LIGHT OF THE MORNING
EDITH G. BAYNE
“There is sweet music here that softer falls Than petals from blown roses on the grass. Or night dews on still waters, between walls Of shadowy granite in a gleaming pass.”
THE canoe glided silently past densely wooded shores where the pine and balsam stood impenetrably thick along the water’s edge and where at times the channel was a narrow, deep, and abysmal canyon with stars visible far above in a noonday sky. Towering all about—before, behind, to left and right—were the mountains. The pair in the canoe had been silent for hours, the one through force of habit, the other because of sheer paucity of words. Speech in a scene like this seemed almost sacrilegious. It clove the silence like a thunderbolt, the veriest whisper echoing and reverberating, tossed from rock to crag and back again for a full five minutes. As easily might one dare to lift the voice at vespers in dim cathedral aisles as puncture the stillness that lay a fitting garment over the spirit of these mountain wilds. Jake Jensen, the chief guide for the upper reaches of the Athabasca and her tributary streams, paddled at the stern. Except for the monotonous motion of his arms he might have been a particularly well-preserved mummy bent to a kneeling posture. Though nearly eighty his hawk-like black eye had lost nothing of its keenness and his parchment-like skin of a leathery hue, inured to the elements as wood is seasoned for wear, defied sun and wind, frost and rain, smoke and black flies. His grizzled beard fell to his waist and he was a trifle bent at the shoulders, but otherwise he presented an appearance of lean vigor and physical endurance that athletic youth might have envied. The young man in the forepart of the craft did indeed envy him, for turning occasionally to signify silently that he desired a change of paddling arm he observed that Jensen appeared as unwearied as when they had left Long Portage at dawn.
If one could imagine The Choir Boy with his snowy surplice changed to a rough grey shirt, a red handkerchief knotted about his neck and his face transfigured with the bites of mosquitoes and black flies and darkened by smoke and tan, but still retaining that worshipful, uplifted expression, a choir boy with a stetson hat, mocassins and a revolver, that would be an approximate picture of Dick Landon, aged twenty-four, lately of Blackstone College in the East, who paddled painfully but heroically in the front of the long canoe.
TENSEN had said they would make camp at sunset.
Dick was hungry and his arms ached, but he was filled with wondering admiration at the skill with which the old man guided the frail craft between low-hung, menacing rocks or around snags in the stream. Twice they had run rapids. Once they had almost touched a doe with her lawn, drinking in the shades of a thicket, as they noiselessly rounded a point. The trip had been full of thrills from dawn each day till dark. This was the third day and Jensen was leaving Dick now, to return to the Landing. Before daylight their ways would separate, Dick proceeding
alone on foot tó Devil’s Elbow. As they sped along a placid stretch of water with the hills fallen back a little on either hand the old guide broke the silence.
“You take care o’ yourself in there, young feller!”
“Sure.” Dick answered, promptly and composedly, and he removed a hand from the paddle a moment in order to pat his pistol holster, grinning at the same time over his shoulder.
The old man grunted.
“You got a heap o’ grit, boy, but you wanta steer clear o’ Buck McGinnis. He’s the boss o’ that hardboiled centre o’ sin an’ he aint got no use fer agents, revenoo officers, tenderfeet, Mounted P’lice, uplifters, preachers er temp’rance cranks. He’s a rough one, Buck."
“So I’ve heard,” said Dick.
They made camp in a little sandy cove at the head of Loon Lake, cooking six perch they had caught and flinging themselves on their blankets in a sheltered spot before the last faint pink had faded from the We3t. With the first hint of dawn Jensen was off down the lake again and Dick, shouldering his duffle, set off across the flats toward the Ragged Range in a pass of which lay the town of the formidable name. It was a seven-mile tramp and the trail was exceedingly rough, so that Dick was obliged to stop and rest after making little more than halfway across the hills. He chose a mossy slope overlooking a bright, tumbling littlestream and facing the farthermost Rockie3.
The stillness was almost appalling—accustomed as he now was to the vast silences of this great lone land a hundred miles from the steel—and the dropping of a pine cone startled him. The occasional cry of a camp-robber bird carried to him from some hidden lakelet and once he heard a loon calling. The rest was silence, utter and profound. But very suddenly as he rested there under the jackpines, loath to re-commence his tramp, another sound struck upon his ear. Springing up to look for its source Dick beheld coming toward him over the flats from the south-east a girl on horseback. She rode a glo3sy black steed and was leading another. In the light of young morning—it was barely six o’clock—the little group seemed half unreal. They might have stepped out of a dream. Dick stared, incredulous, delighted, afraid almo3t to wink an eye for fear the dream would vanish. '
When the girl had reached the edge of the stream he ventured to call out a greeting. She stopped a moment and then set her horse into the water and forded it.
“Hello,” she said, pulling up not ten feet away.
“Hello—beauties! The three of you!” cried Dick.
He advanced and patted the glistening shoulder of the girl’s mount. Then he looked up at the rider for a closer view. Her face was golden-tan, the cheeks a dusky pink like ripe peaches, and her eye3 bright and eager and blue as the skies with heavy lashe3 that curled like a little child’s. She was bareheaded, two thick, long, bronzecolored braids swinging over her slender shoulders and the hair on her head blowing across her face like fine-spun yellow silk. She rode astride and her big hat with the rattlesnake skin about the crown, hung on the saddlehorn, flapping a little in the breeze. He saw the play of fine, firm, young muscle3 under the creamy brownne33 of her arms as she held in her restless horse with some difficulty.
“What you doing here?” she asked, gazing curiously at him and then at his clothes, his pack and the dust on his long tramping boots.
“Resting,” Dick answered, smiling quizzically. “W'hat, may I inquire, are you doing?”
She flicked a fly from her mount’s ear with her crop and flashed a smile, a slightly supercilious smile, down at him. “I’m on my own land,” she said, briefly.
Dick looked half incredulous.
“Does anybody own this land round here?” he asked.
“I thought it was just—just Government land you know.”
“Well ’taint. It’s part of our range— Pa’s and mine. You going in to town?’ “I was. You’re not going to indie* me for trespass, are you?*’
A T this attempt at witticism she sent him a shrewd A * look, her eyes narrowed comically.
“Say! If you think that’s the worst could happen to you here, stranger—”
“My name is Landon. Dick Landon.”
“You’re a sure-nuff tenderfoot, Mr. Landon. Too much duffle for one thing. And a four-mile tramp blows you so-you got to rest up!”—and the girl smiled a trifle scornfully. “I was going to say take Black Bess and ride in but I bet you aint saddle-broke even.”
Dick grinned back good-humoredly.
“You lose,” he said. “Riding’s my long suit. Is this Bess behind?”
“That’s Bess. She ran out on the range last night and Pa sent me out for her at daybreak. I found her eight miles south, beyond the Curly Horn.”
“Sorry to pack her down like this but I suppose it can’t be helped,” Dick said as he threw his duffle across the mare. “How did you know the number of miles I had tramped?” “I saw the ashes of your fire. They were still hot. Say! You aint a sky-pilot, are you?” This with evident concern, not to say anxiety.
“It’s a terrible unhealthy spot for preachers.”
“I hand it to you straight. You do.”
Dick had vaulted upon Black Bess, who immediately reared and pawed the air, keeping him busy for a few minutes.
“Just ease the bit. She’s got a tender mouth. Say! You can ride!” and she watched him almost admiringly. "Give a guess what happened the last sky-pilot, Mr.— What’s-your-name-again?”
“Landon. Did you cut his throat?”
“We rigged him up like a Cree chief—paint, feathers and all—and sent him down the Athabasca on a scow. We never heard what happened to him after that.”
“You seem to be a playful lot up here,” Dick remarked. “You going to stay with MS?” demanded the girl as they rode on at a brisk canter.
“Do you run the hotel?” Dick asked interestedly.
“Run the hotel? We run the town!” said the girl, coolly. “But we do keep the main house. There aint many,” she added.
“Write me down as a guest, then! Is it the Kicking Mule or the One-Eyed Cowboy?”
“’Taint neither. It’s Buck McGinnis’ Place. I’m Molly McGinnis. If you aint heard of my Pa—” ,
CHE broke off and pointed with her crop to the long, low ^ huddle of buildings that lay along the base of Buckhorn Mountain.
“There! That yellow house is ours—the big one in the middle. And there’s Pa on the verandah.”
Dick looked. They had slackened their pace and were
Even at this distance there was something sinister in the appearance of the town. It looked like a feudal hold. The buildings were dun colored, one-storied, characterless and elbowed each other as though cramped for room. They gave the single street that peculiar lop-sided look he had learned to know so well in movie3 of Western drama.
“That,” said Molly McGinnis proudly, “is Devil’s Elbow.”.
Molly gave her parent a welcoming whoop, waving the big hat aloft, and dashed up to the hitching-rail in a cloud of red dust. Dick arrived twenty seconds later. Buck arose, tucking a long knife he had been sharpening into his belt and advanced to the steps. He was a large man with a ruddy face, a blond beard and powerful shoulders. He seemed to radiate force. His eye was keen and very
“What’s this you’ve drug in, Moll?” he demanded, fixing a cold, appraising glance on Dick.
“This is Mr. Landon, Pa. I found him out on the hills, tuckered out. He—”
“What’s his business?” sternly pursued her father.
“I’m a tree agent,” announced Dick.
“I sell trees. Travel for a nursery, you know. My firm hopes to sell fruit trees out here. The soil’s just right and so is the climate. It’s the same as the Okanagan and ought to beat it in time, but many of the settlers out here aren’t aware of the fact that they can raise fruit and so I came out to put them wise. I’ve got samples here of sprouts and pictures of apples grown a hundred miles further North even than this. I can show you—”
But Buck had fixed on one word only in all this patter.
“Apples!” he said in surprise.
/‘Apples. Great cider apples, Mr. McGinnis. In a few years you could have a big mill—”
“Get down off that mare, boy.”
p\ICK sprang down. Standing beside Buck he found that the big boss of the bad town was an inch shorter than himself. It gave him a curious feeling of triumph. Molly still sat her horse, listening.
“You fixin’ to stay with us?” demanded Buck, next.
“If I may.”
“Moll says you were tuckered out. Why? Come a long way?”
“I—I’ve been ill. The/ sent me up here partly for my health, toó. I come from the East. Below Montreal.” “We aint runnin’ a sannytorium.”
“Nature is the sanatorium for me, Mr. McGinnis.”
“You look like a damn uplifter.”
“I can’t help my looks.”
“He’s on the square, Dad.” Molly assured her parent at this juncture.
“How long d’ you figger you’ll stay?” asked the boss, paying scant attention to his. daughter’s opinion.
“Till I make enough sales to justify my trouble,” said Dick, holding the other’s eye steadily.
“All right,” said McGinnis. “But you’ll have to talk trees till your tongue hangs out. The settlers round here raise cattle mostly and aint got time for no frills. I aint sayin’ it wouldn’t be a good scheme though, to set out some go.od orchards. Hi, Mex! Take this mare.”
A dark-skinned youth in chaps rose from the dust somewhere near at hand and took the horses, Molly having dismounted too.
Neis Sandersen, the old man who acted as combination clerk, bellhop and general handyman, conducted Dick to a long, low, odoriferous building at the side and rear about the size of one of those French box-cars that were labelled ‘ ‘40 hommes ou 8 chevaux,” during the war. Dick threw in his pack, aiming it at a vacant bunk and backed away resolved to lose no time in buying a tent. He rejoined Molly and her father on the verandah and began to talk trees. Various other citizens, many of them garbed picturesquely in the manner of the last great West, ambled up and listened to the young newcomer’s steady flow of oratory. In half an hour Dick had soldjseveral of them.
EHVE minutes or so before ^ dinner time a long, lean ranchman with a drooping black mustache sauntered up and straddled the hitchingpole, with a nod at Molly.
The girl had been sitting on one of the broad arms of her father’s chair, swinging her feet and listening to Dick.
Now she sprang up.
“Curly! Come here and meet Mr. Landon,” she cried to the new arrival. “Mr. Landon, this is Curly Sandwell, our most prosperous citizen and the popularest man in the hill country. He owns the Crooked Coulee and the Bar Ten and most of the land ’tween here and the Peace.
Shake. I want you to like each other.”
Curly Sandwell and Dick met on the top step level and looked for an instant into each other’s eyes. Dick smiled and nodded. Sandwell’s thin lips also curled in a smile but there was nothing sunny about it.
“Howdy, Mister London?" he drawled.
“Landon is the name,” said Dick. “Are you interested in trees?”
"In one kind of tree -yes.”
"What kind? I have many varieties of—
“The only tree that appeals to me,” said Sandwell slowly, “is the kind with good stout limbs about twenty foot from the ground. A good coil of hemp, a darkish night and just enough breeze to keep the corpse swingin’ gently—”
A hoarse laugh from the appreciative crowd of cowpunchers broke in upon him.
But Molly slapped Sandwell on the arm with a show of indignation.
“I’m ashamed of you, Curly!” she said, flouncing back to her seat. “And you never shook like I told you!”
Then the Chink cook pounded on the triangle and there was a stampede for the eating-house. Molly lingered while Dick gathered up his samples.
“Don’t mind, Curly, Mr. Landon.”
“I don’t think he’ll spoil my dinner,” said Dick easily. “Why do you call him ‘Curly’?”
“I guess ’cause his hair’s so straight!”
“You and he great friends?”
“I’ll prob’ly marry him some day. He's always pestering me to,” she said carelessly.
IN a private office on the second floor of one of the big Government buildings in Edmonton two men sat talking and smoking. One was Forbes Vincent, chief of the provincial detective force, a short, thickset man with keen, dark eyes and a small grey mustache; the other was the Honorable James Cantley, Minister of Lands, Forests and Mines, a thin, ascetic-looking gentleman with a rather fretful expression that was habitual, and the sallow skin of a dyspeptic. Just now the Hon. James seemed quite nettled. He had removed his cigar from his mouth and was staring at the chief.
“You mean to tell me,” he was saying in heavy tones of mingled astonishment and dismay, “that the man you picked for that ticklish enterprise was young Landon!” Vincent nodded.
“A callow youth just out of law college? Vincent, you must be losing your senses!”
“On the contrary, I believe I’ve just corn? into my senses, Mr. Cantley,” said the chief.
“Young Landon, it is true, is only twenty-four, but he’s far from callow. I’ve had my eye on that lad for two years now—’’
“But a cub like that when you had any number of seasoned men to choose from! Great Scott, man!” cried the Minister in deep disgust. “You had a score of tough travellers, hardy adventurers, men of daring and nerve who know the West like a book, yet you despatch a greenhorn, a raw youth with a face like a girl’s, on an errand like this! It’s amazing. It’s—it’s—•”
“Dick Landon, nevertheless, is the very man for the job,” the chief maintained, stolidly, shoving the box of
cigars toward his caller. “I played a hunch and I’ll lay a bet with you that the lad brings home the bacon.”
“He’ll never come out alive.”
“Maybe not. But he’ll start something. That’ll be more than any emissary yet has done.”
“What was this hunch you mention?”
Vincent leaned forward.
“Only this, Mr. Cantley. You speak of seasoned men, but a dozen of that kind have gone up and failed, as you well know. They seem to arouse suspicion by their very ease and knowingness. It occurred to me that a clever young chap who knew how to play tenderfoot might do better. His greenness would be his safeguard and his mask. Those last-ditchers and die-hards wouldn’t trouble to waste animosity on him and he could work unmolested.” “Play tenderfoot. I thought he was one.”
“Not exactly. He’s been up in the hill country before, though not so far North, and he rides like a Cossack.”. “He’s up against a mighty sharp gang, Vincent.”
“J realize that and so does he. You met him in this very office one day earlier in the summer, by the way. You said then—after he had gone out—that he looked liked the making of a smart lawyer. Have you forgotten?’ ’ “Lawyer—yes. But we don’t send lawyers to spy out whiskey stills!”
“No, we don’t. That’s quite true. But this young man happens to be something more than a mere attorney. He has the legal mind and something besides. Let us call it a little dash of genius. He’s clean-cut, smooth and as keen as a razor blade and he seems to know human nature as many a man twice his age doesn’t. It’s a gift— that’s all. He counts no effort too great to land his quarry, and he’s got the tenacity of an Airedale terrier when once he picks up a scent.”
“Then he has had some experience?”
“A little. He’d make a prime sleuth. Carried several jobs through for us last summer and made rather a record in the service. Talk of mature skill!” the chief went on warmly, “when even the Mounted Police confess themselves at a loss what are we to do? We can’t keep on sending men up there to have them taken to the coast and shanghaied or painted up and set adrift in the rapids on a scow! Two men have not been accounted for at all. Lynched probably. And the trade goes on.”
“The trade goes on,” agreed Cantley, shaking his head. “They’re keeping the whole Northern area supplied, Indians and all. Why, we’ll be back to the conditions of ’85! If they’d confine their activities to their own camp we might let them alone to swill themselves into Hades, but they’re bedevilling half the Province and making a fortune as well. It’s got to stop. Crime is increasing at a terrific rate.”
“It is,” said the chief, curtly-
“We’ve got to put a crimp into that bunch at Devil’s Elbow beforesummer’s out or double the strength of the Police.”
“From the examinations I have been able to make of the situation, Mr. Cantley, I’ve concluded (as I think I told you before) that there’s probably one gigantic plant run on a co-operative basis and not a series of small stills. The crowd up there hangs together like—”
“Not a one to tell on the rest. I know.”
“And this plant or distillery or whatever you would call it is likely hidden in some lost canyon, or in the depths of a forest and well picketed. Where it is, pickets or not, it is Dick Landon’s task to discover. That’s all he has to do.”
"All? I’ll say it’s some chore!” snorted Cantley, who indulged in slang even in the House.
“Well, I'll say he’ll do it. Want to take that bet?” Cantley waved the question aside.
“When did he go?” he asked, suddenly.
"He left the city last Monday. Three days from the Landing would make it about Saturday morning— that’s to-day —when he’d strike the Elbow. We got him the besl guide in the North and he's well outfitted, and armed. Hut that’s all beside the question. The point on which the whole enterprise hinges is the fellow’s bruins. That's what I’m banking on."
“What, alibi, or rather disguise, is he adopting?”
“An agent for trees is his role.”
“Trees'. Coals to Newcastle!” roared Cantley with a heavy laugh.
“Apple trees, Mr. Cantley. And he’s got a great line of patter, believe me! When he went over it here in t he office he almost had me sold for ten acres of mixed varieties, from Baldwins to Fameuse! That boy could sell woollen underwear to the Hottentots. And lie knows what he's talking about. He’s studied fruit trees for weeks past.”
“Can you keep in touch with him?”
“I'm afraid not. Jf lie has a message he'll contrive to get it down, either by old .Jensen or some other trusty. But he’ll not likely to bother. He’s the kind that doesn’t talk or write till the job’s done."
Cantley was silent for a few minutes. Then slowlj^he shook his head.
"If your paragon boy brings off a coup, chief, I’ll ride up and down Jasper Avenue for two hours on a mule!” he said grimly. “And you have a mental picture of me—me — doing that!”
“That’s as good a bet as any,” grinned the chief. “I'll remember it.”
Then they spoke of other matters.
/”\N a gentle slope covered with dappled shadows and overlooking a broad lake Dick Landon and Molly McGinnis were idling away the long hours of a midsummer afternoon. Dick had been at Devil’s Elbow ten days and had been very busy riding about in the hills soliciting sales. He had covered practically all of the district anti with a degree of success that was very gratifying. But as he lay extended on the pine needles gazing upward into space he wore a decided frown. Molly sat nearby clasping her knees and looking off across the lake to where a tiny spout of dark smoke betokened the presence of a little steamboat.
They were several miles from
town” and their horses grazed below them in the lush grass of a dried marsh.
She wore a rough tan blouse with a red handkerchief knotted at the neck, and no ornaments. The eternal Eve in her was planning a complete new outfit — lacy things, sheer muslins, silk stockings, a hat with roses on it, a parasol, bracelets, a necklace perhaps—it had come over lier suddenly that this handsome visitor hadn’t yet seen her in a skirt.
Returning they struck away over the ridge and loped down the lake trail side by side. There was a faint acrid odor on the air as they came up the last hill and swung across the fiats.
F're’" she said. “Over on the Curly Horn somewhere. We haven’t had rain for three weeks.”
From the verandah of the yellow hostelry two men watched the approaching riders—Buck McGinnis with a kind of grudging admiration, Curly Sandwell with an impassive expression and slightly narrowed eyes.
That night as Dick sat on his little improvised bed made of pine boughs - in his tent to the east of the hamlet , he was obliged to face the uncomfortable fact that in the matter of his real mission he had achieved -exactly nothing. A number of promising little clews had eventually been abandon,. 1 as quite false and although he had mingled freely with, the cow punchers and lumberjacks, keeping eyes and ears wide open, accepting all invitations to card games and barbecues and talking fruit-trees when he wasn't telling funny stories, he had gleaned no real hint about the hidden plant which was doing such a landoffice business.
The talc of a recent illness was in part true and he played it up frequently. “A blankety-blank tenderfoot but good company. Be don’t throw on no side,” was the average cow-puncher’s summing up of the tree agent.
He had been offered various vile concoctions masquerading as cure-alls but no real whiskey, and now on this his tenth night in the supposed hotbed of the liquor traffic he felt discouragement for the first time. Ten days
of riding around and glad-handing the citizens and not a whisper of a still! Only that daily—almost hourly—evidence of it was thrust on his attention, he might have concluded it was a myth.
SUDDENLY galloping hoof beats struck on his ear— no unusual sound at this or any hour. Yelling, screeching cow-boys dashed in and out of the Elbow at any time, stirring up the red dust and the peace of the hills and extending their orgies at Buck’s house far into the dawn sometimes. But this was a lone horseman and the night was unusually quiet and so Dick found himself listening subconsciously to his progress, the while he filled his pipe for a final smoke before seeking his blankets. The rider swept down the trail past his tent a hard clip. Dick pulled his tent-flap a little further back and puffing at his pipe looked out into the soft, warm darkness of the mountain night. The sky was sown with stars, but there was no moon. Again there was the acrid odor of fire, more definite now.
The hurrying rider had pulled up suddenly. He had been hailed by someone—the voice had sounded like Curly Sandwell’s. Dick removed his pipe and listened. The voices were indistinct but he caught something of what was said. He quickly drew on his boots again.
When he went down the slope to get his cayuse picketed
there, a dense veil of coppery smoke, lambent with flame, flushed the southeast sky. The secret still was in that direction then! And it was in danger from the fire.
TWO very important facts were now his—the still was no myth and it lay hidden somewhere to the southeast. Ten days of fruitlessness and then all in a moment this'. Dick’s heart sang high and he dashed up the rough little street in the wake of half-a-dozen other horsemen, paused before Buck’s place only long enough to gather that men were wanted to help fight the fire and then was off with a band of volunteers, unnoticed in the general panic.
An hour later when they had reached the base of the Curly Horn Mountain along which the fire raged Dick learned from one of the cowboys that it was only the little steamboat, “Lightof the Morning” that they were trying to save! The lake which she traversed narrowed down to a long sloping bay at this end and she had been caught as in the neck of a bottle with flame on three sides of her. In trying to turn around she had broken one of her paddlewheels on a rock. The men spread out fanwise and with the aid of ropes soon had her out of her difficulty. Then they all remounted and, laughing and blaspheming, took their carefree way back to the Elbow, Dick in their midst much mystified and chagrined. Dawn broke as he crawled between his blankets and when he woke it was to the thudding of a heavy rain on his tent.
The rain continued for several days but didn’t deter him from making an exhaustive survey of the Curly Horn
and its vicinity for miles around. He found that a great deal of valuable timber had been burnt; and that was all he learned.
/~\N a day in the same week when the sun smiled again ^ he and Molly set forth on foot on a pleasure trip to Tar Valley across the lake. This was entirely an Indian settlement reached only by the little steamboat, and its pleasure resources were scant but the pair had arrive 1 at the stage of friendship where any excuse would serve for an opportunity to be together. As they skirted the pines above the hamlet from which the trail wound down to the tiny dock, a bright-eyed halfbreed girl named Kitty McCoy, whose father waS a Scotchman and a business rival of Buck's, stepped out from behind'a boulder and frankly attached herself to the pair.
Molly was resplendent in a pink-sprigged muslin dress, white shoes such as the girls at the Landing wore and the hat with the rose-wreath of which she had dreamed. She was feeling exceedingly proud and self-satisfied, but she had never liked Kitty McCoy, particularly since the last barbecue when Dick had danced with the pretty metis three times. Accordingly she halted and regarded the intruder with open disfavor.
“Two’s company—three’s a crowd,” she remarked.
“I got somethin’ to tell him,” said Kitty.
The girl made a pretty little dramatic gesture and gazed up at him with soft black eyes that were full of sympathy.
“They’re goin’ to get you,” she said tensely.
“They!” repeated Dick. “Who are ‘they’?” And what have I done?”
Dick chewed his lip in perplexed silence. Molly was now looking serious, hanging on the half-breed girl’s words. The latter had been sending cautious glances round.
“They were playin’ draw poker over to our place last night an’ I heard them. I was sleepin’ on the gallery right outside an’ they didn’t know it. I thought at first I was dreamin’! Curly cursed you somethin’ beautiful!” Dick and Molly exchanged glances.
“I guess we know what’s biting Mr. Sandwell,” remarked Dick. “When does he intend to pull this stunt off?”
“Sometime soon. I didn’. catch just when.”
“Curly can’t pull off anything like that without Pa says so. Pa’s still running this place,” said Molly calmly-
“Your Pa was there too, said Kitty crisply.
Theothersweremuch taken aback at this news.
“I’ll talk to Pa!” said Molly, meaningly.
“Much obliged, Kitty. I’ll be on the watch after this,” said Dick as the girl turned to go.
“Better for you to go ’way an’ go quick,” declared Kitty earnestly.
AT the next turn in the trail Molly pulled Dick to a stop.
“She’s right. You better go!” she said, the color drained from her cheeks.
He felt her hand tremble.
“I won’t go till my work’s done,” he said, firmly. “And --I think perhaps she may be overdrawing it.”
Molly shook her head.
“No. She’s not”—(now and then she dropped the ‘aint’ since she had noticed he never used it.) “You’re dead lucky to get a warning at all. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of letting her see me scared but I was! Yes you must go. I—I wish it had been my luck to warn you. But I can’t do anything, I guess, except help you get clear away.”
He patted the slim brown hand still resting on his arm. “I never saw you frightened before, little Molly,” he said in wonderment. “Not even when that new horse nearly threw you. Don’t you worry about me”—and he looked away.
“But I do! Oh, you don’t know how—” A sob intervening she broke off but in a moment re-commenced. “Listen. I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but seeing she’s told us that I’ll tell you about yesterday. Continued on Page 53
Light of the Morning
Continued from page 28
Curly stopped me when I was heading for the scrub to get Black Jim and he—he called you a lot of nasty names. He said you didn’t really like me—you were only making use of me. He wanted to know if—if you’d been pumping me.” Dick’s eyes narrowed. He had brought his gaze abruptly to her face.
“About—about anything”—and Molly averted her eyes.
“I would never ‘pump’ you, Molly.” “That’s what I told him. But he only laughed and went off—only his eyes—!” she shuddered.
Dick’s jaw hardened.
“No,” he said, firmly. “I’m not going away, Molly.”
“But you don’t know Pa! Oh if ever he gets you he—he’ll be worse than Curly ever! You see they think—” “I know,” said Dick nodding. “Let’s be perfectly frank.”
“I don’t know where the still is,” said Molly.
“That isn’t what I meant.—As I said, I would never have asked you, Molly— What I mean is you know what I’m up here for. Don’t you?”
“I kind of suspected—after what Curly hinted,” Molly admitted. “But you’ll never find it. Nobody ever has. Only five men know and they’re not telling. When enough has been made for a shipment it’s left at a certain spot in the night— never the same spot twice—and then the rest come and load it on wagons. That’s all I know—or care.”
“It would be pretty awful for your dad if—” began Dick very gently.
She shook her sunny head and laughed derisively.
“It’d be ditto and then some, for you, il you let them get you,” she retorted and then, her breath catching: “Oh, I couldn’t bear it! You’re so—so decent.”
He drew a ring from his little finger and while she smiled and trembled a little, put it on her left hand.
“You know what this means, Molly?” he whispered, and she nodded bashfully. “It’s only a substitute till I can get a good one. The next’ll be a diamond.”
“Oh—h! Will it?” she cried rapturously, “Molly,” he said, “I’ve nothing much to offer, except hope and all the love in the world. Do you care?”
He found the right answer in her eyes, Suddenly he drew her to him and kissed
"And you’ll wait for me,” he whispered after a moment, “till I can make enough—” “Wait for you!” returned Molly, tremulously. “Yes, I’ll wait—forever and ever.”
17INDING him firm in his resolve not to “ run away Molly refrained from pleading but thereafter constituted herself watchman and guard, riding with him everywhere. She was as good a shot as any man in the camp and went armed at all times. Not a cow-puncher or lumberjack but held her in wholesome respect. Buck and Curly had gone up the lake
with a load of hides and confidence gradually returned to Buck’s daughter. It may have been only a threat after all, made in the heat of a drunken orgy, she told herself.
The long lake above the Elbow and circling down around the Curly Horn didn’t connect with Loon Lake which lay up North but it had a plentitude of fish, was more accessible and therefore became almost a daily haunt of the two young people. Here at any point by the mere casting of a line one might draw in, in less than five minutes, a glistening, flopping, silvery-pink trout or a large perch or black bass. Then to make a meal by the shore with Molly, and to ride home under the stars, hands reaching across the horses and clasping, Molly singing softly in her clear, rich, untrained voice the songs good, bad and indifferent that she had picked up from the cowmen,—Dick listening, now disapproving, now enraptured! There were times when he hated the thought of civilization.
One evening they were rather late in starting back to camp, probably because of a full moon whose witchery was irresistible.
“To-morrow’s the first of August, Molly,” said Dick as he helped her into the saddle—this daughter of the hills who had never before required such assistance, but who had recently become as dependent in this respect as a ridingschool miss.
“Yes?” queried Molly, lightly.
“And I’ve got to be off to the head of Loon Lake by dawn.”
She drew in her breath sharply, and leaned over in the saddle.
“You mean you got to go ’way-leave
“I think so. For a while. Jensen said he’d be up very early on August the first. He only makes one trip a month up here
ou know, unless it’s something special.
mustn’t miss him.”
“But why?” she demanded, plaintively.
“I’ve got to go back to town. Can’t you guess why?”
Suddenly she started. Turning her head swiftly—she had been arranging the bridle—she tried to read his face in the near-darkness. His back was to the
“You’ve found the still!” she whispered, clutching his shoulder. "Is that what you mean?”
“My part,” he said slowly, “is done, thank heaven! The renowned and elusive still, Molly, goes by the name ‘Light of the Morning’.
In their background shadows began to move. They failed to hear the padding of feet, stealthy padding that ended in a rapid concerted rush. Five men had closed in upon them before they could * have counted twenty.
“Let the girl go or we'll be in Dutch with the boss,” a voice ordered. “But get her gun!”
Dick reached for his mount’s bridle— i but too late. Molly had whipped out I her revolver, but even as she swerved I Black Jim about to face the newcomers the gun was knocked deftly from her grasp, i Then the man who had done this slapped her horse’s flank and the spirited creature I dashed away, down the trail at a wild gallop, unresponsive to any pulling on his ! bridle, any word of his gallant little rider, i Meanwhile the other horse, snatched from Dick’s tentative hold, was being led away I in the opposite direction, while the three 1 men who were busy pinioning his arms shouted to the other to “Come on.” In another moment the party was making a rapid though stumbling progress down I to the little dock not far away. It could be seen faintly through the trees, even by moonlight. Here the little steamboat, “Light of the Morning,” waited, with ; steam up.
IT was two weeks later. The chief of the provincial police and the Honorable Jamas Cantley were again in conference in the office of the former. This time Forbes Vincent’s demeanor was distin, guished by not merely enthusiasm and confidence but pride as well. He fairly glowed.
“To my mind,” he was saying, “the slickest part of the whole adventure was the way the lad overcame this Sandwell on the last lap of the journey to the coast. It seems he changed clothes with him, forcibly, and got him aboard the Jap ship in his stead, and nobody was the wiser!” “Shanghaied?”
Vincent nodded and shoved the cigars across to the other, who declined them.
“Gave him a taste of his own medicine. Sandwell hated him because of jealousy over the girl, chiefly. Otherwise Dick might have hung round the Elbow all year without raising much, if any, suspicion so well was he playing his part. They tell me everybody liked him—even the big boss himself. . . I wonder how Sandwell’s enjoying a life on the ocean wave!”
“What happened to the big boss? I didn’t hear any particulars.”
“Well, he’d given the order to nab Dick. (If it had been anyone but Dick he’d have ordered him lynched I guess, but he liked the lad.) And he was across the lake on a matter of business among the Indians when this McFarlane of the Mounties rode in with a posse and captured him on what is known as a blanket charge. McFarlane had ridden hard for sixteen hours up to his post and back and he was all in. I suppose he was less wary than usual. Anyway his prisoner got away. Buck McGinnis won’t be seen in these parts again.”
“And the girl?”
“When she saw that it was all up—as she thought—with Dick she set out to warn her illustrious dad, but of course he wasn’t at home. So I suppose she waited in more or less suspense till she got word about him. After that heaven knows what she must have gone through till Dick miraculously turned up, alive and kicking. By the way you never saw a pair crazier in love—”
Cantley waved this aside, impatiently. “Nothing particularly original about a still on a steamboat,” he observed. “Any ■ fool could have found that.”
“Well, why didn’t they?” Vincent demanded. “They had every chance, those others.”
“Was this built specially for that?”
“Not at all. The boat was making too many excursions for the amount of passenger traffic. That’s what first excited the lad’s curiosity. He even had taken a trip or two on the boat himself without becoming wise-or even near-wise. Where are you going?”
For the other had risen.
“Just had a wire from Ottawa. Got I to catch the first train East,” explained I Cantley reaching for his hat.
“I wanted you to meet Dick and that stunning little bride of his. They’ll be in at any minute now.”
“Sorry. Give them my regrets and—er —congratulations of «ourse.”
“I suppose your haste has nothing whatever to do with that—that vow you made?” the chief suggested, grinningly. Cantley reddened.
“Great heavens, man, can’t you take a jpke?” he protested, pulling out his watch. “And anyway try to find me a mule in all the length and breadth of this town. Just try. There’s nothing wild-and-woolly about us!”