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Once At Red Man’s River
by [?]

“It’s got to be settled to-night, Nance, This game is up here, up forever. The redcoat police from Ottawa are coming, and they’ll soon be roostin’ in this post, the Injuns are goin’, the buffaloes are most gone, and the fur trade’s dead in these parts. D’ye see?”

The woman did not answer the big, broad-shouldered man bending over her, but remained looking into the fire with wide, abstracted eyes, and a face somewhat set.

“You and your brother Bantry’s got to go. This store ain’t worth a cent now. The Hudson’s Bay Company’ll come along with the redcoats, and they’ll set up a nice little Sunday-school business here for what they call ‘agricultural settlers.’ There’ll be a railway, and the Yankees’ll send up their marshals to work with the redcoats on the border, and–“

“And the days of smuggling will be over,” put in the girl, in a low voice. “No more bull-whackers and mule-skinners ‘whooping-it up’; no more Blackfeet and Piegans drinking alcohol and water, and cutting one anothers’ throats. A nice, quiet time coming on the border Abe, eh?”

The man looked at her queerly. She was not prone to sarcasm, she had not been given to sentimentalism in the past; she had taken the border-life as it was, had looked it straight between the eyes. She had lived up to it, or down to it, without any fuss, as good as any man in any phase of the life, and the only white woman in this whole West country. It was not in the words, but in the tone, that Abe Hawley found something unusual and defamatory.

“Why, gol darn it, Nance, what’s got into you? You bin a man out West, as good a pioneer as ever was on the border. But now you don’t sound friendly to what’s been the game out here, and to all of us that’ve been risking our lives to get a livin’.”

“What did I say?” asked the girl, unmoved.

“It ain’t what you said, it’s the sound o’ your voice.”

“You don’t know my voice, Abe. It ain’t always the same. You ain’t always about; you don’t always hear it.”

He caught her arm suddenly. “No, but I want to hear it always. I want to be always where you are, Nance. That’s what’s got to be settled to-day–to-night.”

“Oh, it’s got to be settled to-night!” said the girl, meditatively, kicking nervously at a log on the fire. “It takes two to settle a thing like that, and there’s only one says it’s got to be settled. Maybe it takes more than two–or three–to settle a thing like that.” Now she laughed mirthlessly.

The man started, and his face flushed with anger; then he put a hand on himself, drew a step back, and watched her.

One can settle a thing, if there’s a dozen in it. You see, Nance, you and Bantry’ve got to close out. He’s fixing it up to-night over at Dingan’s Drive, and you can’t go it alone when you quit this place. Now, it’s this way: you can go West with Bantry, or you can go North with me. Away North there’s buffalo and deer, and game a-plenty, up along the Saskatchewan, and farther up on the Peace River. It’s going to be all right up there for half a lifetime, and we can have it in our own way yet. There’ll be no smuggling, but there’ll be trading, and land to get; and, mebbe, there’d be no need of smuggling, for we can make it, I know how–good white whiskey–and we’ll still have this free life for our own. I can’t make up my mind to settle down to a clean collar and going to church on Sundays, and all that. And the West’s in your bones, too. You look like the West–“

The girl’s face brightened with pleasure, and she gazed at him steadily.