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"Who was the man?"

La Flitche turned partly, and rested his eyes on St. Vincent.

"Go on."

"So? The man he will not go back; but John and I say yes, and he go."

"Did he say anything?"

"I ask him what the matter; but he cry, he . . . he sob, _huh-tsch_,
_huh-tsch_, just like that."

"Did you see anything peculiar about him?"

La Flitche's brows drew up interrogatively.

^Anything uncommon, out of the ordinary?"

"Ah, _oui_; blood on the hands." Disregarding the murmur in the room,
he went on, his facile play of feature and gesture giving dramatic
value to the recital. "John make a light, and Bella groan, like the
hair-seal when you shoot him in the body, just like that when you shoot
him in the body under the flipper. And Borg lay over in the corner. I
look. He no breathe 'tall.

"Then Bella open her eyes, and I look in her eyes, and I know she know
me, La Flitche. 'Who did it, Bella?' I ask. And she roll her head on
the floor and whisper, so low, so slow, 'Him dead?' I know she mean
Borg, and I say yes. Then she lift up on one elbow, and look about
quick, in big hurry, and when she see Vincent she look no more, only
she look at Vincent all the time. Then she point at him, just like
that." Suiting the action to the word, La Flitche turned and thrust a
wavering finger at the prisoner. "And she say, 'Him, him, him.' And I
say, 'Bella, who did it?' And she say, 'Him, him, him. St. Vincha,
him do it.' And then" - La Flitche's head felt limply forward on his
chest, and came back naturally erect, as he finished, with a flash of
teeth, "Dead."

The warm-faced man, Bill Brown, put the quarter-breed through the
customary direct examination, which served to strengthen his testimony
and to bring out the fact that a terrible struggle must have taken
place in the killing of Borg. The heavy table was smashed, the stool
and the bunk-board splintered, and the stove over-thrown. "Never did I
see anything like it," La Flitche concluded his description of the
wreck. "No, never."

Brown turned him over to Frona with a bow, which a smile of hers paid
for in full. She did not deem it unwise to cultivate cordiality with
the lawyer. What she was working for was time - time for her father to
come, time to be closeted with St. Vincent and learn all the details of
what really had occurred. So she put questions, questions,
interminable questions, to La Flitche. Twice only did anything of
moment crop up.

"You spoke of the first shot, Mr. La Flitche. Now, the walls of a log
cabin are quite thick. Had your door been closed, do you think you
could have heard that first shot?"

He shook his head, though his dark eyes told her he divined the point
she was endeavoring to establish.

"And had the door of Borg's cabin been closed, would you have heard?"

Again he shook his head.

"Then, Mr. La Flitche, when you say the first shot, you do not mean
necessarily the first shot fired, but rather the first shot you heard
fired?"

He nodded, and though she had scored her point she could not see that
it had any material bearing after all.

Again she worked up craftily to another and stronger climax, though she
felt all the time that La Flitche fathomed her.

"You say it was very dark, Mr. La Flitche?"

"Ah, oui; quite dark."

"How dark? How did you know it was John you met?"

"John make much noise when he run. I know that kind of noise."

"Could you see him so as to know that it was he?"

"Ah, no."

"Then, Mr. La Flitche," she demanded, triumphantly, "will you please
state how you knew there was blood on the hands of Mr. St. Vincent?"

His lip lifted in a dazzling smile, and he paused a moment. "How? I
feel it warm on his hands. And my nose - ah, the smoke of the hunter
camp long way off, the hole where the rabbit hide, the track of the
moose which has gone before, does not my nose tell me?" He flung his
head back, and with tense face, eyes closed, nostrils quivering and
dilated, he simulated the quiescence of all the senses save one and the
concentration of his whole being upon that one. Then his eyes
fluttered partly open and he regarded her dreamily. "I smell the blood
on his hands, the warm blood, the hot blood on his hands."

"And by gad he can do it!" some man exclaimed.

And so convinced was Frona that she glanced involuntarily at St.
Vincent's hands, and saw there the rusty-brown stains on the cuffs of
his flannel shirt.

As La Flitche left the stand, Bill Brown came over to her and shook
hands. "No more than proper I should know the lawyer for the defence,"
he said, good-naturedly, running over his notes for the next witness.

"But don't you think it is rather unfair to me?" she asked, brightly.
"I have not had time to prepare my case. I know nothing about it
except what I have gleaned from your two witnesses. Don't you think,
Mr. Brown," her voice rippling along in persuasive little notes, "don't
you think it would be advisable to adjourn the meeting until to-morrow?"

"Hum," he deliberated, looking at his watch.

"Wouldn't be a bad idea. It's five o'clock, anyway, and the men ought
to be cooking their suppers."

She thanked him, as some women can, without speech; yet, as he looked
down into her face and eyes, he experienced a subtler and greater
satisfaction than if she had spoken.

He stepped to his old position and addressed the room. "On
consultation of the defence and the prosecution, and upon consideration
of the lateness of the hour and the impossibility of finishing the
trial within a reasonable limit, I - hum - I take the liberty of moving
an adjournment until eight o'clock to-morrow morning."

"The ayes have it," the chairman proclaimed, coming down from his place
and proceeding to build the fire, for he was a part-owner of the cabin
and cook for his crowd.




CHAPTER XXVII

Frona turned to St. Vincent as the last of the crowd filed out. He
clutched her hands spasmodically, like a drowning man.

"Do believe me, Frona. Promise me."

Her face flushed. "You are excited," she said, "or you would not say
such things. Not that I blame you," she relented. "I hardly imagine
the situation can be anything else but exciting."

"Yes, and well I know it," he answered, bitterly. "I am acting like a
fool, and I can't help it. The strain has been terrible. And as
though the horror of Borg's end were not enough, to be considered the
murderer, and haled up for mob justice! Forgive me, Frona. I am
beside myself. Of course, I know that you will believe me."

"Then tell me, Gregory."

"In the first place, the woman, Bella, lied. She must have been crazed
to make that dying statement when I fought as I did for her and Borg.
That is the only explanation - "

"Begin at the beginning," she interrupted. "Remember, I know nothing."

He settled himself more comfortably on the stool, and rolled a
cigarette as he took up the history of the previous night.

"It must have been about one in the morning when I was awakened by the
lighting of the slush-lamp. I thought it was Borg; wondered what he
was prowling about for, and was on the verge of dropping off to sleep,
when, though I do not know what prompted me, I opened my eyes. Two
strange men were in the cabin. Both wore masks and fur caps with the
flaps pulled down, so that I could see nothing of their faces save the
glistening of the eyes through the eye-slits.

"I had no first thought, unless it was that danger threatened. I lay
quietly for a second and deliberated. Borg had borrowed my pistol, and
I was actually unarmed. My rifle was by the door. I decided to make a
rush for it. But no sooner had I struck the floor than one of the men
turned on me, at the same time firing his revolver. That was the first
shot, and the one La Flitche did not hear. It was in the struggle
afterwards that the door was burst open, which enabled him to hear the
last three.

"Well; I was so close to the man, and my leap out of the bunk was so
unexpected, that he missed me. The next moment we grappled and rolled
on the floor. Of course, Borg was aroused, and the second man turned
his attention to him and Bella. It was this second man who did the
killing, for my man, naturally, had his hands full. You heard the
testimony. From the way the cabin was wrecked, you can picture the
struggle. We rolled and tossed about and fought till stools, table,
shelves - everything was smashed.

"Oh, Frona, it was terrible! Borg fighting for life, Bella helping
him, though wounded and groaning, and I unable to aid. But finally, in
a very short while, I began to conquer the man with whom I was
struggling. I had got him down on his back, pinioned his arms with my
knees, and was slowly throttling him, when the other man finished his
work and turned on me also. What could I do? Two to one, and winded!
So I was thrown into the corner, and they made their escape. I confess
that I must have been badly rattled by that time, for as soon as I
caught my breath I took out after them, and without a weapon. Then I
collided with La Flitche and John, and - and you know the rest. Only,"
he knit his brows in puzzlement, "only, I cannot understand why Bella
should accuse me."

He looked at her appealingly, and, though she pressed his hand
sympathetically, she remained silent, weighing pro and con what she had
heard.

She shook her head slowly. "It's a bad case, and the thing is to
convince them - "

"But, my God, Frona, I am innocent! I have not been a saint, perhaps,
but my hands are clean from blood."

"But remember, Gregory," she said, gently, "I am not to judge you.
Unhappily, it rests with the men of this miners' meeting, and the
problem is: how are they to be convinced of your innocence? The two
main points are against you, - Bella's dying words and the blood on your
sleeve."

"The place was areek with blood," St. Vincent cried passionately,
springing to his feet. "I tell you it was areek! How could I avoid
floundering in it, fighting as I was for life? Can you not take my
word - "

"There, there, Gregory. Sit down. You are truly beside yourself. If
your case rested with me, you know you would go free and clean. But
these men, - you know what mob rule is, - how are we to persuade them to
let you go? Don't you see? You have no witnesses. A dying woman's
words are more sacred than a living man's. Can you show cause for the
woman to die with a lie on her lips? Had she any reason to hate you?
Had you done her or her husband an injury?"

He shook his head.

"Certainly, to us the thing is inexplicable; but the miners need no
explanation. To them it is obvious. It rests with us to disprove the
obvious. Can we do it?"

The correspondent sank down despondently, with a collapsing of the
chest and a drooping forward of the shoulders. "Then am I indeed lost."

"No, it's not so bad as that. You shall not be hanged. Trust me for
that."

"But what can you do?" he asked, despairingly. "They have usurped the
law, have made themselves the law."

"In the first place, the river has broken. That means everything. The
Governor and the territorial judges may be expected in at any moment
with a detachment of police at their backs. And they're certain to
stop here. And, furthermore, we may be able to do something ourselves.
The river is open, and if it comes to the worst, escape would be
another way out; and escape is the last thing they would dream of."

"No, no; impossible. What are you and I against the many?"

"But there's my father and Baron Courbertin. Four determined people,
acting together, may perform miracles, Gregory, dear. Trust me, it
shall come out well."

She kissed him and ran her hand through his hair, but the worried look
did not depart.

Jacob Welse crossed over the back-channel long before dark, and with
him came Del, the baron, and Corliss. While Frona retired to change
her clothes in one of the smaller cabins, which the masculine owners
readily turned over to her, her father saw to the welfare of the
mail-carrier. The despatches were of serious import, so serious that
long after Jacob Welse had read and re-read them his face was dark and
clouded; but he put the anxiety from him when he returned to Frona.
St. Vincent, who was confined in an adjoining cabin, was permitted to
see them.

"It looks bad," Jacob Welse said, on parting for the night. "But rest
assured, St. Vincent, bad or not, you'll not be stretched up so long as
I've a hand to play in the rumpus. I am certain you did not kill Borg,
and there's my fist on it."

"A long day," Corliss remarked, as he walked back with Frona to her
cabin.

"And a longer to-morrow," she answered, wearily. "And I'm so sleepy."

"You're a brave little woman, and I'm proud of you." It was ten
o'clock, and he looked out through the dim twilight to the ghostly ice
drifting steadily by. "And in this trouble," he went on, "depend upon
me in any way."

"In any way?" she queried, with a catch in her voice.

"If I were a hero of the melodrama I'd say; 'To the death!' but as I'm
not; I'll just repeat, in any way."

"You are good to me, Vance. I can never repay - "

"Tut! tut! I do not put myself on sale. Love is service, I believe."

She looked at him for a long time, but while her face betrayed soft
wonder, at heart she was troubled, she knew not why, and the events of
the day, and of all the days since she had known him, came fluttering
through her mind.

"Do you believe in a white friendship?" she asked at last. "For I do
hope that such a bond may hold us always. A bright, white friendship,
a comradeship, as it were?" And as she asked, she was aware that the
phrase did not quite express what she felt and would desire. And when
he shook his head, she experienced a glad little inexplicable thrill.

"A comradeship?" he questioned. "When you know I love you?"

"Yes," she affirmed in a low voice.

"I am afraid, after all, that your knowledge of man is very limited.
Believe me, we are not made of such clay. A comradeship? A coming in
out of the cold to sit by your fire? Good. But a coming in when
another man sits with you by your fire? No. Comradeship would demand
that I delight in your delights, and yet, do you think for a moment
that I could see you with another man's child in your arms, a child
which might have been mine; with that other man looking out at me
through the child's eyes, laughing at me through its mouth? I say, do
you think I could delight in your delights? No, no; love cannot
shackle itself with white friendships."

She put her hand on his arm.

"Do you think I am wrong?" he asked, bewildered by the strange look in
her face.

She was sobbing quietly.

"You are tired and overwrought. So there, good-night. You must get to
bed."

"No, don't go, not yet." And she arrested him. "No, no; I am foolish.
As you say, I am tired. But listen, Vance. There is much to be done.
We must plan to-morrow's work. Come inside. Father and Baron
Courbertin are together, and if the worst comes, we four must do big
things."

"Spectacular," Jacob Welse commented, when Frona had briefly outlined
the course of action and assigned them their parts. "But its very
unexpectedness ought to carry it through."

"A _coup d'etat_!" was the Baron's verdict. "Magnificent! Ah! I feel
warm all over at the thought. 'Hands up!' I cry, thus, and very fierce.

"And if they do not hold up their hands?" he appealed to Jacob Welse.

"Then shoot. Never bluff when you're behind a gun, Courbertin. It's
held by good authorities to be unhealthy."

"And you are to take charge of La Bijou, Vance," Frona said. "Father
thinks there will be little ice to-morrow if it doesn't jam to-night.
All you've to do is to have the canoe by the bank just before the door.
Of course, you won't know what is happening until St. Vincent comes
running. Then in with him, and away you go - Dawson! So I'll say
good-night and good-by now, for I may not have the opportunity in the
morning."

"And keep the left-hand channel till you're past the bend," Jacob Welse
counselled him; "then take the cut-offs to the right and follow the
swiftest water. Now off with you and into your blankets. It's seventy
miles to Dawson, and you'll have to make it at one clip."




CHAPTER XXVIII

Jacob Welse was given due respect when he arose at the convening of the
miners' meeting and denounced the proceedings. While such meetings had
performed a legitimate function in the past, he contended, when there
was no law in the land, that time was now beyond recall; for law was
now established, and it was just law. The Queen's government had shown
itself fit to cope with the situation, and for them to usurp its powers
was to step backward into the night out of which they had come.
Further, no lighter word than "criminal" could characterize such
conduct. And yet further, he promised them, in set, sober terms, if
anything serious were the outcome, to take an active part in the
prosecution of every one of them. At the conclusion of his speech he
made a motion to hold the prisoner for the territorial court and to
adjourn, but was voted down without discussion.

"Don't you see," St. Vincent said to Frona, "there is no hope?"

"But there is. Listen!" And she swiftly outlined the plot of the
night before.

He followed her in a half-hearted way, too crushed to partake of her
enthusiasm. "It's madness to attempt it," he objected, when she had
done.

"And it looks very much like hanging not to attempt it," she answered a
little spiritedly. "Surely you will make a fight?"

"Surely," he replied, hollowly.

The first witnesses were two Swedes, who told of the wash-tub incident,
when Borg had given way to one of his fits of anger. Trivial as the
incident was, in the light of subsequent events it at once became
serious. It opened the way for the imagination into a vast familiar
field. It was not so much what was said as what was left unsaid. Men
born of women, the rudest of them, knew life well enough to be aware of
its significance, - a vulgar common happening, capable of but one
interpretation. Heads were wagged knowingly in the course of the
testimony, and whispered comments went the rounds.

Half a dozen witnesses followed in rapid succession, all of whom had
closely examined the scene of the crime and gone over the island
carefully, and all of whom were agreed that there was not the slightest
trace to be found of the two men mentioned by the prisoner in his
preliminary statement.

To Frona's surprise, Del Bishop went upon the stand. She knew he
disliked St. Vincent, but could not imagine any evidence he could
possess which would bear upon the case.

Being sworn, and age and nationality ascertained, Bill Brown asked him
his business.

"Pocket-miner," he challenged back, sweeping the assemblage with an
aggressive glance.

Now, it happens that a very small class of men follow pocketing, and
that a very large class of men, miners, too, disbelieve utterly in any
such method or obtaining gold.

"Pocket-miner!" sneered a red-shirted, patriarchal-looking man, a man
who had washed his first pan in the Californian diggings in the early
fifties.

"Yep," Del affirmed.

"Now, look here, young feller," his interlocutor continued, "d'ye mean
to tell me you ever struck it in such-fangled way?"

"Yep."

"Don't believe it," with a contemptuous shrug.

Del swallowed fast and raised his head with a jerk. "Mr. Chairman, I
rise to make a statement. I won't interfere with the dignity of the
court, but I just wish to simply and distinctly state that after the
meeting's over I'm going to punch the head of every man that gets gay.
Understand?"

"You're out of order," the chairman replied, rapping the table with the
caulking-mallet.

"And your head, too," Del cried, turning upon him. "Damn poor order
you preserve. Pocketing's got nothing to do with this here trial, and
why don't you shut such fool questions out? I'll take care of you
afterwards, you potwolloper!"

"You will, will you?" The chairman grew red in the face, dropped the
mallet, and sprang to his feet.

Del stepped forward to meet him, but Bill Brown sprang in between and
held them apart.

"Order, gentlemen, order," he begged. "This is no time for unseemly
exhibitions. And remember there are ladies present."

The two men grunted and subsided, and Bill Brown asked, "Mr. Bishop, we
understand that you are well acquainted with the prisoner. Will you
please tell the court what you know of his general character?"

Del broadened into a smile. "Well, in the first place, he's an
extremely quarrelsome disposition - "

"Hold! I won't have it!" The prisoner was on his feet, trembling with
anger. "You shall not swear my life away in such fashion! To bring a
madman, whom I have only met once in my life, to testify as to my
character!"

The pocket-miner turned to him. "So you don't know me, eh, Gregory St.
Vincent?"

"No," St. Vincent replied, coldly, "I do not know you, my man."

"Don't you man me!" Del shouted, hotly.

But St. Vincent ignored him, turning to the crowd.

"I never saw the fellow but once before, and then for a few brief
moments in Dawson."

"You'll remember before I'm done," Del sneered; "so hold your hush and
let me say my little say. I come into the country with him way back in
'84."

St. Vincent regarded him with sudden interest.

"Yep, Mr. Gregory St. Vincent. I see you begin to recollect. I
sported whiskers and my name was Brown, Joe Brown, in them days."

He grinned vindictively, and the correspondent seemed to lose all
interest.

"Is it true, Gregory?" Frona whispered.

"I begin to recognize," he muttered, slowly. "I don't know . . . no,
folly! The man must have died."

"You say in '84, Mr. Bishop?" Bill Brown prompted.

"Yep, in '84. He was a newspaper-man, bound round the world by way of
Alaska and Siberia. I'd run away from a whaler at Sitka, - that squares
it with Brown, - and I engaged with him for forty a month and found.
Well, he quarrelled with me - "

A snicker, beginning from nowhere in particular, but passing on from
man to man and swelling in volume, greeted this statement. Even Frona
and Del himself were forced to smile, and the only sober face was the
prisoner's.

"But he quarrelled with Old Andy at Dyea, and with Chief George of the
Chilcoots, and the Factor at Pelly, and so on down the line. He got us
into no end of trouble, and 'specially woman-trouble. He was always
monkeying around - "

"Mr. Chairman, I object." Frona stood up, her face quite calm and
blood under control. "There is no necessity for bringing in the amours
of Mr. St. Vincent. They have no bearing whatsoever upon the case;
and, further, none of the men of this meeting are clean enough to be
prompted by the right motive in conducting such an inquiry. So I
demand that the prosecution at least confine itself to relevant
testimony."

Bill Brown came up smugly complacent and smiling. "Mr. Chairman, we
willingly accede to the request made by the defence. Whatever we have
brought out has been relevant and material. Whatever we intend to
bring out shall be relevant and material. Mr. Bishop is our star
witness, and his testimony is to the point. It must be taken into
consideration that we nave no direct evidence as to the murder of John
Borg. We can bring no eye-witnesses into court. Whatever we have is
circumstantial. It is incumbent upon us to show cause. To show cause
it is necessary to go into the character of the accused. This we
intend to do. We intend to show his adulterous and lustful nature,
which has culminated in a dastardly deed and jeopardized his neck. We
intend to show that the truth is not in him; that he is a liar beyond
price; that no word he may speak upon the stand need be accepted by a
jury of his peers. We intend to show all this, and to weave it
together, thread by thread, till we have a rope long enough and strong
enough to hang him with before the day is done. So I respectfully
submit, Mr. Chairman, that the witness be allowed to proceed."

The chairman decided against Frona, and her appeal to the meeting was
voted down. Bill Brown nodded to Del to resume.

"As I was saying, he got us into no end of trouble. Now, I've been
mixed up with water all my life, - never can get away from it, it
seems, - and the more I'm mixed the less I know about it. St. Vincent
knew this, too, and him a clever hand at the paddle; yet he left me to
run the Box Canyon alone while he walked around. Result: I was turned


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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 18 of 20)