The Awakening





Early the next morning Corporal Thomas came into the store and found

Necia tending it while Gale was out. Ever since the day she had

questioned him about Burrell, this old man had taken every occasion

to talk with the girl, and when he asked her this morning about the

reports concerning Lee's strike, she told him of her trip, and all

that had occurred.



"You see, I'm a mine-owner now," she concluded. "If it hadn't been a

secret I would have told you before I went so you could have been

one of the first."



"I'm goin', anyhow," he said, "if the Lieutenant will let me and if

it's not too late."



Then she told him of the trail by Black Bear Creek which would save

him several hours.



"So that's how you and he made it?" he observed, gazing at her

shrewdly. "I supposed you went with your father?"



"Oh, no! We beat him in," she said, and fell to musing at the memory

of those hours passed alone with Meade, while her eyes shone and her

cheeks glowed. The Corporal saw the look, and it bore out a theory

he had formed during the past month, so, as he lingered, he set

about a task that had lain in his mind for some time. As a rule he

was not a careful man in his speech, and the delicacy of this

manoeuvre taxed his ingenuity to the utmost, for he loved the girl

and feared to say too much.



"The Lieutenant is a smart young fellow," he began; "and it was

slick work jumpin' all those claims. It's just like him to befriend

a girl like you--I've seen him do it before--"



"What!" exclaimed Necia, "befriend other girls?"



"Or things just like it. He's always doing favors that get him into

trouble."



"This couldn't cause him trouble, could it, outside of Stark's and

Runnion's grudge?"



"No, I reckon not," assented the Corporal, groping blindly for some

way of expressing what he wished to say. "Except, of course, it

might cause a lot of talk at headquarters when it's known what he's

done for you and how he done it. I heard something about it down the

street this morning, so I'm afraid it will get to St. Michael's, and

then to his folks." He realized that he was not getting on well, for

the task was harder than he had imagined.



"I don't understand," said Necia. "He hasn't done anything that any

man wouldn't do under the same circumstances."



"No man's got a right to make folks talk about a nice girl," said

the Corporal; "and the feller that told me about it said he reckoned

you two was in love." He hurried along now without offering her a

chance to speak. "Of course, that had to be caught up quick; you're

too fine a girl for that."



"Too fine?" Necia laughed.



"I mean you're too fine and good to let him put you in wrong, just

as he's too fine a fellow and got too much ahead of him to make what

his people would call a messy alliance."



"Would his people object to--to such a thing?" questioned the girl.

They were alone in the store, and so they could talk freely. "I'm

just supposing, you know."



"Oh, Lord! Would they object?" Corporal Thomas laughed in a highly

artificial manner that made Necia bridle and draw herself up

indignantly.



"Why should they, I'd like to know? I'm just as pretty as other

girls, and I'm just as good. I know just as much as they do, too,

except--about certain things."



"You sure are all of that and more, too," the Corporal declared,

heartily, "but if you knowed more about things outside you'd

understand why it ain't possible. I can't tell you without hurtin'

your feelin's, and I like you too much for that, Miss Necia. Seems

as if I'm almost a daddy to you, and I've only knowed you for a few

weeks--"



"Go ahead and tell me; I won't be offended," insisted the girl. "You

must. I don't know much about such things, for I've lived all my

life with men like father and Poleon, and the priests at the

Mission, who treat me just like one of themselves. But somebody will

want to marry me some day, I suppose, so I ought to know what is

wrong with me." She flushed up darkly under her brown cheeks.



The feeling came over Corporal Thomas that he had hurt a helpless

animal of some gentle kind; that he was bungling his work, and that

he was not of the calibre to go into the social amenities. He began

to perspire uncomfortably, but went on, doggedly:



"I'm goin' to tell you a story, not because it applies to Lieutenant

Burrell, or because he's in love with you, which of course he ain't

any more than you be with him--"



"Of course," said the girl.



"--but just to show you what I mean. It was a good long spell ago,

when I was at Fort Supply, which was the frontier in them days like

this is now. We freighted in from Dodge City with bull teams, and it

was sure the fringe of the frontier; no women--no society--nothin'

much except a fort, a lot of Injuns, and a few officials with their

wives and families. Now them kind of places is all right for married

men, but they're tough sleddin' for single ones, and after a while a

feller gets awful careless about himself; he seems to go backward

and run down mighty quick when he gets away from civilization and

his people and restaurants and such things; he gets plumb reckless

and forgetful of what's what. Well, there was a captain with us, a

young feller that looked like the Lieutenant here, and a good deal

the same sort--high-tempered and chivalrious and all that sort of

thing; a West Pointer, too, good family and all that, and, what's

more, a captain at twenty-five. Now, our head freighter was married

to a squaw, or leastways he had been, but in them days nobody

thought much of it any more than they do up here now, and

particularly because he'd had a government contract for a long

while, ran a big gang of men and critters, and had made a lot of

money. Likewise he had a girl, who lived at the fort, and was mighty

nice to look at, and restful to the eye after a year or so of

cactus-trees and mesquite and buffalo-grass. She was twice as nice

and twice as pretty as the women at the post, and as for money--

well, her dad could have bought and sold all the officers in a lump;

but they and their wives looked down on her, and she didn't mix with

them none whatever. To make it short, the captain married her.

Seemed like he got disregardful of everything, and the hunger to

have a woman just overpowered him. She'd been courted by every

single man for four hundred miles around. She was pretty and full of

fire, and they was both of an age to love hard, so Jefferson swore

he'd make the other women take her; but soldierin' is a heap

different from any other profession, and the army has got its own

traditions. The plan wouldn't work. By-and-by the captain got tired

of trying, and gave up the attempt--just devoted himself to her--and

then we was transferred, all but him. We shifted to a better post,

but Captain Jefferson was changed to another company and had to stay

at Supply. Gee! it was a rotten hole! Influence had been used, and

there he stuck, while the new officers cut him out completely, just

like the others had done, so I was told, and it drifted on that way

for a long time, him forever makin' an uphill fight to get his wife

reco'nized and always quittin' loser. His folks back East was

scandalized and froze him cold, callin' him a squaw-man; and the

story went all through the army, till his brother officers had to

treat him cold in order to keep enough warmth at home to live by,

one thing leading to another till he finally resented it openly.

After that he didn't last long. They made it so unpleasant that he

quit the service--crowded him out, that's all. He was a born

soldier, too, and didn't know nothing else nor care for nothing

else; as fine a man as I ever served under, but it soured him so

that a rattlesnake couldn't have lived with him. He tried to go into

some kind of business after he quit the army, but he wasn't cut out

for it, and never made good as long as I knew of him. The last time

I seen him was down on the border, and he had sure grown cultus. He

had quit the squaw, who was livin' with a greaser in Tucson--"



"And do you think I'm like that woman?" said Necia, in a queer,

strained voice. She had listened intently to the Corporal's story,

but he had purposely avoided her eyes and could not tell how she was

taking it.



"No! You're different, but the army is just the same. I told you

this to show you how it is out in the States. It don't apply to you,

of course--"



"Of course!" agreed Necia again. "But what would happen to

Lieutenant Burrell if--if--well, if he should do something like

that? There are many half-breed girls, I dare say, like this other

girl, or--like me."



She did not flush now as before; instead, her cheeks were pale.



"It would go a heap worse with him than it did with Captain

Jefferson," said the Corporal, "for he's got more ahead of him and

he comes from better stock. Why, his family is way up! They're all

soldiers, and they're strong at headquarters; they're mighty proud,

too, and they wouldn't stand for his doing such a thing, even if he

wanted to. But he wouldn't try; he's got too much sense, and loves

the army too well for that. No, sir! He'll go a long ways, that boy

will, if he's let alone."



"I never thought of myself as an Indian," said Necia, dully. "In

this country it's a person's heart that counts."



"That's how it ought to be," said the Corporal, heartily; "and I'm

mighty sorry if I've hurt you, little girl. I'm a rough old rooster,

and I never thought but what you understood all this. Up here folks

look at it right, but outside it's mighty different; even yet you

don't half understand."



"I'm glad I'm what I am!" cried the girl. "There's nothing in my

blood to be ashamed of, and I'm white in here!" She struck her bosom

fiercely. "If a man loves me he'll take me no matter what it means

to him."



"Right for you," assented the other; "and if I was younger myself,

I'd sure have a lot of nice things to say to you. If I'd 'a' had

somebody like you I'd 'a' let liquor alone, maybe, and amounted to

something, but all I'm good for now is to give advice and draw my

pay." He slid down from the counter where he had been sitting. "I'm

goin' to hunt up the Lieutenant and get him to let me off. Mebbe I

can stake a claim and sell it."



The moment he was gone the girl's composure vanished and she gave

vent to her feelings.



"It's a lie! It's a lie!" she cried, aloud, and with her fists she

beat the boards in front of her. "He loves me! I know he does!" Then

she began, to tremble, and sobbed: "I'm just like other girls."



She was still wrestling with herself when Gale returned, and he

started at the look in her face as she approached him.



"Why did you marry my mother?" she asked. "Why? Why did you do it?"



He saw that she was in a rage, and answered, bluntly, "I didn't."



She shrank at this. "Then why didn't you? Shame! Shame! That makes

me worse than I thought I was. Oh, why did you ever turn squaw-man?

Why did you make me a breed?"



"Look here! What ails you?" said the trader.



"What ails me?" she mocked. "Why, I'm neither white nor red; I'm not

even a decent Indian. I'm a--a--" She shuddered. "You made me what I

am. You didn't do me the justice even to marry my mother."



"Somebody's been saying things about you," said Gale, quietly,

taking her by the shoulders. "Who is it? Tell me who it is."



"No, no! It's not that! Nobody has said anything to my face; they're

afraid of you, I suppose, but God knows what they think and say to

my back."



"I'll--" began the trader, but she interrupted him.



"I've just begun to realize what I am. I'm not respectable. I'm not

like other women, and never can be. I'm a squaw--a squaw!"



"You're not!" he cried.



"It's a nice word, isn't it?"



"What's wrong with it?"



"No honest man can marry me. I'm a vagabond! The best I can get is

my bed and board, like my mother."



"By God! Who offered you that?" Gale's face was whiter than hers

now, but she disregarded him and abandoned herself to the tempest of

emotion that swept her along.



"He can play with me, but nothing more, and when he is gone another

one can have me, and then another and another and another--as long

as I can cook and wash and work. In time my man will beat me, just

like any other squaw, I suppose, but I can't marry; I can't be a

wife to a decent man."



She was in the clutch of an hysteria that made her writhe beneath

Gale's hand, choking and sobbing, until he loosed her; then she

leaned exhausted against a post and wiped her eyes, for the tears

were coming now.



"That's all damned rot," he said. "There's fifty good men in this

camp would marry you to-morrow."



"Bah! I mean real men, not miners. I want to be a lady. I don't want

to pull a hand-sled and wear moccasins all my life, and raise

children for men with whiskers. I want to be loved--I want to be

loved! I want to marry a gentleman."



"Burrell!" said Gale.



"No!" she flared up. "Not him nor anybody in particular, but

somebody like him, some man with clean finger-nails."



He found nothing humorous or grotesque in her measure of a

gentleman, for he realized that she was strung to a pitch of

unreason and unnatural excitement, and that she was in terrible

earnest.



"Daughter," he said, "I'm mighty sorry this knowledge has come to

you, and I see it's my fault, but things are different now to what

they were when I met Alluna. It wasn't the style to marry squaws

where we came from, and neither of us ever thought about it much. We

were happy with each other, and we've been man and wife to each

other just as truly as if a priest had mumbled over us."



"But why didn't you marry her when I came? Surely you must have

known what it would mean to me. It was bad enough without that."



The old man hesitated. "I'll own I was wrong," he said, finally,

staring out into the sunshine with an odd expression. "It was

thoughtless and wrong, dead wrong; but I've loved you better than

any daughter was ever loved in this wide world, and I've worked and

starved and froze and saved, and so has Alluna, so that you might

have something to live on when I'm gone, and be different to us. It

won't be long now, I guess. I've given you the best schooling of any

girl on the river, and I'd have sent you out to a convent in the

States, but I couldn't let you go so far away--God! I loved you too

much for that--I couldn't do it, girl. I've tried, but you're all

I've got, and I'm a selfish man, I reckon."



"No, no! You're not," his daughter cried, impulsively. "You're

everything that's good and dear, but you've lived a different life

from other men and you see things differently. It was mean of me to

talk as I did." She put her arms around his neck and hugged him.

"But I'm very unhappy, dad."



"Don't you aim to tell what started this?" he said, gently,

caressing her with his great, hard hand as softly as a mother. But

she shook her head, and he continued, "I'll take the first boat down

to the Mission and marry your ma, if you want me to."



"That wouldn't do any good," said she. "We'd better leave things as

they are." Then she drew away and smiled at him bravely from the

door. "I'm a very bad to act this way. S'cuses?"



He nodded and she went out, but he gazed after her for a long

minute, then sighed.



"Poor little girl!"



Necia was in a restless mood, and, remembering that Alluna and the

children had gone berrying on the slopes behind the Indian village,

she turned her way thither. All at once a fear of seeing Meade

Burrell came upon her. She wanted to think this out, to find where

she stood, before he had word with her. She had been led to observe

herself from a strange angle, and must verify her vision, as it

were. As yet she could not fully understand. What if he had changed,

now that he was alone, and had had time to think? It would kill her

if she saw any difference in him, and she knew she would be able to

read it in his eyes.



As she went through the main street of the camp she saw Stark

occupied near the water-front, where he had bought a building lot.

He spoke to her as she was about to pass.



"Good-morning, Miss. Are you rested from your trip?"



She answered that she was, and would have continued on her way, but

he stopped her.



"I don't want you to think that mining matter was my doing," he

said. "I've got nothing against you. Your old man hasn't wasted any

affection on me, and I can get along without him, all right, but I

don't make trouble for girls if I can help it."



The girl believed that he meant what he said; his words rang true,

and he spoke seriously. Moreover, Stark was known already in the

camp as a man who did not go out of his way to make friends or to

render an accounting of his deeds, so it was natural that when he

made her a show of kindness Necia should treat him with less

coldness than might have been expected. The man had exercised an

occult influence upon her from the time she first saw him at Lee's

cabin, but it was too vague for definite feeling, and she had been

too strongly swayed by Poleon and her father in their attitude

towards him to be conscious of it. Finding him now, however, in a

gentle humor, she was drawn to him unwittingly, and felt an

overweening desire to talk with him, even at the hazard of offending

her own people. The encounter fitted in with her rebellious mood,

for there were things she wished to know, things she must find out

from some one who knew the world and would not be afraid to answer

her questions candidly.



"I'm going to build a big dance-hall and saloon here," said Stark,

showing her the stakes that he had driven. "As soon as the rush to

the creek is over I'll hire a gang of men to get out a lot of house

logs. I'll finish it in a week and be open for the stampede."



"Do you think this will be a big town?" she asked.



"Nobody can tell, but I'll take a chance. If it proves to be a false

alarm I'll move on--I've done it before."



"You've been in a great many camps, I suppose."



He said that he had, that for twenty years he had been on the

frontier, and knew it from West Texas to the Circle.



"And are they all alike?"



"Very much. The land lies different but the people are the same."



"I've never known anything except this." She swept the points of the

compass with her arm. "And there is so much beyond that I want to

know about--oh, I feel so ignorant! There is something now that

perhaps you could tell me, you have travelled so much."



"Let's have it," said he, smiling at her seriousness.



She hesitated, at a loss for words, finally blurting out what was in

her mind.



"My father is a squaw-man, Mr. Stark, and I've been raised to think

that such things are customary."



"They are, in all new countries," he assured her.



"But how are they regarded when civilization comes along?"



"Well, they aren't regarded, as a rule. Squaw-men are pretty

shiftless, and people don't pay much attention to them. I guess if

they weren't they wouldn't be squaw-men."



"My father isn't shiftless," she challenged, at which he remained

silent, refusing to go on record. "Isn't a half-breed just as good

as a white?"



"Look here," said he. "What are you driving at?"



"I'm a 'blood,'" she declared, recklessly, "and I want to know what

people think of me. The men around here have never made me feel

conscious of it, but--"



"You're afraid of these new people who are coming, eh? Well, don't

worry about that, Miss. It wouldn't make any difference to me or to

any of your friends whether you were red, white, black, or yellow."



"But it would make a difference with some people?" insisted the

girl.



"Oh, I reckon it would with Eastern people. They look at things kind

of funny, but we're not in the East."



"That's what I wanted to know. Nice people back there wouldn't

tolerate a girl like me for a moment, would they? They wouldn't

consider me good enough to associate with them?"



He shrugged his shoulders. "I guess you'd have a hard time breaking

in among the 'bon-tonners.' But what's the use of thinking about it.

This is your country and these are your people."



A morbid desire was upon her to track down this intangible racial

distinction, but she saw Runnion, whom she could not bear, coming

towards them, so thanked Stark hurriedly and went on her way.



"Been making friends with that squaw, eh?" remarked Runnion,

casually.



"Yes," replied Stark. "She's a nice little girl, and I like her. I

told her I didn't have any part in that miners' meeting affair."



"Huh! What's the matter with you? It was all your doing."



"I know it was, but I didn't aim it at her. I wanted that ground

next to Lee's, and I wanted to throw a jolt into Old Man Gale. I

couldn't let the girl stand in my way; but now that it's over, I'm

willing to be friends with her."



"Me, too," said Runnion, looking after Necia as her figure

diminished up the street. "By Heaven! She's as graceful as a fawn;

she's white, too. Nobody would ever know she was a breed."



"She's a good girl," said Stark, musingly, in a gentle tone that

Runnion had never heard before.



"Getting kind of mushy, ain't you? I thought you had passed that

stage, old man."



"No, I don't like her in that way."



"Well, I do, and I'm dead sore on that soldier."



"She's not your kind," said Stark. "A bad man can't hold a good

woman; he can win one easy enough, but he can't keep her. I know!"



"Nobody but a fool would want to keep one," Runnion replied,

"specially a squaw."



"She's just woke up to the fact that she is a squaw and isn't as

good as white. She's worried."



"I'll lay you a little eight to five that Burrell has thrown her

down," chuckled Runnion.



"I never thought of that. You may be right."



"If it's true I'll shuffle up a hand for that soldier."



"If I were you I wouldn't deal it to him," said the gambler, dryly.

"He may not cut to your break."



Meanwhile, Necia had passed on out of the town and through the

Indian village at the mouth of the creek, until high up on the

slopes she saw Alluna and the little ones. She climbed up to them

and seated herself where she could look far out over the westward

valley, with the great stream flowing half a mile beneath her. She

stayed there all the morning, and although the day was bright and

the bushes bending with their burden of blue, she picked no berries,

but fought resolutely through a dozen varying moods that mirrored

themselves in her delicate face. It was her first soul struggle, but

in time the buoyancy of youth and the almighty optimism of early

love prevailed; she comforted herself with the fond illusion that

this man was different from all others, that his regard was equal to

her own, and that his love would rise above such accidental things

as blood or breed or birth. And so she was in a happier frame of

mind when the little company made their descent at mid-day.



As they approached the town they heard the familiar cry of "Steam-

bo-o-o-at," and by the time they had reached home the little camp

was noisy with the plaint of wolf-dogs. There were few men to join

in the welcome to-day, every able-bodied inhabitant having

disappeared into the hills, but the animals came trooping lazily to

the bank, and sat down on their haunches watching the approaching

steamer, in their soft eyes the sadness of a canine race of slaves.

Behind them limped a sick man or two, a soldier from the barracks,

and in the rear a fellow who had drifted in the week before with

scurvy. It was a pitiful review that lined up to greet the tide of

tenderfeet crowding towards their El Dorado, and unusual also, for

as yet the sight of new faces was strange in the North.



The deserted aspect of the town puzzled the captain of the steamer,

and upon landing he made his way at once to John Gale's store, where

he learned from the trader of the strike and of the stampede that

had resulted. Before the recital was finished a man approached and

spoke excitedly.



"Captain, my ticket reads to Dawson, but I'm getting off here. Won't

you have my outfit put ashore?" He was followed by a group of

fellow-passengers who made a similar request.



"This place is good enough for me," one of them said.



"Me, too," another volunteered. "This strike is new, and we've hit

her just in time."



Outside a dozen men had crowded "No Creek" Lee against the wall of

the store and were clamoring to hear about his find. Before the

tardy ones had cleared the gang-plank the news had flashed from

shore to ship, and a swarm came up the bank and into the post,

firing questions and answers at each other eagerly, elbowing and

fighting for a place within ear-shot of the trader or the ragged man

outside.



The frenzy of a gold stampede is like the rush from a burning

building, and equally easy to arouse. No statement is too wild to

lack believers, no rumor too exaggerated to find takers. Within an

hour the crew of the steamer was busy unloading countless tons of

merchandise and baggage billed to Dawson, and tents began to show

their snowy whiteness here and there. As a man saw his outfit appear

he would pounce upon it, a bundle at a time, and pile it by itself,

which resulted in endless disputes and much confusion; but a spirit

of youth and expectancy permeated all and prevented more than angry

words. Every hour the heaps of baggage grew larger and the tents

more numerous.



Stark wasted no time. With money in his hands he secured a dozen men

who were willing to work for hire, for there are always those who

prefer the surety of ten coined dollars to the hope of a hundred. He

swooped down with these helpers on his pile of merchandise that had

lain beneath tarpaulins on the river-bank since the day he and

Runnion landed, and by mid-afternoon a great tent had been stretched

over a framework of peeled poles built on the lot where he and Necia

had stood earlier in the day. Before dark his saloon was running. To

be sure, there was no floor, and his polished fixtures looked

strangely new and incongruous, but the town at large had assumed a

similar air of incompleteness and crude immaturity, and little

wonder, for it had grown threefold in half a day. Stark swiftly

unpacked his gambling implements, keen to scent every advantage, and

out of the handful of pale-faced jackals who follow at the heels of

a healthy herd, he hired men to run them and to deal. By night

Flambeau was a mining-camp.



Late in the evening the boat swung out into the river, and disclosed

a strange scene of transformation to the puzzled captain of a few

hours ago. The riverbank was lined with canvas shelters, illumined

dully by the tent-lights within till they looked like a nest of

glowworms in deep grass. A long, hoarse blast of good wishes rose

from the steamer, then she sighed her way around the point above

bearing forth the message that a new camp had been born.





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