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The Crimson Flag
by [?]

Talk and think as one would, The Woman was striking to see; with marvellous flaxen hair and a joyous violet eye. She was all pulse and dash; but she was as much less beautiful than the manager’s wife as Tom Liffey was as nothing beside the manager himself; and one would care little to name the two women in the same breath if the end had been different. When The Woman came to Little Goshen there were others of her class there, but they were of a commoner sort and degree. She was the queen of a lawless court, though she never, from first to last, spoke to one of those others who were her people; neither did she hold commerce with any of the ordinary miners, save Pretty Pierre, but he was more gambler than miner,–and he went, when the matter was all over, and told her some things that stripped her soul naked before her eyes. Pierre had a wonderful tongue. It was only the gentlemen-diggers–and there were many of them at Little Goshen–who called upon her when the lights were low; and then there was a good deal of muffled mirth in the white house among the pines. The rougher miners made no quarrel with this, for the gentlemen-diggers were popular enough, they were merely sarcastic and humorous, and said things which, coming to The Woman’s ears, made her very merry; for she herself had an abundant wit, and had spent wild hours with clever men. She did not resent the playful insolence that sent a dozen miners to her house in the dead of night with a crimson flag, which they quietly screwed to her roof; and paint, with which they deftly put a wide stripe of scarlet round the cornice, and another round the basement. In the morning, when she saw what had been done, she would not have the paint removed nor the flag taken down; for, she said, the stripes looked very well, and the other would show that she was always at home.

Now, the notable thing was that Heldon, the manager, was in The Woman’s house on the night this was done. Tom Liffey, the lumpish guide and trapper, saw him go in; and, days afterwards, he said to Pierre: “Divils me own, but this is a bad hour for Heldon’s wife–she with a face like a princess and eyes like the fear o’ God. Nivir a wan did I see like her, since I came out of Erin with a clatter of hoofs behoind me and a squall on the sea before. There’s wimmin there wid cheeks like roses and buthermilk, and a touch that’d make y’r heart pound on y’r ribs; but none that’s grander than Heldon’s wife. To lave her for that other, standin’ hip-high in her shame, is temptin’ the fires of Heaven, that basted the sinners o’ Sodom.”

Pierre, pausing between the whiffs of a cigarette, said: “So? But you know more of catching foxes in winter, and climbing mountains in summer, and the grip of the arm of an Injin girl, than of these things. You are young, quite young in the world, Tom Liffey.”

“Young I may be with a glint o’ grey at me temples from a night o’ trouble beyand in the hills; but I’m the man, an’ the only man, that’s climbed to the glacier-top–God’s Playground, as they call it: and nivir a dirty trick have I done to Injin girl or any other; and be damned to you there!”

“Sometimes I think you are as foolish as Shon McGann,” compassionately replied the half-breed.

“You have almighty virtue, and you did that brave trick of the glacier; but great men have fallen. You are not dead yet. Still, as you say, Heldon’s wife is noble to see. She is grave and cold, and speaks little; but there is something in her which is not of the meek of the earth. Some women say nothing, and suffer and forgive, and take such as Heldon back to their bosoms; but there are others–I remember a woman–bien, it is no matter, it was long ago; but they two are as if born of one mother; and what comes of this will be mad play–mad play.”