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Ridgwell Cullum.

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seat of an armed Windsor chair. His feet, well shod, were thrust up on
the stove in approved fashion. He was smoking a cheap cigar which
retained its highly coloured band, and contemplating the brazen pages of
an early edition of a leading evening paper.

A man beside him, an Englishman, to judge by the make of his clothes and
his manner of speech, had a news sheet lying in his lap. But he was not
reading. His fair face and blue eyes were turned with unfailing interest
on the dull sides of the glowing stove. Occasionally he spoke to his
bearded neighbour, who also seemed to be something of a companion.

"I can't find anything that's likely to be of any use to me," he said.

His speech was curiously refined and seemed utterly out of place in the
office of Mallard's. "I quit London because - It seems to me cities are
all the same. They're all full to overflowing, and the only jobs going
are the jobs no one wants. Why in hell do we congregate in cities?"

The man beside him replied without looking up from his paper.

"Because we've a ten cent sense with a fi' dollar scare." He laughed
harshly. "How long have you been out? Six months? Six months, an' you've
learned to guess hard when you see Saney bumming around, or a uniform in
the crowd. You've learned to wish you 'hadn't,' so you dream things all
night. You're yearning to get back to things as they were before you
guessed you'd fancy them diff'rent, and you find that way the door's
shut tight, and a feller with a darn sharp sword is sitting around
waiting on you. Take a chance, man. Get out in the open. It's big, and
it's good. It's a hell of a sight in front of a city, anyway. If they
get you - well, what of it? You've asked for it. And anyway they're going
to get you some time. You can't get away with the play all the time."

"Yes. I s'pose that's right. It's a big country, and - " The man's fair
brows drew together. The regret was plain enough in his eyes. There was
more weakness than crime in them.

The bearded man tapped the page of the news sheet he was reading with an
emphatic forefinger that was none too clean.

"What in hell?" he exclaimed. "These fellers beat me. Here, look at
that, and read the stuff some darn hoodlum has doped out."

He passed the paper to the Englishman. That at which the other pointed
was the photograph of a man. The letterpress was underneath it.

"Get a good look at the picture. Then read," the other exclaimed, while
his dark eyes searched the Englishman's face.

He waited, watchful, alert. He saw the other's eyes scan the
letterpress. Then he saw them revert again to the picture.

"Well, what d'you make out? Aren't they darn suckers? Look at that job
line in bum ink. Could you get that face from a Limburger cheese? And
the dope? After handing you a valentine that 'ud scare a blind Choyeuse,
and you couldn't rec'nize for a man without a spy glass, they set right
in to tell you he's 'wanted' for things he did in the North-west two and
a haf years ago. The p'lice have been chasing him for two and a haf
years. They've never located him, and he's likely living in the heart of
Sahara or some other darn place by now. And now - now some buzzy-headed
'cop' reckons he's got a line, and dopes out that stuff to warn him
they're coming along, so he can get well away in time. Makes you laff."

There was irritation in the man's tone. There was something else
besides.

The blue-eyed English crook was studying the picture closely.

"It sort of seems foolish," he said at last.

"Foolish? Gee!"

"Still, it is the face of a man, and a good-looking man," he went on.
"And there's something familiar about it, too; I seem to know the face."
Suddenly he looked round, and his pale, searching eyes looked hard at
his companion. "Say, he's not unlike you. He's got the same forehead,
and the same eyes and nose. If you'd got no beard, and your hair was
brushed smooth - - "

"Tchah!"

The bearded man reclaimed the paper with a laugh that carried no
conviction.

"The courts 'ud hand me big money damages for a libel like that," he
declared.

"Would they?"

The smiling eyes of the Englishman were challenging. The other shrugged
as well as his attitude would permit, and, emitting a cloud of smoke
from his rank cigar, pretended to continue his reading.

At that moment a stir recurred amongst the "crap-shooters" under one of
the windows, and the Englishman looked round. His alert ears had caught
the sound of Saney's name on the lips of one of the men who had ceased
his play to peer out of the window.

He rose swiftly from his chair and joined the group. The man with the
beard had made no movement. He, too, had heard Saney's name, and a keen,
alert, sidelong glance followed his neighbour's movements.

The other was away some seconds. When he returned his breathing seemed
to have quickened, and a light of uncertainty shone in his eyes.

"It's Saney," he said, without waiting for any question. "He's coming
down the street. I should think he's coming here. He's crossed over as
if he were."

"Alone?"

The bearded man's question was sharp.

"No. There's another fellow with him. He's in plain clothes. A youngish
looking fellow, with a clean shaven face, and a pair of shoulders like
an ox. Looks to me like a cavalryman in mufti. He certainly looks as if
he ought to have a saddle under him. I - - "

The other waited for no more. He was on his feet and across the room at
the window in a twinkling. And the smiling eyes of the Englishman gazed
after him. In the other's absence he picked up the paper which had
fallen upon the floor, and looked again at the portrait of the man, and
re-read the letterpress underneath it.

"Hervey Garstaing," he murmured, as though impressing the name upon his
mind. Then he laid the paper quickly aside as the thrusting of chairs
announced his companion's return.

The next few minutes were full of a tense interest for the man who had
only just crossed the border line into the world of crime. The man with
the brown beard passed him by without a word. He thrust the chairs,
which stood in his way, hastily aside. He seemed to have no regard for
anything but his own rapid progress. He was making for the counter with
its iron defences.

The smile in the Englishman's eyes deepened. His interest rose to a wave
of excitement. He felt assured that "things" were about to happen.

A hard-faced clerk with the shoulders of a prizefighter, was waiting to
receive the hurried approach of his client.

These men were always alert and ready at the first sign.

The bearded man's demand came sharply back across the room.

"Guess I need to 'phone - quick!" he said. "I'll take No. 1."

The face of the clerk remained expressionless, but the tone of his reply
had doubt in it.

"No. 1?" he said.

"That's how I said."

"It'll cost you a hundred dollars."

"You needn't hand me the tariff," returned the bearded man with a laugh
that jarred. "Here's the stuff. Only open it - quick."

The onlooker saw the applicant dive a hand into his hip pocket and draw
out a roll of money. He heard the crumple of paper as he counted out a
number of bills. Then, in a moment, his whole attention was diverted to
the entrance door of the room. The swing door was thrust open and two
men pushed their way in.

The man who came first was of medium height and square build. He had a
disarming, florid face, and the bland, good-natured expression of a
genial farmer. The other glanced swiftly over the room. He was the
shorter of the two, and his clean shaven face and his undistinctive
tweed clothing would have left him quite unremarkable but for his air of
definite decision and purpose.

The first man the Englishman recognized as Saney, head of the Criminal
Investigation Department of the province. The other was a stranger.

From the newcomers, the onlooker's attention was suddenly distracted by
the slamming of a heavy door. It was the door of a telephone box, and he
knew it was the door of "No. 1," the use of which had cost his friend
one hundred dollars. He looked for the man with the beard. He had gone.

Saney's inspection of the room was rapid, and every individual
foregathered came under his eye. Then he stepped up to the counter and
spoke to the clerk.

His voice did not carry to the rest of the room, but the clerk's swift
reply was plainly audible.

"I haven't had a sight of him, if that's what he's like," he said,
handing back a photograph. "Still, the place is here for you to go
through if you fancy that way. You know that, Mr. Saney. It's open to
you the whole time."

The officer's reply was inaudible. But the voice of the stranger came
sharply.

"Guess we'll just have a look at the fellow that passed into that 'phone
box as we came in," he said.

Again came the clerk's reply.

"There's no one in them boxes, Mister. I haven't sold a call in haf an
hour," he said with a smile that lent no softening to his watchful eyes.
He stooped and released a series of levers. "Get a peek for yourselves,
gents."

Each door was set ajar and the stranger moved swiftly across and flung
them wide open in rapid succession. The boxes were empty. At "No. 1" he
paused considering. Then he passed within. And, for a few moments, stood
examining the instrument, which was no different from any other 'phone
in any other hotel in the city.

After the examination the two men passed out of the room and the
Englishman watched the smiling contempt that promptly lit the eyes of
the clerk as he looked after them.

Outside on the landing Saney led the way. Nor did the two men speak
until they had passed down the stairs and out into the street.

"Well?"

Saney spoke with an ironical smile lighting his genial eyes.

"You'll search the place?" the other suggested.

Saney shrugged.

"If you feel that way. But it's useless," he said. "I said that to you
before. You've tracked this feller to this city. You've tracked him to
Mallard's. It's taken you nearly two years. We've all been out after
him, and failed. You've succeeded in hunting him down to Mallard's.
Well, I'd say your work's only just started. Maybe he's there right now.
If we searched with a hundred men we couldn't exhaust that darn gopher
nest. If we blocked every outlet we know and don't know, he could still
sit tight and laff at us. No. We need to start right in again. So long
as he's got the stuff, and hangs to Mallard's, he's safe."

"You might have those 'phone boxes torn down. I saw a feller go into one
of them as we came in. I'd swear to that."

Saney nodded.

"So would I. A feller did go in. Maybe it was some guy that didn't fancy
seeing me. Maybe it was your man. It wouldn't help us tearing out those
boxes. We know them. 'No. 1' is a clear way out of that room. Guess the
whole back of it opens into some darn passage, which you could easily
reach from anywhere outside that room. That's the trick of the place.
Short of pulling the place down you can't do a thing that 'ud help. It's
honeycombed with concealed doors, that in themselves don't mean a thing
but a 'get out' of any old room. It's the whole place that's the riddle.
Meanwhile it's a gravitating spot for crooks, and so has its uses - for
us."

* * * * *

The room was sufficiently large, but it was low ceiled and suggested the
basement of an old-fashioned house. It was badly lit, too. Only an
oil-lamp, on a table set with a cold supper for two, sought to discover
the obscure limits of its tunnel-like length.

There was no suggestion of poverty about the place. It was modest. That
was all. Its chief characteristic lay in the fact that it was obviously
the full extent of the present home of its occupants. At the far end
stood a bedstead, and by its side a large wicker hamper. The centre was
occupied by the supper table, and, at the other end, under the window,
which was carefully covered by heavy curtains, stood a child's cot.

For the rest there were the usual furnishings of a cheap apartment
house, where the proprietors only cater for the class of custom which
lives in a state of frequent and rapid migration.

A woman was sitting in front of a small anthracite stove. A book was in
her lap. But she was not reading. Her deep violet eyes were widely
gazing down into the fire glow through the mica front, in that dreaming
fashion which so soon becomes the habit of those condemned to prolonged
hours of solitude.

It was by no means the face of a completely happy and contented woman.
It was a tired face with the weariness which is of the mind rather than
of the body. There were a few tracings of lines about the eyes and the
pretty forehead which were out of place in a woman of her age. Only
anxiety could have set them there. Suspense, an unspoken dread of
something which never ceased to threaten. Now, in an unguarded moment,
when all disguise was permitted to fall from her, they were pronounced,
painfully pronounced.

Her thought was plainly regretful. It was also obviously troubled.
Occasionally she would start and listen as some sound outside penetrated
the profound stillness of the room. It was at these moments that her
glance would turn swiftly, and with some display of anxiety, to the
child's cot where she knew her baby lay sleeping. Once she sprang
nervously to her feet and passed over to the cot. She stood bending over
the child gazing yearningly, hungrily down at the innocent, beautiful
three-year-old life dreaming its hours away without understanding of
that which surrounded it, or that which haunted the mind of its mother.

Then the stove and the wicker chair claimed her again, as did the
suspense of waiting, with its burden of apprehension.

At last relief leapt to the troubled eyes, and, in a moment it seemed,
every line which had been so deeply indicative before was suddenly
smoothed out of her pretty face. The woman sprang from her chair
transformed with an expression of deep relief and content. She glanced
swiftly over the supper table as a key turned in the latch of the door.

A man with a brown beard thrust his way in and glanced swiftly over the
whole length of the room. It was the searching look of a mind concerned,
deeply concerned, with safety. Then his dark eyes came to the woman's
face which was turned upon him questioningly.

"Well?" she demanded.

The monosyllable was full of deep significance. It asked a hundred
questions.

Just for a moment no answer was forthcoming. The man turned from the
woman, and his eyes sought the child's cot. There was no softness in his
regard. It was deeply contemplative. That was all. It was the woman who
displayed feeling as she followed his gaze, and the lighting of her
beautiful eyes was with swift apprehension.

"Something's the matter, Hervey!" she demanded sharply.

The lamplight caught the man's eyes as they came back to her face, and
its rays left them shining with a curious, lurid reflection.

"Matter?" A sharp, impotent oath broke from him. Then he checked his
impulse to rave. "Yes. See here, Nita," he went on, with a restraint
which added deep impressiveness, "we've got to quit. We've got to get
out - quick. Steve's hard on our trail. I've seen him to-day at
Mallard's. He didn't see me. Only my back. But I saw him. He came with
Saney. And there's only one thing I guess to bring Steve to Mallard's.
Saney's never given me a moment's nightmare. But Steve - Steve back from
Unaga, Steve in plain clothes in Quebec _with Saney_, and me sheltering
at Mallard's, tells its own story to anyone with _savee_. It means he's
got a hot scent, and he's following it right up. He's not the sort to
let go of it - easy. It's quit for us - and quit right away."

Nita sighed. She passed a shaking hand across her forehead, and when it
had passed all the tracery of lines had returned and stood out even more
sharply.

"It's come - at last," she said, in a weary, hopeless tone. "It was bound
to. I knew it right along. I told you."

"Oh, yes, you told me," Garstaing retorted, with a sneer that was always
ready when anger supervened. "Guess you told me a whole heap of fool
stuff one time and another. But you needn't reckon we're going to sit
around under things, just because Mister Steve seems to put the fear of
God into you. It's hastened the things I've had in my mind quite awhile.
That's all. We're going to beat it. We're quitting for up north. It was
my notion from the start. Only I weakened with your squeal about the
country. Well, your squeals are no account now. We got to save our
skins. I'm going to beat Mister Steve, and show you he's just the same
as most other folks who've got a grip on the game. We're making north
where, if he gets a notion to follow, he'll need to play the lone hand.
And Steve on a lone hand can't scare me five cents. Up there I'll meet
him. We won't need to live a gopher's life in a cellar. And when he
comes along, if he's the guts you reckon he has, I'll meet him, and kill
him as sure as Hell's waiting for him." The man's hot eyes were suddenly
turned on the distant child's cot, and he nodded at it. "It's that makes
me sick," he cried vehemently. "It's his!"

"She's mine!" Nita cried sharply. "And where I go she goes."

Nita read the man's mood with all the instinct of a mother. Three years
ago when she brought Coqueline into the world the infant claim upon her
had been loose enough. It was different now. Her woman's weakness and
discontent had yielded her a ready victim to the showy promises and good
looks of Hervey Garstaing. But the road they had had to travel since had
been by no means easy. It had been full of disillusionment for the silly
woman. They had lived in fear of the law, in fear of Steve, for over two
years. And the grind of it, for the pleasure-loving wife who had buoyed
herself with dreams of gaiety and delight which her life in the North
had denied her, had driven her back upon the elemental that was only
latent in her. Coqueline was her all now. Nita clung to her baby as the
one indestructible link with that purity of life which no woman, however
fallen, can ever wholly disregard, or forget. The child was a
sheet-anchor for all time. Whatever the future had in store, little
Coqueline was her child, born in wedlock, the pledge of her maiden
dreams.

"Tchah! She's his!" The man's restraint was giving before the brutal,
the criminal, that was the essence of him. "Why in hell should I feed
his brat? Why should I be burdened with it? Can't you see? We've got to
drag her wherever we go, delaying us, an unhallowed worry, and a darn
danger at all times. Cut it out. Pass her along to some blamed orphan
outfit. Leave her to the mule-headed folks who guess their mission in
life is to round up other folks' 'strays.' Steve's not a thing to you
now, Nita, and never will be again. You can't ever go back to him. He'd
kick you out without mercy, if I know Steve. He's hard - hard as hell.
You're mine, my dear, mine for keeps. Steve don't want any woman who's
shared her bed with another feller. You know that well enough. Well,
say, be reasonable. Let the kid go. You don't need her. You and me
together, we can play the game out. I can make good up there. And all I
make you've a half share stake in. It's up to you, kid. Just say the
word, and I'll fix things so that brat can get to an institution. Will
you - - ?"

"It's no use, Hervey." Nita shook her head decidedly. But his
coarseness, his brutality had had its effect. The violet of her eyes
remained hidden lest it should reveal the terror that lay in her heart.
"We've argued all this before. I'll go where you like, when you like,
but - my baby girl goes with me."

The decision was irrevocable and the man understood the obstinacy which
was so great a part of Nita's character. So he added no further pressure
at the moment. Only his dark eyes regarded her while his thought
travelled swiftly. At last, as he made no reply, Nita raised her eyes to
his face. Her gaze encountered his, and she turned abruptly from the
lurid reflection of the lamplight she beheld in his eyes, to the refuge
of the child's cot, which never failed her.

Garstaing laughed. It was a coarse, hard laugh that meant nothing. He
threw his hat aside.

"Let's eat," he cried. "Then we'll start right in to pack up our outfit.
We're taking no chances. We got to be on the road north by noon
to-morrow. We'll take the kid. Oh, yes, we'll take his precious kid," he
laughed. "But God help you if things happen through it. You know what
this thing means? If Steve and I come up with each other there's going
to be a killing. And murder's a big thing beside pouching the Treaty
Money of a bunch of darn neches."




CHAPTER XV

THE SET COURSE


Delight and excitement were running high. It was a game. In Marcel's
child-mind there was nothing better in the world. And it was An-ina's
invention. It was the gopher hunt.

They often played it in the cool summer evenings. The gophers destroyed
the crops of men, therefore men must destroy the gophers. It was the
simple logic that satisfied the child-hunter's mind. Besides, it was his
own game which An-ina had taught him, and no one else played it in the
same way. Every dead gopher An-ina told him meant more food for the
pappoose on the Reserve. And it was the child's desire that the pappoose
on the Reserve should eat to repletion.

The game entailed the lighting of a fire. That in itself demanded a
hundred excited instructions to the faithful An-ina, who contrived the
fire unfailingly, in her quick Indian way, in spite of them. Then there
was the collection of dried grass which demanded a search and laborious
consideration as to its suitability. Then came the stuffing of it into a
score and more of the principal holes in the selected gopher warren.
During this operation strict silence had to be observed. Then the
crowning moment. Erect, alert, in his woolen jersey and the briefest of
knickers, the child took his stand in the centre, where, with youthful
optimism, he sought to take within his purview the numberless exits for
the panic-stricken quarry. With stick raised, and every nerve quivering
with excitement, he was there to do battle with the destructive foe.

So he waited whilst An-ina advanced with her fire brand. With rapid
breathing and shining eyes the hunter watched as each plugging of dried
grass was fired. The smoke, rising in a circle about him, left him a
picture like some child martyr being burned at the stake.

Her work completed An-ina stood looking on, her beautiful dusky face
wreathed in a smiling delight which the sight of the boy's happiness
never failed to inspire.

A wild shriek. A flourishing and slashing of the stick. A scuttle of
racing moccasined feet. The quarry had broken cover and the chase had
begun!

A dozen gophers with bristling tails bounded clear of the smoke ring.
They scattered in every direction. The boy was in pursuit. Shrieking,
laughing, slashing, headlong he ran, nimble as the gophers themselves.

It was wide open grassland, and An-ina contented herself with watching
from the distance. It was the boy's game. His was the chase. Hers was
the simple happiness of witnessing his enjoyment.

"Gee!"

An-ina started at the sound of the exclamation behind her. She turned,
and her movement had something of the swiftness of some wild animal. But
it was not a defensive movement. There was no apprehension in it. She
knew the voice. It was the voice she had been yearning to hear again for
something over two years.

"Boss Steve!" she cried, and there was that in her wide, soft eyes which
her aboriginal mind made no effort to conceal.

Steve was standing some yards away, with his horse's reins linked over
his arm. As the woman approached he moved forward to meet her. But his
eyes were on the boy, still in vain pursuit of the escaped gophers,
pausing, stalking, completely and utterly absorbed.

The woman realized the white man's pre-occupation. She was even glad of
it. So, in her simple way, she explained.

"This - his game," she said. "He mak' great hunter," she added with
simple pride. "An-ina tell him gophers bad - much. So he say Marcel hunt
'em. Him kill 'em. Him say Uncle Steve say all things bad must be kill."

"He still thinks of - Uncle Steve?"

The enquiry came with a smile. But the man had withdrawn his gaze from
the distant child, and was earnestly searching the woman's smiling face.

"Marcel think Uncle Steve all man," she said quickly. "Uncle Mac, oh,
yes. Auntie Millie, oh, very good. An-ina. Yes. An-ina help in all
things. Uncle Steve? Uncle Steve come bimeby, then all things no



Online LibraryRidgwell CullumThe Heart of Unaga → online text (page 12 of 30)