Chapter XXVI
 

Tom Linton and Jerry Quirk toiled slowly up the trail toward their cabin. Both men were bundled thickly in clothing, both bewhiskered visages bore grotesque breath-masks of ice; even their eyebrows were hoary with frost. The partners were very tired.

Pausing in the chip-littered space before their door, they gazed down the trail to a mound of gravel which stood out raw and red against the universal whiteness. This mound was in the form of a truncated cone and on its level top was a windlass and a pole bucket track. From beneath the windlass issued a cloud of smoke which mounted in billows, as if breathed forth from a concealed chimney--smoke from the smothered drift fires laid against the frozen face of pay dirt forty feet below the surface. Evidently this fire was burning to suit the partners; after watching it a moment, Tom took a buck-saw and fell stiffly to work upon a dry spruce log which lay on the saw-buck; Jerry spat on his mittens and began to split the blocks as they fell.

Darkness was close at hand, but both men were so fagged that they found it impossible to hurry. Neither did they speak. Patiently, silently they sawed and chopped, then carried the wood into the chilly cabin; while one lit the lamp and went for a sack of ice, the other kindled a fire. These tasks accomplished, by mutual consent, but still without exchanging a word, they approached the table. From the window-sill Tom took a coin and balanced it upon his thumb and forefinger; then, in answer to his bleak, inquiring glance, Jerry nodded and he snapped the piece into the air. While it was still spinning Jerry barked, sharply:

"Tails!"

Both gray heads bent and near-sightedly examined the coin.

"Tails she is," Tom announced. He replaced the silver piece, crossed the room to his bunk, seated himself upon it, and remained there while Jerry, with a sudden access of cheerfulness, hustled to the stove, warmed himself, and then began culinary preparations.

These preparations were simple, but precise; also they were deliberate. Jerry cut one slice of ham, he measured out just enough coffee for one person, he opened one can of corn, and he mixed a half-pan of biscuits. Tom watched him from beneath a frown, meanwhile tugging moodily at the icicles which still clung to his lips. His corner of the cabin was cold, hence it was a painful process. When he had disposed of the last lump and when he could no longer restrain his irritation, he broke out:

"Of course you had to make bread, didn't you? Just because you know I'm starving."

"It come tails, didn't it?" Jerry inquired, with aggravating pleasantness. "It ain't my fault you're starving, and you got all night to cook what you want--after I'm done. I don't care if you bake a layer cake and freeze ice-cream. You can put your front feet in the trough and champ your swill; you can root and waller in it, for all of me. I won't hurry you, not in the least."

"It's come tails every time lately," grumbled the former speaker.

Jerry giggled. "I always was right lucky, except in pickin' pardners," he declared. In a cracked and tuneless voice he began humming a roundelay, evidently intended to express gaiety and contentment.

Unable longer to withstand his gnawing hunger, Tom secured for himself a large round hardtack, and with this he tried to ward off the pangs of starvation. But he had small success with the endeavor, for his teeth were poor. He flung the thing of adamant aside, finally, and cried, testily:

"My God! Ain't it bad enough to eat a phonograph record without having to listen to the damn' machine? Shut up, will you? You've got the indecentest singing voice I ever heard."

"Say!" Jerry looked up belligerently. "You don't have to listen to my singin'. There's plenty of room outside--all the room from here south to Seattle. And you don't have to gum that pilot-bread if your teeth is loose. You can boil yourself a pot of mush--when your turn comes. You got a free hand. As for me, I eat anything I want to and I sing anything I want to whenever I want to, and I'd like to see anybody stop me. We don't have to toss up for turns at singin'." More loudly he raised his high-pitched voice; ostentatiously he rattled his dishes.

Tom settled back in exasperated silence, but as time wore on and his hungry nostrils were assailed with the warm, tantalizing odor of frying ham fat he fidgeted nervously.

Having prepared a meal to his liking, Jerry set the table with a single plate, cup, and saucer, then seated himself with a luxurious grunt. He ate slowly; he rolled every mouthful with relish; he fletcherized it with calculated deliberation; he paused betweentimes to blow loudly upon his coffee and to smack his lips- -sounds that in themselves were a provocation and an insult to his listener. When he had cleaned up his interminable repast and was finishing the last scrap, Tom rose and made for the stove.

Jerry watched him, paralyzed in mid-motion, until his partner's hand was outstretched, then he suddenly shouted:

"Get away from there!"

Tom started. "What for?" he queried, a light of rebellion flaring into his eyes. "Ain't you through with your supper? You been at it long enough."

"You see me eatin', don't you? After I get fed up and my teeth picked I got all my dishes to wash."

"That wasn't our arrangement."

"It was so."

"You'll eat all night," Tom complained, almost tearfully. "You'll set there and gorge till you bust."

"That's my privilege. I don't aim to swaller my grub whole. I'm shy a few teeth and some of the balance don't meet, so I can't consume vittles like I was a pulp-mill. I didn't start this row--"

"Who did?"

"Now ain't that a fool question?" Jerry leaned back comfortably and began an elaborate vacuum-cleaning process of what teeth he retained. "Who starts all our rows, if I don't? No. I'm as easy- going as a greased eel, and 'most anybody can get along with me, but, tread on my tail and I swop ends, pronto. That's me. I go my own even way, but I live up to my bargains and I see to it that others do the same. You get the hell away from that stove!"

Tom abandoned his purpose, and with the resignation of a martyr returned to teeter upon the edge of his bunk. He remained there, glum, malevolent, watchful, until his cabin-mate had leisurely cleared the table, washed and put away his dishes; then with a sigh of fat repletion, unmistakably intended as a provocation, the tormentor lit his pipe and stretched himself luxuriously upon his bed.

Even then Tom made no move. He merely glowered at the recumbent figure. Jerry blew a cloud of smoke, then waved a generous gesture.

"Now then, fly at it, Mr. Linton," he said, sweetly. "I've et my fill; I've had an ample sufficiency; I'm through and in for the night."

"Oh no, you ain't! You get up and wash that skillet."

Mr. Quirk started guiltily.

"Hustle your creaking joints and scrub it out."

"Pshaw! I only fried a slice--"

"Scrub it!" Linton ordered.

This command Jerry obeyed, although it necessitated heating more water, a procedure which, of course, he maliciously prolonged. "Waited till I was all spread out, didn't you," he sneered, as he stooped over the wood-box. "That's like you. Some people are so small-calibered they'd rattle around in a gnat's bladder like a mustard seed in a bass drum."

"I'm particular who I eat after," Tom said, "so be sure you scrub it clean."

"Thought you'd spoil my smoke. Well, I can smoke standin' on my head and enjoy it." There was a silence, broken only by the sound of Jerry's labors. At last he spoke: "Once again I repeat what I told you yesterday. I took the words out of your own mouth. You said the woman was a hellion--"

"I never did. Even if I had I wouldn't allow a comparative stranger to apply such an epithet to a member of my family."

"You did say it. And she ain't a member of your family."

Tom's jaws snapped. "If patience is a virtue," he declared, in quivering anger, "I'll slide into heaven on skids. Assassination ought not to be a crime; it's warranted, like abating a nuisance; it ain't even a misdemeanor--sometimes. She was a noble woman--"

"Hellion! I got it on the authority of her own husband--you!"

Tom rose and stamped over to the stove; he slammed its door and clattered the coffee-pot to drown this hateful persistence. Having had the last word, as usual, Jerry retreated in satisfaction to his bed and stretched his aching frame upon it.

The dingy cabin was fragrant with the odor of cooking food for a second time that evening when the sound of voices and a knock at the door brought both old men to their feet.

Before they could answer, the door flew open and in and out of the frosty evening came Rouletta Kirby and 'Poleon Doret. The girl's cheeks were rosy, her eyes were sparkling; she warmly greeted first one partner, then the other. Pausing, she sniffed the air hungrily.

"Goody!" she cried. "We're just in time. And we're as hungry as bears."

"Dis gal 'ain't never got 'nough to eat since she's seeck in W'ite 'Orse," 'Poleon laughed. "For las' hour she's been sayin': 'Hurry! Hurry! We goin' be late.' I 'mos' keel dem dog."

Linton's seamed face softened; it cracked into a smile of genuine pleasure; there was real hospitality and welcome in his voice when he said:

"You're in luck, for sure. Lay off your things and pull up to the fire. It won't take a jiffy to parlay the ham and coffee--one calls three, as they say. No need to ask if you're well; you're prettier than ever, and some folks would call that impossible."

Jerry nodded in vigorous agreement. "You're as sweet as a bunch of jessamine, Letty. Why, you're like a breath of spring! What brought you out to see us, anyhow?"

"Dat's long story," 'Poleon answered. "Sapre! We got plenty talkin' to do. Letty she's goin' he'p you mak' de supper now, an' I fix dem dog. We goin' camp wit' you all night. Golly! We have beeg tam."

The new-comers had indeed introduced a breath of new, clean air. Of a sudden the cabin had brightened, it was vitalized, it was filled with a magic purpose and good humor. Rouletta flung aside her furs and bustled into the supper preparations. Soon the meal was ready. The first pause in her chatter came when she set the table for four and when Jerry protested that he had already dined.

The girl paused, plate in hand. "Then we were late and you didn't tell us," she pouted, reproachfully.

"No. I got through early, but Tom--he was held up in the traffic. You see, I don't eat much, anyhow. I just nibble around and take a cold snack where I can get it."

"And you let him!" Rouletta turned to chide the other partner. "He'll come down sick, Tom and you'll have to nurse him again. If you boys won't learn to keep regular meal hours I'll have to come out and run your house for you. Shall I? Speak up. What am I offered?"

Now this was the most insidious flattery. "Boys" indeed! Jerry chuckled, Tom looked up from the stove and his smoke-blue eyes were twinkling.

"I can't offer you more 'n a half-interest in the 'lay.' That's all I own."

"Is dis claim so reech lak people say?" 'Poleon inquired. "Dey're tellin' me you goin' mak' hondred t'ousan' dollar."

"We're just breastin' out--cross-cuttin' the streak, but--looky." Jerry removed a baking-powder can from the window-shelf and out of it he poured a considerable amount of coarse gold which the visitors examined with intense interest. "Them's our pannin's."

"How splendid!" Rouletta cried.

"I been clamorin' to hire some men and take life easy. I say put on a gang and h'ist it out, but"--Jerry shot a glance at his partner--"people tell me I'm vi'lent an' headstrong. They say, 'Prove it up.'"

Linton interrupted by loudly exclaiming, "Come and get it, strangers, or I'll throw it out and wash the skillet."

Supper was welcome, but, despite the diners' preoccupation with it, despite Tom's and Jerry's effort to conceal the fact of their estrangement, it became evident that something was amiss. Rouletta finally sat back and, with an accusing glance, demanded to know what was the matter.

The old men met her eyes with an assumption of blank astonishment.

"'Fess up," she persisted. "Have you boys been quarreling again?"

"Who? Us? Why, not exactly--"

"We sort of had words, mebbe."

"What about?"

There was an awkward, an ominous silence. "That," Mr. Linton said, in a harsh and firm voice, "is something I can't discuss. It's a personal matter." "It ain't personal with me," Jerry announced, carelessly. "We was talkin' about Tom's married life and I happened to say--"

"Don't!" Linton's cry of warning held a threat. "Don't spill your indecencies in the presence of this child or--I'll hang the frying-pan around your neck. The truth is," he told Letty, "there's no use trying to live with a horn' toad. I've done my best. I've let him defame me to my face and degrade me before strangers, but he remains hostyle to every impulse in my being; he picks and pesters and poisons me a thousand times a day. And snore! My God! You ought to hear him at night."

Strangely enough, Mr. Quirk did not react to this passionate outburst. On the contrary, he bore it with indications of a deep and genuine satisfaction.

"He's workin' up steam to propose another divorce," said the object of Tom's tirade.

"That I am. Divorce is the word," Linton growled.

"Whoop-ee!" Jerry uttered a high-pitched shout. "I been waitin' for that. I wanted him to say it. Now I'm free as air and twice as light. You heard him propose it, didn't you?"

"Wat you goin' do 'bout dis lay?" Toleon inquired.

"Split her," yelled Jerry.

"Dis cabin, too?"

"Sure. Slam a partition right through her."

"We won't slam no partition anywhere," Tom declared. "Think I'm going to lay awake every night listening to distant bugles? No. We'll pull her apart, limb from limb, and divvy the logs. It's a pest-house, anyhow. I'll burn my share."

Tom's positive refusal even to permit mention of the cause of the quarrel rendered efforts at a reconciliation difficult; 'Poleon's and Rouletta's attempts at badinage, therefore, were weak failures, and their conversation met with only the barest politeness. Now that the truth had escaped, neither partner could bring himself to a serious consideration of anything except his own injuries. They exchanged evil glances, they came into direct verbal contact only seldom, and when they did it was to clash as flint upon steel. No statement of the one was sufficiently conservative, sufficiently broad, to escape a sneer and an immediate refutation from the other. Evidently the rift was deep and was widening rapidly.

Of course the facts were revealed eventually--Rouletta had a way of winning confidences, a subtle, sweet persuasiveness--they had to do with the former Mrs. Linton, that shadowy female figure which had fallen athwart Tom's early life. It seemed that Jerry had referred to her as a "hellion."

Now the injured husband himself had often applied even more disparaging terms to the lady in question, therefore the visitors were puzzled at his show of rabid resentment; the most they could make out of it was that he claimed the right of disparagement as a personal and exclusive privilege, and considered detraction out of the lips of another a trespass upon his intimate private affairs, an aspersion and an insult. The wife of a man's bosom, he averred, was sacred; any creature who breathed disrespect of her into the ears of her husband was lower than a hole in the ground and lacked the first qualifications of a friend, a gentleman, or a citizen.

Jerry, on the other hand, would not look at the matter in this light. Tom had called the woman a "hellion," therefore he was privileged to do the same, and any denial of that privilege was an iniquitous encroachment upon his sacred rights. Those rights he proposed to safeguard, to fight for if necessary. He would shed his last drop of blood in their defense. No cantankerous old grouch could refuse him free speech and get away with it.

"You're not really mad at each other," Rouletta told them.

"Ain't we?" they hoarsely chorused.

She shook her head. "You need a change, that's all. As a matter of fact, your devotion to each other is about the most beautiful, the most touching, thing I know. You'd lay down your lives for each other; you're like man and wife, and well you know it."

"Who? Us?" Jerry was aghast. "Which one of us is the woman? I been insulted by experts, but none of 'em ever called me 'Mrs. Linton.' She was a tough customer, a regular hellion--"

"He's off again!" Tom growled. "Me lay down my life for a squawking parrot! He'll repeat that pet word for the rest of time if I don't wring his neck."

"Mebbe so you lak hear 'bout some other feller's trouble," 'Poleon broke in, diplomatically.

"Wal, ma soeur she's come to you for help, queeck."

Both old men became instantly alert. "You in trouble?" Tom demanded of the girl. "Who's been hurting you, I'd like to know?"

Jerry, too, leaned forward, and into his widening eyes came a stormy look. "Sure! Has one of them crawlin' worms got fresh with you, Letty? Say--!" He reached up and removed his six-shooter from its nail over his bed.

Rouletta set them upon the right track. Swiftly but earnestly she recited the nature and the circumstances of the misfortune that had overtaken Pierce Phillips, and of the fruitless efforts his friends were making in his behalf. She concluded by asking her hearers to go his bail.

"Why, sure!" Linton exclaimed, with manifest relief. "That's easy. I'll go it, if they'll take me."

"There you are, hoggin' the curtain, as usual," Jerry protested. "I'll go his bail myself. I got him in trouble at Sheep Camp. I owe him--"

"I've known the boy longer than you have. Besides, I'm a family man; I know the anguish of a parent's heart--"

"Lay off that 'family' stuff," howled Mr. Quirk. "You know it riles me. I could of had as much of a family as you had if I'd wanted to. You'd think it give you some sort of privilege. Why, ever since we set up with Letty you've assumed a fatherly air even to her, and you act like I was a plumb outsider. You remind me of a hen--settin' on every loose door-knob you find."

"If you'd lay off the 'family' subject we'd get along better."

Once again the fray was on; it raged intermittently throughout the evening; it did not die out until bedtime put an end to it.

Rouletta and her three companions were late in reaching town on the following day, for they awakened to find a storm raging, and in consequence the trails were heavy. Out of this white smother they plodded just as the lights of Dawson were beginning to gleam. Leaving the men at the Barracks, the girl proceeded to her hotel. She had changed out of her trail clothes and was upon the point of hurrying down-town to her work when she encountered Hilda Courteau.

"Where in the world have you been?" the latter inquired.

"Nowhere, in the world," Rouletta smiled. "I've been quite out of it." Then she told of her and 'Poleon's trip to the mines and of their success. "Pierce will be at liberty inside of an hour," she declared.

"Well, I've--learned the truth."

Rouletta started; eagerly she clutched at the elder woman. "What? You mean--?"

"Yes. I wrung it out of Courteau. He confessed."

"It was a frame-up--a plot? Oh, my dear--!"

"Exactly. But don't get hysterical. I'm the one to do that. What a night, what a day I've put in!" The speaker shuddered, and Rouletta noticed for the first time how pale, how ill she looked.

"Then Pierce is free already? He's out--?"

"Not yet. I'll tell you everything if you'll promise not to breathe a word, not to interfere until Henri has a chance to square himself. I--think I've earned the right to demand that much. I told you the whole thing was counterfeit--was the work of Joe McCaskey. I couldn't believe Henri was up to such villainy. He's dissolute, weak, vain--anything you choose--but he's not voluntarily criminal. Well, I went to work on him. I pretended to- -" the Countess again shivered with disgust. "Oh, you saw what I was doing. I hated myself, but there was no choice. Things came to a climax last night. I don't like to talk about it--think about it--but you're bound to hear. I consented to go out with him. He dragged me through the dance-halls and the saloons--made me drink with him, publicly, and with the scum of the town." Noting the expression on her hearer's face, the Countess laughed shortly, mirthlessly. "Shocking, wasn't it? Low, indecent, wretched? That's what everybody is saying. Dawson is humming with it. God! How he humiliated me! But I loosened his tongue. I got most of the details--not all, but enough. It was late, almost daylight, before I succeeded. He slept all day, stupefied, and so did I, when I wasn't too ill.

"He remembered something about it, he had some shadowy recollection of talking too much. When he woke up he sent for me. Then we had it. He denied everything, of course. He lied and he twisted, but I'm the stronger--always have been. I beat him down, as usual. I could have felt sorry for the poor wretch only for what he had put me through. He went out not long ago."

"Where to? Tell me--"

"To the Police--to Colonel Cavendish. I gave him the chance to make a clean breast of everything and save his hide, if possible. If he weakens I'll take the bit in my teeth."

Rouletta stood motionless for a moment; then in deep emotion she exclaimed: "I'm so glad! And yet it must have been a terrible sacrifice. I think I understand how you must loathe yourself. It was a very generous thing to do, however. Not many women could have risen to it."

"I--hope he doesn't make me tell. I haven't much pride left, but-- I'd like to save what remains, for you can imagine what Cavendish will think. A wife betraying her husband for her--for another man! What a story for those women on the hill!"

Impulsively Rouletta bent forward and kissed the speaker. "Colonel Cavendish will understand. He's a man of honor. But, after all, when a woman really--cares, there's a satisfaction, a compensation, in sacrifice, no matter how great."

Hilda Courteau's eyes were misty, their dark-fringed lids trembled wearily shut. "Yes," she nodded, "I suppose so. Bitter and sweet! When a woman of my sort, my age and experience, lets herself really care, she tastes both. All I can hope is that Pierce never learns what he made me pay for loving him. He wouldn't understand- -yet." She opened her eyes again and met the earnest gaze bent upon her. "I dare say you think I feel the same toward him as you do, that I want him, that I'm hungry for him. Well, I'm not. I'm 'way past that. I've been through fire, and fire purifies. Now run along, child. I'm sure everything will come out right."

The earlier snowfall had diminished when Rouletta stepped out into the night, but a gusty, boisterous wind had risen and this filled the air with blinding clouds of fine, hard particles, whirled up from the streets, and the girl was forced to wade through newly formed drifts that rose over the sidewalks, in places nearly to her knees. The wind flapped her garments and cut her bare cheeks like a knife; when she pushed her way into the Rialto and stamped the snow from her feet her face was wet with tears; but they were frost tears. She dried them quickly and with a song in her heart she hurried back to the lunch-counter and climbed upon her favorite stool. There it was that Doret and his two elderly companions found her.

"Well, we sprung him," Tom announced.

"All we done was sign on the dotted line," Jerry explained. "But, say, if that boy hops out of town he'll cost us a lot of money."

"How's he going to hop out?" Tom demanded. "That's the hell of this country--there's no getting away."

Jerry snorted derisively. "No gettin' away? What are you talkin' about? Ain't the Boundary within ninety miles? 'Ain't plenty of people made get-aways? All they need is a dog-team and a few hours' start of the Police."

"Everyt'ing's all fix'," 'Poleon told his sister. "I had talk wit' Pierce. He ain't comin' back here no more."

"Not coming back?" the girl exclaimed.

Doret met her startled gaze. "Not in dis kin' of place. He's cut 'em out for good. I mak' him promise."

"A touch of jail ain't a bad thing for a harum-scarum kid," Tom volunteered, as he finished giving his supper order. "It's a cold compress--takes down the fever--"

"Nothing of the sort," Jerry asserted. "Jails is a total waste of time. I don't believe in 'em. You think this boy's tamed, do you? Well, I talked with him, an' all I got to say is this: keep Courteau away from him or there's one Count you'll lose count of. The boy's got pizen in him, an' I don't blame him none. If I was him I'd make that Frog hop. You hear me."

'Poleon met Rouletta's worried glance with a reassuring smile. "I been t'inkin' 'bout dat, too. W'at you say I go pardners wit' him, eh? I got dog-team an' fine claim on hilltop. S'pose I geeve him half-interes' to go wit' me?"

"Will you?" eagerly queried the girl.

"Already I spoke it to him. He say mebbe so, but firs' he's got li'l biznesse here."

"Of course! His case. But that will be cleared up. Mark what I say. Yes"--Rouletta nodded happily--"take him with you, 'Poleon-- out where things are clean and healthy and where he can get a new start. Oh, you make me very happy!"

The woodsman laid a big hand gently over hers. In a low voice he murmured: "Dat's all I want, ma soeur--to mak' you happy. If dat claim is wort' million dollar' it ain't too much to pay, but--I'm scare' she's 'noder bum."

The song was still sounding in Rouletta's heart when she sat down at the faro-table, and all through the evening it seemed to her that the revelry round about was but an echo of her gladness. Pierce was free, his name was clean. Probably ere this the whole truth was known to the Mounted Police and by to-morrow it would be made public.

Moreover, he and 'Poleon were to be partners. That generous woodsman, because of his affection for her, proposed to take the young fellow into his heart and make a man of him. That was like him--always giving much and taking little. Well, she was 'Poleon's sister. Who could tell what might result from this new union of interests? Of course, there was no pay out there on that mountain- crest, but hard work, honest poverty, an end of these demoralizing surroundings were bound to affect Pierce only for the better. Rouletta blessed the name of Hilda Courteau, who had made this possible, and of 'Poleon Doret, too--'Poleon of the great heart, who loved her so sincerely, so unselfishly. He never failed her; he was a brother, truly--the best, the cheeriest, the most loyal in the world. Rouletta was amazed to realize what a part in her life the French Canadian had played. His sincere affection was about the biggest thing that had come to her, so it seemed.

Occupied with such comforting thoughts, Rouletta failed to note that the evening had passed more quickly than usual and that it was after midnight. When she did realize that fact, she wondered what could have detained Lucky Broad. Promptness was a habit with him; he and Bridges usually reported at least a half-hour ahead of time.

She caught sight of the pair, finally, through the wide archway, and saw that they were surrounded by an excited crowd, a crowd that grew swiftly as some whisper, some intelligence, spread with electric rapidity through the barroom. Yielding to a premonition that something was amiss, Rouletta asked the lookout to relieve her, and, rising, she hurried into the other hall. Even before she had come within sound of Lucky's voice the cause of the general excitement was made known to her. It came in the form of an exclamation, a word or two snatched out of the air. "Courteau!" "Dead!" "Shot--back street--body just found!"

Fiercely Rouletta fought her way through the press, an unvoiced question trembling upon her lips. Broad turned at her first touch.

"Tough, ain't it?" said he. "Me and the Kid stumbled right over him--kicked him out of the snow. We thought he'd been froze."

"We never dreamed he'd been shot till we got him clean down to the drug-store," Bridges supplemented. "Shot in the back, too."

Questions were flying back and forth now. Profiting by the confusion, Rouletta dragged Broad aside and queried, breathlessly:

"Was he dead--quite dead--?"

"Oh, sure!"

"Who--shot him?" The question came with difficulty. Lucky stared at his interrogator queerly, then he shrugged.

"Quien sabe? Nobody seen or heard the shooting. He'd been croaked a long while when we found him."

For a moment the two eyed each other silently. "Do you think--?" Rouletta turned her white face toward the cashier's cage.

"More 'n likely. He was bitter--he made a lot of cracks around the Barracks. The first thing the Police said when we notified 'em was, 'Where's Phillips?' We didn't know the boy was out until that very minute or--we'd 'a' done different. We'd 'a' left the Count in the drift and run Phillips down and framed an alibi. Think of us, his pals, turnin' up the evidence!" Lucky breathed an oath.

"Oh, why--?" moaned the girl. "He--It was so useless. Everything was all right. Perhaps--after all, he didn't do it."

"You know him as well as I do. I'm hoping he had better sense, but--he's got a temper. He was always talking about the disgrace."

"Has he gone? Can't you help him? He might make the Boundary--"

Broad shook his head. "No use. It's too late for that. If he's still here me 'n' the Kid will do our best to swear him out of it."

Rouletta swayed, she groped blindly at the bar rail for support, whereupon her companion cried in a low voice:

"Here! Brace up, or you'll tip it all off! If he stands pat, how they going to prove anything? The Count's been dead for hours. He was all drifted--"

Broad was interrupted by the Mocha Kid, who entered out of the night at that instant with the announcement: "Well, they got him! Rock found him, and he denies it, but they've got him at the Barracks, puttin' him through the third degree. I don't mind sayin' that Frenchman needed croakin', bad, and they'd ought to give Phillips a vote of thanks and a bronx tablet."

Mocha's words added to Rouletta's terror, for it showed that other minds ran as did hers. Already, it seemed to her, Pierce Phillips had been adjudged guilty. Through the murk of fright, of apprehension in which her thoughts were racing there came a name-- 'Poleon Doret. Here was deep trouble, grave peril, a threat to her newfound happiness. 'Poleon, her brother, would know what to do, for his head was clear, his judgment was unerring. He never failed her. Blindly she ran for her wraps, hurriedly she flung them on, then plunged out into the night. As she scurried through the street, panic-stricken, beset, one man's name was in her thoughts, but another's was upon her lips. Over and over she kept repeating:

"'Poleon! Oh,'Poleon!"