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The Barrier By Rex Beach Characters: 12432

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

There was mingled rejoicing and lamentation in the household of John Gale this afternoon. Molly and Johnny were in the throes of an overwhelming sorrow, the noise of which might be heard from the barracks to the Indian village. They were sparing of tears as a rule, but when they did give way to woe they published it abroad, yelling with utter abandon, their black eyes puckered up, their mouths distended into squares, from which came such a measure of sound as to rack the ears and burden the air heavily with sadness. Poleon was going away! Their own particular Poleon! Something was badly askew in the general scheme of affairs to permit of such a thing, and they manifested their grief so loudly that Burrell, who knew nothing of Doret's intention, sought them out and tried to ascertain the cause of it. They had found the French-Canadian at the river with their father, loading his canoe, and they had asked him whither he fared. When the meaning of his words struck home they looked at each other in dismay, then, bred as they were to mask emotion, they joined hands and trudged silently back up the bank with filling eyes and chins a-quiver until they gained the rear of the house. Here they sat down all forlorn, and began to weep bitterly and in an ascending crescendo.

"What's the matter with you tikes, anyhow?" inquired the Lieutenant. He had always filled them with a speechless awe, and at his unexpected appearance they began the slow and painful process of swallowing their grief. He was a nice man, they had both agreed long ago, and very splendid to the eye, but he was nothing like Poleon, who was one of them, only somewhat bigger.

"Come, now! Tell me all about it," the soldier insisted. "Has something happened to the three-legged puppy?"

Molly denied the occurrence of any such catastrophe.

"Then you've lost the little shiny rifle that shoots with air?" But Johnny dispelled this horrible suspicion by drawing the formidable weapon out of the grass behind him.

"Well, there isn't anything else bad enough to cause all this outlay of anguish. Can't I help you out?"

"Poleon!" they wailed, in unison.

"Exactly! What about him?"

"He's goin' away!" said Johnny.

"He's goin' away!" echoed Molly.

"Now, that's too bad, of course," the young man assented; "but think what nice things he'll bring you when he comes back."

"He ain't comin' back!" announced the heir, with the tone that conveys a sorrow unspeakable.

"He ain't comin' back!" wailed the little girl, and, being a woman, yielded again to her weakness, unashamed.

Burrell tried to extract a more detailed explanation, but this was as far as their knowledge ran. So he sought out the Canadian, and found him with Gale in the store, a scanty pile of food and ammunition on the counter between them.

"Poleon," said he, "you're not going away?"

"Yes," said Doret. "I'm takin' li'l' trip."

"But when are you coming back?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Dat's hard t'ing for tellin'. I'm res'less in my heart, so I'm goin' travel some. I ain' never pass on de back trail yet, so I 'spect I keep goin'."

"Oh, but you can't!" cried Burrell. "I-I-" He paused awkwardly, while down the breeze came the lament of the two little Gales. "Well, I feel just as they do." He motioned in the direction of the sound. "I wanted you for a friend, Doret; I hate to lose you."

"I ain' never got my satisfy yet, so I'm pass on-all de tam' pass on. Mebbe dis trip I fin' de place."

"I'm sorry-because-well, I'm a selfish sort of cuss-and-" Burrell pulled up blushingly, with a strong man's display of shame at his own emotion. "I owe all my happiness to you, old man. I can't thank you-neither of us can-we shall never live long enough for that, but you mustn't go without knowing that I feel more than I'll ever have words to say."

He was making it very hard for the Frenchman, whose heart was aching already with a dull, unending pain. Poleon had hoped to get away quietly; his heart was too heavy to let him face Necia or this man, and run the risk of their reading his secret, so a plaintive wrinkle gathered between his eyes that grew into a smile. And then, as if he were not tried sufficiently, the girl herself came flying in.

"What's this I hear?" she cried. "Alluna tells me-" She saw the telltale pile on the counter, and her face grew white. "Then it's true! Oh, Poleon!"

He smiled, and spoke cheerily. "Yes, I been t'inkin' 'bout dis trip long tam'."

"When are you coming back?"

"Wal, if I fin' dat new place w'at I'm lookin' for I don' never come back. You people was good frien' to me, but I'm kin' of shif'less feller, you know. Mebbe I forget all 'bout Flambeau, an' stop on my 'New Countree'-you never can tol' w'at dose Franchemans goin' do."

"It's the wander-lust," murmured Burrell to himself; "he'll never rest."

"What a child you are!" cried Necia, half angrily. "Can't you conquer that roving spirit and settle down like a man?" She laid her hand on his arm appealingly. "Haven't I told you there isn't any 'far country'? Haven't I told you that this path leads only to hardship and suffering and danger? The land you are looking for is there"-she touched his breast-"so why don't you stay in Flambeau and let us help you to find it?"

He was deeply grateful for her blindness, and yet it hurt him so that his great heart was nigh to bursting. Why couldn't she see the endless, hopeless yearning that consumed him, and know that if he stayed in sight and touch of her it would be like a living death? Perhaps, then, she would have given over urging him to do what he longed to do, and let him go on that search he knew was hopeless, and in which he had no joy. But she did not see; she would never see. He laughed aloud, for all the world as if the sun were bright and the fret for adventure were still keen in him, then, picking up his bundle, said:

"Dere's no use argue wit' Canayen man. Mebbe some day I come paddle back roun' de ben' down yonder, an' you hear me singin' dose chanson; but now de day she's too fine, de river she's laugh too loud, an' de birds she's sing too purty for Francheman to stop on shore. Ba gosh, I'm glad!" He bega

n to hum, and they heard him singing all the way down to the river-bank, as if the spirit of Youth and Hope and Gladness were not dead within him.

"Chanté, rossignol, chanté!

Toi qui à le coeur gai;

Tu as le coeur à rire

Mai j' l' ai-tà pleurer,

Il y a longtemps que j' t'aime

Jamais je ne t'oublierai."

[Footnote: "Sing, little bird, oh, sing away!

You with the voice so light and gay!

Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,

Mine is a heart that's full of tears.

Long have I loved, I love her yet;

Leave her I can, but not forget."]

A moment later they heard him expostulating with some one at the water's edge, and then a child's treble rose on high.

"No, no! I'm goin', too! I'm goin', too-o-o-o-"

"Hey! John Gale!" called Poleon. "Come 'ere! Ba gosh! You better horry, too! I can't hol' dis feller long."

When they appeared on the bank above him, he continued, "Look 'ere w'at I fin' on my batteau," and held up the wriggling form of Johnny Gale. "He's stow hisse'f away onder dem blanket. Sacré! He's bad feller, dis man-don' pay for hees ticket at all; he's reg'lar toff mug."

"I want to go 'long!" yelled the incorrigible stow-away. He had brought his gun with him, and this weapon, peeping forth from under Poleon's blanket, had betrayed him. "I want to go 'long!" shrieked the little man "I like you best of all!" At which Doret took him in his arms and hugged him fiercely.

"Wal, I guess you don' t'ink 'bout dem beeg black bear at night, eh?" But this only awoke a keener distress in the junior Gale.

"Oh, maybe de bear will get you, Poleon! Let me go long, and I'll keep dem off. Two men is better dan one-please, Poleon!"

It took the efforts of Necia and the trader combined to tear the lad from the Frenchman, and even then the foul deed was accomplished only at the cost of such wild acclaim and evidence of undying sorrow that little Molly came hurrying from the house, her round face stained and tearful, her mouth an inverted crescent. She had gone to the lame puppy for comfort, and now strangled him absent-mindedly in her arms, clutching him to her breast so tightly that his tongue lolled out and his three legs protruded stiffly, pawing an aimless pantomime. When Johnny found that no hope remained, he quelled his demonstrations of emotion and, as befitted a stout-hearted gentleman of the woods, bore a final present to his friend. He took the little air-gun and gave it into Poleon's hands against that black night when the bears would come, and no man ever made a greater sacrifice. Doret picked him up by the elbows and kissed him again and again, then set him down gently, at which Molly scrambled forward, and without word or presentation speech gave him her heart's first treasure. She held out the three-legged puppy, for a gun and a dog should ever go together; then, being of the womankind aforesaid, she began to cry as she kissed her pet good-bye on its cold, wet nose.

"Wat's dis?" said Poleon, and his voice quavered, for these childish fingers tore at his heart-strings terribly.

"He's a very brave doggie," said the little girl. "He will scare de bears away!" And then she became dissolved in tears at the anguish her offering cost her.

Doret caressed her as he had her brother, then placed the puppy carefully upon the blankets in the canoe, where it wagged a grateful and amiable stump at him and regained its breath. It was the highest proof of Molly's affection for her Poleon that she kept her tear-dimmed eyes fixed upon the dog as long as it was visible.

The time had come for the last good-bye-that awkward moment when human hearts are full and spoken words are empty. Burrell gripped the Frenchman's hand. He was grateful, but he did not know.

"Good-luck and better hunting!" he said. "A heavy purse and a light heart for you always, Poleon. I have learned to love you."

"I want you to be good husban', M'sieu'. Dat's de bes' t'ing I can wish for you."

Gale spoke to him in patois, and all he said was:

"May you not forget, my son."

They did not look into each other's eyes; there was no need. The old man stooped, and, taking both his children by the hand, walked slowly towards the house.

"Dis tam' I'll fin' it for sure," smiled Poleon to Necia.

Her eyes were shining through the tears, and she whispered, fervently:

"I hope so, brother. God love you-always."

It was grief at losing a playmate, a dear and well-beloved companion. He knew it well, and he was glad now that he had never said a word of love to her. It added to his pain, but it lightened hers, and that had ever been his wish. He gazed on her for a long moment, taking in that blessed image which would ever live with him-in his eyes was the light of a love as pure and clean as ever any maid had seen, and in his heart a sorrow that would never cease.

"Good-bye, li'l' gal," he said, then dropped her hand and entered his canoe. With one great stroke he drove it out and into the flood, then headed away towards the mists and colors of the distant hills, where the Oreads were calling to him. He turned for one last look, and flung his paddle high; then, fearing lest they might see the tears that came at last unhindered, he began to sing:

"Chante, rossignol, chante!

Toi qui a le coeur gai;

Tu as le coeur a rire

Mai j' l' ai-t-a pleurer."

He sang long and lustily, keeping time to the dip of his flashing paddle and defying his bursting heart. After all, was he not a voyageur, and life but a song and a tear, and then a dream or two?

"I wish I might have known him better," sighed Meade Burrell, as he watched the receding form of the boatman.

"You would have loved him as we do," said Necia, "and you would have missed him as we will."

"I hope some time he will be happy."

"As happy as you, my soldier?"

"Yes; but that he can never be," said her husband; "for no man could love as I love you."

"Yours is a heart that laughter cheers,

Mine is a heart that's full of tears.

Long have I loved, I love her yet;

Leave her I can, but not forget-"

came the voice of the singer far down the stream. And thus Poleon of the Great Heart went away.


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