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   Chapter 1 THE DRUSES ARE UP!

The World For Sale, Volume 1. By Gilbert Parker Characters: 17603

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Great Scott, look at her! She's goin' to try and take 'em !" exclaimed

Osterhaut, the Jack-of-all-trades at Lebanon.

"She ain't such a fool as all that. Why, no one ever done it alone. Low water, too, when every rock's got its chance at the canoe. But, my gracious, she is goin' to ride 'em!"

Jowett, the horse-dealer, had a sportsman's joy in a daring thing.

"See, old Injun Tekewani's after her! He's calling at her from the bank. He knows. He done it himself years ago when there was rips in the tribe an' he had to sew up the tears. He run them Rapids in his canoe-"

"Just as the Druse girl there is doin'-"

"An' he's done what he liked with the Blackfeet ever since."

"But she ain't a chief-what's the use of her doin' it? She's goin' straight for them. She can't turn back now. She couldn't make the bank if she wanted to. She's got to run 'em. Holy smoke, see her wavin' the paddle at Tekewani! Osterhaut, she's the limit, that petticoat-so quiet and shy and don't-look-at-me, too, with eyes like brown diamonds."

"Oh, get out, Jowett; she's all right! She'll make this country sit up some day-by gorry, she'll make Manitou and Lebanon sit up to-day if she runs the Carillon Rapids safe!"

"She's runnin' 'em all right, son. She's-by jee, well done, Miss Druse! Well done, I say-well done!" exclaimed Jowett, dancing about and waving his arms towards the adventurous girl.

The girl had reached the angry, thrashing waters where the rocks rent and tore into white ribbons the onrushing current, and her first trial had come on the instant the spitting, raging panthers of foam struck the bow of her canoe. The waters were so low that this course, which she had made once before with her friend Tekewani the Blackfeet chief, had perils not met on that desperate journey. Her canoe struck a rock slantwise, shuddered and swung round, but by a dexterous stroke she freed the frail craft. It righted and plunged forward again into fresh death-traps.

It was these new dangers which had made Tekewani try to warn her from the shore-he and the dozen braves with him: but it was characteristic of his race that, after the first warning, when she must play out the game to the bitter end, he made no further attempt to stop her. The Indians ran down the river-bank, however, with eyes intent on her headlong progress, grunting approval as she plunged safely from danger to danger.

Osterhaut and Jowett became silent, too, and, like the Indians, ran as fast as they could, over fences, through the trees, stumbling and occasionally cursing, but watching with fascinated eyes this adventuress of the North, taking chances which not one coureur-de-bois or river- driver in a thousand would take, with a five thousand-dollar prize as the lure. Why should she do it?

"Women folks are sick darn fools when they git goin'," gasped Osterhaut as he ran. "They don't care a split pea what happens when they've got the pip. Look at her-my hair's bleachin'."

"She's got the pip all right," stuttered Jowett as he plunged along; "but she's foreign, and they've all got the pip, foreign men and women both- but the women go crazy."

"She keeps pretty cool for a crazy loon, that girl. If I owned her,

I'd-"

Jowett interrupted impatiently. "You'd do what old man Druse does-you'd let her be, Osterhaut. What's the good of havin' your own way with one that's the apple of your eye, if it turns her agin you? You want her to kiss you on the high cheek-bone, but if you go to play the cat-o'-nine- tails round her, the high cheek-bone gets froze. Gol blast it, look at her, son! What are the wild waves saying? They're sayin', 'This is a surprise, Miss Druse. Not quite ready for ye, Miss Druse.' My, ain't she got the luck of the old devil!"

It seemed so. More than once the canoe half jammed between the rocks, and the stern lifted up by the force of the wild current, but again the paddle made swift play, and again the cockle-shell swung clear. But now Fleda Druse was no longer on her feet. She knelt, her strong, slim brown arms bared to the shoulder, her hair blown about her forehead, her daring eyes flashing to left and right, memory of her course at work under such a strain as few can endure without chaos of mind in the end. A hundred times since the day she had run these Rapids with Tekewani, she had gone over the course in her mind, asleep and awake, forcing her brain to see again every yard of that watery way; because she knew that the day must come when she would make the journey alone. Why she would make it she did not know; she only knew that she would do it some day; and the day had come. For long it had been an obsession with her-as though some spirit whispered in her ear-"Do you hear the bells ringing at Carillon? Do you hear the river singing towards Carillon? Do you see the wild birds flying towards Carillon? Do you hear the Rapids calling-the Rapids of Carillon?"

Night and day since she had braved death with Tekewani, giving him a gun, a meerschaum pipe, and ten pounds of beautiful brown "plug" tobacco as a token of her gratitude-night and day she had heard this spirit murmuring in her ear, and always the refrain was, "Down the stream to Carillon! Shoot the Rapids of Carillon!"

Why? How should she know? Wherefore should she know? This was of the things beyond the why of the human mind. Sometimes all our lives, if we keep our souls young, and see the world as we first saw it with eyes and heart unsoiled, we hear the murmuring of the Other Self, that Self from which we separated when we entered this mortal sphere, but which followed us, invisible yet whispering inspiration to us. But sometimes we only hear It, our own soul's oracle, while yet our years are few, and we have not passed that frontier between innocence and experience, reality and pretence. Pretence it is which drives the Other Self away with wailing on its lips. Then we hear It cry in the night when, because of the trouble of life, we cannot sleep; or at the play when we are caught away from ourselves into another air than ours; when music pours around us like a soft wind from a garden of pomegranates; or when a child asks a question which brings us back to the land where everything is so true that it can be shouted from the tree-tops.

Why was Fleda Druse tempting death in the Carillon Rapids?

She had heard a whisper as she wandered among the pine-trees there at Manitou, and it said simply the one word, "Now!" She knew that she must do it; she had driven her canoe out into the resistless current to ride the Rapids of Carillon. Her Other Self had whispered to her.

Yonder, thousands of miles away in Syria, there were the Hills of Lebanon; and there was one phrase which made every Syrian heart beat faster, if he were on the march. It was, "The Druses are up!" When that wild tribe took to the saddle to war upon the Caravans and against authority, from Lebanon to Palmyra, from Jerusalem to Damascus men looked anxiously about them and rode hard to refuge.

And here also in the Far North where the River Sagalac ran a wild race to

Carillon, leaving behind the new towns of Lebanon and Manitou, "the

Druses were up."

The daughter of Gabriel Druse, the giant, was riding the Rapids of the

Sagalac. The suspense to her and to those who watched her course-to

Tekewani and his braves, to Osterhaut and Jowett-could not be long.

It was a matter of minutes only, in which every second was a miracle

and might be a catastrophe.

From rock to rock, from wild white water to wild white water she sped, now tossing to death as it seemed, now shooting on safely to the next test of skill and courage-on, on, till at last there was only one passage to make before the canoe would plunge into the smooth water running with great swiftness till it almost reached Carillon.

Suddenly, as she neared the last dangerous point, round which she must swing between jagged and unseen barriers of rock, her sight became for an instant dimmed, as though a cloud passed over her eyes. She had never fainted in her life, but it seemed to her now that she was hovering on unconsciousness. Commending the will and energy left, she fought the weakness down. It was as though she forced a way through tossing, buffeting shadows; as though she was shaking off from her shoulders shadowy hands which sought to detain her; as though smothering things kept choking back her breath, and darkness like clouds of wool gathered about her face. She was fighting for her life, and for years it seemed to be; though indeed it was only seconds before her will reasserted itself, and light broke again upon her way. Even on the verge of the last ambushed passage her senses came back; but they came with a stark realization of the peril a

head: it looked out of her eyes as a face shows itself at the window of a burning building.

Memory shook itself free. It pierced the tumult of waters, found the ambushed rocks, and guided the lithe brown arms and hands, so that the swift paddle drove the canoe straight onward, as a fish drives itself through a flume of dragon's teeth beneath the flood. The canoe quivered for an instant at the last cataract, then responding to Memory and Will, sped through the hidden chasm, tossed by spray and water, and swept into the swift current of smooth water below.

Fleda Druse had run the Rapids of Carillon. She could hear the bells ringing for evening service in the Catholic Church of Carillon, and bells-soft, booming bells-were ringing in her own brain. Like muffled silver these brain-bells were, and she was as one who enters into a deep forest, and hears far away in the boscage the mystic summons of forest deities. Voices from the banks of the river behind called to her- hilarious, approving, agitated voices of her Indian friends, and of Osterhaut and Jowett, those wild spectators of her adventure: but they were not wholly real. Only those soft, booming bells in her brain were real.

Shooting the Rapids of Carillon was the bridge by which she passed from the world she had left to this other. Her girlhood was ended-wondering, hovering, unrealizing girlhood. This adventure was the outward sign, the rite in the Lodge of Life which passed her from one degree of being to another.

She was safe; but now as her canoe shot onward to the town of Carillon, her senses again grew faint. Again she felt the buffeting mist, again her face was muffled in smothering folds; again great hands reached out towards her; again her eyes were drawn into a stupefying darkness; but now there was no will to fight, no energy to resist. The paddle lay inert in her fingers, her head drooped. She slowly raised her head once, twice, as though the call of the exhausted will was heard, but suddenly it fell heavily upon her breast. For a moment so, and then as the canoe shot forward on a fresh current, the lithe body sank backwards in the canoe, and lay face upward to the evening sky.

The canoe sped on, but presently it swung round and lay athwart the current, dipping and rolling.

From the banks on either side, the Indians of the Manitou Reservation and the two men from Lebanon called out and hastened on, for they saw that the girl had collapsed, and they knew only too well that her danger was not yet past. The canoe might strike against the piers of the bridge at Carillon and overturn, or it might be carried to the second cataract below the town. They were too far away to save her, but they kept shouting as they ran.

None responded to their call, but that defiance of the last cataract of the Rapids of Carillon had been seen by one who, below an eddy on the Lebanon side of the river, was steadily stringing upon maple-twigs black bass and long-nosed pike. As he sat in the shade of the trees, he had seen the plunge of the canoe into the chasm, and had held his breath in wonder and admiration. Even at that distance he knew who it was. He had seen Fleda only a few times before, for she was little abroad; but when he had seen her he had asked himself what such a face and form were doing in the Far North. It belonged to Andalusia, to the Carpathians, to Syrian villages.

"The pluck of the very devil!" he had exclaimed, as Fleda's canoe swept into the smooth current, free of the dragon's teeth; and as he had something of the devil in himself, she seemed much nearer to him than the hundreds of yards of water intervening. Presently, however, he saw her droop and sink away out of sight.

For an instant he did not realize what had happened, and then, with angry self-reproach, he flung the oars into the rowlocks of his skiff and drove down and athwart the stream with long, powerful strokes.

"That's like a woman!" he said to himself as he bent to the oars, and now and then turned his head to make sure that the canoe was still safe. "Do the trick better than a man, and then collapse like a rabbit."

He was Max Ingolby, the financier, contractor, manager of great interests, disturber of the peace of slow minds, who had come to Lebanon with the avowed object of amalgamating three railways, of making the place the swivel of all the trade and interests of the Western North; but also with the declared intention of uniting Lebanon and Manitou in one municipality, one centre of commercial and industrial power.

Men said he had bitten off more than he could chew, but he had replied that his teeth were good, and he would masticate the meal or know the reason why. He was only thirty-three, but his will was like nothing the West had seen as yet. It was sublime in its confidence, it was free from conceit, and it knew not the word despair, though once or twice it had known defeat.

Men cheered him from the shore as his skiff leaped through the water. "It's that blessed Ingolby," said Jowett, who had tried to "do" the financier in a horsedeal, and had been done instead, and was now a devout admirer and adherent of the Master Man. "I saw him driving down there this morning from Lebanon. He's been fishing at Seely's Eddy."

"When Ingolby goes fishing, there's trouble goin' on somewhere and he's stalkin' it," rejoined Osterhaut. "But, by gol, he's goin' to do this trump trick first; he's goin' to overhaul her before she gits to the bridge. Look at him swing! Hell, ain't it pretty! There you go, old Ingolby. You're right on it, even when you're fishing."

On the other-the Manitou-shore Tekewani and his braves were less talkative, but they were more concerned in the incident than Osterhaut and Jowett. They knew little or nothing of Ingolby the hustler, but they knew more of Fleda Druse and her father than all the people of Lebanon and Manitou put together. Fleda had won old Tekewani's heart when she had asked him to take her down the Rapids, for the days of adventure for him and his tribe were over. The adventure shared with this girl had brought back to the chief the old days when Indian women tanned bearskins and deerskins day in, day out, and made pemmican of the buffalo-meat; when the years were filled with hunting and war and migrant journeyings to fresh game-grounds and pastures new.

Danger faced was the one thing which could restore Tekewani's self-

respect, after he had been checked and rebuked before his tribe by the

Indian Commissioner for being drunk. Danger faced had restored it, and

Fleda Druse had brought the danger to him as a gift.

If the canoe should crash against the piers of the bridge, if it should drift to the cataract below, if anything should happen to this white girl whom he worshipped in his heathen way, nothing could preserve his self- respect; he would pour ashes on his head and firewater down his throat.

Suddenly he and his braves stood still. They watched as one would watch an enemy a hundred times stronger than one's self. The white man's skiff was near the derelict canoe; the bridge was near also. Carillon now lined the bank of the river with its people. They ran upon the bridge, but not so fast as to reach the place where, in the nick of time, Ingolby got possession of the rolling canoe; where Fleda Druse lay waiting like a princess to be waked by the kiss of destiny.

Only five hundred yards below the bridge was the second cataract, and she would never have waked if she had been carried into it.

To Ingolby she was as beautiful as a human being could be as she lay with white face upturned, the paddle still in her hand.

"Drowning isn't good enough for her," he said, as he fastened her canoe to his skiff.

"It's been a full day's work," he added; and even in this human crisis he thought of the fish he had caught, of "the big trouble," he had been thinking out as Osterhaut had said, as well as of the girl that he was saving.

"I always have luck when I go fishing," he added presently. "I can take her back to Lebanon," he continued with a quickening look. "She'll be all right in a jiffy. I've got room for her in my buggy-and room for her in any place that belongs to me," he hastened to reflect with a curious, bashful smile.

"It's like a thing in a book," he murmured, as he neared the waiting people on the banks of Carillon, and the ringing of the vesper bells came out to him on the evening air.

"Is she dead?" some one whispered, as eager hands reached out to secure his skiff to the bank.

"As dead as I am," he answered with a laugh, and drew Fleda's canoe up alongside his skiff.

He had a strange sensation of new life, as, with delicacy and gentleness, he lifted her up in his strong arms and stepped ashore.

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