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Back to God's Country and Other Stories
James Oliver Curwood
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The Fiddling Man
Breault's cough was not pleasant to hear. A cough possesses manifold and almost
unclassifiable diversities. But there is only one cough when a man has a bullet through
his lungs and is measuring his life by minutes, perhaps seconds. Yet Breault, even as he
coughed the red stain from his lips, was not afraid. Many times he had found himself in
the presence of death, and long ago it had ceased to frighten him. Some day he had
expected to come under the black shadow of it himself--not in a quiet and peaceful way,
but all at once, with a shock. And the time had come. He knew that he was dying; and he
was calm. More than that--in dying he was achieving a triumph. The red-hot death-sting
in his lung had given birth to a frightful thought in his sickening brain. The day of his
great opportunity was at hand. The hour--the minute.
A last flush of the pale afternoon sun lighted up his black-bearded face as his eyes turned,
with their new inspiration, to his sledge. It was a face that one would remember--not
pleasantly, perhaps, but as a fixture in a shifting memory of things; a face strong with a
brute strength, implacable in its hard lines, emotionless almost, and beyond that, a
It was the best known face in all that part of the northland which reaches up from Fort
McMurray to Lake Athabasca and westward to Fond du Lac and the Wholdais country.
For ten years Breault had made that trip twice a year with the northern mails. In all its
reaches there was not a cabin he did not know, a face he had not seen, or a name he could
not speak; yet there was not a man, woman, or child who welcomed him except for what
he brought. But the government had found its faith in him justified. The police at their
lonely outposts had come to regard his comings and goings as dependable as day and
night. They blessed him for his punctuality, and not one of them missed him when he was
gone. A strange man was Breault.
With his back against a tree, where he had propped himself after the first shock of the
bullet in his lung, he took a last look at life with a passionless imperturbability. If there
was any emotion at all in his face it was one of vindictiveness--an emotion roused by an
intense and terrible hatred that in this hour saw the fulfilment of its vengeance. Few men
nursed a hatred as Breault had nursed his. And it gave him strength now, when another
man would have died.
He measured the distance between himself and the sledge. It was, perhaps, a dozen paces.
The dogs were still standing, tangled a little in their traces,--eight of them,--wide-chested,
thin at the groins, a wolfish horde, built for endurance and speed. On the sledge was a
quarter of a ton of his Majesty's mail. Toward this Breault began to creep slowly and with
great pain. A hand inside of him seemed crushing the fiber of his lung, so that the blood
oozed out of his mouth. When he reached the sledge there were many red patches in the
snow behind him. He opened with considerable difficulty a small dunnage sack, and after
fumbling a bit took there-from a pencil attached to a long red string, and a soiled