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The North-West Mounted Police had authority not only to arrest, but to try and to sentence prisoners. The soldierly inspector who sat in judgment on Morse at Fort Macleod heard the evidence and stroked an iron-gray mustache reflectively. As he understood it, his business was to stop whiskey-running rather than to send men to jail. Beresford's report on this young man was in his favor. The inspector adventured into psychology.
"Studied the Indians any--the effect of alcohol on them?" he asked Morse.
"Some," the prisoner answered.
"Don't you think it bad for them?"
"Perhaps you've been here longer than I. Isn't this whiskey-smuggling bad business all round?"
"Not for the smuggler. Speakin' as an outsider, I reckon he does it because he makes money," Morse answered impersonally.
"For the country, I mean. For the trapper, for the breeds, for the Indians."
"No doubt about that."
"You're a nephew of C.N. Morse, aren't you?"
"Wish you'd take him a message from me. Tell him that it's bad business for a big trading firm like his to be smuggling whiskey." The officer raised a hand to stop the young man's protest. "Yes, I know you're going to tell me that we haven't proved he's been smuggling. We'll pass that point. Carry him my message. Just say it's bad business. You can tell him if you want to that we're here to put an end to it and we're going to do it. But stress the fact that it isn't good business. Understand?"
"Very well, sir." A glint of a smile showed in the inspector's eyes. "I'll give you a Scotch verdict, young man. Not guilty, but don't do it again. You're discharged."
"Hmp! He's a horse of another color. Think we'll send him over the plains."
"Why make two bites of a cherry, sir? He can't be guilty if I'm not," the released prisoner said.
"Did I say you weren't?" Inspector MacLean countered.
"Not worth the powder, is he, sir?" Tom insinuated nonchalantly. "Rather a fathead, Barney is. If he's guilty, it's not as a principal. You'd much better send me up."
The officer laughed behind the hand that stroked the mustache. "Do you want to be judge and jury as well as prisoner, my lad?"
"Thought perhaps my uncle would understand the spirit of your message better if Barney went along with me, Inspector." The brown eyes were open and guileless.
MacLean studied the Montanan deliberately. He began to recognize unusual qualities in this youth.
"Can't say I care for your friend Barney. He's a bad egg, or I miss my guess."
"Not much taken with him myself. Thought if I'd get him to travel south with me it might save you some trouble."
"It might," the Inspector agreed. "It's his first offense so far as I know." Under bristling eyebrows he shot a swift look at this self-assured youngster. He had noticed that men matured at an early age on the frontier. The school of emergency developed them fast. But Morse struck him as more competent even than the other boyish plainsmen he had met. "Will you be responsible for him?"
The Montanan came to scratch reluctantly. He had no desire to be bear leader for such a doubtful specimen as Barney.
"Yes," he said, after a pause.
"Keep him in the States, will you?"
"Take him along, then. Wish you luck of him."
As soon as he reached Fort Benton, Tom reported to his uncle. He told the story of the whiskey cargo and its fate, together with his own adventures subsequent to that time.
The head of the trading firm was a long, loose-jointed Yankee who had drifted West in his youth. Since then he had acquired gray hairs and large business interests. At Inspector MacLean's message he grinned.
"Thinks it's bad business, does he?"
"Told me to tell you so," Tom answered.
"Didn't say why, I guess."
The old New Englander fished from a hip pocket a plug of tobacco, cut off a liberal chew, and stowed this in his cheek. Then, lounging back in the chair, he cocked a shrewd eye at his nephew.
"Wonder what he meant."
Tom volunteered no opinion. He recognized his uncle's canny habit of fishing in other people's minds for confirmation of what was in his own.
"Got any idee what he was drivin' at?" the old pioneer went on.
C.N. Morse chuckled. "Got a notion myself. Let's hear yours."
"The trade with the North-West Mounted is gonna be big for a while. The Force needs all kinds of supplies. It'll have to deal through some firm in Benton as a clearin' house. He's servin' notice that unless C.N. Morse & Company mends its ways, it can't do business with the N.W.M.P."
"That all?" asked the head of the firm.
"That's only half of it. The other half is that no firm of whiskey-runners will be allowed to trade across the line."
C.N. gave another little chirrup of mirth. "Keep your brains whittled up, don't you? Any advice you'd like to give?"
Tom was not to be drawn. "None, sir."
"No comments, son? Passin' it up to Uncle Newt, eh?"
"You're the head of the firm. I'm hired to do as I'm told."
"You figure on obeyin' orders and lettin' it go at that?"
"Not quite." The young fellow's square chin jutted out. "For instance, I'm not gonna smuggle liquor through any more. I had my eyes opened this trip. You haven't been on the ground like I have. If you want a plain word for it, Uncle Newt--"
"Speak right out in meetin', Tom. Shouldn't wonder but what I can stand it." The transplanted Yankee slanted at his nephew a quizzical smile. "I been hearin' more or less plain language for quite a spell, son."
Tom gave it to him straight from the shoulder, quietly but without apology. "Sellin' whiskey to the tribes results in wholesale murder, sir."
"Strong talk, boy," his uncle drawled.
"Not too strong. You know I don't mean anything personal, Uncle Newt. To understand this thing you've got to go up there an' see it. The plains tribes up there go crazy over fire-water an' start killin' each other. It's a crime to let 'em have it."
Young Morse began to tell stories of instances that had come under his own observation, of others that he had heard from reliable sources. Presently he found himself embarked on the tale of his adventures with Sleeping Dawn.
The fur-trader heard him patiently. The dusty wrinkled boots of the merchant rested on the desk. His chair was tilted back in such a way that the weight of his body was distributed between the back of his neck, the lower end of the spine, and his heels. He looked a picture of sleepy, indolent ease, but Tom knew he was not missing the least detail.
A shadow darkened the doorway of the office. Behind it straddled a huge, ungainly figure.
"'Lo, West! How're tricks?" C.N. Morse asked in his lazy way. He did not rise from the chair or offer to shake hands, but that might be because it was not his custom to exert himself.
West stopped in his stride, choking with wrath. He had caught sight of Tom and was glaring at him. "You're here, eh? Sneaked home to try to square yourself with the old man, did ya?" The trail foreman turned to the uncle. "I wanta tell you he double-crossed you for fair, C.N. He's got a heluva nerve to come back here after playin' in with the police the way he done up there."
"I've heard something about that," the fur-trader admitted cautiously. "You told me Tom an' you didn't exactly gee."
"He'll never drive another bull-team for me again." West tacked to his pronouncement a curdling oath.
"We'll call that settled, then. You're through bull-whackin', Tom." There was a little twitch of whimsical mirth at the corners of the old man's mouth.
"Now you're shoutin, C.N. Threw me down from start to finish, he did. First off, when the breed girl busted the casks, he took her home 'stead of bringin' her to me. Then at old McRae's camp when I was defendin' myself, he jumped me too. My notion is from the way he acted that he let on to the red-coat where the cache was. Finally when I rode out to rescue him, he sided in with the other fellow. Hadn't been for him I'd never 'a' had this slug in my leg." The big smuggler spoke with extraordinary vehemence, spicing his speech liberally with sulphurous language.
The grizzled Yankee accepted the foreman's attitude with a wave of the hand that dismissed any counterargument. But there was an ironic gleam in his eye.
"'Nough said, West. If you're that sot on it, the boy quits the company pay-roll as an employee right now. I won't have him annoyin' you another hour. He becomes a member of the firm to-day."
The big bully's jaw sagged. He stared at his lean employer as though a small bomb had exploded at his feet and numbed his brains. But he was no more surprised than Tom, whose wooden face was expressionless.
"Goddlemighty! Ain't I jus' been tellin' you how he wrecked the whole show--how he sold out to that bunch of spies the Canadian Gov'ment has done sent up there?" exploded West.
"Oh, I don't guess he did that," Morse, Senior, said lightly. "We got to remember that times are changin', West. Law's comin' into the country an' we old-timers oughta meet it halfway with the glad hand. You can't buck the Union Jack any more than you could Uncle Sam. I figure I've sent my last shipment of liquor across the line."
"Scared, are you?" sneered the trail boss.
"Maybe I am. Reckon I'm too old to play the smuggler's game. And I've got a hankerin' for respectability--want the firm to stand well with the new settlers. Legitimate business from now on. That's our motto, boys."
"What church you been j'inin', C.N.?"
"Well, maybe it'll come to that too. Think I'd make a good deacon?" the merchant asked amiably, untwining his legs and rising to stretch.
West slammed a big fist on the table so that the inkwell and the pens jumped. "All I got to say is that this new Sunday-school outfit you aim to run won't have no use for a he-man. I'm quittin' you right now."
The foreman made the threat as a bluff. He was the most surprised man in Montana when his employer called it quietly, speaking still in the slow, nasal voice of perfect good-nature.
"Maybe you're right, West. That's for you to say, of course. You know your own business best. Figure out your time an' I'll have Benson write you a check. Hope you find a good job."
The sense of baffled anger in West foamed up. His head dropped down and forward threateningly.
"You do, eh? Lemme tell you this, C.N. I don't ask no odds of you or any other guy. Jes' because you're the head of a big outfit you can't run on me. I won't stand for it a minute."
"Of course not. I'd know better'n to try that with you. No hard feelings even if you quit us." It was a characteristic of the New Englander that while he was a forceful figure in this man's country, he rarely quarreled with any one.
"That so? Well, you listen here. I been layin' off that new pardner of yours because he's yore kin. Not anymore. Different now. He's liable to have a heluva time an' don't you forget it for a minute."
The fur-trader chewed his cud imperturbably. When he spoke it Was still without a trace of acrimony.
"Guess you'll think better of that maybe, West. Guess you're a little hot under the collar, ain't you? Don't hardly pay to hold grudges, does it? There was Rhinegoldt now. Kept nursin' his wrongs an' finally landed in the pen. Bad medicine, looks like to me."
West was no imbecile. He understood the threat underneath the suave words of the storekeeper. Rhinegoldt had gone to the penitentiary because C.N. Morse had willed it so. The inference was that another lawbreaker might go for the same reason. The trail boss knew that this was no idle threat. Morse could put him behind the bars any time he chose. The evidence was in his hands.
The bully glared at him. "You try that, C.N. Jus' try it once. There'll be a sudden death in the Morse family if you do. Mebbe two. Me, I'd gun you both for a copper cent. Don't fool yourself a minute."
"Kinda foolish talk, West. Don't buy you anything. Guess you better go home an' cool off, hadn't you? I'll have your time made up to-day, unless you want your check right now."
The broken teeth of the desperado clicked as his jaw clamped. He looked from the smiling, steady-eyed trader to the brown-faced youth who watched the scene with such cool, alert attention. He fought with a wild, furious impulse in himself to go through with his threat, to clean up and head out into the wilds. But some saving sense of prudence held his hand. C.N. Morse was too big game for him.
"To hell with the check," he snarled, and swinging on his heel jingled out of the office.
The nephew spoke first. "You got rid of him on purpose."
"Looked that way to you, did it?" the uncle asked in his usual indirect way.
"Guess you'd say it was because he won't fit into the new policy of the firm. Guess you'd say he'd always be gettin' us into trouble with his overbearin' and crooked ways."
"That's true. He would."
"Maybe it would be a good idee to watch him mighty close. They say he's a bad hombre. Might be unlucky for any one he got the drop on."
Tom knew he was being warned. "I'll look out for him," he promised.
The older man changed the subject smilingly. "Here's where C.N. Morse & Company turns over a leaf, son. No more business gambles. Legitimate trade only. That the idee you're figurin' on makin' me live up to?"
"Suits me if it does you," Tom answered cheerfully, "But where do I come in? What's my job in the firm? You'll notice I haven't said 'Thanks' yet."
"You?" C.N. gave him a sly, dry smile. "Oh, all you have to do is to handle our business north of the line--buy, sell, trade, build up friendly relations with the Indians and trappers, keep friendly with the police, and a few little things like that."
"Won't have a thing to do, will I?"
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