The Collected Complete Works of James Oliver Curwood - James Oliver Curwood - ebook
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James Oliver "Jim" Curwood was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. His books ranked among Publisher's Weekly top-ten best sellers in the United States in the early 1920s.Collection of 26 Works of James Oliver Curwood________________________________________A Gentleman of CourageBack to God's Country and Other StoriesBaree, Son of KazanFlower of the NorthGod's CountryGod's Country--And the WomanIsobelKazanNomads of the NorthPhilip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted PoliceThe AlaskanThe Country BeyondThe Courage of Captain PlumThe Courage of Marge O'DooneThe Danger TrailThe Flaming ForestThe Gold Hunters A Story of Life and Adventure in the Hudson Bay WildsThe Golden SnareThe Great LakesThe Grizzly KingThe Honor of the Big SnowsThe Hunted WomanThe River's EndThe Valley of Silent MenThe Wolf HuntersThomas Jefferson Brown 

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The Collected Complete Works of James Oliver Curwood

A Gentleman of Courage

Back to God's Country and Other Stories

Baree, Son of Kazan

Flower of the North

God's Country

God's Country--And the Woman

Isobel

Kazan

Nomads of the North

Philip Steele of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police

The Alaskan

The Country Beyond

The Courage of Captain Plum

The Courage of Marge O'Doone

The Danger Trail

The Flaming Forest

The Gold Hunters A Story of Life and Adventure in the Hudson Bay Wilds

The Golden Snare

The Great Lakes

The Grizzly King

The Honor of the Big Snows

The Hunted Woman

The River's End

The Valley of Silent Men

The Wolf Hunters

Thomas Jefferson Brown

A Gentleman of COURAGE

A Gentleman of COURAGE

CONTENTS

PAGECHAPTER I1CHAPTER II16CHAPTER III26CHAPTER IV41CHAPTER V60CHAPTER VI68CHAPTER VII87CHAPTER VIII100CHAPTER IX115CHAPTER X125CHAPTER XI137CHAPTER XII155CHAPTER XIII171CHAPTER XIV182CHAPTER XV193CHAPTER XVI211CHAPTER XVII227CHAPTER XVIII240CHAPTER XIX250CHAPTER XX268CHAPTER XXI281CHAPTER XXII297CHAPTER XXIII311CHAPTER XXIV325

[1]

A Gentleman of COURAGE

CHAPTER I

PIERRE GOURDON had the love of God in his heart, a man's love for a man's God, and it seemed to him that in this golden sunset of a July afternoon the great Canadian wilderness all about him was whispering softly the truth of his faith and his creed. For Pierre was the son of a runner of the streams and forests, as that son's father had been before him, and love of adventure ran in his blood, and romance, too; so it was only in the wild and silent places that he felt the soul in him attuned to that fellowship with nature which the good teachers at Ste. Anne de Beaupré did not entirely approve. Nature was Pierre's God, and would ever be until he died. And though he had crept up the holy stair at Ste. Anne's on his knees, and had touched the consecrated water from the sacred font, and had looked with awe upon mountains of canes and crutches left by those who had[2] come afflicted and doubting and had departed cured and believing, still he was sure that in this sunset of a certain July afternoon he was nearer to the God he desired than at any other time in all his life.

Josette, his wife, slender and tired, her dark head bare in the fading sun, stood wistful and hoping at his side, praying gently that at last their long wanderings up the St. Lawrence and along this wilderness shore of Superior had come to an end, and that they might abide in this new paradise, and never travel again until the end of their days.

Back of them, where a little stream ran out of the cool forest, a tireless boy quested on hands and knees in the ferns and green grass for wild strawberries, and though strawberry season was late his mouth was smeared red.

The man said, pointing down, "It makes one almost think the big lake is alive, and a hand is reaching in for him."

"Yes, they are Five Fingers of water reaching in from the lake," agreed Josette, seating herself wearily upon a big stone, "though it seems to me there should be only four fingers, and one thumb."

And so the place came to be named, and through all the years that have followed since that day it has tenaciously clung to its birthright.

The boy came to his mother, bringing her strawberries to eat; and the man, climbing a scarp of rock, made a megaphone of his hands and hallooed through[3] it until an answering shout came from deep in the spruces and balsams, and a little later Dominique Beauvais came out to the edge of the slope, his whiskered face bright with expectancy, and with him his little wife Marie, panting hard to keep pace with his long legs.

When they were together Pierre Gourdon made a wide and all-embracing sweep with his arms.

"This will be a good place to live in," he said. "It is what we have been looking for."

With enthusiasm Dominique agreed. The women smiled. Again they were happy. The boy was hunting for strawberries. He was always empty, this boy.

Pierre Gourdon kissed his wife's smooth hair as they went back to the camp they had made two hours earlier in the day, and broke into a wild boat song which his grandfather had taught him on his knee in the wicked days before he had known Josette at Ste. Anne, and Dominique joined in heartily through his whiskers.

The women's smiles were sweeter and their eyes brighter, for fatigue seemed to have run away from them now that their questing men-folk were satisfied and had given them a promise of home.

That night, after supper, with their green birch camp-fire lighting up the blackness of the wilderness, they sat and made plans, and long after nine-year-old Joe had crawled into his blanket to sleep, and the women's eyes were growing soft with drowsiness,[4] Pierre and Dominique continued to smoke pipefuls of tobacco and to build over and over the homes of their dreams.

Young and happy, and overflowing with the adventurous enthusiasm of the race of coureurs from which they had sprung, they saw themselves with the rising of another sun pitched into the heart of realities which they had anticipated for a long time; and when at last Josette fell asleep, her head pillowed close to her boy's, her red lips that had not lost their prettiness through motherhood and wandering were tender with a new peace and contentment. And a little later, while Pierre and Dominique still smoked and painted their futures, the moon rose over the forest-tops in a great golden welcome to the pioneers, and the wind came in softly and more coolly from the lake, and at the last, from far away, rose faintly a wilderness note that thrilled them—the cry of wolves.

Dominique listened, and silently emptied the ash from his pipe into the palm of his hand.

"Where wolves run there is plenty of game, and where there is game there is trapping," he said.

And then came a sound which stopped the hearts of both for an instant, a deep and murmuring echo, faint and very far, that broke in a note of strange and vital music upon the stillness of the night.

"A ship!" whispered Pierre.

"Yes, a ship!" repeated Dominique, half rising to catch the last of the sound.

[5]

For this was a night of forty years ago, when on the north shore of Superior the cry of wolves in the forest was commoner than the blast of a ship's whistle at sea.

The pioneers slept. The yellow moon climbed up until it was straight overhead. Shadows in the deep forest moved like living things. The wolves howled, circled, came nearer, and stopped their cry where the kill was made. Mellow darkness trembled and thrilled with life. Silent-winged creatures came and disappeared like ghosts. Bright eyes watched the sleeping camp of the home seekers. A porcupine waddled through it, chuckling and complaining in his foolish way. A buck caught the scent of it, stamped his foot and whistled. There were whisperings in the tall, dark spruce tops.

Caverns of darkness gave out velvety footfalls of life, and little birds that were silent in the day uttered their notes softly in the moon glow.

A bar of this light lay across Josette's face, softening it and giving to its beauty a touch of something divine. The boy was dreaming. Pierre slept with his head pillowed in the crook of his arm. Dominique's whiskers were turned to the sky, bristling and fierce, as if he had taken this posture to guard against harm the tired little wife who lay at his side.

So the night passed, and dawn came, wakening them with the morning chatter of a multitude of red squirrels[6] in a little corner of the world as yet unspoiled by man.

That first day from which they began to measure their new lives the axes of Pierre and Dominique struck deep into the sweetly scented hearts of the cedar trees out of which they were to build their homes at Five Fingers. But first they looked more carefully into the prospects of their domain.

The forest was back of them, a forest of high ridges and craggy ravines, of hidden meadows and swamps, a picturesque upheaval of wild country which reached for many miles from the Superior shore to the thin strip of settlement lands along the Canadian Pacific. Black and green and purple with its balsam, cedar and spruce, silver and gold with its poplar and birch, splashed red with mountain ash, its climbing billows and dripping hollows were radiantly tinted by midsummer sun—and darkly sullen and mysterious under cloud or storm. Out of these fastnesses, choked with ice and snow in winter, Pierre knew how the floods must come roaring in springtime, and his heart beat exultantly, for he loved the rush and thunder of streams, and the music of water among rocks.

At the tip of the longest of the five inlets which broke like gouging fingers through the rock walls of the lake half a mile away they decided upon the sites for their cabins. Against those walls they could hear faintly the moaning of surf, never quite still even when[7] there was no whisper of wind. But the long finger of water, narrow and twisted, as if broken at the joint, was a placid pool of green and silver over which the gulls floated, calling out their soft notes in welcome to the home builders, and in its white sand were the prints of many feet, both of birds and of beasts, who played and washed themselves there, and came down to drink. Between these two, the open and peaceful serenity of the inlet and the cool, still hiding-places of the forest, were the green meadowland and slopes and patches of level plain, a narrow strip of park-like beauty at the upper edge of which, in the very shadow of the forest, Pierre and Dominique struck off their plots and squared their angles, making ready for the logs in which the afternoon saw their axes buried.

The days passed. Each dawn the red squirrel chorus greeted the rising sun; through hours that followed came the ring of steel and the freedom of voice which is born of love and home. Pierre sang, as his grandfather had sung long years ago, and Dominique bellowed like a baying hound when the chorus came. Women's laughter rose with the singing of the birds. Josette and Marie were girls again, and the boy was forever leading them to newly discovered strawberry patches hidden among the rocks and grass and ferns.

It was a new thing for the wilderness, this invasion of human life, and for a long time it fell away from them, listening, frightened and subdued. But the[8] birds and the red squirrels gave it courage, and softly it returned, curious and shy and friendly. The deer came down to drink again in the dusk, and moose rattled their antlers up the ridge. Pop-eyed whisky jacks began to eat bannock crumbs close to Josette's hands. Jays came nearer to scream their defiance, like wild Indians, in the tree-tops, and thrushes and warblers sang until their throats were ready to burst, and twenty times a day Pierre would pause in his labor and say, "This is going to be a fine place to live in, with the sea at our front door and the woods at our back."

He called Superior "the sea," and twice in the first week they saw far out in its hazy vastness white and shimmering specks which were sailing ships.

Log upon log the first of the cabins rose, until the roof was covered, and scarcely was it done when Josette and Marie were planting wild morning glories and crimson splashes of roses about it, and were digging in the dark, cool mold of birch and poplar thickets for violet roots, and out in the sheltered fens and meadow-dips for hyacinths and fire-flowers; and in the hour before dusk, when the day's work was over and supper was eaten, they would go hand in hand with their men-folk to study and ponder over the fertile patches of earth here and there where next spring they would plant potatoes and carrots and turnips and all the other fine things they had known back in the land of Ste. Anne.

[9]

It was August when the two cabins were finished, small in dimensions but snug as dovecotes, and in the eyes of Josette and Marie grew a deeper and more serious look. For they were housewives again, with little to do with, but with a world full of endeavor and anticipation ahead of them. And it worried them to see that the fruits were ripening, red raspberries so thick the bears were turning into hulks of fat, black currants and saskatoons among the rocks, and all over the ridgesides great trees of wild plums and mountain ash berries, waiting for the first frosts to make them ready for preserves and jams.

So Dominique, one day, set out to blaze a trail to the nearest settlement, thirty miles away; and thereafter their men-folk took turns, one and then the other, going with empty pack and returning with sixty pounds of burden, and berries were put into cans and dried and preserved—until Pierre and Dominique began to tease their wives and ask them if they wanted their husbands to turn into bears and sleep on their fat all winter. It was this banter which reminded Josette of candles, and in September they killed two bears and made several hundred of them.

With the first frosts of autumn Pierre said even more frequently than before, "This is a fine place to live in," and Josette and Marie, seeing what the frosts were doing, rose each morning with new wonder and new joy in their eyes. For if these frosts were giving to the waters of the lake a colder and harder sheen, with[10] something of menace and gloom about it, they were also painting the ridges and hollows and all the forest land as far as they could see with a glory of color which they had never known at Ste. Anne.

Breath of winter came in the nights. Higher grew the great birch piles of firewood which Pierre and Dominique dragged close to the cabin doors, and very soon came the days when the carnival of autumn color was gone and all but the evergreen trees assumed the ragged distress of naked limbs and branches, and winds broke down fiercely over the wilderness, and the moan of the lake, beating against its rock walls, grew clearer and at times was a muffled and sullen roar half a mile away.

But these changes were not frightening to Pierre and his people. Canadian winter was, after all, the heart of their lives; long months of adventure and thrill of deep snows and stinging blizzards on the trap lines, of red-hot stoves, and snug evenings at home telling the tales of the day, and appetites as keen as the winds that howled down from the north.

This season, of all seasons, they would not have changed. It was then the wolf howl took on a new note, the foxes cried out hungrily at the edge of the clearing in the night. The call of the moose floated awesomely through the frost of still evenings, and the bears hunted their dens. One after another songbirds departed, leaving the whisky jacks and the jays behind, and the ravens gathered in flocks, while in the thickets[11] and swamps the big snowshoe rabbits turned from brown to gray and from gray to white. All hunting things were astir, from the wolf and the fox and the little outlaw ermine to the owl and the dog-faced fisher-cat, and in November Pierre and Dominique dipped their traps in hot bear grease and prayed for the first snow.

It came in the night, so quietly that none heard the breathless fall of it, and the world was white when little Joe got out of his bed at dawn to look at his rabbit snares in the edge of the timber. That was the beginning of their first winter at Five Fingers. It was a cold, dry winter, and there was never a day that a haunch of venison or moose meat was not hanging behind the cabins. Trapping was good, and the store of pelts grew as the weeks went on, until Pierre and Dominique both swore in the same breath that it was a paradise that they had found on this north shore of Superior, and each day they made new promises of what they would buy for Josette and Marie in the spring. The snow piled itself deeper, and the lake froze over. In January it was thirty degrees below zero.

The white world, Josette called it, and at times they all played in it like children. There was Christmas, and then New Year's, and a birthday for Marie, and games and stories at night round the crackling stoves in the cabins. Pierre and Dominique built toboggans, and from the crest of the ridge where they had first looked[12] down upon the Five Fingers they sped in wild races over the open and halfway across the snow-crusted ice of the middle finger. And yet when Dominique came in one day and said quite casually that he had heard the chirp of a brush warbler back in the big swamp Marie gave a little cry of delight and Josette's eyes grew suddenly bright.

It meant spring. A day or two later Pierre said the coats of the snowshoe rabbits were turning rusty, which meant early spring. Then came discovery of the first bear track, the track of a foolish bear who had come out hungrily, like a woodchuck, only to hunt himself a den again when he saw his shadow freezing in the snow. After this there was more sun in the morning and less of the cold of sullen twilight each night, and before even the crust of the snow had begun to thaw Pierre brought in a poplar twig to show how the buds were swelling until they seemed ready to pop. "I have never seen them fatter," he said. "It means spring isn't far away."

When the first robin came Josette told her husband she could already smell the perfume of flowers. He was a cold-footed and crabbed-looking bird, forlorn and disappointed at the world's chill aspect, and for a few minutes he sat humped up on the roof log and then flew away.

This was the beginning. The snow began to thaw on the sunny sides of the slopes, and after that the change came swiftly. In April a steady and swelling murmur[13] ran through the forests, the music of the gathering waters. Meadows and flats became flooded, little creeks changed suddenly into rushing torrents, lakes and ponds crept up over their sides, and the tiny stream which passed near the cabins, quiet and gentle in summertime, was all at once a riotous and quarrelsome outlaw, roaring and foaming in its mad rush down to the Middle Finger. Half a mile away was a larger stream whose flood sounds came to them like the distant roar of a cataract. It was glorious music, with something in it that stirred the blood of Pierre and his people like tonic and wine. Pierre, in his optimism and love of life, explained it all by saying, "It is good to have a long, cold winter that we may fully enjoy the spring."

The birds seemed to return in a night and a day—robins perky and glad to get back from the lazy southland, thrushes and catbirds and a dozen kinds of little brown warblers and brush sparrows whose voices were sweetest of all the spring songsters. The earth itself began to breathe with swelling roots and tips of green; the first flowers popped up; the poplar buds exploded into fuzzy leaves, and Pierre and Dominique worked from morning until night, clearing the patches they were to plant this year, and spading up the rich, dark soil.

It was about this time Pierre gave voice to a thought which had been growing in his head all winter. He was standing with Josette at the tip of the green[14] ridge from which they had first looked down upon Five Fingers.

"Ste. Anne was never as fine as this, chérie," he said.

"No, not even before the woods were cut," agreed Josette.

He took her hand and held it softly in his own, and Josette laid her cheek against his shoulder so that his lips could touch her smooth hair. Pierre always liked it that way.

"I have been having a dream," he said, his voice a little queer because of its secret, and because he knew how its confession would thrill the one at his side, "and I have said nothing about it, but have done much thinking. Would not a little church look pretty down there, just where the tip of the evergreen forest reaches to the Middle Finger?"

"A church!" whispered Josette, her heart giving a sudden swift beat.

"Yes, a church," chuckled Pierre softly. "And over there, in that green bit of meadow—what a place for a home for our old friend Poleon Dufresne, and Sara, and all the children. And there is room for the Clamarts, too, and Jean Croisset and his wife. It is a big land, with plenty of fur and game and good rich soil underfoot, and I have thought it is not right to keep it all to ourselves, douce amie."

From the door of her cabin some distance away Marie Beauvais wondered just why it was that Josette threw her arms so suddenly round her husband's neck[15] and kissed him. And Pierre, with a heart full of happiness, little guessed that with the fulfilment of his dreams would come tragedy into the wilderness paradise at Five Fingers.

[16]

CHAPTER II

IT was five years later that Simon McQuarrie and Herman Vogelaar came to Five Fingers. They were a queer but lovable combination. Simon was a Scotchman, tall and spare, with a thin face which seldom broke into a smile and which had the appearance of being made of flint. His companion was a Dutchman, short and round as a dumpling, with a pink, smooth face, light blue eyes and a great habit of puffing when he exerted himself a little, which came, Simon said, from overeating. They had been boys together more than thirty years ago in a little Ontario town, and now they were partners, timber-looking, prospecting and bartering and saving a little money as the years went on. Herman was a widower, and his only daughter, Geertruda, had married Jeremie Poulin back in Quebec, and Jeremie was a cousin of the Clamarts and lived now at Five Fingers. It was Herman's first visit. He had come to see the new baby and had brought Simon along with him.

The instant Simon's shrewd eyes came upon the clearing and the little settlement, with the fingers of water reaching in from the big lake, he began having thoughts which he did not at once announce to Herman.

[17]

The years had brought changes to Five Fingers. The single-room cabins which Pierre and Dominique had built were gone, and in their places stood larger buildings of clean-cut and nicely squared logs, with flowers and garden plots around them, and rows of smooth stones painted white. Josette, now almost forty, was still slim and pretty, and Pierre was more than ever her lover, in spite of a great disappointment which he kept shut up in his own heart. He wanted children. His love for them was a passion, but for him stalwart young Joe, now fourteen years old, was the first and the last. Pierre had implicit faith in prayer, and ever since that first summer at Five Fingers he had prayed devoutly that God might send more children.

And God answered, though somewhere there was a slip that puzzled Pierre, for the more he prayed the more children came to Dominique and Marie. First there was a pair of them, Louis and Julie, then three singles as regularly as could be—Aimé and Félipe and Dominique—and with each one of them Marie grew plumper and jollier and began questing about in her head for a name to be given the next.

But Pierre was happy, for if they were not entirely his own there were at least children all about him. Poleon and Sara Dufresne had come with three children and had built their cabin a stone's throw away; Jeremie and Geertruda had a baby, and at the edge of the green bit of meadow which he had pointed out to[18] Josette five years ago were the homes of Jean Croisset and Telesphore Clamart, and Aleck Clamart was courting Anne Croisset. With Pierre he was secretly making plans for a home the following year, after one more season of trapping.

And right at the tip of the evergreen forest, where Pierre had promised, was the little log church in which they gathered each Sunday, and to which Father Albanel, a wandering minister of the forests, came once and sometimes twice a month.

As the population had grown, so had the clearing expanded. There were a good dozen acres or more under careful tillage, and in the open were cattle and several horses, and in every wild meadow for miles about a stack of harvested hay in season. There were chickens and geese and a community flock of turkeys, and at all seasons plenty of eggs and milk and cream and the sweet butter, and the dug-out cellars were filled to the brim with good things to eat when the first cold blasts of winter came. Pierre and Aleck had built a boat, and the six families had combined in the purchase of two nets, so there was no lack of fish either winter or summer at Five Fingers.

For two winters, much against his desire, young Joe had been sent back over the new Canadian Pacific to attend school at Ste. Anne.

Simon McQuarrie made note of all these things with the judgment of a fox and the keenness of a weasel. No one would have judged Simon for what he really[19] was, at least not on short acquaintance. In him was a heart so honest he would have cut off a little finger before taking a mean advantage of any other man or woman. But, as Herman put it, he was always looking around to see what he could pick up. Herman furnished the laughter, the jollity, the never-ending good humor and four-fifths of the stomach of the partnership, and Simon was the ferret who smelled out the dollars; so when Simon said one day, "I never knew a better place than this for a little mill, Herman," the proud grandfather of baby Tobina knew something was in the air.

First of all, with his native shrewdness, Simon took stock of the happiness at Five Fingers. This contentment, the community affection which brought all together like members of one family, was a big asset in the very beginning. The mill itself could be made a sort of family affair, and a boat arranged for twice or three times a year to run up from Duluth or Fort William and carry away the lumber. There was enough fine birch and cedar and spruce right about them to keep going for years, and the mill would bring even greater prosperity than trapping, which was sure to wear out now that the settlements were filling up rapidly along the line of the railroad.

At last he talked over the matter with Pierre, and Pierre called in Dominique, and there was a meeting of all the men-folk of the families at which it was agreed nothing could be finer for Five Fingers than a[20] mill. Simon promised the first thing to be made from its lumber should be a schoolhouse, and they would have to see to it the schoolhouse had a teacher, for if Dominique and Jeremie and Poleon kept up the pace they were going there surely must be teaching at Five Fingers.

This was on Saturday. The next day Father Albanel came, a little, gray-haired, rosy-cheeked man who loved life and all living things, and who had no settled church because he saw in nature a greater God than he had ever been able to find in the Book written by man, a freedom of thought which had been labeled heresy by those who traveled the old and unchangeable paths. But Father Albanel was loved by every man, woman and child who knew him, and while his stricter brethren chanted and prayed in their vaulted cathedrals and little mission houses, his Church was ten thousand square miles of forest land. And on this Sunday Father Albanel prayed that Simon McQuarrie might be able to keep his promises.

So the mill came. There was not much to it, but when on a certain September afternoon a tug and a scow came creeping up the middle inlet every soul in Five Fingers was down to meet them, and every heart was beating with the biggest excitement that had ever come into the lives of Pierre and his people. With the tug came Simon McQuarrie, proud as an admiral in command of a fleet, and with him a Norwegian engineer and his wife, two mill-hands, and a sallow-faced,[21] anemic-looking young man who was to teach Jeremie Poulin's children and Dominique's kindergarten during the winter for fifteen dollars a month and board.

The mill was set up, with only pieces of tarpaulin for roof at first. Axes rang merrily in the woods, and the three horses at Five Fingers dragged in the logs at the ends of chains. Even the women were excited, and the children waited eagerly for the set day when smoke would pour from the tall boiler stack and the saws would begin to hum and grind. This happened on the fifth day, and when at last steam was up, and the long belt began to turn, and the big, shining saw to whirl, there rose a great hurrah, and even Baby Tobina waved her tiny fists and crowed as loudly as she could. Then the sharp teeth of the saw touched the end of the first log, and there came the first of that beautiful, droning song—the song of live steel cutting through sweet wood—which was to last for many years at Five Fingers, and which may be heard at times to this very day.

No one, not even his sweetheart wife, Josette, was permitted to look deeply and completely into the heart of Pierre. As time passed he saw his beloved forest dragged in, a log at a time, to be cut into pieces by that droning, merciless saw. He watched the life's blood of the timber pile up in great golden heaps of sweet-smelling sawdust in which the growing children loved to play, and down on the shore he saw his wilderness[22] garnered in huge piles of boards, waiting for the little black tugs to come in and drag them away. He knew that it was all as it should be, for new prosperity came with the mill, more comforts and happiness for the women and children, and a few more people to Five Fingers. This was progress. Yet an ache was in his heart which he kept to himself, and which would never quite die away. For with a passion next to his love for children he loved his forests, and with him every tree was a word of God.

Yet he would not have changed conditions, for he knew it was himself who was wrong. Everything told him that. Even the wild things seemed to love this more intimate companionship with man, for the birds and squirrels were never more numerous about Five Fingers. They sang and chattered with the music of the mill, ran over the roofs of the houses and built their nests under the eaves, and in winter came to the very doorsteps to eat crumbs and grain thrown out for them. It was Pierre whose word was unwritten law at Five Fingers. One of his laws was that no living thing that was not a pest should ever be harmed near the settlement, and when ice and snow were heavy in the hills and between the ridges deer came out shyly to eat with the cattle.

Pierre went no more on the trap line but attended to the business of the mill, and Josette pleased him by saying this made her happiness complete. In spare hours one could always find children about him, and in[23] the evenings, when the droning of the mill saw had ceased, there were games and races and fun among the sawdust piles, and never a day passed that the home of Pierre and Josette was not filled with childish laughter and the patter of little feet, although the little girl they prayed for never came to bear their name. "But she will," said Pierre, keeping up that undying hope in his heart. "Some day, my Josette, there will come a little girl to be a sister to Joe."

Even Joe, his one child, seemed to be getting farther away from him, for as time passed the boy needed no urging to return to Ste. Anne, but was restless and ill at ease when back home from school, and was excited when the day drew near that would take him from Five Fingers again. He was eighteen when Josette learned his secret, and she laughed softly, and kissed him, and told Pierre so that he would not worry any more. The girl was none other than Marie Antoinette, the beautiful little daughter of Jacques Thiebout, whom they had known years ago on the St. Lawrence. She was a year younger than Joe, and had told him he must wait until she had finished completely with the school of Ste. Anne de la Perade, for that was her ambition, and her father's, too. Then she would come with him to Five Fingers.

Tears of joy filled Pierre's eyes the night Josette whispered the secret to him, for if the little girl they both wanted persisted in not coming they would at least have grandsons and granddaughters to make up for it.

[24]

"And it may be this is the answer to my prayers," Pierre said to himself. "For Joe's children will be of our own flesh and blood, and we shall love Marie Antoinette as our own. And as Joe is younger and stronger than Dominique, who is growing fat, I do not see why he should fall behind him in the matter of family."

Few changes came to Five Fingers as the years rolled on. The little mill continued to hum and the axes to ring farther and farther back in the forest, and twice or three times in a season the boat came up with loads of supplies and carried away the lumber.

Not a single year did the stork fail to build his nest somewhere about the sawdust piles. Twice he visited Aleck Clamart, who married Anne Croisset; two little Dutchmen he brought to Geertruda Poulin, and there were nine pairs of feet to shoe in the home of Dominique and Marie when young Joe Gourdon brought Marie Antoinette to Five Fingers as his wife.

The mill did not run that day, for it was a day of feasting and rejoicing, and all the world held no prouder monarch than Joe. Marie Antoinette, tall and slim, with her great dark eyes, her glad smile and her outreaching arms of love for the people who had now become her own, was as sweet and beautiful as his mother had been in the days of her youth. And Pierre, in his joy, found in her a rival, for the children gathered round her in dumb worship, and in her pretty arms Marie Antoinette gathered every one, kissing each[25] in turn, even to bashful Louis, the eldest son of Dominique. And when, in their cabin, she flung those same pretty arms around Josette's neck and called her Mother, Pierre winked hard and went outside to puff at his pipe, for he felt like a boy who wanted to cry.

God had been good to him. God had blessed Five Fingers. In the going down of the sun his eyes rested upon a green slope where no plow had touched and no cabin had been built. Religiously that sacred little plot had been held for the time when death might find its way among them. And death had not come. Gratitude welled up in Pierre's heart and choked him—gratitude and pride and faith, for all this was the handiwork of the great and good God he believed in, the God of his forests, the open, the sun and the sky. And the thought came to him that when at last there was a break in the little green slope it was only right that he should be the first to go, for God had filled his measure to the brim, and it seemed to him he could hear the whisper of a message from the violets and red roses of that little knoll in the setting of the sun.

Marie Antoinette, coming to him so quietly he did not hear, put her little hand in his and whispered, "It is beautiful here, my father!"

[26]

CHAPTER III

AS long as men remain to tell the story of the Inland Seas the great autumn storm of 1900 will not be forgotten. It has been set down as a matter of history, and a hundred tales could be told of the ships that went down and the men who died in those days when the Five Lakes were like five mighty churns, whipping and tossing their waters in maelstroms of destruction.

It was not cold. A part of the time the sun shone brightly, and back in the woods from the Superior shore birds sang, and flowers still bloomed. To Pierre and his people this was of strange and mysterious portent, for though they had seen many storms at Five Fingers there had never been one like this, with that terrific roar of enraged waters against rock walls and birds preening themselves and chirping in the sunshine of the forest.

On the second day Pierre took Josette and Marie Antoinette down to the tip of the wooded peninsula that lay between the Second and Middle Finger that they might see the lake as they had never seen it before. It was fun for the women. The wind choked them at times, and they had to scream to be heard, and it[27] whipped their long hair loose until they were like panting naiads, clinging to Pierre's hands, their eyes shining and their hearts thrilled with the excitement of the adventure. Pierre, laughing, told Josette she was as lovely as a girl with her shining hair all about her in a windblown tangle and her cheeks as pink and soft as Marie Antoinette's. But he was only half heard, for the seas were roaring among the rocks below them like the steady thunder of countless guns.

When they came out of the last rim of sheltering spruce and looked beyond the black and dripping rampart of rock that held back the raging waters Josette clung to him in sudden fear, and Marie Antoinette gave a cry that cut like a knife above the wind.

Pierre's heart went dead and still as he stared gray-faced out to sea. There was a twist on his lips where laughter suddenly died.

Out from the shore lay an entanglement of reef and rock, jutting up like great heads of sea-monsters in the quiet and calm of summer, a resting-place for gulls, and strangely quiet and beautiful at times when the water rippled between them in wide paths of green silver. Through this network of waiting traps ran the channel in which the tug made her way to and from the Middle Finger. But there was no channel today. It was lost in a fury of thundering flood, lashing itself into ribbons, and among the rocks, half a mile from where Pierre and his women stood, a ship was beating herself to pieces.

[28]

In his first moment of horror Pierre knew they had come just in time to see the end. She was a schooner of possibly three hundred tons, and had plunged broadside upon the long, low reef which Josette herself had named the Dragon because of the jagged teeth of rock which rose from it like the spines of a huge fin. Her tall masts were gone. A mass of wreckage tangled her deck, and Pierre fancied that even above the roar of the surf he could hear the crash of her rending timbers as she rose and fell in mighty sledge-hammer blows upon the reef. As he waited, struck dumb with horror, the vessel was raised half out of the sea, and when she fell back her stern split asunder and the foaming water engulfed her until only her bow was held up by the projecting spines of the Dragon.

Marie Antoinette cried out again, and her face was waxlike in its fear and horror, for very clearly in that moment they saw a moving figure in the bow of the ship. In an instant the figure was inundated and gone.

Life leaped back into Pierre.

"If any live they may sweep into this pit of the Middle Finger," he shouted. "We must help them." Then he turned to Marie Antoinette and placed his mouth close to her ear. "Go back," he cried. "Go back and bring help as swiftly as you can!"

Scarcely were the words spoken when Marie Antoinette was gone with the quickness of a bird, her long hair streaming about her like a veil as she ran. Pierre looked at Josette. She was not frightened now.[29] Her face was white and calm and her eyes were pools of steady fire. She was looking on death. She could almost hear the cries of death. Her glance met Pierre's, and her lips moved, but he did not hear her words. It was then, looking again toward what little remained of the schooner, that they saw something sweeping in toward them among the nearer reefs. It came swiftly, now almost submerged, then popping up for an instant, and was swept at last upon a rock where the waters split like a mill race at the very edge of the smoother sea that ran through the mouth of the Middle Finger.

"It is a raft," shouted Pierre, "and someone is on it!"

Josette's cry rose shrill and piercing:

"It is a woman!"

They could see the figure flung upon the rock, with a hand clutching at its slippery sides, and Pierre's breath came in a sudden gasp of despair when he saw it was a woman. Her face was a ghost's face in the surf mist, and her drenched hair streamed upon the rock as the water ebbed away. She seemed to see them as they stood at the cliff edge, and Pierre thought he heard her voice rise faintly above the thunder of the water, crying out for her life.

He turned and ran to a ragged break in the cliff and climbed down swiftly to the narrow shore line at the edge of the Finger, shouting for Josette to remain where she was. But Josette was close behind him when[30] he began tearing off his clothes. She was terribly white. Blood streaked one of her soft cheeks where she had stumbled against a sharp-edged rock coming down. But her eyes were filled with a strange and unchanging fire, and she fell upon her knees among the stones to unlace one of Pierre's boots while he freed himself of the other. She looked up at him. A glory of strength shone in her face even as her heart was breaking in its agony. For she knew that Pierre Gourdon, her husband, was going into the pit of death; and she tried to smile, and Pierre kissed her lips swiftly and sprang into the sea.

She stood up straight and watched him as he fought his way through the shore surf toward the seething maelstrom where the woman lay upon the rock. Josette could see her clearly. She could see the water and white spume leaping up about her, reaching for her, thrusting her up and then dragging her back, and almost she prayed that God would take her and cover her completely with the sea so that Pierre might turn back. For a little her courage left her and she called wildly upon Pierre to return, telling him she was his wife and that the woman on the rock was nothing to him. And then the woman who was fighting for her life seemed to look into the eyes of Josette through the distance that separated them—and Josette held out her arms and cried encouragement to her.

All sound but the roar of water was lost to Pierre. He was swimming now, and a hundred forces dragged[31] at his body, beating him one way and then the other, while with all his strength he fought to keep himself in the right direction. He knew what it meant to be carried beyond the rock into that deadly place which they called the Pit. There he would die. He would be pulled down by the undertows, and a little later, when they were done with him, his body would be thrown up at the foot of the cliff. The thought did not fill him with fear. It gave him strength to know Josette was watching him in this struggle against death, and that she was praying for him—and for the woman on the rock.

Only Josette and the other woman could measure the eternity of time it took him to win the fight. In the last moment a mighty hand seemed to gather him in its palm and sweep him up to the rock, and he found himself clinging to it, facing the woman. She was as white as he had seen Josette. Her eyes were as dark, and there was something in them that was more terrible to look at than fear. Pierre was exhausted. He drew himself up a few inches at a time, trying to smile the encouragement he could not speak. His eyes reached the level of the rock, and he looked over and down—and saw then what it was the woman was holding in the crook of her arm.

It was a little girl, six or seven years old, and forgetting in his amazement the thundering menace of the sea Pierre thought that in all his life he had never seen anything so beautiful as this child. She was not hurt.[32] Her eyes were wide open—great, dark eyes that were velvety pools of terror—and her face, lovely as an angel's, looked at him from a mass of jet-black hair that dripped with water and clung about her neck and shoulders like silken strands of seaweed. It was as if a vision had crept up from the foaming surf to taunt him, a vision of a face he had painted in his dreams and had prayed for and hoped for all through the years of his life, and he dashed the water from his eyes to see more clearly. Then he reached down and drew the child to him and held her fragile, slim little body in his arms. The woman's face changed then. Its fierce resolution died out. She became suddenly limp, and seeing her weakness Pierre caught hold of her so that the surf would not beat her from the rock.

"I will get you ashore," he shouted. "You must not give up! You must hold to the rock!"

He bent his face to the child's.

"And you——"

She lay against his breast. Her eyes were looking up at him steadily, and words choked in Pierre's throat. Those eyes, it seemed to him, were too beautiful for a child's eyes. Her lips were still red. But her face was the color of a white cameo in its frame of wonderful black hair, and the thought came to him again that it was an angel the storm had blown in from the sea.

The woman was drawing herself up beside him. Another wave broke against the rock, smothering them in its surf. Out of it came her voice.

[33]

"I am Mona Guyon," she cried, so close that her head touched his shoulder. "This is my baby. Her father—went down—there—beside the rock—a few minutes ago. Take her ashore——"

A roaring flood inundated them. When it was gone Pierre drew in a deep breath.

"You must hold to the rock," he shouted again. "I will come back for you. It will be easy—easy for all of us to get ashore—if you will hold to the rock!"

When the roar of the surf died away for a moment he told the child what to do. She must put her arms round his neck and ride ashore on his back and draw in deep breaths whenever her face was out of the water. They would swim to the shore very quickly, and then he would come back for mother. He even laughed as he told her how safely and quickly it could be done. And then he kissed her; there on the rock Pierre Gourdon kissed the soft little mouth he had prayed for so many years, and bowed his head a moment, asking God to help him. Then he lay flat on his face and drew her into just the right place on his back, and when her arms were round his neck he tied her hands tightly together under his chin with a strip which he had torn from his shirt. She could not get away after that. They would go ashore together, one way or the other.

Slowly he lowered himself over the slippery lee of the rock, and again he smiled at Mona Guyon. The hour of his Calvary had come, and his heart beat fiercely with the strength of two praying women as he[34] slipped into the sea with his precious burden. The twisting undercurrents reached out like the tentacles of an octopus and tried to drag him into the doom of the Pit. But it was not Pierre Gourdon alone who was fighting for the right to live. The woman on the rock was fighting for him, and the woman ashore—standing to her waist in the boiling surf—no longer had heart or soul or strength of body, for all had gone to him; and about his neck were the arms of a child that gave to him the courage, not only of those who loved and prayed, but of the good God who had called upon him to play his part in this day and hour.

So he fought, and won at last to the place where his beloved Josette reached out and caught him and helped him to the stony shore, where he sank down weakly, with the child in his arms and her face looking up at him from his breast. He had kept her above the water—that had been the never faltering thought in his mind; and now there seemed to be something of awe, of reverence, of unspoken worship in those strangely beautiful eyes of l'Ange, as Pierre called her in his heart, and suddenly her arms tightened round his neck and with a little cry she kissed him.

Then she was in Josette's arms, and Pierre rose to his feet.

A sudden dread swept over him as he looked out at the rock again. It seemed to him the seas were higher, and the woman was not as he had left her. Her face was down, she was limp, a dark blot without life or[35] resistance, and he saw a huge wave drive up and move her like a sodden chip a little nearer to the edge of the Pit. She was not holding on, as he had prayed God she would! A few more waves like that last one, a taller crest, an angrier thrust from the sea—and she would go.

He turned to Josette. She was on her knees among the sharp stones with her arms about the child, and both she and little Mona were looking up at him, waiting, knowing that only Pierre Gourdon was master of himself and of life and death in this hour. He had never seen such eyes as theirs—Josette's in their agony of fear for him, little Mona's so strangely, gloriously beautiful, saying more to him in their childish terror and entreaty than human lips could have spoken.

"I am going back," he said. "It will be easy this time!"

They heard him above the smashing fury of the Pit, and Pierre, catching an unknown note in his own voice, knew that he was lying. As he faced the beat of the sea he made as if he did not hear Josette calling wildly to him that help would surely come in a few minutes, and he must wait. A few minutes and it would be over, for he could see that with each thrust of the frothing surf over the crest of the rock the woman was a little nearer to death.

It was a harder fight this time. At least it seemed so to Pierre, for the old strength was no longer in his limbs, and something seemed to have gone out of his[36] heart. If he could reach the rock, just reach it and cling to it and hold the woman until Marie Antoinette's message brought the men! That was all he prayed for now, all he hoped for. It was inconceivable for his imagination to go beyond those things—the rock, the woman, a jutting tooth of reef to hang to for their lives. He could feel death all about him as he fought and swam. It struck at him, choked him, blinded him, dragged at his breath until it seemed as if he must give up and go riding with it into the maelstroms of the Pit. It laughed and jeered at him and roared in his ears, but through it all he saw the rock, and at last the same strange current caught him with the force of a gargantuan hand and flung him to it.

He tried to climb up, and slipped back. He tried again and again, and then began to make it, an inch at a time. Something was singing in his ears. It was like the droning hum of the saw in the mill. For a moment he rested. He could not see the top of the rock, but he could see the shore, and there were many figures on it now—men running down to where Josette was again standing waist-deep in the water.

With new courage he pulled himself up, and then he gave a cry—a madman's cry of horror, fear and futile warning. The woman had slipped to the very edge of the rock—the edge that lipped the fury of the Pit. She was half over. And she was slipping—slipping....

He scrambled toward her, flinging himself down the treacherous dip to catch at her long hair. He caught a[37] strand of it, but it pulled away from him—and he thrust himself another foot and buried his fingers in the wet mass of it. In that moment the sea took her. It dragged her down, and Pierre, holding fast to her hair, went with her into the black death of the Pit; and as he went his wide eyes saw once more the blue of the sky and the tops of his beloved forests, and out of his soul came a soundless cry, the faith and gratitude of a man who was not afraid to die, "After all—God has been a long time good to me—Pierre Gourdon!"

Even then, in that roaring baptism of death, his mind was on the woman. It would not do to let her body beat itself among the rocks alone, and in some way—as they were twisted and torn by the rending currents—he got his arms about her. He made no effort to fight, except to hold her. To fight against the forces which had him in their power was impossible. He was like a chip in a boiling pot, twisted and turned, now thrust downward and then up, but never far enough to snatch a breath of air. He felt the blows of the rocks. Then he began going down, until it seemed in the last moment that he was falling swiftly through illimitable space. Consciousness of the woman's presence was gone, but he still held her in his arms.

Only the strong hands of Joe Gourdon and Simon McQuarrie held Josette from joining her husband in the heart of the Pit. She struggled against them, crying out her right to go to him, until they brought her to the narrow rim of beach under the cliff and her eyes[38] fell on little Mona. The wind had blown the child's wet hair back from her face, and a bitter cry came to Josette's lips and resentment burned in her for an instant like a fire. Pierre was gone because of her, because of this beautiful, star-eyed child and the woman! They had taken him from her. And here was the child, living, staring at her with those eyes which had made Pierre call her l'Ange—staring at her—while Pierre—and the other woman—dead and beaten among the rocks.... And then....

"My mother!"

It was the child's voice, two words crying out to her, faint and yearning and filled with agony above the lash of the sea, and with an answering cry Josette fell down sobbing upon her knees and opened her arms and held the little stranger tightly against her breast. For a space after that she was blind to what happened about her. Dominique stood between her and the sea, even as he saw the grim joke which the fiends of the Pit were playing upon them this day. For these fiends were seldom known to give up their playthings, whether logs or sticks or living things. Once he had known them to keep the body of a dog for days, and at another time a strong-limbed buck had died there, and it was a week before they had tired of him and had thrown him ashore. But this day there was a change. Joe Gourdon and Jeremie Poulin and Poleon Dufresne had leaped waist-deep into the surf and were bringing out the bodies of Pierre and the woman!

[39]

It was Marie Antoinette who knelt beside them first, and unclasped Pierre's arms from about the woman. And then Josette saw them. She staggered to her feet and ran past Dominique, and the first she looked upon was the white, dead face of the mother. Very tenderly then she took Pierre's head in her arms, and bent her own over it until both their faces were shrouded in her long hair.

"He isn't dead," she whispered. No one heard her, for she was saying it only to herself, and then to Pierre. "He isn't dead. He isn't dead." She repeated the words, swaying her body gently with Pierre, and the others drew back, and Marie Antoinette hid little Mona's face against her while Simon McQuarrie and Telesphore Clamart bore the dead woman between them round the end of the cliff. And Josette kept repeating, "He isn't dead, he isn't dead," and she kissed Pierre's lips, and pressed her cheek against his cheek, and the women and men of Five Fingers stood back and waited, none daring to be first to break in upon these sacred moments which belonged to Josette and her dead.

At last Marie Antoinette came up softly and knelt beside Josette and put a loving hand about her shoulder. Josette's eyes turned to look at her and they were soft and glowing and so strange they frightened Marie Antoinette. "He isn't dead," she was still saying, and she bowed her face down again to Pierre's.

Choking the sob in her throat, Marie Antoinette put her hand to Josette's face—and a great shock ran[40]