VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

The Love Of Poleon Doret

From: The Barrier

To the girl crouching at the stern of Runnion's boat it seemed as if
this day and night would never end. It seemed as if the procession
of natural events must have ceased, that there was no longer any
time, for she had been suffering steadily for hours and hours
without end, and began to wonder dreamily whether she had not
skipped a day in her reckoning between the time when she first heard
of the strike on her claim and this present moment. It occurred to
her that she was a rich girl now in her own right, and she smiled
her crooked smile, as she reflected that the thing she had longed
for without hope of attainment had come with confusing swiftness,
and had left her unhappier than ever....

Would the day never come? She pulled the rugs up closer about her as
the morning chill made her shiver. She found herself keeping
mechanical count with the sound of the sweeps--they must be making
good speed, she thought, and the camp must be miles behind now. Had
it been earlier in the season, when the river ran full of drift,
they never could have gone thus in the dark, but the water was low
and the chances of collision so remote as to render blind travel
safe. Even yet she could not distinguish her oarsman, except as a
black bulk, for it had been a lowering night and the approaching
dawn failed to break through the blanket of cloud that hung above
the great valley. He was a good boatman, however, as she gathered
from the tireless regularity of his strokes. He was a silent man,
too, and she was grateful for that. She snuggled down into her
blanket and tried to sleep, but she only dozed for a minute, it
seemed, to find her eyes fly wide open again. So, restless and tired
of her lonely vigil, she gave a premonitory cough, and said to her

"You must be tired rowing so steadily?"

"Oh, I don't mind it," he replied.

At the sound of his voice she sat bolt upright. It couldn't be--if
this were Runnion he would have spoken before! She ventured again,

"Have you any idea what time it is?"

"About three o'clock. I fancy."

"Who are you?" The question came like a shot.

"Don't you know?"

"What are YOU doing here, Mr. Runnion?"

"I'm rowing," he answered, carelessly.

"Why didn't you speak?" A vague feeling of uneasiness came over her,
a suspicion that all was not right, so she waited for him to
explain, and when he did not, she repeated her question. "What made
you keep still so long? You knew who I was?"

"Well, it's the first time I ever took you on a midnight row, and I
wanted to enjoy it."

The mockery in his voice quickened her apprehension. Of a sudden the
fear of being misjudged impelled her to end this flight that had
become so distasteful in a moment, preferring to face the people at
the post rather than continue her journey with this man.

"I've changed my mind, Mr. Runnion," she said. "I don't want to go
down to the Mission. I want you to take me back."

"Can't do it," he said; "the current is too swift."

"Then set me ashore and I'll walk back. It can't be far to town."

"Twenty-five miles. We've been out about three hours." He kept on
rowing steadily, and although the distance they had gone frightened
her, she summoned her courage to say:

"We can make that easily enough. Come, run in to the bank."

He ceased rowing and let the boat drift with dragging sweeps, filled
his pipe and lighted it, then took up his oars again and resumed his

"Please do as I ask you, Mr. Runnion. I've decided I don't want to
go any farther." He laughed, and the sound aroused her. "Put me
ashore this minute!" she cried, indignantly. "What do you mean?"

"You've got a fierce temper, haven't you?"

"Will you do it or not?"

When he made no answer, except to continue the maddening monotony of
his movements, she was seized with a rash resolve to wrench the oars
out of his hands, and made a quick motion towards him, at which he

"Sit down! Do you want to upset us?"

The unstable craft lurched and dipped dangerously, and, realizing
the futility of her mad impulse, she sank back on her knees.

"Put me ashore!"

"No," he said, "not till I'm ready. Now, keep your seat or we'll
both drown; this ain't a ferry-boat." After a few strokes, he added,
"We'll never get along together unless you tame that temper."

"We're not going to get along together, Mr. Runnion--only as far as
the Mission. I dare say you can tolerate me until then, can you
not?" She said this bitingly.

"Stark told me to board the first boat for St. Michael's," he said,
disregarding her sarcasm, "but I've made a few plans of my own the
last hour or so."

"St. Michael's! Mr. Stark told you--why, that's impossible! You
misunderstood him. He told you to row me to the Mission. I'm going
to Father Barnum's house."

"No, you're not, and I didn't misunderstand him. He wants to get you
outside, all right, but I reckon you'd rather go as Mrs. Runnion
than as the sweetheart of Ben Stark."

"Are you crazy?" the girl cried. "Mr. Stark kindly offered to help
me reach the Father at his Mission. I'm nothing to him, and I'm
certainly not going to be anything to you. If I'd known you were
going to row the boat, I should have stayed at home, because I
detest you."

"You'll get over that."

"I'm not in the humor for jokes."

He rested again on his oars, and said, with deliberation:

"Stark 'kindly offered' did he? Well, whenever Ben Stark 'kindly'
offers anything, I'm in on the play. He's had his eye on you for the
last three months, and he wants you, but he slipped a cog when he
gave me the oars. You needn't be afraid, though, I'm going to do the
square thing by you. We'll stop in at the Mission and be married,
and then we'll see whether we want to go to St. Michael's or not,
though personally I'm for going back to Flambeau."

During the hours while he had waited for Necia to discover his
identity, the man's mind had not been idle; he had determined to
take what fortune tossed into his lap. Had she been the unknown,
unnoticed half-breed of a month or two before, he would not have
wasted thought upon priests or vows, but now that a strange fate had
worked a change in her before the world, he accepted it.

The girl's beauty, her indifference, the mistaken attitude of Stark
urged him, and, strongest of all, he was drawn by his cupidity, for
she would be very rich, so the knowing ones said. Doubtless that was
why Stark wanted her, and, being a man who acknowledged no fidelity
to his kind or his Creator, Runnion determined to outwit his
principal, Doret, Burrell, and all the rest. It was a chance to win
much at the risk of nothing, and he was too good a gambler to let it

With his brusque declaration Necia realized her position--that she
was a weak, lonely girl, just come into womanhood, so cursed by good
looks that men wanted her, so stained by birth that they would not
take her honestly; realized that she was alone with a dissolute
creature and beyond help, and for the first time in her life she
felt the meaning of fear.

She saw what a frail and helpless thing she was; nothing about her
was great save her soul, and that was immeasurably vexed and
worried. She had just lived through a grief that had made her
generous, and now she gained her first knowledge of the man-animal's
gross selfishness.

"You are absolutely daft," she said. "You can't force me to marry

"I ain't going to force you; you'll do it willingly."

"I'll die first. I'll call the first man we see--I'll tell Father
Barnum, and he'll have you run out of the country--it would only
take a word from me."

"If you haven't changed your mind when we get to his place, I'll run
through without stopping; but there isn't another priest between
there and St. Mike's, and by the time we get to the mouth of the
river, I guess you'll say yes to most anything. However, I'd rather
marry you at Holy Cross if you'll consent, and I'm pretty sure you
will--when you think it over."

"We won't discuss it."

"You don't understand yet," he continued, slowly. "What will people
say when they know you ran away with me."

"I'll tell them the truth."

"Huh! I'm too well known. No man on the river would ever have you
after that."

"You--you--" Her voice was a-quiver with indignation and loathing,
but her lips could not frame an epithet fit for him. He continued
rowing for some time, then said:

"Will you marry me?"

"No! If this thing is ever known, Poleon will kill you--or father."

For a third time he rested on his oars.

"Now that we've come to threats, let me talk. I offered to marry you
and do the square thing, but if you don't want to, I'll pass up the
formality and take you for my squaw, the same as your father took
Alluna. I guess you're no better than your mother, so your old man
can't say much under the circumstances, and if he don't object,
Poleon can't. Just remember, you're alone with me in the heart of a
wilderness, and you've got to make a choice quick, because I'm going
ashore and make some breakfast as soon as it's light enough to
choose a landing-place. If you agree to come quietly and go through
with this thing like a sensible girl, I'll do what's right, but if
you don't--then I'll do what's wrong, and maybe you won't be so
damned anxious to tell your friends about this trip, or spread your
story up and down the river. Make up your mind before I land."

The water gurgled at the bow again, and the row-locks squeaked.
Another hour and then another passed in silence before the girl
noted that she no longer seemed to float through abysmal darkness,
but that the river showed in muddy grayness just over the gunwale.
She saw Runnion more clearly, too, and made out his hateful
outlines, though for all else she beheld they might have been miles
out upon a placid sea, and so imperceptible was the laggard day's
approach that she could not measure the growing light. It was a
desolate dawn, and showed no glorious gleams of color. There was no
rose-pink glow, no merging of a thousand tints, no final burst of
gleaming gold; the night merely faded away, changing to a sickly
pallor that grew to ashen gray, and then dissolved the low-hung,
distorted shadows a quarter of a mile inland on either hand into a
forbidding row of unbroken forest backed by plain, morass, and
distant hills untipped by slanting rays. Overhead a bleak ruin of
clouds drifted; underneath the river ran, a bilious yellow. The
whole country so far as the eye could range was unmarred by the hand
of man, untracked save by the feet of the crafty forest people.

She saw Runnion gazing over his shoulder in search of a shelving
beach or bar, his profile showing more debased and mean than she had
ever noticed it before. They rounded a bend where the left bank
crumbled before the untiring teeth of the river, forming a bristling
chevaux-de-frise of leaning, fallen firs awash in the current. The
short side of the curve, the one nearest them, protected a gravel
bar that made down-stream to a dagger-like point, and towards this
Runnion propelled the skiff. The girl's heart sank and she felt her
limbs grow cold.

The mind of Poleon Doret worked in straight lines. Moreover, his
memory was good. Stark's statement, which so upset Gale and the
Lieutenant, had a somewhat different effect upon the Frenchman, for
certain facts had been impressed upon his subconsciousness which did
not entirely gibe with the gambler's remarks, and yet they were too
dimly engraved to afford foundation for a definite theory. What he
did know was this, that he doubted. Why? Because certain scraps of a
disjointed conversation recurred to him, a few words which he had
overheard in Stark's saloon, something about a Peterborough canoe
and a woman. He knew every skiff that lay along the waterfront, and
of a sudden he decided to see if this one was where it had been at
dusk; for there were but two modes of egress from Flambeau, and
there was but one canoe of this type. If Necia had gone up-river on
the freighter, pursuit was hopeless, for no boatman could make
headway against the current; but if, on the other hand, that cedar
craft was gone--He ran out of Stark's house and down to the river-
bank, then leaped to the shingle beneath. It was just one chance,
and if he was wrong, no matter; the others would leave on the next
up-river steamer; whereas, if his suspicion proved a certainty, if
Stark had lied to throw them off the track, and Runnion had taken
her down-stream--well, Poleon wished no one to hinder him, for he
would travel light.

The boat WAS gone! He searched the line backward, but it was not
there, and his excitement grew now, likewise his haste. Still on the
run, he stumbled up to the trading-post and around to the rear,
where, bottom up, lay his own craft, the one he guarded jealously, a
birch canoe, frail and treacherous for any but a man schooled in the
ways of swift water and Indian tricks. He was very glad now that he
had not told the others of his suspicions; they might have claimed
the right to go, and of that he would not be cheated. He swung the
shell over his shoulders, then hurried to the bank and down the
steep trail like some great, misshapen turtle. He laid it carefully
in the whispering current, then stripped himself with feverish
haste, for the driving call of a hot pursuit was on him, and
although it was the cold, raw hours of late night, he whipped off
his garments until he was bare to the middle. He seized his paddle,
stepped in, then knelt amidships and pushed away. The birch-bark
answered him like a living thing, leaping and dancing beneath the
strokes which sprung the spruce blade and boiled the water to a
foam, while rippling, rising ridges stood out upon his back and arms
as they rose and fell, stretched and bent and straightened.

A half-luminous, opaque glow was over the waters, but the banks
quickly dropped away, until there was nothing to guide him but the
suck of the current and the sight of the dim-set stars. His haste
now became something crying that lashed him fiercely, for he seemed
to be standing still, and so began to mutter at the crawling stream
and to complain of his thews, which did not drive him fast enough,
only the sound he made was more like the whine of a hound in leash
or a wolf that runs with hot nostrils close to the earth.

Runnion drove his Peterborough towards the shore with powerful
strokes, and ran its nose up on the gravel, rose, stretched himself,
and dragged it farther out, then looked down at Necia.

"Well, what is it, yes or no? Do you want me for a husband or for a
master?" She cowered in the stern, a pale, fearful creature, finally

"You--you must give me time."

"Not another hour. Here's where you declare yourself; and remember,
I don't care which you choose, only you'd better be sensible."

She cast her despairing eyes up and down the river, then at the
wilderness on either shore; but it was as silent and unpeopled as if
it had been created that morning. She must have time; she would
temporize, pretending to yield, and then betray him to the first
comer; a promise exacted under duress would not be binding.

"I'll go quietly," she said, in a faint voice.

"I knew you'd see that I'm acting square. Come! Get the cramp out of
yourself while I make a pot of coffee." He held out his hand to
assist her, and she accepted it, but stumbled as she rose, for she
had been crouched in one position for several hours, and her limbs
were stiff. He caught her and swung her ashore; then, instead of
putting her feet to the ground, he pressed her to himself roughly
and kissed her. She gave a stifled cry and fought him off, but he
laughed and held her the closer.

"Ain't I good for one kiss? Say, this is the deuce of an engagement.
Come, now--"

"No, no, no!" she gasped, writhing like a wild thing; but he crushed
his lips to hers again and then let her go, whereupon she drew away
from him panting, dishevelled, her eyes wide and filled with horror.
She scrubbed her lips with the back of her hand, as if to erase his
mark, while he reached into the canoe and brought forth an axe, a
bundle of food, and a coffee-pot; then, still chuckling, he gathered
a few sticks of driftwood and built a fire. She had a blind instinct
to flee, and sought for a means of escape, but they were well out
upon the bar that stretched a distance of three hundred feet to the
wooded bank; on one side of the narrow spit was the scarcely moving,
half-stagnant water of a tiny bay or eddy, on the other, the swift,
gliding current tugging at the beached canoe, while the outer end of
the gravelled ridge dwindled down to nothing and disappeared into
the river. At sight of the canoe a thought struck her, but her face
must have shown some sign of it, for the man chanced to look at the
moment, and, seeing her expression, straightened himself, then gazed
about searchingly. Without a word he stepped to the boat, and,
seizing it, dragged it entirely out upon the bar, where her strength
would not be equal to shoving it off quickly, and, not content with
this, he made the painter fast, then went back to his fire. The
eagerness died out of her face, but an instant later, when he turned
to the clearer water of the eddy to fill the coffee-pot, she seized
her chance and sped up the bar towards the bank. The shingle under
foot and her noisy skirts betrayed her, and with an oath he
followed. It was an unequal race, and he handled her with rough,
strong hands when he overtook her.

"So! You lied to me! Well, I'm through with this foolishness. If
you'll go back on your word like this you'll 'bawl me out' before
the priest, so I'll forget my promise, too, and you'll be glad of
the chance to marry me."

"Let me go!" she panted. "I'll marry you. Yes, yes, I'll do it, only
don't touch me now!"

He led her back to the fire, which had begun to crackle. She was so
weak now that she sank upon the stones shivering.

"That's right! Sit down and behave while I make you something hot to
drink. You're all in." After a time he continued, as he busied
himself about his task: "Say, you ought to be glad to get me; I've
got a lot of money, or I will have, and once you're Mrs. Runnion,
nobody'll ever know about this or think of you as a squaw." He
talked to her while he waited for the water to boil, his assurance
robbing her of hope, for she saw he was stubborn and reckless,
determined to override her will as well as to conquer her body,
while under his creed, the creed of his kind, a woman was made from
the rib of man and for his service. He conveyed it to her plainly.
He ruled horses with a hard hand, he drove his dog teams with a
biting lash, and he mastered women with a similar lack of feeling or

He was still talking when the girl sprang to her feet and sent a
shrill cry out over the river, but instantly he was up and upon her,
his hand over her mouth, while she tore at it, screaming the name of
Poleon Doret. He silenced her to a smothered, sobbing mumble, and
turned to see, far out on the bosom of the great soiled river, a man
in a bark canoe. The craft had just swung past the bend above, and
was still a long way off--so far away, in fact, that Necia's signal
had not reached it, for its occupant held unwaveringly to the
swiftest channel, his body rising and falling in the smooth,
unending rhythm of a master-boatman tinder great haste, his arms up-
flung now and then, as the paddle glinted and flashed across to the
opposite side.

Runnion glanced about hurriedly, then cursed as he saw no place of
concealment. The Peterborough stood out upon the bar conspicuously,
as did he and the girl; but the chance remained that this man,
whoever he was, would pass by, for his speed was great, the river a
mile in width, and the bend sharp. Necia had cried Poleon's name,
but her companion saw no resemblance to the Frenchman in this
strange-looking voyager; in fact, he could not quite make out what
was peculiar about the man--perhaps his eyes were not as sharp as
hers--and then he saw that the boatman was naked to the waist. By
now he was drawing opposite them with the speed of a hound. The
girl, gagged and held by her captor's hands, struggled and moaned
despairingly, and, crouching back of the boat, they might have
escaped discovery in the gray morning light had it not been for the
telltale fire--a tiny, crackling blaze no larger than a man's hat.
It betrayed them. The dancing craft upon which their eyes were fixed
whipped about, almost leaping from the water at one stroke, then
came towards them, now nothing but a narrow thing, half again the
width of a man's body. The current carried it down abreast of them,
then past, and Runnion rose, releasing the girl, who cried out with
all her might to the boatman. He made no sound in reply, but drove
his canoe shoreward with quicker strokes. It was evident he would
effect his landing near the lower end of the spit, for now he was
within hearing distance, and driving closer every instant.

Necia heard the gambler call:

"Sheer off, Doret! You can't land here!"

She saw a gun in Runnion's hand, and a terrible, sickening fear
swept over her, for he was slowly walking down the spit, keeping
abreast of the canoe as it drifted. She could see exactly what would
happen: no man could disembark against the will of an armed
marksman, and if Poleon slackened his stroke, or stopped it to
exchange his paddle for a weapon, the current would carry him past;
in addition, he would have to fire from a rocking paper shell
harried by a boiling current, whereas the other man stood flat upon
his feet.

"Keep away or I'll fire!" threatened Runnion again; and she
screamed, "Don't try it, Poleon, he'll kill you!"

At her words Runnion raised his weapon and fired. She heard the
woods behind reverberate with the echoes like a sounding-board, saw
the white spurt of smoke and the skitter of the bullet as it went
wide. It was a long shot, and had been fired as a final warning; but
Doret made no outcry, nor did he cease coming; instead, his paddle
clove the water with the same steady strokes that took every ounce
of effort in his body. Runnion threw open his gun and replaced the
spent shell. On came the careening, crazy craft in a sidewise drift,
and with it the girl saw coming a terrible tragedy. She started to
run down the gravelled ridge behind her enemy, not realizing the
value or moment of her action, nor knowing clearly what she would
do; but as she drew near she saw Runnion raise his gun again, and,
without thought of her own safety, threw herself upon him Again his
shot went wide as he strove to hurl her off, but his former taste of
her strength was nothing to this, now that she fought for Poleon's
life. Runnion snarled angrily and thrust her away, for he had waited
till the canoe was close.

"Let me go, you devil!" he cried, and aimed again; but again she ran
at him. This time, however, she did not pit her strength against
his, but paused, and as he undertook to fire she thrust at his
elbow, then dodged out of his way. Her blow was crafty and well-
timed, and his shot went wild. Again he took aim, and again she
destroyed it with a touch and danced out of his reach. She was
nimble and light, and quickened now by a cold calculation of all
that depended upon her.

Three times in all she thwarted Runnion, while the canoe drove
closer every instant. On the fourth, as she dashed at him, he struck
to be rid of her, cursing wickedly--struck as he would have struck
at a man. Silently she crumpled up and fell, a pitiful, draggled,
awkward little figure sprawled upon the rocks; but the delay proved
fatal to him, for, though the canoe was close against the bank, and
the huge man in it seemed to offer a mark too plain to be missed, he
was too close to permit careful aim. Runnion heard him giving
utterance to a strange, feral, whining sound, as if he were crying
like a fighting boy; then, as the gambler raised his arm, the
Canadian lifted himself up on the bottom of the canoe until he stood
stretched to his full height, and leaped. As Runnion fired he sprang
out and was into the water to his knees, his backward kick whirling
the craft from underneath him out into the current, where the river
seized it. He had risen and jumped all in one moment, launching
himself at the shore like a panther. The gun roared again, but
Poleon came up and on with the rush of the great, brown grizzly that
no missile can stop. Runnion's weapon blazed in his face, but he
neither felt nor heeded it, for his bare hands were upon his quarry,
the impact of his body hurling the other from his feet, and neither
of them knew whether any or all of the last bullets had taken
effect. Poleon had come like an arrow, straight for his mark the
instant he glimpsed it, an insensate, unreasoning, raging thing that
no weight of lead nor length of blade could stop. In his haste he
had left Flambeau without weapon of any kind, for in his mind such
things were superfluous, and he had never fought with any but those
God gave him, nor found any living thing that his hands could not
master. Therefore, he had rushed headlong against this armed and
waiting man, reaching for him ever closer and closer till the
burning powder stung his eyes. They grappled and fought, alone and
unseen, and yet it was no fight, for Runnion, though a vigorous,
heavy-muscled man, was beaten down, smothered, and crushed beneath
the onslaught of this great naked fellow, who all the time sobbed
and whined and mewed in a panting fury.

They swung half across the spit to the farther side, where they fell
in a fantastic convulsion, slipping and sliding and rolling among
the rocks that smote and gouged and bruised them. The gambler fought
for his life against the naked flesh of the other, against the
distorted face that snapped and bit like the muzzle of a wolf, while
all the time he heard that fearful, inarticulate note of blood-
hunger at his ear. The Canadian's clenched hands crushed whatever
they fell upon as if mailed with metal; the fingers were like
tearing tongs that could not be loosed. It was a frightful combat,
hideous from its inequality, like the battle of a man against a
maddened beast whose teeth tore and whose claws ripped, whose every
move was irresistible. And so it was over shortly.

Poleon rose and ran to the fallen girl, leaving behind him a huddled
and twisted likeness of a man. He picked her up tenderly, moaning
and crooning; but as her limp head lolled back, throwing her pale,
blind features up to the heavens, he began to cry, this time like a
woman. Tears fell from his eyes, burning tears, the agony of which
seared his soul. He laid her carefully beside the water's edge, and,
holding her head and shoulders in the crook of his left arm, he wet
his right hand and bathed her face, crouching over her, half nude,
dripping with the sweat of his great labors, a tender, palpitating
figure of bronzed muscle and sinew, with all his fury and hate
replaced by apprehension and pity. The short moments that he worked
with her were ages to him, but she revived beneath his
ministrations, and her first frightened look of consciousness was
changed to a melting smile.

"W-what happened, Poleon?" she said. "I was afraid!"

He stood up to his full height, shaking, and weak as the water that
dripped from him, the very bones in him dissolved. For the first
time he uttered words.

"T'ank God, ba gosh!" and ran his hand up over his wet face.

"Where is he?" She started to her knees affrightedly; then, seeing
the twisted, sprawling figure beyond, began to shudder. "He--he's

"I don' know," said Poleon, carelessly. "You feel it purty good now,
eh, w'at?"

"Yes--I--he struck me!" The remembrance of what had occurred surged
over her, and she buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Poleon! Poleon!
He was a dreadful man."

"He don' trouble you no more."

"He tried--he--Ugh! I--I'm glad you did it!" She broke down,
trembling at her escape, until her selfishness smote her, and she
was up and beside him on the instant. "Are you hurt? Oh, I never
thought of that. You must be wounded!"

The Frenchman felt himself over, and looked down at his limbs for
the first time, "No! I guess not," he said, at which Necia noticed
his meagre attire, and simultaneously he became conscious of it. He
fell away a pace, casting his eyes over the river for his canoe,
which was now a speck in the distance.

"Ba gosh! I'm hell of a t'ing for lookin' at," he said. "I'm paddle
hard--dat's w'y. Sacre! how I sweat!" He hitched nervously at the
band of his overalls, while Necia answered:

"That's all right, Poleon." Then, without warning, her face froze
with mingled repulsion and wonder. "Look! Look!" she whispered,
pointing past him.

Runnion was moving slowly, crawling painfully into a sitting
posture, uplifting a terribly mutilated face, dazed and half
conscious, groping for possession of his wits. He saw them, and
grimaced frightfully, cowering and cringing.

Poleon felt the girl's hand upon his arm, and heard her crying in a
hard, sharp voice:

"He needs killing! Put him away!"

He stared down at his gentle Necia, and saw the loathing in her face
and the look of strange ferocity as she met his eyes boldly.

"You don't know what he--what he did," she said, through her shut
teeth. "He--" But the man waited to hear no more.

Runnion saw him coming, and scrambled frantically to all-fours, then
got on his feet and staggered down the bar. As Poleon overtook him,
he cried out piteously, a shrill scream of terror, and, falling to
his knees, grovelled and debased himself like a foul cripple at fear
of the lash. His agony dispelled the savage taint of Alluna's
aboriginal training in Necia, and the pure white blood of her
ancestors cried out:

"Poleon, Poleon! Not that!" She hurried after him to where he paused
above the wretch waiting for her. "You mustn't!" she said. "That
would be murder, and--and--it's all over now."

The Frenchman looked at her wonderingly, not comprehending this
sudden leniency.

"Let him alone; you've nearly killed him; that's enough." Whereat
Runnion, broken in body and spirit, began to beg for his life.

"Wat's dat you say jus' now?" Doret asked the girl. "Was dat de
truth for sure w'at you speak?"

"Yes, but you've done your work. Don't touch him again."

He hesitated, and Runnion, quick to observe it, added his entreaty
to hers.

"I'm beaten, Doret. You broke me to pieces. I need help--I--I'm

"W'at you 'spec' I do wit' 'im?" the Canadian asked, and she

"I suppose we'll have to take him where he can get assistance."

"Dat skiff ain' carry all free of us."

"I'll stay here," groaned the frightened man. "I'll wait for a
steamer to pick me up, but for God's sake don't touch me again!"

Poleon looked him over carefully, and made up his mind that the man
was more injured in spirit than in body, for, outside of his
battered muscles, he showed no fatal symptoms. Although the voyageur
was slower to anger than a child, a grudge never died in him, and
his simple, self-taught creed knew no forgiveness for such men as
Runnion, cherished no mercy for preying men or beasts. He glanced
towards the wooded shores a stone's-throw above, then back at the
coward he had beaten and whose life was forfeit under the code.
There was a queer light in his eyes.

"Leave him here, Poleon. We'll go away, you and I, in the canoe, and
the first boat will pick him up. Come." Necia tugged at his wrist
for fear she might not prevail; but he was bent on brushing away a
handful of hungry mosquitoes which, warmed by the growing day, had
ventured out on the river. His face became wrinkled and set.

"Bien!" he grunted. "We lef 'im here, biccause dere ain't 'nough
room in de batteau, eh? All right! Dat's good t'ing; but he's seeck
man, so mebbe I feex it him nice place for stop till dem boats

"Yes, yes! Leave me here. I'll make it through all right," begged

"Better you camp yonder on de point, w'ere you can see dose
steamboat w'en she comes 'roun' de ben'. Dis is bad place." He
indicated the thicket, a quarter of a mile above which ran out
almost to the cut bank. "Come! I help you get feex."

Runnion shrank from his proffered assistance half fearfully, but,
reassured, allowed the Frenchman to help him towards the shore.

"We tell it de first boat 'bout you, an' dey pick you up. You wait
here, Necia."

The girl watched her rescuer guide Runnion up to the level of the
woods, then disappear with him in the firs, and was relieved to see
the two emerge upon the river-bank again farther on, for she had
feared for an instant that Poleon might forget. There seemed to be
no danger, however, for he was crashing through the brush in advance
of the other, who followed laboriously. Once Runnion gained the high
point, he would be able to command a view of both reaches of the
river, and could make signals to attract the first steamboat that
chanced to come along. Without doubt a craft of some sort would pass
from one direction or the other by to-morrow at latest, or, if not,
she and Poleon could send back succor to him from the first
habitation they encountered. The two men disappeared again, and her
fears had begun to prey on her a second time when she beheld the big
Canadian returning. He was hurrying a bit, apparently to be rid of
the mosquitoes that swarmed about him; and she marked that, in
addition to whipping himself with a handful of blueberry bushes, he
wore Runnion's coat to protect his shoulders.

"Woof! Dose skeeter bug is hongry," he cried. "Let's we pass on de
river queeck."

"You didn't touch him again?"

"No, no. I'm t'rough wit' 'im."

She was only too eager to be away from the spot, and an instant
later they were afloat in the Peterborough.

"Dis nice batteau," Poleon remarked, critically. "I mak' it go
fas'," and began to row swiftly, seeking the breeze of the open
river in which to shake off the horde of stinging pests that had
risen with the sun. "I come 'way queeck wit'out t'inkin' 'bout gun
or skeeter net or not'in'. Runnion she's len' me dis coat, so mebbe
I don' look so worse lak' I do jus' now, eh?"

"How did you leave him? Is he badly injured?"

"No, I bus' it up on de face an' de rib, but she's feelin' good now.
Yes. I'm leave 'im nice place for stop an' wait on de steamboat--
plaintee spruce bough for set on."

She began to shudder again, and, sensitive to her every motion, he
asked, solicitously, if she were sick, but she shook her head.

"I--I--was thinking what--supposing you hadn't come? Oh, Poleon! you
don't know what you saved me from." She leaned forward and laid a
tiny, grateful hand on the huge brown paw that rested on his oar. "I
wonder if I can ever forget?"

She noted that they were running with the current, and inquired:

"Where are we going?"

"Wal, I can't pull dis boat 'gainst dat current, so I guess we pass
on till I fin' my shirt, den bimebye we pick it up some steamboat
an' go home."

Five miles below his quick eye detected his half-submerged "bark"
lodged beneath some overhanging firs which, from the water's action,
had fallen forward into the stream, and by rare good-fortune it was
still upright, although awash. He towed it to the next sand-bar,
where he wrung out and donned his shirt, then tipped the water from
the smaller craft, and, making it fast astern of the Peterborough,
set out again. Towards noon they came in sight of a little stern-
wheeled craft that puffed and pattered manfully against the sweeping
current, hiding behind the points and bars and following the
slackest water.

"It's the Mission, boat!" cried Necia. "It's the Mission boat!
Father Barnum will be aboard."

She waved her arms madly and mingled her voice with Poleon's until a
black-robed figure appeared beside the pilot-house.

"Father Barnum!" she screamed, and, recognizing her, he signalled

Soon they were alongside, and a pair of Siwash deckhands lifted
Necia aboard, Doret following after, the painter of the Peterborough
in his teeth. He dragged both canoes out of the boiling tide, and
laid them bottom up on the forward deck, then climbed the narrow
little stairs to find Necia in the arms of a benignant, white-haired
priest, the best-beloved man on the Yukon, who broke away from the
girl to greet the Frenchman, his kind face alight with astonishment.

"What is all this I hear? Slowly, Doret, slowly! My little girl is
talking too furiously for these poor old wits to follow. I can't
understand; I am amazed. What is this tale?"

Together they told him, while his blue eyes now opened wide with
wonder, now grew soft with pity, then blazed with indignation. When
they had finished he laid his hand upon Doret's shoulder.

"My son, I thank God for your good body and your clean heart. You
saved our Necia, and you will be rewarded. As to this--this--man
Runnion, we must find him, and he must be sent out of the country;
this new, clean land of ours is no place for such as he. You will be
our pilot, Poleon, and guide us to the spot."

It required some pressure to persuade the Frenchman, but at last he
consented; and as the afternoon drew to a close the little steamboat
came squattering and wheezing up to the bar where Runnion had built
his fire that morning, and a long, shrill blast summoned him from
the point above. When he did not appear the priest took Poleon and
his round-faced, silent crew of two and went up the bank, but they
found no sign of the crippled man, only a few rags, a trampled patch
of brush at the forest's edge, and--that was all. The springy moss
showed no trail; the thicket gave no answer to their cries, although
they spent an hour in a scattered search and sounded the steamboat's
whistle again and again.

"He's try for walk it back to camp," said Doret. "Mebbe he ain' hurt
so much, after all."

"You must be right," said Father Barnum. "We will keep the steamer
close to this shore, so that he can hail us when we overtake him."

And so they resumed their toilsome trip; but mile after mile fell
behind them, and still no voice came from the woods, no figure
hailed them. Doret, inscrutable and silent, lounged against the
pilot-house smoking innumerable cigarettes, which he rolled from
squares of newspaper, his keen eyes apparently scanning every foot
of their slow way; but when night fell, at last, and the bank faded
from sight, he tossed the last butt overboard, smiled grimly into
the darkness, and went below.

Next: Runnion Finds The Singing People

Previous: John Gale's Hour

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 556