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From: The Barrier

When the steamer had gone Napoleon Doret went to look for Necia, and
found her playing with the younger Gales, who revelled in the gifts
he had brought. Never had there been such a surprise. Never had
there been such gorgeous presents for little folks. This was a land
in which there were no toys, a country too young for babes; and any
one whose youth had been like that of other children would have seen
a pathos in the joy of these two. Poleon had been hard put to it to
find anything suitable for his little friends, for although there
was all manner of merchandise coming into Dawson, none of it was
designed for tiny people, not even clothes.

It was evident that he had pleased them, for when he appeared they
ran at his legs like twin cubs, incoherent and noisy, the pleasure
within them too turbulent for expression. They had never played with
a toy that Poleon had not built for them, nor worn a garment that
Alluna had not made. This, then, was a day of revelations, for the
first thing they beheld upon opening their packs was a pair of
rubber boots for each. They were ladies' knee-boots, the smallest
size in stock, but the Gales entered them bodily, so to speak,
moccasins and all, clear to their hips, like the waders that duck-
hunters use. When they ran they fell down and out of them, but their
pride remained upright and serene, for were not these like the boots
that Poleon wore, and not of Indian make, with foolish beads on
them? Next, the youthful heir had found a straw hat of strange and
wondrous fashion, with a brim like a board and a band of blue, which
Poleon had bought from a college man who had retained this emblem of
his past to the final moment. Like the boots, it was much too large
for little John, and hard to master, but it made a brave display, as
did a red cravat, which covered his front like a baseball catcher's
harness. Molly had also two sets of side-combs, gorgeously
ornamented with glass diamonds, and a silver-handled tooth-brush,
with which she scrubbed the lame puppy. This puppy had three legs
and the mange, and he was her particular pride.

There were certain other things, the use of which they did not
understand, like queer-smelling, soft, yellow balls which Necia said
were oranges and good to eat, although the skins were leathery and
very bitter, nor were they nearly so pleasant to the nose as the
toilet soap, which Necia would not allow them even to taste. Then
there was a box of chocolate candies such as the superintendent at
St. Michael's sent them every spring, and an atomizer, which Necia
had filled with Florida Water. This worked on the puppy even better
than the tooth-brush.

The elder girl laughed gladly as Poleon entered, though her eyes
were wet with the pity of it.

"You seem to bring sunshine wherever you go," she said. "They have
never had things to play with like other children, and it makes me
cry to watch them."

"Ho, ho!" he chuckled, "dis ain'no time for cryin'. Ba gosh! I guess
you don' have so much present w'en you was li'l' gal you'se'f, w'at?
Mebbe you t'ink I forget you. Wal, I didn't."

He began to undo the fastenings of a parcel he carried in his arms,
for Napoleon Doret had brought other things from Dawson besides his
gifts to the children. Necia snatched at the package.

"Don't you dare open it! Why, that's half the fun." She was a child
herself now, her face flushed and her hands a-tremble. Taking the
package to the table, she hurriedly untied the knots while he stood
watching her, his teeth showing white against his dark face, and his
eyes half shut as if dazzled by the sight of her.

"Oh, why didn't you tie more knots in it?" she breathed as she undid
the last, and then, opening the wrappings slowly, she gasped in
astonishment. She shook it out gently, reverently--a clinging black
lace gown of Paris make. Next she opened a box and took from it a
picture hat, with long jet plumes, which she stroked and pressed
fondly against her face. There were other garments also--a silken
petticoat, silk stockings, and a pair of high-heeled shoes to match,
with certain other delicate and dainty things which she modestly
forbore to inspect before the Frenchman, who said no word, but only
gazed at her, and for whom she had no eyes as yet. Finally she laid
her presents aside, and, turning to him, said, in a hushed, awe-
stricken voice:

"It's all there, everything complete! Oh, Poleon--you dear, dear
Poleon!" She took his two big hands by the thumbs, as had been her
custom ever since she was a child, and looked up at him, her eyes
wet with emotion. But she could not keep away from the dress for
long, and returned to feast her eyes upon it, the two children
standing beside her, sprouting out of their rubber boots, with eyes
and mouths round and protruding.

"You lak' it, eh?" pressed Poleon, hungry for more demonstrative
expression.

"Oh-h," she sighed, "can't you SEE? Where on earth did you get it?"
Then suddenly realizing its value, she cried, "Why, it must have
cost a fortune!" A quick reproach leaped into her face, but he only
laughed again.

"Wan night I gamble in beeg saloon. Yes, sir! I gamble good dat
night, too. For w'ile I play roulette, den I dance, den I play some
more, an' by-an'-by I see a new dance gal. She's Franche gal, from
Montreal. Dat's de one I tol' you 'bout. Ba Gar! She's swell dress',
too. She's name' Marie Bourgette."

"Oh, I've heard about her," said Necia. "She owns a claim on Bonanza
Creek."

"Sure, she's frien's wit' Charlie McCormack, dat riche feller, but I
don' know it dis tam', so I ask her for dance wit' me. Den we drink
a bottle of champagne--twenty dollar."

"'Mamselle,' I say, 'how much you charge for sell me dat dress?'"

"'For w'y shall I sell im,' she say; 'I don' wear 'im before till
to-night, an' I don' get no more dress lak' dis for t'ousan'
dollar.'"

Necia exclaimed excitedly.

'"For w'y you sell 'im?' I say. 'Biccause I'll tak' 'im down to
Flambeau for Necia Gale, w'at never had no dress lak' dat in all her
life.' Wal, sir, dat Marie Bourgette, she's hear of you before, an'
your dad, too--mos' all dose Cheechakos know 'bout Old Man Gale--so
she say:

"'Wat lookin' kind of gal is dis Necia?' An' I tell her all 'bout
you. Wen I'm t'rough she say:'"

"'But maybe your little frien' is more bigger as I am. Maybe de
dress won't fit.'"

"'Ha! You don' know me, mamselle,' I say. 'I can guess de weight of
a caribou to five poun'. She'll be same size la'kin' one inch 'roun'
de wais'.'"

"'Poleon Doret,' she say, 'you ain' no Franchemans to talk lak'dat.
Look here! I can sell dis dress for t'ousan' dollar to-night, or I
can trade 'im for gol'-mine on El Dorado Creek to some dose Swede
w'at want to catch a gal, but I'm goin' sell 'im to you for t'ree
hondred dollar, jus' w'at I pay for 'im. You wait here till I come
back.'"

"'No, no, Mamselle Marie, I'll go 'long, too, for so you don' change
your min',' I say; an' I stan' outside her door till she pass me de
whole dam' works."

"' Don' forget de little shoes,' I say--an' dat's how it come!"

"And you paid three hundred dollars for it!" Necia said, aghast. The
Canadian shrugged.

"Only for de good heart of Marie Bourgette I pay wan t'ousan'," said
he. "I mak' seven hondred dollar clean profit!"

"It was very nice of both of you, but--I can't wear it. I've never
seen a dress like it, except in pictures, and I couldn't--" She saw
his face fall, and said, impulsively:

"I'll wear it once, anyhow, Poleon, just for you. Go away quick,
now, and let me put it on."

"Dat's good," he nodded, as he moved away. "I bet you mak' dose
dance-hall women look lak' sucker."

No man may understand the girl's feelings as she set about clothing
herself in her first fine dress. Time and again she had studied
pictures from the "outside" showing women arrayed in the newest
styles, and had closed her eyes to fancy herself dressed in like
manner. She had always had an instinctive feeling that some day she
would leave the North and see the wonderful world of which men spoke
so much, and mingle with the fine ladies of her picture-books, but
she never dreamed to possess an evening-gown while she lived in
Alaska. And now, even while she recognized the grotesqueness of the
situation, she burned to wear it and see herself in the garb of
other women. So, with the morning sun streaming brightly into her
room, lighting up the moss-chinked walls, the rough barbarism of fur
and head and trophy, she donned the beautiful garments.

Poleon's eye had been amazingly correct, for it fitted her neatly,
save at the waist, which was even more than an inch too large,
notwithstanding the fact that she had never worn such a corset as
the well-formed Marie Bourgette was accustomed to.

She pondered long and hesitated modestly when she saw its low cut,
which exposed her neck and shoulders in a totally unaccustomed
manner, for it struck her as amazingly indecent until she scurried
through her magazines again and saw that its construction, as
compared with others, was most conservative. Even so she shrank at
sight of herself below the line of sunburn, for she was ringed about
like a blue-winged teal, the demarcation being more pronounced
because of the natural whiteness of her skin. The year previous
Doret had brought her from the coast a Spanish shawl, which a salt-
water sailor had sold him, and which had lain folded away ever
since. She brought it forth now and arranged it about her shoulders,
but in spite of this covering the fair flesh beneath peeped through
its wide interstices most brazenly. She had never paid marked
attention to the fairness of her skin till now, and all at once this
difference between herself and her little brother and sister struck
her. She had been a mother to them ever since they came, and had
often laughed when she saw how brown their little bodies were,
rejoicing in blushing quietude at her own whiteness, but to-day she
neither laughed nor felt any joy, rather a dim wonder. She sat down,
dress and all, in the thick softness of a great brown bear-skin and
thought it over.

How odd it was, now that she considered it, that she needed no aid
with these alien garments, that she knew instinctively their every
feature, that there was no intricacy to cause her more than an
instant's trouble. This knowledge must be a piece with the intuitive
wit that had been the wonder of Father Barnum and had enabled her to
absorb his teachings as fast as he gave them forth.

She was interrupted in her reverie by the passing of a shadow across
her window and the stamp of a man's feet on the planks at the door.
Of course, it was Poleon, who had come back to see her; so she rose
hastily, gave one quick glance at the mirror above her washstand,
choosing the side that distorted her image the least, and, hearing
him still stamping, perfunctorily called:

"Come in! I'll be right out."

She kicked the train into place behind her, looped the shawl
carelessly about her in a way to veil her modesty effectively, and,
with an expectant smile at his extravagance of admiration, swept out
into the big room, very self-conscious and very pleasing to the eye.
She crossed proudly to the reading-table to give him a fair view of
her splendor, and was into the middle of the room before she looked
up. Taken aback, she uttered a little strangled cry and made a quick
movement of retreat, only to check herself and stand with her chin
high in the air, while wave after wave of color swept over her face.

"Great lovely dove!" ejaculated Burrell, fervently, staring at her.

"Oh, I--I thought you were Poleon. He--" In spite of herself she
glanced towards her room as if to flee; she writhed at the utter
absurdity of her appearance, and knew the Lieutenant must be
laughing at her. But flight would only make it worse, so she stood
as she was, having drawn back as far as she could, till the table
checked her. Burrell, however, was not laughing, nor smiling even,
for his embarrassment rivalled hers.

"I was looking for your father," he said, wondering if this glorious
thing could be the quaint half-breed girl of yesterday. There was
nothing of the native about her now, for her lithe young figure was
drawn up to its height, and her head, upon which the long, black
braids were coiled, was tipped back in a haughty poise. She had
flung her hands out to grasp the table edge behind her, forgetful of
her shawl, which drooped traitorously and showed such rounded lines
as her ordinary dress scarce hinted at. This was no Indian maid, the
soldier vowed; no blood but the purest could pulse in such veins, no
spirit save the highest could flash in such eyes as these. A jealous
rancor irked him at the thought of this beauty intended for the
Frenchman's eyes.

"Can't you show yourself to me as well as to Poleon?" he said.

"Certainly not!" she declared. "He bought this dress for me, and I
put it on to please him." Now she was herself again, for some note
in the Lieutenant's voice gave her dominance over him. "After he
sees it I will take it off, and--"

"Don't--don't take it off--ever," said Burrell. "I thought you were
beautiful before, because of your quaintness and simplicity, but
now--" his chest swelled--"why, this is a breath from home. You're
like my sister and the girls back in Kentucky, only more wonderful."

"Am I?" she cried, eagerly. "Am I like other girls? Do I really look
as if I'd always worn clothes like these?"

"Born to them," said he.

A smile broke over her grave face, assuming a hundred different
shades of pleasure and making a child of her on the instant; all her
reserve and hauteur vanished. Her warmth and unaffected frankness
suffused him, as she stood out, turning to show the beauties of her
gown, her brown hands fluttering tremulously as she talked.

"It's my first party-dress, you know, and I'm as proud of it as
Molly is of her rubber boots. It's too big in here and too small
right there; that girl must have had a bad chest; but otherwise it
fits me as if it had been made for me, doesn't it? And the shoes!
Aren't they the dearest things? See." She held her skirts back,
showing her two feet side by side, her dainty ankles slim and
shapely in their silk.

"They won't shed water," he said.

"I know; and look at the heels. I couldn't walk a mile to save my
life."

"And they will come off if they get wet."

"But they make me very tall."

"They don't wear as well as moccasins." Both laughed delightedly
till he broke in, impulsively:

"Oh, girl, don't you know how beautiful you are?"

"Of course I do!" she cried, imitating his change of voice; then
added, naively, "That's why I hate to take it off."

"Where did you learn to wear things like that?" he questioned.
"Where did you get that--well--that air?"

"It seems to me I've always known. There's nothing strange about it.
The buttons and the hooks and the eyes are all where they belong.
It's instinct, I suppose, from father's side--"

"Probably. I dare say I should understand the mechanism of a dress-
suit, even if I'd never seen one," said the man, amused, yet
impressed by her argument.

"I've always had visions of women dressed in this kind of clothing,
white women--never natives--not dressed like this exactly, but in
dainty, soft things, not at all like the ones I wear. I seem to have
a memory, although it's hardly that, either--it's more like a dream-
-as if I were somebody else. Father says it is from reading too
much."

"A memory of what?"

"It's too vague and tantalizing to tell what it is, except that I
should be called Merridy."

"Merridy? Why that?"

"I'll show you. See." She slipped her hand inside the shawl and drew
from her breast a thin gold chain on which was strung a band ring.
"It was grandmother's--that's where I got the fancy for the name of
Merridy, I suppose."

"May I look?"

"Of course. But I daren't take it off. I haven't had it off my neck
since I was a baby." She held it out for him to examine, and,
although it brought his head close to hers, there was no trace of
coquetry in the invitation. He read the inscription, "From Dan to
Merridy," but had no realization of what it meant, for he glimpsed
the milk-white flesh almost at his lips, and felt her breath
stirring his hair, while the delicate scent of her person seemed to
loose every strong emotion in him. She was so dainty and yet so
virile, so innocent and yet so wise, so cold and yet so pulsating.

"It is very pretty," he said, inanely.

At the look in his eyes as he raised his head her own widened, and
she withdrew from him imperceptibly, dismissing him with a mere
inflection.

"I wish you would send Poleon here. It's time he saw his present."

As Burrell walked out into the air he shut his jaws grimly and
muttered: "Hold tight, young man. She's not your kind--she's not
your kind."

Inside the store he found Doret and the trader in conversation with
a man he had not met before, a ragged nondescript whose overalls
were blue and faded and patched, particularly on the front of the
legs above the knees, where a shovel-handle wears hardest; whose
coat was of yellow mackinaw, the sleeves worn thin below the elbows,
where they had rubbed against his legs in his work. As the soldier
entered, the man turned on him a small, shrewd, weather-beaten face
with one eye, while he went on talking to Gale.

"It ain't nothin' to git excited over, but it's wuth follerin'. If I
wasn't so cussed unlucky I'd know there was a pay streak som'ere
close by."

"Your luck is bound to change, Lee," said the trader, who helped him
to roll up a pack of provisions.

"Mebbe so. Who's the dressmaker?" He jerked his bushy head towards
Burrell, who had stopped at the front door with Poleon to examine
some yellow grains in a folded paper.

"He's the boss soldier."

"Purty, ain't he?"

"If you ain't good he'll get you," said Gale, a trifle cynically, at
which Lee chuckled.

"I reckon there's several of us in camp that ain't been a whole lot
too good," said he. "Has he tried to git anybody yet?"

"No, but he's liable to. What would happen if he did? Suppose, for
instance, he went after you--or me?"

The one-eyed man snorted derisively. "It ain't wuth considerin'!"

"Why not?" insisted Gale, guardedly. "Maybe I've got a record--you
don't know."

"If you have, don't tell me nothin' about it," hastily observed Lee.
"I'm a God-fearin' citizen myself, leanin' ever towards peace and
quietudes, but what's past is dead and gone, and I'd hate to see a
lispin' child like that blue-and-yeller party try to reezureck it."

"He's got the American army to back him up--at least five of them."

"Five agin a hundred. He aims to overawe us, don't he?" snickered
the unregenerate Lee, but his wrinkles changed and deepened as he
leaned across the counter confidentially.

"You say the word, John, and I'll take some feller along to help me,
and we'll transfer this military post. There's plenty that would
like the job if you give the wink."

"Pshaw! I'm just supposing," said the trader. "As long as they play
around and drill and toot that horn, and don't bother anybody, I
allow they're not in the way."

"All right! It's up to you. However, if I happen to leap down on
this pay streak before it sees me comin', I'm goin' to put my
friends in first and foremost, and shut out these dressmakers
complete. So long!" He thrust his arms beneath the legs of a new
pair of blue overalls that formed his pack-straps, wriggled the
burden comfortably into place between his shoulders, and slouched
out past Doret, to whom he nodded, ignoring the "dressmaker."

Having given Necia's message to Poleon, the Lieutenant took up his
business with the trader. It concerned the purchase of certain
supplies that had been omitted from the military outfit, and when
this was concluded he referred to the encounter of that morning.

"I don't want you to think I bungle everything in that manner," he
said, "for I don't. I want to work with you, and I want to be
friends with you."

"I'm willing," said Gale.

"Nobody dislikes playing policeman more than I do, but it's a part
of my duty, and I'll have to do it," continued the young man.

"I reckon you simply aim to keep peace, eh? You ain't lookin' for
nobody in particular?"

"Of course not--outside of certain notorious criminals who have
escaped justice and worked north."

"Then there is a few that you want, eh?"

"Yes, certain old-timers. The officers at every post have
descriptions of a few such, and if they show up we will take them in
and hold them till courts are established."

"If you've got their names and descriptions, mebbe I could help
you," said the trader, carelessly.

"Thank you, I'll bring up the list and we'll go over it together.
You must have been here a good while."

"About ten years."

"Then Miss Necia was born out in the States?"

Gale shot a startled glance at the soldier before he answered in the
affirmative, but Burrell was studying a pattern of sunlight on the
floor and did not observe him. A moment later he inquired,
hesitatingly:

"Is this your first marriage, Mr. Gale?" When the other did not
answer, he looked up and quickly added:

"I beg your pardon, sir. What led me to ask was Miss Necia--she is
so--well--she is such a remarkable girl."

Gale's face had undergone a change, but he answered, quietly:

"I 'ain't never been married."

"What?"

"When I took Alluna it wasn't the style, and neither one of us has
thought much about it since."

"Oh, I see," exclaimed Burrell, hurriedly. "I'll bring that list
with me the first time I think about it," and, nodding amiably, he
sauntered out. But his mind was in a whirl, and even after he had
reached his quarters he found himself repeating:

"The other was bad enough. Poor little girl! Poor little girl!"

Gale likewise left the store and went into his house, the odd look
still strong in his eyes, to find Necia posing in her new regalia
for Poleon's benefit. At sight of her he fell into a strange and
unexpected humor, and to their amazement commanded her roughly to
take the things off. His voice and manner were harsh and at utter
variance with any mood he had ever displayed before; nor would he
explain his unreasoning fury, but strode out again, leaving her in
tears and the Frenchman staring.





Next: The Soldier Finds An Untrodden Valley

Previous: Poleon Doret's Hand Is Quicker Than His Tongue



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