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on the outskirts, bristled up to each other and bared their fangs. Men
encouraged them. They closed in and rolled over, but were kicked aside
to make room for St. Vincent.

Corliss came up the bank to Frona. "What's up?" he whispered. "Is it
off?"

She tried to speak, but swallowed and nodded her head.

"This way, Gregory." She touched his arm and guided him to the box
beneath the rope.

Corliss, keeping step with them, looked over the crowd speculatively
and felt into his jacket-pocket. "Can I do anything?" he asked,
gnawing his under lip impatiently. "Whatever you say goes, Frona. I
can stand them off."

She looked at him, aware of pleasure in the sight. She knew he would
dare it, but she knew also that it would be unfair. St. Vincent had
had his chance, and it was not right that further sacrifice should be
made. "No, Vance. It is too late. Nothing can be done."

"At least let me try," he persisted.

"No; it is not our fault that our plan failed, and . . . and . . ." Her
eyes filled. "Please do not ask it of me."

"Then let me take you away. You cannot remain here."

"I must," she answered, simply, and turned to St. Vincent, who seemed
dreaming.

Blackey was tying the hangman's knot in the rope's end, preparatory to
slipping the noose over St. Vincent's head.

"Kiss me, Gregory," she said, her hand on his arm.

He started at the touch, and saw all eager eyes centred upon him, and
the yellow noose, just shaped, in the hands of the hangman. He threw
up his arms, as though to ward it off, and cried loudly, "No! no! Let
me confess! Let me tell the truth, then you'll believe me!"

Bill Brown and the chairman shoved Blackey back, and the crowd gathered
in. Cries and protestations rose from its midst. "No, you don't," a
boy's shrill voice made itself heard. "I'm not going to go. I climbed
the tree and made the rope fast, and I've got a right to stay."
"You're only a kid," replied a man's voice, "and it ain't good for
you." "I don't care, and I'm not a kid. I'm - I'm used to such things.
And, anyway, I climbed the tree. Look at my hands." "Of course he can
stay," other voices took up the trouble. "Leave him alone, Curley."
"You ain't the whole thing." A laugh greeted this, and things quieted
down.

"Silence!" the chairman called, and then to St. Vincent, "Go ahead,
you, and don't take all day about it."

"Give us a chance to hear!" the crowd broke out again. "Put 'm on the
box! Put 'm on the box!"

St. Vincent was helped up, and began with eager volubility.

"I didn't do it, but I saw it done. There weren't two men - only one.
He did it, and Bella helped him."

A wave of laughter drowned him out.

"Not so fast," Bill Brown cautioned him. "Kindly explain how Bella
helped this man kill herself. Begin at the beginning."

"That night, before he turned in, Borg set his burglar alarm - "

"Burglar alarm?"

"That's what I called it, - a tin bread-pan attached to the latch so the
door couldn't open without tumbling it down. He set it every night, as
though he were afraid of what might happen, - the very thing which did
happen, for that matter. On the night of the murder I awoke with the
feeling that some one was moving around. The slush-lamp was burning
low, and I saw Bella at the door. Borg was snoring; I could hear him
plainly. Bella was taking down the bread-pan, and she exercised great
care about it. Then she opened the door, and an Indian came in softly.
He had no mask, and I should know him if ever I see him again, for a
scar ran along the forehead and down over one eye."

"I suppose you sprang out of bed and gave the alarm?"

"No, I didn't," St. Vincent answered, with a defiant toss of the head,
as though he might as well get the worst over with. "I just lay there
and waited."

"What did you think?"

"That Bella was in collusion with the Indian, and that Borg was to be
murdered. It came to me at once."

"And you did nothing?"

"Nothing." His voice sank, and his eyes dropped to Frona, leaning
against the box beneath him and steadying it. She did not seem to be
affected. "Bella came over to me, but I closed my eyes and breathed
regularly. She held the slush-lamp to me, but I played sleep naturally
enough to fool her. Then I heard a snort of sudden awakening and
alarm, and a cry, and I looked out. The Indian was hacking at Borg
with a knife, and Borg was warding off with his arms and trying to
grapple him. When they did grapple, Bella crept up from behind and
threw her arm in a strangle-hold about her husband's neck. She put her
knee into the small of his back, and bent him backward and, with the
Indian helping, threw him to the floor."

"And what did you do?"

"I watched."

"Had you a revolver?"

"Yes."

"The one you previously said John Borg had borrowed?"

"Yes; but I watched."

"Did John Borg call for help?"

"Yes."

"Can you give his words?"

"He called, 'St. Vincent! Oh, St. Vincent! Oh, my God! Oh, St.
Vincent, help me!'" He shuddered at the recollection, and added, "It
was terrible."

"I should say so," Brown grunted. "And you?"

"I watched," was the dogged reply, while a groan went up from the
crowd. "Borg shook clear of them, however, and got on his legs. He
hurled Bella across the cabin with a back-sweep of the arm and turned
upon the Indian. Then they fought. The Indian had dropped the knife,
and the sound of Borg's blows was sickening. I thought he would surely
beat the Indian to death. That was when the furniture was smashed.
They rolled and snarled and struggled like wild beasts. I wondered the
Indian's chest did not cave in under some of Borg's blows. But Bella
got the knife and stabbed her husband repeatedly about the body. The
Indian had clinched with him, and his arms were not free; so he kicked
out at her sideways. He must have broken her legs, for she cried out
and fell down, and though she tried, she never stood up again. Then he
went down, with the Indian under him, across the stove."

"Did he call any more for help?"

"He begged me to come to him."

"And?"

"I watched. He managed to get clear of the Indian and staggered over
to me. He was streaming blood, and I could see he was very weak.
'Give me your gun,' he said; 'quick, give me it.' He felt around
blindly. Then his mind seemed to clear a bit, and he reached across me
to the holster hanging on the wall and took the pistol. The Indian
came at him with the knife again, but he did not try to defend himself.
Instead, he went on towards Bella, with the Indian still hanging to him
and hacking at him. The Indian seemed to bother and irritate him, and
he shoved him away. He knelt down and turned Bella's face up to the
light; but his own face was covered with blood and he could not see.
So he stopped long enough to brush the blood from his eyes. He
appeared to look in order to make sure. Then he put the revolver to
her breast and fired.

"The Indian went wild at this, and rushed at him with the knife, at the
same time knocking the pistol out of his hand. It was then the shelf
with the slush-lamp was knocked down. They continued to fight in the
darkness, and there were more shots fired, though I do not know by
whom. I crawled out of the bunk, but they struck against me in their
struggles, and I fell over Bella. That's when the blood got on my
hands. As I ran out the door, more shots were fired. Then I met La
Flitche and John, and . . . and you know the rest. This is the truth I
have told you, I swear it!"

He looked down at Frona. She was steadying the box, and her face was
composed. He looked out over the crowd and saw unbelief. Many were
laughing.

"Why did you not tell this story at first?" Bill Brown demanded.

"Because . . . because . . ."

"Well?"

"Because I might have helped."

There was more laughter at this, and Bill Brown turned away from him.
"Gentlemen, you have heard this pipe dream. It is a wilder fairy story
than his first. At the beginning of the trial we promised to show that
the truth was not in him. That we succeeded, your verdict is ample
testimony. But that he should likewise succeed, and more brilliantly,
we did not expect. That he has, you cannot doubt. What do you think
of him? Lie upon lie he has given us; he has been proven a chronic
liar; are you to believe this last and fearfully impossible lie?
Gentlemen, I can only ask that you reaffirm your judgment. And to
those who may doubt his mendacity, - surely there are but few, - let me
state, that if his story is true; if he broke salt with this man, John
Borg, and lay in his blankets while murder was done; if he did hear,
unmoved, the voice of the man calling to him for help; if he did lie
there and watch that carnival of butchery without his manhood prompting
him, - let me state, gentlemen, I say, let me state that he is none the
less deserveful of hanging. We cannot make a mistake. What shall it
be?"

"Death!" "String him up!" "Stretch 'm!" were the cries.

But the crowd suddenly turned its attention to the river, and even
Blackey refrained from his official task. A large raft, worked by a
sweep at either end, was slipping past the tail of Split-up Island,
close to the shore. When it was at their feet, its nose was slewed
into the bank, and while its free end swung into the stream to make the
consequent circle, a snubbing-rope was flung ashore and several turns
taken about the tree under which St. Vincent stood. A cargo of
moose-meat, red and raw, cut into quarters, peeped from beneath a cool
covering of spruce boughs. And because of this, the two men on the
raft looked up to those on the bank with pride in their eyes.

"Tryin' to make Dawson with it," one of them explained, "and the sun's
all-fired hot."

"Nope," said his comrade, in reply to a query, "don't care to stop and
trade. It's worth a dollar and a half a pound down below, and we're
hustlin' to get there. But we've got some pieces of a man we want to
leave with you." He turned and pointed to a loose heap of blankets
which slightly disclosed the form of a man beneath. "We gathered him
in this mornin', 'bout thirty mile up the Stewart, I should judge."

"Stands in need of doctorin'," the other man spoke up, "and the meat's
spoilin', and we ain't got time for nothin'." "Beggar don't have
anythin' to say. Don't savve the burro." "Looks as he might have been
mixin' things with a grizzly or somethin', - all battered and gouged.
Injured internally, from the looks of it. Where'll you have him?"

Frona, standing by St. Vincent, saw the injured man borne over the
crest of the bank and through the crowd. A bronzed hand drooped down
and a bronzed face showed from out the blankets. The bearers halted
near them while a decision could be reached as to where he should be
carried. Frona felt a sudden fierce grip on her arm.

"Look! look!" St. Vincent was leaning forward and pointing wildly at
the injured man. "Look! That scar!"

The Indian opened his eyes and a grin of recognition distorted his face.

"It is he! It is he!" St. Vincent, trembling with eagerness, turned
upon the crowd. "I call you all to witness! That is the man who
killed John Borg!"

No laughter greeted this, for there was a terrible earnestness in his
manner. Bill Brown and the chairman tried to make the Indian talk, but
could not. A miner from British Columbia was pressed into service, but
his Chinook made no impression. Then La Flitche was called. The
handsome breed bent over the man and talked in gutturals which only his
mother's heredity made possible. It sounded all one, yet it was
apparent that he was trying many tongues. But no response did he draw,
and he paused disheartened. As though with sudden recollection, he
made another attempt. At once a gleam of intelligence shot across the
Indian's face, and his larynx vibrated to similar sounds.

"It is the Stick talk of the Upper White," La Flitche stopped long
enough to explain.

Then, with knit brows and stumbling moments when he sought
dim-remembered words, he plied the man with questions. To the rest it
was like a pantomime, - the meaningless grunts and waving arms and
facial expressions of puzzlement, surprise, and understanding. At
times a passion wrote itself on the face of the Indian, and a sympathy
on the face of La Flitche. Again, by look and gesture, St. Vincent was
referred to, and once a sober, mirthless laugh shaped the mouths of
them.

"So? It is good," La Flitche said, when the Indian's head dropped
back. "This man make true talk. He come from White River, way up. He
cannot understand. He surprised very much, so many white men. He
never think so many white men in the world. He die soon. His name Gow.

"Long time ago, three year, this man John Borg go to this man Gow's
country. He hunt, he bring plenty meat to the camp, wherefore White
River Sticks like him. Gow have one squaw, Pisk-ku. Bime-by John Borg
make preparation to go 'way. He go to Gow, and he say, 'Give me your
squaw. We trade. For her I give you many things.' But Gow say no.
Pisk-ku good squaw. No woman sew moccasin like she. She tan
moose-skin the best, and make the softest leather. He like Pisk-ku.
Then John Borg say he don't care; he want Pisk-ku. Then they have a
_skookum_ big fight, and Pisk-ku go 'way with John Borg. She no want
to go 'way, but she go anyway. Borg call her 'Bella,' and give her
plenty good things, but she like Gow all the time." La Flitche pointed
to the scar which ran down the forehead and past the eye of the Indian.
"John Borg he do that."

"Long time Gow pretty near die. Then he get well, but his head sick.
He don't know nobody. Don't know his father, his mother, or anything.
Just like a little baby. Just like that. Then one day, quick, click!
something snap, and his head get well all at once. He know his father
and mother, he remember Pisk-ku, he remember everything. His father
say John Borg go down river. Then Gow go down river. Spring-time, ice
very bad. He very much afraid, so many white men, and when he come to
this place he travel by night. Nobody see him 'tall, but he see
everybody. He like a cat, see in the dark. Somehow, he come straight
to John Borg's cabin. He do not know how this was, except that the
work he had to do was good work."

St. Vincent pressed Frona's hand, but she shook her fingers clear and
withdrew a step.

"He see Pisk-ku feed the dogs, and he have talk with her. That night
he come and she open the door. Then you know that which was done. St.
Vincent do nothing, Borg kill Bella. Gow kill Borg. Borg kill Gow,
for Gow die pretty quick. Borg have strong arm. Gow sick inside, all
smashed up. Gow no care; Pisk-ku dead.

"After that he go 'cross ice to the land. I tell him all you people
say it cannot be; no man can cross the ice at that time. He laugh, and
say that it is, and what is, must be. Anyway, he have very hard time,
but he get 'cross all right. He very sick inside. Bime-by he cannot
walk; he crawl. Long time he come to Stewart River. Can go no more,
so he lay down to die. Two white men find him and bring him to this
place. He don't care. He die anyway."

La Flitche finished abruptly, but nobody spoke. Then he added, "I
think Gow damn good man."

Frona came up to Jacob Welse. "Take me away, father," she said. "I am
so tired."




CHAPTER XXX

Next morning, Jacob Welse, for all of the Company and his millions in
mines, chopped up the day's supply of firewood, lighted a cigar, and
went down the island in search of Baron Courbertin. Frona finished the
breakfast dishes, hung out the robes to air, and fed the dogs. Then
she took a worn Wordsworth from her clothes-bag, and, out by the bank,
settled herself comfortably in a seat formed by two uprooted pines.
But she did no more than open the book; for her eyes strayed out and
over the Yukon to the eddy below the bluffs, and the bend above, and
the tail of the spit which lay in the midst of the river. The rescue
and the race were still fresh with her, though there were strange
lapses, here and there, of which she remembered little. The struggle
by the fissure was immeasurable; she knew not how long it lasted; and
the race down Split-up to Roubeau Island was a thing of which her
reason convinced her, but of which she recollected nothing.

The whim seized her, and she followed Corliss through the three days'
events, but she tacitly avoided the figure of another man whom she
would not name. Something terrible was connected therewith, she knew,
which must be faced sooner or later; but she preferred to put that
moment away from her. She was stiff and sore of mind as well as of
body, and will and action were for the time being distasteful. It was
more pleasant, even, to dwell on Tommy, on Tommy of the bitter tongue
and craven heart; and she made a note that the wife and children in
Toronto should not be forgotten when the Northland paid its dividends
to the Welse.

The crackle of a foot on a dead willow-twig roused her, and her eyes
met St. Vincent's.

"You have not congratulated me upon my escape," he began, breezily.
"But you must have been dead-tired last night. I know I was. And you
had that hard pull on the river besides."

He watched her furtively, trying to catch some cue as to her attitude
and mood.

"You're a heroine, that's what you are, Frona," he began again, with
exuberance. "And not only did you save the mail-man, but by the delay
you wrought in the trial you saved me. If one more witness had gone on
the stand that first day, I should have been duly hanged before Gow put
in an appearance. Fine chap, Gow. Too bad he's going to die."

"I am glad that I could be of help," she replied, wondering the while
what she could say.

"And of course I am to be congratulated - "

"Your trial is hardly a thing for congratulation," she spoke up
quickly, looking him straight in the eyes for the moment. "I am glad
that it came out as it did, but surely you cannot expect me to
congratulate you."

"O-o-o," with long-drawn inflection. "So that's where it pinches." He
smiled good-humoredly, and moved as though to sit down, but she made no
room for him, and he remained standing. "I can certainly explain. If
there have been women - "

Frona had been clinching her hand nervously, but at the word burst out
in laughter.

"Women?" she queried. "Women?" she repeated. "Do not be ridiculous,
Gregory."

"After the way you stood by me through the trial," he began,
reproachfully, "I thought - "

"Oh, you do not understand," she said, hopelessly. "You do not
understand. Look at me, Gregory, and see if I can make you understand.
Your presence is painful to me. Your kisses hurt me. The memory of
them still burns my cheek, and my lips feel unclean. And why? Because
of women, which you may explain away? How little do you understand!
But shall I tell you?"

Voices of men came to her from down the river-bank, and the splashing
of water. She glanced quickly and saw Del Bishop guiding a poling-boat
against the current, and Corliss on the bank, bending to the tow-rope.

"Shall I tell you why, Gregory St. Vincent?" she said again. "Tell you
why your kisses have cheapened me? Because you broke the faith of food
and blanket. Because you broke salt with a man, and then watched that
man fight unequally for life without lifting your hand. Why, I had
rather you had died in defending him; the memory of you would have been
good. Yes, I had rather you had killed him yourself. At least, it
would have shown there was blood in your body."

"So this is what you would call love?" he began, scornfully, his
fretting, fuming devil beginning to rouse. "A fair-weather love,
truly. But, Lord, how we men learn!"

"I had thought you were well lessoned," she retorted; "what of the
other women?"

"But what do you intend to do?" he demanded, taking no notice. "I am
not an easy man to cross. You cannot throw me over with impunity. I
shall not stand for it, I warn you. You have dared do things in this
country which would blacken you were they known. I have ears. I have
not been asleep. You will find it no child's play to explain away
things which you may declare most innocent."

She looked at him with a smile which carried pity in its cold mirth,
and it goaded him.

"I am down, a thing to make a jest upon, a thing to pity, but I promise
you that I can drag you with me. My kisses have cheapened you, eh?
Then how must you have felt at Happy Camp on the Dyea Trail?"

As though in answer, Corliss swung down upon them with the tow-rope.

Frona beckoned a greeting to him. "Vance," she said, "the mail-carrier
has brought important news to father, so important that he must go
outside. He starts this afternoon with Baron Courbertin in La Bijou.
Will you take me down to Dawson? I should like to go at once, to-day.

"He . . . he suggested you," she added shyly, indicating St. Vincent.



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