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by H. Bedford-Jones
Category: Historical Fiction/Classic Literature
Description: "Had the king lived, there had been no murder of womenfolk; but Bedfort had shot down the king from behind and fled to Mackinac, untouched of the law, and the kingdom had fallen into hands weaker and more cruel. Therefore had come voyageur, lumberjack, fisherman, bearing with them retribution." Here in two sentences is the setting of this, the latest of H. Bedford-Jones' remarkable romances, which is also his best. The proof of the story is in the reading. Part of the Wildside Pulp Classics series. Originally published in December, 1914 issue of "The People's Magazine."
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1914 USA
eBookwise Release Date: August 2008
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [260 KB]
Reading time: 165-232 min.
CHAPTER I THE DAY OF RAIDING
Alec Brosseau did not like it, could not reconcile himself to the thing. Yet to him, as to the others, it was a stern, terrible duty which would brook neither delay nor compromise. It is not the way of the North to compromise in her retributions; and since that canoe had drifted to Arbre Croche bearing the slain Bennet with his murdered wife and child, a flame of vengeance had swept through the north woods.
Had the king lived, there had been no murder of womenfolk; but Bedfort had shot down the king from behind and fled to Mackinac, untouched of the law, and the kingdom had fallen into hands weaker and more cruel. Therefore had come voyageur, lumberjack, fisherman, bearing with them retribution. It was this thought which Brosseau voiced as he leaned on his long rifle and faced young McCurdy with undisguised dislike.
"Ver' bad business, ver' bad! But dese people, he's be go too far, bah goss! De king she's be de smugglair, de wreckair, mebbe, but de king's be dead now. All de same, M'sso McCurdy, you be sorry for dis one day. Ah'm be sorry mahself, mebbe."
He paused, a little flame of anger glinting in his dark eyes.
"If we do not'ing, dem Mormon get worse, eh? Ah'm not say for do not'ing, non, non! But to scattair, to scattair de husban' from de wife, de modair from de chil', Ah'm tell you she's be de bad business, McCurdy. You dam Irish!"
Young McCurdy looked down at Cap Wagley's schooner lying in the bay, and turned away with a hard laugh. He had loot to think of. But Brosseau still leaned on his long rifle and watched, his bronzed features stern and sad. After all, he reflected, retribution was far overdue.
Below, near the schooner Able which had brought the raiders from the mainland, the ancient steamer Wisconsin lay lined at the end of the long wharf, her red side paddles ominous in the sunlight. Over her, and over all the harbor, hovered a low sound of wailing as of many hushed voices.
Out along the lengthy dock, between the piles of cut fuel wood, wended the last of that mournful procession--the last of those who had not fled before the raiders by canoe or fishing boat. The women wept; the men marched, stern and proud, expecting that miracle which came not; the children wondered and wailed; and driving them on were the slim, lithe woodsmen with rifles who had come from the mainland. Here and there flitted one or two deeper-chested, more brutal men, birds of ill omen; already McCurdy foresaw the day when he and his people were to drive forth the voyageur from lakes and timber camp. And Alec Brosseau saw it also, but more dimly.
Another little group came on--the last of all--past the dwellings they had hewed from the wilderness, leaving behind them the wealth they had garnered in devious ways. Their kingdom had reached its end appointed. As they passed the gutted, smoking ruins of their tabernacle, low wails broke from some; but for the most part they moved on in stern martyrdom, past the yellow-belching ashes of the printery, past the sacked log palace of the king, down to the wharf where the red paddle wheels shone like bloody teeth in the afternoon sun.
So had they come, by ones and twos, as they were fetched from the woods and the farther settlements--those of them who had not fled. Up from Lake Galilee, up by the king's highway to the sand crests of Mount Pisgah, up from Gennesaret to the town of Saint James on the bay where the evil-omened steamer awaited them. For long years there had been battle and blood between fisherman, lumberjack, and Mormon; from the Beavers all the coast had been dominated by the king. Now that the king was dead, the raiders were making an utter end of his people.
Watching motionless from the hill, Brosseau's face went grim. He knew what these poor folk did not--that they were going forth to a terrible ending. Man from woman, child from mother, all were to be borne out and scattered, one from the other, along all the shores of Lake Michigan. For retribution had come, engulfing innocent and guilty alike.
In that moment the soul of Alec Brosseau--the tender, visionary French-Canadian soul mingled with the sterner mysticism of his Indian blood--was uppermost. Judgment had come upon these Mormons, because they had sinned, but he knew that it was too harsh a judgment. There had been wrecking, smuggling, treason, defiance of law and government; there had been a kingdom established in the northland, and the northland was spewing it forth in wreck and ruin. But Alec Brosseau remembered the wondrous voice, the great mind, the black heart of the dead King Strang, and his own heart was sore within him.
What was to come afterward? Alec had been mail runner, fisherman, trapper, everything, and he knew the northern shores and their people as few men did. His soul boded ill as he saw the powerful figure of young McCurdy swagger away; it was this Irishman who had taken command of all, and Brosseau shook his head sadly. He saw another kingdom set up where Strang's had been; a more lawless, more powerful, more unscrupulous king at its head. He thought of the lumber camps where the deeper-chested men were already sifting through, and as a burst of wailing drifted up from the bay he sighed and strode away. His heart was tender for these people, despite their sins in the eyes of the north woods.
He looked out across the level sands, and beyond the lighthouse, where the dead lay unmarked the whole length of the Beavers--Mormon dead and French dead, where that secret strife had flamed over fish net and woman, over siscowet and squaw. Now that the end had come, who was profiting by this raid? Not his own people, thought Alec bitterly; only Cap Wagley, of the schooner Able, and his younger friend, McCurdy.
So, in the end, it was accomplished. The evening had fallen, the last log farmhouse had given up its living, the steamer had weighed anchor and vanished for the last time. Brosseau, with no heart in him for reveling, sat by the scarred whipping post, and heard the shouts of the feasters come from the castle King Strang had built. To him it was a terrible thing. Some one must pay for it all in the end.
A dark shape broke from the shadows and came slowly toward him, its golden hair flying in the moonglow. Alec's hand fell to his rifle, then he paused to stare into a wide, childish face, into clear gray eyes. The shape was a boy, scarce able to walk, no doubt left behind by his own people. Brosseau, who had thought it a ghost, relaxed.
"Bah goss!" he cried. "What are--"
"I want to go home!" said the boy calmly, quite self-possessed. "You take me."
Alec stared at him, startled of a sudden. That high brow, golden hair, gray-green eyes--even the calm authority in the boyish voice! Could it be possible? "What you' name?" he asked quickly.
But this the boy could not tell him.
"Take me home, daddy," he cried, and put his head down on Alec's knee, wearied, and his clear treble drifted off into sleepy accents. "Take--me home--daddy!"
Brosseau looked down, then glanced around, half alarmed lest anyone be near. He knew now who this boy was; he could not doubt. But why had the baby been left behind? The king's wives had been scattered long since, and unless the boy had been left for fostering--yes, that must have been it. But what was this thing clutching at his heartstrings?
"Bah goss!" he muttered slowly, his hand on the sleepy little fellow's curls. "Bah goss! Ah'm one ver' beeg dam fool, mebbe. Mais, she'll not be find hees fam'ly now, mebbe, Ah'm t'ink me. Alec, you's be de dam fool all de tam, so he's make no difference dis tam. You's got de shack, you's make for catch de siscowet, de muskrat, de beavair. You's got de rifle, you's make for teach dis fellair for be your son--bah goss! You's be de dam fool, Alec Brosseau--all right, den!"
With which essentials of his philosophy Alec rose, tenderly plucking little Sound-asleep up to his shoulder, and, with silent moccasins, treaded his way through moonlight and shadow toward the harbor.
There was none to hinder him, for all hands were either carousing in the log castle or plundering the farms farther inland. Alec, who had picked out an excellent Mormon canoe as his share of things, coolly visited the piles of loot which already cumbered the long wharf, selected what he fancied most, and when he had a respectable load in his canoe he put the still-sleeping boy in the bow, wrapped in one of King Strang's royal crimson robes, and shoved out.
He paddled easily, powerfully, as one used to the task. The lighthouse winked at him as he rounded the schooner's bulk, and the moonlight streamed on the open lake in front. Alec Brosseau, who had loved no man and who hated only the Irish, gazed at the huddle of golden curls forward and sang as his paddle swung up and down. He loved to sing, and men who knew him best whispered that he made his own songs--a thing which in those earlier days was no great disgrace in the timber camps.
"If you's be de king's son," he muttered suddenly, breaking off his song, "den Ah t'ink me some day we give dat dam McCurdy hell. But non--non--Ah'm not say not'ing. Jus' wait an' see. Mebbe you jus' be son to de ol' Alec Brosseau, oui!"
And disdaining to run to the shelter of the mainland, the voyageur drove out of Saint James to the east and Arbre Croche, his canoe a little black speck that bobbed on the waters and vanished. And behind him the night fell cloak-wise on the kingdom of the dispossessed.