Read CHAPTER XXVIII - "IS A' WELL WI' YOU,LASS?" of Man Size, free online book, by William MacLeod Raine, on

Jessie’s shoes crunched on the snow-crust.  She traveled fast.  In spite of Onistah’s assurance her heart was troubled for him.  West and Whaley would study the tracks and come to at least an approximation of the truth.  She did not dare think of what the gorilla-man would do to her friend if they captured him.

And how was it possible that they would not find him?  His footsteps would be stamped deep in the snow.  He could not travel fast.  Since he had become a Christian, the Blackfoot, with the simplicity of a mind not used to the complexities of modern life, accepted the words of Jesus literally.  He would not take a human life to save his own.

She blamed herself for escaping at his expense.  The right thing would have been to send him back again for her father.  But West had become such a horrible obsession with her that the sight of him even at a distance had put her in a panic.

From the end of the lake she followed the trail Onistah had made.  It took into the woods, veering sharply to the right.  The timber was open.  Even where the snow was deep, the crust was firm enough to hold.

In her anxiety it seemed that hours passed.  The sun was still fairly high, but she knew how quickly it sank these winter days.

She skirted a morass, climbed a long hill, and saw before her another lake.  On the shore was a camp.  A fire was burning, and over this a man stooping.

At the sound of her call, the man looked up.  He rose and began to run toward her.  She snowshoed down the hill, a little blindly, for the mist of glad tears brimmed her eyes.

Straight into Beresford’s arms she went.  Safe at last, she began to cry.  The soldier petted her, with gentle words of comfort.

“It’s all right now, little girl.  All over with.  Your father’s here.  See!  He’s coming.  We’ll not let anything harm you.”

McRae took the girl into his arms and held her tight.  His rugged face was twisted with emotion.  A dam of ice melted in his heart.  The voice with which he spoke, broken with feeling, betrayed how greatly he was shaken.

“My bairn!  My wee dawtie!  To God be the thanks.”

She clung to him, trying to control her sobs.  He stroked her hair and kissed her, murmuring Gaelic words of endearment.  A thought pierced him, like a sword-thrust.

He held her at arm’s length, a fierce anxiety in his haggard face.  “Is a’ well wi’ you, lass?” he asked, almost harshly.

She understood his question.  Her level eyes met his.  They held no reservations of shame.  “All’s well with me, Father.  Mr. Whaley was there the whole time.  He stood out against West.  He was my friend.”  She stopped, enough said.

“The Lord be thankit,” he repeated again, devoutly.

Tom Morse, rifle in hand, had come from the edge of the woods and was standing near.  He had heard her first call, had seen her go to the arms of Beresford direct as a hurt child to those of its mother, and he had drawn reasonable conclusions from that.  For under stress the heart reveals itself, he argued, and she had turned simply and instinctively to the man she loved.  He stood now outside the group, silent.  Inside him too a river of ice had melted.  His haunted, sunken eyes told the suffering he had endured.  The feeling that flooded him was deeper than joy.  She had been dead and was alive again.  She had been lost and was found.

“Where have you been?” asked Beresford.  “We’ve been looking for days.”

“In a cabin on Bull Creek.  Mr. Whaley took me there, but West followed.”

“How did you get away?”

“We were out of food.  They went hunting.  West took my snowshoes.  Onistah came.  He saw them coming back and gave me his shoes.  He went and hid in the woods.  But they’ll see his tracks.  They’ll find him.  We must hurry back.”

“Yes,” agreed McRae.  “I’m thinkin’ if West finds the lad, he’ll do him ill.”

Morse spoke for the first time, his voice dry as a chip.  “We’d better hurry on, Beresford and I. You and Miss McRae can bring the sled.”

McRae hesitated, but assented.  There might be desperate need of haste.  “That’ll be the best way.  But you’ll be carefu’, lad.  Yon West’s a wolf.  He’d as lief kill ye baith as look at ye.”

The younger men were out of sight over the brow of the hill long before McRae and Jessie had the dogs harnessed.

“You’ll ride, lass,” the father announced.

She demurred.  “We can go faster if I walk.  Let me drive.  Then you can break trail where the snow’s soft.”

“No.  You’ll ride, my dear.  There’s nae sic a hurry.  The lads’ll do what’s to be done.  On wi’ ye.”

Jessie got into the cariole and was bundled up to the tip of the nose with buffalo robes, the capote of her own fur being drawn over the head and face.  For riding in the sub-Arctic winter is a freezing business.

“Marche," ordered McRae.

Cuffy led the dogs up the hill, following the trail already broken.  The train made good time, but to Jessie it seemed to crawl.  She was tortured with anxiety for Onistah.  An express could not have carried her fast enough.  It was small comfort to tell herself that Onistah was a Blackfoot and knew every ruse of the woods.  His tracks would lead straight to him and the veriest child could follow them.  Nor could she persuade herself that Whaley would stand between him and West’s anger.  To the gambler Onistah was only a nitchie.

The train passed out of the woods to the shore of the lake.  Here the going was better.  The sun was down and the snow-crust held dogs and sled.  A hundred fifty yards from the cabin McRae pulled up the team.  He moved forward and examined the snow.

With a heave Jessie flung aside the robes that wrapped her and jumped from the cariole.  An invisible hand seemed to clutch tightly at her throat.  For what she and her father had seen were crimson splashes in the white.  Some one or something had been killed or wounded here.  Onistah, of course!  He must have changed his mind, tried to follow her, and been shot by West as he was crossing the lake.

She groaned, her heart heavy.

McRae offered comfort.  “He’ll likely be only wounded.  The lads wouldna hae moved him yet if he’d no’ been livin’.”

The train moved forward, Jessie running beside Angus.

Morse came to the door.  He closed it behind him.

“Onistah?” cried Jessie.

“He’s been - hurt.  But we were in time.  He’ll get well.”

“West shot him?  We saw stains in the snow.”

“No.  He shot Whaley.”

“Whaley?” echoed McRae.

“Yes.  Wanted to get rid of him.  Thought your daughter was hidden in the woods here.  Afraid, too, that Whaley would give him up to the North-West Mounted.”

“Then Whaley’s dead?” the Scotchman asked.

“No.  West hadn’t time right then to finish the job.  Pretty badly hurt, though.  Shot in the side and in the thigh.”

“And West?”

“We came too soon.  He couldn’t finish his deviltry.  He lit out over the hill soon as he saw us.”

They went into the house.

Jessie walked straight to where Onistah lay on the balsam boughs and knelt beside him.  Beresford was putting on one of his feet a cloth soaked in caribou oil.

“What did he do to you?” she cried, a constriction of dread at her heart.

A ghost of a smile touched the immobile face of the native.  “Apache stuff, he called it.”

“But - ”

“West burned his feet to make him tell where you were,” Beresford told her gently.

“Oh!” she cried, in horror.

“Good old Onistah.  He gamed it out.  Wouldn’t say a word.  West saw us coming and hit the trail.”

“Is he - is he ?”

“He’s gone.”

“I mean Onistah.”

“Suffering to beat the band, but not a whimper out of him.  He’s not permanently hurt - be walking around in a week or two.”

“You poor boy!” the girl cried softly, and she put her arm under the Indian’s head to lift it to an easier position.

The dumb lips of the Blackfoot did not thank her, but the dark eyes gave her the gratitude of a heart wholly hers.

All that night the house was a hospital.  The country was one where men had learned to look after hurts without much professional aid.  In a rough way Angus McRae was something of a doctor.  He dressed the wounds of both the injured, using the small medical kit he had brought with him.

Whaley was a bit of a stoic himself.  The philosophy of his class was to take good fortune or ill undemonstratively.  He was lucky to be alive.  Why whine about what must be?

But as the fever grew on him with the lengthening hours, he passed into delirium.  Sometimes he groaned with pain.  Again he fell into disconnected babble of early days.  He was back again with his father and mother, living over his wild and erring youth.

“...  Don’t tell Mother.  I’ll square it all right if you keep it from her....  Rotten run of cards.  Ninety-seven dollars.  You’ll have to wait, I tell you....  Mother, Mother, if you won’t cry like that ...”

McRae used the simple remedies he had.  In themselves they were, he knew, of little value.  He must rely on good nursing and the man’s hardy constitution to pull him through.

With Morse and Beresford he discussed the best course to follow.  It was decided that Morse should take Onistah and Jessie back to Faraway next day and return with a load of provisions.  Whaley’s fever must run its period.  It was impossible to tell yet whether he would live or die, but for some days at least it would not be safe to move him.