The Strength of
Men by James Oliver Curwood
There was the scent of battle in the air. The whole of Porcupine
City knew that it was coming, and every man and woman in its two
hundred population held their breath in anticipation of the struggle
between two men for a fortune—and a girl. For in some mysterious
manner rumor of the girl had got abroad, passing from lip to lip, until
even the children knew that there was some other thing than gold that
would play a part in the fight between Clarry O'Grady and Jan Larose.
On the surface it was not scheduled to be a fight with fists or guns.
But in Porcupine City there were a few who knew the "inner
story"—the story of the girl, as well as the gold, and those
among them who feared the law would have arbitrated in a different
manner for the two men if it had been in their power. But law is law,
and the code was the code. There was no alternative. It was an unusual
situation, and yet apparently simple of solution. Eighty miles north,
as the canoe was driven, young Jan Larose had one day staked out a rich
"find" at the headwaters of Pelican Creek. The same day, but later,
Clarry O'Grady had driven his stakes beside Jan's. It had been a race
to the mining recorder's office, and they had come in neck and neck.
Popular sentiment favored Larose, the slim, quiet, dark-eyed half
Frenchman. But there was the law, which had no sentiment. The recorder
had sent an agent north to investigate. If there were two sets of
stakes there could be but one verdict. Both claims would be thrown out,
All knew what would happen, or thought that they knew. It would be a
magnificent race to see who could set out fresh stakes and return to
the recorder's office ahead of the other. It would be a fight of brawn
and brain, unless—and those few who knew the "inner story" spoke
softly among themselves.
An ox in strength, gigantic in build, with a face that for days had
worn a sneering smile of triumph, O'Grady was already picked as a
ten-to-one winner. He was a magnificent canoeman, no man in Porcupine
City could equal him for endurance, and for his bow paddle he had the
best Indian in the whole Reindeer Lake country. He stalked up and down
the one street of Porcupine City, treating to drinks, cracking rough
jokes, and offering wagers, while Jan Larose and his long-armed Cree
sat quietly in the shade of the recorder's office waiting for the final
moment to come.
There were a few of those who knew the "inner story" who saw
something besides resignation and despair in Jan's quiet aloofness, and
in the disconsolate droop of his head. His face turned a shade whiter
when O'Grady passed near, dropping insult and taunt, and looking
sidewise at him in a way that only HE could understand. But he made no
retort, though his dark eyes glowed with a fire that never quite
died—unless it was when, alone and unobserved, he took from his
pocket a bit of buckskin in which was a silken tress of curling brown
hair. Then his eyes shone with a light that was soft and luminous, and
one seeing him then would have known that it was not a dream of gold
that filled his heart, but of a brown-haired girl who had broken
On this day, the forenoon of the sixth since the agent had departed
into the north, the end of the tense period of waiting was expected.
Porcupine City had almost ceased to carry on the daily monotony of
business. A score were lounging about the recorder's office. Women
looked forth at frequent intervals through the open doors of the
"city's" cabins, or gathered in two and threes to discuss this biggest
sporting event ever known in the history of the town. Not a minute but
scores of anxious eyes were turned searchingly up the river, down which
the returning agent's canoe would first appear. With the dawn of this
day O'Grady had refused to drink. He was stripped to the waist. His
laugh was louder. Hatred as well as triumph glittered in his eyes, for
to-day Jan Larose looked him coolly and squarely in the face, and
nodded whenever he passed. It was almost noon when Jan spoke a few low
words to his watchful Indian and walked to the top of the cedar-capped
ridge that sheltered Porcupine City from the north winds.
From this ridge he could look straight into the north—the
north where he was born. Only the Cree knew that for five nights he had
slept, or sat awake, on the top of this ridge, with his face turned
toward the polar star, and his heart breaking with loneliness and
grief. Up there, far beyond where the green-topped forests and the sky
seemed to meet, he could see a little cabin nestling under the
stars—and Marie. Always his mind traveled back to the beginning
of things, no matter how hard he tried to forget—even to the old
days of years and years ago when he had toted the little Marie around
on his back, and had crumpled her brown curls, and had revealed to her
one by one the marvelous mysteries of the wilderness, with never a
thought of the wonderful love that was to come. A half frozen little
outcast brought in from the deep snows one day by Marie's father, he
became first her playmate and brother—and after that lived in a
few swift years of paradise and dreams. For Marie he had made of
himself what he was. He had gone to Montreal. He had learned to read
and write, he worked for the Company, he came to know the outside
world, and at last the Government employed him. This was a triumph. He
could still see the glow of pride and love in Marie's beautiful eyes
when he came home after those two years in the great city. The
Government sent for him each autumn after that. Deep into the
wilderness he led the men who made the red and black lined maps. It was
he who blazed out the northern limit of Banksian pine, and his name was
in Government reports down in black and white—so that Marie and
all the world could read.
One day he came back—and he found Clarry O'Grady at the
Cummins' cabin. He had been there for a month with a broken leg.
Perhaps it was the dangerous knowledge of the power of her
beauty—the woman's instinct in her to tease with her prettiness,
that led to Marie's flirtation with O'Grady. But Jan could not
understand, and she played with fire—the fire of two hearts
instead of one. The world went to pieces under Jan after that. There
came the day when, in fair fight, he choked the taunting sneer from
O'Grady's face back in the woods. He fought like a tiger, a mad demon.
No one ever knew of that fight. And with the demon still raging in his
breast he faced the girl. He could never quite remember what he had
said. But it was terrible—and came straight from his soul. Then
he went out, leaving Marie standing there white and silent. He did not
go back. He had sworn never to do that, and during the weeks that
followed it spread about that Marie Cummins had turned down Jan Larose,
and that Clarry O'Grady was now the lucky man. It was one of the
unexplained tricks of fate that had brought them together, and had set
their discovery stakes side by side on Pelican Creek.
To-day, in spite of his smiling coolness, Jan's heart rankled with a
bitterness that seemed to be concentrated of all the dregs that had
ever entered into his life. It poisoned him, heart and soul. He was not
a coward. He was not afraid of O'Grady.
And yet he knew that fate had already played the cards against him.
He would lose. He was almost confident of that, even while he nerved
himself to fight. There was the drop of savage superstition in him, and
he told himself that something would happen to beat him out. O'Grady
had gone into the home that was almost his own and had robbed him of
Marie. In that fight in the forest he should have killed him. That
would have been justice, as he knew it. But he had relented, half for
Marie's sake, and half because he hated to take a human life, even
though it were O'Grady's. But this time there would be no relenting. He
had come alone to the top of the ridge to settle the last doubts with
himself. Whoever won out, there would be a fight. It would be a
magnificent fight, like that which his grandfather had fought and won
for the honor of a woman years and years ago. He was even glad that
O'Grady was trying to rob him of what he had searched for and found.
There would be twice the justice in killing him now. And it would be
done fairly, as his grandfather had done it.
Suddenly there came a piercing shout from the direction of the
river, followed by a wild call for him through Jackpine's moose-horn.
He answered the Cree's signal with a yell and tore down through the
bush. When he reached the foot of the ridge at the edge of the clearing
he saw the men, women and children of Porcupine City running to the
river. In front of the recorder's office stood Jackpine, bellowing
through his horn. O'Grady and his Indian were already shoving their
canoe out into the stream, and even as he looked there came a break in
the line of excited spectators, and through it hurried the agent toward
the recorder's cabin.
Side by side, Jan and his Indian ran to their canoe. Jackpine was
stripped to the waist, like O'Grady and his Chippewayan. Jan threw off
only his caribou-skin coat. His dark woolen shirt was sleeveless, and
his long slim arms, as hard as ribbed steel, were free. Half the crowd
followed him. He smiled, and waved his hand, the dark pupils of his
eyes shining big and black. Their canoe shot out until it was within a
dozen yards of the other, and those ashore saw him laugh into O'Grady's
sullen, set face. He was cool. Between smiling lips his white teeth
gleamed, and the women stared with brighter eyes and flushed cheeks,
wondering how Marie Cummins could have given up this man for the giant
hulk and drink-reddened face of his rival. Those among the men who had
wagered heavily against him felt a misgiving. There was something in
Jan's smile that was more than coolness, and it was not bravado. Even
as he smiled ashore, and spoke in low Cree to Jackpine, he felt at the
belt that he had hidden under the caribou-skin coat. There were two
sheaths there, and two knives, exactly alike. It was thus that his
grandfather had set forth one summer day to avenge a wrong, nearly
seventy years before.
The agent had entered the cabin, and now he reappeared, wiping his
sweating face with a big red handkerchief. The recorder followed. He
paused at the edge of the stream and made a megaphone of his hands.
"Gentlemen," he cried raucously, "both claims have been thrown
A wild yell came from O'Grady. In a single flash four paddles struck
the water, and the two canoes shot bow and bow up the stream toward the
lake above the bend. The crowd ran even with them until the low swamp
at the lake's edge stopped them. In that distance neither had gained a
yard advantage. But there was a curious change of sentiment among those
who returned to Porcupine City. That night betting was no longer two
and three to one on O'Grady. It was even money.
For the last thing that the men of Porcupine City had seen was that
cold, quiet smile of Jan Larose, the gleam of his teeth, the something
in his eyes that is more to be feared among men than bluster and brute
strength. They laid it to confidence. None guessed that this race held
for Jan no thought of the gold at the end. None guessed that he was
following out the working of a code as old as the name of his race in
As the canoes entered the lake the smile left Jan's face. His lips
tightened until they were almost a straight line. His eyes grew darker,
his breath came more quickly. For a little while O'Grady's canoe drew
steadily ahead of them, and when Jackpine's strokes went deeper and
more powerful Jan spoke to him in Cree, and guided the canoe so that it
cut straight as an arrow in O'Grady's wake. There was an advantage in
that. It was small, but Jan counted on the cumulative results of good
His eyes never for an instant left O'Grady's huge, naked back.
Between his knees lay his .303 rifle. He had figured on the fraction of
time it would take him to drop his paddle, pick up the gun, and fire.
This was his second point in generalship—getting the drop on
Once or twice in the first half hour O'Grady glanced back over his
shoulder, and it was Jan who now laughed tauntingly at the other. There
was something in that laugh that sent a chill through O'Grady. It was
as hard as steel, a sort of madman's laugh.
It was seven miles to the first portage, and there were nine in the
eighty-mile stretch. O'Grady and his Chippewayan were a hundred yards
ahead when the prow of their canoe touched shore. They were a hundred
and fifty ahead when both canoes were once more in the water on the
other side of the portage, and O'Grady sent back a hoarse shout of
triumph. Jan hunched himself a little lower. He spoke to
Jackpine—and the race began. Swifter and swifter the canoes cut
through the water. From five miles an hour to six, from six to six and
a half—seven—seven and a quarter, and then the strain told.
A paddle snapped in O'Grady's hands with a sound like a pistol shot. A
dozen seconds were lost while he snatched up a new paddle and caught
the Chippewayan's stroke, and Jan swung close into their wake again. At
the end of the fifteenth mile, where the second portage began, O'Grady
was two hundred yards in the lead. He gained another twenty on the
portage and with a breath that was coming now in sobbing swiftness Jan
put every ounce of strength behind the thrust of his paddle. Slowly
they gained. Foot by foot, yard by yard, until for a third time they
cut into O'Grady's wake. A dull pain crept into Jan's back. He felt it
slowly creeping into his shoulders and to his arms. He looked at
Jackpine and saw that he was swinging his body more and more with the
motion of his arms. And then he saw that the terrific pace set by
O'Grady was beginning to tell on the occupants of the canoe ahead. The
speed grew less and less, until it was no more than seventy yards. In
spite of the pains that were eating at his strength like swimmer's
cramp, Jan could not restrain a low cry of exultation. O'Grady had
planned to beat him out in that first twenty-mile spurt. And he had
failed! His heart leaped with new hope even while his strokes were
Ahead of them, at the far end of the lake, there loomed up the black
spruce timber which marked the beginning of the third portage, thirty
miles from Porcupine City. Jan knew that he would win there—that
he would gain an eighth of a mile in the half-mile carry. He knew of a
shorter cut than that of the regular trail. He had cleared it himself,
for he had spent a whole winter on that portage trapping lynx.
Marie lived only twelve miles beyond. More than once Marie had gone
with him over the old trap line. She had helped him to plan the little
log cabin he had built for himself on the edge of the big swamp, hidden
away from all but themselves. It was she who had put the red paper
curtains over the windows, and who, one day, had written on the corner
of one of them: "My beloved Jan." He forgot O'Grady as he thought of
Marie and those old days of happiness and hope. It was Jackpine who
recalled him at last to what was happening. In amazement he saw that
O'Grady and his Chippewayan had ceased paddling. They passed a dozen
yards abreast of them. O'Grady's great arms and shoulders were
glistening with perspiration. His face was purplish. In his eyes and on
his lips was the old taunting sneer. He was panting like a wind-broken
animal. As Jan passed he uttered no word.
An eighth of a mile ahead was the point where the regular portage
began, but Jan swung around this into a shallow inlet from which his
own secret trail was cut. Not until he was ashore did he look back.
O'Grady and his Indian were paddling in a leisurely manner toward the
head of the point. For a moment it looked as though they had given up
the race, and Jan's heart leaped exultantly. O'Grady saw him and waved
his hand. Then he jumped out to his knees in the water and the
Chippewayan followed him. He shouted to Jan, and pointed down at the
canoe. The next instant, with a powerful shove, he sent the empty
birchbark speeding far out into the open water.
Jan caught his breath. He heard Jackpine's cry of amazement behind
him. Then he saw the two men start on a swift run over the portage
trail, and with a fierce, terrible cry he sprang toward his rifle,
which he had leaned against a tree.
In that moment he would have fired, but O'Grady and the Indian had
disappeared into the timber. He understood—O'Grady had tricked
him, as he had tricked him in other ways. He had a second canoe waiting
for him at the end of the portage, and perhaps others farther on. It
was unfair. He could still hear O'Grady's taunting laughter as it had
rung out in Porcupine City, and the mystery of it was solved. His blood
grew hot—so hot that his eyes burned, and his breath seemed to
parch his lips. In that short space in which he stood paralyzed and
unable to act his brain blazed like a volcano. Who—was helping
O'Grady by having a canoe ready for him at the other side of the
portage? He knew that no man had gone North from Porcupine City during
those tense days of waiting. The code which all understood had
prohibited that. Who, then, could it be?—who but Marie herself!
In some way O'Grady had got word to her, and it was the Cummins' canoe
that was waiting for him!
With a strange cry Jan lifted the bow of the canoe to his shoulder
and led Jackpine in a run. His strength had returned. He did not feel
the whiplike sting of boughs that struck him across the face. He
scarcely looked at the little cabin of logs when they passed it. Deep
down in his heart he called upon the Virgin to curse those
two—Marie Cummins and Clarry O'Grady, the man and the girl who
had cheated him out of love, out of home, out of everything he had
possessed, and who were beating him now through perfidy and
His face and his hands were scratched and bleeding when they came to
the narrow waterway, half lake and half river, which let into the Blind
Loon. Another minute and they were racing again through the water. From
the mouth of the channel he saw O'Grady and the Chippewayan a quarter
of a mile ahead. Five miles beyond them was the fourth portage. It was
hidden now by a thick pall of smoke rising slowly into the clear sky.
Neither Jan nor the Indian had caught the pungent odors of burning
forests in the air, and they knew that it was a fresh fire. Never in
the years that Jan could remember had that portage been afire, and he
wondered if this was another trick of O'Grady's. The fire spread
rapidly as they advanced. It burst forth in a dozen places along the
shore of the lake, sending up huge volumes of black smoke riven by
lurid tongues of flame. O'Grady and his canoe became less and less
distinct. Finally they disappeared entirely in the lowering clouds of
the conflagration. Jan's eyes searched the water as they approached
shore, and at last he saw what he had expected to find—O'Grady's
empty canoe drifting slowly away from the beach. O'Grady and the
Chippewayan were gone.
Over that half-mile portage Jan staggered with his eyes half closed
and his breath coming in gasps. The smoke blinded him, and at times the
heat of the fire scorched his face. In several places it had crossed
the trail, and the hot embers burned through their moccasins. Once
Jackpine uttered a cry of pain. But Jan's lips were set. Then, above
the roar of the flames sweeping down upon the right of them, he caught
the low thunder of Dead Man's Whirlpool and the cataract that had made
the portage necessary. From the heated earth their feet came to a
narrow ledge of rock, worn smooth by the furred and moccasined tread of
centuries, with the chasm on one side of them and a wall of rock on the
other. Along the crest of that wall, a hundred feet above them, the
fire swept in a tornado of flame and smoke. A tree crashed behind them,
a dozen seconds too late. Then the trail widened and sloped down into
the dip that ended the portage. For an instant Jan paused to get his
bearing, and behind him Jackpine shouted a warning.
Up out of the smoldering oven where O'Grady should have found his
canoe two men were rushing toward them. They were O'Grady and the
Chippewayan. He caught the gleam of a knife in the Indian's hand. In
O'Grady's there was something larger and darker—a club, and Jan
dropped his end of the canoe with a glad cry, and drew one of the
knives from his belt. Jackpine came to his side, with his hunting knife
in his hand, measuring with glittering eyes the oncoming foe of his
And Jan laughed softly to himself, and his teeth gleamed again, for
at last fate was playing his game. The fire had burned O'Grady's canoe,
and it was to rob him of his own canoe that O'Grady was coming to
fight. A canoe! He laughed again, while the fire roared over his head
and the whirlpool thundered at his feet. O'Grady would fight for a
canoe—for gold—while he—HE—would fight for
something else, for the vengeance of a man whose soul and honor had
been sold. He cared nothing for the canoe. He cared nothing for the
gold. He told himself, in this one tense moment of waiting, that he
cared no longer for Marie. It was the fulfillment of the code.
He was still smiling when O'Grady was so near that he could see the
red glare in his eyes. There was no word, no shout, no sound of fury or
defiance as the two men stood for an instant just out of striking
distance. Jan heard the coming together of Jackpine and the
Chippewayan. He heard them straggling, but not the flicker of an
eyelash did his gaze leave O'Grady's face. Both men understood. This
time had to come. Both had expected it, even from that day of the fight
in the woods when fortune had favored Jan. The burned canoe had only
hastened the hour a little. Suddenly Jan's free hand reached behind him
to his belt. He drew forth the second knife and tossed it at O'Grady's
O'Grady made a movement to pick it up, and then, while Jan was
partly off his guard, came at him with a powerful swing of the club. It
was his catlike quickness, the quickness almost of the great northern
loon that evades a rifle ball, that had won for Jan in the forest
fight. It saved him now. The club cut through the air over his head,
and, carried by the momentum of his own blow, O'Grady lurched against
him with the full force of his two hundred pounds of muscle and bone.
Jan's knife swept in an upward flash and plunged to the hilt through
the flesh of his enemy's forearm. With a cry of pain O'Grady dropped
his club, and the two crashed to the stone floor of the trail. This was
the attack that Jan had feared and tried to foil, and with a
lightning-like squirming movement he swung himself half free, and on
his back, with O'Grady's huge hands linking at his throat, he drew back
his knife arm for the fatal plunge.
In this instant, so quick that he could scarcely have taken a breath
in the time, his eyes took in the other struggle between Jackpine and
the Chippewayan. The two Indians had locked themselves in a deadly
embrace. All thought of masters, of life or death, were forgotten in
the roused-up hatred that fired them now in their desire to kill. They
had drawn close to the edge of the chasm. Under them the thundering
roar of the whirlpool was unheard, their ears caught no sound of the
moaning surge of the flames far over their heads. Even as Jan stared
horror-stricken in that one moment, they locked at the edge of the
chasm. Above the tumult of the flood below and the fire above there
rose a wild yell, and the two plunged down into the abyss, locked and
fighting even as they fell in a twisting, formless shape to the death
It happened in an instant—like the flash of a quick picture on
a screen—and even as Jan caught the last of Jackpine's terrible
face, his hand drove eight inches of steel toward O'Grady's body. The
blade struck something hard—something that was neither bone nor
flesh, and he drew back again to strike. He had struck the steel buckle
on O'Grady's belt. This time—
A sudden hissing roar filled the air. Jan knew that he did not
strike—but he scarcely knew more than that in the first shock of
the fiery avalanche that had dropped upon them from the rock wall of
the mountain. He was conscious of fighting desperately to drag himself
from under a weight that was not O'Grady's—a weight that stifled
the breath in his lungs, that crackled in his ears, that scorched his
face and his hands, and was burning out his eyes. A shriek rang in his
ears unlike any other cry of man he had ever heard, and he knew that it
was O'Grady's. He pulled himself out, foot by foot, until fresher air
struck his nostrils, and dragged himself nearer and nearer to the edge
of the chasm. He could not rise. His limbs were paralyzed. His knife
arm dragged at his side. He opened his eyes and found that he could
see. Where they had fought was the smoldering ruin of a great tree, and
standing out of the ruin of that tree, half naked, his hands tearing
wildly at his face, was O'Grady. Jan's fingers clutched at a small
rock. He called out, but there was no meaning to the sound he made.
Clarry O'Grady threw out his great arms.
"Jan—Jan Larose—" he cried. "My God, don't strike now!
He staggered back, as if expecting a blow. "Don't strike!" he almost
shrieked. "Mother of Heaven—my eyes are burned out—I'm
He backed to the wall, his huge form crouched, his hands reaching
out as if to ward off the deathblow. Jan tried to move, and the effort
brought a groan of agony to his lips. A second crash filled his ears as
a second avalanche of fiery debris plunged down upon the trail farther
back. He stared straight up through the stifling smoke. Lurid tongues
of flame were leaping over the wall of the mountain where the edge of
the forest was enveloped in a sea of twisting and seething fire. It was
only a matter of minutes—perhaps seconds. Death had them both in
He looked again at O'Grady, and there was no longer the desire for
the other's life in his heart. He could see that the giant was
unharmed, except for his eyes.
"Listen, O'Grady," he cried. "My legs are broken, I guess, and I
can't move. It's sure death to stay here another minute. You can get
away. Follow the wall—to your right. The slope is still free of
O'Grady began to move, guiding himself slowly along the wall. Then,
suddenly, he stopped.
"Jan Larose—you say you can't move?" he shouted.
Slowly O'Grady turned and came gropingly toward the sound of Jan's
voice. Jan held tight to the rock that he had gripped in his left hand.
Was it possible that O'Grady would kill him now, stricken as he was? He
tried to drag himself to a new position, but his effort was futile.
"Jan! Jan Larose!" called O'Grady, stopping to listen.
Jan held his breath. Then the truth seemed to dawn upon O'Grady. He
laughed, differently than he had laughed before, and stretched out his
"My God, Jan," he cried, "you don't think I'm clean BEAST, do you?
The fight's over, man, an' I guess God A'mighty brought this on us to
show what fools we was. Where are y', Jan Larose? I'm goin' t' carry
"I'm here!" called Jan.
He could see truth and fearlessness in O'Grady's sightless face, and
he guided him without fear. Their hands met. Then O'Grady lowered
himself and hoisted Jan to his shoulders as easily as he would have
lifted a boy. He straightened himself and drew a deep breath, broken by
a stabbing throb of pain.
"I'm blind an' I won't see any more," he said, "an' mebbe you won't
ever walk any more. But if we ever git to that gold I kin do the work
and you kin show me how. Now—p'int out the way, Jan Larose!"
With his arms clasped about O'Grady's naked shoulders, Jan's
smarting eyes searched through the thickening smother of fire and smoke
for a road that the other's feet might tread. He shouted
"Left"—"right"—"right"—"right"—"left" into this
blind companion's ears until they touched the wall. As the heat smote
them more fiercely, O'Grady bowed his great head upon his chest and
obeyed mutely the signals that rang in his ears. The bottoms of his
moccasins were burned from his feet, live embers ate at his flesh, his
broad chest was a fiery blister, and yet he strode on straight into the
face of still greater heat and greater torture, uttering no sound that
could be heard above the steady roar of the flames. And Jan, limp and
helpless on his back, felt then the throb and pulse of a giant life
under him, the straining of thick neck, of massive shoulders and the
grip of powerful arms whose strength told him that at last he had found
the comrade and the man in Clarry O'Grady.
"Right"—"left"—"left"—"right" he shouted, and then he
called for O'Grady to stop in a voice that was shrill with warning.
"There's fire ahead," he yelled. "We can't follow the wall any
longer. There's an open space close to the chasm. We can make that, but
there's only about a yard to spare. Take short steps—one step
each time I tell you.
Like a soldier on drill, O'Grady kept time with his scorched feet
until Jan turned him again to face the storm of fire, while one of his
own broken legs dangled over the abyss into which Jackpine and the
Chippewayan had plunged to their death. Behind them, almost where they
had fought, there crashed down a third avalanche from the edge of the
mountain. Not a shiver ran through O'Grady's great body. Steadily and
unflinchingly—step—step—step—he went ahead,
while the last threads of his moccasins smoked and burned. Jan could no
longer see half a dozen yards in advance. A wall of black smoke rose in
their faces, and he pulled O'Grady's ear:
"We've got just one chance, Clarry. I can't see any more. Keep
straight ahead—and run for it, and may the good God help us
And Clarry O'Grady, drawing one great breath that was half fire into
his lungs, ran straight into the face of what looked like death to Jan
Larose. In that one moment Jan closed his eyes and waited for the
plunge over the cliff. But in place of death a sweep of air that seemed
almost cold struck his face, and he opened his eyes to find the clear
and uncharred slope leading before them down to the edge of the lake.
He shouted the news into O'Grady's ear, and then there arose from
O'Grady's chest a great sobbing cry, partly of joy, partly of pain, and
more than all else of that terrible grief which came of the knowledge
that back in the pit of death from which he had escaped he had left
forever the vision of life itself. He dropped Jan in the edge of the
water, and, plunging in to his waist, he threw handful after handful of
water into his own swollen face, and then stared upward, as though this
last experiment was also his last hope.
"My God, I'm blind—stone blind!"
Jan was staring hard into O'Grady's face. He called him nearer, took
the swollen and blackened face between his two hands, and his voice was
trembling with joy when he spoke.
"You're not blind—not for good—O'Grady," he said. "I've
seen men like you before—twice. You—you'll get well.
O'Grady—Clarry O'Grady—let's shake! I'm a brother to you
from this day on. And I'm glad—glad—that Marie loves a man
O'Grady had gripped his hand, but he dropped it now as though it had
been one of the live brands that had hurtled down upon them from the
top of the mountain.
"Marie—man—why—she HATES me!" he cried. "It's
you—YOU—Jan Larose, that she loves! I went there with a
broken leg, an' I fell in love with her. But she wouldn't so much as
let me touch her hand, an' she talked of
you—always—always—until I had learned to hate you
before you came. I dunno why she did it—that other
thing—unless it was to make you jealous. I guess it was all f'r
fun, Jan. She didn't know. The day you went away she sent me after you.
But I hated you—hated you worse'n she hated me. It's
He clutched his hands at his sightless face again, and suddenly Jan
gave a wild shout. Creeping around the edge of a smoking headland, he
had caught sight of a man and a canoe.
"There's a man in a canoe!" he cried, "He sees us!
He tried to lift himself, but fell back with a groan. Then he
laughed, and, in spite of his agony, there was a quivering happiness in
"He's coming, O'Grady. And it looks—it looks like a canoe we
both know. We'll go back to her cabin together, O'Grady. And when we're
on our legs again—well, I never wanted the gold. That's
yours—all of it."
A determined look had settled in O'Grady's face. He groped his way
to Jan's side, and their hands met in a clasp that told more than
either could have expressed of the brotherhood and strength of men.
"You can't throw me off like that, Jan Larose," he said. "We're