THE FACE IN THE WINDOW

BY WILLIAM DUDLEY PELLEY

At nine o'clock this morning Sheriff Crumpett entered our New England town post-office for his mail. From his box he extracted his monthly Grand Army paper and a letter in a long yellow envelope. This envelope bore the return-stamp of a prominent Boston lumber-company. The old man crossed the lobby to the writing-shelf under the Western Union clock, hooked black-rimmed glasses on a big nose and tore a generous inch from the end of the envelope.

The first inclosure which met his eyes was a check. It was heavy and pink and crisp, and was attached to the single sheet of letter-paper with a clip. Impressed into the fabric of the safety-paper were the indelible figures of a protector: Not over Five Thousand ($5000) Dollars.

The sheriff read the name of the person to whom it was payable and gulped. His gnarled old hand trembled with excitement as he glanced over the clipped letter and then went through it again.

November 10, 1919.

MY DEAR SHERIFF:

  Enclosed please find my personal check for five thousand dollars.
  It is made out to Mrs. McBride. Never having known the lady
       personally,
  and because you have evidently represented her with the authorities,
  I am sending it to you for proper delivery. I feel, from your
  enthusiastic account of her recent experience, that it will give
       you
  pleasure to present it to her.

  Under the circumstances I do not begrudge the money. When first
  advised of Ruggam's escape, it was hot-headed impulse which
       prompted
  me to offer a reward so large. The old clan-blood of the Wileys
       must
  have made me murder-mad that Ruggam should regain his freedom
       permanently
  after the hellish thing he did to my brother. The newspapers heard
       of it,
  and then I could not retract.

  That, however, is a thing of the past. I always did detest a
       welcher,
  and if this money is going to a woman to whom it will be manna from
  heaven—to use your words—I am satisfied. Convey to her my
       personal
  congratulations, gratitude and best wishes.

Cordially yours,

C. V. D. WILEY.

"Good old Chris!" muttered the sheriff. "He's rich because he's white." He thrust both check and letter back into the long envelope and headed for the office of our local daily paper at a smart pace.

The earning of five thousand dollars reward-money by Cora McBride made an epochal news-item, and in that night's paper we headlined it accordingly—not omitting proper mention of the sheriff and giving him appropriate credit.

Having so started the announcement permeating through the community, the old man employed the office phone and called the local livery-stable. He ordered a rig in which he might drive at once to the McBride house in the northern part of town.

"But half that money ought to be yourn!" protested the proprietor of the stable as the sheriff helped him "gear up the horse" a few minutes later.

"Under the circumstances, Joseph, can you see me takin' it? No; it ain't in me to horn in for no rake-off on one o' the Lord's miracles."

The old man climbed into the sleigh, took the reins from the liveryman and started the horse from the livery yard.

Two weeks ago—on Monday, the twenty-seventh of the past October—the telephone-bell rang sharply in our newspaper-office a few moments before the paper went to press. Now, the telephone-bell often rings in our newspaper-office a few moments before going to press. The confusion on this particular Monday afternoon, however, resulted from Albany calling on the long-distance. Albany—meaning the nearest office of the international press-association of which our paper is a member—called just so, out of a clear sky, on the day McKinley was assassinated, on the day the Titanic foundered and on the day Austria declared war on Serbia.

The connection was made, and over the wire came the voice of young
Stewart, crisp as lettuce.

"Special dispatch … Wyndgate, Vermont, October 27th … Ready?" The editor of our paper answered in the affirmative. The rest of us grouped anxiously around his chair. Stewart proceeded:

"'Hapwell Ruggam, serving a life-sentence for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Martin Wiley at a Lost Nation kitchen-dance two years ago, killed Jacob Lambwell, his guard, and escaped from prison at noon to-day.

"'Ruggam had been given some repair work to do near the outer prison-gate. It was opened to admit a tradesman's automobile. As Guard Lambwell turned to close the gate, Ruggam felled him with his shovel. He escaped to the adjacent railroad-yards, stole a corduroy coat and pair of blue overalls hanging in a switchman's shanty and caught the twelve-forty freight up Green River.'"

Stewart had paused. The editor scribbled frantically. In a few words aside he explained to us what Stewart was sending. Then he ordered the latter to proceed.

"'Freight Number Eight was stopped by telegraph near Norwall. The fugitive, assuming correctly that it was slowing down for search, was seen by a brakeman fleeing across a pasture between the tracks and the eastern edge of Haystack Mountain. Several posses have already started after him, and sheriffs all through northern New England are being notified.

"'Christopher Wiley, lumber magnate and brother of Ruggam's former victim, on being told of the escape, has offered a reward of five thousand dollars for Ruggam's capture, dead or alive. Guard Lambwell was removed to a hospital, where he died at one-thirty'…. All right?"

The connection was broken, and the editor removed the headpiece. He began giving orders. We were twenty minutes behind usual time with the papers, but we made all the trains.

When the big Duplex was grinding out newsprint with a roar that shook the building, the boys and girls gathered around to discuss the thing which had happened.

The Higgins boy, saucer-eyed over the experience of being "on the inside" during the handling of the first sizable news-story since he had become our local reporter, voiced the interrogation on the faces of other office newcomers.

"Ruggam," the editor explained, "is a poor unfortunate who should have been sent to an asylum instead of the penitentiary. He killed Mart Wiley, a deputy sheriff, at a Lost Nation kitchen-dance two years ago."

"Where's the Lost Nation?"

"It's a term applied to most of the town of Partridgeville in the northern part of the county—an inaccessible district back in the mountains peopled with gone-to-seed stock and half-civilized illiterates who only get into the news when they load up with squirrel whisky and start a programme of progressive hell. Ruggam was the local blacksmith."

"What's a kitchen-dance?"

"Ordinarily a kitchen-dance is harmless enough. But the Lost Nation folks use it as an excuse for a debauch. They gather in some sizable shack, set the stove out into the yard, soak themselves in aromatic spirits of deviltry and dance from Saturday night until Monday noon——"

"And this Ruggam killed a sheriff at one of them?"

"He got into a brawl with another chap about his wife. Someone passing saw the fight and sent for an officer. Mart Wiley was deputy, afraid of neither man, God nor devil. Martin had grown disgusted over the petty crime at these kitchen-dances and started out to clean up this one right. Hap Ruggam killed him. He must have had help, because he first got Mart tied to a tree in the yard. Most of the crowd was pie-eyed by this time, anyhow, and would fight at the drop of a hat. After tying him securely, Ruggam caught up a billet of wood and—and killed him with that."

"Why didn't they electrocute him?" demanded young Higgins.

"Well, the murder wasn't exactly premeditated. Hap wasn't himself; he was drunk—not even able to run away when Sheriff Crumpett arrived in the neighbourhood to take him into custody. Then there was Hap's bringing up. All these made extenuating circumstances."

"There was something about Sheriff Wiley's pompadour," suggested our little lady proofreader.

"Yes," returned the editor. "Mart had a queer head of hair. It was dark and stiff, and he brushed it straight back in a pompadour. When he was angry or excited, it actually rose on his scalp like wire. Hap's counsel made a great fuss over Mart's pompadour and the part it sort of played in egging Hap on. The sight of it, stiffening and rising the way it did maddened Ruggam so that he beat it down hysterically in retaliation for the many grudges he fancied he owed the officer. No, it was all right to make the sentence life-imprisonment, only it should have been an asylum. Hap's not right. You'd know it without being told. I guess it's his eyes. They aren't mates. They light up weirdly when he's drunk or excited, and if you know what's healthy, you get out of the way."

By eight o'clock that evening most of the valley's deer-hunters, all of the local adventurers who could buy, borrow or beg a rifle, and the usual quota of high-school sons of thoughtless parents were off on the man-hunt in the eastern mountains.

Among them was Sheriff Crumpett's party. On reaching the timberline they separated. It was agreed that if any of them found signs of Ruggam, the signal for assistance was five shots in quick succession "and keep shooting at intervals until the rest come up."

We newspaper folk awaited the capture with professional interest and pardonable excitement….

In the northern part of our town, a mile out on the Wickford road, is the McBride place. It is a small white house with a red barn in the rear and a neat rail fence inclosing the whole. Six years ago Cora McBride was bookkeeper in the local garage. Her maiden name was Allen. The town called her "Tomboy Allen." She was the only daughter of old Zeb Allen, for many years our county game-warden. Cora, as we had always known—and called—her, was a full-blown, red-blooded, athletic girl who often drove cars for her employer in the days when steering-wheels manipulated by women were offered as clinching proof that society was headed for the dogs.

Duncan McBride was chief mechanic in the garage repairshop. He was an affable, sober, steady chap, popularly known as "Dunk the Dauntless" because of an uncanny ability to cope successfully with the ailments of 90 per cent, of the internal-combustion hay-balers and refractory tin-Lizzies in the county when other mechanics had given them up in disgust.

When he married his employer's bookkeeper, Cora's folks gave her a wedding that carried old Zeb within half an hour of insolvency and ran to four columns in the local daily. Duncan and the Allen girl motored to Washington in a demonstration-car, and while Dunk was absent, the yard of the garage resembled the premises about a junkshop. On their return they bought the Johnson place, and Cora quickly demonstrated the same furious enthusiasm for homemaking and motherhood that she had for athletics and carburetors.

Three years passed, and two small boys crept about the yard behind the white rail fence. Then—when Duncan and his wife were "making a great go of matrimony" in typical Yankee fashion—came the tragedy that took all the vim out of Cora, stole the ruddy glow from her girlish features and made her middle-aged in a twelvemonth. In the infantile-paralysis epidemic which passed over New England three years ago the McBrides suffered the supreme sorrow—twice. Those small boys died within two weeks of each other.

Duncan of course kept on with his work at the garage. He was quieter and steadier than ever. But when we drove into the place to have a carburetor adjusted or a rattle tightened, we saw only too plainly that on his heart was a wound the scars of which would never heal. As for Cora, she was rarely seen in the village.

Troubles rarely come singly. One afternoon this past August, Duncan completed repairs on Doc Potter's runabout. Cranking the machine to run it from the workshop, the "dog" on the safety-clutch failed to hold. The acceleration of the engine threw the machine into high. Dunk was pinned in front while the roadster leaped ahead and rammed the delivery truck of the Red Front Grocery.

Duncan was taken to our memorial hospital with internal injuries and dislocation of his spine. He remained there many weeks. In fact, he had been home only a couple of days when the evening stage left in the McBride letter-box the daily paper containing the story of Ruggam's "break" and of the reward offered for his capture.

Cora returned to the kitchen after obtaining the paper and sank wearily into a wooden chair beside the table with the red cloth. Spreading out the paper, she sought the usual mental distraction in the three-and four-line bits which make up our local columns.

As the headlines caught her eye, she picked up the paper and entered the bedroom where Duncan lay. There were telltale traces of tears on his unshaven face, and an ache in his discouraged heart that would not be assuaged, for it was becoming rumoured about the village that Dunk the Dauntless might never operate on the vitals of an ailing tin-Lizzie again.

"Dunnie," cried his wife, "Hap Ruggam's escaped!" Sinking down beside the bedroom lamp, she read him the article aloud.

Her husband's name was mentioned therein; for when the sheriff had commandeered an automobile from the local garage to convey him and his posse to Lost Nation and secure Ruggam, Duncan had been called forth to preside at the steering-wheel. He had thus assisted in the capture and later had been a witness at the trial.

The reading ended, the man rolled his head.

"If I wasn't held here, I might go!" he said. "I might try for that five thousand myself!"

Cora was sympathetic enough, of course, but she was fast approaching the stage where she needed sympathy herself.

"We caught him over on the Purcell farm," mused Duncan. "Something ailed Ruggam. He was drunk and couldn't run. But that wasn't all. He had had some kind of crazy-spell during or after the killing and wasn't quite over it. We tied him and lifted him into the auto. His face was a sight. His eyes aren't mates, anyhow, and they were wild and unnatural. He kept shrieking something about a head of hair—black hair—sticks up like wire. He must have had an awful impression of Mart's face and that hair of his."

"I remember about Aunt Mary Crumpett's telling me of the trouble her husband had with his prisoner in the days before the trial," his wife replied. "He had those crazy-spells often, nights. He kept yelling that he saw Martin Wiley's head with its peculiar hair, and his face peering in at him through the cell window. Sometimes he became so bad that Sheriff Crumpett thought he'd have apoplexy Finally he had to call Dr. Johnson to attend him."

"Five thousand dollars!" muttered Duncan. "Gawd! I'd hunt the devil for nothing if I only had a chance of getting out of this bed."

Cora smoothed her husband's rumpled bed, comforted him and laid her own tired head down beside his hand. When he had dozed off, she arose and left the room.

In the kitchen she resumed her former place beside the table with the cheap red cloth; and there, with her face in her hands, she stared into endless distance.

"Five thousand dollars! Five thousand dollars!" Over and over she whispered the words, with no one to hear.

The green-birch fire snapped merrily in the range. The draft sang in the flue. Outside, a soft, feathery snow was falling, for winter came early in the uplands of Vermont this past year. To Cora McBride, however, the winter meant only hardship. Within another week she must go into town and secure work. Not that she minded the labour nor the trips through the vicious weather! The anguish was leaving Duncan through those monotonous days before he should be up and around. Those dreary winter days! What might they not do to him—alone.

Five thousand dollars! Like many others in the valley that night she pictured with fluttering heart what it would mean to possess such a sum of money; but not once in her pitiful flight of fancy did she disregard the task which must be performed to gain that wealth.

It meant traveling upward in the great snowbound reaches of Vermont mountain-country and tracking down a murderer who had killed a second time to gain his freedom and would stop at nothing again.

And yet—five thousand dollars!

How much will a person do, how far will a normal human being travel, to earn five thousand dollars—if the need is sufficiently provocative?

As Cora McBride sat there in the homely little farmhouse kitchen and thought of the debts still existent, contracted to save the already stricken lives of two little lads forgotten now by all but herself and Duncan and God, of the chances of losing their home if Duncan could work no more and pay up the balance of their mortgage, of the days when Duncan must lie in the south bedroom alone and count the figures on the wallpaper—as she sat there and contemplated these things, into Cora McBride's heart crept determination.

At first it was only a faint challenge to her courage. As the minutes passed, however, her imagination ran riot, with five thousand dollars to help them in their predicament. The challenge grew. Multitudes of women down all the years had attempted wilder ventures for those who were dear to them. Legion in number had been those who set their hands and hearts to greater tasks, made more improbable sacrifices, taken greater chances. Multitudes of them, too, had won—on little else than the courage of ignorance and the strength of desperation.

She had no fear of the great outdoors, for she had lived close to the mountains from childhood and much of her old physical resiliency and youthful daredeviltry remained. And the need was terrible; no one anywhere in the valley, not even her own people, knew how terrible.

Cora McBride, alone by her table in the kitchen, that night made her decision.

She took the kitchen lamp and went upstairs. Lifting the top of a leather trunk, she found her husband's revolver. With it was a belt and holster, the former filled with cartridges. In the storeroom over the back kitchen she unhooked Duncan's mackinaw and found her own toboggan-cap. From a corner behind some fishing-rods she salvaged a pair of summer-dried snowshoes; they had facilitated many a previous hike in the winter woods with her man of a thousand adventures. She searched until she found the old army-haversack Duncan used as a game-bag. Its shoulder-straps were broken but a length of rope sufficed to bind it about her shoulders, after she had filled it with provisions.

With this equipment she returned below-stairs. She drew on heavy woollen stockings and buckled on arctics. She entered the cold pantry and packed the knapsack with what supplies she could find at the hour. She did not forget a drinking-cup, a hunting-knife or matches. In her blouse she slipped a household flash-lamp.

Dressed finally for the adventure, from the kitchen she called softly to her husband. He did not answer. She was overwhelmed by a desire to go into the south bedroom and kiss him, so much might happen before she saw him again. But she restrained herself. She must not waken him.

She blew out the kerosene lamp, gave a last glance about her familiar kitchen and went out through the shed door, closing it softly behind her.

It was one of those close, quiet nights when the bark of a distant dog or whinny of a horse sounds very near at hand. The snow was falling feathery.

An hour later found her far to the eastward, following an old side road that led up to the Harrison lumber-job. She had meantime paid Dave Sheldon, a neighbour's boy, encountered by his gate, to stay with Duncan during her absence which she explained with a white lie. But her conscience did not bother. Her conscience might be called upon to smother much more before the adventure was ended.

Off in the depths of the snowing night she strode along, a weird figure against the eerie whiteness that illumined the winter world. She felt a strange wild thrill in the infinite out-of-doors. The woodsman's blood of her father was having its little hour.

And she knew the woods. Intuitively she felt that if Ruggam was on Haystack Mountain making his way toward Lost Nation, he would strike for the shacks of the Green Mountain Club or the deserted logging-camps along the trail, secreting himself in them during his pauses for rest, for he had no food, and provisions were often left in these structures by hunters and mountain hikers. Her plan was simple. She would investigate each group of buildings. She had the advantage of starting on the northwest side of Haystack. She would be working toward Ruggam, while the rest of the posses were trailing him.

Mile after mile she covered. She decided it must be midnight when she reached the ghostly buildings of the Harrison tract, lying white and silent under the thickening snow. It was useless to search these cabins; they were too near civilization. Besides, if Ruggam had left the freight at Norwall on the eastern side of Haystack at noon, he had thirty miles to travel before reaching the territory from which she was starting. So she skirted the abandoned quiet of the clearing, laid the snowshoes properly down before her and bound the thongs securely about her ankles.

She had plenty of time to think of Ruggam as she padded along. He had no snowshoes to aid him, unless he had managed to secure a pair by burglary, which was improbable. So it was not difficult to calculate about where she should begin watching for him. She believed he would keep just off the main trail to avoid detection, yet take its general direction in order to secure shelter and possible food from the mountain buildings. When she reached the country in which she might hope to encounter him, she would zigzag across that main trail in order to pick up his foot-tracks if he had passed her undetected. In that event she would turn and follow. She knew that the snow was falling too heavily to continue in such volume indefinitely; it would stop as suddenly as it had started.

The hours of the night piled up. The silent, muffling snowfall continued. And Cora McBride began to sense an alarming weariness. It finally dawned upon her that her old-time vigour was missing. The strength of youth was hers no longer. Two experiences of motherhood and no more exercise than was afforded by the tasks of her household, had softened her muscles. Their limitations were now disclosed.

The realization of those limitations was accompanied by panic. She was still many miles even from Blind Brook Cabin, and her limbs were afire from the unaccustomed effort. This would never do. After pauses for breath that were coming closer and closer together, she set her lips each time grimly. "Tomboy Allen" had not counted on succumbing to physical fatigue before she had climbed as far as Blind Brook. If she were weakening already, what of those many miles on the other side?

Tuesday the twenty-eighth of October passed with no tidings of Ruggam's capture. The Holmes boy was fatally shot by a rattleheaded searcher near Five-Mile Pond, and distraught parents began to take thought of their own lads missing from school. Adam MacQuarry broke his leg near the Hell Hollow schoolhouse and was sent back by friends on a borrowed bobsled. Several ne'er-do-wells, long on impulse and short on stickability, drifted back to more comfortable quarters during the day, contending that if Hap were captured, the officers would claim the reward anyhow—so what was the use bucking the System?

The snowfall stopped in the early morning. Sunrise disclosed the world trimmed from horizon to horizon in fairy fluff. Householders jocosely shoveled their walks; small children resurrected attic sleds; here and there a farmer appeared on Main Street during the forenoon in a pung-sleigh or cutter with jingling bells. The sun soared higher, and the day grew warmer. Eaves began dripping during the noon hour, to stop when the sun sank about four o'clock behind Bancroft's hill.

After the sunset came a perfect evening. The starlight was magic. Many people called in at the newspaper-office, after the movies, to learn if the man hunt had brought results.

Between ten and eleven o'clock the lights on the valley floor blinked out; the town had gone to bed—that is, the lights blinked out in all homes excepting those on the eastern outskirts, where nervous people worried over the possibilities of a hungry, hunted convict's burglarizing their premises, or drawn-faced mothers lived mentally through a score of calamities befalling red-blooded sons who had now been absent twenty-four hours.

Sometime between nine o'clock and midnight—she had no way of telling accurately—Cora McBride stumbled into the Lyons clearing. No one would have recognized in the staggering, bedraggled apparition that emerged from the silhouette of the timber the figure that had started so confidently from the Harrison tract the previous evening.

For over an hour she had hobbled blindly. It was wholly by accident that she had stumbled into the clearing. And the capture of Ruggam had diminished in importance. Warm food, water that would not tear her raw throat, a place to lie and recoup her strength after the chilling winter night—these were the only things that counted now. Though she knew it not, in her eyes burned the faint light of fever. When a snag caught her snowshoe and tripped her, there was hysteria in her cry of resentment.

As she moved across from the timber-line her hair was revealed fallen down; she had lost a glove, and one hand and wrist were cruelly red where she had plunged them several times into the snow to save herself from falling upon her face. She made but a few yards before the icy thong of her right snowshoe snapped. She did not bother to repair it. Carrying it beneath her arm, she hobbled brokenly toward the shelter of the buildings.

Her failure at the other cabins, the lack, thus far, of all signs of the fugitive, the vastness of the hunting-ground magnified by the loneliness of winter, had convinced her finally that her quest was futile. It was all a venture of madness. The idea that a woman, alone and single-handed, with no weapon but a revolver, could track down and subdue a desperate murderer in winter mountains where hardly a wild thing stirred, and make him return with her to the certain penalty—this proved how much mental mischief had again been caused by the lure of money. The glittering seduction of gold had deranged her. She realized it now, her mind normal in an exhausted body. So she gained the walls of the buildings and stumbled around them, thoughtless of any possible signs of the fugitive.

The stars were out in myriads. The Milky Way was a spectacle to recall vividly the sentiment of the Nineteenth Psalm. The log-buildings of the clearing, every tree-trunk and bough in the woods beyond, the distant skyline of stump and hollow, all stood out sharply against the peculiar radiance of the snow. The night was as still as the spaces between the planets.

Like some wild creature of those winter woods the woman clumped and stumbled around the main shack, seeking the door.

Finding it, she stopped; the snowshoe slipped from beneath her arm; one numb hand groped for the log door-casing in support; the other fumbled for the revolver.

Tracks led into that cabin!

A paralysis of fright gripped Cora McBride. Something told her intuitively that she stood face to face at last with what she had traveled all this mountain wilderness to find. Yet with sinking heart it also came to her that if Hap Ruggam had made these tracks and were still within, she must face him in her exhausted condition and at once make that tortuous return trip to civilization. There would be no one to help her.

She realized in that moment that she was facing the primal. And she was not primal. She was a normal woman, weakened to near-prostration by the trek of the past twenty-four hours. Was it not better to turn away while there was time?

She stood debating thus, the eternal silence blanketing forest-world and clearing. But she was allowed to make no decision.

A living body sprang suddenly upon her. Before she could cry out, she was borne down precipitously from behind.

She tried to turn the revolver against the Thing upon her, but the gun was twisted from her raw, red fingers. The snow into which she had been precipitated blinded her. She smeared an arm across her eyes, but before clear sight was regained, talon fingers had gripped her shoulders. She was half lifted, half dragged through the doorway, and there she was dropped on the plank flooring. Her assailant, turning, made to close and bar the door.

When she could see clearly, she perceived a weak illumination in the cabin. On the rough bench-table, shaded by two slabs of bark, burned the stub of a tallow candle probably left by some hunting-party.

The windows were curtained with rotting blankets. Some rough furniture lay about; rusted cooking-utensils littered the tables, and at one end was a sheet-iron stove. The place had been equipped after a fashion by deer-hunters or mountain hikers, who brought additional furnishings to the place each year and left mouldy provisions and unconsumed firewood behind.

The man succeeded finally in closing the door. He turned upon her.

He was short and stocky. The stolen corduroy coat covered blacksmith's muscles now made doubly powerful by dementia. His hair was lifeless black and clipped close, prison-fashion. His low forehead hung over burning, mismated eyes. From her helplessness on the floor Cora McBride stared up at him.

He came closer.

"Get up!" he ordered. "Take that chair. And don't start no rough-house; whether you're a woman or not, I'll drill you!"

She groped to the indicated chair and raised herself, the single snowshoe still dragging from one foot. Again the man surveyed her. She saw his eyes and gave another inarticulate cry.

"Shut your mouth and keep it shut! You hear me?"

She obeyed.

The greenish light burned brighter in his mismated eyes, which gazed intently at the top of her head as though it held something unearthly.

"Take off your hat!" was his next command.

She pulled off the toque. Her hair fell in a mass on her snow-blotched shoulders. Her captor advanced upon her. He reached out and satisfied himself by touch that something was not there which he dreaded. In hypnotic fear she suffered that touch. It reassured him.

"Your hair now," he demanded; "it don't stand up, does it? No, o' course it don't. You ain't him; you're a woman. But if your hair comes up, I'll kill you—understand? If your hair comes up, I'll kill you!"

She understood. She understood only too well. She was not only housed with a murderer; she was housed with a maniac. She sensed, also, why he had come to this mountain shack so boldly. In his dementia he knew no better. And she was alone with him, unarmed now.

"I'll keep it down," she whispered, watching his face out of fear-distended eyes.

The wind blew one of the rotten blankets inward. Thereby she knew that the window-aperture on the south wall contained no sash. He must have removed it to provide means of escape in case he were attacked from the east door. He must have climbed out that window when she came around the shack; that is how he had felled her from behind.

He stepped backward now until he felt the edge of the bench touch his calves. Then he sank down, one arm stretched along the table's rim, the hand clutching the revolver.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"I'm Cora McB——" She stopped—she recalled in a flash the part her husband had played in his former capture and trial. "I'm Cora Allen," she corrected. Then she waited, her wits in chaos. She was fighting desperately to bring order out of that chaos.

"What you doin' up here?"

"I started for Millington, over the mountain. I lost my way."

"Why didn't you go by the road?"

"It's further."

"That's a lie! It ain't. And don't lie to me, or I'll kill you!"

"Who are you?" she heard herself asking. "And why are you acting this way with me?"

The man leaned suddenly forward.

"You mean to tell me you don't know?"

"A lumberjack, maybe, who's lost his way like myself?"

His expression changed abruptly.

"What you luggin' this for?" He indicated the revolver.

"For protection."

"From what?"

"Wild things."

"There ain't no wild things in these mountains this time o' year; they're snowed up, and you know it."

"I just felt safer to have it along."

"To protect you from men-folks, maybe?"

"There are no men in these mountains I'm afraid of!" She made the declaration with pathetic bravado.

His eyes narrowed.

"I think I better kill you," he decided. "You've seen me; you'll tell you seen me. Why shouldn't I kill you? You'd only tell."

"Why? What have I done to you?" she managed to stammer. "Why should you object to being seen?"

It was an unfortunate demand. He sprang up with a snarl. Pointing the revolver from his hip, he drew back the hammer.

"Don't!" she shrieked. "Are you crazy? Don't you know how to treat a woman—in distress?"

"Distress, hell! You know who I be. And I don't care whether you're a woman or not, I ain't goin' to be took—you understand?"

"Certainly I understand."

She said it in such a way that he eased the hammer back into place and lowered the gun. For the moment again she was safe. In response to her terrible need, some of her latent Yankee courage came now to aid her. "I don't see what you're making all this rumpus about," she told him in as indifferent a voice as she could command. "I don't see why you should want to kill a friend who might help you—if you're really in need of help."

"I want to get to Partridgeville," he muttered after a moment.

"You're not far from there. How long have you been on the road?"

"None of your business."

"Have you had any food?"

"No."

"If you'll put up that gun and let me get off this snowshoe and pack,
I'll share with you some of the food I have."

"Never you mind what I do with this gun. Go ahead and fix your foot, and let's see what you got for grub." The man resumed his seat.

She twisted up her tangled hair, replaced her toque and untied the dangling snowshoe.

Outside a tree cracked in the frost. He started in hair-trigger fright. Creeping to the window, he peeped cautiously between casing and blanket. Convinced that it was nothing, he returned to his seat by the table.

"It's too bad we couldn't have a fire," suggested the woman then. "I'd make us something hot." The stove was there, rusted but still serviceable; available wood was scattered around. But the man shook his bullet head.

After a trying time unfastening the frosted knots of the ropes that had bound the knapsack upon her back, she emptied it onto the table. She kept her eye, however, on the gun. He had disposed of it by thrusting it into his belt. Plainly she would never recover it without a struggle. And she was in no condition for physical conflict.

"You're welcome to anything I have," she told him.

"Little you got to say about it! If you hadn't given it up, I'd took it away from you. So what's the difference?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She started around behind him but he sprang toward her.

"Don't try no monkey-shines with me!" he snarled. "You stay here in front where I can see you."

She obeyed, watching him make what poor meal he could from the contents of her bag.

She tried to reason out what the denouement of the situation was to be. He would not send her away peacefully, for she knew he dared not risk the story she would tell regardless of any promises of secrecy she might give him. If he left her bound in the cabin, she would freeze before help came—if it ever arrived.

No, either they were going to leave the place and journey forth together—the Lord only knew where or with what outcome—or the life of one of them was to end in this tragic place within the coming few minutes. For she realized she must use that gun with deadly effect if it were to come again into her possession.

The silence was broken only by the noises of his lips as he ate ravenously. Outside, not a thing stirred in that snowbound world. Not a sound of civilization reached them. They were a man and woman in the primal, in civilization and yet a million miles from it.

"The candle's going out," she announced. "Is there another?"

"There'll be light enough for what I got to do," he growled.

Despite her effort to appear indifferent, her great fear showed plainly in her eyes.

"Are we going to stay here all night?" she asked with a pathetic attempt at lightness.

"That's my business."

"Don't you want me to help you?"

"You've helped me all you can with the gun and food."

"If you're going to Partridgeville, I'd go along and show you the way."

He leaped up.

"Now I know you been lyin!'" he bellowed. "You said you was headed for Millington. And you ain't at all. You're watchin' your chance to get the drop on me and have me took—that's what you're doin'!"

"Wait!" she pleaded desperately. "I was going to Millington. But
I'd turn back and show you the way to Partridgeville to help you."

"What's it to you?" He had drawn the gun from his belt and now was fingering it nervously.

"You're lost up here in the mountains, aren't you?" she said. "I couldn't let you stay lost if it was possible for me to direct you on your way."

"You said you was lost yourself."

"I was lost—until I stumbled into this clearing. That gave me my location."

"Smart, ain't you? Damn' smart, but not too smart for me, you woman!" The flare flamed up again in his crooked eyes. "You know who I be, all right. You know what I'm aimin' to do. And you're stallin' for time till you can put one over. But you can't—see? I'll have this business done with. I'll end this business!"

She felt herself sinking to her knees. He advanced and gripped her left wrist. The crunch of his iron fingers sent an arrow of pain through her arm. It bore her down.

"For God's sake—don't!" she whispered hoarsely, overwhelmed with horror. For the cold, sharp nose of the revolver suddenly punched her neck.

"I ain't leavin' no traces behind. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Never mind if I do——"

"Look!" she cried wildly. "Look, look, look!" And with her free hand she pointed behind him.

It was an old trick. There was nothing behind him. But in that instant of desperation instinct had guided her.

Involuntarily he turned.

With a scream of pain she twisted from his grasp and blotted out the candle.

A long, livid pencil of orange flame spurted from the gun-point. She sensed the powder-flare in her face. He had missed.

She scrambled for shelter beneath the table. The cabin was now in inky blackness. Across that black four more threads of scarlet light were laced. The man stumbled about seeking her, cursing with blood-curdling blasphemy.

Suddenly he tripped and went sprawling. The gun clattered from his bruised fingers; it struck the woman's knee.

Swiftly her hand closed upon it. The hot barrel burned her palm.

She was on her feet in an instant. Her left hand fumbled in her blouse, and she found what had been there all along—the flash-lamp.

With her back against the door, she pulled it forth. With the gun thrust forward for action she pressed the button.

"I've got the gun—get up!" she ordered. "Don't come too near me or I'll shoot. Back up against that wall."

The bull's-eye of radiance blinded him. When his eyes became accustomed to the light, he saw its reflection on the barrel of the revolver. He obeyed.

"Put up your hands. Put 'em up high!"

"Suppose I won't?"

"I'll kill you."

"What'll you gain by that?"

"Five thousand dollars."

"Then you know who I be?"

"Yes."

"And was aimin' to take me in?"

"Yes."

"How you goin' to do that if I won't go?"

"You're goin' to find out."

"You won't get no money shootin' me."

"Yes, I will—just as much—dead as alive."

With his hands raised a little way above the level of his shoulders, he stood rigidly at bay in the circle of light.

"Well," he croaked at last, "go ahead and shoot. I ain't aimin' to be took—not by no woman. Shoot, damn you, and have it done with. I'm waitin'!"

"Keep up those hands!"

"I won't!" He lowered them defiantly. "I w-wanted to m-make Partridgeville and see the old lady. She'd 'a' helped me. But anything's better'n goin' back to that hell where I been the last two years. Go on! Why don't you shoot?"

"You wanted to make Partridgeville and see—who?"

"My mother—and my wife."

"Have you got a mother? Have you got a—wife?"

"Yes, and three kids. Why don't you shoot?"

It seemed an eon that they stood so. The McBride woman was trying to find the nerve to fire. She could not. In that instant she made a discovery that many luckless souls make too late: to kill a man is easy to talk about, easy to write about. But to stand deliberately face to face with a fellow-human—alive, pulsing, breathing, fearing, hoping, loving, living,—point a weapon at him that would take his life, blot him from the earth, negate twenty or thirty years of childhood, youth, maturity, and make of him in an instant—nothing! —that is quite another matter.

He was helpless before her now. Perhaps the expression on his face had something to do with the sudden revulsion that halted her finger. Facing certain death, some of the evil in those crooked eyes seemed to die out, and the terrible personality of the man to fade. Regardless of her danger, regardless of what he would have done to her if luck had not turned the tables, Cora McBride saw before her only a lone man with all society's hand against him, realizing he had played a bad game to the limit and lost, two big tears creeping down his unshaved face, waiting for the end.

"Three children!" she whispered faintly.

"Yes."

"You're going back to see them?"

"Yes, and my mother. Mother'd help me get to Canada—somehow."

Cora McBride had forgotten all about the five thousand dollars. She was stunned by the announcement that this man had relatives—a mother, a wife, three babies. The human factor had not before occurred to her. Murderers! They have no license to let their eyes well with tears, to have wives and babies, to possess mothers who will help them get to Canada regardless of what their earthly indiscretions may have been.

At this revelation the gun-point wavered. The sight of those tears on his face sapped her will-power even as a wound in her breast might have drained her life-blood.

Her great moment had been given her. She was letting it slip away. She had her reward in her hand for the mere pulling of a trigger and no incrimination for the result. For a bit of human sentiment she was bungling the situation unpardonably, fatally.

Why did she not shoot? Because she was a woman. Because it is the
God-given purpose of womanhood to give life, not take it.

The gun sank, sank—down out of the light, down out of sight.

And the next instant he was upon her.

The flash-lamp was knocked from her hand and blinked out. It struck the stove and she heard the tinkle of the broken lens. The woman's hand caught at the sacking before the window at her left shoulder. Gripping it wildly to save herself from that onslaught, she tore it away. For the second time the revolver was twisted from her raw fingers.

The man reared upward, over her.

"Where are you?" he roared again and again. "I'll show you! Lemme at you!"

Outside the great yellow moon of early winter, arising late, was coming up over the silhouetted line of purple mountains to the eastward. It illumined the cabin with a faint radiance, disclosing the woman crouching beneath the table.

The man saw her, pointed his weapon point-blank at her face and fired.

To Cora McBride, prostrate there in her terror, the impact of the bullet felt like the blow of a stick upon her cheek-bone rocking her head. Her cheek felt warmly numb. She pressed a quick hand involuntarily against it, and drew it away sticky with blood.

Click! Click! Click!

Three times the revolver mechanism was worked to accomplish her destruction. But there was no further report. The cylinder was empty.

"Oh, God!" the woman moaned. "I fed you and offered to help you. I refused to shoot you because of your mother—your wife—your babies. And yet you——"

"Where's your cartridges?" he cried wildly. "You got more; gimme that belt!"

She felt his touch upon her. His crazy fingers tried to unbutton the clasp of the belt and holster. But he could secure neither while she fought him. He pinioned her at length with his knee. His fingers secured a fistful of the cylinders from her girdle, and he opened the chamber of the revolver.

She realized the end was but a matter of moments. Nothing but a miracle could save her now.

Convulsively she groped about for something with which to strike. Nothing lay within reach of her bleeding fingers, however, but a little piece of dried sapling. She tried to struggle loose, but the lunatic held her mercilessly. He continued the mechanical loading of the revolver.

The semi-darkness of the hut, the outline of the moon afar through the uncurtained window—these swam before her…. Suddenly her eyes riveted on that curtainless window and she uttered a terrifying cry.

Ruggam turned.

Outlined in the window aperture against the low-hung moon Martin
Wiley, the murdered deputy, was staring into the cabin
!

From the fugitive's throat came a gurgle. Some of the cartridges he held spilled to the flooring. Above her his figure became rigid. There was no mistaking the identity of the apparition. They saw the man's hatless head and some of his neck. They saw his dark pompadour and the outline of his skull. As that horrible silhouette remained there, Wiley's pompadour lifted slightly as it had done in life.

The cry in the convict's throat broke forth into words.

"Mart Wiley!" he cried, "Mart Wiley! Mart—Wiley!"

Clear, sharp, distinct was the shape of that never-to-be-forgotten pompadour against the disk of the winter moon. His features could not be discerned, for the source of light was behind him, but the silhouette was sufficient. It was Martin Wiley; he was alive. His head and his wirelike hair were moving—rising, falling.

Ruggam, his eyes riveted upon the phantom, recoiled mechanically to the western wall. He finished loading the revolver by the sense of touch. Then:

Spurt after spurt of fire lanced the darkness, directed at the Thing in the window. While the air of the hut reeked with the acrid smoke, the echo of the volley sounded through the silent forest-world miles away.

But the silhouette in the window remained.

Once or twice it moved slightly as though in surprise; that was all. The pompadour rose in bellicose retaliation—the gesture that had always ensued when Wiley was angered or excited. But to bullets fired from an earthly gun the silhouette of the murdered deputy's ghost, arisen in these winter woods to prevent another slaughter, was impervious.

Ruggam saw; he shrieked. He broke the gun and spilled out the empty shells. He fumbled in more cartridges, locked the barrel and fired again and again, until once more it was empty.

Still the apparition remained.

The man in his dementia hurled the weapon; it struck the sash and caromed off, hitting the stove. Then Hap Ruggam collapsed upon the floor.

The woman sprang up. She found the rope thongs which had bound her pack to her shoulders. With steel-taut nerves, she rolled the insensible Ruggam over.

She tied his hands; she tied his ankles. With her last bit of rope she connected the two bindings tightly behind him so that if he recovered, he would be at her mercy. Her task accomplished, on her knees beside his prone figure, she thought to glance up at the window.

Wiley's ghost had disappeared.

Sheriff Crumpett and his party broke into the Lyons clearing within an hour. They had arrived in answer to five successive shots given a few moments apart, the signal agreed upon. The mystery to them, however, was that those five shots had been fired by some one not of their party.

The sheriff and his men found the McBride woman, her clothing half torn from her body, her features powder-marked and blood-stained; but she was game to the last, woman-fashion weeping only now that all was over. They found, too, the man they had combed the country to find—struggling fruitlessly in his bonds, her prisoner.

And they likewise found the miracle.

On the snow outside under the window they came upon a black porcupine about the size of a man's head which, scenting food within the cabin, had climbed to the sill, and after the habit of these little animals whose number is legion all over the Green Mountains, had required fifteen bullets pumped into its carcass before it would release its hold.

Even in death its quills were raised in uncanny duplication of Mart
Wiley's pompadour.