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Chapter ii
 Chapter ii
We had been at the shooting box in the Cardinal Woods five days when a telegram was brought to Barris by a mounted messenger from the nearest telegraph station, Cardinal Springs, a hamlet on the lumber railroad which joins the Quebec and Northern at Three Rivers Junction, thirty miles below.
Pierpont and I were sitting out under the trees, loading some special shells as experiments; Barris stood beside us, bronzed, erect, holding his pipe carefully so that no sparks should drift into our powder box. The beat of hoofs over the grass aroused us, and when the lank messenger drew bridle before the door, Barris stepped forward and took the sealed telegram. When he had torn it open he went into the house and presently reappeared, reading something that he had written.
“This should go at once,” he said, looking the messenger full in the face . . . “At once, Colonel Barris,” replied the shabby countryman.
Pierpont glanced up and I smiled at the messenger who was gathering his bridle and settling himself in his stirrups. Barris handed him the written reply and nodded good-bye: there was a thud of hoofs on the greensward, a jingle of bit and spur across the gravel, and the messenger was gone. Barris’ pipe went out and he stepped to windward to relight it.
“It is queer,” said I, “that your messenger — a battered native — should speak like a Harvard man.”
“He is a Harvard man,” said Barris.
“And the plot thickens,” said Pierpont; “are the Cardinal Woods full of your Secret Service men, Barris?”
“No,” replied Barris, “but the telegraph stations are. How many ounces of shot are you using, Roy?”
I told him, holding up the adjustable steel measuring cup. He nodded. After a moment on two he sat down on a camp-stool beside us and picked up a crimper.
“That telegram was from Drummond,” he said; “the messenger was one of my men as you two bright little boys divined. Pooh! If he had spoken the Cardinal County dialect you wouldn’t have known.”
“His make-up was good,” said Pierpont.
Barris twirled the crimper and looked at the pile of loaded shells. Then he picked up one and crimped it.
“Let ’em alone,” said Pierpont, “you crimp too tight.”
“Does his little gun kick when the shells are crimped too tight?” enquired Barris tenderly; “well, he shall crimp his own shells then — where’s his little man?”
“His little man” was a weird English importation, stiff, very carefully scrubbed, tangled in his aspirates, named Howlett. As valet, gilly, gun-bearer, and crimper, he aided Pierpont to endure the ennui of existence, by doing for him everything except breathing. Lately, however, Barris’ taunts had driven Pierpont to do a few things for himself. To his astonishment he found that cleaning his own gun was not a bore, so he timidly loaded a shell or two, was much pleased with himself, loaded some more, crimped them, and went to breakfast with an appetite. So when Barris asked where “his little man” was, Pierpont did not reply but dug a cupful of shot from the bag and poured it solemnly into the half-filled shell.
Old David came out with the dogs and of course there was a pow-wow when “Voyou,” my Gordon, wagged his splendid rail across the loading table and sent a dozen unstopped cartridges rolling over the grass, vomiting powder and shot.
“Give the dogs a mile or two,” said I; “we will shoot over the Sweet Fern Covert about four o’clock, David.”
“Two guns, David,” added Barris.
“Are you not going?” asked Pierpont, looking up, as David disappeared with the dogs.
“Bigger game,” said Barris shortly. He picked up a mug of ale from the tray which Howlett had just set down beside us and took a long pull. We did the same, silently. Pierpont set his mug on the turf beside him and returned to his loading.
We spoke of the murder of Professor La Grange, of how it had been concealed by the authorities in New York at Drummond’s request, of the certainty that it was one of the gang of gold-makers who had done it, and of the possible alertness of the gang.
“Oh, they know that Drummond will be after them sooner on later,” said Barris, “but they don’t know that the mills of the gods have already begun to grind. Those smart New York papers builded better than they knew when their ferret-eyed reporter poked his red nose into the house on 58th Street and sneaked off with a column on his cuffs about the ‘suicide’ of Professor La Grange. Billy Pierpont, my revolver is hanging in your room; I’ll take yours too —”
“Help yourself,” said Pierpont.
“I shall be gone over night,” continued Barris; “my poncho and some bread and meat are all I shall take except the ‘barkers.’”
“Will they bark to-night?” I asked.
“No, I trust not for several weeks yet. I shall nose about a bit. Roy, did it even strike you how queer it is that this wonderfully beautiful country should contain no inhabitants?”
“It’s like those splendid stretches of pools and rapids which one finds on every trout river and in which one never finds a fish,” suggested Pierpont.
“Exactly — and Heaven alone knows why,” said Barris; “I suppose this country is shunned by human beings for the same mysterious reasons.”
“The shooting is the better for it,” I observed.
“The shooting is good,” said Barris, “have you noticed the snipe on the meadow by the lake? Why it’s brown with them! That’s a wonderful meadow.”
“It’s a natural one,” said Pierpont, “no human being even cleared that land.”
“Then it’s supernatural,” said Barris; “Pierpont, do you want to come with me?”
Pierpont’s handsome face flushed as he answered slowly, “It’s awfully good of you — if I may.”
“Bosh,” said I, piqued because he had asked Pierpont, “what use is little Willy without his man?”
“True,” said Barris gravely, “you can’t take Howlett, you know.”
Pierpont muttered something which ended in “d — n.”
“Then,” said I, “there will be but one gun on the Sweet Fern Covent this afternoon. Very well, I wish you joy of your cold supper and colder bed. Take your night-gown, Willy, and don’t sleep on the damp ground.”
“Let Pierpont alone,” retorted Barris, “you shall go next time, Roy.”
“Oh, all right — you mean when there’s shooting going on?”
“And I?” demanded Pierpont, grieved.
“You too, my son; stop quarrelling! Will you ask Howlett to pack our kits — lightly mind you — no bottles — they clink.”
“My flask doesn’t,” said Pierpont, and went off to get ready for a night’s stalking of dangerous men.
“It is strange,” said I, “that nobody ever settles in this region. How many people live in Cardinal Springs, Barris?”
“Twenty counting the telegraph operator and not counting the lumbermen; they are always changing and shifting. I have six men among them.”
“Where have you no men? In the Four Hundred?”
“I have men there also — chums of Billy’s only he doesn’t know it. David tells me that there was a strong flight of woodcock last night. You ought to pick up some this afternoon.”
Then we chatted about alder-coven and swamp until Pierpont came out of the house and it was time to part.
“Au revoir,” said Barris, buckling on his kit, “come along, Pierpont, and don’t walk in the damp grass.”
“If you are not back by to-morrow noon,” said I, “I will take Howlett and David and hunt you up. You say your course is due north?”
“Due north,” replied Barris, consulting his compass.
“There is a trail for two miles and a spotted lead for two more,” said Pierpont.
“Which we won’t use for various reasons,” added Barris pleasantly; “don’t worry, Roy, and keep your confounded expedition out of the way; there’s no danger.”
He knew, of course, what he was talking about and I held my peace.
When the tip end of Pierpont’s shooting coat had disappeared in the Long Covert, I found myself standing alone with Howlett. He bore my gaze for a moment and then politely lowered his eyes.
“Howlett,” said I, “take these shells and implements to the gun room, and drop nothing. Did Voyou come to any harm in the briers this morning?”
“No ‘arm, Mr. Cardenhe, sir,” said Howlett.
“Then be careful not to drop anything else,” said I, and walked away leaving him decorously puzzled. For he had dropped no cartridges. Poor Howlett!


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