Read CHAPTER XXVIII of The Rising of the Red Man A Romance of the Louis Riel Rebellion, free online book, by John Mackie, on ReadCentral.com.

THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

The dwarf seized her hand, and, stepping over the brink, they began their perilous descent. They lay on their sides, feet downwards, and at once the loose sand and fine pebbles began to move with their bodies. Down the long slope they slid at a terrific pace that fairly took their breath away. To Dorothy it was as if she were falling from an immense height. The earth rushed past her, and for one horrible moment she feared she was losing her senses. It was a nightmare in which she was tumbling headlong from some dizzy cliff, knowing that she would be dashed to pieces at its foot.

“Courage, my dear.”

It was Pepin’s voice that brought her to her senses. She felt the grasp of his strong hand upon her arm. Soon she became conscious that their rocket-like flight was somewhat checked, and noted the reason. Pepin who lay on his back, had got his long stick wedged under his arms, and, with the weight of his body practically upon it, made it serve as a drag on their progress. Dorothy felt as if her clothes must be brushed from her body. She hardly dared look down to see how much of the fearful journey there was yet to accomplish. Suddenly the sand and gravel became of a heavier nature. Their pace slackened; Pepin threw all his weight on to the stick, and they pulled up. Dorothy saw that they were now about half-way down they must have dropped about three hundred feet in a matter of seconds. Then something that to Dorothy seemed to presage the end of all things happened. There was a roar as of thunder over their heads. Looking up as they still lay prone they beheld a terrifying spectacle. A huge rock was bounding down upon them from the heights above. It gathered force as it came, rising high in the air in a series of wild leaps. Debris and dust marked its path. It set other stones in motion, and the noise was as if a 15-pounder and a Vicker’s Maxim gun were playing a duet. For the moment a species of panic seized Dorothy, but Pepin retained his presence of mind.

“Bah!” he exclaimed. “It is that cut-throat and blockhead, Jumping Frog, who has been throw down that stone! But what need to worry! Either it will squeeze us like to the jelly-fish or the flat-fish, or it will jump over our heads and do no harm ”

He pressed her to earth with one strong hand as the great rock struck the ground a few feet short of them and bounded over their heads. A warm, sulphurous odour came from the place of concussion. An avalanche of small stones rattled all around them. It was a narrow escape truly, and the very thought of it almost turned Dorothy sick. She saw the rock ricochet down the steep slope and plunge with a mighty splash into the blue waters far below.

How they got to the bottom Dorothy was never able to determine. She only knew that when she got there her boots were torn to pieces, and any respectable dealer in rags would hardly have demeaned himself by bidding for her clothes. Pepin was a curious sight, for his garments looked like so many tattered signals of distress.

The two found themselves in a great gloomy canyon with frowning sides and a broad, leaden-hued river surging at its foot.

But the canoe, where was it? Had it been sunk by the rock from above? If so, they had absolutely no hope of escape.

But Pepin’s sharp eyes saw it riding securely in a little bay under a jutting rock. Dorothy and he hurried down to it. There was a narrow strip of sand, and the water was shallow just there. The painter was wound round a sharp rock, and they pulled the canoe to them. Just at that moment a shower of rocks and debris passed within a few feet of them and plunged into the water, throwing up a snow-white geyser.

“Jump in, my dear,” cried Pepin, “we will escape them yet, and that fool of a Jumping Frog will swing at the end of a long rope or die like a coyote with a bullet through his stupid head.”

Dorothy got in, and Pepin rolled in bodily after her. He seized the paddle, seated himself near the bow, and dipped his blade into the eddying flood. “Now then, Mam’selle, have the big heart of courage and the good God will help. One, two!”

The canoe shot out into the stream. Like a child’s paper boat or a withered leaf it was caught up and whirled away. There was a look of exultation on the dwarfs face; his dark eyes flashed with excitement.

“Courage, my dear!” he cried again. “Move not, and do not be afraid. Think of the good father and the sweetheart who will meet you at the Croisettes lower down. Think of them, dear heart, the father and the lover!”

Dorothy did think, and breathed a prayer that God would nerve the arm of Pepin and give them both faith and courage.

But the river was in flood, and the current rushed like a mill-race. Dorothy fairly held her breath as the canoe rode over the surging waters. The river seemed to narrow, and great black walls of rock wet with spray and streaked with patches of orange and green closed in upon them. They came to a bend where the water roared and boiled angrily, its surface being broken with great blue silver-crested furrows. Suddenly Pepin uttered a strange, hoarse cry. There had been an immense landslide, and the entire channel had been altered. Right in their path lay a broad whirlpool. Pepin paddled for dear life, while the perspiration stood out in beads upon his forehead. His face was set and there was a strained look in his eyes. Dorothy clasped her hands, praying aloud, but uttering no word of fear.

“Courage, courage,” Pepin cried. “The good Lord will not forsake. Courage!”

The muscles stood out like knots on his great arms. His body inclined forward and his paddle flashed and dipped with lightning, unerring strokes.

The canoe leapt out of the water, and then shot out of that swirling, awful ring into the headlong stream again.

“Houp-la, Hooray!” cried Pepin. “Thanks be to the good God! Courage, mon ami!

And then the words died on his lips, and Dorothy perceived a sickly grey overspread his face as he stared ahead. She looked and saw a great mass of rock right in the centre of the stream, as if a portion of the cliff had fallen into it, dividing the passage. Pepin, who had somewhat relaxed his efforts, now began to ply his paddle again with redoubled vigour. His hair stood on end, the veins swelled on his forehead, and his body was hunched forward in a grotesque fashion. Once he turned and, looking swiftly over his shoulder, cried something to Dorothy. But the thundering of the waters was now so great that his voice was drowned. The canoe was heading straight for the rock, as an arrow speeds from the bow. Dorothy closed her eyes and prayed. There was a lurch, the canoe heeled over until the water poured in, she opened her eyes and clung to the sides for dear life, and then it shot past the menacing death, just missing it by a hand’s breadth.

But what was the matter with the river? It had contracted until it was not more than twenty yards in width. It flowed between smooth slimy walls of rock, the vasty heights of which shut out the light of coming day. There was no roaring now, only the rapid, deep, tremulous flow of the sea-green waters. Dorothy looked upwards, but all she could see was the black, pitiless cliffs, and a narrow ribbon of sky. Pepin had ceased to ply his paddle, and was gazing fixedly down stream. A presentiment that something was wrong took possession of Dorothy. When the dwarf turned round, and she saw the look of pity for her upon his face, she knew he had something ghastly to tell. His expression was not that of fear; it was that of one who, seeing death ahead, is not afraid for himself, but is strangely apprehensive about breaking the news to another. And all the time the thin ribbon of sky was getting narrower.

The girl looked at the dwarf keenly.

“Pepin Quesnelle,” she said, “you have been a good, dear friend to me, and now you have lost your life in trying to save mine ”

“Pardon, Mam’selle, my dear, what is it you know? You say we go for to meet the death. How you know that, eh? What?”

Despite the tragedy of the situation, and the great pity for her that filled his heart, he would not have been Pepin had he not posed as the petit maitre in this the hour of the shadow.

She pointed to the great black archway looming up ahead under which their canoe must shoot in another minute. It was the dread subterranean passage, which meant for them the end of all things. It was a tragic ending to all her hopes and dreams, the trials and the triumphs of her young life. It was, indeed, bitter to think that just when love, the crowning experience of womanhood, had come to her, its sweetness should have been untasted. Even the lover’s kiss that seal upon the compact of souls had been denied her. Her fate had been a hard one, but Dorothy was no fair-weather Christian. Was it not a great triumph that in the dark end she should have bowed to the higher will, and been strong? And her love, if it had experienced no earthly close, might it not live again in the mysterious Hereafter? She thanked God for the comfort of the thought. She had been face to face with death before, but now here surely was the end. She would be brave and true to all that was best and truest in her, and she felt that somehow those who were left behind must know.

The dwarf faced her, and his hands were clasped as in prayer. His face was transfigured. There was no fear there only a look of trust in a higher power, and of compassion.

“Pepin,” cried Dorothy, “you have been a good, dear friend to me, and I want to thank you before ”

“Bah !” interrupted the dwarf. “What foolishness is it you will talk about thanks! But, my dear, I will say this to you now, although you are a woman, there is no one in this wide world save, of course, the good mother that I would more gladly have laid down my life to serve than you! I am sure your Pasmore would forgive me if he heard that Good-bye, my dear child, and if it is the Lord’s will that together we go to knock at the gates of the great Beyond, then I will thank Heaven that I have been sent in such good company. Now, let us thank the good God that He has put the love of Him in our hearts.”

And then the darkness swallowed them up.

Back from the land of dreams and shadows back from the
Valley of the Shadow and the realms of unconsciousness.

Dorothy opened her eyes. At first she could see nothing. Then there fell upon her view the shadowy form of a human figure bending over her, and a slimy roof of rock that seemed to rush past at racehorse speed. It seemed to grow lighter. The canoe swayed; she heard the rush of water; then there was darkness again.

It was the splash of cold water on her face from a little wave that dashed over the side of the canoe that roused her. She opened her eyes. In the bow she could see Pepin kneeling; his hands were clasped before him; his deep voice ran above the surge of the current, and she knew that he was praying aloud.

The roof over her head seemed to recede. It grew higher. Pepin turned and seized the paddle. He dipped it into the water and headed the canoe into the centre of the stream.

“Mam’selle, my dear,” he cried, “the good God has heard our prayer. He has guided us through. Have heart of courage, and all will be well.”

Dorothy raised herself on to her hands and knees. It was as if she had been dead and had come to life again. The stream opened out. Suddenly there came a break in the roof.

“Courage, mon ami!” cried Pepin, and he was just in time to turn them from a rock that threatened destruction.

Then all at once they shot out into the great isle-studded bosom of the broad river, and the sweet sunshine of the coming day.

Half-an-hour later, and the canoe was gliding past the banks where the ash and the wolf-willow grew, and the great cliffs were left behind. They knew that they were safe, and in their hearts was thanksgiving. Suddenly Pepin cried

“Ah, Mam’selle, you Douglas female, look don’t you see it? There it is Croisettes, and look look, there is the good mother, and your father, and there your Pasmore, your pudding-head, Pasmore! Look, they run. Do not you see them?”

But Dorothy could not see, for her eyes were full of tears like Pepin’s.