Pierre And His People by Gilbert Parker
Shon McGann's Tobogan Ride
"Oh, it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise, With the knees pressing hard to the saddle, my men; With the sparks from the hoofs giving light to the eyes, And our hearts beating hard as we rode to the glen! "And it's back with the ring of the chain and the spur, And it's back with the sun on the hill and the moor, And it's back is the thought sets my pulses astir! But I'll never go back to Farcalladen more."
Shon McGann was lying on a pile of buffalo robes in a mountain hut,--an Australian would call it a humpey,--singing thus to himself with his pipe between his teeth. In the room, besides Shon, were Pretty Pierre, Jo Gordineer, the Hon. Just Trafford, called by his companions simply "The Honourable," and Prince Levis, the owner of the establishment. Not that Monsieur Levis, the French Canadian, was really a Prince. The name was given to him with a humorous cynicism peculiar to the Rockies. We have little to do with Prince Levis here; but since he may appear elsewhere, this explanation is made.
Jo Gordineer had been telling The Honourable about the ghost of Guidon Mountain, and Pretty Pierre was collaborating with their host in the preparation of what, in the presence of the Law--that is of the North- West Mounted Police--was called ginger-tea, in consideration of the prohibition statute.
Shon McGann had been left to himself--an unusual thing; for everyone had a shot at Shon when opportunity occurred; and never a bull's-eye could they make on him. His wit was like the shield of a certain personage of mythology.
He had wandered on from verse to verse of the song with one eye on the collaborators and an ear open to The Honourable's polite exclamations of wonder. Jo had, however, come to the end of his weird tale--for weird it certainly was, told at the foot of Guidon Mountain itself, and in a region of vast solitudes--the pair of chemists were approaching "the supreme union of unctuous elements," as The Honourable put it, and in the silence that fell for a moment there crept the words of the singer:
"And it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise, And it's swift as an arrow and straight as a spear--"
Jo Gordineer interrupted. "Say, Shon, when'll you be through that tobogan ride of yours? Aint there any end to it?"
But Shon was looking with both eyes now at the collaborators, and he sang softly on:
"And it's keen as the frost when the summer-time dies, That we rode to the glen and with never a fear."
Then he added: "The end's cut off, Joey, me boy; but what's a tobogan ride, annyway?"
"Listen to that, Pierre. I'll be eternally shivered if he knows what a tobogan ride is!"
"Hot shivers it'll be for you, Joey, me boy, and no quinine over the bar aither," said Shon.
"Tell him what a tobogan ride is, Pierre."
And Pretty Pierre said: "Eh, well, I will tell you. It is like-no, you have the word precise, Joseph. Eh? What?"
Pierre then added something in French. Shon did not understand it, but he saw The Honourable smile, so with a gentle kind of contempt he went on singing:
"And it's hey for the hedge, and it's hey for the wall! And it's over the stream with an echoing cry; And there's three fled for ever from old Donegal, And there's two that have shown how bold Irishmen die."
The Honourable then said, "What is that all about, Shon? I never heard the song before."
"No more you did. And I wish I could see the lad that wrote that song, livin' or dead. If one of ye's will tell me about your tobogan rides, I'll unfold about Farcalladen Rise."
Prince Levis passed the liquor. Pretty Pierre, seated on a candle-box, with a glass in his delicate fingers, said: "Eh, well, the Honourable has much language. He can speak, precise--this would be better with a little lemon, just a little,--the Honourable, he, perhaps, will tell. Eh?"
Pretty Pierre was showing his white teeth. At this stage in his career, he did not love the Honourable. The Honourable understood that, but he made clear to Shon's mind what toboganing is.
And Shon, on his part, with fresh and hearty voice, touched here and there by a plaintive modulation, told about that ride on Farcalladen Rise; a tale of broken laws, and fight and fighting, and death and exile; and never a word of hatred in it all.
"And the writer of the song, who was he"? asked the Honourable.
"A gentleman after God's own heart. Heaven rest his soul, if he's dead, which I'm thinkin' is so, and give him the luck of the world if he's livin', say I. But it's little I know what's come to him. In the heart of Australia I saw him last; and mates we were together after gold. And little gold did we get but what was in the heart of him. And we parted one day, I carryin' the song that he wrote for me of Farcalladen Rise, and the memory of him; and him givin' me the word,'I'll not forget you, Shon, me boy, whatever comes; remember that. And a short pull of the Three-Star together for the partin' salute,' says he. And the Three-Star in one sup each we took, as solemn as the Mass, and he went away towards Cloncurry and I to the coast; and that's the last that I saw of him, now three years gone. And here I am, and I wish I was with him wherever he is."
"What was his name"? said the Honourable.
The fingers of the Honourable trembled on his cigar. "Very interesting, Shon," he said, as he rose, puffing hard till his face was in a cloud of smoke. "You had many adventures together, I suppose," he continued.
"Adventures we had and sufferin' bewhiles, and fun, too, to the neck and flowin' over."
"You'll spin us a long yarn about them another night, Shon"? said the Honourable.
"I'll do it now--a yarn as long as the lies of the Government; and proud of the chance."
"Not to-night, Shon" (there was a kind of huskiness in the voice of the Honourable); "it's time to turn in. We've a long tramp over the glacier to-morrow, and we must start at sunrise."
The Honourable was in command of the party, though Jo Gordineer was the guide, and all were, for the moment, miners, making for the little Goshen Field over in Pipi Valley.--At least Pretty Pierre said he was a miner.
No one thought of disputing the authority of the Honourable, and they all rose.
In a few minutes there was silence in the hut, save for the oracular breathing of Prince Levis and the sparks from the fire. But the Honourable did not sleep well; he lay and watched the fire through most of the night.
The day was clear, glowing, decisive. Not a cloud in the curve of azure, not a shiver of wind down the canon, not a frown in Nature, if we except the lowering shadows from the shoulders of the giants of the range. Crowning the shadows was a splendid helmet of light, rich with the dyes of the morning; the pines were touched with a brilliant if austere warmth. The pride of lofty lineage and severe isolation was regnant over all. And up through the splendour, and the shadows, and the loneliness, and the austere warmth, must our travellers go. Must go? Scarcely that, but the Honourable had made up his mind to cross the glacier and none sought to dissuade him from his choice; the more so, because there was something of danger in the business. Pretty Pierre had merely shrugged his shoulders at the suggestion, and had said:
"'Nom de Dieu,' the higher we go the faster we live, that is something."
"Sometimes we live ourselves to death too quickly. In my schooldays I watched a mouse in a jar of oxygen do that;" said the Honourable.
"That is the best way to die," remarked the halfbreed--"much."
Jo Gordineer had been over the path before. He was confident of the way, and proud of his office of guide.
"Climb Mont Blanc, if you will," said the Honourable, "but leave me these white bastions of the Selkirks."
Even so. They have not seen the snowy hills of God who have yet to look upon the Rocky Mountains, absolute, stupendous, sublimely grave.
Jo Gordineer and Pretty Pierre strode on together. They being well away from the other two, the Honourable turned and said to Shon: "What was the name of the man who wrote that song of yours, again, Shon?"
"Yes, but his first name?"
There was a pause, in which the other seemed to be intently studying the glacier above them. Then he said: "What was he like?--in appearance, I mean."
"A trifle more than your six feet, about your colour of hair and eyes, and with a trick of smilin' that would melt the heart of an exciseman, and O'Connell's own at a joke, barrin' a time or two that he got hold of a pile of papers from the ould country. By the grave of St. Shon! thin he was as dry of fun as a piece of blotting paper. And he said at last, before he was aisy and free again, 'Shon,' says he, 'it's better to burn your ships behind ye, isn't it?'
"And I, havin' thought of a glen in ould Ireland that I'll never see again, nor any that's in it, said: 'Not, only burn them to the water's edge, Duke Lawless, but swear to your own soul that they never lived but in the dreams of the night.'
"'You're right there, Shon,' says he, and after that no luck was bad enough to cloud the gay heart of him, and bad enough it was sometimes."
"And why do you fear that he is not alive?"
"Because I met an old mate of mine one day on the Frazer, and he said that Lawless had never come to Cloncurry; and a hard, hard road it was to travel."
Jo Gordineer was calling to them, and there the conversation ended. In a few minutes the four stood on the edge of the glacier. Each man had a long hickory stick which served as alpenstock, a bag hung at his side, and tied to his back was his gold-pan, the hollow side in, of course. Shon's was tied a little lower down than the others.
They passed up this solid river of ice, this giant power at endless strife with the high hills, up towards its head. The Honourable was the first to reach the point of vantage, and to look down upon the vast and wandering fissures, the frigid bulwarks, the great fortresses of ice, the ceaseless snows, the aisles of this mountain sanctuary through which Nature's splendid anthems rolled. Shon was a short distance below, with his hand over his eyes, sweeping the semi-circle of glory.
Suddenly there was a sharp cry from Pierre: "Mon Dieu! Look!"
Shon McGann had fallen on a smooth pavement of ice. The gold-pan was beneath him, and down the glacier he was whirled-whirled, for Shon had thrust his heels in the snow and ice, and the gold-pan performed a series of circles as it sped down the incline. His fingers clutched the ice and snow, but they only left a red mark of blood behind. Must he go the whole course of that frozen slide, plump into the wild depths below?
"'Mon Dieu!--mon Dieu!'" said Pretty Pierre, piteously. The face of the Honourable was set and tense.
Jo Gordineer's hand clutched his throat as if he choked. Still Shon sped. It was a matter of seconds only. The tragedy crowded to the awful end.
There was a tilt in the glacier, and the gold-pan, suddenly swirling, again swung to the outer edge, and shot over.
As if hurled from a catapult, the Irishman was ejected from the white monster's back. He fell on a wide shelf of ice, covered with light snow, through which he was tunnelled, and dropped on another ledge below, near the path by which he and his companions had ascended. "Shied from the finish, by God!" said Jo Gordineer. "'Le pauvre Shon!'" added Pretty Pierre.
The Honourable was making his way down, his brain haunted by the words, "He'll never go back to Farcalladen more."
But Jo was right.
For Shon McGann was alive. He lay breathless, helpless, for a moment; then he sat up and scanned his lacerated fingers: he looked up the path by which he had come; he looked down the path he seemed destined to go; he started to scratch his head, but paused in the act, by reason of his fingers.
Then he said: "It's my mother wouldn't know me from a can of cold meat if I hadn't stopped at this station; but wurrawurra, what a car it was to come in!" He examined his tattered clothes and bare elbows; then he unbuckled the gold-pan, and no easy task was it with his ragged fingers. "'Twas not for deep minin' I brought ye," he said to the pan, "nor for scrapin' the clothes from me back."
Just then the Honourable came up. "Shon, my man . . . alive, thank God! How is it with you?"
"I'm hardly worth the lookin' at. I wouldn't turn my back to ye for a ransom."
"It's enough that you're here at all."
"Ah, 'voila!' this Irishman!" said Pretty Pierre, as his light fingers touched Shon's bruised arm gently. This from Pretty Pierre!
There was that in the voice which went to Shon's heart. Who could have guessed that this outlaw of the North would ever show a sign of sympathy or friendship for anybody? But it goes to prove that you can never be exact in your estimate of character. Jo Gordineer only said jestingly: "Say, now, what are you doing, Shon, bringing us down here, when we might be well into the Valley by this time?"
"That in your face and the hair aff your head," said Shon; "it's little you know a tobogan ride when you see one. I'll take my share of the grog, by the same token."
The Honourable uncorked his flask. Shon threw back his head with a laugh.
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, me men! And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last; And it's here's--"
But Shon had fainted with the flask in his hand and this snatch of a song on his lips.
They reached shelter that night. Had it not been for the accident, they would have got to their destination in the Valley; but here they were twelve miles from it. Whether this was fortunate or unfortunate may be seen later. Comfortably bestowed in this mountain tavern, after they had toasted and eaten their venison and lit their pipes, they drew about the fire.
Besides the four, there was a figure that lay sleeping in a corner on a pile of pine branches, wrapped in a bearskin robe. Whoever it was slept soundly.
"And what was it like--the gold-pan flyer--the tobogan ride, Shon?" remarked Jo Gordineer.
"What was it like?--what was it like"? replied Shon. "Sure, I couldn't see what it was like for the stars that were hittin' me in the eyes. There wasn't any world at all. I was ridin' on a streak of lightnin', and nivir a rubber for the wheels; and my fingers makin' stripes of blood on the snow; and now the stars that were hittin' me were white, and thin they were red, and sometimes blue--"
"The Stars and Stripes," inconsiderately remarked Jo Gordineer.
"And there wasn't any beginning to things, nor any end of them; and whin I struck the snow and cut down the core of it like a cat through a glass, I was willin' to say with the Prophet of Ireland--"
"Are you going to pass the liniment, Pretty Pierre?" It was Jo Gordineer said that.
What the Prophet of Israel did say--Israel and Ireland were identical to Shon--was never told.
Shon's bubbling sarcasm was full-stopped by the beneficent savour that, rising now from the hands of the four, silenced all irrelevant speech. It was a function of importance. It was not simply necessary to say How! or Here's reformation! or I look towards you! As if by a common instinct, the Honourable, Jo Gordineer, and Pretty Pierre, turned towards Shon and lifted their glasses. Jo Gordineer was going to say: "Here's a safe foot in the stirrups to you," but he changed his mind and drank in silence.
Shon's eye had been blazing with fun, but it took on, all at once, a misty twinkle. None of them had quite bargained for this. The feeling had come like a wave of soft lightning, and had passed through them. Did it come from the Irishman himself? Was it his own nature acting through those who called him "partner"?
Pretty Pierre got up and kicked savagely at the wood in the big fireplace. He ostentatiously and needlessly put another log of Norfolk- pine upon the fire.
The Honourable gaily suggested a song.
"Sing us 'Avec les Braves Sauvages,' Pierre," said Jo Gordineer.
But Pierre waved his fingers towards Shon: "Shon, his song--he did not finish--on the glacier. It is good we hear all. 'Hein?'"
And so Shon sang:
"Oh it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise."
The sleeper on the pine branches stirred nervously, as if the song were coming through a dream to him. At the third verse he started up, and an eager, sun-burned face peered from the half-darkness at the singer. The Honourable was sitting in the shadow, with his back to the new actor in the scene.
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, my men I And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last! And it's here's--"
Shon paused. One of those strange lapses of memory came to him which come at times to most of us concerning familiar things. He could get no further than he did on the mountain side. He passed his hand over his forehead, stupidly:--"Saints forgive me; but it's gone from me, and sorra the one can I get it; me that had it by heart, and the lad that wrote it far away. Death in the world, but I'll try it again!
"For it's rest when the gallop is over, my men! And it's here's to the lads that have ridden their last! And it's here's--"
Again he paused.
But from the half-darkness there came a voice, a clear baritone:
"And here's to the lasses we leave in the glen, With a smile for the future, a sigh for the past."
At the last words the figure strode down into the firelight.
"Shon, old friend, don't you know me?"
Shon had started to his feet at the first note of the voice, and stood as if spellbound.
There was no shaking of hands. Both men held each other hard by the shoulders, and stood so for a moment looking steadily eye to eye.
Then Shon said: "Duke Lawless, there's parallels of latitude and parallels of longitude, but who knows the tomb of ould Brian Borhoime?"
Which was his way of saying, "How come you here"? Duke Lawless turned to the others before he replied. His eyes fell on the Honourable. With a start and a step backward, and with a peculiar angry dryness in his voice, he said:
"Yes," replied the Honourable, smiling, "I have found you."
"Found me! And why have you sought me? Me, Duke Lawless? I should have thought--"
The Honourable interrupted: "To tell you that you are Sir Duke Lawless."
"That? You sought me to tell me that?"
"You are sure? And for naught else?"
"As I live, Duke."
The eyes fixed on the Honourable were searching. Sir Duke hesitated, then held out his hand. In a swift but cordial silence it was taken. Nothing more could be said then. It is only in plays where gentlemen freely discuss family affairs before a curious public. Pretty Pierre was busy with a decoction. Jo Gordineer was his associate. Shon had drawn back, and was apparently examining the indentations on his gold-pan.
"Shon, old fellow, come here," said Sir Duke Lawless.
But Shon had received a shock. "It's little I knew Sir Duke Lawless--" he said.
"It's little you needed to know then, or need to know now, Shon, my friend. I'm Duke Lawless to you here and henceforth, as ever I was then, on the wallaby track."
And Shon believed him. The glasses were ready.
"I'll give the toast," said the Honourable with a gentle gravity. "To Shon McGann and his Tobogan Ride!"
"I'll drink to the first half of it with all my heart," said Sir Duke. "It's all I know about."
"Amen to that divorce," rejoined Shon.
"But were it not for the Tobogan Ride we shouldn't have stopped here," said the Honourable; "and where would this meeting have been?"
"That alters the case," Sir Duke remarked. "I take back the 'Amen,'" said Shon.
Whatever claims Shon had upon the companionship of Sir Duke Lawless, he knew there were other claims that were more pressing. After the toast was finished, with an emphasised assumption of weariness, and a hint of a long yarn on the morrow, he picked up his blanket and started for the room where all were to sleep. The real reason of this early departure was clear to Pretty Pierre at once, and in due time it dawned upon Jo Gordineer.
The two Englishmen, left alone, sat for a few moments silent and smoking hard. Then the Honourable rose, got his knapsack, and took out a small number of papers, which he handed to Sir Duke, saying, "By slow postal service to Sir Duke Lawless. Residence, somewhere on one of five continents."
An envelope bearing a woman's writing was the first thing that met Sir Duke's eye. He stared, took it out, turned it over, looked curiously at the Honourable for a moment, and then began to break the seal.
"Wait, Duke. Do not read that. We have something to say to each other first."
Sir Duke laid the letter down. "You have some explanation to make," he said.
"It was so long ago; mightn't it be better to go over the story again?"
"Then it is best you should tell it. I am on my defence, you know."
Sir Duke leaned back, and a frown gathered on his forehead. Strikingly out of place on his fresh face it seemed. Looking quickly from the fire to the face of the Honourable and back again earnestly, as if the full force of what was required came to him, he said: "We shall get the perspective better if we put the tale in the third person. Duke Lawless was the heir to the title and estates of Trafford Court. Next in succession to him was Just Trafford, his cousin. Lawless had an income sufficient for a man of moderate tastes. Trafford had not quite that, but he had his profession of the law. At college they had been fast friends, but afterwards had drifted apart, through no cause save difference of pursuits and circumstances. Friends they still were and likely to be so always. One summer, when on a visit to his uncle, Admiral Sir Clavel Lawless, at Trafford Court, where a party of people had been invited for a month, Duke Lawless fell in love with Miss Emily Dorset. She did him the honour to prefer him to any other man--at least, he thought so. Her income, however, was limited like his own. The engagement was not announced, for Lawless wished to make a home before he took a wife. He inclined to ranching in Canada, or a planter's life in Queensland. The eight or ten thousand pounds necessary was not, however, easy to get for the start, and he hadn't the least notion of discounting the future, by asking the admiral's help. Besides, he knew his uncle did not wish him to marry unless he married a woman plus a fortune. While things were in this uncertain state, Just Trafford arrived on a visit to Trafford Court. The meeting of the old friends was cordial. Immediately on Trafford's arrival, however, the current of events changed. Things occurred which brought disaster. It was noticeable that Miss Emily Dorset began to see a deal more of Admiral Lawless and Just Trafford, and a deal less of the younger Lawless. One day Duke Lawless came back to the house unexpectedly, his horse having knocked up on the road. On entering the library he saw what turned the course of his life." Sir Duke here paused, sighed, shook the ashes out of his pipe with a grave and expressive anxiety which did not properly belong to the action, and remained for a moment, both arms on his knees, silent, and looking at the fire. Then he continued:
"Just Trafford sat beside Emily Dorset in an attitude of--say, affectionate consideration. She had been weeping, and her whole manner suggested very touching confidences. They both rose on the entrance of Lawless; but neither tried to say a word. What could they say? Lawless apologised, took a book from the table which he had not come for, and left."
Again Sir Duke paused.
"The book was an illustrated Much Ado About Nothing," said the Honourable.
"A few hours after, Lawless had an interview with Emily Dorset. He demanded, with a good deal of feeling, perhaps,--for he was romantic enough to love the girl,--an explanation. He would have asked it of Trafford first if he had seen him. She said Lawless should trust her; that she had no explanation at that moment to give. If he waited--but Lawless asked her if she cared for him at all, if she wished or intended to marry him? She replied lightly, 'Perhaps, when you become Sir Duke Lawless.' Then Lawless accused her of heartlessness, and of encouraging both his uncle and Just Trafford. She amusingly said, 'Perhaps she had, but it really didn't matter, did it?' For reply, Lawless said her interest in the whole family seemed active and impartial. He bade her not vex herself at all about him, and not to wait until he became Sir Duke Lawless, but to give preference to seniority and begin with the title at once; which he has reason since to believe that she did. What he said to her he has been sorry for, not because he thinks it was undeserved, but because he has never been able since to rouse himself to anger on the subject, nor to hate the girl and Just Trafford as he ought. Of the dead he is silent altogether. He never sought an explanation from Just Trafford, for he left that night for London, and in two days was on his way to Australia. The day he left, however, he received a note from his banker saying that L8000 had been placed to his credit by Admiral Lawless. Feeling the indignity of what he believed was the cause of the gift, Lawless neither acknowledged it nor used it, not any penny of it. Five years have gone since then, and Lawless has wandered over two continents, a self-created exile. He has learned much that he didn't learn at Oxford; and not the least of all, that the world is not so bad as is claimed for it, that it isn't worth while hating and cherishing hate, that evil is half-accidental, half-natural, and that hard work in the face of nature is the thing to pull a man together and strengthen him for his place in the universe. Having burned his ships behind him, that is the way Lawless feels. And the story is told."
Just Trafford sat looking musingly but imperturbably at Sir Duke for a minute; then he said:
"That is your interpretation of the story, but not the story. Let us turn the medal over now. And, first, let Trafford say that he has the permission of Emily Dorset--"
Sir Duke interrupted: "Of her who was Emily Dorset."
"Of Miss Emily Dorset, to tell what she did not tell that day five years ago. After this other reading of the tale has been rendered, her letter and those documents are there for fuller testimony. Just Trafford's part in the drama begins, of course, with the library scene. Now Duke Lawless had never known Trafford's half-brother, Hall Vincent. Hall was born in India, and had lived there most of his life. He was in the Indian Police, and had married a clever, beautiful, but impossible kind of girl, against the wishes of her parents. The marriage was not a very happy one. This was partly owing to the quick Lawless and Trafford blood, partly to the wife's wilfulness. Hall thought that things might go better if he came to England to live. On their way from Madras to Colombo he had some words with his wife one day about the way she arranged her hair, but nothing serious. This was shortly after tiffin. That evening they entered the harbour at Colombo; and Hall going to his cabin to seek his wife, could not find her; but in her stead was her hair, arranged carefully in flowing waves on the pillow, where through the voyage her head had lain. That she had cut it off and laid it there was plain; but she could not be found, nor was she ever found. The large porthole was open; this was the only clue. But we need not go further into that. Hall Vincent came home to England. He told his brother the story as it has been told to you, and then left for South America, a broken-spirited man. The wife's family came on to England also. They did not meet Hall Vincent; but one day Just Trafford met at a country seat in Devon, for the first time, the wife's sister. She had not known of the relationship between Hall Vincent and the Traffords; and on a memorable afternoon he told her the full story of the married life and the final disaster, as Hall had told it to him."
Sir Duke sprang to his feet. "You mean, Just, that--"
"I mean that Emily Dorset was the sister of Hall Vincent's wife."
Sir Duke's brown fingers clasped and unclasped nervously. He was about to speak, but the Honourable said: "That is only half the story--wait.
"Emily Dorset would have told Lawless all in due time, but women don't like to be bullied ever so little, and that, and the unhappiness of the thing, kept her silent in her short interview with Lawless. She could not have guessed that Lawless would go as he did. Now, the secret of her diplomacy with the uncle--diplomacy is the best word to use--was Duke Lawless's advancement. She knew how he had set his heart on the ranching or planting life. She would have married him without a penny, but she felt his pride in that particular, and respected it. So, like a clever girl, she determined to make the old chap give Lawless a cheque on his possible future. Perhaps, as things progressed, the same old chap got an absurd notion in his head about marrying her to Just Trafford, but that was meanwhile all the better for Lawless. The very day that Emily Dorset and Just Trafford succeeded in melting Admiral Lawless's heart to the tune of eight thousand, was the day that Duke Lawless doubted his friend and challenged the loyalty of the girl he loved."
Sir Duke's eyes filled. "Great Heaven! Just--" he said.
"Be quiet for a little. You see she had taken Trafford into her scheme against his will, for he was never good at mysteries and theatricals, and he saw the danger. But the cause was a good one, and he joined the sweet conspiracy, with what result these five years bear witness. Admiral Lawless has been dead a year and a half, his wife a year. For he married out of anger with Duke Lawless; but he did not marry Emily Dorset, nor did he beget a child."
"In Australia I saw a paragraph speaking of a visit made by him and Lady Lawless to a hospital, and I thought--"
"You thought he had married Emily Dorset and--well, you had better read that letter now."
Sir Duke's face was flushing with remorse and pain. He drew his hand quickly across his eyes. "And you've given up London, your profession, everything, just to hunt for me, to tell me this--you who would have profited by my eternal absence! What a beast and ass I've been!"
"Not at all; only a bit poetical and hasty, which is not unnatural in the Lawless blood. I should have been wild myself, maybe, if I had been in your position; only I shouldn't have left England, and I should have taken the papers regularly and have asked the other fellow to explain. The other fellow didn't like the little conspiracy. Women, however, seem to find that kind of thing a moral necessity. By the way, I wish when you go back you'd send me out my hunting traps. I've made up my mind to--oh, quite so--read the letter--I forgot!"
Sir Duke opened the letter and read it, putting it away from him now and then as if it hurt him, and taking it up a moment after to continue the reading. The Honourable watched him.
At last Sir Duke rose. "Just--"
"Yes? Go on."
"Do you think she would have me now?"
"Don't know. Your outfit is not so beautiful as it used to be."
"Don't chaff me."
"Don't be so funereal, then."
Under the Honourable's matter of fact air Sir Duke's face began to clear. "Tell me, do you think she still cares for me?"
"Well, I don't know. She's rich now--got the grandmother's stocking. Then there's Pedley, of the Scots Guards; he has been doing loyal service for a couple of years. What does the letter say?"
"It only tells the truth, as you have told it to me, but from her standpoint; not a word that says anything but beautiful reproach and general kindness. That is all."
"Quite so. You see it was all four years ago, and Pedley--"
But the Honourable paused. He had punished his friend enough. He stepped forward and laid his hand on Sir Duke's shoulder. "Duke, you want to pick up the threads where they were dropped. You dropped them. Ask me nothing about the ends that Emily Dorset held. I conspire no more. But go you and learn your fate. If one remembers, why should the other forget?"
Sir Duke's light heart and eager faith came back with a rush. "I'll start for England at once. I'll know the worst or the best of it before three months are out." The Honourable's slow placidity turned.
"Three months.--Yes, you may do it in that time. Better go from Victoria to San Francisco and then overland. You'll not forget about my hunting traps, and--oh, certainly, Gordineer; come in."
"Say," said Gordineer. "I don't want to disturb the meeting, but Shon's in chancery somehow; breathing like a white pine, and thrashing about! He's red-hot with fever."
Before he had time to say more, Sir Duke seized the candle and entered the room. Shon was moving uneasily and suppressing the groans that shook him. "Shon, old friend, what is it?"
"It's the pain here, Lawless," laying his hand on his chest.
After a moment Sir Duke said, "Pneumonia!"
From that instant thoughts of himself were sunk in the care and thought of the man who in the heart of Queensland had been mate and friend and brother to him. He did not start for England the next day, nor for many a day.
Pretty Pierre and Jo Gordineer and his party carried Sir Duke's letters over into the Pipi Valley, from where they could be sent on to the coast. Pierre came back in a few days to see how Shon was, and expressed his determination of staying to help Sir Duke, if need be.
Shon hovered between life and death. It was not alone the pneumonia that racked his system so; there was also the shock he had received in his flight down the glacier. In his delirium he seemed to be always with Lawless:
"'For it's down the long side of Farcalladen Rise'--It's share and share even, Lawless, and ye'll ate the rest of it, or I'll lave ye--Did ye say ye'd found water--Lawless--water!--Sure you're drinkin' none yourself-- I'll sing it again for you then--'And it's back with the ring of the chain and the spur'--'But burn all your ships behind you'--'I'll never go back to Farcalladen more!'"
Sir Duke's fingers had a trick of kindness, a suggestion of comfort, a sense of healing, that made his simple remedies do more than natural duty. He was doctor, nurse,--sleepless nurse,--and careful apothecary. And when at last the danger was past and he could relax watching, he would not go, and he did not go, till they could all travel to the Pipi Valley.
In the blue shadows of the firs they stand as we take our leave of one of them. The Honourable and Sir Duke have had their last words, and Sir Duke has said he will remember about the hunting traps. They understand each other. There is sunshine in the face of all--a kind of Indian summer sunshine, infused with the sadness of a coming winter; and theirs is the winter of parting. Yet it is all done quietly.
"We'll meet again, Shon," said Sir Duke, "and you'll remember your promise to write to me."
"I'll keep my promise, and I hope the news that'll please you best is what you'll send us first from England. And if you should go to ould Donegal--I've no words for me thoughts at all!"
"I know them. Don't try to say them. We've not had the luck together, all kinds and all weathers, for nothing."
Sir Duke's eyes smiled a good-bye into the smiling eyes of Shon. They were much alike, these two, whose stations were so far apart. Yet somewhere, in generations gone, their ancestors may have toiled, feasted, or governed, in the same social hemisphere; and here in the mountains life was levelled to one degree again.
Sir Duke looked round. The pines were crowding up elate and warm towards the peaks of the white silence. The river was brawling over a broken pathway of boulders at their feet; round the edge of a mighty mountain crept a mule train; a far-off glacier glistened harshly in the lucid morning, yet not harshly either, but with the rugged form of a vast antiquity, from which these scarred and grimly austere hills had grown. Here Nature was filled with a sense of triumphant mastery--the mastery of ageless experience. And down the great piles there blew a wind of stirring life, of the composure of great strength, and touched the four, and the man that mounted now was turned to go. A quick good-bye from him to all; a God-speed-you from the Honourable; a wave of the hand between the rider and Shon, and Sir Duke Lawless was gone.
"You had better cook the last of that bear this morning, Pierre," said the Honourable. And their life went on.
It was eight months after that, sitting in their hut after a day's successful mining, the Honourable handed Shon a newspaper to read. A paragraph was marked. It concerned the marriage of Miss Emily Dorset and Sir Duke Lawless.
And while Shon read, the Honourable called into the tent: "Have you any lemons for the whisky, Pierre?"
A satisfactory reply being returned, the Honourable proceeded: "We'll begin with the bottle of Pommery, which I've been saving months for this."
The royal-flush toast of the evening belonged to Shon.
"God bless him! To the day when we see him again!"
And all of them saw that day.