By HAROLD BINDLOSS
WHEN Gardner met Marian Ogilvie at a summer hotel in Ontario, he tactfully hid his surprise. Although he admitted that her letters ought to have prepared him, it was hard to believe that this rather dignified girl, with her air of thought and refinement, was the daughter of the dissipated prospector he had known in the bush. Gardner had spent some years in the wilds between Hudson's Bay and Lake Winnipeg, surveying for mining companies and afterwards for a new railroad. With the exception of Father Lucien and Black, he knew more than anybody else about Ogilvie's death, but sometimes suspected that the others knew more than he. Marian, as he learned by degrees, had won honours at a famous college, and now occupied a post at a big Toronto school.
When they sat under a cedar on the lawn in the hot afternoon, he gave her a photograph he had taken on the Shadow River. In front of them, nickelled sprinklers threw glistening showers across the grass, and the lake ran back, smooth and blue, between wooded islands. Guests in light summer clothes sat talking among the boulders by the waterside, and a girl in a canoe sang to a man who swung the flashing paddle.
The picture Marian examined showed a different scene. Ragged pines, torn by the blizzards, rose against massed snow clouds across the river of the North. A furious white rapid broke the broad stretch of dark water, and in the foreground one saw a rocky beach, ground by drifting ice. It was in the rapids Ogilvie lost his life when returning from a prospecting trip. His canoe capsized, and, although Black reached the beach exhausted, Ogilvie's body was never found.
"A grim country," Marian said, and was silent for a time. Then she gave Gardner a level glance and resumed: "I shall go up there some day. You knew my father?"
"I did, in a way," Gardner cautiously replied.
Ogilvie had worked irregularly on the surveys. Foremen packers sometimes fired him, and sometimes he left his employment and wandered through the wilds, trying to locate a mine in which nobody else believed.
"Ah," said Marian quietly, "you did not know him when he lived with us at home. That is why I must tell you something of his story."
"Not if it is painful."
"It is painful, but I want you to understand. Well——"
Ogilvie, she said, had long ago been clerk at a Hudson's Bay factory in the frozen North, and found the silver vein by accident when on a long journey. He could not stop to prospect, because winter was near and food was short, and, when he returned, the factor laughed at his tale. Gardner understood this, because the Hudson's Bay agents had long tried to keep the exploiters of minerals out of their fur preserves. Ogilvie, who endeavoured to find the spot again and failed, afterwards met the woman he married, and for her sake opened a little store in an Ontario town. He brought up his family in comfort, but was unable to save enough to revisit the wilds.
"But he went back in the end," Gardner remarked.
"Yes," said Marian gravely. "My mother was dead then, and we had grown up. He did not like the towns, and I think always longed for the North; but he was a kind father, and started us well. My brothers have prospered. They were good boys, but they never quite realised what he had given up. Even my mother—— But perhaps she was afraid he would go back some day, for she smiled when he talked about the mine. It may have been because I was youngest and he indulged me most, but I believed."
Gardner mused. The wilderness has a charm that can seldom be shaken off by those it grips, but Ogilvie had fought against it long. It was only when his duty to his family was done he had yielded and returned to the bush, and disappointment and hardship had then broken him down. But it was difficult to think of him as a respectable citizen.
"Do you still believe in the mine?" he asked.
"I do," Marian answered, with resolute calm. "Some day I shall try to find it and prove my father right."
"Then I hope you will let me come," Gardner said eagerly. "I know the country."
Marian smiled. "Perhaps I will. But I cannot go yet. It will be a long and expensive search, and I must bear the cost."
Gardner stayed a week or two, and his liking for the girl grew stronger. She had charm, but he saw in her a certain calm steadfastness. Indeed, he hoped the thought of the silver would not fix itself in her mind as it had done in her father's. When one came to think of it, Ogilvie had been strangely determined, too. Except for what he spent on liquor, which could not often be got, all his earnings had gone to defray the cost of his prospecting journeys, and manual labour in the North involves many hardships. He had, Marian said, never written to her brothers and seldom to her. Of the three children he had started well but one believed in him.
Gardner's work kept him occupied, and some months passed before he next saw Black. The man had a shack beside the Shadow River, and Gardner came there one night when Father Lucien, the Indian missionary, sent for him. Dry snow blew about the shack before a bitter wind, and, in spite of his fur coat and mocassins, Gardner was numb with cold. Black lay, breathing hard, in his rude wooden bunk. He was wrapped in dirty blue blankets, his brown face was pinched, and it was obvious that the man, whom Gardner did not like, was very ill.
"Some of my people found him, half frozen, on the factory trail, with an empty rum bottle by his side," Father Lucien explained. "They sent for me when they had brought him home."
"It's something of a testimonial," Gardner replied. "If the thing had happened before you came, they'd probably have robbed him and knocked him on the head. How long have you been here?"
"Three days. I think to-night will see the crisis, and I feel the want of sleep."
Gardner nodded, for the man looked worn. Then he glanced at Black, whose eyes rested on him vacantly, and, sitting down by the stove, speculated about the fellow. He was drunken when he got the chance, and generally sullen. Sometimes he worked for Gardner, and sometimes loafed about, but seldom left his shack beside the Shadow long. Gardner had sometimes wondered what kept him there.
At midnight the wind began to fall, and the wail of the pines sank. Between the gusts one could hear the river, for the Shadow was not all frozen yet, and the crash of drifting ice mingled with the turmoil of the rapid where Ogilvie was drowned. The sound seemed to disturb Black more than the wind, for he moved restlessly, and now and then murmured. By and by Father Lucien got drowsy, and Gardner, who promised to call him at three o'clock, made him go to sleep.
There was less wind, but the cold was keen, and Gardner shivered as he listened to the rapid. For no obvious reason, the harsh, throbbing sound disturbed him as it disturbed Black. The latter seemed to be listening, and fixed his eyes strangely on the door.
"I never found it, I tell you!" he said, in a strained voice, and shrank back among his blankets as if afraid.
Gardner felt jarred, because he knew Black had not addressed him. The man was delirious, but there was something daunting in his fear, and, now he was silent, and Father Lucien asleep, one felt lonely. By and by Black began to murmur again.
"It wasn't in the wallet—must have gone when she went over."
The rest was meaningless, but the man was quiet afterwards, and Gardner did not wake his companion. Father Lucien, who knew something about medicine, had kept watch for three nights. The stove crackled; there was a smell of resinous logs and hot iron. The cold got keener, and the din of the rapid harsh and insistent. Gardner nodded and shivered; he imagined that it was calling.
At length it was time to waken Father Lucien, who got up and approached the bunk. Black gazed at him with dull horror, and said faintly: "I never found it!"
Then he closed his eyes and lay quiet, with big drops of sweat on his forehead, until Father Lucien gave him something to drink. Soon afterwards Black looked up again.
"He took it with him," he murmured, and went to sleep.
Father Lucien sat down wearily, and after some minutes remarked: "I think the turn has come; he may be better. He rambled while you kept watch?"
"He did," said Gardner meaningly. "Seemed trying to excuse himself, and stuck to the same theme—he didn't find something. But the last was a variation. Somebody had taken the thing with him. Is a sick man's raving all such stuff as dreams, or does it touch plain facts? I'm not a psychologist, and my health's been pretty good."
The missionary looked grave. "One cannot always tell. What he said was vague."
"But he kept it up—he hadn't found something. Have you heard this before?"
"I have," said Father Lucien quietly. "Then he seemed to be afraid of somebody. What do you imply from that? But perhaps you know."
"I know nothing. He is not of my flock; I came as doctor."
"But you have another office that must teach you something about the troubled mind."
Father Lucien glanced at Black, who was fast asleep. "Our knowledge is limited. There are some who think intense human emotions leave their impress on the scene. I cannot tell if it is true, but the brain is mysteriously sensitive, and now and then works unconsciously, reproducing things one has seen or done. We will let that go. I will show you something."
He gave Gardner a small wallet, made of fine russia leather, but worn and spoiled by damp.
"Black is a rough bushman; one would not expect him to buy a thing like that," he said, and took out a few small stones. "I found these in his shack. Perhaps you can tell me what they are."
"I can," said Gardner, looking hard at him. "They are silver ore."
There was silence for a minute or two, while the roar of the rapid throbbed about the shack, and then Father Lucien remarked: "He may have stolen them from Ogilvie."
"I believe he did. What are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing, I think. He is a sick man; I came as doctor. If he asks help from my other office, my message is plain—restitution must follow penitence."
"And in the meantime he escapes the consequences."
Father Lucien shook his head. "I think not. There is no successful defaulter; one must pay. Fear may come without remorse, and its lash is keen."
Gardner pondered, but thought the priest was right. He suspected treachery, but Black would, no doubt, keep his secret. After all, the fellow had not found the mine, and there was nothing to put before the police. Still, he thought of Marian, and resolved to watch. Then he threw fresh wood into the stove and lay down to sleep.
Next morning Black was better and Gardner left the shack. There was work to be done with sledge and snowshoe in the winter, and, when spring arrived, Marian wrote to say she hoped to come North in the early fall. It was a dry, hot summer, and the smoke of bush fires rolled about the sky, while when the melted snow had swept in savage floods to Hudson's Bay, the boulder fringe round the lakes grew wider and the rivers shrank. But the Shadow rapids got angrier as the stream subsided into a narrowing channel. At night, when the air was still and keen, their roar rang far across the echoing bush. In the meantime, Black, who got morosely drunk now and then, loafed about the waterside and worked on the surveys, until he fell sick again, shortly before Marian arrived.
Gardner went south to meet her, and at dusk one evening knelt in the stern of the first canoe, dipping the steering paddle as the light craft stemmed the rush of water down the Shadow. There was a slack, outside the white rapids, and they crept up slowly, while the Metis packers toiled with laboured breath. Marian sat silent on some spruce twigs, but Gardner knew she remembered that it was on that day, three years ago, Ogilvie had met his death. Indeed, he thought she had timed her journey with this in view.
There was a smell of smoke, and the reflection of a bush fire quivered in the pale green sky. Mist trailed about the water, and the air throbbed with the river's din. It was getting dark, but the moon had risen above the ragged pines.
"All has gone well since I started," Marian said dreamily. "I feel we are going to succeed."
"If we do, you may be rich," Gardner answered. "Of course, I hope——"
He stopped, because the steering needed care, and he was short of breath: but, in a way, he did not hope she would be rich.
"That does not matter very much," she answered quietly. "I want to prove my father right—to justify him, so to speak. But, after all, if it is found, the lode is mine. He gave it me—the boys were prosperous. He knew I believed in him."
Gardner paddled silently until a half-breed in the following canoe shouted, and he saw a dark figure stumbling among the boulders where the moonlight touched the bank. He thought it was Father Lucien, but could not tell. Then, farther on, a canoe slid out of the shadow of the pines and came downstream fast, a little inshore of them. It had one occupant, who paddled slackly.
"Ivrogne!" cried a Metis packer. "He is finish! C'en est fait de lui!"
"Au secours!" said Gardner. "Lift her, boys!"
The canoe swung her bow out of the water as the paddles came down, and Gardner forgot the risk his passenger ran. He knew in his heart it was already too late, but something must be done, and the brawny Metis could use the paddles well. For the next few minutes Marian sat with clenched hands as she watched the sinewy bodies swing, and heard the men's gasping breath. Spray flew about the craft, foam splashed on board, and the light hull laboured through boiling eddies just outside the wild main rush. She knew fine skill and nerve were needed to keep the canoe there, waiting for the other, but she tried not to shrink. There was a life to be snatched from the cruel flood that had dragged her father down.
What man could do the Metis did, but the end came soon. The dark object they watched swerved, lurched half its length out, of water, and vanished in an upheaval of boiling foam. Then something shot past, and, when Gardner raised his hand, the canoe swept furiously down stream. She stopped where angry eddies swirled in towards the bank, and Marian saw an overturned canoe swing round their white-streaked track. But there was nothing else.
Ten minutes later. Father Lucien, breathless with running, met them on the beach, and Gardner took him aside.
"We may find him to-morrow; it's useless searching now. How did he get away from you?"
"Then you knew who it was?"
"Yes," said Gardner dryly, "I knew."
Father Lucien made a vague gesture. "He was delirious, and got worse at night; but I had watched for some days, and slept longer than I meant. When I woke, the bunk was empty, and there were steps outside. I ran, but came too late. The canoe had gone."
"Ah!" said Gardner. "You know what day it is?"
Father Lucien shook his head. "In due time wrong is made right, but what is one day more than another?"
"I think it was more to Black. He has been brooding for three years, and, if one mustn't be superstitious, it's better to conclude he wasn't quite sane. But I don't imagine it was remorse that tormented him."
"He was afraid," Father Lucien declared.
"I think he was, at times. But he suffered from disappointed greed, and brooded about something Ogilvie took with him. In fact, I imagine Ogilvie found the mine."
"Yes," said Father Lucien quietly, "I have thought so, too. For all that, we shall never know all that the other did." He paused and gazed at the foaming rapid. "Justice is not always swift and dramatic, to our ideas, but in one way or another the wrongdoer pays. What will you tell the girl?"
"If she learns that her father's partner was drowned, it will be enough," Gardner replied.
They pitched camp farther up stream, but in the early morning Gardner went back to the tail of the rapid. He had a vague notion that he might find Black in the slack of the eddy, but there was nothing there. The dark pool had sunk to a lower level than he had known it reach, and, as he crossed a ledge that had long been under water, he stopped. A small, round object lay among the stones, and, picking it up, he saw it was a tarnished white-metal tobacco box. The edge of the lid was covered with a hard, waxy stuff that Gardner thought was the gum the voyageurs use to caulk their canoes. He knew whose it was without reading the half-obliterated name.
It was the thing Ogilvie had taken with him, and had fallen from his rotten clothes when a flood rolled away his bones. Gardner carried it back to camp, where Marian opened it reverently. Inside was a handful of silver ore and a map, untouched by damp, on the top of which was written, "The Marian Mine." The girl gave it to Gardner, who found distances and compass bearings carefully marked.
"I think we shall find the silver," he said.
Tears gathered in Marian's eyes. "I gave him the box long ago, and now I feel that he has sent it back to me."
"He knew you loved him," Gardner answered.
They broke camp next morning, and pushed on into the wilds, dragging the canoes round rapids and across a high divide. Then, covering the craft with fir branches beside a lonely lake, they plunged into tangled forest where round-topped rocks broke through the thin soil among the stunted trees, It was a strange and pathetic journey for the girl from the towns, for she knew she was retracing her father's last march. She was often silent, but she had trusted Gardner from the first, and went forward boldly, with a courage that disregarded conventions and hardships. At length, when their clothes were ragged and food was getting short, they came to a valley through which a swift creek flowed, and Gardner touched her as they picked their path among the rocks.
"Your father has shown us the way well. I expect we'll locate the Marian Mine in the next few hours."
They found it—a darker vein in a rock-face cut by the creek, and after the echoes of the shot he fired had died away, Gardner was busy for a time. Then he brought Marian a few stones, broken and blackened by giant powder.
"The weight's a good rough test, but there are other promising indications," he said quietly. "The ore will certainly pay for smelting, but we'll know more when it's been assayed."
The girl gave him a grateful smile, but her look was proud. "My childish romance has come true; at last my father is justified. I think I owe you much."
Gardner's face was rather hard, but he said he was glad she was satisfied, and returned to drill another shot-hole in the vein. At sunset Marian joined him as he stood alone among the battered pines.
"What do we do next?" she asked.
"Break camp when we have put in our stakes, and go south as fast as possible to record your claim."
"My claim?" she said. "Well, after it is recorded?"
"You must find a man to represent you and see the necessary development work done, in order to get your patent. But there are lots of regulations; you had better get a good lawyer to show you what to do."
"But can't you show me?"
"I must go back to my work on the railroad," said Gardner, in a moody voice. "I've been very glad to help, but you don't need me now."
The colour crept into Marian's face, but she looked at him with steady eyes. "Do you think that's true?"
Gardner said nothing, and she resumed: "For three years I've had one object, and without your help it. could not have been carried out. But finding the ore is the beginning, and not the end. The mine must not be sold, but worked. Well, I am unable to work it, and only know one man I can absolutely trust." She paused and asked with her calm look: "Would you have gone back to the railroad had I been poor?"
"Ah," said Gardner, "things would have been much simpler then."
Marian smiled. "But half the silver is yours; I resolved it should be before we set out. This makes us equals, if such things must count. But I had hoped that you might, perhaps, take it all."
Gardner's resolution broke down. He did not remember what he said, but he held out his hands to her, and when the development work was done, the patent for the Marian Mine was issued in his name.
Copyright, 1916, by Harold Bindloss, in the United States of America