Presently, to get rid of some unpleasant reflections, the old man stretched out his hand for a copy of the Vancouver Sentinel that was lying on the bed, and began to read it idly. As he did so, a paragraph drew his attention. He gripped the paper, and, springing up in bed, read it twice, peering into it, his features quivering with eagerness. The passage described the “hold up” of a Northern Pacific train, at a point between Seattle and the Canadian border. By the help of masks, and a few sticks of dynamite, the thing had been very smartly done—a whole train terrorised, the mail van broken open and a large “swag” captured. Billy Symonds, the notorious train robber from Montana, was suspected, and there was a hue and cry through the whole border after him and his accomplices, amongst whom, so it was said, was a band from the Canadian side—foreign miners mixed up in some of the acts of violence which had marked the strike of the year before.
Bill Symonds!—McEwen threw himself excitedly from side to side, unable to keep still. He knew Symonds—a chap and a half! Why didn’t he come and try it on this side of the line? Heaps of money going backwards and forwards over the railway! All these thousands of dollars paid out in wages week by week to these construction camps—must come from somewhere in cash—Winnipeg or Montreal. He began to play with the notion, elaborating and refining it; till presently a whole epic of attack and capture was rushing through his half-crazy brain.
He had dropped the paper, and was staring abstractedly through the foot of open window close beside him, which the torn blind did not cover. Outside, through the clearing with its stumps of jack-pine, ran a path, a short cut, connecting the station at Laggan with a section-house further up the line.
As McEwen’s eyes followed it, he began to be aware of a group of men emerging from the trees on the Laggan side, and walking in single file along the path. Navvies apparently—carrying bundles and picks. The path came within a few yards of the window, and of the little stream that supplied the house with water.
Suddenly, McEwen sprang up in bed. The two foremost men paused beside the water, mopped their hot faces, and taking drinking cups out of their pockets stooped down to the stream. The old man in the cabin bed watched them with fierce intentness; and as they straightened themselves and were about to follow their companions who were already out of sight, he gave a low call.
The two started and looked round them. Their hands went to their pockets. McEwen swung himself round so as to reach the window better, and repeated his call—this time with a different inflection. The men exchanged a few hurried words. Carefully scrutinising the house, they noticed a newspaper waving cautiously in an open window. One of them came forward, the other remained by the stream bathing his feet and ankles in the water.