It was staggering in its unexpectedness.
A gasp came from the lips of Barry Houston.
He felt himself reeling,-only to suddenly
straighten, as though a crushing weight had been lifted
from his shoulders. He whirled excitedly and
grasped the nearest onlooker.
“Go get Medaine Robinette.
Hurry! Tell her that it is of the utmost importance-that
I have found the proof. She’ll understand.”
Then, struggling to reassure himself,
he turned again to the prisoner. Two hours later,
in the last glint of day, the door opened, and a woman
came to his side, where he was finishing the last of
many closely written sheets of paper. He looked
up at her, boyishly, happily. Without waiting
for her permission, he grasped her hand, and then,
as though eager for her to hear, he turned to the
worn-faced man, now slumped dejectedly in his chair.
“You understand, Thayer, that
this is your written confession?”
The man nodded.
“Given in the presence of the
sheriff, of Ba’tiste Renaud, of myself, and
the various citizens of Tabernacle that you see here?”
“Of your own free will, without threats or violence?”
“I guess so.”
“And you are willing to sign it?”
The man hesitated. Then:
“I’d want to know what I was signing.”
“Certainly. I intend to
read it to you-so that all witnesses may
hear it. It is then to be filed with the district
attorney. You can signify its correctness or
incorrectness after every paragraph. Is that
“I guess so.”
A pause. At last:
“’My name is Fred Thayer.
I am forty-four years of age. Prior to about
a year ago, I was employed by the Empire Lake Mill
and Lumber Company as superintendent. I had
occupied this position for some fifteen or twenty
years, beginning with it when it was first started
by Mr. Houston of Boston.’ Is that right?”
A nod from the accused. Houston went on:
“’I figured from the first
that I was going to be taken in partnership with Mr.
Houston, although nothing ever was said about it.
I just took it for granted. However, when years
passed and, nothing was done about it, I began to
force matters, by letting the mill run down, knowing
that Mr. Houston was getting old, and that he might
be willing to sell out to me if things got bad enough.
At that time, I didn’t know where I was going
to get the money, but hoped that Mr. Houston would
let me have the mill and acreage on some sort of a
payment basis. I went back to see him about
it a couple of times, but he wouldn’t listen
to me. He said that he wanted to either close
the thing out for cash or keep on running it in the
hope of making something of it.’ That’s
all right, isn’t it, Thayer?”
“’I tried two or three
times to get him to sell out to me, but we couldn’t
get together on the terms. He always wanted cash,
and I couldn’t furnish it-although
I pretended that I had the money all right, but that
I simply did not want to tie it all up at once.
About this time-I think it was three or
four years ago; I am not exactly clear on the dates-a
nephew of his named Thomas Langdon came out here,
under the name of John Corbin. He had been a
black sheep and was now wandering about the country,
doing anything that he could set his hand to for a
living. I had known him since boyhood and gave
him a job under his assumed name. He pretended
that he was very close to Mr. Houston, and I thought
maybe he could help me get the plant. But his
word was not worth as much as mine.’ Have
I taken that down correctly, Thayer?”
“Yes. Except about Langdon.
He told me when he came here that his uncle had sent
him out to straighten him up. But I don’t
guess it makes much difference.”
Houston, nevertheless, made the changes,
glancing up once to assure himself that Medaine still
was there. She had not left his side. He
went on with the reading:
“’By this time, the mill
had gotten to be a sort of mania with me, and I almost
had myself believing that Houston had promised me more
than he had given me. Then, a woman came out
here, an Agnes Jierdon, a stenographer, on her vacation.
I met her and learned that she was from Boston.’”
A slight pressure exerted itself on Houston’s
arm. He glanced down to see Medaine Robinette’s
hand, clasped tight. “’She spent nearly
the whole summer here, and I made love to her.
I asked her to marry me, and she told me that she
would. She was really very much in love with
me. I didn’t care about her-I
was working for a purpose. I wanted to use her-to
get her in Houston’s office. I wanted
to find out what was going on, so that I would know
in advance, and so that I could prepare for it by
having breakage at the mill, to stop contracts and
run things farther down than ever, so the old man
would get disgusted and sell out at my terms.
I knew there would be a mint of money for me if I
could get hold of that mill. At the end of her
vacation, she went back to Boston and got a job with
Houston, as an office clerk. Almost the first
thing that she wrote me was that the old man was thinking
about selling out to some concern back East.’”
Houston looked toward the accused
man for his confirmation, then continued.
“’While she had been out
here, I had told her that Houston had promised to
take me into partnership and that he had gone back
on his word. I put it up to her pretty strong
about how I had been tricked into working for him
for years, and she was sympathetic with me, of course,
inasmuch as she was in love with me. Naturally,
when she heard this, she wrote me right away.
It made me desperate. Then I thought of Ba’tiste
“Ah!” The word was accompanied
by a sharp intake of breath as the big French-Canadian
moved closer to hear again the story of a murder.
But the sheriff motioned him back. The emotions
of the old trapper were not to be trusted. The
recital went on:
“’Everybody around this
country had always talked about how rich he was.
There was a saying that he didn’t believe in
banks and that he kept more than a hundred thousand
dollars in his little cabin. At this time, both
he and his son were away at war, and I thought I could
steal this money, place it in other hands, and then
work things so that if I did get hold of the mill,
people around here would merely think I had borrowed
the money and bought the mill with it. By this
time, a cousin of Miss Jierdon’s, a fellow named
Jenkins, had gotten a job with Houston and was working
with her, and of course, I was hearing everything
that went on. It looked like the deal was going
through, and it forced me to action. One night
I watched Mrs. Renaud and saw her leave the house.
I thought she was going to town. Instead, after
I’d gotten into the cabin, she came back, surprising
me. There wasn’t anything else to do.
I killed her, with a revolver.’”
“Easy, Ba’tiste. That’s the
way you gave it to me, isn’t it, Thayer?”
“Yes. I shot twice at her. The first
Again the door of the tiny lobby opened
and closed, and a form edged forward,-Blackburn,
summoned from his mill. Thayer glanced at him,
then lowered his eyes. Houston made the additional
notation on the confession and went back to his reading:
“’When I found the deed
box, there was only ten thousand dollars in it instead
of the fortune that I had supposed was there.
I was about to take it out and stuff it into my pocket,
when I heard a noise outside the window. Thinking
it was Renaud’s wolf-dog, and that he might give
the alarm, I pushed the box under my coat and ran out
the back door. The next day, Corbin-or
Langdon-came to me and demanded his share
of what I had stolen. He said that he had seen
me at the deed box after I had killed the woman, that
he had made the noise outside the window. I
put him off-denying it all. But it
wasn’t any use. At first he threatened
that he would go to the sheriff at Montview, and for
several days he came to me, telling me that this was
the last chance that he would give me if I didn’t
let him have his share. I played him for time.
Then he began to beg small amounts of money from me,
promising to keep still if I gave them to him.
I guess this kept up for two or three months, the
amounts getting larger all the time. At last,
I wouldn’t stand it any longer. He threatened
me again,-and then, suddenly, one day disappeared.
I hurried to Montview, thinking of course that he
had gone there, hoping to catch him on the way.
But no one had seen him. Then I went to Tabernacle
and learned that he had bought a ticket for Boston,
and that he had left on a morning train. I knew
what was up then; he was going back to tell Old Man
Houston and try to step into my shoes when I was arrested.
But I beat him there by going over the range in an
automobile, and taking an earlier train for Boston.
I picked him up when he arrived and trailed him to
young Houston’s office. After that I saw
them go to a cafe, and from there to a prize fight.
I bought a ticket and watched them from the rear of
the hall. I had my gun with me-I had
made up my mind to kill them both. I thought
Langdon had told. After the fight, they started
out, myself in the rear. Young Houston had gotten
a mallet from the timekeeper. On the way home,
I could hear them talking, and heard Houston asking
Langdon why he wanted to see the old man. By
that I knew that it hadn’t been told yet-and
I felt safer. Then they got in a quarrel, and
my chance came. It was over the mallet-Langdon
took it away from his cousin and started to fight
him. Houston ran. When he was well out
of sight, I went forward. No one was near.
Langdon still had the mallet in his hand. I
crept up behind him and clubbed my revolver, hitting
him on the head with it. He fell-dead-and
I knew I was safe, that Houston would be accused.’”
Barry looked earnestly at the man before him.
“That’s all true, isn’t it, Thayer?”
“I haven’t made any objection, have I?”
“I merely wanted to be sure.
But to go on: ’Then I thought of a way
to get what I wanted from Miss Jierdon. This
was several months afterward, just before the trial.
I argued that I was sure young Houston hadn’t
committed the murder, and that if some woman could
testify to the fact that Langdon had that mallet, it
might free Houston, and make a hit with the old man
and that maybe he would make good on his promises.
I did it pretty skilfully and she listened to me,
largely, I guess, because she was in love with me.
Anyway, it ended with her testifying at the trial
in a sort of negative way. I didn’t care
about that-it was something else I wanted.
Later after the old man had died, I used it.
I wanted her to switch some papers on young Mr. Houston
for me, and she bucked against it. Then I told
her that she had done worse things, that she had perjured
herself, and that unless she stayed by me, she could
be sent to the penitentiary. Of course, I didn’t
tell her in those exact words-I did it more
in the way of making a criminal out of her already,
so that the thing she was going to do wouldn’t
seem as bad to her. I wasn’t foolish enough
to threaten her. Besides, I told her that the
mill should have been rightfully mine, that the old
man had lied to me and gotten me to work for him for
years at starvation wages, on promises that it would
be mine some time, and that he had neither taken me
in partnership, nor left it to me in the will.
She got her cousin to help her in the transfer of
the papers; it was a lease and stumpage contract.
He affixed a notary seal to it. The thing was
illegitimate, of course. Shortly after that,
young Houston came out here again, and I got her to
come too. I wanted to see what he was up to.
He fired me, and while he was in Denver, and Renaud
away from the mill, I got Miss Jierdon and took her
for a walk, while one of the other men kept watch for
the cook who was asleep. But she didn’t
wake up. On the way back, Miss Jierdon saw that
the mill was burning, and I directed her suspicion
toward Renaud. She accused him, and it brought
about a little quarrel between Miss Jierdon and young
Houston. I had forced her, by devious ways, to
pretend that she was in love with him-keeping
that perjury thing hanging over her all the time and
constantly harping on how, even though he was a nice
young fellow, he was robbing us both of something
that was rightfully ours. All this time, I had
dodged marrying her, promising that I would do it
when the mill was mine. In the meantime, with
the lease and contract in my hands, I had hooked up
with this man here, Blackburn, and he had started
a mill for me. I guess Miss Jierdon had gotten
to thinking a little of Houston, after all, because
when I forced her to the final thing of telling some
lies about him to a young woman, she did it, but went
away mad at me and threatening never to see me again.
But a little while later, she came back. Our
relations, while she had been at the Houston camp,
hadn’t been exactly what they should have been.
Miss Jierdon is dead-she had stayed in
a little cabin in the woods. I had lived with
her there. About ten days ago, the baby died,
while I was laid up at camp with a sprained hip.
To-day I went there to find her dead, and while I was
there, Renaud and young Houston caught me. This
is all I know. I make this statement of my own
free will, without coercion, and I swear it to be the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,
so help me God.’”
The little lobby milled and buzzed,
drowning the scratching of the pen as a trembling
man signed the confession, page by page. Then
came the clink of handcuffs. A moment later
two figures had departed in the dusk,-the
sheriff and Fred Thayer, bound for the jail at Montview.
Houston straightened, to find a short, bulky form before
him, Henry Blackburn.
“Well?” questioned that
person. “I guess it’s up to me.
I-I haven’t got much chance against
“What do you mean?”
“Simply this,” and the
bulky Blackburn drew a nervous, sweating hand across
his brow. “I ain’t above dealing
with crooks, I’ll admit that. I’ve
done a few things in my life that haven’t been
any too straight, or any too noble, and when Thayer
came to me with this contract and lease, I didn’t
ask any questions. My lawyer said it was O. K.
That was enough for me. But somehow or other,
I kind of draw the line at murder. I’m
in your hands, Houston. I’ve got a mill
up there that I’ve put a lot of money in.
It ain’t worth the powder to blow it up now-to
me, anyway. But with you, it’s different.
If you want to make me a fair offer, say the word,
and I’ll go more than half-way. What say?”
“Is to-morrow time enough?”
next day-or the next week. Suits me.
I’m in your hands.”
Then he went on, leaving only three
figures in the lobby,-the bent, silent
form of Ba’tiste Renaud, grave, but rewarded
at last in his faithful search; the radiant-eyed Houston,
free with a freedom that he hardly believed could
exist; and a girl who walked to the window and stood
looking out a moment before she turned to him.
Then impetuously she faced him, her eyes searching
his, her hands tight clasped, her whole being one
“I’m sorry,” she begged. “Can
you-will you forgive me?”
Boyishly Barry Houston reached forward
and drew away a strand of hair that had strayed from
place, a spirit of venture in his manner, a buoyant
tone in his voice.
“Say it again. I like it!”
“But I am-don’t you believe
“Of course. But then-I-I-”
Then he caught her hands. “Will you go
with me while I telegraph?” he asked in sudden
earnestness. “I want to wire-to
the papers back in Boston and tell them that I’ve
been vindicated. Will you ?”
“I’d be glad to.”
They went out the door together, Houston
beaming happily downward, the girl close beside him,
her arm in his. And it was then that the features
of Ba’tiste Renaud lost their gravity and sorrow.
He looked after them, his eyes soft and contented.
Then his big hands parted slowly. His lips
broke into a smile of radiant happiness.
And it was with the same glad light
in his eyes that three months later Ba’tiste
Renaud stood on the shores of Empire Lake, his wolf-dog
beside him, looking out over the rippling sheen of
the water. The snow was gone from the hills
now; the colors were again radiant, the blues and
purples and greens and reds vying, it seemed, with
one another, in a constantly recurring contest of
beauty. Afar off, logs were sliding in swift
succession down the skidways, to lose themselves in
the waters, then to bob along toward the current that
would carry them to the flume. The jays cried
and quarreled in the aspens; in a little bay, an old
beaver made his first sally of the evening, and by
angry slaps of his tail warned the rest of the colony
that humans were near. Distantly, from down the
bubbling stream which led from the lake, there sounded
the snarl of giant saws and the hum of machinery, where,
in two great mills, the logs traveled into a manufactured
state through a smooth-working process that led from
“jacker” to “kicker”, thence
to the platforms and the shotgun carriages; into the
mad rush of the bank saws, while the rumbling rolls
caught the offal to cart it away; then surging on,
to the edgers and trimmers and kilns. Great
trucks rumbled along the roadways. Faintly a
locomotive whistled, as the switch engine from Tabernacle
clanked to the mills for the make-up of its daily
stub-train of lumber cars. But the attention
of Ba’tiste Renaud was on none of these.
Out in a safe portion of the lake was a boat, and
within it sat two persons, a man and a woman, their
rods flashing as they made their casts, now drawing
slowly backward for another whip of the fly, now bending
with the swift leap of a captive trout. And he
watched them with the eyes of a father looking upon
children who have fulfilled his every hope, children
deeply, greatly beloved.
As for the man and the woman, they
laughed and glanced at each other as they cast, or
shouted and shrilled with the excitement of the leaping
trout as the fly caught fair and the struggle of the
rod and reel began, to end with another flopping form
in the creel, another delicacy for the table at camp.
But at last the girl leaned back, and her fly trailed
disregarded in the water.
“Barry,” she asked, “what day’s
“Wednesday,” he said,
and cast again in the direction of a dead, jutting
tree, the home of more than one three-pounder.
“Of course it’s Wednesday. But what
“I don’t know. Let me see.
Twentieth, isn’t it?”
This time her rod flipped in mock anger.
“Barry,” she commanded. “What
day is tomorrow?”
He looked at her blankly.
“I give it up,” came after deep thought.
“What day is to-morrow?”
She pressed tight her lips, striving
bravely for sternness. But in vain. An
upward curve made its appearance at the corners.
The blue eyes twinkled. She laughed.
“Foolish!” she chided.
“I might have expected you to forget.
It’s our first monthiversary!”