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Rebel? . . . I grant you,--my comrades then
Were called Old Pascal Dubois' Men
Half-breeds all of us . . . I, a scamp,
The best long-shot in the Touchwood Camp;
Muscle and nerve like strings of steel,
Sound in the game of bit and heel--
There's your guide-book. . . . But, Jeanne Amray,
Telegraph-clerk at Sturgeon Bay,
French and thoroughbred, proud and sweet,
Sunshine down to her glancing feet,
Sang one song 'neath the northern moon
That changed God's world to a tropic noon;
And Love burned up on its golden floor
Years of passion for Nell Latore--
Nell Latore with her tawny hair,
Glowing eyes and her reckless air;
Lithe as an alder, straight and tall--
Pride and sorrow of Rise-and-Fall!
Indian blood in her veins ran wild,
And a Saxon father called her child;
Women feared her, and men soon found
When they trod on forbidden ground.
Ride! there's never a cayuse knew
Saddle slip of her; pistols, too,
Seemed to learn in her hands a knack
How to travel a dead-sure track.
Something in both alike maybe,
Something kindred in ancestry,
Some warm touch of an ancient pride
Drew my feet to her willing side.
My comrade, she, in the Touchwood Camp,
To ride, hunt, trail by the fire-fly lamp;
To track the moose to his moose-yard; pass
The bustard's doom through the prairie grass;
To hark at night to the crying loon
Beat idle wings on the still lagoon;
To hide from death in the drifting snow,
To slay the last of the buffalo. . . .
Ah, well, I speak of the days that were;
And I swear to you, I was kind to her.
I lost her. How are the best friends lost?
The lightning lines of our souls got crossed--
Crossed, and could never again be free
Till Death should call from his midnight sea.
One spring brought me my wedding day,
Brought me my bright-eyed Jeanne Amray;
Brought that night to our cabin door
My old, lost comrade, Nell Latore.
Her eyes swam fire, and her cheek was red,
Her full breast heaved as she darkly said:
"The coyote hides from the wind and rain,
The wild horse flies from the hurricane,
But who can flee from the half-breed's hate,
That rises soon and that watches late?"
Then went; and I laughed Jeanne's fears afar,
But I thought that wench was our evil star.
Be sure, when a woman's heart gets hard,
It works up war like a navy yard.
Half-breed and Indian troubles came--
The same old story--land and game;
And Dubois' Men were the first to feel
The bullet-sting and the clip of steel;
And last in battle 'gainst thousands sent,
With Gatling guns for our punishment.
Every cause has its traitor; then
How should it fare with Dubois' Men!
Beaten their cause was, and hunted down,
Like to a moose in the chase full blown,
Panting they stood; and a Judas sold
Their hiding-place for a piece of gold.
And while scouts searched for us night and day
Jeanne telegraphed on at Sturgeon Bay.
Picture her there as she stands alone,
Cold, in the glow of the afternoon;
Picture, I ask you, that patient wife,
Numb with fear for her husband's life,
When a sharp click-click awakes her brain
To life, with the needle-points of pain.
A message it was to Camp Pousette--
One that the half-breeds think on yet:
"Dubois' gang are in Rocky Glen,
Take a hundred and fifty men;
Go by the next express," it said,
"Bring them up here, alive or dead!" . . .
"Go by the next express!" and she,
Standing there by the silent key,
Said it over and over again,
Thinking of one of Dubois' Men
Thinking in anguish, heart and head,
Of him, brought up there alive or dead.
Save him, and perish to save him, yes!
But three hours more, and that next express
Would thunder by her, and she, alas!
Must stand there still and let it pass.
Duty was duty, and hers was clear;
God seemed far off, and no friend near.
But the truest friend and the swiftest horse
Must ride that ride on a breakneck course;
And with truest horse and swiftest friend,
To the fast express was the winning end!
And as if one pang was needed more,
There stood in the doorway, Nell Latore--
Nell Latore, with her mocking face,
Restless eyes, and her evil grace;
Quick to read in the wife's sad eyes,
The deep, strange woe, and the hurt surprise.
Slow she said, with piercing breath,
"Rebel fighter dies rebel death!"
Said, and paused; for she seemed to see
Far through the other's misery,
Something that stilled her; triumph fled
Shamed and fast, as the young wife said--
"He keeps his faith with an oath he swore,
For the half-breed's freedom, Nell Latore;
And, did he lie here, eyes death-dim,
You, if you spoke but truth of him,
Truth, truth only, should stand and say,
'He never wronged me, Jeanne Amray.'"
Then, for a moment, standing there,
Hushed and cold as a dead man's prayer,
Nell Latore, with the woman now,
Scorching the past from her eyes and brow
"Trust me," she said, like an angel-call,
"Tell me his danger, tell me all."
Quick resolve to a quick-told tale--
Nell Latore, to the glistening rail
Fled, and on it a hand-car drew,
Seized the handles, and backward threw
One swift, farewell look, and said,
"You shall have him alive, not dead!"
Ah, well for her that her arms were strong,
And cord and nerve like a knotted thong,
And well for Jeanne in her sharp distress,
That Nell was racing the fast express
Her whole life bent to this one deed,
And, like a soul from its prison freed,
Rising, dilating, reached across
Hills of conquest from plains of loss.
Gorges echoed as she passed by,
Wild fowl rose with a plaintive cry;
On she sped; and the white steel rang--
"Save him--save him for her!" it sang.
Once, a lad at a worn-out mine
Strove to warn her with awe-struck sign--
Turned she neither to left nor right,
Strained till the Rock Hills came in sight;
"But two miles more," to herself she said,
"Then she shall have him alive, not dead!"
The merciful gods that moment heard
Her promise, and helped her to keep her word;
For, when the wheels of the fast express
Slowed through the gates of that wilderness,
Round a headland and far away
Sailed the husband of Jeanne Amray.
While all that hundred-and-fifty then,
Hot on the trail of the Dubois Men,
Knew, as they stood by the pine-girt store,
The girl that had foiled them--Nell Latore.
Slow she moved from among them, turned
Where the sky to the westward burned;
Gazed for a moment, set her hands
Over her brow, so! drew the strands
Loose and rich of her tawny hair,
Once through her fingers, standing there;
Then again to the rail she passed.
One more look to the West she cast,
And into the East she drew away:
Backwards and forwards her brown arms play,
Forwards and backwards, till far and dim,
She grew one with the night's dun rim;
Backwards and forwards, and then, was gone
Into I know not what . . . alone.
She came not back, she may never come;
But a young wife lives in a cabin home,
Who prays each night that, alive or dead,
Come God's own rest for her lonely head:
And I--shall I see her then no more,
My comrade, my old love, Nell Latore?
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