Chapter XVII. Man to Man
 

Reynolds learned from Klota of Weston's return home, and he was anxious to meet the man who ruled Glen West, and was so greatly feared by the miners throughout the country. He could not believe that the father of such a girl as Glen could be the monster he had been depicted. He wished to see and learn for himself what the man was really like, and he hoped that he would be sent for at once to give an account of himself. Nothing, however, happened that evening, and he saw no more of Glen.

He was seated near the house when Curly was dragged by on his way to the Valley of the Ordeal. Although the shadows of evening were heavy, Reynolds realised who the victim was, and that he was being taken away for punishment, of what nature he could not tell. Going into the house, he questioned Klota, but received no satisfaction. The woman merely shook her head, and refused to give any information. This both puzzled and worried him. There was some mystery connected with this affair, and he made up his mind to find out what it was.

Hurrying down the street and past the store, he was almost to the edge of the thicket, when several natives barred his way, and sternly ordered him to go back. There was nothing he could do, so he was reluctantly obliged to obey. He returned to the store, and standing outside listened intently in an effort to learn whatever he could. Neither did he have long to wait, for presently up from the gloomy thicket rose the blood-curdling yells of someone in distress, and he knew that it must be Curly undergoing the Ordeal, whatever that might be. A cold chill swept over him, accompanied by a fierce anger. Was this village the abode of murderers, with Jim Weston as their leader? he asked himself. Were they murdering Curly down there, and had other men been treated in a similar manner? And would he himself be the next victim?

He had heard enough, and as there was nothing he could do, he went back to the house, where he passed a sleepless night. He could not get those cries of distress out of his mind, and he wondered whether he should not try to escape under cover of night. He banished this idea, however, as useless. He thought, too, of Glen. Would she allow the Indians to put him to death? He recalled what she had said about her father; how little she understood him, and that she had no idea what he might do.

Early the next morning he was standing by the side of the lake, when he saw The Frontiersman cutting through the water, headed downstream. A lone figure was standing well aft, and he at once recognized it as Glen. She waved her hand to him as the boat sped by, and he could see her standing there until a bend in the shore hid her from view. Going back to the house he learned from Klota that the master of Glen West had gone down to the Yukon River for his mail. It was always left at the trading-post by the steamers on their way down river. It generally took a whole day to make the trip there and back. This information caused Reynolds considerable disappointment, as he would not be able to meet Weston or his daughter that day.

The sun was just disappearing beyond the mountain peaks when The Frontiersman returned, and ran up the creek to her wharf. Reynolds, watching, hoped to see Glen upon the deck. But he looked for her in vain, and he wondered what had become of her. Was it possible that her father had sent her outside? he asked himself.

Sconda did not come home for supper, but about an hour later he appeared with two other Indians, and informed Reynolds that the Big White Chief wished to see him. Reynolds now knew that the critical moment had arrived, so without the least hesitation he accompanied his guards, who conducted him at once to the big house on the hill.

Jim Weston was seated at his desk as the prisoner was ushered in. The first glance at the man told Reynolds that he was a person who would stand no nonsense or quibbling. Boldness must be met with boldness, and nothing but candour and truthfulness would serve him now. He looked about the room. Shelves well filled with books showed that their owner was a reader and a student. The walls were adorned with trophies of the chase, such as fine antlers of moose, caribou, and great horns of mountain sheep, while several large and valuable bear and wolf-skin rugs were stretched out upon the floor.

"What are you doing here, young man?"

These words deliberately uttered brought Reynolds back from his contemplation of the room.

"Do you really want to know?" he asked, looking Weston full in the eyes.

"Certainly. What did I ask you for, then?"

"Well, I am here because I was brought in on your boat."

"I know that," wag the impatient reply. "But what were you doing in this region?"

"I was looking for your daughter, sir. That's what I was doing."

Jim Weston's eyes grew suddenly big with amazement at this candid confession. Had the prisoner made any other reply he would have known at once what to say. But to see him standing so calmly there, looking him straight in the eyes, disconcerted him for a minute.

"Looking for my daughter, were you?" he at length found voice to ask.

"That's just it. But she found me instead."

"Are you not afraid to make such a confession, young man?"

"Afraid! Of what?"

"Of what might happen to you."

Reynolds shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

"Why should I be afraid? I have done nothing wrong. You are the one, sir, to blame."

"I!" Weston exclaimed in astonishment.

"Yes, you, for possessing such a captivating daughter. Why, she won my heart the first time I saw her. She is the most charming girl I ever met, and it was love at first sight with me."

"Look here," and Weston shifted uneasily in his chair. "Are you in earnest, or are you making fun of me? Do you realise what you are saying? Have you the least idea what my daughter means to me? Why, she is more to me than life, and all my interests are bound up in her."

"I can well understand it, sir. And let me tell you that you are not the only one. She is also to me more than life, and all my interests as well as yours are bound up in her."

"You certainly have a great deal of impudence to speak in such a manner about my daughter," Weston retorted. "You surely must have heard what a risk it would be to venture into Glen West. Others have come here in the past, and I suppose you have some idea how they fared."

"I am not worried about what happened to them, sir. From what I know, I believe they deserved all that came to them. But my case is different. I love your daughter, and merely came to see her. If she does not return my love, that is all there is about it. I shall go away and trouble her no more."

"And so you were willing to run such a risk with the vague uncertainty of winning my daughter? Did you stop to count the cost?"

"I did. But it has been said by one, who is considered an authority, that

  "'He is not worthy of the honey-comb
  'That shuns the hive because the bees have stings.'"

"Who said that?" Weston asked.

"No less a person than Master Shakespeare himself. He is a safe guide to all young lovers."

"I like those words," and Weston glanced toward his books. "I have read much in Shakespeare, but cannot remember that saying. I admire your spirit, too, and it is a great pity that you have not used it in some other cause. Were you alone in this fool-chase of yours?"

"Not at all. For a while I had the company of a fine old man, Frontier Samson by name. No doubt you have heard of him."

"Indeed, I have, and a bigger rascal never lived."

"Rascal! do you say?"

"Yes, and a mean one at that. He is a deceiver, and should be driven out of the country. He has given me more trouble than any man I ever met."

"Then the fault must be yours, sir, and I am sorry for you. That old prospector has been to me a true friend ever since I met him on the Northern Light. I fear he is much worried over my disappearance, and no doubt he thinks that I am lying dead somewhere in the wilderness."

"H'm, don't you worry about him. Most likely he is pleased to be rid of you."

"I cannot believe that of him," Reynolds stoutly defended. "Anyway, he would not treat a man as a prisoner and a criminal such as you do. He is a true friend, so I believe, and one of Nature's gentlemen."

"A queer gentleman," and Weston smiled for the first time during the interview. "I am surprised that you consider him as one."

"I wish I could consider all I have met in the same light. Such men are altogether too rare. He is the only perfect gentleman, to my way of thinking, I have encountered since coming north."

"Do you not consider me one?"

"Not from what I have so far observed."

"How dare you say that?"

"I have always been in the habit of fitting my words to whom I am talking. To a gentleman I talk as a gentleman, and to a brute as a brute."

"And a brute you consider me. Is that it?"

"Not altogether. I could not imagine a brute of a man having such a daughter as you are blest with. There must be something good about you, but just what it is, I have not yet discovered. But, there, I have said enough. I want to know why you brought me here. I am not a child nor a fool, neither am I a criminal, and I do not wish to be treated as if I were one of them."

"You had better be careful how you speak," Weston warned. "You are in my hands, remember, and I can do what I like with you."

"Can you? But who gave you authority over the lives of others? Did you not assume it yourself? And to aid you in your work of terrorizing people, you have gathered around you a band of Indians, who obey your slightest command."

"Talk all you like," and again Weston smiled. "Your boldness and impudence are refreshing after the craven spirits which have appeared before me in the past. But you will change your tone when you face the Ordeal."

"Act like Curly did last night? Is that what you mean?"

"What! did you hear him?"

"How could anyone help hearing him? I thought he would uproot the trees with his yells. What were you doing to him? Sticking pins in him?"

"You seem to treat the Ordeal as a joke," and Weston looked keenly at the young man.

"And why shouldn't I? In fact, I consider you and your tom-foolery as the biggest joke I ever heard."

"But it was no joke to Curly."

"Apparently not, judging by the noise he made. What did you do with him?"

"What did I do with him! Just wait until you see the blackened tree to which he was bound, and then you won't ask such a question."

"I can readily understand how Curly would blacken anything he touched, even a tree. But you didn't burn him. Such a diabolical thing is not in your makeup."

"What did I do with him, then?"

"Scared him almost out of his wits, and then let him go."

"How did you learn that?" Weston demanded. "Have the Indians been telling you anything?"

"I don't have to depend upon the natives for common sense. I have a little left yet, thank God, and reason tells me that Curly is now beyond the Golden Crest, cursing and vowing vengeance upon you and your associates."

"And no one told you all this?" Weston inquired. "Are you sure?"

"Certain. No one told me a word. You have your Indians well trained."

Weston gave a deep sigh of relief, and remained silent for a few minutes. What he was thinking about Reynolds had not the faintest idea. Nevertheless, he watched him closely, expecting any instant to be ordered away for the Ordeal. He believed that his boldness and straightforward manner had made some impression upon the ruler of Glen West, but how much he could not tell.

And as he stood waiting, a sound from the room across the hallway arrested his attention. It was music, sweet and full of pathos. Reynolds at once knew that it must be Glen. It could be no other, and he was determined to see her once more ere her father should drive him from the place.

Turning suddenly, he started to leave the room, but his guards sprang forward and caught him by the arms. Savagely he threw them aside, for nothing but death, could stop him now. The Indians were about to leap upon him again, when a sharp command in the native tongue from Weston caused them to desist. In another second Reynolds was out of the room, and hurrying toward her for whom he had ventured so much.