soul cried out its farewell, even though his lips were silent.
He was glad when they were gone and when the voices of the chanting oarsmen were lost in the distance. Again he listened to the lazy hum of the sawmill, and over his head he heard the velvety run of a red squirrel and then its reckless chattering. The forests came back to him. Across his cot fell a patch of golden sunlight. A stronger breath of air came laden with the perfume of balsam and cedar through his window, and when the door opened and Cardigan entered, he found the old Kent facing him.
There was no change in Cardigan's voice or manner as he greeted him. But there was a tenseness in his face which he could not conceal. He had brought in Kent's pipe and tobacco. These he laid on a table until he had placed his head close to Kent's hearty listening to what he called the bruit—the rushing of blood through the aneurismal sac.
"Seems to me that I can hear it myself now and then," said Kent. "Worse, isn't it?"
Cardigan nodded. "Smoking may hurry it up a bit," he said. "Still, if you want to—"
Kent held out his hand for the pipe and tobacco. "It's worth it. Thanks, old man."
Kent loaded the pipe, and Cardigan lighted a match. For the first time in two weeks a cloud of smoke issued from between Kent's lips.
"The brigade is starting north," he said.
"Mostly Mackenzie River freight," replied Cardigan. "A long run."
"The finest in all the North. Three years ago O'Connor and I made it with the Follette outfit. Remember Follette—and Ladouceur? They both loved the same girl, and being good friends they decided to settle the matter by a swim through the Death Chute. The man who came through first was to have her. Gawd, Cardigan, what funny things happen! Follette came out first, but he was dead. He'd brained himself on a rock. And to this day Ladouceur hasn't married the girl, because he says Follette beat him; and that Follette's something-or-other would haunt him if he didn't play fair. It's a queer—"
He stopped and listened. In the hall was the approaching tread of unmistakable feet.
"O'Connor," he said.
Cardigan went to the door and opened it as O'Connor was about to knock. When the door closed again, the staff-sergeant was in the room alone with Kent. In one of his big hands he clutched a box of cigars, and in the other he held a bunch of vividly red fire-flowers.
"Father Layonne shoved these into my hands as I was coming up," he explained, dropping them on the table. "And I—well—I'm breaking regulations to come up an' tell you something, Jimmy. I never called you a liar in my life, but I'm calling you one now!"
He was gripping Kent's hands in the fierce clasp of a friendship that nothing could kill. Kent winced, but the pain of it was joy. He had feared that O'Connor, like Kedsty, must of necessity turn against him. Then he noticed something unusual in O'Connor's face and eyes. The staff-sergeant was not easily excited, yet he was visibly disturbed now.
"I don't know what the others saw, when you were making that confession, Kent. Mebby my eyesight was better because I spent a year and a half with you on the trail. You were lying. What's your game, old man?"
Kent groaned. "Have I got to go all over it again?" he appealed.
O'Connor began thumping back and forth over the floor. Kent had seen him that way sometimes in camp when there were perplexing problems ahead of them.
"You didn't kill John Barkley," he insisted. "I don't believe you did, and Inspector Kedsty doesn't believe it—yet the mighty queer part of it is—"
"That Kedsty is acting on your confession in a big hurry. I don't believe it's according to Hoyle, as the regulations are written. But he's doing it. And I want to know—it's the biggest thing I EVER wanted to know—did you kill Barkley?"
"O'Connor, if you don't believe a dying man's word—you haven't much respect for death, have you?"
"That's the theory on which the law works, but sometimes it ain't human. Confound it, man, DID YOU?"
O'Connor sat down and with his finger-nails pried open the box of cigars. "Mind if I smoke with you?" he asked. "I need it. I'm shot up with unexpected things this morning. Do you care if I ask you about the girl?"
"The girl!" exclaimed Kent. He sat up straighter, staring at O'Connor.
The staff-sergeant's eyes were on him with questioning steadiness. "I see—you don't know her," he said, lighting his cigar. "Neither do I. Never saw her before. That's why I am wondering about Inspector Kedsty. I tell you, it's queer. He didn't believe you this morning, yet he was all shot up. He wanted me to go with him to his house. The cords stood out on his neck like that—like my little finger.
"Then suddenly he changed his mind and said we'd go to the office. That took us along the road that runs through the poplar grove. It happened there. I'm not much of a girl's man, Kent, and I'd be a fool to try to tell you what she looked like. But there she was, standing in the path not ten feet ahead of us, and she stopped me in my tracks as quick as though she'd sent a shot into me. And she stopped Kedsty, too. I heard him give a sort of grunt—a funny sound, as though some one had hit him. I don't believe I could tell whether she had a dress on or not, for I never saw anything like her face, and her eyes, and her hair, and I stared at them like a thunder-struck fool. She didn't seem to notice me any more than if I'd been thin air, a ghost she couldn't see.
"She looked straight at Kedsty, and she kept looking at him—and then she passed us. Never said a word, mind you. She came so near I could have touched her with my hand, and not until she was that close did she take her eyes from Kedsty and look at me. And when she'd passed I thought what a couple of cursed idiots we were, standing there paralyzed, as if we'd never seen a beautiful girl before in our lives. I went to remark that much to the Old Man when—"
O'Connor bit his cigar half in two as he leaned nearer to the cot.
"Kent, I swear that Kedsty was as white as chalk when I looked at him! There wasn't a drop of blood left in his face, and he was staring straight ahead, as though the girl still stood there, and he gave another of those grunts—it wasn't a laugh—as if something was choking him. And then he said:
"'Sergeant, I've forgotten something important. I must go back to see Dr. Cardigan. You have my authority to give McTrigger his liberty at once!'"
O'Connor paused, as if expecting some expression of disbelief from Kent. When none came, he demanded,
"Was that according to the Criminal Code? Was it, Kent?"
"Not exactly. But, coming from the S.O.D., it was law."
"And I obeyed it," grunted the staff-sergeant. "And if you could have seen McTrigger! When I told him he was free, and unlocked his cell, he came out of it gropingly, like a blind man. And he would go no farther than the Inspector's office. He said he would wait there for him."
O'Connor jumped from his chair and began thumping back and forth across the room again. "Followed the girl," he exploded. "He couldn't have done anything else. He lied to me about Cardigan. There wouldn't be anything mysterious about it if he wasn't sixty and she less than twenty. She was pretty enough! But it wasn't her beauty that made him turn white there in the path. Not on your life it wasn't! I tell you he aged ten years in as many seconds. There was something in that girl's eyes more terrifying to him than a leveled gun, and after he'd looked into them, his first thought was of McTrigger, the man you're saving from the hangman. It's queer, Kent. The whole business is queer. And the queerest of it all is your confession."
"Yes, it's all very funny," agreed Kent. "That's what I've been telling myself right along, old man. You see, a little thing like a bullet changed it all. For if the bullet hadn't got me, I assure you I wouldn't have given