of the robust, healthy financier was like acid in a wound; it maddened him.
"You will know me better soon," Lygon added, his head twitching with excitement.
Henderley recognised him now. He gripped the armchair spasmodically, but presently regained a complete composure. He knew the game that was forward here; and he also thought that if once he yielded to blackmail there would never be an end to it. He made no pretence, but came straight to the point.
"You can do nothing; there is no proof," he said with firm assurance.
"There is Dupont," answered Lygon doggedly.
"Who is Dupont?"
"The French Canadian who helped me--I divided with him."
"You said the man who helped you died. You wrote that to me. I suppose you are lying now."
Henderley coolly straightened the notes on the table, smoothing out the wrinkles, arranging them according to their denominations with an apparently interested eye; yet he was vigilantly watching the outcast before him. To yield to blackmail would be fatal; not to yield to it-- he could not see his way. He had long ago forgotten the fire, and blood, and shame. No Whisperer reminded him of that black page in the history of his life; he had been immune of conscience. He could not understand this man before him. It was as bad a case of human degradation as ever he had seen--he remembered the stalwart, if dissipated, ranchman who had acted on his instigation. He knew now that he had made a foolish blunder then, that the scheme had been one of his failures; but he had never looked on it as with eyes reproving crime. As a hundred thoughts tending towards the solution of the problem by which he was faced, flashed through his mind, and he rejected them all, he repeated mechanically the phrase, "I suppose you are lying now."
"Dupont is here--not a mile away," was the reply. "He will give proof. He would go to jail or to the gallows to put you there, if you do not pay. He is a devil--Dupont."
Still the great man could not see his way out. He must temporise for a little longer, for rashness might bring scandal or noise; and near by was his daughter, the apple of his eye.
"What do you want? How much did you figure you could get out of me, if I let you bleed me?" he asked sneeringly and coolly. "Come now, how much?"
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