NORTHERN LIGHTS - VOLUME 5.
NORTHERN LIGHTS - VOLUME 5.
THE ERROR OF THE DAY
AS DEEP AS THE SEA
THE ERROR OF THE DAY
The "Error of the Day" may be defined as "The difference between the
distance or range which must be put upon the sights in order to hit the
target and the actual distance from the gun to the target."--Admiralty
A great naval gun never fires twice alike. It varies from day to day
and expert allowance has to be made in sighting every time it is fired.
Variations in atmosphere condition of ammunition and the wear of the
gun are the contributory causes to the ever-varying "Error of the Day."
"Say ain't he pretty?"
"A Jim-dandy-oh my!"
"What's his price in the open market?"
"Thirty millions-I think not."
Then was heard the voice of Billy Goat--his name was William Goatry
"Out in the cold world out in the street;
Nothing to wear and nothing to eat
Fatherless motherless sadly I roam
Child of misfortune I'm driven from home."
A loud laugh followed for Billy Goat was a popular person at Kowatin in
the Saskatchewan country. He had an inimitable drollery heightened by a
cast in his eye a very large mouth and a round good-humoured face;
also he had a hand and arm like iron and was altogether a great man on a
There had been a two days' spree at Kowatin for no other reason than
that there had been great excitement over the capture and the subsequent
escape of a prairie-rover who had robbed the contractor's money-chest at
the rail-head on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Forty miles from Kowatin
he had been caught by and escaped from the tall brown-eyed man with
the hard-bitten face who leaned against the open window of the tavern
looking indifferently at the jeering crowd before him. For a police
officer he was not unpopular with them but he had been a failure for
once and as Billy Goat had said: "It tickled us to death to see a rider
of the plains off his trolley--on the cold cold ground same as you and
They did not undervalue him. If he had been less a man than he was
they would not have taken the trouble to cover him with their drunken
ribaldry. He had scored off them in the past in just such sprees as
this when he had the power to do so and used the power good-naturedly
and quietly--but used it.
Then he was Sergeant Foyle of the Royal North-West Mounted Police on
duty in a district as large as the United Kingdom. And he had no greater
admirer than Billy Goat who now reviled him. Not without cause in a
way for he had reviled himself to this extent that when the prairie-
rover Halbeck escaped on the way to Prince Albert after six months'
hunt for him and a final capture in the Kowatin district Foyle resigned
the Force before the Commissioner could reproach him or call him to
account. Usually so exact so certain of his target some care had not
been taken he had miscalculated and there had been the Error of the
Day. Whatever it was it had seemed to him fatal; and he had turned his
face from the barrack yard.
Then he had made his way to the Happy Land Hotel at Kowatin to begin
life as "a free and independent gent on the loose" as Billy Goat had
said. To resign had seemed extreme; because though the Commissioner was
vexed at Halbeck's escape Foyle was the best non-commissioned officer in
the Force. He had frightened horse thieves and bogus land-agents and
speculators out of the country; had fearlessly tracked down a criminal or
a band of criminals when the odds were heavy against him. He carried on
his cheek the scars of two bullets and there was one white lock in his
brown hair where an arrow had torn the scalp away as alone he drove
into the Post a score of Indians fresh from raiding the cattle of an
immigrant trailing north.
Now he was out of work or so it seemed; he had stepped down from his
scarlet-coated dignity from the place of guardian and guide of
civilisation into the idleness of a tavern stoop.
As the little group swayed round him and Billy Goat started another
song Foyle roused himself as though to move away--he was waiting for
the mail-stage to take him south:
"Oh father dear father come home with me now
The clock in the steeple strikes one;
You said you were coming right home from the shop
As soon as your day's work was done.
Come home--come home--"
The song arrested him and he leaned back against the window again. A
curious look came into his eyes a look that had nothing to do with the
acts of the people before him. It was searching into a scene beyond this
bright sunlight and the far green-brown grass and the little oasis of
trees in the distance marking a homestead and the dust of the wagon-
wheels out on the trail beyond the grain-elevator-beyond the blue
horizon's rim quivering in the heat and into regions where this crisp
clear life-giving life-saving air never blew.
"You said you were coming right home from the shop
As soon as your day's work was done.
Come home--come home--"
He remembered when he had first heard this song in a play called 'Ten
Nights in a Bar-room' many years before and how it had wrenched his
heart and soul and covered him with a sudden cloud of shame and anger.
For his father had been a drunkard and his brother had grown up a
drunkard that brother whom he had not seen for ten years until--until--
He shuddered closed his eyes as though to shut out something that the
mind saw. He had had a rough life he had become inured to the seamy
side of things--there was a seamy side even in this clean free wide
land; and he had no sentimentality; though something seemed to hurt and
shame him now.
"As soon as your day's work was done.
Come home--come home--"
The crowd was uproarious. The exhilaration had become a kind of
delirium. Men were losing their heads; there was an element of
irresponsibility in the new outbreak likely to breed some violent act
which every man of them would lament when sober again.
Nettlewood Foyle watched the dust rising from the wheels of the stage
which had passed the elevator and was nearing the Prairie Home Hotel far
down the street. He would soon leave behind him this noisy ribaldry of
which he was the centre. He tossed his cheroot away. Suddenly he heard
a low voice behind him.
"Why don't you hit out sergeant?" it said.
He started almost violently and turned round. Then his face flushed
his eyes blurred with feeling and deep surprise and his lips parted
in a whispered exclamation and greeting.
A girl's face from the shade of the sitting-room was looking out at him
half-smiling but with heightened colour and a suppressed agitation. The
girl was not more than twenty-five graceful supple and strong. Her
chin was dimpled; across her right temple was a slight scar. She had
eyes of a wonderful deep blue; they seemed to swim with light. As Foyle
gazed at her for a moment dumfounded with a quizzical suggestion and
smiling still a little more she said:
"You used to be a little quicker Nett." The voice appeared to attempt
unconcern; but it quivered from a force of feeling underneath. It was so
long since she had seen him.
He was about to reply but at the instant a reveller pushed him with a
foot behind the knees so that they were sprung forward. The crowd
laughed--all save Billy Goat who knew his man.
Like lightning and with cold fury in his eyes Foyle caught the tall
cattleman by the forearm and with a swift dexterous twist had the
fellow in his power.
"Down--down to your knees you skunk" he said in a low fierce voice.
The knees of the big man bent--Foyle had not taken lessons of Ogami
the Jap for nothing--they bent and the cattleman squealed so intense
was the pain. It was break or bend; and he bent--to the ground and
lay there. Foyle stood over him for a moment a hard light in his eyes
and then as if bethinking himself he looked at the other roisterers
"There's a limit and he reached it. Your mouths are your own and you
can blow off to suit your fancy but if any one thinks I'm a tame coyote
to be poked with a stick--!" He broke off stooped over and helped the
man before him to his feet. The arm had been strained and the big
fellow nursed it.
"Hell but you're a twister!" the cattleman said with a grimace of pain.
Billy Goat was a gentleman after his kind and he liked Sergeant Foyle
with a great liking. He turned to the crowd and spoke.
"Say boys this mine's worked out. Let's leave the Happy Land to Foyle.
Boys what is he--what--is he? What--is--Sergeant Foyle--boys?"
The roar of the song they all knew came in reply as Billy Goat waved his
arms about like the wild leader of a wild orchestra:
"Sergeant Foyle oh he's a knocker from the West
He's a chase-me-Charley come-and-kiss-me tiger from the zoo;
He's a dandy on the pinch and he's got a double cinch
On the gent that's going careless and he'll soon cinch you:
And he'll soon--and he'll soon--cinch you!"
Foyle watched them go dancing stumbling calling back at him as they
moved towards the Prairie Home Hotel:
"And he'll soon-and he'll soon-cinch you!"
His under lip came out his eyes half-closed as he watched them. "I've
done my last cinch. I've done my last cinch" he murmured.
Then suddenly the look in his face changed the eyes swam as they had
done a minute before at the sight of the girl in the room behind.
Whatever his trouble was that face had obscured it in a flash and the
pools of feeling far down in the depths of a lonely nature had been
stirred. Recognition memory tenderness desire swam in his face made
generous and kind the hard lines of the strong mouth. In an instant he
had swung himself over the window-sill. The girl had drawn away now into
a more shaded corner of the room and she regarded him with a mingled
anxiety and eagerness. Was she afraid of something? Did she fear that
--she knew not quite what but it had to do with a long ago.
"It was time you hit out Nett" she said half shyly. "You're more
patient than you used to be but you're surer. My that was a twist you
gave him Nett. Aren't you glad to see me?" she added hastily and with
an effort to hide her agitation.
He reached out and took her hand with a strange shyness and a self-
consciousness which was alien to his nature. The touch of her hand
thrilled him. Their eyes met. She dropped hers. Then he gathered him
self together. "Glad to see you? Of course of course I'm glad. You
stunned me Jo. Why do you know where you are? You're a thousand miles
from home. I can't get it through my head not really. What brings you
here? It's ten years--ten years since I saw you and you were only
fifteen but a fifteen that was as good as twenty."
He scanned her face closely. "What's that scar on your forehead Jo?
You hadn't that--then."
"I ran up against something" she said evasively her eyes glittering
"and it left that scar. Does it look so bad?"
"No you'd never notice it if you weren't looking close as I am. You
see I knew your face so well ten years ago."
He shook his head with a forced kind of smile. It became him however
for he smiled rarely; and the smile was like a lantern turned on his
face; it gave light and warmth to its quiet strength-or hardness.
"You were always quizzing" she said with an attempt at a laugh--"always
trying to find out things. That's why you made them reckon with you out
here. You always could see behind things; always would have your own
way; always were meant to be a success."
She was beginning to get control of herself again was trying hard to
keep things on the surface. "You were meant to succeed--you had to"
"I've been a failure--a dead failure" he answered slowly. "So they say.
So they said. You heard them Jo."
He jerked his head towards the open window.
"Oh those drunken fools!" she exclaimed indignantly and her face
hardened. "How I hate drink! It spoils everything."
There was silence for a moment. They were both thinking of the same
thing--of the same man. He repeated a question.
"What brings you out here Jo?" he asked gently. "Dorland" she
answered her face setting into determination and anxiety.
His face became pinched. "Dorl!" he said heavily. "What for Jo?
What do you want with Dorl?"
"When Cynthy died she left her five hundred dollars a year to the baby
"Yes yes I know. Well Jo?"
"Well it was all right for five years--Dorland paid it in; but for five
years he hasn't paid anything. He's taken it stolen it from his own
child by his own honest wife. I've come to get it--anyway to stop him
from doing it any more. His own child--it puts murder in my heart Nett!
I could kill him."
He nodded grimly. "That's likely. And you've kept Dorl's child with
your own money all these years?"
"I've got four hundred dollars a year Nett you know; and I've been
dressmaking--they say I've got taste" she added with a whimsical smile.
Nett nodded his head. "Five years. That's twenty-five hundred dollars
he's stolen from his own child. It's eight years old now isn't it?"
"Bobby is eight and a half" she answered.
"And his schooling and his clothing and everything; and you have to pay
for it all?"
"Oh I don't mind Nett it isn't that. Bobby is Cynthy's child; and I
love him--love him; but I want him to have his rights. Dorl must give up
his hold on that money--or--"
He nodded gravely. "Or you'll set the law on him?"
"It's one thing or the other. Better to do it now when Bobby is young
and can't understand."
"Or read the newspapers" he commented thoughtfully.
"I don't think I've a hard heart" she continued "but I'd like to punish
him if it wasn't that he's your brother Nett; and if it wasn't for
Bobby. Dorland was dreadfully cruel even to Cynthy."
"How did you know he was up here?" he asked. "From the lawyer that pays
over the money. Dorland has had it sent out here to Kowatin this two
years. And he sent word to the lawyer a month ago that he wanted it to
get here as usual. The letter left the same day as I did and it got
here yesterday with me I suppose. He'll be after it-perhaps to-day.
He wouldn't let it wait long Dorl wouldn't."
Foyle started. "To-day--to-day--"
There was a gleam in his eyes a setting of the lips a line sinking into
the forehead between the eyes.
"I've been watching for him all day and I'll watch till he comes. I'm
going to say some things to him that he won't forget. I'm going to get
Bobby's money or have the law do it--unless you think I'm a brute
Nett." She looked at him wistfully.
"That's all right. Don't worry about me Jo. He's my brother but I
know him--I know him through and through. He's done everything that a
man can do and not be hanged. A thief a drunkard and a brute--and he
killed a man out here" he added hoarsely. "I found it out myself--
myself. It was murder."
Suddenly as he looked at her an idea seemed to flash into his mind.
He came very near and looked at her closely. Then he reached over and
almost touched the scar on her forehead.
"Did he do that Jo?"
For an instant she was silent and looked down at the floor. Presently
she raised her eyes her face suffused. Once or twice she tried to
speak but failed. At last she gained courage and said:
"After Cynthy's death I kept house for him for a year taking care of
little Bobby. I loved Bobby so--he has Cynthy's eyes. One day Dorland
--oh Nett of course I oughtn't to have stayed there I know it now; but
I was only sixteen and what did I understand! And my mother was dead.
One day--oh please Nett you can guess. He said something to me.
I made him leave the house. Before I could make plans what to do
he came back mad with drink. I went for Bobby to get out of the house
but he caught hold of me. I struck him in the face and he threw me
against the edge of the open door. It made the scar."
Foyle's face was white. "Why did you never write and tell me that Jo?
You know that I--" He stopped suddenly.
"You had gone out of our lives down there. I didn't know where you were
for a long time; and then--then it was all right about Bobby and me
except that Bobby didn't get the money that was his. But now--"
Foyle's voice was hoarse and low. "He made that scar and he--and you
only sixteen--Oh my God!" Suddenly his face reddened and he choked
with shame and anger. "And he's my brother!" was all that he could say.
"Do you see him up here ever?" she asked pityingly.
"I never saw him till a week ago." A moment then he added: "The letter
wasn't to be sent here in his own name was it?"
She nodded. "Yes in his own name Dorland W. Foyle. Didn't he go by
that name when you saw him?"
There was an oppressive silence in which she saw that something moved
him strangely and then he answered: "No he was going by the name of
The girl gasped. Then the whole thing burst upon her. "Hiram Halbeck!
Hiram Halbeck the thief--I read it all in the papers--the thief that you
caught and that got away. And you've left the Mounted Police because of
it--oh Nett!" Her eyes were full of tears her face was drawn and grey.
He nodded. "I didn't know who he was till I arrested him" he said.
"Then afterward I thought of his child and let him get away; and for
my poor old mother's sake. She never knew how bad he was even as a boy.
But I remember how he used to steal and drink the brandy from her
bedside when she had the fever. She never knew the worst of him.
But I let him away in the night Jo and I resigned and they thought
that Halbeck had beaten me had escaped. Of course I couldn't stay in
the Force having done that. But by the heaven above us if I had him
here now I'd do the thing--do it so help me God!"
"Why should you ruin your life for him?" she said with an outburst of
indignation. All that was in her heart welled up in her eyes at the
thought of what Foyle was. "You must not do it. You shall not do it.
He must pay for his wickedness not you. It would be a sin. You and
what becomes of you mean so much." Suddenly with a flash of purpose she
added: "He will come for that letter Nett. He would run any kind of
risk to get a dollar. He will come here for that letter--perhaps today."
He shook his head moodily oppressed by the trouble that was on him.
"He's not likely to venture here after what's happened."
"You don't know him as well as I do Nett. He is so vain he'd do it
just to show that he could. He'd' probably come in the evening. Does
any one know him here? So many people pass through Kowatin every day.
Has any one seen him?"
"Only Billy Goatry" he answered working his way to a solution of the
dark problem. "Only Billy Goatry knows him. The fellow that led the
singing--that was Goatry."
"There he is now" he added as Billy Goat passed the window.
She came and laid a hand on his arm. "We've got to settle things with
him" she said. "If Dorl comes Nett--"
There was silence for a moment then he caught her hand in his and held
it. "If he comes leave him to me Jo. You will leave him to me?" he
"Yes" she answered. "You'll do what's right-by Bobby?"
"And by Dorl too" he replied strangely. There were loud footsteps
"It's Goatry" said Foyle. "You stay here. I'll tell him everything.
He's all right; he's a true friend. He'll not interfere."
The handle of the door turned slowly. "You keep watch on the post-
office Jo" he added.
Goatry came round the opening door with a grin. "Hope I don't intrude"