By GILBERT PARKER
"HE'LL swing just the same to-morrow. Exit Malachi!" said Freddy Tarlton gravely.
The door suddenly opened on the group of gossips, and a man stepped inside and took the only vacant seat near the fire. He glanced at none, but stretched out his hands to the heat, looking at the coals with drooping introspective eyes.
"Exit Malachi," he said presently in a soft ironical voice, but did not look up.
"By the holy poker, Pierre, where did you spring from?" asked Tarlton genially.
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and——" Pierre responded with a little turn of his fingers.
"And the wind doesn't tell where it's been, but that's no reason Pierre shouldn't," urged the other.
Pierre shrugged his shoulders, but made no answer.
"He was a tough," said a voice from the crowd. "To-morrow he'll get the breakfast he's paid for."
Pierre turned and looked at the speaker with a cold inquisitive stare. "Mon Dieu!" he said presently, "here's this Gohawk playing preacher. What do you know of Malachi, Gohawk? What do any of you know about Malachi? A little of this, a little of that, a drink here, a game of euchre there, a ride after cattle, a hunt behind Guidon Hill!—But what is that? You have heard the cry of the eagle, you have seen him carry off a lamb, you have had a pot-shot at him, but what do you know of the eagle's nest? Mais non. The lamb is one thing, the nest is another. You don't know the eagle till you've been there. And you, Gohawk, would not understand, if you saw the nest. Such cancan!"
"Shut up!" broke out Gohawk. "D'ye think I'm going to stand your——"
But Freddy Tarlton laid a hand on his arm. "Keep quiet, Gohawk. What good will it do?" Then he said, "Tell us about the nest, Pierre; they're hanging him for the lamb in the morning."
"Who spoke for him at the trial?" Pierre asked.
"I did," said Tarlton. "I spoke as well as I could, but the game was dead against him from the start. The sheriff was popular, and young; young—that was the thing; handsome too, and the women, of course! It was sure from the start; besides, Malachi would say nothing—didn't seem to care."
"No, not to care," mused Pierre. "What did you say for him to the jury?—I mean the devil of a thing to make them sit up and think, 'Poor Malachi!'—like that."
"Best speech y'ever heard," Gohawk interjected; "just emptied the words out, split 'em like peas, by gol! till he got to one place right before the end. Then he pulled up sudden, and it got so quiet you could 'a heard a pin drop. 'Gentlemen of the jury,' says Freddy Tarlton here—gentlemen, by gol! all that lot—Lagan and the rest! 'Gentlemen of the jury,' he says, 'be you danged well sure that you're at one with God A'mighty in this; that you've got at the core of justice here; that you've got evidence to satisfy Him who you've all got to satisfy some day, or git out. Not evidence as to shootin', but evidence as to what that shootin' meant, an' whether it was meant to kill, an' what for. The case is like this, gentlemen of the jury,' says Freddy Tarlton here. 'Two men are in a street alone. There's a shot, out comes everybody, and sees Fargo the sheriff laid along the ground, his mouth in the dust, and a full-up gun in his fingers. Not forty feet away stands Malachi with a gun smokin' in his fist. It seems to be the opinion that it was cussedness—just cussedness—that made Malachi turn the sheriff's boots to the sun. For Malachi was quarrelsome. I'll give you a quarter on that. And the sheriff was mettlesome, used to have high spirits, like as if he's lift himself over the fence with his boot-straps. So when Malachi come and saw the sheriff steppin' round in his paten' leathers, it give him the needle, and he got a bead on him—and away went Sheriff Fargo— right away! That seems to be the sense of the public.' And he stopped again, soft and quick, and looks the twelve in the eyes at once. 'But,' says Freddy Tarlton here, 'are you goin' to hang a man on the little you know? Or are you goin' to credit him with somethin' of what you don't know? You haven't got the inside of this thing, and he doesn't let you know it, and God keeps quiet. But be danged well sure that you've got the bulge on iniquity here; for gentlemen with pistols out in the street is one thing, and sittin' weavin' a rope in a court-room for a man's neck is another thing,' says Freddy Tarlton here. 'My client has refused to say one word this or that way, but don't be sure that Some One that knows the inside of things won't speak for him in the end.' Then he turns and looks at Malachi, and Malachi was standin' still and steady like a tree, but his face was white, and sweat poured on his forehead. 'If God has no voice to be heard for my client in this court-room to-day, is there no one on earth—no man or woman—who can speak for one who won't speak for himself?' says Freddy Tarlton here. Then, for the first time Malachi opened. 'There's no one,' he says. 'The speakin' is all for the sheriff. But I spoke once, and the sheriff didn't answer.' Not a bit of beg-yer-pardon in it. It struck cold. 'I leave his case in the hands of twelve true men,' says Freddy Tarlton here, and he sits down."
"So they said he must walk the air?" suggested Pierre.
"Without leavin' their seats," someone added instantly.
"So. But that speech of 'Freddy Tarlton here'?"
"It was worth twelve drinks to me, no more, and nothing at all to Malachi," said Tarlton. "When I said I'd come to him to-night to cheer him up, he said he'd rather sleep. The missionary, too, he could make nothing of him. 'I don't need anyone here,' he says. 'I eat this off my own plate.' And that's the end of Malachi."
"Because there was no one to speak for him—eh? Well, well."
"If he'd said anything that'd justify the thing—make it a manslaughter business or a quarrel—then! But no, not a word, up or down, high or low."
"Not a word out of the nest, gentlemen of the jury," added Pierre
"Exit Malachi!" rejoined Freddy Tarlton sorrowfully. "I wish he'd given me half a chance."
"I wish I'd been there," said Pierre, taking a match from Gohawk, and lighting his cigarette.
"To hear his speech?" asked Gohawk, nodding towards Tarlton.
"To tell the truth about it all. T'sh, you bats, you sheep, what have you in your skulls? When a man will not speak, will not lie to gain a case for his lawyer—or save himself, there is something! Now, listen to me, and I will tell you the story of Malachi. Then you shall judge.
"I never saw such a face as that girl had down there at Lachine in Quebec. I knew her when she was a child, and I knew Malachi when he was on the river with the rafts, the foreman of a gang. He had a look all open then as the sun—yes. Happy? Yes, as happy as a man ought to be. Well, the mother of the child died, and Malachi alone was left to take care of the little Norice. He left the river and went to work in the mills, so that he might be with the child; and when he got to be foreman there he used to bring her to the mill. He had a basket swung for her just inside the mill not far from him, right where she was in the shade; but if she stretched out her hand it would be in the sun. I've seen a hundred men turn to look at her where she swung, singing to herself, and then chuckle to themselves afterwards as they worked. When Trevoor, the owner, come one day, and saw, he swore, and was going to sack Malachi, but the child—that little Norice—leaned over the basket, and offered him an apple. He looked for a minute, then he reached up, took the apple, turned round, and went out of the mill without a word—so. Next month when he come he walked straight to her, and handed up to her a box of toys and a silver whistle. 'That's to call me when you want me,' he said, as he put the whistle to her lips, and then he put the gold string of it round her neck. She was a wise little thing, that Norice, and noticed things. I don't believe that Trevoor or Malachi ever knew how sweet was the smell of the fresh sawdust till she held it to their noses; and it was she that had the saws—all sizes— start one after the other, making so strange a tune. She made up a little song about fairies and others to sing to that tune. And no one ever thought much about Indian Island, off beyond the sweating, baking piles of lumber, and the blistering logs and timbers in the bay, till she told stories about it. Sure enough, when you saw the shut doors and open windows of those empty houses, all white without in the sun and dark within, and not a human to be seen, you could believe almost anything. You can think how proud Malachi was. She used to get plenty of presents from the men who had no wives or children to care for—little silver and gold things as well as others. She was fond of them, but no, not vain. She did not care to wear them, and she never did much, even later. She loved the gold and silver for their own sake."
Pierre paused. "I knew a youngster once," said Gohawk, "that——"
Pierre waved his hand. "I am not through, Monsieur Gohawk the Talker. Years went on. Now she took care of the house of Malachi. She wore the whistle that Trevoor gave her. He kept saying to her still, 'If ever you need me, little Norice, blow it, and I will come.' He was droll, that Monsieur Trevoor, at times. Well, she did not blow, but still he used to come every year, and always brought her something. One year he brought his nephew, a young fellow of about twenty-three. She did not whistle for him either, but he kept on coming. That was the beginning of—'Exit Malachi.' The man was clever and bad, the girl believing and good. He was young, but he knew how to win a woman's heart: and when that is done, there is nothing more to do—she is yours for good or evil, and if a man through a woman's love makes her to sin, even his mother cannot be proud of him-no. But the man married Norice, and took her away to Madison, down in Wisconsin. Malachi was left alone—Malachi and Trevoor, for Trevoor felt towards her as a father.
"Alors, then sorrow come to the girl, for her husband began to play cards and to drink, and he lost much money. There was the trouble—the two together. They lived in a hotel. One day a lady missed a diamond necklace from her room. Norice had been with her the evening before. Norice come into her own room the next afternoon, and found detectives searching. In her own jewel-case, which was tucked away in the pocket of an old dress, was found the necklace. She was arrested. She said nothing—for she waited for her husband, who was out of town that day. He only come in time to see her in court next morning. She did not deny anything; she was quiet, like Malachi. The man played his part well. He had hid the necklace where he thought it would be safe, but when it was found, he let the wife take the blame—a little innocent thing. People were sorry for him. She was committed to gaol. Her father was away in the Rocky Mountains, and he did not hear; Trevoor was in Europe. Meanwhile the husband got a divorce, and was gone, no one knew where, but they thought to Mexico. Norice was in gaol for over a year, and then she was set free, for her health had failed, and her mind was going, they thought. She did not know till she come out that she was divorced. Then she nearly died. But then Trevoor come."
Freddy Tarlton's face was working, there were tears in his eyes. Already he saw the pith and meaning of Pierre's story. His hands were cold with excitement, and his fingers trembled so he could hardly light a cigar.
"Go on, go on, Pierre," he said huskily.
"Trevoor said to her—he told me this himself—'Why did you not whistle for me, Norice? A word would have brought me from Europe.' 'No one could help me, no one at all,' she answered. Then Trevoor said, 'I know who did it, for he has robbed me too.' She sank in a heap on the floor. 'I could have borne it and anything for him, if he hadn't divorced me,' she said. Then they cleared her name before the world. But where was the man? No one knew. At last Malachi, in the Rocky Mountains, heard of her trouble, for Norice wrote to him, but told him not to do the man any harm, if he ever found him—a woman, a woman! ... But Malachi met the man one day at Guidon Hill, and shot him in the street."
"Fargo the sheriff!" roared half a dozen voices, and Freddy Tarlton kept his hand to his mouth, as if to stop an oath—or a sob.
"Yes; he had changed his name, had come up here, and because he was clever and spent money, and had a pull on some one,—got it at cards perhaps,—he was made sheriff."
"In God's name, why didn't Malachi speak?" said Tarlton; "why didn't he tell me this?"
"Because he and I had our own plans. The one evidence he wanted was Norice. If she would come to him in his danger, and in spite of his killing the man, good. If not, then he would die. Well, I went to find her and fetch her. I found her. There was no way to send word, so we had to come on as fast as we could. We have come just in time."
"Do you mean to say, Pierre, that she's here?" said Gohawk.
Pierre waved his hand emphatically. "And so we came on with a pardon."
Every man was on his feet, every man's tongue was loosed, and each ordered liquor for Pierre, and asked him where the girl was. Freddy Tarlton was wringing his hand, and calleing a boy to go to his rooms and bring three bottles of wine, which he had kept for two years, to drink when he had won his first big case.
Gohawk was importunate. "Where is the girl, Pierre?" he urged.
"Such a fool as you are, Gohawk! She is with her father."
A half hour later, in a large sitting-room, Freddy Tarlton was making eloquent toasts over the wine, but saving one bottle for Malachi when they should meet. And an hour later still they did met, for, as they all stood drinking to Pierre, the door opened from the hall-way, and Malachi stood before them. At his shoulder was a face, wistful, worn, yet with a kind of happiness too; and the eyes had depths which any man might be glad to drown his heart in.
Malachi stood still, not speaking, and an awe or awkwardness fell on the group at the table.
But Norice stepped forward a little, and said: "May we come in?"
In an instant Freddy Tarlton was by her side, and had her by the hand, her and her father, drawing them over.
The look that Norice saw in his eyes gave her thought for many a day.
And that night Pierre made a prophecy.