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PAGE 3

Where the Trail Forks
by [?]

“What d’ye say?” Hitchcock repeated.

“Mebbe it’s not so serious,” Hawes answered with deliberation. “Most likely it’s only a girl’s story.”

“That isn’t the point!” Hitchcock felt a hot flush of anger sweep over him at their evident reluctance. “The question is, if it is so, are we going to stand it? What are we going to do?”

“I don’t see any call to interfere,” spoke up Wertz. “If it is so, it is so, and that’s all there is about it. It’s a way these people have of doing. It’s their religion, and it’s no concern of ours. Our concern is to get the dust and then get out of this God-forsaken land. ‘T isn’t fit for naught else but beasts? And what are these black devils but beasts? Besides, it’d be damn poor policy.”

“That’s what I say,” chimed in Hawes. “Here we are, four of us, three hundred miles from the Yukon or a white face. And what can we do against half-a-hundred Indians? If we quarrel with them, we have to vamose; if we fight, we are wiped out. Further, we’ve struck pay, and, by God! I, for one, am going to stick by it!”

“Ditto here,” supplemented Wertz.

Hitchcock turned impatiently to Sigmund, who was softly singing, –

“In a year, in a year, when the grapes are ripe,
I shall stay no more away.”

“Well, it’s this way, Hitchcock,” he finally said, “I’m in the same boat with the rest. If three-score bucks have made up their mind to kill the girl, why, we can’t help it. One rush, and we’d be wiped off the landscape. And what good’d that be? They’d still have the girl. There’s no use in going against the customs of a people except you’re in force.”

“But we are in force!” Hitchcock broke in. “Four whites are a match for a hundred times as many reds. And think of the girl!”

Sigmund stroked the dog meditatively. “But I do think of the girl. And her eyes are blue like summer skies, and laughing like summer seas, and her hair is yellow, like mine, and braided in ropes the size of a big man’s arms. She’s waiting for me, out there, in a better land. And she’s waited long, and now my pile’s in sight I’m not going to throw it away.”

“And shamed I would be to look into the girl’s blue eyes and remember the black ones of the girl whose blood was on my hands,” Hitchcock sneered; for he was born to honor and championship, and to do the thing for the thing’s sake, nor stop to weigh or measure.

Sigmund shook his head. “You can’t make me mad, Hitchcock, nor do mad things because of your madness. It’s a cold business proposition and a question of facts. I didn’t come to this country for my health, and, further, it’s impossible for us to raise a hand. If it is so, it is too bad for the girl, that’s all. It’s a way of her people, and it just happens we’re on the spot this one time. They’ve done the same for a thousand-thousand years, and they’re going to do it now, and they’ll go on doing it for all time to come. Besides, they’re not our kind. Nor’s the girl. No, I take my stand with Wertz and Hawes, and–“

But the dogs snarled and drew in, and he broke off, listening to the crunch-crunch of many snowshoes. Indian after Indian stalked into the firelight, tall and grim, fur-clad and silent, their shadows dancing grotesquely on the snow. One, the witch doctor, spoke gutturally to Sipsu. His face was daubed with savage paint blotches, and over his shoulders was drawn a wolfskin, the gleaming teeth and cruel snout surmounting his head. No other word was spoken. The prospectors held the peace. Sipsu arose and slipped into her snowshoes.