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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesForeigner - Chapter 18. For Freedom And For Love
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Foreigner - Chapter 18. For Freedom And For Love Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :1633

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Foreigner - Chapter 18. For Freedom And For Love

CHAPTER XVIII. FOR FREEDOM AND FOR LOVE

The hut of the Nihilist Portnoff stood in a thick bluff about midway between Wakota and the mine, but lying off the direct line about two miles nearer the ranch. It was a poor enough shack, made of logs plastered over with mud, roofed with poplar poles, sod, and earth. The floor was of earth, the walls were whitewashed, and with certain adornments that spoke of some degree of culture. Near one side of the shack stood the clay oven stove, which served the double purpose of heating the room and of cooking Portnoff's food. Like many of the Galician cabins, Portnoff's stood in the midst of a garden, in which bloomed a great variety of brilliant and old-fashioned flowers and shrubs, while upon the walls and climbing over the roof, a honeysuckle softened the uncouthness of the clay plaster.

It was toward the end of the third week which followed French's return that Portnoff and Malkarski were sitting late over their pipes and beer. The shack was illumined with half a dozen candles placed here and there on shelves attached to the walls. The two men were deep in earnest conversation. At length Portnoff rose and began to pace the little room.

"Malkarski," he cried, "you are asking too much. This delay is becoming impossible to me."

"My brother," said Malkarski, "you have waited long. There must be no mistake in this matter. The work must be thoroughly done, so let us be patient. And meantime," he continued with a laugh, "he is having suffering enough. The loss of this mine is like a knife thrust in his heart. It is pleasant to see him squirm like a reptile pierced by a stick. He is seeking large compensation for the work he has done,--three thousand dollars, I believe. It is worth about one."

Portnoff continued pacing up and down the room.

"Curse him! Curse him! Curse him!" he cried, lifting his clenched hands above his head.

"Be patient, brother."

"Patient!" cried Portnoff. "I see blood. I hear cries of women and children. I fall asleep and feel my fingers in his throat. I wake and find them empty!"

"Aha! I too," growled Malkarski. "But patience, patience, brother!"

"Malkarski," cried Portnoff, pausing in his walk, "I have suffered through this man in my country, in my people, in my family, in my heart!"

"Aha!" ejaculated old Malkarski with fierce emphasis, "have you? Do you know what suffering is? But--yes, Portnoff, we must be patient yet." As he spoke he took on a dignity of manner and assumed an attitude of authority that Portnoff was quick to recognize.

"You speak truly," replied the latter gravely. "I heard a good thing to-day," he continued with a change of tone. "It seems that Sprink--"

"Sprink!" muttered Malkarski with infinite contempt, "a rat, a pig! Why speak of him?"

"It is a good story," replied Portnoff with a laugh, "but not pleasant for Sprink to tell. It appears he was negotiating with Mr. French, suggesting a partnership in the mine, but Mr. French kicked him out. It was amusing to hear Sprink tell the tale with many oaths and curses. He loves not French any more."

"Bah!" said Malkarski, "the rest of the tale I heard. He had the impudence to propose--the dog!--alliance with the young lady Irma. Bah!" he spat upon the ground. "And French very properly kicked him out of his house and gave him one minute to remove himself out of gun range. There was quick running," added old Malkarski with a grim smile. "But he is a cur. I wipe him out of my mind."

"We must keep close watch these days," said Portnoff. "They are both like mad dogs, and they will bite."

"Ha!" cried Malkarski with sudden vehemence, "if we could strike at once, now! To-night!" His voice rose in a cry, "Ah, if it were to-night! But patience," he muttered. "Ah, God! how long?"

"Not long, my brother, surely," said Portnoff.

"No, not long," answered Malkarski. "Let them go away from the mine, away from these people. On the railroad line many accidents occur. Let us not spoil all by undue haste."

"It is your day to watch to-morrow, Malkarski," said Portnoff.

"I shall keep watch to-morrow," said Malkarski. "After all, it is joy to look on his face and think how it will appear when we have done our work." He rose and paced the floor, his deep-set eyes gleaming like live coals in his haggard old face. "Ah," he continued in his deep undertone, "that will be joy."

Ever since the arrival of Rosenblatt in the country he had been under surveillance of one of these two old Nihilists, walking, though he knew it not, side by side with death. To Malkarski fell the task of keeping within sight and sound of Rosenblatt during the following day.

The negotiations in connection with the transfer of the mine property were practically completed. The money for the improvements effected had been paid. There remained only a few minor matters to be settled, and for that a meeting was arranged at the mine on the evening of the following day. At this meeting Kalman had with great reluctance agreed to be present. The place of meeting was the original cave, which had been enlarged to form a somewhat spacious room, from which there had been run back into the hill a tunnel. At the entrance to this tunnel a short cross-tunnel had been cut, with an exit on the side of the hill and at right angles to the mouth. Across the ravine from the cave stood a small log building which Messrs. Rosenblatt and Sprink had used as an office during the month of their regime. Further down the ravine were scattered the workmen's cabins, now deserted.

In the preparing of plans for this last meeting Rosenblatt and Sprink spent long hours that day. Indeed, it was late in the afternoon when their conference broke up.

An hour later found Malkarski, pale and breathless, at the door of Portnoff's cabin, unable to recover his speech till Portnoff had primed him with a mug of Sprink's best whiskey.

"What is it, my brother?" cried Portnoff, alarmed at his condition. "What is it?"

"A plot!" gasped Malkarski, "a most damnable plot! Give me another drink."

Under the stimulus of the potent liquid, Malkarski was able in a few minutes between his gasps to tell his story. Concealed by a lumber pile behind Rosenblatt's shack, with his ear close to a crack between the logs, he had heard the details of the plot. In the cross tunnel at the back of the cave bags of gunpowder and dynamite were to be hidden. To this mass a train was to be laid through the cross tunnel to a convenient distance. At a certain point during the conference Rosenblatt would leave the cave on the pretext of securing a paper left in his cabin. A pile of brushwood at some distance from the cave would be burning. On his way to his cabin Rosenblatt would fire the train and wait the explosion in his own shack, the accidental nature of which could easily be explained under the circumstances. In order to remove suspicion from him, Rosenblatt was to appear during the early evening in a railway camp some distance away. The plot was so conceived and the details so arranged that no suspicion could attach to the guilty parties.

"And now," said Malkarski, "rush to Wakota, where I know Mr. French and Kalman are to be to-day. I shall go back to the mine to warn them if by any chance you should miss them."

Old Portnoff was long past his best. Not for many years had he quickened his pace beyond a slow dog trot. The air was heavy with an impending storm, the blazed trail through the woods was rough, and at times difficult to find, so that it was late in the evening when the old man stumbled into the missionary's house and poured out his tale between his sobbing gasps to Brown and a Sergeant of the Mounted Police, who was present on the Queen's business. Before the tale was done the Sergeant was on his feet.

"Where are French and Kalman?" he said sharply.

"Gone hours ago," cried Brown. "They must be at the mine by now."

"Can this man be relied upon?" enquired the Sergeant.

"Absolutely," said Brown. "Fly! I'll follow."

Without further word the Sergeant was out of the house and on his horse.

"What trail?" he shouted.

"It is best by the river," cried Brown. "The cross trail you might lose. Go! Go, in God's name!" he added, rushing toward his stable, followed by Portnoff and his wife. "Where is Paulina?" he cried.

"Paulina," said his wife, "is gone. She is acting strangely these days,--goes and comes, I don't know where."

"Get a boy, then," said her husband, "and send him to the ranch. There is a bare chance we may stop them there. Portnoff, there is another pony here; saddle and follow me. We'll take the cross trail. And pray God," he added, "we may be in time!"

Great masses of liver-coloured clouds were piling up in the west, blotting out the light from the setting sun. Over all a heavy silence had settled down, so that in all the woods there was no sound of living thing. Lashing his pony into a gallop, heedless of the obstacles on the trail, or of the trees overhead, Brown crashed through scrub and sleugh, with old Portnoff following as best he could. Mile after mile they rode, now and then in the gathering darkness losing the trail, and with frantic furious haste searching it again, till at length, with their ponies foaming and trembling, and their own faces torn and bleeding with the brush, they emerged into the clearing above the ravine.

Meantime, the ghastly tragedy was being enacted. Impatiently at the cave mouth French and Kalman waited the coming of those they were to meet. At length, in the gathering gloom, Rosenblatt appeared, coming up the ravine. He was pale and distraught.

"I have ridden hard," he said, "and I am shaken with my ride. My papers are in my cabin. I shall get them."

In a few moments he returned, bringing with him a bottle and two cups.

"Drink!" he said. "No? Then I will." He poured out a cup full of raw whiskey and drank it off. "My partner is late," he said. "He will be here in a few moments. Meantime, we can look over the papers."

"It is too dark here," said French. "We can't see to read. You have in your cabin a light, let us go there."

"Oh," cried Rosenblatt hastily, "it is more comfortable here. I have a lantern."

He rummaged in the sides of the cave and produced a lantern.

"Here is a light," said French, striking a match.

Rosenblatt snatched the match from his hand, crushed it in his fingers and hurried out of the cave.

"Ah," he exclaimed, "I am shaking with my hurried ride."

With great care he lighted his lantern outside of the cave and set it upon a table that had been placed near the cave's mouth. French drew out his pipe, slowly filled it and proceeded to light it, when Rosenblatt in a horror-stricken voice arrested him.

"Don't smoke!" he cried. "I mean--it makes me very ill--when I am--in this--condition--the smell of tobacco smoke."

French looked at him with cool contempt.

"I am sorry for you," he said, lighting his pipe and throwing the match down.

Rosenblatt sprang to the cave mouth, came back again, furtively treading upon the match. The perspiration was standing out upon his forehead.

"It is a terrible night," he said. "Let us proceed. We can't wait for my partner. Read, read."

With fingers that trembled so that he could hardly hold the papers, he thrust the documents into Kalman's hand.

"Read," he cried, "I cannot see."

Opening the papers, Kalman proceeded to read them carefully, by the light of the lantern, French smoking calmly the while.

"Have you no better light than this, Rosenblatt?" said French at length. "Surely there are candles about here." He walked toward the back of the cave.

"Ah, my God!" cried Rosenblatt, seizing him and drawing him toward the table again. "Sit down, sit down. If you want candles, let me get them. I know where they are. But we need no candles here. Yes," he cried with a laugh, "young eyes are better than old eyes. The young man reads well. Read, read."

"There is another paper," said French after Kalman had finished. "There is a further agreement."

"Yes, truly," said Rosenblatt. "Is it not there? It must be there. No, I must have left it at my cabin. I will bring it."

"Well, hurry then," said French. "Meantime, my pipe is out."

He drew a match, struck it on the sole of his boot, lighted his pipe and threw the blazing remnant toward the back of the cave.

"Ah, my God!" cried Rosenblatt, his voice rising almost to a shriek. Both men looked curiously at him. "Ah," he said, with his hand over his heart, "I have pain here. But I will get the paper."

His face was livid, and the sweat was running down his beard. As he spoke he ran out and disappeared, leaving the two men poring over the papers together. Beside the burning heap of brushwood he stood a moment, torn in an agony of uncertainty and fear.

"Oh!" he said, wringing his hands, "I dare not do it! I dare not do it!"

He rushed past the blazing heap, paused. "Fool!" he said, "what is there to fear?"

He crept back to the pile of burning brush, seized a blazing ember, ran with it to the train he had prepared of rags soaked in kerosene, leading toward the mouth of the cross tunnel, dropped the blazing stick upon it, and fled. Looking back, he saw that in his haste he had dashed out the flame and that besides the saturated rags the stick lay smoking. With a curse he ran once more to the blazing brush heap, selected a blazing ember, carried it carefully to the train, and set the saturated rags on fire, waiting until they were fully alight. Then like a man pursued by demons, he fled down the ravine, splashed through the Creek and up the other side, not pausing to look behind until he had shut the door of his cabin.

As he closed the door, a dark figure appeared, slipped up to the door, there was a click, a second, and a third, and the door stood securely fastened with three stout padlocks. In another moment Rosenblatt's livid face appeared at the little square window which overlooked the ravine.

At the same instant, upon the opposite side of the ravine, appeared Brown, riding down the slope like a madman, and shouting at the top of his voice, "French! French! Kalman! For God's sake, come here!"

Out of the cave rushed the two men. As they appeared Brown stood waving his hands wildly. "Come here! Come, for God's sake! Come!" His eyes fell upon the blazing train. "Run! run!" he shouted, "for your lives! Run!"

He dashed toward the blazing rags and trampled them under his feet. But the fire had reached the powder. There was a quick hissing sound of a burning fuse, and then a great puff. Brown threw himself on his face and waited, but there was nothing more. His two friends rushed to him and lifted him up.

"What, in Heaven's name, is it, Brown?" cried French.

"Come away!" gasped Brown, stumbling down the ravine and dragging them with him.

Meantime, the whole hillside was in flames. In the clear light of the blazing trees the Sergeant was seen riding his splendid horse at a hard gallop. Soon after his appearing came Portnoff.

"What does all this mean?" said French, looking around from one to the other with a dazed face.

Before they could answer, a voice clear and sonorous drew their eyes across the ravine towards Rosenblatt's cabin. At a little distance from the cabin they could distinguish the figure of a man outlined in the lurid light of the leaping flames. He was speaking to Rosenblatt, whose head could be seen thrust far out of the window.

"Who is that man?" cried the Sergeant.

"Mother of God!" said old Portnoff in a low voice. "It is Malkarski. Listen."

"Rosenblatt," cried the old man in the Russian tongue, "I have something to say to you. Those bags of gunpowder, that dynamite with which you were to destroy two innocent men, are now piled under your cabin, and this train at my feet will fire them."

With a shriek Rosenblatt disappeared, and they could hear him battering at the door. Old Malkarski laughed a wild, unearthly laugh.

"Rosenblatt," he cried again, "the door is securely fastened! Three stout locks will hold it closed."

The wretched man thrust his head far out of the window, shrieking, "Help! Help! Murder! Help!"

"Listen, you dog!" cried Malkarski, his voice ringing down through the ravine, "your doom has come at last. All your crimes, your treacheries, your bloody cruelties are now to be visited upon you. Ha! scream! pray! but no power in earth can save you. Aha! for this joy I have waited long! See, I now light this train. In one moment you will be in hell."

He deliberately struck a match. A slight puff of wind blew it out. Once more he struck a match. A cry broke forth from Kalman.

"Stop! stop! Malkarski, do not commit this crime!"

"What is he doing?" said the Sergeant, pulling his pistol.

"He is going to blow the man up!" groaned Kalman.

The Sergeant levelled his pistol.

"Here, you man," he cried, "stir in your tracks and you are dead!"

Malkarski laughed scornfully at him and proceeded to strike his third match. Before the Sergeant could fire, old Portnoff sprang upon him with the cry, "Would you murder the man?"

Meantime, under the third match, the train was blazing, and slowly creeping toward the cabin. Shriek after shriek from the wretched victim seemed to pierce the ears of the listeners as with sharp stabs of pain.

"Rosenblatt," cried old Malkarski, putting up his hand, "you know me now?"

"No! no!" shrieked Rosenblatt. "Mercy! mercy! quick! quick! I know you not."

The old man drew himself up to a figure straight and tall. The years seemed to fall from him. He stepped nearer Rosenblatt and stood in the full light and in the attitude of a soldier at attention.

"Behold," he cried, "Michael Kalmar!"

"Ah-h-h-h!" Rosenblatt's voice was prolonged into a wail of despair as from a damned soul.

"My father!" cried Kalman from across the ravine. "My father! Don't commit this crime! For my sake, for Christ's dear sake!"

He rushed across the ravine and up the other slope. His father ran to meet him and grappled with him. Upon the slope they struggled, Kalman fighting fiercely to free himself from those encircling arms, while like a fiery serpent the flame crept slowly toward the cabin.

With a heavy iron poker which he found in the cabin, Rosenblatt had battered off the sash and the frame of the window, enlarging the hole till he could get his head and one arm free; but there he stuck fast, watching the creeping flames, shrieking prayers, entreaties, curses, while down upon the slope swayed the two men in deadly struggle.

"Let me go! Let me go, my father!" entreated Kalman, tearing at his father's arms. "How can I strike you!"

"Never, boy. Rather would I die!" cried the old man, his arms wreathed about his son's neck.

At length, with his hand raised high above his head, Kalman cried, "Now God pardon me this!" and striking his father a heavy blow, he flung him off and leaped free. Before he could take a single step, another figure, that of a woman, glided from the trees, and with a cry as of a wild cat, threw herself upon him. At the same instant there was a dull, thick roar; they were hurled stunned to the ground, and in the silence that followed, through the trees came hurtling a rain of broken rock and splintered timbers.

Slowly recovering from the shock, the Sergeant staggered down the ravine, crying, "Come on!" to the others who followed him one by one as they recovered their senses. On the other side of the slope lay Kalman and the woman. It was Paulina. At a little distance was Malkarski, or Kalmar, as he must be called, and where the cabin had been a great hole, and at some distance from it a charred and blackened shape of a man writhing in agony, the clothes still burning upon him.

Brown rushed down to the Creek, and with a hatful of water extinguished the burning clothes.

"Water! water!" gasped the wretch faintly.

"Bring him some water, some one," said Brown, who was now giving his attention to Kalman. But no one heeded him.

Old Portnoff found a can, and filling it at the stream, brought it to the group on the slope. In a short time they began to revive, and before long were able to stand. Meantime, the wretched Rosenblatt was piteously crying for water.

"Oh, give him some water," said Kalman to Brown, who was anxiously taking his pulse.

Brown took the can over, gave the unhappy wretch a drink, pouring the rest over his burned and mangled limbs. The explosion had shattered the lower part and one side of Rosenblatt's body, leaving untouched his face and his right arm.

The Sergeant took charge of the situation.

"You I arrest," he said, taking old Kalmar by the shoulder.

"Very well; it matters not," said the old man, holding up his hands for the handcuffs.

"Can anything be done for this man?" asked the Sergeant, pointing to Rosenblatt.

"Nothing. He can only live a few minutes."

Rosenblatt looked up and beckoned the Sergeant toward him.

"I would speak with you," he said faintly.

The Sergeant approached, bringing Kalmar along with him.

"You need not fear, I shall not try to escape," said Kalmar. "I give you my honour."

"Very well," said the Sergeant, turning from him to Rosenblatt. "What do you wish?"

"Come nearer," said the dying man.

The Sergeant kneeled down and leaned over him to listen. With a quick movement Rosenblatt jerked the pistol from the Sergeant's belt and fired straight at old Kalmar, turned the pistol toward Kalman and fired again. But as he levelled his gun for the second time, Paulina, with a cry, flung herself upon Kalman, received the bullet, and fell to the ground. With a wild laugh, Rosenblatt turned the pistol on himself, but before he could fire the Sergeant had wrested it from his hand.

"Aha," he gasped, "I have my revenge!"

"Fool!" said old Kalmar, who was being supported by his son. "Fool! You have only done for me what I would have done for myself."

With a snarl as of a dog, Rosenblatt sank back upon the ground, and with a shudder lay still.

"He is dead," said Brown. "God's mercy meet him!"

"Ah," said old Kalmar, "I breathe freer now that his breath no longer taints the air. My work is done."

"Oh, my father," cried Kalman brokenly, "may God forgive you!"

"Boy," said the old man sternly, "mean you for the death of yon dog? You hang the murderer. He is many times a murderer. This very night he had willed to murder you and your friend. He was condemned to death by a righteous tribunal. He has met his just doom. God is just. I meet Him without fear for this. For my sins, which are many, I trust His mercy."

"My father," said Kalman, "you are right. I believe you. And God is merciful. Christ is merciful."

As he spoke, he leaned over, and wiping from his father's face the tears that fell upon it, he kissed him on the forehead. The old man's breath was growing short. He looked towards Brown. At once Brown came near.

"You are a good man. Your religion is good. It makes men just and kind. Ah, religion is a beautiful thing when it makes men just and kind."

He turned his eyes upon Jack French, who stood looking down sadly upon him.

"You have been friend to my son," he said. "You will guide him still?"

French dropped quickly on his knee, took him by the hand and said, "I will be to him a brother."

The old man turned his face and said, "Paulina."

"She is here," said old Portnoff, "but she can't move."

At the sound of his voice, the woman struggled up to her knees, crawled over to his side, the blood flowing from her wound, and taking his hand, held it to her lips.

"Paulina," he said, "you have done well--you are--my wife again--come near me."

The woman made an inarticulate moan like some dumb beast, and lifted her face toward him.

"Kiss me," he said.

"Ah, my lord," she cried, sobbing wildly, "my dear lord, I dare not."

"Kiss me," he said again.

"Now let me die," she cried, kissing him on the lips, and falling down in a faint beside him.

Brown lifted her and laid her in Portnoff's arms. The dying man lay silent, gathering his strength. He was breathing now with great difficulty.

"My son! I cannot see you--"

Brown came and took Kalman's place.

"Here I am, father," said Kalman, kneeling beside him and holding his two hands.

"Bid--my daughter Irma--farewell! She will be safe with you." Then after a pause he whispered, "In my pocket."

Kalman understood, found a packet, and from it drew the miniature of his mother.

"I give you this," said the father, lifting it with difficulty to his lips. "No curse with it now--only blessing--farewell--you have brought me joy--let me see her face--ah, dear heart--" he said, fastening his glazing eyes upon the beautiful face, "I come to you--ah! freedom!--sweet freedom at last!--and love--all love! My son--farewell!--my love!"

"Dear God!" cried Kalman, "Jesu, have pity and save!"

A smile as of an infant falling asleep played over the rugged face, while the poor lips whispered, "At last--freedom!--and--love!"

He breathed once, deep and long, and then no more. The long, long fight was done, the fight for freedom and for love.

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